Reader question #56: My new girlfriend is too busy to hang out with me.

Dear Captain,

I stumbled across your blog courtesy of the excellent Sexy Typewriter’s blog and have become a regular reader.

Since I enjoy reading your sage advice to other people, I figured I should see if you (and/or the wonderful community of commenters to your blog) can help me out with an issue that’s been nagging at me.

I’m in my late 20s and I’m dating a girl who is amazing and is compatible with me in so many ways—except for one. She’s remarkably busy. Part of her busyness is that she’s involved in a lot of non-work activities (sports, plays) and also she’s been rather sick (with the schedule of non-work activities seeming to run her into the ground).

So what’s happened is while at the start of the relationship we were seeing each other 2-3 times a week, lately it’s dwindled down to once every other week. Though we’ve stayed in pretty constant contact through texting, emailing and the internet, the in-person time just hasn’t been there.

I really like this girl, but I’m kind of at a loss of what to do or say to her at this point. We’re 4 months in and some of her activities pre-date our relationship, but she’s added others on top as well. I don’t consider myself to be a  generally needy guy when I’m in a relationship (does anyone?), but I’m struggling with whether given the amount of time we’re actually physically together if I’m in a relationship at all, or just a weird digital friendship.

Is there advice or guidance that you might be able to offer good Captain?

Signed,

Neglected or Needy?

Dear Neglected or Needy,

I’ve been thinking a lot about ApeMan1976’s comment in the table manners thread, about the least controlling way to go about changing someone’s behavior is to approach them with honesty.

So for you, it’s honesty time. During the talk you need to have, you can get a long way with questions and very concrete suggestions for how you can spend more time together. For instance:

  • Is your schedule always like this, or did I just meet you at an unusually busy time?
  • Are you happy with how often we hang out?  Are you happy with how packed your schedule is?
  • Would you be willing to set aside a day of the week that’s just for us to spend time together?

But you have to get down to business in there somewhere.  “Listen, I really, really like you, and I want you to be happy and engaged in stuff you love to do, but I really want to see more of you.  Can we work something out?

Risk appearing needy.  Put it out there.

And then really listen to what she says.

I can maybe tell you some of her secrets. Of the two people in your relationship, I relate more to Busy Girl because when I’m working on a film, FORGET IT. It will consume all my waking hours and I will dream about it when I’m asleep.  Plays are like that, too.  If she’s in the theater, this is a cyclical thing that will happen a few times a year, and it will always consume her because when you make a film or a play you make a family of people and you also create a thing and there is nothing harder but more fun to do in the world and we all do it because we’re in love with it and we’re in love with each other while we do it.  If I’m dating someone when I’m working on a movie, I still like/love him, but my mind is just on other stuff for a while, and I haven’t figured out how to have balance.  I’ve made more than one nice man feel like you probably feel right now.

So if a romantic partner says “Man, you’re always so busy, you need to pay more attention to me and I need to see you more” my hackles go up, because I am really stressed out and already feel sort of guilty for neglecting him, but also, does he not understand that my true love is THE CINEMA?  But if he says “Stop by when you’re done with the location scout,” and I do and there is food and I have a place to just relax and pet and be petted? I may fall asleep really quickly in an awkward position and drool on the arm of his sofa, but I will fall asleep really happy, because I did the thing I love and then I got home and was loved.  The way my brain works, sometimes solving the problem of “We need to see each other more” is anxiety-producing, but “I’d love to see you tonight, even for a little while” is something I can handle. It just works better for me when it is expressed as something concrete that I can do something about.  That probably makes me really difficult and annoying to date when I’m working on a film.  But I’ll always have THE CINEMA! And narcissism!

Also, listen.  We fill our lives with activities that we enjoy so that we’ll be occupied, engaged, and interesting.  And then we meet someone, and it takes some juggling to figure out how to fit the other person into the life we’ve created.  Someone who immediately drops all their cool hobbies when they get a partner, like, okay, now I have a reason to live and I don’t need soccer practice anymore is kind of, I don’t know, empty?  I suspect that if this thing is going to work out with you two, the right balance will involve carving out a day or so every week that’s just for the two of you, finding some activity that both of you do together, and you also concentrating hard on your own pursuits to give her space to go after hers.  If you start looking at “the cool things she does with her time” as a zero-sum game of “all the things she’d rather be doing than spend time with you,” and approach your relationship with that mindset, I’m sorry – it’s doomed.

You’re not crazy or wrong or too needy for wanting to see her more, and for expressing it.  Own that affection for her.  Own that lust.  That stuff is real and important to you.  She may in fact be a bit over-scheduled and trying to figure out how to balance everything and also work you in, as in “this play is over in 3 weeks, then I’ll make it up to him”, or she might be totally okay with your current level of contact, in which case, you probably need a new girlfriend.  Get in there and talk to each other about it so you can find out now, before another 4 months get lost in the whirlwind.  If your needs aren’t being met and don’t look like they will be met by this person at this time, bail before you get more invested.

9 comments
  1. robiewankenobie said:

    “If you start looking at “the cool things she does with her time” as a zero-sum game of “all the things she’d rather be doing than spend time with you,” and approach your relationship with that mindset, I’m sorry – it’s doomed.”

    yes. also? she may be an awesome person, but just not be the right awesome person for you at this point in time. the only way you’ll be able to suss this stuff out is to have a conversation with her.

  2. btothes said:

    I feel your pain. I’m also wondering if there is some strange, newish relationship time, where we start presuming — and correctly so — that there is “couple life.” You’ve spent time setting up “couple practices,” like seeing each other a few times per week, flirty texting during the day, etc. Then, something throws it off.

    In think in the best cases, we negotiate this ahead of time. For example, I am a crazy, twenty+ hour/week athlete in the summer. I’ve learned (through awkward) that it is very helpful to give person I’m dating a heads up about this — and assure them I’m not ignoring him. I’m just running a lot. It is really easy to be clueless and forget to do this part. Running makes me happy! Isn’t everyone happy?

    Worst case, person is just not that into you and is withdrawing investment from couple space.

    So, definitely good to find out which one it is.

    • JenniferP said:

      You and lsmene have also made me think about the very early stages of dating, where say, a certain standard of grooming/planning is in place , vs. couplespace, and also the kind of dating where what you do is to go out and explore the city vs. where you stay in and retreat from the city and spend your downtime together. If you’re in the early stages (shaved legs!) + a Let’s-go-out-and-do-things sort of place, adding dating into a busy life can sometimes feel like one more thing to accomplish or conquer, whereas maybe a little later in the relationship, as @SarahSpooner said on Twitter, the perfect date can be “Let’s both work late at our jobs and then order Thai and watch Community!” It can be flexible within a relationship, but a few months in without a lot of contact maybe this relationship hasn’t found it’s “You’re the person I go to to relax and unwind with” place yet.

  3. Ismene said:

    Also, would it be possible for you to hang out with her while she’s doing other things? I know I’d be thrilled if I got to bring the person I loved to the event I loved. If she’s always at a play rehearsal, why not offer to bring her by some dinner every so often? If she’s into sports, go to her games!

  4. Veronica said:

    I think the Captain’s advice is good, but I also wanted to say that you are perfectly within your right to ask up front whether or not the situation is working for both of you. When two people enter into a “relationship,” they are making an unspoken social contract to compromise with each other to find a good middle-ground for both of you. Maybe she’s happy with a once-a-week schedule and doesn’t want to change – then she isn’t right for you right now and it’s time to split ways. Maybe she really is that busy and wishes she could spend more time with you – hell, maybe you talking to her is that little nudge she needs to help her step aside and feel less overwhelmed by her schedule. Sometimes we don’t realize what we’re taking for granted until our partner reigns us in.

    Either way, don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. You have a right to be satisfied within reason in a relationship, and if you can’t find a way to it together, it’s time to find other people.

  5. maggie said:

    I started seeing (read: mostly just have sex with) a guy, who is also really busy. It was supposed to be casual right from the start, but I realized having sex that’s more just friendly than as friends is kinda meh for me (also, that whole really-busy thing), so I told him how I felt. It resulted in an effort to spend more time with me, so…

    I agree with the Cap’n: discuss your concerns! Either you can mutually resolve things and/or figure out your expectations, or you can move on.

  6. CA:

    Do you participate in the 48 Hour Film Project? I’m the same way with film and it’s a great way to fit filmmaking into family/other life. There’s a national one you do by email and most cities have some “live” version of it as well.

    I’ve made two (attempted three) as a director and also worked with Rational Spirit in Athens to make a few more. It’s lots of fun and it only takes a weekend, after the clock strikes 7:30 on Sunday it’s in the can and it’s over.

    Richmond 2009 The Barren Garden http://vimeo.com/5784549
    Richmond 2010 The Best Mirror http://vimeo.com/13533314

    NoN: In my relationship I’m the busy one. We’ve been together since 1995 and I can tell you it’s something you struggle with your whole relationship but if you compromise and talk to each other you can manage it.

    APS

    • JenniferP said:

      I haven’t done the 48 Hour Film Project yet! I teach filmmaking and direct films when I can. It seems like a good way to blast through perfectionism and get something in the can, plus the adrenaline rush might be nice. I’ll take a look at your links when I get a second.

      • Ha! Well, when you look at the links you’ll see I’ve definitely licked perfectionism.

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