Ask Wendy

Why Do Guys Pull Away or Say, “I Don’t Want to Hurt You”?

Friday, June 15, 2018
couple holding hands
Hey Wendy,

What do men mean when they say they don't want to hurt you? It seems to happen after they've pursued you pretty hot and heavy, and now you've agreed to get more intimate with them. All of a sudden, they seem to put on the brakes and waffle about moving forward. They say something like, "Hey, I don't want you to get hurt," or "I don't want to hurt you." What the what??

Are they wanting to see if you're a grown ass woman who can take care of herself and her feelings once sex is on the table? Are they providing a disclaimer that they're going to be a dick in the future and they're covering their ass, having warned you from the very beginning? What should we know about this?


Hey Chloë,

When I was writing my book, 121 First Dates, I read a lot of other dating books to see how mine would stack up against the competition. There were raunchy ones and spiritual ones, funny ones and serious ones, and on and on. But the one thing they all had in common was employing strategy!

The spiritual one encouraged women to set a date, then break it last-minute—the “give, withdraw, repeat” technique. Wait, what?! Another gave a cockamamy analogy of asking your potential prince to dive under a moving bus to fetch a prize you tossed under it, and if he emerged with it for you, he’d be a keeper. Huh?!

There are playbooks out there for guys to learn how to “game” his dates, too, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here with the “I don’t want to hurt you” thing. So, girlfriend to girlfriend, when a man says, “I don’t want to hurt you,” you can take that to mean, “I don’t want to hurt you,” and that’s all.

If using the line, “I don’t want to hurt you” is an effective disclaimer for when a dude is a dick in the future, we should all say it upon greeting every new person who is going to be in our lives in a meaningful way. Because let’s face it, from time to time, we’re dicks. Maybe not on purpose, but you know…

I don’t think they’re testing you. I get it, though. It can look like a pattern. I’d recommend doing a double-check for it’s-not-you-it’s-me’s: Are you adding more intensity or pressure to this new relationship than it warrants at this stage? If you are, back off to where you were before and go a bit slower. If you’re not, then when you get an “I don’t want to hurt you” from a guy, try saying in your most non-accusatory tone, “Hey. Thanks for saying that. I don’t want to hurt you, either. Quick question, though…What has you concerned that you’ll hurt me?” Then zip your lips and listen to what he says next. Chances are what he says will be wildly illuminating and informative.

Braking and waffling, ugh. So. Many. People. Do. This! And it’s maddening. (Big shout-out to my #1(21) for never doing this to me!) Yeah, girl, guys hemming and hawing on moving forward is something we all have to muddle through the best we can. Watch very closely how they conduct themselves during those interactions and conversations. Check out body language, tone of voice, all that Sherlock Holmes stuff. Are they simply trying to manage their own emotions over there and trying to be considerate and up front? Or is there a lack of integrity lurking under the surface, a disingenuous “I’m saying one thing but I mean another” sitch? Important data to collect for your analysis.

In the land of dating and mating, we can’t expect a lifetime commitment when we don’t know someone very well. And for those of us who are…um…extra snuggly, we often get amorous when we are moved to do some snuggling, whether we know a person well or not. This is all good, but we do run the risk of the pull-away, the fade, and/or the waffle. But let’s face it, all daters run that risk during any part of the dating process with anyone anyways.

When deal-breakers or incompatibilities surface, someone’s bound to get hurt. But the faster these things are uncovered, the better. And if you’re persistent, intent, and open (and insist on openness in return), this crazy journey is worth it, waffles or no.

Happy dating!

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