Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I’ve been dating a really fantastic guy for a few weeks, and I’m very excited! The but? He gives me little kisses on my forehead and cheek and head constantly. Those sweet gestures would be appreciated once or twice a day, but I am literally being mauled, like, every three or four minutes.
We’re not teenagers — we’re both pushing 30! I’ve tried to gently explain that I’m not into that much PDA, but I don’t think he understands that I cringe when I see him going for my forehead. How do I explain to this really amazingly sweet guy that he needs to cut it out?
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– Feeling Mauled by Sweet Gestures
DEAR FEELING MAULED BY SWEET GESTURES: You just do. “I like you a lot, but I am not comfortable with the constant little kisses.”
I doubt this will fix it, though. For one, “cringe” and “really fantastic” give me cognitive dissonance. You sure you’re “very excited”?
And, I think the way each of us shows affection is like our fingerprint, and hardly something we can change significantly based on a partner’s taste. But even that may be beside the point: Each of us deserves to be with someone who appreciates our way of showing love.
But, that’s me. Your and his mileage may vary.
I’m also uncomfortable with his being this kissy after “a few weeks,” and this undeterred by your “not into that much PDA” remark. Yikes. Some couples catch fire quickly, but you apparently haven’t — he’s all in and you’re all, ew. Maybe he’s just more into you, but maybe he’s pushing intimacy too soon, and that’s an abuser’s trademark.
So, speak up without fear that doing so is “mean.” Asserting yourself is how you find out whether you’re right for each other, and better now than “gently explain[ing]” yourself into a trap.
I throw “fails to immediately respect boundaries I establish regarding my body” in the Basket of Unequivocal Dealbreakers. And while I agree it’s worth telling him very directly, once, that this is a problem, I think Mauled might want to take a step back and think about whether she’s happy to be with someone who can’t pick up on the fact that she cringes when he kisses her forehead.
Maybe I’m clutching my pearls here, but I think someone who fails to recognize this will probably be kind of oblivious to her needs/wants/feelings in other areas, too.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Yes, I agree, “fails to respect body boundaries” is an immediate dealbreaker.
So much backpedaling and rationalizing in the letter told me it was possible Mauled wasn’t clear with the guy.
That, by the way, is a whole other thing: If you feel you can’t say something, that immediately is a bigger problem than whatever it is you want to speak up about.
Comfort with basic assertiveness is a threshold worth forcing yourself to meet before getting involved with someone else. It can inoculate you against so many other problems.
And, no small thing, it gives you a baseline by which you measure your comfort with someone. If you’re normally assertive in certain situations but with so-and-so you’re not, it’s time to recognize that as dangerous to your well-being and seriously reconsider getting or remaining involved with so-and-so.