Steady or Stagnant: How Slow is Too Slow?

It’s anywhere between months four, five, or six- you’ve gotten so comfortable that you’re not even counting anymore. It’s good, it’s consistent, and you have no reason to think you’re on any other path besides the one decorated with a large landmark sign that reads, “WELCOME TO MONOGAMY, population 2.” 

The first 8 weeks were innocent, a trial run, if you will. At least that’s what you told yourself when you realized you liked him and subsequently allowed your mind to be overcome with worst-case scenarios involving you being just one of many- and not even the favorite. 

Nobody even formally says that they’re in a relationship anymore, right? At this age, it’s just understood. 

It’s not understood, and you prove this point when you finally grow frustrated with the anonymity of it all. You’ve explored seemingly every aspect of one another, yet there's one conversation you’re avoiding in hopes it just comes up- but it hasn’t. The events of the day are enough to distract you, but the issue is particularly favored by your subconscious- and boy, are the two of them friendly; their nightly dialogue of possibilities and conclusions are endless.

He’s entered your home, body, and soul. The two of you have seen late nights into early mornings and all of the realities of bad breath and bedhead accompanied. He may have been emotionally closed off at first, but you embodied all of the patience, understanding, and structure he’d been waiting for his whole life and soon enough, he was an open book only willing to be read by you; a book you’d never close for the fear of losing your place, a book never to be shelved again. 

Despite the depth of each conversation, you find yourself tip-toeing around this one, completely simple yet seemingly unforgettable, topic. 

You’ve tried to be cool, you’ve tried to “go with the flow” but at month 6 (I mean, who’s counting anyway?) you have officially flowed into limbo, and you’ve grown restless from a lack of direction. You finally muster up the courage to speak all of the unspoken matters of your heart. Only to be told, “I don’t want to rush this, let's take things slow. You get it, right? ”

It stings; but what choice do you have but to upkeep the understanding persona he’s grown to know and like so much that defining the relationship simply doesn’t suffice because he wants to go steady

 It should be a compliment, but it’s not. What our parents regarded as a romantic climax has now transformed into that of a roadblock. You’ve no choice but to swallow, put on your -practically single- girl pants, blink back the tears and force a smile through a quivering lip because you get it, right? 

You’ve been there- and if you haven’t, consider yourself among the more fortunate. For those of us who have, this is a tale old as time with a plot that never seems to get less triggering with each retelling, adaptation, or sequel. Despite indulging in every pleasure brought by a traditional, monogamous relationship, you and your insignificant other have failed to verbalize the exclusivity of the situation. Though my experience is limited due to only having but so much endurance for trials that result in many an error and nary a victory, “taking things slow” is undoubtedly my least favorite, and here’s why. 

The leisurely speed only applies to commitment. 

When probed about officiating a relationship, a hurry is seemingly unheard of due to a failed heartbreak from 2014 from which he claims to still be healing. As women, we’re expected to respect this or risk looking desperate at any attempt to force progression, no matter the triviality of the excuse. In contrast, when intimate relations are involved, it often seems the foot is on the gas and the breaks have ceased to exist. Sexual tension is an equation easily solved with satisfaction. The process by which it’s felt, pursued, and confronted is organic and therefore undebated. To have a pair of arms clothe you better than your favorite jeans ever could is both blinding and unfair when the arms are attached to a man obscuring his emotional unavailability with his easily accessible, always-ready-and-willing physical talents. 

I’m going to stand on the truth that romantic feelings are as instinctual as sex will ever be. If “taking it slow” is the reasoning for a genuinely gradual cultivation of romantic emotion, then abstaining from sex should be not only expected but normalized. When effectively taking it slow, each facet of a relationship will be evolving at the same speed. Once sex is approached with a speed that emotions are not given the pleasure of acquainting, all notions of steadiness meet an untimely demise to make way for the birth of stagnancy- and spoiler alert, it’s a life of extreme length unless otherwise eliminated by the strength of your own devotion to your standards. 

Emotional accessibility is not a reward or token of gratitude for loyalty and comfortability, but a given. If ever in a situation where physical intimacy is in routine while a title or commitment is regarded as long-awaited, hypothetical, and ultimately unattainable, you aren’t going steady, you’re stagnant. 

Another indicator that your affair is stagnant is if they’ve never actually disclosed how they feel about you, to you, or anyone for that matter. 

For every, “I miss you,” there are flattered smiles and kisses in response. Regardless of your best efforts to excuse it out of your mind, it persists; the moment replays in your mind on a loop, thieving peaceful sleep and moments of downtime in the process. The silence has said it all. 

In a more extreme scenario, he jokingly recalls a time in which his friends mentioned you in conversation; they’ve expressed their attraction for you and even an interest in pursuing. Your cheeks warm with a rosy blush, a smile spreads across your lips, and you laugh bashfully, both glad to be admired and slightly uncomfortable because they’ve shared this with your (un)significant other. 

But why would they share this with him? Don’t they know? These questions wipe the smile off of your face quicker than it came as confusion morphs into a gut-wrenching realization: they don’t. 

“What did you say?” You’ll ask, trying not to let the extent of your curiosity and need for the truth pervade the atmosphere- they never are quite so willing to share when seriousness is sensed. 

“Oh you know, I laughed. I agreed with them.”

It’s vague, but the message couldn’t be more clear. You’re nodding not in an understanding of the exchange, but in an understanding of the overarching truths of the matter. He didn’t share his closeness to you because the nothingness between the two of you was not intended to exist outside of the knowledge of yours, his, and the walls of all the rooms that each meeting takes place in. 

Not because you’re a secret, not because he’s “shy,” but because, “it’s nobody's business.” Not even yours. 

I will never be an advocate of the sentiment that what is understood doesn't need to be explained. All that is understood only became such as a result of being explained. Where there is no explanation, there is no understanding.  

While we all have varying love languages, the feelings that follow the reception of an oral affirmation are unable to be replicated by any gift, action, or touch. It is true that some people just aren’t good with words, but at what point does a lack of capability turn into reluctance and neglect? 

When you’ve completed 365 days of this undefined engagement and all he can say in an attempt to illustrate the nature of this connection is, “I have feelings for you.” 

Initially, this may seem like a small victory. Finally, a confession; an acknowledgment that we exist beyond the realms of platonic friendship. Something. 

Though tempted to probe, to ask, “what does that mean?” or “what kind of feelings?” you accept this lackluster affirmation because it’s better than nothing, and even in its scarcity, it’s a milestone; because you’re taking things at a speed below that of a school zone. He didn’t say you were his coffee in the morning, the beginning to euphoria, or the conclusion to misery but it’s okay because he’ll get there, right? 

And it will be okay. That is until the use of the word “feelings” becomes so frustratingly broad and general that you’re nauseated it seemed to suffice in the first place. Even if your partner isn’t of a Shakespearean caliber, the excuse is invalid. The most visual man will adopt linguistics if the need to communicate is overwhelming enough. He’s not developing, he’s avoiding, and thankful for the endurance of your patience and the depth of your understanding that blinds you from recognizing stagnancy even when it’s exhibited in its rawest form. 

Steady will present itself as a love letter when his voice fails him. Steady will ask for grace as he pursues growth, evolution, and ultimately compromise as he actively attempts to defeat emotional availability, rather than just repeat that he has trust issues as reasoning for his refusal to nourish you and your relationship with the affirmation needed. Steady is consistent in pace in each facet of the dynamic, not just the ones that award him the opportunity to avoid the depth you deserve -but are too coy to ask for.

Stagnant comes dressed as every empty promise you’ve heard and held on to for dear life. Stagnant is the constant reminder that you’re still getting to know each other regardless of the frequency and severity of conversation. Stagnant is the failure of readiness for commitment while wordlessly vowing to please every physical need indefinitely. Stagnant is months of texting, with no remnants of a phone call in sight. Stagnant sounds like, “There’s no rush to be together,” after 26 weeks of untitled, unregulated relations. Finally, stagnant looks like you, waiting aimlessly for the clarity that never departed its origin, to begin with. 

While each relationship will ideally evolve at the tastes of both parties, you’ll know steady was only a cute way of ornamenting stagnant when the confusion of it all develops into a cloud of fatigue. A cloud of fatigue that exposes the true nature of this supposed journey: a long road to nowhere being followed by you, and you alone.

The book you once feared closing will be a dragging, dreaded read with a circular plot. Though never-ending, you can feel dignified in closing the book due to its predictability; and for every “what if”, the tale remains unchanging, eager to be revisited, and awaiting your return.