In Pursuit of Mutual Pursuit

One of the issues I have tended to have, historically, in dating and relationships, is the feeling that I am consistently the person initiating and escalating things in the relationship. There is a long history behind this, beginning with my very first relationship, and meandering through various friendships and relationships over the years.

I have always been fairly picky about the friendships and relationships that I make an active effort to pursue or maintain, but when I have sensed that magnificent potential to learn and be learned from, to challenge and be challenged by another person, I have never had much trouble making the effort to get to know someone better. When it has been people I wanted relationships with, I have never had much trouble being able to say “Hey, you intrigue me, and I would like to spend more time with you.”.

I have found, over the years, that while having the experience of being mutually intrigued is not uncommon for me, having the experience of mutual active pursuit is less so. Even in circumstances where my interest is reciprocated, it has not been all that uncommon for me to have the sensation that, if I stopped contacting X person, nothing would ever happen. The exceptions to this rule stand out in my memory as a few wonderful islands of time where I always knew the relationship was being actively pursued by both sides, and the insecurity that accompanies the more unbalanced situations didn’t have a chance to rear its head.

I’ve never been sure what to make of the sensation that the level of pursuit in a relationship is unbalanced. The explanations that have seemed the most sensible have varied from time to time and person to person. Sometimes the sensible explanation has seemed to be uneven levels of interest; other times it has been that the other person simply doesn’t like initiating things, or has been socialized not to initiate things (in dating in particular, I am, after all, a cis guy generally pursuing cis women); others it has been that one of us was busier than the other; and at times, I think it’s possible that the best explanation has been my own sensitization to this phenomenon. At times, I wonder if things weren’t actually as unbalanced as I thought, but they felt like they were, because I actively look for and strive to avoid these situations more now than I used to.

That is the most difficult part: figuring out when I should read a lack of interest, and when I should read a different type of socialization, or a different way of expressing interest, or different levels of life craziness. It’s a difficult distinction to make, since outside of direct initiation of hanging out (“Hey, I would like to hang out this Friday” is hands-down the easiest and most pleasant indicator of interest for my brain), there aren’t a lot of ways of expressing interest that are easily distinguishable from politeness. The phrase “We should hang out sometime” is probably the best example of this — it can be the social equivalent of asking “How are you?” as a nicety as easily as it can mean “I am really interested in you and would like to spend more time together”. There have almost certainly been times that I have interpreted “We should hang out sometime” as “I am being polite to you and am not actually interested in putting any effort into spending time together” when what was intended was “I would really like to spend more time with you”.

It is a challenging thing to have conversations about, as well, because while I’m generally pretty good at expressing my needs in relationships, this becomes trickier when I am in a place where I’m not certain whether another person is interested in a relationship happening in the first place. “I would appreciate it if you could initiate things more, because that helps my brain feel like we’re both interested in this” isn’t all that hard to express in the context of a relationship, but in a context where level of interest is more ambiguous, it can be much more difficult to tell whether this is a conversation that is appropriate for each person’s level of interest and investment. Having this conversation with someone who is not actually all that interested feels like answering a polite “How are you?” with my life story. At the same time, not having it can mean that someone who is genuinely interested never gets the opportunity to express their interest in a way that works for me, and the relationship that could have been never occurs.

I’m not sure if there’s any good solution to this problem or not.

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2 comments on “In Pursuit of Mutual Pursuit

  1. Pingback: Dealing With Sensitive Spots | Research to be Done

  2. Pingback: My User Manual, Part 1: Things I Like in People | Research to be Done

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