Semi-Secret Affairs, Smanging, and the 88 Percent

Long story short, I finally grew a spine and broke up with my fiancé because he only added stress to my life, never gave any time to our relationship, etc. I moved out of our apartment, got drunk one night, and ended up hooking up with my boss. This situation seems to be turning into a very fulfilling relationship, except for one thing: I can’t tell anyone about it, and this makes me wonder how serious it is.

First, we don’t want to make other people at work feel uncomfortable. They shouldn’t have to deal with our relationship ups and downs, so we agreed not to tell them. Second, my boss is friends with three of my exes, so we haven’t told our friends because we don’t want to make them uncomfortable. Also, my boss used to have a thing with my best friend. And third, we don’t want to tell our families unless it’s serious, especially since my family is still in shock over me breaking off my engagement.

Advice? I really want to tell my best friend, at least, but I don’t know how to deal with the discomfort and potential issues it would cause. How should I deal with this?

If you can’t really tell people you’re in a relationship, you’re not in a real relationship. It sounds more like one of those hook-up alternate dimensions in which there are only two people having a wonderful secret affair. Those are nice, too. But secrets eat away at you, and at some point you’re going to have to let all of these people in on it, and although they may be tough conversations to have and things might be a little awkward, your real friends will still like you and people who truly care about you will be happy with you. You’re not the first to have a relationship with your boss. You should be able to roll out this information gradually to people a little at a time. Everyone will find out eventually if it’s truly a serious thing, and the longer you go without telling people, the worse everyone will feel for simply having been excluded. Everyone involved is an adult who should be able to deal with it. Exes, just never worry about exes.

No relationship built on secrets can stand for very long; it’s like trying to build a house of cards with slices of American cheese. It’s a difficult transition from having a very private relationship to a very public one, but if your relationship can’t even last telling other people about it, then you don’t really have very much. Love isn’t about sneaking around and lying to people. 

I’ve recently met a man, and we seem to have a lot in common. He’s also very funny, and that’s important to me. While on a date one night, we made plans to watch a movie on a future date, and he invited me to come to his place. Two days later, I arrive at his house and was unpleasantly surprised by the messiness. Dust bunnies all over the hardwood floors, piles of random junk all over, layers of dust on the bookcases. He has a couch for seating, and there wasn’t room for me to sit because of random stuff strewn on the cushions. When I used the bathroom, I was afraid to sit down, and after washing, dried my hands on my pants to avoid the rather grimy looking hand towel. I didn’t see trash anywhere, and I didn’t go in the kitchen, but I am assuming the trash was not overflowing, as the house didn’t smell. So he doesn’t seem to be dirty, just messy.

Now, I know I’m a little OCD when it comes to cleaning — I’m the type of person who moves all the furniture to clean underneath every time I clean. I don’t expect anyone else to have the same cleaning compulsions I do, and I understand he is a single man (he’s 37, divorced, sees his kids on weekends) and maybe isn’t dedicated to housework. But I was uncomfortable with the mess — I had an overwhelming desire to just start cleaning his house. But, I was also irritated (hurt?) that he didn’t even make an effort to tidy up, knowing I was coming over. He’s pretty laid back, and I’ve never mentioned my cleaning OCD, so maybe he didn’t think anything of it. But, what if we progress further? I’m not sure I’d be willing to get in his bed — who knows when his sheets were last washed?

I’m wondering — is there a nice way to bring this up to him, without hurting his feelings? Or is maybe his lack of cleanliness is something I should just get over, since I honestly don’t think he realized the clutter would bother me? And he’s been great (so far) in other aspects?

I am an extremely messy dude. Much messier than your dude, it sounds like. And I think we messy dudes do not face our own messiness until other people confront us with it. Like “Dude, why do you sleep on a pile of old pizza boxes?” Just as he could not know your OCD-ish ways, you could not know about his messy ways. And that doesn’t have to be a tragic conversation. You are surely not the first other human being to let him know how messy he is. So he is aware of it, he just may not know what to do about it. Some people just don’t know where to begin.

And your relationship should progress to sex, if you want, but maybe at your apartment to start. Has he seen your apartment? I think you need to introduce him to the level of clean you’re looking for. He’ll say something like “Wow, this is the cleanest apartment I have ever seen,” and then a lightbulb will appear above his head in a thought bubble. And he’ll think to himself, maybe I should try to approach this level of cleanliness the next time this lady comes over my place. If he doesn’t get the message, you can just don a French maid costume and clean his place just utterly thoroughly. He’ll begin to associate cleanliness and sex (which is a very powerful motivation). Or you can tell him if he doesn’t clean [gestures widely] he won’t get to see [gestures downward]. Very few things do motivate men, but sex is definitely up there. And then you guys will laugh about his dust bunny days while feeding each other strawberries on the Rhine. Some people find dusty bookshelves charming I am telling myself as I type this last sentence. Because dusty bookshelves are like the best thing about the terrifying place I live.

A Dude, I need some help. Actually pretty desperately, I need help! Recently I have found myself sort-of-but-not-really involved with a manfriend who goes to my university and is involved in several of the same extracurricular/social circles as I am. We’re friendly and generally have a good time when we interact but don’t seek each other to hang out, usually. BUT. After a fancy event, under the vague influence of alcohol, we banged and it was fun. We bumped uglies again a few months later, also very enjoyable. Last weekend I found myself at his place again, and as I was leaving in the morning, I wondered to myself, “is this/ could this be a thing?” I would like to ask him. Especially because I can already feel emotions towards him creeping up on me. The problem is that I do not want to be that girl who is clingy and silly and over-assumes based on a few interactions. However, I would like to have some ownership over the situation and feel like I can express what I want. So I guess my questions are: 1) to you as A Dude, do you think smanging it on three separate times merits a conversation? (Other, platonic manfriends have indicated to me that three occasions is not very meaningful to a guy.) And 2) how does one bring up this kind of conversation in a not-scary, not-clingy way?

Three sexual encounters does seem fun. I don’t know what smanging means and I’m a little scared to Google it on a work computer. When uglies bump it can be quite exciting. At some point you will have to, like, go on a date with this dude. I’ve had relationships that went on for months without dates, they were just physical and no dates. Usually it was because we just couldn’t get along when we weren’t smanging.

I don’t think having a conversation about feelings is all that clingy. That would in fact be a radical redefinition of the word clingy. And emotions can be fun for everyone. When men fall into a pattern, they may feel like a relationship is simply physical, and those can be great, too. How can the conversation go? It’s really just about dating, moving from the smanging to include the dating. “Will you take me to The Hunger Games after we’re finished smanging?” Or, “I’m hungry from all this smanging. Let’s go out for Thai food.” If someone just kept showing up and smanging me, I don’t know that I would ask so many questions, for fear that the smanging would end. But it will end, your dream world filled with smang. And it sounds like you kind of want to date this dude. So try to nudge him into a public, normal date-like thing. If he’s unwilling, you can decide how much longer you want to smang him. And if you stop smanging him, you can always use him later for drunken late-night smanging.

So, I  dated this guy for more than a year, and within that year he became increasingly distant. It got to the point where I couldn’t actually tell if what I had was a boyfriend or casual acquaintance. There were some valid reasons for his distance — while we were dating, his very close friend passed away suddenly at a young age. He had also had a few other friends die over the past year. Understandably, he was having a hard time dealing with that. I wanted to be there for him and try to help him not to fall into a depression. He kept rejecting me to the point that I had to leave the relationship. Nothing I did was helping and I wasn’t getting anything out of the relationship for myself. It was a very sad breakup.

Fast forward a year later — I hadn’t heard from him at all. He writes me out of the blue to say that he hasn’t stopped thinking about me; any other girls he’s tried to date aren’t as good as me … He has been in therapy for over a year and sounds like things are going well for him. He’s realized that he pushed me away when I was only trying to be there for him. He says he previously never thought he could have a nice life, but now he thinks that’s possible with me.

It’s all very romantic. I admit that I still have feelings for him. At one time, I had thought we’d be able to have a great life together. We are a lot alike. We are both artists and we love to travel. My biggest concern in the communication. Is he going to shut down the next time something goes wrong? Or is it a risk I could take for the chance of real happiness with someone?

You can’t really predict how a person will react to something down the road. And you really shouldn’t deal with problems now that you don’t actually even have yet. If you’re willing to give this dude another chance, take it slow and let him win your trust back. Look him in the eyes and tell him you want to deal with things together, that you don’t want to be shut out again. It sounds like he’s aware of and working on his issues. That’s really all you can ask. No one can predict where your lives will take you. But you don’t have to jump right back to the point you were at. Trust is even trickier than love.

I have loved people I have not trusted. It’s not much fun. There may ultimately be no way to pick up where you left off, and it’s possibly also just a nostalgia “grass was greener” thing. But who knows. Sounds like you ought to give the dude another shot. People deserve second chances, don’t they?

When you think of all the ways you have to be (or would like to be) compatible with someone — mentally, sexually, pheromonally (maybe?), physically, mundanely (like what if everything is perfect but she just can’t, can’t, can’t stop chewing with her mouth open, and for better or worse that’s just something you can’t get over), financially, reproductively (plans for kids, etc.) — it’s incredible you ever end up with anyone at all. Or, maybe not that, but it makes sense that the special ones are so few and far between. But, my brain would love to put some numbers on this. How compatible — percentage-wise — do you need to be with someone to make it work? 75%? 50%? (And by “make it work” I mean “work toward a long-term commitment that might eventually involve children.”) I know compatibilities can shift and go forward together, too, but I’m curious to know what you think of this math. Or is this a too-chilly way of looking at love?

I don’t think there’s an exact number. But let’s say 88%. I don’t know how to quantify pheromones. But I think a happy spectrum of someone you want to make kids with and have 50th wedding anniversaries with could be around 88%. Lots of people make kids with people they shouldn’t and have 50th wedding anniversaries with people they’ve grown to openly despise. 50% feels pretty low. And so does 75%. It is hard to meet good people who satisfy everything you’re looking for. And I guess we settle too often and end up disappointed in the choices we’ve made.

But what you’re looking for will change over the years. The thing we find annoying today, the eating with their mouths open, can either be snipped in the bud “I LOVE YOU! BUT DON’T EAT WITH YOUR MOUTH OPEN!” or outweighed by all the other stuff. You can preface most hard things by saying “I love you and am crazy about you but.” 12% complete despairing dissatisfaction seems like a reasonable amount to have to carry around; we’re humans not angels.

And you also want a little leverage on them for when they find something you do annoying. Stop chewing your nails! If you’ve allowed them to eat with their mouth open then you’ll reach a détente. But you’ll kind of just KNOW when you want to make someone’s babies. Your stats will fall away into meaninglessness, because that desire is pretty rare and kind of intense.

Previously: Lies, Kissing Biblically, and Translucent Officewear.

A Dude is one of several rotating dudes who know everything. Do you have any questions for A Dude? (300 word max, please.)

Photo by Felix Mizioznikov, via Shutterstock

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