#400: Recognizing happiness.

Cat on head.
My cat Beadie wants to spend every moment together. It’s not as sweet or romantic as it sounds.

Hi Captain,

I’ve recently started re-dating a great woman who has a schedule even busier than mine, which I previously hadn’t thought possible for any mortal! The last time we dated it was great for about 6 months, but it ended mutually when she had to move halfway across the world for her job and neither of us were interested in doing a LDR indefinitely. She’s now based in our hometown again, and she’s quit the job that required traveling, but she’s very busy with her last year of college and she’s working nearly full time too. I’m also very busy (I run a catering company and I’m also in school, plus I have a pack of high maintenance dogs) so it’s really tough for us to make time to spend together, although we are totally on the same page about priorities – our relationship is really important to us and we both see a viable long term future, but we both have a lot of other really important things in our lives right now. So basically we have our one date night every week (which we’re trying to make something other than “watching TV together and then banging” – any other suggestions, by the way?), and we text a few times a day the rest of the time. Once in a blue moon we’ll have a sleepover on a weeknight, which is great of course, but it throws her schedule off and I hate to interfere with that. My hours are pretty flexible, but hers are not at all.

In about a year she’ll have a full time job in her field with normal hours (she’s already gotten an offer from a great company!), and I’m in the process of selling my catering company, so we’ll both have a lot more time for each other then, but in the meantime… I don’t know what to do! I want to text her 2000 times a day and Skype her every morning while we’re getting ready for school, and I want to stay up late talking to her on the phone every evening, and I want to fall asleep next to her every night. But I know that’s not practical right now. Can you give me some advice on how to handle this? I’m so used to doing the stereotypical lesbian second date U-haul thing that I don’t know how to deal with a stable, slow-building relationship with more space than I’m used to.

-Crazy In Luuuuvvvvv

Dear In Luv:

There’s pretty much only one way you can screw this up, LW, and that’s by smothering this lady and treating her like your Preciousssssssssssssssssss when both of you are so overextended that you cannot even form a picture of what normal might feel like. Skype while getting ready in the morning might be sweet and romantic for some people, especially people in long-distance relationships, but for someone you see once/week and talk to regularly that is probably well into the Eep! zone.

Feelings of happiness, connection, joy, lust, hope for the future, and the desire to be closer and spend more time together are totally called for and understandable! I am happy that you are so happy!

When you haven’t seen happiness in a while, it’s hard to recognize it when it shows up again. What you have now sounds pretty happy from where I’m sitting. Key phrases in your letter that have me counting green flags:

  • Recently started dating…”  = It takes time to work a new person, even an awesome new person, into a busy schedule. Give it some time!
  • “Totally on the same page about priorities…”  = You can feel comfortable and secure that this is a going concern. That’s huge! So often people who have just started dating end up taking the temperature of the relationship all the time because they don’t know or can’t tell whether they are both equally invested.
  • One date night every week…”  = Even with your busy schedules, you’ve found one night/week to be together, and you communicate regularly by text. That’s not nothing!

Here’s what I suggest:

Captain Awkward, happy
“This is what happiness looks like.”

You are going to enjoy the hell out of your weekly date night with this woman, even if it is TV-Then-Bang (a classic for a reason!). Surely you can translate some of your romantic energy into planning the occasional deviation! The endless variations of “Make-Dinner-Together-Then-Bang” could keep you going for months.

When she manages an occasional unscheduled sleepover, you’re going to say to yourself “Self, Girlfriend is a grown woman and can decide to trade sleep for extra quality time if she chooses. I am going to enjoy it and not second-guess or guilt myself to death or make it weird.” You are also not going to pressure her for such events.

You are going to resume whatever friendships/activities/pursuits/hobbies/being awesome at your career you did with your free time before she came on the scene so that you are not spending nights when she’s busy with work or school waiting for her to text you or pining for sweet, sweet nuggets of attention.

And you are going to pour all of your FEELINGS into a journal somewhere so that you don’t shower them all on her all at once before she’s ready. Seeds don’t sprout if you keep digging them up to check on them. Insert your own metaphor for constantly opening the oven door to see if your cake has baked yet or lifting the lid of the rice pot before it’s done steaming here.

Time is going to take care of the rest. You’re going to settle into a routine that works for both of you. Careers and outside commitments are going to become more stable so that you get more time together. Trust that the relationship is going to evolve into what you want it to be, and trust that with time you’ll find something that works for both of you.

Right now, you are happy. You don’t have to fix anything, optimize anything, change anything. You just have to be happy and try not to fuck it up.

Several months ago when I realized I was In Love, I took a photo to remind myself “This is what happiness looks like.” When I’m blue I look at it and remember my face making that shape and what it felt like to feel that good. Time to take your own badly-lit self-portrait, maybe?

35 thoughts on “#400: Recognizing happiness.

  1. It’s great that you’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Just don’t put too many expectations on that shiny future. There’s a risk that when the time finally comes, you get all Feelingsbomby on your partner about how much you’ve missed her all year long and how you think she’s so sweet that if you’d cut her open she’d bleed syrup and yeah… don’t do that.

    In the here and now: maybe send her small surprises once in a while? Getting actual mail is romantic. Small, cheap things like a key chain are fun gifts, without being all ‘Look after my heart, I left it with you’.

  2. Other fun low-budget date ideas: drive somewhere pretty that’s nearby and have a picnic, go EXPLORING somewhere nearby (great way of finally getting around to actually visiting that cool place in your town you’ve never been), maybe make some kind of ludicrously cool TREASURE MAP to a nice coffee shop you both like or something….basically what I’m saying here is EXPLORING makes for awesome dates in my experience!

    And I agree with the Captain, you sound like you are doing pretty great! The occasional extra text to say ‘argh I miss you, I hope you are having an awesome week’ is probably not going to go down badly. Equally planning dates would give you a good outlet for the missing the awesome lady friend energy, thereby saving you from FEELINGSTEXTS!

  3. Er. . .hm. The advice in this letter and in the first comment lead me to ask: is it the general position of peeps who know that feelings unloadings all ALWAYS a bad idea? Is it only a bad idea when your feelings unloadings are directly concerned with the person to whom you are unloading?

    1. I don’t think bottling feelings up and never expressing them is a good idea, but unloading all of them at once on someone you’ve recently started dating who is very busy is way too much pressure. For more bad metaphors, plants need water, but it is possible to over-water them and kill them off entirely.

      1. My partner and I wrote each other love letters/notes in the early stages of our relationship and I think the reason that they weren’t too scary and FEELINGSDUMP-y for us was because they mostly meditated on very specific encounters. I think there’s a difference between saying “Taking that walk in the woods together on Sunday made me feel warm and fuzzy inside” or “I had so much fun making dinner with you” and “I can’t wait to love you forever and ever” or “You complete me!” or something similarly future-focused and vaguely pressure-y.

        For me, it was a way to stay in the now and remind myself that even though I was super excited about the possibility of a future together, I was feeling really happy at the present moment. Plus, during the time I took to craft them, I felt close to my beloved even though we were apart.

      2. So much of this. I loved talking to my last boyfriend about a date we were planning or a shared interest we’d just realized, but then he’d veer off into Big Plans For When We’re Married and How He Wants To Adopt and That Farm We’ll Buy or just sit there and stare at me like a cartoon of a lover and my skin would crawl, because we were new and he was acting like the marriage had already happened and his entire future hinged on me.

    2. The question is: when the unloading is done, who is holding the feelings? I’ve totally done FEELINGSDUMPS where, at the end, the other person was holding all of my feelings and giving me this expression like: What am I supposed to do with these? And they could TELL they were under enormous pressure to do the right thing with them.

      On the other hand, if I’m holding all my feelings, it’s not dumping a vat over somebody’s head; it’s opening up a tub. It’s going, “Here, I show you my feelings! I talk intimately about what’s going on! But if you walk away, or you plunge your hands in, they’re still there.” I can say what I feel and really let them see me, but I don’t depend on the other person to decide what will happen with them. On the other hand, neither is the other person just a passive receptacle, just SOMEONE I can spew at. (For that, I use a journal, a therapist, or a priest) We’re having this interaction because I want them to see this. (Emphasis on every word there: I. Want. Them, To. See. This. It’s about me, it’s about them, it’s about my feelings, and it’s about the act of being seen.)

      Sometimes you do need to take some feelings to someone you really care about and have them do something with them. “Friend, I’m feeling really awful, please tell me I’m a good person.” But in that case, don’t dump the whole vat. Dip in a ladle, take that to the person, get it transformed, and carry it home with you in a bottle.

      1. Thanks very much for the thoughtful advice. I am not sure if it applies in my current. . .er. . . situation, and if it does /how/, but it is certainly a good chunk of things to think about.

        1. Good luck! This stuff is hard. Another thing to think about is how willing your recipient is: do they WANT to hear it? If they offer to listen, you can say, “Do you want the ten-second version, the two-minute version, or the hour-long rant?” Do they feel like they can say, “No, right now I can’t listen”? It takes away a lot of the uncertainty about how the other person will feel.

  4. Hey, LW! You sound a lot like me in the early-relationship stages – that is, I tend to want to mind-meld with that new person and just become an amorphous blob of awesome happy cuddly togetherness. And don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that! That “I want to see my beloved all the time!” feeling is great, and can definitely bring about good things in a relationship. (It’s definitely better than being – or having – a partner who’s like “Meh.”)

    That said, the Captain is spot-on about keeping your cool and enjoying the good happyfeels you have. Speaking from my own experience: I tend to jump in both-feet-first, and damn the consequences. Unfortunately, those consequences have ended up being things like missing out on my dream career for many years, moving all over the state following a boyfriend through several community colleges (which is hell to put on your resume, let me tell ya), working in dead-end minimum wage jobs because my love life was “more important” that getting a grownup job (and because my resume makes me look like a nomadic unskilled college-dropout waitress), etc.

    I’m not saying that’ll happen to you. But, as you pointed out, you guys are both ultra-busy. And I’m assuming you’re busy with those things because they’re either a) necessary, b) enjoyable, or c) some combination thereof. Allocating more time to the relationship will very likely require you to sacrifice one of those necessary-or-enjoyable-or-both things that are in your life right now. Maybe you’re okay with that; maybe not. But any sacrifice you make for the sake of the relationship could end up adding a weight and burden to the relationship or to your partner. My husband and I have been together for five years, and we’re still trying to untangle the mess we made of our lives by sacrificing Everything Not Love Related on the altar of Finding The One. (We are silly, silly people indeed.)

    If it starts to feel like the times between seeing each other are just unbearably full of radio silence, I don’t think it would be a bad idea to talk it over with your partner… a lot of the really fun things in a relationship start with some variation of “I want..” or “I would like…” and then coming up with solutions and plans together. The key is being able to accept “No” or “I can’t” or “Not right now” as an answer.

    Like the Cap’n mentioned, there are a lot of green flags in your relationship. You guys have a good thing going; you’re both making an effort to be together in spite of busy schedules, and I think the wait will be worth it. I wish you both all kinds of luck and happiness.

  5. This is very good advice. My work schedule has just become ridiculously busy and unpredictable, so I’m getting much less time than I was used to with my partner, and I’ve been worrying about how to handle it. But you’re right – the way to handle it is to not really do anything. Enjoy the time that’s practical for you to have, enjoy the occasional “fuck it, I will just be tired at work tomorrow” but don’t expect it, and enjoy missing the other person. It’s a really nice feeling to be like “god damn, I have to work all night but I really miss X” because how cool is it to have someone in your life where having to work – at a career you like as well – feels a bit disappointing because time with them is so brilliant?

    There’s a hidden benefit to the crappy schedules thing as well, LW, which is that when you do actually have that magical, unfortunately scarce time together, you really focus on them and what you’re doing with them. Personally, it sucks that I get to spend less time with my partner, but the time do have is much more focused, and treasured, than it was before. In a perfect world we’d have as much time as we wanted but hey, upside is, the time we do have feels very special. It’s not ideal forever (for me, anyway – I suppose for some people it would be), but in the short term it feels good for time to be so special.

  6. captain, that is such a nice picture of you, and you DO look happy. (sorry for the off topic comment but i needed to say it!)

    1. Yes! And the glasses are amazing! You’ve mentioned, I think, your mom complaining about them, but I don’t know why, because they are bold and awesome.

  7. LW,
    I’m in a similar situation with my partner. We’re both VERY busy (work, lives, etc) than me) and often find we have little time for a short visit and/or a sleepover. Partner has a life, and I have a life. A few months ago, I caught myself canceling or not making plans at all in hopes that Partner would get home early or not have plans on a weekend. In my experience, BAD IDEA. Overall I felt like a lost puppy. So, I implemented the Captain’s advice stated above, got myself into a hobby and I feel balanced again. I miss partner, A LOT, and always wish we could spend more time together, but I’m not a lost puppy anymore. The Captain is 100% right on her advice to you. Best of luck!

  8. The Captain’s advice is solid, as usual.

    Given how busy you are, you might want some low-key activities for Date Night. You might consider: board games; crafts you can do together (which may be ‘learning craft X’); reading out loud to each other; learning to give each other massages; card games; cooking new recipes (a la Julia/Julie).

    You might also check out that local college/uni and see if they’ve got any student recitals/productions/art shows/etc. and go visit one. They’re often Not Expensive and sometimes on weekdays. Similarly, check out community production groups.

  9. This is pretty on point — if a little belated — advice for me and, in a fit of egotism, I’ll explain why and wonder at myself.

    I started my first relationship in 6+ years in August and was rather enjoying it. BUT, I’d previously started part-time grad school atop a fairly busy job I considered important. I changed my schedule to dedicate each Saturday to new relationship, though it meant cutting down still further on sleep and study, because I enjoyed the relationship and the partner. Two months in, she broke up with me because not seeing or talking with me during the week made her feel that we were strangers, I certainly couldn’t be as busy as I suggested, and this indicated that I didn’t care about the relationship as much as she did, perhaps didn’t want to be in a relationship at all, since non-relationship things were receiving my priorities. I’d thought that sacrificing quality of studying and, through lack of sleep at least, quality of working was a sign that I’d prioritized relationship.

    I suppose I’m not wholly certain whether this was simply a case of: she wanted something I couldn’t provide — daily affirmation — or if what I was providing was an inherently insufficient product.

    I’m not sure why I’m unburdening myself on you except that you’re nice and smart people and, actually, doing so feels pretty good, so thanks for providing a place.

    1. Sounds like an unfortunate conflict of unspoken expectations. It happens. You did what you could, and she couldn’t deal. You couldn’t really do more.

      I dunno, you might have been able to communicate around it with someone else. This lady didn’t believe you were that busy, so that’s… well, not good communication.

      Different people want to move the shapes of their lives differently for romance. Some people move everything aside! Others squeeze you in there somewhere. Neither is right or wrong, they’re just different. There’s value in making space for something new and awesome. There’s also value in keeping yourself on track, doing what you need to do to live your life. THere’s nothing wrong with you, or insufficient about your product (gak, that phrase); she just wanted something differently that what you wanted. That’s okay, people get to want different things.

      It sucks that that happened to you, though.

      1. It’s possible that it is not good communication, of course, but it is also very possible that Partner didn’t really get how busy grad school gets (and on top of a full-time job – I’d never have managed that, but I digress), because she hasn’t experienced it herself. In my experience, not everyone gets that study = work and that if you need (and communicate said need) X hours of study a day/week, cutting even an hour from that can be really damaging in the long run.

        1. That’s a really good point, about people not understanding how time-hungry grad school can be (especially the first year or two). I remember having an argument in a gym once with a desk clerk when I went in to cancel my membership, after I explained that it was because I didn’t have time for it. She thought “I don’t have time to work out” meant “I have time but I’m not treating working out as a priority” but what I actually meant was “Right now, I only have time for eating, sleeping, occasionally showering or buying food, grading and schoolwork. There *is* no other time left for anything else.”

    2. I’ve been there, so I’ll echo CW and say that you are not insufficient or faulty, different people do want different things, and also some people are at a different place with believing/trusting and there is nothing you can do about that, (insert attachment styles link here). And yes, it massively sucks.

  10. Yay for the happy!

    It’s a normal part of attachment to miss your partner! It’s normal to want to see them all the time because they are SO AWESOME and you LOOOOOVE THEM. (It’s also normal not to.)

    Fortunately, all that is in the realm of Feelings. Feelings are always okay! Sometimes you’ll feel things! Other times you’ll feel other things.

    What matters is what you do. For that, I find, it helps to make A Decision, so that I have internal guidelines for myself. If I can, I negotiate The Decision with my partner, if it affects them. So, for instance, if I’m feeling like Wow I Send A Lot Of Texts, I might say so to my partner and suggest that I’m thinking about keeping it to 10 a day or something, and they don’t have to answer unless I I ask for it. Then I see what my partner says.

    The thing is, you can feel like you’re all up in someone’s grill with the texting and the calling and the OH HELLO I LOVE YOU -ing…. and they might be thrilled. They might be sad if you cut back your texting, or whatever.

    But then, whatever agreement you come to with your partner about giving each other the space you each need, stick to it. That’s the hard bit that involves willpower and finding immersive hobbies and turning off the computer or whatever else works for you.

    The other thing you can do is mindfully observe yourself and see what you’re feeling when you’re like “LET US BRUSH OUR TEETH TOGETHER OVER SKYPE!!” You might be feeling giddy love! You might also be feeling anxiety. Or a mix of them. It might be hard to tell. (it might be easy to tell.) Then, you can figure out what you can do that will address your actual needs. Giddy love? Order carnations to her office or something. Anxiety? Send a single “I miss you” text and then go have a bath or read a book.

    But most of all, just trust. Things will work themselves out. Enjoy the fizzy awesome yay! It’s precious!

  11. LW, you sound like you’re worried that not being with her all the time means you aren’t really part of her life (like you would be if you did the two-dates-move-in-get-a-cat thing.)

    Maybe you could look at doing some little things to make you feel like she’s more present with you during your everyday things. Keep her favourite breakfast food in your pantry – she can eat it on mornings when she’s stayed over, you can look at it other mornings and think that it’s a little fixture of your courtship. Ask if you can leave a toothbrush or the like at her place – again, it’s useful when you’re staying over, but it also is the first step in sharing a bathroom. If you have time to read to unwind, read the same book. Even if you’re not in the same place, you’re connected by reading it and feeling for the characters. And you can enthuse about the book when you next meet up.

  12. Here’s a vague, general date idea: do something collaborative. Some sort of activity that involves the two of you working together to make something or solve something or get to a goal you both want.

  13. Another cheap date idea. Find a book that you like (because it is wonderful, or hilariously bad, or brings you to tears because the prose is so good), encourage girlfriend to do the same. Read aloud to each other with beverage and snack of your choice. Maybe with candles involved? The reading of hilariously bad books also makes for a great theme party!

  14. LW, I’m really impressed that you’re both making the effort for this relationship given your other commitments, and I think that bodes well for your continued happiness together.

    It sounds like you’re mostly asking for help dealing with your New Relationship Energy. Around my place we call it “Disney chemicals”, that fizzy feeling in your brain that makes it awfully hard to focus on anything other than ~~Her~~. Here’s the good news: those chemicals will fade in a few weeks or months, and it’ll be easier for you to enjoy time together without pining away when you’re apart.

    In the meantime, I recommend distracting yourself any way you can. Throw yourself into work. Read and reread all the contracts and other documents involved in the sale of your catering company. Do extra-credit school assignments. Become an Angry Birds addict. Send all those text messages to yourself and turn them into a short story that you can send to her once instead of as 2000 separate texts. Since this twitterpated state is temporary, you can safely engage in short-term coping mechanisms that might not be long-term brilliant (a lifelong addiction to Angry Birds would probably be a bad thing). Just make sure you can extricate yourself from them once you don’t need them anymore.

    Also, I really heartily second this bit of the Captain’s excellent advice:

    When she manages an occasional unscheduled sleepover, you’re going to say to yourself “Self, Girlfriend is a grown woman and can decide to trade sleep for extra quality time if she chooses. I am going to enjoy it and not second-guess or guilt myself to death or make it weird.”

    I’ve been practicing this a lot lately in my own relationships and it’s BRILLIANT. What a relief to not feel responsible for another person’s choices! Own your shit, let her own her shit, and enjoy the extra time together when she offers it. No guilt, no stress.

  15. I love the idea of capturing “this is what happiness looks like!” I have a secret Tumblr for just that sort of thing but didn’t think to frame it just so. Love!
    LW, this sounds great–and unlike LDR, you can squeeze in extra time here and there until you’re more integrated together. Congratulations on love!

  16. This is so great! I’m taking lots of notes on all the comments and the Captain’s marvelous advice. 🙂

  17. I feel like I just learned this lesson. The weird thing is, I didn’t realize I was learning it and thought I was Doing Dating Wrong. We’re supposed to talk every day, right?! I mean he makes time for me, but I DESERVE MORE. Otherwise it’s not REAL.

    Yiiikes. I mean, I also had a lot of problems with honesty with my feelings and asking advice from the wrong people because I’d never been in a relationship before and gender politics…and now I’m at a stage where I have to use my words and be completely honest (I promise I will, Awkward Ambassadors!).

    However, I did learn (or maybe the puppy energy wore off). LW, enjoy the slow burn. It may feel frustrating now, which is fucking annoying. You are in such a better place than I was, asking Captain Awkward and being on the same page in terms of priorities with this person though. Hooray! You’re awesome.The way to combat that is to…well, give yourself “assignments.” Has your partner mentioned a favorite book series? Read it. Send her small “gifts.” Letters, news links, TV show recommendations so she can watch them (and thus have much needed alone time that busy people need, but you’re helping her out a bit).

    Also, of course, ask her about small things. Don’t ask her for time — ask if you can text her throughout the day, or yes, Skype while brushing your teeth if you want! That can be a one time fun time thing 🙂

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