My Exotic Destination Theory of Relationships

March 8, 2010

Things have been a little heavy around here lately. I’ve been writing quite a bit about the reality of today’s sexual marketplace, which is important. But I’ve overindulged on the feminism angle and I’m feeling a bit hungover. So today it’s back to basics, with a letter I received last week.

Dear Susan,

I’ve gotten myself into a bad situation and I know I have only myself to blame. About six months ago I started hooking up with Ryan, and it was clear from the beginning that we weren’t heading into a relationship. I think after we’d hooked up a couple of times, I got mad at him for ignoring me at a bar when we were out with our friends, and he said straight out that he wasn’t looking to be in any kind of relationship, with me or anyone else. I said fine, and figured I’d play it by ear. For about three months we had a lot of sex and it was great. We started hanging out more, too. We went on runs, made meals together, that kind of stuff. Sometimes we were together from Friday night till Sunday night. We still never talked about feelings, or anything like that. We didn’t talk about other people either, though, and I was pretty sure he wasn’t hooking up with anyone else. I certainly wasn’t.

After a while I started to fall for him. I don’t know if I’d been in denial, or if it was from all the sex, but I really started wanting more. I was pretty sure he felt the same way – we were just so close, and there was a lot of sexual attraction, as I said. He is really everything I want, and I think I’m a good catch, so I just figured it would come up at the right time. I wanted it to happen naturally, though, not because I brought it up awkwardly.

I guess you can see where this is going. Last weekend, a friend of his teased him about some girl I’d never heard of. It was clear that something was starting there. I felt sick, and I knew I had to ask him about it, so I told him how I felt about him. To his credit, he didn’t act surprised and innocent, I think he knew it was coming. He admitted that he was interested in someone new, and he pointed out that we’d been friends with benefits from the start, which is true. He said that he thinks I’m great, but he hasn’t changed his mind about wanting to remain single.

I just don’t understand how I could have misread everything. It felt like a real relationship, we were so connected in every way.  I often read where men say that a guy is always ready for a relationship with the right person. Obviously, I’m not that person, and now I’ll have to watch him bring this other girl around. I feel brokenhearted. I’ll never do FWB again.

How can guys be so involved and not get attached? I know men and women are different, but don’t guys ever fall for someone they’re hooking up with? Why am I never the right person?


Dear Lizzie,

I confess, of all the questions I get asked regularly, this is the one I have the greatest difficulty answering. I’ve written about this dilemma before, both here and here, and I still don’t have a solid understanding. It really comes down to the way men think, and that’s not a favorite topic of theirs. Even when a guy wants to explain his emotions, he often finds himself unable to express exactly what he’s feeling, especially if he’s conflicted. This leaves women overanalyzing and developing theories, all supported enthusiastically by their friends, but probably of little value in shedding any light on what’s really happening.

There’s the science piece, of course, the whole oxytocin thing, but I don’t think that explains it entirely. Not when you spent all that time together hanging out and enjoying each other’s company. I’ll give you my theory and we’ll see what other readers have to say. I may be all wrong here, and I’m interested to hear what the guys think.

My Exotic Destination Theory of Relationships

Imagine that Ryan has a great desire to travel, and finds himself the recipient of a six month fellowship to somewhere really exotic and unusual. Istanbul, for instance. He would never have planned such a trip at this point, with all the expense and time taken out of his regular life. But the opportunity presented itself, and he is very psyched to go, though he knows that he will be well outside his comfort zone in such a place.

When Ryan arrives in Istanbul, he can’t believe how easy the transition is at first. He has a great place to stay, it’s beautiful there, and so interesting! He is enjoying learning a lot about the local culture, and he is very glad he decided to come. In fact, he has never felt so alive. The colors are different, the flavors are different, and of course the language is different. After a few weeks, he settles into a routine, and is so infatuated that he begins to wonder if perhaps he should move there. He could definitely see himself happy in such a place, and though he’s always assumed he would spend his 20s living in NY, DC or Boston, he wonders whether he should grab onto this opportunity and hang on. It really does feel that special, and you’re only young once!

About halfway through Ryan’s extended stay, he begins to feel frustrated about his inability to speak the language. He can get by, many people speak some English, but these are not his people. He attends group gatherings, feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the customs. Here people do not ever offer a left hand. Hugs means something else entirely. In a room full of people, he stands in the corner, realizing that he can’t really understand much of the conversation. He misses the social routines that he was used to at home, where belching, farting and heavy drinking were all fairly acceptable behavior.

The food takes some getting used to as well. He attends banquets of delicacies never before tried, and he can’t believe how wonderful everything tastes. Still, it’s unfamiliar. He feels as if he’s always being watched, he feels like he’s performing, and he hopes he is holding his own at the table. What he wouldn’t give for a burger and fries right now!

Ryan misses his friends. He’s having a great experience, but it’s hard for him to just let his hair down and be himself. He is, after all, away from home, the place where they have to take you in when you knock at the door. And he keeps hearing stories from home about how much fun he’s missing out on! He knows that Istanbul is special, that he is lucky, but damn, his friends just took a road trip to Mardis Gras and he missed it. He’s a little worried that they’re starting to forget about him.

Finally, here he is in Istanbul, so close to so many other beautiful and wondrous places! He’d love to explore the coast, see the Greek islands, travel to other exotic locales. But the rules of the fellowship do not permit this. Ryan must be content with all of the wonders that Istanbul has to offer, and if he leaves he cannot return. His Turkish hosts do not understand his desire to see these other sights, as they know perfectly well that he will decide in the end that Istanbul is best. Still, he can’t help but feel curious, and he begins to look forward to the end of his stay, thinking of ways to travel home through another cool city. He can hardly believe that he ever considered moving here! He plans to return to the U.S. as soon as possible to join old friends and enjoy the familiar comforts of home. He’ll take a few weekend trips here and there, and he’ll begin saving up for a trip to another exotic destination, one that could not be more different from Istanbul.

Lizzie, I’m afraid that you’re Istanbul. And Ryan has booked his return flight through Marrakesh. Who knows, maybe Ryan will get sick of Marrakesh very quickly. Maybe he will miss Istanbul.

The bottom line is that Ryan really wants to go home right now, carefree and comfortable. He wants to speak bro and eat fast food and drink vast quantities of beer. He’ll enjoy going out for ethnic food once in a while, though. Just a quick visit to that exotic place before he returns to his regular life, the life he has chosen, at least for now.