A man I'm interested in acts shy around me. Is he interested or not? What do I do?
Dear Dr. Julie: I am a 44-year-old woman who divorced 2 years ago. The marriage was an abusive one, with a husband who demonstrated narcissistic behaviors. I am now open to dating again. I've become acquainted with a neighbor, who I've caught staring from a distance and who becomes quite nervous around me. When we are in conversation, he can't look at me directly and can be awkward. He's definitely someone I would consider getting to know better, but I'm not sure if he's just shy or giving me hot and cold messages. There are times when I sense "interest" on his part, and then other times when I feel he's just too shy around me. Is he hesitating because I'm also the mother of a young child? I'm overly cautious about red flags after my marriage and just don't know what to do. Do I continue to have casual chats with him and see where things go?
--Interested but confused
Dear Interested but confused: You don't know why he's behaving this way (could be several reasons), but what you do know is that it doesn't make you feel good. You are confused and hesitant. One of the things that being in an abusive marriage does is reinforce the idea that you don't know what you want or how you feel. This lack of trust in yourself makes it harder to know what the right decision is. My general suggestions are to take dating slowly. Don't make commitments early in any relationship, no matter how good or safe it feels. Date many (more than several) men--that will teach you a lot about what works for you and what doesn't. Learn to listen to your emotional reactions, what your deal breakers are, what you want and need in a relationship, and how to communicate effectively. It's all too common to repeat bad relationships despite your best efforts at recognizing red flags because you don't trust your feelings or know what they mean. A good relationship with a therapist might be helpful here.
My specific suggestion for your relationship with your neighbor is that it doesn't hurt to get to know someone. But be cautious. You may err on the side of going for someone who seems "safe" because he is shy and doesn't seem like a person who would be abusive, only to run into other problems such as not having an emotional connection.
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