Dear Captain Awkward,
My boyfriend and I have been going out for about a year and he is the best and I hope we stay together for a very long time. Lately (being about half a year) I’ve been dealing with feelings of jealousy. And not toward other women, he has never given me a reason to doubt his faithfulness. But I do get jealous of his time. We spend a lot of time together, and often when we’re not together we’ll chat over Skype. He feels very strongly that he requires time for himself, whether that means working on his own project while we’re hanging out or playing a video game while we’re skyping, making a back and forth conversation difficult. And I understand and am sympathetic to his need for personal space. But when it comes right down to it I end up feeling ignored and rejected. I want his attention to be on me when he’s with (or “with” in the case of Skype) me. I always promised myself I wouldn’t be one of these clingy, jealous girlfriends, and I try to fight the feelings when they arise but I can’t stop myself.
And so, on an almost daily basis, I’ll start feeling a little abandoned. I will then say something or do something to try to get his attention. When he catches on he insists that I back off a bit. This leads to me feeling more abandoned than I did before. And then, in the most childlike fashion, I will throw a fit, which usually ends in tears until he comes to comfort me. And lately, he’s been getting so fed up with my antics that he refuses to comfort me, leading to greater fits, the most recent one almost ending in a panic attack.
I know that he is frustrated by my behaviour, and I am frustrated by my behaviour, especially as it drives a deeper and deeper wedge between us. And I always end up blaming myself which only adds to my already enormous anxiety. And I know that I am the one over-reacting in this situation, but I do wish the he would maybe be more sympathetic to how I feel and more willing to share his attention. I think his fear is that if he gives in an inch then I will take a mile (which, in all honesty, is possible).
I’ve tried to be better for him and to change and to turn off how I feel, but my anxiety and self-doubt always wins. Is there anyway you can help me to a) better express how I feel to him in a way that might help him to undestand? and b) maybe become a more emotionally balanced individual in general? (small order, I know)
Thank you Captain Awkward.
Jealous of a Video Game
Dear Jealous of a Video Game:
I have a couple of suggestions for you:
1. Read the thing about attachment styles. It sounds like you have an anxious-insecure style relative to your boyfriend. Whether it’s comforting or not, that means that there is probably not much he can do to make you feel more secure. Your insecurities are yours to manage and not for him to totally solve for you. You recognize and identify in your letter that the more anxious and clingy you get, the more he withdraws, which makes you feel worse, which makes you cling harder – it’s a horrible, self-reinforcing cycle. The rest of this response is about how to break the cycle.
2. Seek out some counseling for why you feel the way you do and to help you manage your anxiety. That’s one way to become a more emotionally-balanced individual. Your therapist’s office is a safe place for you to get as anxious and insecure as you need to be and completely unpack those feelings, which may take some pressure off of your relationship.
3. Your boyfriend actually sounds like he is great at boundary-setting, so I suggest moving the boundary one step further.
When you’re with each other, be fully with each other. When you’re not together – when he’s working on his own projects or playing video games, don’t be on Skype trying to get little scraps of attention and playing a weird video game of your own where you try to get attention points from him at the expense of the other stuff he’s doing. It’s annoying him and unsatisfying for you. That need for alone-time is real. He doesn’t have to be thinking about you every second. Your need for love and attention is real, too, but he already spends a lot of time with you. He doesn’t have to spend all of his free time with you to prove something. I think that having him somewhat available to you but not quite is actually worse than if he were just logged off the computer.
4. What awesome stuff did you do before you had this boyfriend? Hobbies, friendships, exercise, books? Time to reconnect with those things, or find something else that interests you and fills the void.
5. If you do Skype (Don’t Skype, is my thinking, but sometimes you will anyway), instead of passively-aggressively saying stuff to “get his attention,” can you find a way to say “I’m feeling anxious. I know it’s not your fault, but can you stop what you’re doing and talk to me for 5 minutes? Then I will feel better and leave you to your game.” Then after 5 minutes, say thank you, log off, and go do your own thing. Show him that you can ask directly for what you need and then respect his limits. If you do this every day it will obviously lose its usefulness, so do this sparingly, <once/week.
None of this is a guarantee that you and this guy will find something that works for you both, but it’s your best chance of pulling yourself out of the spiral and setting yourself up to succeed. Love does reduce loneliness and make us feel more connected, but it’s not our partner’s job to cure all of our anxieties. Treat your anxiety like the real problem it is and take care of yourself around it.
142 thoughts on “#366: Attention and jealousy and Skype.”
this is a super hard thing to deal with. i second all of the captain’s advice, having been through something really similar.
what i learned about my similar thing was that the insecurity and anxiety i was feeling had much more to do with stuff going on with me than it did with the relationship. the advice about not skyping anymore or setting firm time boundaries around it if you do might sound counter-intuitive but i think it’s really smart. it sounds like emotionally you want more of his time and affection even if logically you recognize that he is giving you what should be enough. in my experience, when feeling that way, no amount of attention from the other person will fill that hole. the hole existed before the relationship and can’t be fixed by another person. so, when you spend time with him, make it be awesome really present and mutually agreed upon time.
therapy is a great way to explore why the insecurity arises. pay attention to when it happens, what it makes you feel, what it reminds you of. in my experience, it had to do with ways i wasn’t taking care of myself and various abandonment-type issues from my past. ironically, being in a loving relationship triggered all of this stuff in a seriously forceful and anxiety inducing way. so yeah, counseling/therapy really helped separate the stuff that was My Stuff from the relationship. correlation did not equal causality.
good luck with all of this. there were some leaps of faith involved for me, and it’s still a work in progress. and i apologize if i projected any of my own experience or issues onto you with this response!
Oh LW, I sympathize with both you and your boyfriend. With you, because I know how anxiety-producing and frustrating it is to try to get someone’s attention and to feel like you’re not a priority. And with him, because I’ve also been in the position of having to say, “I love you, but I’m doing my thing now and I’m not going to apologize for it. Please let me do my thing for X time without bothering me and then we can talk/hang out/whatever.”
If you don’t feel that you’re having enough good connectedness time, the way to get more is not to try to grab your boyfriend’s attention when he’s working on something else. That’s likely to just be frustrating and miserable for both of you. If you feel like you aren’t talking enough, or spending enough real quality time together, ask for what you need rather than trying to nibble bits of it away from semi-together time. “I’d like to have a date night/dinner with no devices/movie time where the laptops are put away/whatever, so we can connect and talk and have fun and focus on each other. Can we do that at dinnertime/on Sundays/whatever?” (or some variant that works for you) is a lot more respectful and doable than trying to wrench someone’s attention away from something they’re already invested in and focused on.
I say that as someone who does spend a lot of time on her own projects. It works a lot better for my husband to say, “Let’s have a real dinner and conversation at the table rather than eating while messing around on laptops” or “How about we go for a walk on Sunday afternoon and talk?” than it does for him to try to interrupt me or get my attention while I’m brain-deep in something I’m writing (or playing, or reading). In the former case, I go, “Oh, yeah, that’d be awesome! We can talk and hang out and relax.” In the latter case, I go “GRR, I lost my train of thought!”
tl;dr: Having all of someone’s attention some of the time is way, way better than trying to have some of their attention all the time–for both of you. And the beauty of it is, you can plan for it, rather than hanging around hoping it will happen.
This. So much this.
This is excellent advice, excellently put.
Good advice as usual, Captain. I definitely agree that a therapist’s office is a great place to unpack feelings of anxiety and insecurity. I see a lot of myself in this letter, so I understood the LW’s situation a bit differently. Specifically this line, “He feels very strongly that he requires time for himself, whether that means working on his own project while we’re hanging out or playing a video game while we’re skyping, making a back and forth conversation difficult.” Why is the boyfriend doing alone time activities while they’re Skyping? It’s a huge pet peeve of mine to be video chatting with someone and know that they’ve opened a new tab and are looking at something else. It shows a lack of respect towards me and the conversation we were trying to have.
If possible, I think the LW should talk with her boyfriend about blocks of time that are his “alone time” and times that are their Skype time, and then not cross those streams. If she starts to notice his waning attention, she ends the chat. If their conversations keep getting shorter, then that’s a conversation about the relationship to be had later.
I sympathize with trying not to be “one of these clingy, jealous girlfriends” because that’s a message women hear a lot, especially in magazines like Cosmo. “Play mind games so he’ll pay attention to you!” is definitely a story they would run.
So my last bit would be, don’t feel ashamed about your reactions, LW. It’s perfectly normal to feel slighted when someone you’re trying to connect with is making something else a bigger priority (especially during specific “us” times). No one is really taught how to handle these emotions either, so it’s not uncommon for people to react the way you did.
I think it can be relly valuable to block out interaction times from non-interaction. I come to this from another angle: I had many college and post-college friends for whom it was the norm to open up a chat to pass the time while working, and I always felt I was doing a disservice both to my friends and my projects, but felt insecure turning down their chat requests, especially when they responded to hedging with “it’s okay if you multitask!”
It took me an embarrassingly long time to develop enough confidence to reply to a friendly “hey, open up chat!” with “Sorry, I want to focus on this–we’ll talk later?”
Agreed. I remember Comrade PhysioProffe has mentioned that he and his wife take a weekly walk during which they leave all their devices behind–something like that could be useful for the LW and her boyfriend, so they can get some concentrated together-time on a regular basis.
Yeah, I found myself raising my eyebrows at “he requires time for himself, whether that means working on his own project while we’re hanging out or playing a video game while we’re skyping” – I just don’t see how that’s actually time for himself. So it seemed like the boyfriend would just rather focus on other things while hanging out with LW – which I think could be reasonably described as ignoring her and not paying her much attention. But if they’re spending LOTS of time together then I can understand how some of the time he’d want to think about something else too. So I agree that scaling back on time spent together, but making it real TOGETHER time, would be good.
I raised my eyebrows at that too. The LW is framing her anxiety as the problem, but I think it’s just as likely that the problem is his constantly divided attention. I know I’d feel anxious if my partner always wanted to do something else while with me, whether in person or on Skype! Working on her anxiety is a good idea, but without a change in the boyfriend’s behavior, it won’t save the relationship.
Hmmm. I’ve been there, and this is pinging things for me. I probably have some mild form of ADD… when I’m doing just one thing, especially a passive thing like watching TV or sitting in an audience for something, I can get very twitchy and uncomfortable. My mind wanders, I get an antsy feeling in my body, and I can’t concentrate on the thing that’s going on (movie, poetry reading, meeting, whatever). Over many years I’ve developed ways to deal with this through multitasking. I choose something non-verbal, usually either doodling pictures in a notebook (good for meetings), playing a simple non-verbal, pattern-based game on my phone (ditto, but better for large meetings), or knitting (good for watching TV at home, or sitting at a poetry reading or open mic or discussion group). This soaks up some of my excess twitchiness, so that the part of my consciousness that does verbal processing can concentrate on the movie/poetry/whatever. Sometimes it’s good for me to knit while I’m sitting around being social, too, otherwise I would tend to get a bit manic and talk lots and interrupt people. Or drink or eat lots (beyond my hunger/thirst) just to have something to do with my hands.
Anyway! I had a partner who hated this. To her, knitting while watching TV meant I wasn’t “paying attention”. I’m not quite sure whether she most resented me not paying attention to the TV show or to her — because it meant that I had spiky things in my hands and she couldn’t lie with her head in my lap and get me to stroke her hair, which she always wanted. If I knitted at an event like a poetry reading, even if I was sitting up the back, knitting something small that didn’t require me to look at it, and taking in every word of the proceedings, she thought it was rude and inattentive.
She demanded that I not knit while we watched TV, or while we were out in public at things. I wound up being twitchy and uncomfortable and frustrated. I stopped enjoying watching TV with her, because it wasn’t relaxing and comfortable. I hated going out to events with her because I would spend the whole time counting the minutes til it was over and I could move around and DO something. I explained this to her at length, but she was adamant that it was unacceptable. Eventually (for this and other reasons) we broke up.
So, I just wanted to point out that “constantly divided attention” might not be what you think it is. Some people are honestly better able to be present in the moment if they have something to soak up their excess whatever. Not saying this is necessarily the case in the LW’s situation, but the generalisation in the comment I’m replying to did rub me a bit the wrong way.
Very good point.
Yep, I’m the same way. I get very restless and twitchy or else I mentally wander off if I don’t have some sort of physical or low-cognitive-level task to keep me anchored to the present. I used to write letters (not optimal), work on crosswords/sudokus or doodle extensively, flip pencils around my fingers, tug on my hair or make interesting percussion noises using a pencil and resonant body parts (say, under the jaw or the cheek), or just constantly reposition myself in my chair. Now I embroider, or maybe look at Arabic flashcards. Trust me, that’s way less annoying and disruptive. Sitting or standing still while giving my complete undivided attention to something external is about the single hardest thing for me to endure. I’m trying to develop mindfulness/meditation skills to improve on this, but it’s a challenge.
I had actually forgotten — in high school and college, my friends could tell how boring a given class had been by counting the number of ridiculously narrow braids in my hair. (Where “ridiculously narrow” = less than 1/8 inch thick.)
I do understand that folks with these challenges often need that kind of multitasking to feel comfortable, but there are methods that feel (to some people) more like ignoring than other methods.
For instance, I have had people play in roleplaying games that I run who have ADD and have the fidgety issue, and I didn’t care when they were drawing or knitting or doing something else creative or abstract (and I probably wouldn’t have cared if they were playing a pattern-based videogame like Bejeweled). But the person who used to pick up a book and start reading while I talked made me flip out (internally) every time it happened, because to me, that’s ignoring, that’s going away from what’s happening in the real world and there’s no way that person is continuing to interact. I recognize that this is because I’m projecting *my* method of reading onto that person, and for all I know that person was entirely capable of skimming a book and listening to me at the same time, but it felt rude and hurtful.
Demanding that someone stop ALL their coping mechanisms is totally wrong (and OMG your ex sounds maddening). But my thoughts about the LW’s boyfriend were that playing a videogame doesn’t sound as problematic to me (as long as it wasn’t, say, WoW or something that requires a lot of narrative brain engagement) as “working on his project”, which sounds like outright ignoring, the same way picking up a book would be.
I wonder if he’s backing off more, if doing his own thing when they’re hanging out is a sort of boundary-setting of its own, a response? Or is it maybe just how he’s comfortable anyway? I know my beloved and I do our own thing, but we’ve been together for years, it’s not the same sort of situation.
I’m inclined to go with the Captain’s advice – when together, be together; when apart, be apart. That itself might mean LW’s boyfriend will change his behaviour.
I actually initially pictured the Skype thing as going the opposite way: boyfriend says he needs alone time to play video games, LW says “oh, you’re on the computer anyway, why not just open a Skype chat,” boyfriend (perhaps feeling wheedled or not wanting to create conflict, agrees). Now, there’s no info in the letter as to whether boyfriend or LW suggested the Skype-while-gaming thing, and I’m interpreting it in light of my own personality and issues (I’m someone who needs my own time and space, and could see myself being talked into that sort of Skype arrangement and then really super stressed out by it), and those saying that boyfriend is being inconsiderate are also reading in their own issues and personalities. Just, y’know, offering another possible scenario, I guess.
This is how I read it. The Skype seemed to me like the boyfriend was seeing it as “I”m going to play this game, and oh, you’re here, that’s cool, I guess” and the LW was seeing it as that also but trying to turn it into Our Special Skype Date and then everyone was feeling bad when that didn’t happen.
I don’t think the chronological order of the gaming and skyping necessarily changes the analysis. BF is still not meeting LW’s needs for focused time together. If he’s gaming and LW wants to chat, he needs to shut the game off and give her his attention — or if he really can’t do that, he needs to tell her he can’t be on skype. Tossing her little scraps of attention is a crummy thing to do, because it keeps her on the hook and anxious and consolidates all the power in the relationship in his hands.
Tossing her little scraps of attention is a crummy thing to do, because it keeps her on the hook and anxious and consolidates all the power in the relationship in his hands.
It’s really interesting to me how differently people are reacting to this letter. I had a totally opposite take on the Skype stuff — that he is probably doing it as a compromise because even somewhat-distracted Skyping leads to the LW “throw[ing] a fit” (her words) and crying until he comforts her. Since she reacts so strongly to him not being totally attentive even when they spend a lot of time talking online after spending a lot of time together in person, I can see why he might think it’s better/easier/less likely to produce a bad reaction from her if they sort-of hang out online even when what he really wants is some time actually on his own. (And I do agree with the Captain that they’d be better off having actual alone time, but I can see why he would think distracted chatting=crying fit, so no chatting=Very Bad Things.)
I mean, to flip your comment: the LW is not meeting her boyfriend’s stated needs for alone time, either. Why are their currently mis-matched needs entirely his fault/his responsibility to fix?
This is how I read it too. I think a lot of people are bringing their own perspectives here–people who have had emotionally unavailable partners in the past are all like “what a douchebag”; people who have had smothering partners are all like “That poor boy; he isn’t getting his alone time!”
Having had a ex who was both, I am afraid I am kind of enormously on Team Boyfriend here, although I also empathize 100% with the LW on how awful that sort of half-assed attention can make you feel. And I think the Captain’s advice is spot-on. If boyfriend needs alone time, that means he needs alone time. Alone time is when you are alone, without other human beings in or near your physical space or trying to interact with you by any means. Introverts require alone time, and romantic partners do not get magically exempted from counting as “other human beings” because of the miraculous fairy-dust power of Twu-Wuv But-This-Is-A-Serious-Relationship Hollywood-Romance-Sparkle-Magic, no matter how much my controlling ex pissed and moaned about how hurt his narcissistic little feelings were that I found spending 100% of my spare time with him tiring. (Er, not saying the LW is doing quite this, necessarily.)
My ex insisted I spend at least four nights out of the week with him (and we almost broke up negotiating it down to four; before that, it was six or sometimes all seven); his continual line was that If We Only See Each Other Twice A Week Then It Is Not A ~Real~ Relationship (but since we had been having Such A Serious Relationship, if we broke up, which he would have to do if we only saw each other twice a week, then he would not be able to remain friends, because he would be so sad, and it would be too sad and emotional for us even to hang out with mutual friends together and go to the same parties, and since he had alienated me from most of my friends who were not his friends first, this basically meant You Will See Me Four Nights A Week Or I Am Going Away And Taking Your Entire Social Life With Me (when we finally did break up, it was ugly, and I packed up my life and had a new job, a new car, a new city, and a new social life within two months)). Since two nights a week is about the most often I can handle seeing anyone I do not actually live or work with (i.e., the most frequently I can do the make-plans-and-leave-house thing with the same person) without going into total stressed-out and tired and irritable and losing my appetite and losing ten pounds and feeling like I am allowing one person to eat my life mode, this was really bad. But since I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad to come over this frequently or EVERYTHING WOULD BE OVER AND WE WOULD ALL BE SAD AND LONELY… I sort of expected that when we were together, he would, like, put some effort into fucking entertaining me, since it was so all-fired important for me to be there? And then I would get all annoyed when he would basically ignore me for hours on end. Except I was also way too fucking exhausted to do anything, so whenever he would say something like “Is it okay if I play Halo with [roommate] for an hour or two?” I would be like “OMG YES FINE THAT IS TOTALLY OKAY PLEASE GO TO DO THAT” so that I could nap or read a book or do something to sort of half-assedly approximate the Alone Time that I was so desperately in need of, or catch up on some of my interests that I felt like I had abandoned to my relationship and was therefore sort of losing my sense of self about. And then I would get sexist headpats about being the Cool Girlfriend for not making my poor beleaguered boyfriend actually pay attention to me after he’d thrown his massive whiny fucking shit fit about how often I needed to come over. And I resented the hell out of it, because if I was going to be alone and read and not interacting with anyone WHY OH WHY THE HELL COULDN’T I FUCKING DO IT AT HOME BY MYSELF LIKE I WANTED? But no, I had to be kept On Hand, because I was “his girlfriend” the same way his smartphone was “his smartphone”; he might not use it every minute of every day but it had to be within arm’s reach at all times in case he did want to use it, which is totally fine for an actual smartphone but not for another person. (Also if you push a button and it doesn’t open the app you wanted to open then it is buggy and you should try it again a few times until it starts working properly again, but we don’t need to get into that right now.)
Letter Writer, it is likely that your boyfriend is tired. He is being irritable and not paying attention to you because he does not have the energy because he is tired. Let him rest. If you let him rest, then hopefully he will be able to have the energy to actually pay attention to you when you are together like the Captain suggests and things will be fine. If you do not let him rest, he will continue to be tired and also resent you for it.
Oh my gosh, that sounds AWFUL. I’m sorry you had to deal with that. Makes me twitchy just reading it, can’t imagine having to actually deal with that in a romantic relationship. (That smartphone analogy was eloquent, but also just so sad.)
It’s always important to realize different people have different levels of how much human interaction they can take. Personally, mine is pretty low already and I have a job where I deal with difficult people all day, and when I come home I am Done With People. If I knew that four or five days out of the week, every week, I’d be expected to go Somewhere With Someone, I’d lock myself in my room. My BFF and housemate is the exact opposite. We’ve shared living space for the last three of his relationships, and his SO is always either here, or he is at their place. And he’s got a standing Day of Week hang-out time with another friend. Plus me dropping into his space whenever I emerge from my cave and decide I do need a little bit of contact. I always go a little cross-eyed when he describes his week, but he seems to thrive on it. When he winds up single, with no SO to be around most of the time, he Does Not Do Well. Fortunately, his SO is someone who also very much enjoys being around him as often as possible.
“And so, on an almost daily basis, I’ll start feeling a little abandoned. I will then say something or do something to try to get his attention. When he catches on he insists that I back off a bit. ”
That “daily basis” catches my eye. If LW’s boyfriend is someone who DOES need alone time, having someone who will, on a daily basis, insist on his attention when he’s not giving it is one hell of a stressor. If it’s been going on for a while, he might even be conditioned to always expect every day that at any given moment between ___ and ___ o’clock, his alone time will be interrupted with a demand on his attention from a person he cares about. That means he’s already got a little hum of anxiety going, so when LW does make her bid for his attention, he’s already feeling a little bit grumpy and defensive of his free time, and he’s not as likely to respond well.
“Demand from a person he cares about” is important, especially if he’s the guilt feeling type. I feel bad when I have to pull away from an Invitation/Demand To Be Social when it’s from my family, or from one of my close friends, because I want to be hanging out with them or talking to them; I love them and I love to spend time with them. Just not right NOW. So that just adds to the anxiety.
My advice, LW…back off for a few days. Say, three or four. Not in a passive-aggressive, “Well, if he really cares about me, then he’ll notice and miss me and call ME!” way (though I can understand it feeling that way. Just don’t let yourself fall into the trap of thinking it on loop). Just to give him time to reacquaint himself with the idea of not having a daily demand, to let some of that anxiety go. Then call and make plans for A Day That Is Not Today. “Want to go get dinner/see a movie/hang out tomorrow?”
If it truly has been a daily thing, and it’s only been getting a negative response that, in turn, makes you feel lousy, change the approach.
That’s my two cents, anyway. Good luck, LW!
Regarding your last paragraph: as the LW phrased it, his “alone time” is a weird mixture of “not really alone time”. I’d count that as mixed messages on his part as someone said somewhere here.
But I agree that this situation isn’t entirely his fault and both of them would benefit from a bit of talking.
I think there’s clearly a communication gap regarding what they expect to get out of various interactions (whether in-person or on Skype), but I don’t think there’s enough information in the letter to determine what (or who) is responsible for the miscommunication/mixed messages. It could be either of them, or, more likely, some of both.
That said, I’m not sure it even matters whose fault it is–the solution (communicate better, start a conversation about what you both need, whether your needs are compatible, and how to negotiate that) is the same regardless. I think a lot of us are focusing on how the LW can start that conversation simply because the LW is the one who wrote in–we can’t tell the boyfriend to talk better because he isn’t “here” to get the message.
I think this is a little unfair to the boyfriend. She says they already spend a lot of time together in the flesh, so why the additional Skype time?
It seems more likely that he’s just doing what people do, doing his own thing but keeping the lines of communication open so they can talk if they want to. I do this with my partner and some of our friends a lot. It makes it feel like they are in the same room reading a book or playing video games. It’s a way to feel connected without necessarily being totally focused on each other.
I think making sure in person time is quality time, and then cutting back on the virtual lines of communication that aren’t actually being used to communicate is a good idea.
Same room, not really paying attention is called ambient awareness. This is an old NY Times article on ambient awareness and digital technologies. It is a discussion that comes up a lot in the study of social media properties. I find it endlessly fascinating. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/07/magazine/07awareness-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
And it is my FAVORITE THING, so thank you for giving me a name for it!
This sounds like something 2-year-olds do a lot, only there it’s called “parallel play” or “playing together separately”. My partner and I use those phrases to describe when we’re doing that sort of thing, like if we’re both reading (or geeking) in the living room.
(Honestly, even if she’s in her studio at the back of the house and I’m knitting in the living room at the front of the house, I can still hear the little noises she makes with tools (or shifting her weight in the chair, or talking to the cat), and I know she’s there in the house with me, and it’s very comforting.)
I think this is a little unfair to the boyfriend. She says they already spend a lot of time together in the flesh, so why the additional Skype time?
Yeah, I just — maybe I’m Old, and view Skype as something for job interviews in distant cities and keeping up with friends overseas, but I just don’t see why a couple who live close enough to each other to see each other multiple times a week need to Skype.
And the tears and fits sound manipulative.
If he’s gaming and LW wants to chat, he needs to shut the game off and give her his attention — or if he really can’t do that, he needs to tell her he can’t be on skype.
While I agree with the ‘if he can’t do that, he should tell her to not be on skype’ (although I do think some responsibility falls on LW to say ‘I don’t want half your attention, so if you’re gaming, please don’t open skype,’ especially as people have differing tolerances for split attention). But the first half of the sentence… I think it really depends.
Yeah, if he’s gaming all the time (or doing his projects all the time), sometimes he should shut them down and actually really chat with full attention. But I don’t agree that chatting should necessarily trump game time. I think both partners in a relationship should get some fun me-time, and it’s perfectly okay to not pre-empt that for chatting.
When LW is experiencing as much distress as she is, I think skype does trump game time. I’m sure he thinks he’s all Mr. Tough Love or Mr. Put-Upon And Long-Suffering, but in practice he’s doing everything he can to reinforce this idea (discussed below) that LW is this excessively clingy and needy little gal who needs to manage her totally unreasonable anxiety herself and should be more grateful to have the best boyfriend ever.
Hm. I guess we interpreted the letter in very different ways, because I didn’t get that at all.
I disagree with this, actually. She throws fits when she thinks he’s not paying attention to her. Throwing a fit is not cool. I’m sorry–I know I’m not going to make many friends for saying that, but it’s so not okay. If you’re feeling anxious or upset or hurt, you need to work with a therapist to learn healthier ways to deal with it. I feel badly for the LW as I think she does experience serious anxiety.
I also feel badly for her BF, since she’s throwing fits and knows (or knew) he’d comfort her, and now he’s refusing to do that. Maybe it’s because I’ve been on the receiving end of those fits, but they erode any sympathy I have for the fit-thrower. They also did not make me eager to spend more time with them. I broke up with a guy who threw fits because I had the nerve to want to spend time with my friends or have some alone time when he wanted to be around all the time. And then you “compromise” because hey, maybe I’m being unfair, but then reading the paper or watching TV or doing the laundry when he’s over for the fourth time that week? Is a terrible offense against him. Enter fit. It’s exhausting, and after a while, yes, you do feel manipulated and bullied into spending time and attention on someone who will never, ever have enough.
If LW’s behavior really is an unreasonable fit, then your take on it is right. I think where we differ is that I’m not entirely convinced that her behavior is a “fit.” I think it’s plausible (not “definitely the correct interpretation,” but at least “one plausible interpretation”) to infer from the letter that she’s having an entirely reasonable reaction to being rejected by her BF, but he has convinced her that it’s all her problem and she’s just throwing a fit.
It was the “throwing fits” part that got me, too, more on the side of Shinobi and co.’s than stentord and co.’s analysis. If she hadn’t said that she throws fits, knows she throws fits but can’t help herself, then the BF would definitely have come across as more of an attention-rationing dingus.
I am completely with you on this.
I think the LW will feel so much happier once she talks to a therapist and deals with how she’s currently processing this situation. Panic attacks and a constant need for affection from another person has to feel draining. I really feel for her here because she seems genuinely full of anxiety and like she’s having a hard time. I’m concerned that people are pointing fingers at her partner so quickly. Blaming him wont help her sort out what is going on with her.
Someone mentioned up thread about the “stage 5 clinger” trope and how harmful it is to women. And I totally agree, being treated like you are being unreasonable for asking for reasonable things while being a woman is deeply uncool.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that no one is ever actually being unreasonable about their demands for attention. Both men and women are capable of being overly demanding or unrealistic in their expectations. And they are also capable of acting out their desires in an immature and manipulative manner.
That is what it sounds like is happening to some extent here. The LW is having really severe emotional reactions to not getting the consistently undivided attention of someone she says she already spends a lot of time with.
Now he COULD be gas lighting the heck out of her, I suppose that is possible. But having a panic attack because the person you’re with refuses to respond to your demands for attention is a very extreme very emotional reaction. To me that is evidence that her emotions are running very high and that this isn’t the case of someone just telling her she’s being unreasonable. Panic attacks are pretty much by definition unreasonable.
I wonder if it would be helpful for the LW to write out what she would describe as an ideal situation. How much time would they spend together? What would they do during that time? When they are on skype, what does she expect that to look like? How often should he check in with you when you are apart? And then compare that to what is happening now?
I just think trying to think about what her wants are more objectively when she isn’t already upset and feeling neglected might help her to see how reasonable or unreasonable she’s being with her desires for togetherness. And it might be a jumping off point for her to identify when her feelings are based on something he’s doing (ignoring or neglecting her) or based on her own fear of abandonment.
I say this because there is of course a chance that her partner isn’t treating her well. And I think the more objective she can be about what she’s expecting, the easier she’ll be able to identify whether she’s really asking for a lot, or he’s just not giving her anything. This might help her rationalize her own feelings a bit.
I think you’re actually both right. LW and boyfriend are stuck in a feedback loop. LW at some point needed more contact than they were getting, and pushed for it, which lead to their boyfriend needing more space than they were getting. When this has happened for me, a nice date night or two mixed with some boundaries and some non-boyfriend activities of my own has improved things. Both the LW and their boyfriend need to talk about it and trust each other, at least for the duration of an experiment into Things That Will Make Both Of Us Happier In This Relationship.
It’s like when you’re hungry and there’s near-nothing to eat in the house — you keep eating chips, which shuts your stomach up, but you never feel really satisfied. You can get there if you get a whole meal, but that requires some work and recognizing what’s going on.
This. In general, I think if you’re going to make a relationship work where one partner needs more time together than the other, you have to compromise. But throwing tantrums is Not Okay, and I actually think it’s good that the boyfriend is no longer comforting the LW during eir fit-throwing. I used to do the same thing (uncontrollable crying when my then-boyfriend/now-husband wanted to end our time together and do something else), and I think getting the reaction you subconsciously want makes things worse: BF doesn’t want to spend time with you; you have an attention-grabbing fit; this causes BF to comfort you, which gives you the attention you want and forces him to spend time he doesn’t want to with you. It’s a dramatic veto button on BF’s boundary-drawing.
Even knowing this, it took my husband and I a while to figure out comfortable compromises, and therapy to help me keep my subconscious anxious/controlling reaction in check. So I know it’s hard. But the first step, LW, is realizing that you have to take control of yourself and self-comfort. Discuss the fact that you know that you have a problem with your BF at some point when you’re both calm and present. And then make the new ground rules something like “If I’m going to have a fit, I will say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m about to freak out, signing off now’ and get off the computer.” Then you can have your breakdown in a way that isn’t manipulative. And, honestly, I found that it was much quicker for me to self-soothe than it was for my boyfriend to soothe me, so not only did I not manipulate him, but I could go about my day much more quickly, too!
Yeah, that was the part that stood out to me, too.
And I mean–it’s entirely possible that the “fits” are anxiety attacks (especially as they escalate later to a full-on panic attack), but the thing is, that still isn’t a reason to expect someone else to drop everything and comfort. In fact, exactly the opposite. I have anxiety attacks and panic disorder, and I know from grim experience that getting immediate comfort in response to an anxiety attack can make them worse, because it trains my body that the best way to handle anxiety is to freak out. (I was going to say ‘it makes them worse in the long run,’ but my experience is actually that the run is not that long. When anxiety attacks got “rewarded” with plenty of comfort and attention, I started having them more and more frequently and more and more intensely–not as a conscious manipulation tactic but just because my brain/body very quickly, subconsciously internalized that they worked as a way to make me feel better.) So the very thing that both I and my friends/loved ones thought was the good, kind, appropriate thing–comforting me when I freaked out–was bad for my health in the end.
That may not be the case here, I don’t know. But it does contribute to my belief that immediate attention is not necessarily the best response to anxiety, tears, and panic.
I agree that throwing fits isn’t okay. The attention seeking may be that he really is ignoring her and disengaging from the relationship, and her noticing this is causing anxiety. Or it could be that anxiety is making any amount of attention not enough. Working out which it is should be done with a therapist (or a reliable, even headed friend at the very least.).
@cadenzamuse, I used to be like this too, with my boyfriend-now-husband. Lest I come across as judgey. But it was still Very Not OK, and if I hadn’t realized this eventually, he would have been well within his rights to dump me.
I sympathize with trying not to be “one of these clingy, jealous girlfriends” because that’s a message women hear a lot, especially in magazines like Cosmo. “Play mind games so he’ll pay attention to you!” is definitely a story they would run.
Oh God, yes. I hate the trope that having any needs or desires of your own makes you a Stage 5 clinger.
There is nothing you can do to avoid the “clingy, jealous girlfriend” trope, so I would recommend not even bothering. I have had two* exes who were really clingy themselves, in that they would insist that I come over and be around them as much as humanly possible and sometimes even that wasn’t enough, and it was really exhausting having to be around them all the time. They needed me to be over at their house and in their presence and generally comfortably on hand like a security teddy bear or something, so often that there was no way they could even think of stuff to do to keep us occupied, even if they were at all inclined to try (they often weren’t). But if I got annoyed at being expected to spend umpteen million hours a week at their house while being largely ignored and wanted them to actually pay attention to me while I was there… suddenly I was Psycho Clingy Girlfriend! Like, no, dudes, actually, I’d rather be home; it is actually you who are both clingy and very, very rude.
*I know. I don’t know how I made this mistake twice, either.
“I know. I don’t know how I made this mistake twice, either.”
I’ve found that twice is the number of times I have to make a dumbass relationship mistake before I catch the clue about the behavior being a problem (not just That One Person)…. and not just in romantic relationships, regretfully.
This was going to be my advice as well; that they block out specific times where they both know that she has his undivided attention. Even if there is less time overall, it is time that shows LW that she is important and a priority. It draws firmer boundaries around partner’s alone time as well, and they might both end up more secure knowing where those lines are.
I am prone to some of LW’s issues as well, and I’ve learned that my partner will always circle back to me, and that if I”m having a particularly hard time, he’ll spend more time directly with me. But learning how to say, “I’m feeling a little lonely, can you cuddle me for a few minutes?” or whatever has definitely helped, too–it gives me the reassurance I need that I’m a priority and that I have his attention, and he knows I rarely get panicky because of it.
So yes, seconding straight-forward communication along with asking when LW needs just a little more focus for a few minutes.
Absolutely second the last point. Ask for a specific thing you need, and when you get it, back off a bit. I’m a highly avoidant person myself so I get the fear of having someone suck my entire life up and never having any alone time (in fact this was part of what my abusive ex did!) but that doesn’t make your needs less valid, and it’s much, much easier for me to be told exactly what it is you need than to get “I’m so lonely” and have to guess what and how much I need to do to show I care. You could also schedule/arrange particular times when you don’t bother your boyfriend at all, and other times when it’s specifically couple time, which will probably help him relax more when he’s having alone time and be a better boyfriend when he’s not so you feel better about him actually having his attention on you.
LW – I’ve been through this with partners. The solution that’s always worked for me has been to spend less time with them, but make sure that when you do spend time, you’re fully present.
Two evenings a week where my partner and I plan to really spend the time on each other beat the hell out of six evenings a week noodling around on our computers in each other’s general proximity. It feels like more time together, not less.
Together time is good. Alone time is good. But if you’re having together-but-feeling-alone time, it’s merciful to both of you if you just go ahead and make that alone time.
(I disagree with the Captain on one thing here: I think “Don’t Skype” isn’t as important as “Skype briefly and with a goal.” Skype up your boyfriend if you want to talk about a specific thing, talk about it until the conversation starts to naturally wind down or he starts to get fidgety, and then say a nice goodbye and log off immediately. Cut your conversations down to just the actual together time, and less will feel like more.)
Agree so much with “briefly and with a goal.” The goal can be “talk about my day for 20 minutes”–that’s a totally cromulent goal!–because talking about your day for 20 minutes with the full attention of both parties is often way more satisfying than noodling around online with occasional commentary for three hours.
(And when I felt like I needed those three aimless hours because I couldn’t handle being alone with my thoughts all evening, and getting bare scraps for hours felt like a lifeline… that was a sign of badness in my head that had nothing to do with my partner. Not that I would assume it’s true of the LW, but in case it is, I wanted to note it, since I’ve been there.)
I agree with the Captain that, now that the BF has set the boundaries he needs, LW needs to set the boundaries she needs.
I also believe that nobody should be in a position to take as given that their needs within a relationship are “childish.” Your feelings are not necessarily reasonable or worth acting on, but they are real and deeply felt. “Childish” and “antics” are trivializing words; they imply that this feeling and to a certain extent all your feelings should be categorically dismissed. Those words raise flags for me that the relationship is not balanced and equal– if it were, you wouldn’t code all his needs as obvious and reasonable, and all your needs as ridiculous. It’s hard for me to tell from your letter how deep that imbalance goes, but whether it’s therapy or new boundaries or whatever else, you deserve to be in a relationship where both parties view both parties as equals.
Long time lurker, but this letter really hit home for me. I don’t anything too useful to add, except I guess to let the LW know that they aren’t alone. I could easily have written this letter (I’ve been tempted many times) and am struggling through the same stuff right now. Will definitely be keeping a close watch on the comments, so thank you for writing in! And I know that I, at least, often look around at relationships around me and wonder how people manage to function without breaking down and panicking, so knowing that I’m not the only one makes things seem a bit less insurmountable.
I would also second the above suggestion to keep skype and personal projects/activites separate. For a few months, my relationship with my boyfriend was long distance (you can imagine how stressful and anxious I was) and the time difference meant that there were only a few hours where our waking times overlapped so I always felt great pressure to make conversations “count”. My boyfriend was much more relaxed about it, and would sometimes suggest we work on our separate stuff while skyping and that definitely just upped the anxiety levels for me.
Best of luck LW! I know how difficult this stuff is to actually go through with, even when you theoretically know all the steps that need to be taken
There’s a horrible myth in the worldwide culture that drills in the idea that two people equal a whole. What an awful thing to teach people! Point 4 is my favorite point of Captain’s advice, even though it’s the shortest. You seem to be spending an unusual amount of time obsessing over your boyfriend. He wants to enjoy his hobbies. Perhaps if you enjoy your hobbies, you’ll feel a little more satisfied with your own being and not lean on him so much.
I can’t help but think that you’re taking him for granted with your behaviour. People become accostomed to eachother over time and let down certain walls, but there seems to be something very perverse in unleashing the entire unbridled id on your partner just because you feel you don’t have to hold anything back anymore. People are not two halves of a whole. They are all separate people. No matter how close you are, there should always be a level of respect held and an understanding that one person is free to walk away if the other proves to be a soul sucking nightmare.
That all said, You may have to take some extra steps back and really review your relationship. You feel crazy right now and you’re acting pretty crazy, but it doesn’t mean that you’re some sort of superbitch villian. If you honestly feel that your needs are not being met, then it’s very likely that you have found a dealbreaker in your relationship. I’ve been in a few situations where some things were awesome but critical foundations were not in place. Love isn’t always enough. There has to be stability and comfort. You can’t force someone to adhere to your needs. You can ask, but you can’t demand. You have to say “This is what I need” and walk away if you don’t get it. Don’t put on your crazy pants and try to beat blood out of a rock. If you’re deer in headlights terrified of that sort of thing, The Pervocracy just did a wonderful blogpost regarding the unknown mental pit of loss.
Agreed. Especially “love is not enough”.
And /yes/ I think the more people accept that breaking up is not The Worst Thing In The World, the happier the life they make for themselves will be.
Maybe some of this is that whole “settling into a relationship” phase? Like, when you’re first with someone and you’re together, you’re all about each other intensely for the whole time. He isn’t reading on the sofa and you aren’t knitting on the settee and dong that companionable silence thing, you’re like, “And how do you feel about Y because I love that X and then Z?” And he’s like, “Really?! I’ve always loved Y because B?”
I’m just wondering if maybe things after a year or so are out of the dynamic “getting to know each other phase” phase and maybe that’s leading to a sense of the quality time not being the same?
And while he’s happy to have that together-alone time, you want your together time to actually be together. In which case, maybe that’s a negotiation that needs to happen, and whether that’s you getting a together-alone project and being cool with that or spending less time together so he’s taking care of his alone/project time outside of your presence so y’all can be fully together…
LW, delurking because I could have written this letter a few months ago. My boyfriend and I would talk all the time, and he would sort of half talk to me while trying to do something else, which made me feel really unloved and him frustrated. Basically, we set up rules on when and how we could talk online, which limited when we could talk and allowed either of us to say “I want some alone time tonight.” At first they were hard to stick to, but I feel so much better now that I’ve adjusted, so I recommend giving the Captain’s no Skype a go even if it feels really weird at first. It also helped me to repeat to myself that I knew he loved me, and not wanting to talk to me 24/7 didn’t change that. Now I feel way less anxious and our relationship is more relaxed. Good luck with everything!
I was in this very same boat not a week ago with my girlfriend. Thankfully I have an amazing therapist who was able to phrase things in a way that got my brain to click and go “oh yeah” and I was able to start working on myself more effectively. What helps me the most is Mindfulness (http://www.plumvillage.org/mindfulness-trainings/3-the-five-mindfulness-trainings.html) though you don’t have to be Buddhist to be mindful. My therapist has been working with a more secular mindfulness and so we are on similar pages though slightly different books (if that makes sense). Anyway, what has been helping me is to be mindful both when I am talking to her (extremely long distance from New Zealand to Los Angeles) and when we are apart.
I used to get very anxious if she was not on line when she was supposed to be (based on the google calendar we use to share schedules with each other), or if she was out with other people for extended periods of time (or several nights in a row). It got to the point where I was crying every day because I felt so alone and isolated out here on this tiny island so far away from everyone I know and love and she was out having fun with people while I was home and miserable. Rationally I KNEW that I was being backwards and should work on me and not try and make her change, but the CrazyBrainTrain waits for no one and I was riding it all the way to Insecurity Land.
My first step (which actually started about a month ago) has been to recognize when the CrazyBrainTrain pulls into the station. That way, even if I do board, I know that what I’m doing is crazy and I can either give a disclaimer or keep myself from saying the crazy things (the beauty of text based conversations, I get to decide when to hit the send button).
The next step has been to keep the train from pulling into the station. This step is going to be different for everyone, but for me it has been through meditation. When I start to feel anxious I try to focus on my breathing instead of the anxiety. I work on being with myself, because I am good company (if I wasn’t, then my girlfriend wouldn’t be spending as much time with me as she does). When I get home from class, instead of immediately signing on line and looking to see if she is there, I make a cup of relaxing tea (I have a great one called “de-stress” that works wonders) and let my world revolve around that cup of tea rather than anything else. That little bit of grounding in the real world helps me to be able to be okay even if she isn’t on when I get there.
I’m not perfect, and probably never will be, but I’m working on it and it feels so good to be able to get through a day where she is gone and still be functional and even peaceful. Even if she doesn’t see me while I’m not freaking out, I am so proud of me its incredible. Working with a good therapist is probably the best advice the Captain gave. I also second the other advice of blocking out specific together time and specific not together time so that your periods of alone aren’t infinite. When you know that there is a wonderful together time planned soon then its so much easier to withstand the alone time.
Best of luck LW.
Thank you so much for sharing. This has helped me immensely.
You’re welcome. If I can help people not do the same damaging things that I did for as long as I did then I am happy ^_^.
This might be completely useless to you but I am a kiwi based in Wellington so if you want someone awesome in your timezone to chat with etc I would be happy to! Being so far away from all your friends can be tough, especially when you’re stuck in Palmy 😛
Lol yup, I was looking at your comments going ‘I bet that’s you from LJ’. Small internet, eh?
roflnui, ae. More on Twitter than LJ now coz it’s a lot easier for me to just throw out small bits and have conversations about whatever interesting things people are talking about. (Mostly the bird of the year contest and politics at the moment, tbh.) And I’ve found a fair few people who either know or are also learning Te Reo, which is very helpful.
Although in general I’d like to echo nearly everything the Captain said, I’m going to differ from the previous recommendations for an all-or-nothing approach to attention, because I think it could lead to resenting his personal activities even more. Rather, I’d suggest something like what my boyfriend and I did, back in the days when our relationship was long-distance – we’d make time every day to focus entirely on our conversation, and we’d update each other about our days and whatever else was currently on our minds, then after that we’d hang out companionably online together, while we each entertained ourselves separately. We weren’t using Skype, and I suspect that having only a fraction of someone’s attention on Skype could be pretty off-putting, but it can work pretty well in a text-based medium like an instant messenger program. Every few minutes or so, one of us would share something we’d just read, or thought, or seen on TV, or whatever, and then a few minutes would pass and the other one would notice it and respond. Eventually we’d focus on each other again briefly to say good night in real time, then we’d log off. Thus we’d have maybe half an hour or so of each other’s full attention, followed by several hours of quiet companionship while we shared comments from time to time, in the way a couple might if they were working on separate activities in the same room together. It can be a lot of fun, as long as you can invest a bit of start-up energy into finding ways you’d like to pass the time that could be done adjacent to your computer.
Also, I sympathize with the desire to be able to “change and turn off” how you feel, but I’m afraid that that usually backfires, especially when the way you feel is anxious or apprehensive or neglected. You can’t actually control your feelings, or stifle them. A more “mindfulness” approach (like in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or in Buddhism) is to practice noticing your feelings without automatically responding to them in habitual ways or thinking of them as part of your immutable identity. Instead of “Ack, I’m feeling anxious, gotta stop that, anxiety is bad, I’m bad, I’m hopeless, ack ack,” consider something more quiet and accepting, like, “Oh, there’s that thought pattern that I always associate with feeling anxious, if I wait a bit it’ll go away on its own. Maybe it’s a signal that I’m feeling worn out or disconnected or aimless. How about if I turn my attention to something important to me – there was that really interesting idea I had this afternoon, can I make time now to follow up on that? If not, is there something else I could be doing now to take care of myself, make sure my needs are met – am I tired enough to sleep now? Have I gotten enough exercise today? Eaten well? Have I been connecting enough with my friends lately?” etc. The long-term idea is that you’ll learn to identify with part of your mind that’s the calm and compassionate “observer” of your thoughts and emotions, rather than the thoughts and emotions themselves, and without trying to control your emotions, you’ll defuse their power and still let them communicate what they’re trying to tell you.
Good luck – I hope the two of you can come up with a more mutually satisfying way of spending your time together and separately..
I have a detached attachment style, and being on Skype or the phone with somebody who wasn’t giving me his full attention would bug me too. It’s fine if we’re occupying the same room and doing our own separate things, but the whole point of Skype/phone is that you’re communicating.
So, yeah, seconding the Captain’s “no Skype” advice.
There is kind of a assumption here that the boyfriend is doing it right and the LW is doing it wrong. What if he is a rejecting partner? And her reaction is completely reasonable?
The LW is very much framing it as her own anxiety issue, so I’m taking her word for it. This sentence especially (bolding mine): “I think his fear is that if he gives in an inch then I will take a mile (which, in all honesty, is possible).”
There seems to be an acknowledgement that there is no amount of “enough” of his attention. He might also have an avoidant attachment style. They might just be wrong for each other. The LW cannot control what the boyfriend will do, ergo, the suggestions were for things that might help manage the anxiety. If she does some work on her anxiety and she’s still not getting what she needs, maybe it’s not the right relationship.
She’s framing it as her own anxiety issue, but it sounds like her framing is majorly influenced by the “women are so clingy for having needs” trope that’s so common in pop culture. Which just ends up creating more anxiety around the original anxiety.
I agree that that trope needs to be killed with fire.
But I also honestly think the fastest way to lose this particular boyfriend is to say “When we are on Skype I want your full attention also we need to spend more time together.”
The LW says they already spend a lot of time together. The “divided attention” thing is only happening when they are on Skype while he is “playing games or working on his own projects.” I think the boyfriend is making a mistake by leaving Skype open during these times – he is creating expectation that he is available. My advice to him would also be “Stop Skyping so much. Just log off when you don’t want to be available, you’re feeding the anxiety by being only half available.” The LW is having PANIC ATTACKS because the boyfriend sometimes does other stuff while also Skyping with her. That is not normal. She can take a lot of steps on her own to not feel this bad.
If she takes some of those steps for herself and it’s still bad, I say, bad boyfriend, break up.
Fair enough. The panic attack thing is definitely not normal, and taking steps on her own is a good idea.
The divided attention thing isn’t only happening on Skype, though. She said:
He feels very strongly that he requires time for himself, whether that means working on his own project while we’re hanging out or playing a video game while we’re skyping, making a back and forth conversation difficult.
It’s sort of hard to know how to interpret that without more information, but it seems entirely possible that he rarely gives her his undivided attention. If that’s the case, her anxiety–as extreme as it is–may be trying to tell her something, rather than just a case of her jerkbrain being a jerk. Only the LW can tell for sure, but I think it’s worth pointing out the former possibility.
I was in a situation very much like this one a few years ago, with a long-distance boyfriend who I’d see periodically and Skype with often. Both of us were extremely busy people. When we first got together our Skype chats were long and focused and intense, with nothing else in the background, and it was awesome. As the relationship progressed, I would continue to put work things aside to talk to him, but it became clear that he was only getting on Skype to appease me, and a lot of our chats devolved into me watching him read. It upset the piss out of me, and eventually I realized that both of us were in the wrong. My anxiety definitely played a part in how I reacted (I did things similar to the LW, complaining loudly and often that he didn’t pay enough attention to me, and ugh, do not even ask how I handled him breaking up with me, I am NOT proud of that moment). But he also could have established boundaries a lot better than he did much earlier. I was pretty anxious-insecure about that relationship, but I definitely could have handled, “Hey, once the semester starts, I’m not going to have as much time to Skype for long, so if we haven’t planned it in advance, let’s not bother with it.” Seriously, I would have.
Since then I’ve tried to model and demand those kinds of boundaries in subsequent relationships, and it’s way better. In my current relationship, my boyfriend will sometimes get preoccupied with what he’s doing while I’m talking to him, and I’ll realize ten minutes later that we just had the real-life equivalent of when you hang up on someone with your face. And I keep telling him over and over again that I won’t be insulted if he says, “Hey, Lucy, can you hold that thought for like ten minutes while I finish this edit?” or, like, just put on headphones at the outset. I’m less insulted by that and more insulted by being flat-out tuned out.
That said, though, the trope of “feminine” clinginess and neediness is very apparent. The LW’s language about herself is SO apologetic, and I feel like if a man had written the same letter about his girlfriend, the language would be more demanding or, for lack of a better term, entitled. Further, I think a lot of women, when pushed, WILL devote more time to their partners, or let slide some of their own things, even when it’s not an obvious expectation. I do think the Captain’s advice is right on, but it can’t be ignored that more people would surmise “clingy girlfriend” faster than they would “rejecting boyfriend.”
TL;DR Good advice, but it is telling that it’s women who ask themselves these kinds of questions far more often than men.
That said, though, the trope of “feminine” clinginess and neediness is very apparent. The LW’s language about herself is SO apologetic, and I feel like if a man had written the same letter about his girlfriend, the language would be more demanding or, for lack of a better term, entitled.
Yes. So much this. Thank you for putting it into words–this is what I felt when I read the letter, but was having a hard time articulating it.
You guys don’t know this but I actually do reverse genders in my head when reading/answering letters. I think the LW’s behavior would be still cross over into unreasonably clingy if she were a man (though I agree, the apology and the trope would not be present). I think we’d read it and be like “Dude, stop trying to control your GF’s every waking moment, she obvs. needs space and doesn’t owe you being constantly available when she’s trying to do other shit.”
Oh yeah, I totally agree that you and everyone else would tell a male letter writer that, and it’d be right. All I was pointing out is that male clinginess (and other behaviors/emotions too, for that matter) is typically expressed as “She needs to pay more attention to me, full stop” with no inner conflict about “Am I being clingy or unreasonable?” It reminds me of the letter from the woman who was scared to hurt her boyfriend’s feelings after he made her pee in the sink. I’m pretty sure that guy wasn’t sitting on the toilet thinking, “Am I being unreasonable in what I’m doing?”
I have a GREAT chrome extension that reverses all gendered pronouns. It’s awesome/hilarious while reading porn.
I’d just like to point out that using Skype (or any other voice over IP/IM software) while gaming is pretty common practice as is using Skype to talk to friends, family, coworkers, fellow students etc so having the partner log off while he’s doing his own thing is kind of problematic advice. If its his solo time, its reasonable for him to use Skype in a way that doesn’t relate to her and therefore I don’t think being on Skype is necessarily creating an expectation that he is available. Its not a fair expectation of him to stop using a program that has such wide applications because it feeds her anxiety. Having *her* log off, however, when its his solo time does make more sense because she is taking steps to control her own anxiety and not putting demands on his private time that could cause resentment and be seen as controlling.
That trope is truly horrible. That said, I know that I myself have anxiety issues that do drive me to feel so insecure that I need my boyfriend’s attention *all* of the time, and it is entirely within myself and doesn’t actually have anything to do with his actions. So I think it is very possible that the LW is coming from that sort of place.
I read it the way the Captain did, in part because the LW noted up front that “We spend a lot of time together, and often when we’re not together we’ll chat over Skype.”
The LW, even while feeling like her boyfriend is not devoting enough attention to the relationship, recognizes that they spend a lot of time together (and then are on Skype a lot when not physically together). That, combined with the boyfriend saying he needs “alone time,” is what read to me like the two were probably spending too much time together and could benefit from actual alone time.
The Captain’s advice was not “suck it up and deal, your boyfriend is right.” It was “you would probably both be happier if you spent less time together but focused on each other when you were together.” Regardless of who, if anyone, is “right” here, that seems like pretty solid advice.
For what it’s worth, I read it the way you did.
I think that’s probably mostly because I’m generally the one in my relationships who needs more alone time, but also partly because my experience of having anxiety disorder is such that when I said “I am anxious about X but I know I’m being irrational,” it was literally true and I meant it (and there was no solution but fixing my own anxiety, because it wasn’t really about the external factors in the end).
I can easily see someone whose experience was different reading it in a very different way, and they may be more right than I am, I have no idea. It’s continually interesting how much of ourselves we bring to these letters.
Skype can be a strange beast. Because it’s so versatile, different people use it in different ways and so have different expectations of how skyping should go. I used skype in a long distance relationship a few years back and I was expecting it to be like a phone conversation where you pay the other person your full attention for a shortish amount of time (< 1 hour) whereas he always treated it more like an IM service and so would leave it open for longer and drift in and out of conversation while doing other things in the background. Frustrating for both and I wish now I'd said something instead of just wondering why he was so rude and uninterested and him wondering why I was so needy. Maybe if you do continue to use it, then having a conversation about how you would like to use skype would ease your anxiety by allowing you to manage your own and each others expectations.
Wow, it’s so interesting to read all these comments about Skype and how some people see it as a phone call and others like IM.
I was in a LDR for a year, and used Skype extensively and used the talking as a regular phone call and the chat window thingy as IM.
LW, like others have mentioned I’m also not sure what you mean about your bf needing alone time and then doing ‘alone time’ stuff when he’s also talking to you. But my bf is a great multitasker and a great user of IM to chat to a million friends, and he can have loads of chat windows open and still merrily do other stuff. Me, I can’t multitask at all – especially when I am on the phone or chatting on IM. I’m a “get the conversation done” person not a chatter.
During our LDR period I would notice that he would like to keep the chat window open and bat comments back and forth over a longer period. At first, I did not get this at all – I would say something, then WAIT doing nothing else until he replied, which made me irritated because I didn’t multitask. I just WAITED. He would say something then make dinner or whatever while I replied.
Eventually we figured what was going on because I told him that the chats were taking way too much time – like hours – and I wanted to be more focussed and present during our convos. He was like, don’t you do other stuff at the same time?
We just had different chatting styles 🙂
So we stopped using chat so much and scheduled phone calls.
I wonder if you and your bf have different chatting styles and that’s leading to the stress?
“whereas he always treated it more like an IM service and so would leave it open for longer and drift in and out of conversation while doing other things in the background. ”
Oh, dear. I would not be able to deal with that. I’d rather just chat for a few minutes and then be free to do whatever.
But then again, the only person I’ve Skyped with is my uncle.
I was thinking of this too. I was in an LDR for a couple years and we used skype a lot. At first is was very phone-style, we would set up the call, talk to each other and do nothing else, then end the call. Later I got really busy with school but lonely at the same time (grad school) so he suggested leaving the video call up, muted; I could do homework, he’d do something else, and if we wanted to talk for a bit we could just wave or use the chat. So that was more IM-style, and it worked really well! But it was something we set up specifically, after we’d been dating more than a year, and it was in addition to more focused time spent on each other.
It sounds like the LW and her BF are having some crossed wires about skype calls, together time, and alone time. I couldn’t tell from the letter whether the BF gets actual alone time, *or* whether they’re having good focused together time. Both are reasonable things to want! Quantity of each can and should be negotiated.
Another possibility is finding a communication method where the LW is less invested in an immediate response.
I’ve had this mismatch with people before, that for me some things (texting, IM and email in particular) are “I’ll reply when I reply” interactions. That is, someone says something to me, they might get a reply a minute or an hour or a day later. Not everyone uses these things like that: my sister expects that texts are like phone calls: you focus on the exchange, you reply as quickly as you can and exchange texts until the conversation is done with. She uses texting for time-urgent decisions like “I’m in the car 5 minutes away, where am I picking you up?” and “can we meet somewhere else tonight?” and similar. Sometimes I don’t even look at my phone that night. After a few fraught incidents we’ve more or less had to stop texting each other entirely.
Some other things, including voice and video chat, are conversation style for me: I expect that the person will be responding promptly and basically the conversation is their main task until it’s done. My husband, some years ago, did not believe this about phone calls and would ring and then… not talk. He’d do stuff or read or play games. He just wanted to be on the line spending time together.
LW and her partner sound like they have a mismatch on Skype style: to her (like me) it’s a “if you’re in a Skype call, it’s your main focus” thing, and he treats it more like me and texting.
Is there something where the LW is comfortable with delayed replies? Can they “hang out” like that when they’re apart? My husband and I keep a chat client open during our work days and slowly exchange links, anecdotes and random thoughts. Admittedly this is partly because we’re both working and can’t have an extended you-are-my-exclusive-focus conversation unless it’s urgent, but it is also a low pressure way to hang out.
I absolutely have this issue! I don’t use instant messaging anymore because I much better suit a group chat style conversation – the sort of thing I can drift in and out of and where the conversation isn’t hinging on me giving a reply to everything. I feel bad that I’m not giving my full attention to my friends but I can’t think of anything to SAY sometimes and it feels forced. But something like Twitter or IRC, the conversation keeps going and changing and it feels much more natural for me to just jump in and talk for a bit and then do some homework or play a game. I can’t answer questions like “How much time do you spend on Twitter?” because I have it open in the background and just flip over to it to see what’s happening. I’m the same as you with texts as well. I usually have my phone on me because I worry that the day I forget to bring it out will be the day we get another huge earthquake and I won’t be able to get in touch with anyone, but I don’t always hear it go off, and sometimes when I’m at home I’ll leave it inside when I go to visit my rabbits outside and don’t check it when I come back. So mostly I try to avoid platforms where the expectation is going to be one I can’t fill, like instant messaging, and with my phone I try to be open about the fact that a) I don’t like talking on phones, so if you ring me I probably won’t answer (don’t list my phone number on my card for this reason) and b) I’m sort of terrible with text messages.
I think with all the amazing methods of communicating with each other we have now it’s important to recognise the things you’re particularly good or bad at so you can see where or how problems might come up. Knowing your conversation style or attachment style or the way you show affection (words, gifts, physical, etc) is really important information in relationships, not just romantic ones, as much as compatible values etc are.
I don’t really like the phone because my eyes don’t have a person to focus on, and then I get visually distracted. My phone calls are short and focused if I get my way. Long just sort of hanging out phone calls would really really annoy me.
I tend to IM or text my boyfriend during the day. We send each other links or email. We can share thoughts, but, not worry about interrupting the other person, and I don’t feel like I am waiting around having to Just Do That. I can do other things and it works for us.
I had a previous boyfriend that liked phone calls or hanging out in person. He would have taken as much time as I could give, and for an introvert like me, that was not going to work. We had a serious mismatch of communication styles and it ended up killing the relationship, eventually.
It helps to know what you need. Then you can ask for it. Sometimes you don’t get it, even when you ask, and then you have to figure out whether you can do without…or not.
I have been this person. In my case, the real problem was with both of us. I think the focus on the LW managing her anxiety was great and I second it. However, the major issue that popped up in my relationship with an avoidant-attachment person was that he tended to use Us Time to fill his needs and then enforce a Me Time boundary when it was my turn to get my needs met. (We tried a number of solutions to this problem and nothing stuck). An example – when we were in an LDR, he would call me in the evening and tell me about his day for about 10-20 min. When it was my turn to talk about my day, he suddenly needed to be somewhere or do something that was covered under Me Time. We had a similar problem with sex. I don’t know if this applies at all to the LW’s situation, but it’s worth thinking about and making sure you’re asking specifically for what you want that would fill your needs. I know it took me a long time to leave this relationship because I felt that when a polite request to get my needs met wasn’t working, that maybe my needs weren’t worth meeting after all and I was being a “clingy, jealous girlfriend.”
So much useful stuff about communication styles and ways to spend time together. I really enjoy ‘hanging out with significant other whilst doing own stuff’ as the boyfriend here seems to: for me it’s cosy, intimate and relaxing. But if the LW thinks this time ought to be ‘focused together time with no distractions’, no wonder they feel anxious when it doesn’t pan out that way. My partner is similar – he sometimes feels I’m being rude and ignoring him, when I’m really enjoying reading or writing in his presence.
Is the LW getting much ‘focused together time?’ If not, it doesn’t seem fair that most of the couple’s time is spent on the boyfriend’s terms. However, he may actually want more time completely to himself, and is being ‘present but not really present’ as a grudging compromise. Working out what different types of time spent together and apart make each of them most happy and comfortable, and agreeing a good balance, seems to be a better way of doing it.
I didn’t get the impression that Skype was the problem here. It seems like the LW’s boyfriend is “taking time for himself” while they’re together in person as well. I don’t get the impression he’s setting particularly good boundaries or communicating well, because he’s “taking time for himself” _while_ he’s hanging out with LW, which is a total mixed message and would really bother me too.
LW, my partner and I have three levels of togetherness, and I find things work best between us when we’re really explicit about which level we’re on at any given time.
The first level is Being Apart. This is when we’re at work or out separately or just in different rooms in the house. When we’re Being Apart while we’re both at home, it’s important that at least one of us say, “I’d really like to be left alone for a while”
The third level is Being Together. This is when we’re in the same room, paying attention to each other (or both paying attention to the same thing, e.g. watching a movie together). We can talk to each other and expect to have each other’s attention. If one of us was reading or playing a game while we were Being Together, the other would be perfectly within their rights to get pissed.
But there’s another really important level, that it seems like your boyfriend would like but maybe isn’t getting across to you? And we call that Being Companionable. That means we’re in the same room, or (when we lived in different cities) on Skype together, but we’re doing different things (reading, working, playing games, etc.) and only peripherally paying attention to each other. During Being Companionable it’s okay to do the occasional affectionate touch, or say, “hey wanna hear a (short) funny part of this?” but starting conversations or expecting each other’s full attention is not part of it.
I’ve found in my relationship that not being clear about whether we’re Being Together or Being Companionable will cause fighting because one of us (generally me) will feel hurt and ignored and the other will feel annoyed and intruded upon. It sounds like at least some of the time your boyfriend wants Being Companionable but maybe doesn’t say so explicitly, so you interpret his presence as a willingness to Be Together, and then you get annoyed that he’s ignoring you.
Maybe talk to him about that, and ask for him to be really clear about how much time he’d like to spend Apart vs. Companionable vs. Together, and ask him to be explicit when you’re hanging out about what his expectations are. And you should be explicit too.
This is a really fantastic and useful way of framining it, thank you!
Yes to all of this!
This is so helpful, thank you.
I think your three-tier analysis is spot-on! In casual relationships, mostly you’re going to be either Together (when the only courteous and considerate mode is going to be attentive and actively engaged) or Apart (hopefully with limited expectations of touching base). But in longer term relationships, romantic or familial, you’re be in one another’s space for longer stretches for which the expectation of active engagement for the entire time is not reasonable, or even healthy. I can’t imagine staying with my husband if we didn’t have lots of Companionable Time. It would definitely drive me to choose lots and lots of Apart. Not as a negative reflection on him, but because I need to be allowed to be in my own head without someone getting bent out of shape about it.
My mom has trouble with Companionable Time; it’s one of the hardest things about visiting her, or being visited.
Huh, my MIL does too. She thinks it’s “rude” if we are all hanging out chummy-like, but one of us watches tv, the other fiddles with their phone, etc.Even things like reading or doing sudoku is rude. And it’s not like we don’t talk to each other during these times. It just isn’t the intense together time kind of talking.
I’ve noticed it’s kind of a generational thing; the younger set has much more tolerance for their friends being half-distracted by devices while hanging out.
My ex too. I wasn’t allowed to read for more than 15-30 minutes even though we lived together because apparently I was being rude by not actively trying to entertain him.
Oh, yeah! Being Companionable is a togetherness style that you *have* to develop when you live together but which doesn’t show up in the early, dating/pursuing/hanging out in public parts of the relationship: LW, maybe you can see this issue as part of a transition to towards more intimacy? In my experience, this issue comes up when you start to be part of each other’s regular life instead of only seeing each other in the heightened, special-focus time of dating. CA talked about attachment styles, which sounds like it’s a huge part of your anxiety, but I think there are different levels of introversion going on here, too: I saw myself in the boyfriend’s place, trying to accommodate someone who was more extroverted because I loved them, but feeling desperate for downtime–and I’m not sure he *is* being as good about his boundaries as he could be, because it sounds like Skype is compromising his ability to get what he needs as an introvert. I have pretty crazy introvert needs, so for me, unless it was very goal oriented and time delimited (and the goal could just be “we will talk for X time so we stay connected between seeing each other in person”) Skype would feel like an intrusion into the time I needed for myself, even if my only plan for that time was to stare into space. During the part of the relationship when you only see each other on dates, that staring-into-space time is still abundant because you each go home to your separate lives in separate spaces, but as you spend more time together and your lives and time get more intertwined, this is an issue you have to figure out. I know it would look rude to my partner to say “I can’t talk because I need to stare into space,” but that’s a real need for me–but it took me a long time to be able to recognize that, and maybe your boyfriend is still figuring out how to say what he needs and Skype is a compromise he made that isn’t working.
I find this framing really useful too. Thanks, Jake.
I’ve also had to do some hard personal work on dealing with my own jealousy and insecurity, so that I could balance treating others considerately and getting my own needs met (or heck, even figuring out my needs versus my feelings). The following set of articles were really helpful to me. They approach jealousy and insecurity from the perspective of someone who encountered it in a polyamorous relationship, but the ideas are equally applicable in any sort of relationship, especially one’s relationship with oneself.
On addressing jealousy: http://www.xeromag.com/fvpolyjealousy.html
On becoming a secure person: http://www.xeromag.com/fvpolypiano.html
That’s a great classification system. It’s hard to talk about these things if all the words you have are ‘together’ and ‘apart’. “Yeah, but I meant REALLY with you!” “But I AM really with you! I’m in the same room and you can always talk to me!”
And even with Being Companionable as an option, some negotiation may be necessary. My husband is slightly more extroverted than I am – he doesn’t get all that distracted by my company so he doesn’t need as much Being Apart, and he doesn’t crave intimate conversations like I do, so he doesn’t need as much of Being Together – and he just likes to Be Companionable all the time. I find that even when I’m just Being Companionable, a significant amount of my brain energy goes towards monitoring what he’s doing, so that interferes with any heavy thinking that needs to be done. My preference is for enough Being Apart to get my stuff done without getting overwhelmed, enough Being Together to get my intimacy needs met, and everything else can be filled with Being Companionable.
The different approaches of ‘BC is the default after everything else is done’ and ‘BC is the default until there’s a pressing need for anything else’ still cause a remarkable amount of friction. 😉
” I find that even when I’m just Being Companionable, a significant amount of my brain energy goes towards monitoring what he’s doing, so that interferes with any heavy thinking that needs to be done. My preference is for enough Being Apart to get my stuff done without getting overwhelmed…”
This is so well put! That’s how I feel about such things as family holidays and vacations, and I don’t feel like I can always express this very well. Thanks much!
I agree, this framing is very useful, but it is something where you often need to be explicit with your partner. This definitely sounds like the LW wants more together time, while her boyfriend is happy with or compromising to companionable time, when he would possibly prefer or be just as cool with alone time. And maybe the LW would be more agreeable to companionable time if she knew that was what it was going to be, so she could plan to be reading/online/cooking/gaming/etc. I think that relationships tend to shift from either Together or Alone to a more balanced mix of all three, so that may also be contributing where her boyfriend is getting to that more comfortable stage of the relationship
I do think that while Skype isn’t the root of the problem, I do agree with other commentors that it just may be something the LW can do companionably. I can’t do the phone that way and I would guess not Skype either, though my husband can, but I could do IM/IRC/texting/e-mail or in person companionably. So I do think that while the root of this is definitely Together vs. Companionable vs. Alone, I do think the medium of Companionable also might not work for the LW.
Thank you, this is such a good way of framing this and actually helped me figure out part of why relationships tend to make me anxious. I’m *such* an introvert, I need so much time to myself, that I get worried about spending massive amounts of time with other people — even people I love dearly. But I am okay with being companionable! As long as there’s no expectation of spending every moment engaged, and I can mostly vege out with my computer/book/tv/whatever, I love spending time nearby the people I’m close to. It’s just that it’s very hard to explain “I want to be near you but not necessarily interact unless we have something particular to say.”
Yes, exactly. I’m a huge introvert and I like companionable time. I don’t know if that’s what’s going on here, but either way it’s not clear to LW and I get the impression that he always wants companionable time, at best.
I echo the advice to not Skype. Mainly because you’re not in a LTR and you see a lot of each other.
On one hand, I want to agree with Jake that maybe he’s not paying much attention to you when you are together and that’s fueling this. But on the other hand, maybe he’s playing video games when you’re Skyping and doing projects when you’re together because you’re together so much and he doesn’t have a lot of time to himself? Or maybe you two are together so much that it’s like living together and so he does stuff the way he would if you two were living together? I don’t know! It could be any one of those things.
HOWEVER. I think Jake’s levels of togetherness are spot on. If you do not like the companionable thing–or if you really prefer to have his full attention–then draw the boundary. “Babe, it looks like you’re in the middle of something. Why don’t I let you get back to it and you can call me when you’re free to talk.” “Babe, that’s taking up a lot of your time today. I’m going to take off and hang out with [friend/family member]/go shopping/go to the library/take a long walk/run errands/have my alone time. When you’re free to hang out and don’t have to worry about doing a project, let me know.”
Also? Do not throw fits. I’m sorry, LW, but they have the opposite effect. Yes, you are anxious and then have panic attacks when he doesn’t comfort you. I–I’m not going to make friends by saying this–but when a guy I was involved with threw fits over me not giving him the attention he wanted (after wanting to spend a LOT of time together, as in every night of the week), it alienated me to the point that I ended things. I dreaded seeing him because of that behavior. I already felt like I was compromising a lot, and then because I didn’t cede 100% of my time and attention, I’d get bullied.
You need to talk with a qualified therapist about this and work on ways to deal with your anxiety.
And yes, I’ve been with guys who I didn’t see that often and who did other stuff while we were hanging out. I thought it was disrespectful because a) we got together once a week, tops and b) I could have been doing something else. I employed the tactics I mentioned in the comment above. I did not throw a fit. “This doesn’t seem to be a good time to hang out. I’ll let you get back to that project and go off to do X/see friends/whatever.”
If he’s always doing his other projects when you’re together, even if you’re only seeing each other once a week, then tell him it’s not okay (don’t throw a fit). And if it doesn’t change, then you decide if you want to stick around or not. But it sounds to me like you need to work with a therapist on the anxiety thing if you aren’t already.
I completely agree with this. Throwing fits, or saying “I’m going to have a panic attack if you don’t comfort me” — is not an okay behavior. It’s extremely manipulative, and it puts the other person in a terrible position. I understand that people don’t do this because they want to be manipulative. They feel horrible, and it seems like the other person being there is the only thing that will make that feeling stop. But it’s a very unhealthy dynamic.
Yeah, I agree with this.
I was also wondering — LW, you say that y’all spend a lot of time together, and that in some of that time he’s working on projects. Could part of it be less about alone time and more about there only being 24 hours in a day? That is, does he have sufficient time on his own to be able to get this stuff done and not have it take up every spare moment of the time he isn’t with you?
Full disclaimer: I am a great big introvert and am identifying pretty strongly with Boyfriend. If I were in a relationship that wasn’t allowing me to have enough time by myself, I’d probably subconsciously start putting more distance into together time, to try to turn it into companionable time, so that I could get my needs at least partially met. (And then I’d eventually realize what I was doing and start insisting on getting enough time genuinely by myself. Skyping and being companionable aren’t the same as being alone.)
Also, echoing and re-echoing the recommendations for therapy. Not because I think there’s Something Wrong With You, but because you’re pretty clearly unhappy with the way things currently are, and nobody should have to live like that. Therapists can be pretty awesome for helping with that.
The Captain’s advice is perfect. Leaving Skype open for hours sounds like a terrible idea for these two.
I have been in the boyfriend’s position before. I imagine that he does not view his “alone time” on Skype as relaxing or satisfying because part of him knows that the LW is upset with him, that she’s anxiously waiting for his attention, and that she’s probably about to interrupt. He’s going to be much happier, and much more able to miss the LW and want time with her, if he doesn’t feel like she’s constantly trying to get his attention when he wants alone time.
I know that when someone is doing this to me — for example, frequent text messages designed to start conversations way more often than I want to talk — it makes me feel anxious and overwhelmed. I start wanting MAJOR space. The other person will say, “What? They’re just text messages. I don’t even expect you to respond right away, or at all.” But knowing that someone is contacting me all day, and that I’m not responding, makes me feel like I’m letting the person down. Especially when I sense (correctly, I think) that the other person is anxiously trying to get my attention even when she claims they’re just meaningless little messages. Alone time isn’t relaxing because I feel like I’m supposed to be responding, but I don’t want to text all day. It’s stressful, and I start to dread checking my phone.
The LW’s anxiety is real, but she needs to work on this independent of the boyfriend. He can be sensitive and talk to her briefly when she’s feeling anxious — and they can agree to regular talk time where they’re both fully present. But it’s not good if LW is getting him to come over by saying she’ll have a panic attack if he doesn’t. Having been in that position — it’s horrible. I felt like she was constantly manipulating me, and the stress of being responsible for someone else’s well-being — especially when what she “needed” was for me to come over and hold her and reassure her that I loved her, because “I can’t fall asleep unless you do” — oh man, that was a terrible time. It was a huge red flag that our relationship was not working for either of us. When you’re in this type of pattern, something really has to change.
We live in a time and a culture where “multitasking” is prized to a fault, and not coincidentally, it’s an age of anxiety. It’s almost like that’s how the LW’s relationship is going — she and her BF are trying to multitask, with her wanting together time and him wanting alone time at the same time. Instead she’s only getting half of him, all the time, which is of course never enough, and no wonder it makes her anxious. The Captain’s excellent advice in one sense can be boiled down to “Do one thing at a time.” A commenter above mentioned mindfulness exercises — same idea. We could all use some mindfulness to put the mental brakes on and live in each moment.
This, so much.
So many useful comments!
As I mentioned earlier, my husband is much more introverted/avoidant-insecure than I am. (I am a little introverted but quite anxious-insecure.) And this is definitely a problem we have had, complete with him setting boundaries much further than either of us would have liked, because we both knew that if I were given an inch, I would take a mile. This is probably something the LW’s boyfriend will have to work on once things are more steady: setting reasonable boundaries and trusting that the LW will respect them instead of riding roughshod over them (because tantrums are totally a way of riding roughshod over boundaries, as we’ve seen in lots of non-romantic relationship posts here).
LW, I don’t know whether your personality is more go-with-the-flow or more organize-everything-dammit, but if you lean in the organize-everything direction, it may be helpful to set explicit time boundaries in advance. While my then-boyfriend/now-husband and I were working out our different time needs, we would set a weekly schedule for when we would see each other and for how long, and what type of time together we would have. This is totally not as complicated as it sounds: we just sat down and said “Mondays we will hang out with friends together, but our quality of time to each other will be companionate; Tuesdays no interaction; Wednesdays are Date Night = Being Together; Thursdays no interaction; Fridays we will decide each week but will probably be one-on-one companionate time; Saturdays no interaction; Sundays = Being Together with a focus on any relationship issues we need to discuss.” This might sound overly complicated, but the kinds of anxiety I have are really, really helped by having a schedule, and I think it helped my boyfriend (even though he is much less schedule-tastic than I am) to have time clearly scheduled for “I don’t have to think about or deal with Denzi at all and can schedule what I want.” And then proving that I could respect that boundary allowed us to have healthy together time. The schedule also helped me to remember to concentrate on non-romantic relationships: I had three days/week that I could either sit by myself or find something fun to do–most of the time I found something to do.
We’ve been married for almost a year now, and we *still* keep a similar schedule now that we live together, because he still needs alone time, and we still have a richer, more productive relationship when we don’t neglect our other relationships and interests.
Good luck, LW! Managing different attachment styles can be really hard, but working on it can help you both have a more secure attachment and bring you closer together.
I’m a little confused. If it really is that he wants alone time, why is there some sort of halfway between hanging out together and doing his own projects? I don’t understand how LW could be the one with the problem, if they are hanging out while he is usually doing something else and not willing to give much attention. IWhat I understood was that you hang out a lot on and offline, and while you do that he prefers to pay attention to something else, so I can’t see the Captain’s advice here or how it is your problem. Just because you’re the one to show the first sign of being upset? Maybe I’m just not picturing the situation correctly, and he doesn’t want to spend all his time with you doing something else? But I would recommend not hanging out or Skyping if he doesn’t want to give you attention while you do so. If this how all your interactions go, then it seems your ways of hanging out and bonding differ. I mean, I don’t object to the idea of hanging out while not giving full attention to the other, I used to do that with a friend, but if you have a problem with it, it’s not really a problem with you, just a way you have of relating and wanting relationships. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But don’t take it all on yourself. I may not be sure what’s going on, but I am sure that it’s not all your fault, at least, and your needs are important too. There doesn’t need to be this extreme of ‘if he’s not the one with the problem, I’m too anxious and insecure.’ You seem to be reacting worse because your taking the blame on yourself and he’s (from what I see) sure that it is your problem, and not his in any way. His needs don’t override yours any more than yours override his.
The LW doesn’t seem concerned with the lack of quality time they’re having; she seems concerned that she’s not getting all of his attention all the time and that she’s have really big reactions to not getting all the attention all the time. The boyfriend has set space boundaries and she’s found herself trying to get around them with inappropriate tactics. I think it’s really healthy and self-aware and awesome to realize that this is a problem and to ask for help.
She might find later that they have different emotional needs or something, but throwing temper tantrums and having near panic attacks because your significant other is not giving you attention sounds like something the LW needs to work on herself (probably in therapy) before being able to soundly evaluate that part of their relationship.
LW doesn’t seem concerned with the lack of quality time they’re having; she seems concerned that she’s not getting all of his attention all the time and that she’s have really big reactions to not getting all the attention all the time.
We don’t know that. LW said that they spend a lot of time together, but we don’t know if that’s by mutual agreement or if she’s pushing him into more time than he wants, or if he’s the one who wants to spend the times together/on Skype but then ignoring her. We have no information about that. All we know from the letter is that they do spend a lot of time together, and when they are together the boyfriend is saying he needs time alone and is ignoring her. That’s why I think it’s so important that they talk about exactly what their expectations are from their together time, and how much of it they have.
It seems like the bf has set his me-time boundaries and her behavior is not respecting them, which is a different problem from whether her time needs are being met. And she is not certain he can meet her time needs – see possibility that if he gives her an inch, she’ll take mile. That’s a different story from “If I only knew how to get my time needs met it would be good.” This is “I’m not sure that my needs can be met.”
Just a point – she doesn’t say they never have quality time together, she just says that if they’re skyping or hanging out and he’s multitasking she gets anxious. If they’re spending hours and hours a day together (it sounds like they do) it’s not surprising that every day some of that time would get regulated to companionable time.
And either way, I don’t think she can fairly evaluate the relationship when she’s so anxious all the time AND conflicted about her anxiety. (At least, I would have trouble juggling the two.)
To be fair to the LW, it sounds like she’s not getting ALL of his attention ANY of the time. He always has one eye/ear/half of his brain on her and the other on something else.
YMMV, but I know that in my experience of anxiety in relationships — and I had a lot of anxiety in relationships — I was only really, profoundly, persistently anxious when there was something fundamentally flawed.
I know everyone’s anxiety works differently and it doesn’t always mean OH NOES EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE, but sometimes it actually does mean that fundamental needs are not being met. I don’t think I ever really figured out what was wrong until after it got so bad I had to leave, and then I had Space to figure stuff out later.
It’s a kind of perverse thing, how anxiety in relationships is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is a Cycle of Suck. Mindfulness is magic for me, and has made a world of difference; but really, I am not anxious in my relationship because I am in a relationship with someone who loves, and wants, even the craziest parts of me.
I do not miss the romance-induced panic attacks. LW, I hope you find your way out, and I hope you find space for peace and calm and ease within yourself.
It could be that there is something particular about this relationship that is off — or it could just be that her insecurity started that awful chase-and-flee cycle described in the attachment styles link, and that if she is just able to pull back and do a re-set, they could be fine and happy.
The Captain and many of the comments are assuming this really is her fault. There is no way to know, and the representation in the letter just doesn’t give any grounds for thinking it is her actions, except that the LW and the boyfriend are convinced of it. The fits don’t count, because they are a reaction to the problem not getting fixed, and I have a very strong impression that this is because it is taken for granted that she has some nebulous problem. Treating someone like it is their problem, especially when the problem is vague and complicated, can make someone behave badly, and then that is taken as proof that they had the problem all along. The only things I can recommend are for her to not blame herself and just take time away from him whenever he’s not giving her the attention she needs – not try to get it, not let him be the one to decide to avoid her, decide to do it herself if it’s not working – and see what happens then. Well, and consider the levels of togetherness as expounded on by other commenters.
I don’t think it’s a matter of “fault” per se, but I do think that the fit-throwing is alienating. It doesn’t matter why it happens, it’s still incredibly stressful to deal with someone who does that every time they feel like you’re not paying enough attention to them/doing something they do not like. The thing is, the problem getting “fixed” can also mean–and should also mean–that she talk to a therapist to figure out ways to deal with her anxiety.
I was with someone like the LW (who threw fits when he felt I wasn’t spending enough time with him/paying him proper attention even though we spent 4-5 nights a week together and he called me several times a day), and I was walking on eggshells all the time because after awhile, what I conceded wasn’t enough and suddenly there was MORE I had to do to fix the problem. I got tired of it and broke up with him. After a while, it didn’t matter if he was at fault or if I was at fault, or if his problem had to do with me being a horrible girlfriend or him having anxiety issues. I was exhausted, stressed out from having to tend to his freakouts and resentful that *my* needs were shunted off and disregarded and I wanted out.
I agree with this. The fits are not ok but neither is doing your own projects when hanging out together. I used to have a BF that did this and it annoyed the hell out of me. The LW needs to set her own boundaries and consider it isn’t all her fault. It is difficult to tell from the letter but to me it read that there is never a time when she has his full attention. I would go with the stop skyping idea but the bf needs to not be on Skype if he is busy. And if they arrange to hang out they should hang out. The LW should probably also get a hobby or start doing something she enjoys so she has ‘me time’ as well.
Speaking for myself, it doesn’t seem so much like assuming as accepting and respecting the LW’s expertise as observer and interpreter of her life and relationship dynamics. No, I don’t always do that — I *do* question a LW’s presentation of what’s happening when something in their tale strikes me as inconsistent or skewed (e.g., the LW is tentatively questioning whether something is maybe not quite right when IMO it is clearly seriously and profoundly fucked up) but what this LW described jibed so well with what’s described in the attachment styles link that it just seems most appropriate to take her description at face value.
And honestly, this “He’s making her act this way” vibe I’m getting from some of the commenters here is triggering as hell. I was told that it was MY fault my ex pulled this sort of shit, and it is actually NOT OKAY. Even “Yes, throwing fits is not okay but so is not paying attention to your BF/GF” is pretty disingenuous, IMO. The LW has already said they spend a LOT of time together, and while she thinks her anxiety/abandonment issues are a lot for her BF to deal with she then asks why he can’t try to meet her needs more (while admitting that she’s probably take a mile if he gave an inch). Instead of using her words and developing more constructive ways to deal with this she’s doing something that comes off as manipulative. I don’t care that she doesn’t mean to be–if you swing your fist out in your sleep and hit me across the face every night, my face isn’t magically unhit because you didn’t mean to do it.
This guy is not keeping her from using the one bathroom in the place. He is–at the very worst–kind of a lackadaisical boyfriend. At the very least, he’s not giving her the attention she wants for as long as she wants it. But her throwing fits because she’s not getting the amount of attention she feels she needs doesn’t mean he’s at fault for her fits, and it doesn’t make him a bad person or a bad boyfriend. His needs count, too. If this isn’t satisfactory to her, I don’t think she would be at all unreasonable in leaving or setting her own boundaries (“When we are together, I want your full attention. If you have other things you want to do, please don’t Skype/call me or make plans with me.”) But throwing fits and then saying maybe he should be giving her more? No.
Letter Writer, you are awesomely self-aware that something is wrong and this can’t continue. Maybe this will turn out not to be the boyfriend for you. But “throwing fits” when you don’t get what you want is what people like Alice do when they let their needs and anxieties overwhelm them.
All of the advice is about getting a little more centered in yourself. That is a good idea no matter what is going on, ok? You are very smart to want to unpick this before it gets worse.
Agreed so very, very, very much.
For one thing, I think it’s disrespectful, when a LW has made a self-report, to say “No, you don’t have anxiety, you’re interpreting your situation wrong.” As someone with anxiety… sometimes it IS anxiety, and it’s not helpful or respectful to argue the point. And all we have is their self-report, so we have to go from that. It’s the opposite of validating to read “I have crying fits” and to say “No, of course you don’t, your boyfriend is just a jerk.” It’s condescending, honestly. If we assume that the LW’s self-report is wrong, then all we can do is make up a “I think this is what’s going on!” hypothesis… and inventing a scenario and then giving advice based on the invented scenario is not helpful.
For another thing, as an introvert, and as a person who has had anxiety-related fits!, I too find it upsetting to hear “but he should respond to her fits with comfort” rhetoric, or even “but he’s not being attentive enough” assumptions. One person’s need for attention should not trump another person’s need for alone time. And sometimes two people have different needs that are not compatible. If one person needs more attention than the other can give, that does not mean that someone has to be a bad person. It might mean there’s a mismatch. But that’s all.
Not only condescending but really unhelpful if you want advice on being less anxious and all you get is the opposite.
I agree with many of the things that have been said, and certainly working at this should be considered. But I dislike that people are framing this as a question of “his fault/her fault” when it really comes down to a question of crossed wires. LW, I think that you should seriously consider that even though you are both great people and you care deeply for each other, you may just not be particularly compatible. I’m not saying you can’t work it out – some people do! – but you should consider whether the stress of the relationship is really worth it.
I’m saying this because you sound like me 6 months ago, and that’s what I wish someone had told me.
A little while ago, I was in a relationship in which I similarly got very anxious about the amount of time we were spending together, the amount of communication, and other things I interpreted as signs of how much he liked me (e.g. holding hands in public, initiating hangoutage). He is a really wonderful guy, and I do think we liked each other a lot, BUT it was extremely stressful for me to be in that relationship because I was CONSTANTLY worrying about the latest thing he had not done which made me wonder whether he really cared about me. Even worse, I was started to consider whether this was an inherant part of my personality – that I was just neurotic in relationships I really cared about. We ended up going on a hiatus to reevaluate which turned into a permanant break up.
Nowadays, my boyfriend and I are very much in tune with each other when it comes to this. Those neurosis I was worried about being a permanant part of me? Gone. Okay, mostly gone. I’m still the same person, but because my new boyfriend has a different approach, I do not worry about feeling abandoned, I feel (strangely) secure in the relationship. I do not worry about whether he likes me enough or whether I am annoying him, and I don’t (need to) bug him to spend more time with me. And this is so great, I cannot tell you. I really wished I had realized in the other relationship is that the stress was not worth it to me.
There are people other there who share your attachment style, ones who will find you charming and awesome and great to hang out and be great to hang out with in return! It doesn’t mean they are better than your boyfriend, but they may be better for you.
Seconded. I am almost a year out of a relationship that felt a lot like the LW’s in which I always felt a little starved for attention, which kept my anxiety level pretty high. It turns out that I do in fact have anxiety issues that kick up when I feel like I’m not getting enough attention from a partner! The good news is that, now in a relationship with someone who gives me their full attention when we are together and who’s an excellent communicator, those anxiety issues are WAY more manageable.
And to be clear, dealing with the anxiety on my end took/takes work – therapy has absolutely helped. The way I dealt with the anxiety in my last relationship was completely not ok. Being with someone who’s very straightforward around boundaries and feelings has set me a great example to work towards, though.
Echoing some others’ comments, it struck me that the LW has spent half this relationship feeling anxious/jealous of her BF’s time. That is long! After trying out the suggestions above, and working on herself, if the anxiety persists, it’s worth asking: does this guy bring out the best in me? it could be a fit issue. When it’s right, it’s not usually so hard just to hang with your partner in the first year (when things are often easier/masked by romance). No one may be to blame, they just may have different ideas in how to be with each other. That said, the suggestions above may be useful in figuring out whether this is solvable or not.
LW, when I was so desperately unhappy in my relationship that I saw a therapist for help with ‘my issues’ and to help me ‘be a better girlfriend’ and ‘communicate my feelings better’, what she actually saw was me being abused – though she didn’t tell me that until years later. I second the therapy recommendation, but only because to me, this letter says that this guy is slowly (probably unintentionally) crushing you, and a therapist might help you see that. Even someone who you think is ‘the best’ can still make your self-esteem plummet and give you massive anxiety and depression issues; especially when you’re both so reluctant to believe he’s doing anything wrong, and so willing to blame you for everything.
I think that sense of ‘I’m the problem’ is all over your email and to me it suggests that maybe you’re not. Maybe breaking up with him *will* solve your problems. Maybe your problem is him and the way you feel around him. You don’t have to think he’s a bad person to believe that you’d be happier without him.
Speaking for myself, I was with my ex for so long that we were both convinced that things like me crying every day, lashing out at him, and our daily arguments were an expression of my inner jealousy, insecurity, passive-aggressiveness, and ‘meanness’. He actually told me ‘breaking up with me won’t solve your problems, it will only hide the symptoms’; and I believed him. But he was wrong.
I agree with this comment, I have to say the LW reminded me of my previous relationship with someone abusive. However, there isn’t actually anything in the letter which indicates that, it just all seemed very familiar to me. I think, LW, you sound have a think about whether this kind of behaviour feels like “you”. You may be dispositioned to being really anxious, and to have this kind of insecure attachment style, and that’s fine and there’s stuff you can do. But from my projecting paranoia, I think it’s worth checking with yourself whether this is something which is in character for you or something that’s being promoted by something in the relationship.
Leaving that aside (as I’m quite likely just projecting), the Captain’s advice is excellent. As is everything in the comments. I don’t think I have anything to add, except that I think after following the advice for a while and having your own time and doing your own thing, you will feel so much better in yourself, not just your relationship. Cultivating your own hobbies and promoting your own needs in the relationship is something it’s important for everyone to do, not just people having problems.
I worried about whether my horrible previous relationship has just made me paranoid, since so many people including the Captain didn’t seem to read this letter the way I do, but the “almost daily” and the description of his “refusal to be comforting” convinced me. My incredibly sad diary from that time includes the instructions to myself not to cry, “especially not in front of him”, because after the first few times I broke down and he was sweet and caring, he used to ignore it or tell me off for getting emotional.
LW, the fact that you’re the one crying doesn’t mean that you’re the one fully ‘responsible’ for this mess. Even if this particular interaction gets better for you, I would be really wary of getting into a place in your mind where everything that goes wrong is ‘your fault’ and you’re the one who needs to do the hard emotional and self-work to ‘fit’ with whatever he’s doing. I think the advice you’ve been given is good in lots of ways, but ask yourself… “if something I was doing made my boyfriend cry most days, would I assume that was ‘his problem’ to deal with and that there was nothing wrong with my behaviour? or would I freak out and start trying to figure out how I could change my behaviour to help him feel better?” When only one of you cares about keeping *both* of you happy, there’s a problem that can’t be solved with better communication or more independence. (I think.)
My heart completely went out to you when I read your letter, and I’m wishing you so much more happiness than you’ve been experiencing.
“if something I was doing made my boyfriend cry most days, would I assume that was ‘his problem’ to deal with and that there was nothing wrong with my behaviour? or would I freak out and start trying to figure out how I could change my behaviour to help him feel better?”
It’s true, we all see things filtered through our own past experiences.
I don’t think the question is fair, though. My mom, prior to therapy, was not above using tears to get what she wanted, which was definitely undivided attention and loyalty. My folks divorced when I was 10, with weekly split custody, and boy howdy, did mom want us to want to be at her house 100% of the time. Every time we’d pack up to go to Dad’s or look happy about going there, she’d be upset, and then we’d feel guilty for making her upset. Even though we weren’t doing anything wrong.
After that went on for quite some time, we stopped feeling guilty (mostly. We’re Catholic; it never quite goes away), and started feeling very angry and put-upon.
If someone is freaking out and crying at you on a daily basis for not always giving them your undivided attention, I don’t think the onus is on you to make them feel better. LW even phrases it herself as something she’s at least partially aware of as manipulative. I don’t doubt that she feels bad, and that’s why she’s crying–it’s not a case of crocodile tears. But it doesn’t mean that the onus is on the BF to drop everything he’s doing every time she needs attention to comfort her. ESPECIALLY if they have different attachment styles or social needs.
The question feels a bit unfair because it sets the BF up as the “bad guy” who isn’t immediately changing his life to make LW feel better. From the sound of this letter, there isn’t any “bad guy” in this relationship. It’s no one’s “fault.” It’s a matter of communication and needs.
“When only one of you cares about keeping *both* of you happy, there’s a problem that can’t be solved with better communication or more independence. (I think.) ”
And I think that’s where our interpretations differ. For BOTH people to be happy, then BOTH of their needs have to be met. LW needs attention. BF needs alone time (and focus-on-project time. I swear, nothing makes me feel quite as crappy as people who KNOW I’m working on a project wanting me to Do Stuff With Them Right Now). This is not even remotely a case of “only one of you caring about BOTH of you.” This is a case of LW’s personal needs not being met.
I guess I’ll have to agree to disagree. I also have been on the receiving end of guilt-tripping adult relatives and I think there’s a world of difference between what a child can do, and should be expected to do, to make their mum feel better when she uses that kind of tactic (basically: nothing) and what an adult ‘equal partner’ boyfriend or girlfriend can do and should be expected to do. Even as adults we’re mostly stuck with our relatives and our in-laws and that creates a really different dynamic.
I did read all the other comments before I posted mine, and I still don’t think that this is a ‘logistical’-y problem. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong or not valid about needing a LOT of alone time (I do), or about Skyping or hanging out while also doing other things, if you’re both happy with it. What freaked me out is that LW framed her boyfriend’s response to this relationship problem as ‘frustrated with me’, and so unsympathetic that she assumes that a) he doesn’t get it and b) that must be her own fault for not communicating well enough. She is actively looking for ways to feel better without intruding on his needs (e.g. by writing here – her question wasn’t ‘how can I get him to spend more time with me?’ but ‘how can I be more emotionally balanced?’) So, it looks to me like she’s working hard to meet his needs without feeling like she’s being crushed in the process, and he’s … not. That is a problem that goes way deeper than her need for more of his time or attention, or her need to not be interacting with him in what she experiences as a half-hearted way.
The truth is, obviously, we don’t know how her boyfriend feels. Maybe he wrote to some other advice column. Maybe he’s trying really hard to figure out what to do and he just can’t work it out. But I think as long as she *feels like* the burden of both their needs is completely on her own shoulders, this relationship will never really be ok for her.
I get that a lot of people reading LW’s letter see it as a neutral, there-is-no-bad-guy situation; or a LW-is-the-bad-guy-for-throwing-fits situation. I get that to you from the sound of the letter, there’s no bad guy. That is not how the letter sounds to me. Even if I don’t ‘blame’ him or make it ‘his fault’ I still don’t see a happy future for her with him. And yeah, maybe I’m projecting. I don’t think I’m likely to change my mind on this one, it cuts way too close to the bone.
I know people are having strong reactions to this based on their own experiences, but just to consider the flip side of things, this is the scenario I heard from the letter:
-boyfriend, after spending several hours together in person, goes home and gets on his computer and they start Skyping
-at the same time, boyfriend is chatting with a friend or playing a game or working on a school assignment or working on his web comic or something else; as a result, he isn’t having a continuous conversation with the LW but is instead just chatting with her periodically
-she gets upset about this and tries to get his attention; he recognizes she’s doing that and tells her he needs time for himself and can’t just chat with her
-she feels neglected and gets really upset, culminating in tears
-he feels guilty/uncomfortable/stuck and decides it’s easier to stop whatever else he was doing and comfort her until she calms down
-she gets what she wants (his attention devoted to her), while whatever else he was trying to do (have a conversation with someone else, finish that paper for school, work on his hobby) doesn’t get done
According to the LW, that is something that was happening on an almost daily basis for months. If that’s the case, I can understand why the boyfriend recently decided that when she threw a fit he was just not going to engage.
And maybe she feels neglected because he *is* really distracted and absent all of the time they’re interacting and not just some of the time, but even if that were true, I just don’t see this as her putting in all the work and him not caring at all. Because regardless of why they’re having this conflict (whether he doesn’t ever fully focus on her or she expects him to focus on her 100% of the time or, more likely, somewhere in the middle where they just have mismatched expectations), until very recently when he started pushing back it sounds like he was always the one who had to compromise by giving all of his attention to her whenever she got upset, and she was the one who always ultimately got what she wanted by forcing him (not intentionally or maliciously, but nonetheless) to focus on her.
I can sympathize with the LW feeling like she’s got all of the responsibility for fixing this, but I’m guessing that he probably also feels like the burden of both their needs is completely on his shoulders. He’s trying to speak up about the space he feels like he needs (and which the LW says she’d probably take a mile on if he gave at all) but whenever he does his girlfriend becomes extremely upset and he ends up not getting any space for himself because then he has to focus on comforting her and calming her down. The fact that he was doing that almost every day for months just doesn’t lead me to believe that this guy is a big jerk who barrels along doing whatever makes him happy while ignoring his girlfriend’s needs.
That is how I read it, too.
Yes, I thought this too. I remember times in my abusive relationship when he would go out and I would call places he said he would be on various pretexts or if he ran late, etc, in a complete irrational panic (I used to describe it as sitting in the back of my own head, watching someone else drive) because he was somewhere else and not with me. When he was present but not paying attention to me, I would likewise “throw a fit”. In retrospect, I can see that this was because I was picking up on cues subconsciously about his cheating on me, among other things even less savory, and I was devoting a lot of energy to self-diversion as well as trying to “keep” him.
Late but…I second most of the Captain’s advice…except when it comes to when you’re skyping. I agree that, if you see each other often, then you probably shouldn’t skype, since it just seems to upset you. But during those times when, for whatever reason, you two do skype…see if you can’t find a game, or something else, to do while you skype. It’ll help distract you from what’s going on and, at least when I’ve been in your situation, it’s really helps [me, at least] to keep from feeling like I’m being ignored.
I don’t know if it will help – but…it couldn’t hurt to try, right?
I enjoyed reading the responses, though some of them really made me wince. I am the more avoidant person in a relationship with someone who is definitely the anxious-insecure one of our duo, so I really cringed at the assumption that it HAS to be the boyfriend’s fault somehow.
I get that it can suck to have half of someone’s attention when you should have all of it. I mean, my first boyfriend used to take me on “dates” where he would drive me to a coffeeshop that was too far away for me to walk home from and had no public transportation, and then he would get in a chess game with someone else, and I wasn’t allowed to talk while he played because it distracted him. I was there to be his accessory and/or audience. So yes, I know how crappy that feels.
But my current relationship gives me the opposite issue, and I can say that the fear of being engulfed has at times been very real and powerful. My husband had a lot of insecurity when we got together, and that led to some really strange interactions.
For example, for a while, I was into cross-stitch. I was a slow stitcher so I only worked on a couple of projects at a time, and I kept the floss for each project in a bag with the pattern. Then I casually mentioned that I thought it would be fun to design my own patterns. This was the cue for my husband to decide I needed a more formal way to organize my floss, because if I started to design my own patterns, surely I would need to own every single floss pattern to have available as a color palette. I told him I wanted to hold off on that, but he kept bugging me about storage systems until he managed to coax an “ok I’ll think about it” out of me. Then he started buying stuff, showing it to me, pestering me about what I liked better or worse, etc.
He likes to complicate things, so he took a really convoluted approach to how I might want to store the massive amounts of cloth he was sure I would buy. He bought some industrial plastic pipe and took it down to the workshop and sawed it into a length of about a foot-and-a-half, on the logic that I could roll each piece of fabric up and store it inside. Never mind this was way more hassle and took up way more space than just sticking them in a drawer. Plus this type of plastic is one that gives off gas when it’s new, and those gases are harmful to fabric. It actually had a really nasty odor.
I finally asked him not to buy any more stuff to store my supplies in without having me along, and he got really upset.
So… I am an introvert and would need a lot of alone time no matter what. But when paired with an anxious person like my husband, I needed EXTRA alone time so I could have “space” to think my own thoughts. In this case, I needed alone-time to do a reality-check along the lines of: why is he even involved in this? Why is he all up in my business about how I do or don’t store my floss? He has plenty of his own hobbies that he could organize, and he hasn’t bothered, plus if it is really a favor to me, why is he pissed off when I asked him to stop?
The answer is, he had a hard time coping with the thought that he might not be involved in every little bit of my life, even the ones that honestly didn’t interest him. He had no interest in cross-stitch per se, so he had to make it interesting by taking over my floss storage and then making it complicated enough to be interesting. The thought that he could just let me do it and not involve himself was actually really scary to him. Nevermind that he was stressing me out and pressuring me to spend a lot of time and money to make my floss organization LESS convenient for myself.
Then he’d turn around and use his interest in my hobbies as an excuse to get really hurt and offended if I didn’t show the same all-consuming level of interest in his own hobbies. And to him, when I asked him not to involve myself in how I stored my floss, that meant I was rejecting him and didn’t love him. And when I didn’t want to hear every last detail of his own interests, that ALSO meant I was rejecting him and didn’t love him.
But wanting to organize my own cross-stitch floss doesn’t actually mean I don’t love him! It just means that I get to be a person. I can love him more if I have space to breathe.
Let me add that we did in fact work through most of these issues, and I am still with him and am happy with him. He will probably always be the “clingier” one of us, but we cope.
Soo… yeah, I cringed at the suggestion that bf is automatically at fault just because gf is anxious.
(I signed my last message as Hazel, but then I realized that there’s already a Hazel commenting here. So I guess for now I’ll just be H.
Oh gods, H, your husband reminds me of my mother! Never seen someone get so offended and hurt if I didn’t jump for joy at her suggestions 😛
I have been both the clinger and the clung-to. My last boyfriend was the most recent clinger: I couldn’t play my computer games, read my book, go out with friends, etc. but all his time was his, his his. Hell even writing the novel I wrote he got jealous of the sexy hero and villain because they made him feel insecure because the heroine was too much like me, but he could look at all the porn he wanted to 😛 Finally he dumped me for someone on disability because she was able and willing to devote all her time to him. She would even go to and from work with him! the only good thing I got from it (two good things really) was I’m still good friends with his mom, and he gave me a copy of Daggerfall for Christmas, which got me into the Elder Scrolls Games, which eventually led me to my partner 🙂
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