Long-time lurker checking in with a relationship problem. My boyfriend and I (she/her pronouns) have a lot of different interests. Which is fine! Not all my stuff is his cup of coffee! Not all his stuff is my cup of tea! The issue is when he says he wants to do something with me and our apparent inability to find time prevents me from doing the thing.
For example: I wanted to watch The Martian when it came out. He was Super! Excited! to watch it together! It was going to be great! Except somehow every time I suggested it there was something else to do, or he didn’t have time. After a while I brought up the idea that he didn’t have to watch it with me, since it seemed he wasn’t interested…only to hear that of course we would watch it, he really wanted to see it with me, we’d watch it next time we had time! I still haven’t seen The Martian.
I’m also a full time student with a part-time job and limited free time, which means I often do (hobby) inconsistently. This means that it feels odd to push him to go do (hobby) with me if I haven’t been in two weeks, especially if it means he misses an activity he enjoys. However, if I say I’m going, he’ll ask me to wait since he’s almost done, which stretches out into another thing, then another..then he’s ready to go, but I’m annoyed because I’m late, or it’s too late to go at all. He always apologizes, but that’s little help when I lose an hour of dancing because he wanted to finish a game.
Boyfriend is great in pretty much every other regard, and I really don’t mind if he never gets into dance or D&D or Sherlock. I appreciate that he wants to do things that I enjoy with me, but I’d rather he either a) actually DO them, or b) tell me if he’s not into ice or d20s or giant scarves, so I can go do things involving these things on my own time. I suspect that both of us have a bit of a dirty lens going on as well; my last ex found a few of my hobbies intensely boring and vice versa, while his most significant ex insisted on doing everything together.
Is there a gentle way to say “I love that you want to do things with me, but if you aren’t into it, just…don’t bother? Should I just start doing things without him, even if he’s expressed interest? Am I overreacting? Should I just go watch The Martian already?
liking D&D is not the price of admission
Dear Not The Price,
I love this question for being so specific, for covering something we haven’t done in detail before, and for being something that is very solvable with boundaries and scripts. Thank you!
I think there is a very direct way that you can break this impasse and make your time & interests less fungible where your boyfriend is concerned. It involves, for starters, adding specific dates and timeframes to your plan-making if you’re not already doing that.
Letter Writer: “I’m so excited to see Exciting Movie!”
Boyfriend: “Yeah! Let’s see it together!”
Letter Writer: “Great. Howabout (Day, Date, Place, Showtime) or (Day, Date, Place, Showtime)?” (Or, “Great, let me check showtimes and I’ll send you a couple options tomorrow.” Or, “Can you look at showtimes at the theater that would work for you?”
Boyfriend: “None of those times really work for me.”
Let’s breakdown the roles:
If you are the suggester/the inviter/the initiator/the person who wants to do The Social Thing, I suggest adding a specific time, date, place to your suggestion as soon as possible/reasonable. We have covered this in some of our threads about dating and asking people out: “Would you like to hang out sometime?” is not enough. “Would you like to see a band with me on Thursday after work?” is a real invitation that a person can say a specific “yes” or “no” to.
If you are the invitee, and you cannot make the suggested day/time/place, but you still want to do The Thing or A Thing, it is now your job to suggest alternate days/dates/times/Things. If you want to actually make plans with someone that actually exist on the actual space-time-continuum, it is not the other person’s job to endlessly suggest things until they find something that happens to suit you. If you want to do the Thing, help a person out! If you can’t do The Thing, “I don’t think I can make it work in my schedule, but I’ll let you know when that changes” is good information to communicate. If you just don’t want to do The Thing, say “Thanks for the invitation, but no.”
Letter Writer, somewhere in becoming an established couple, you and your boyfriend drifted away from scheduling your plans with each other. On the one hand, it’s a very natural and even comforting transition from “We have to meticulously plan everything” to “I take for granted that I will see you often/just come over!)” On the other hand, I think that politeness and consideration are still extremely valuable in close relationships, and your boyfriend is not being fully considerate of your time here, especially when you both have busy schedules and varied interests. Value your own interests and your own time and prioritize the things that you want to do, and then communicate your expectations and wishes to your partner.
Let’s revisit the conversation:
Letter Writer: “I’m so excited to see Exciting Movie.”
Boyfriend: “Yeah! Let’s see it together!”
Letter Writer: “Great. Howabout (Day, Date, Place, Showtime) or (Day, Date, Place, Showtime)?”
Boyfriend: “Neither of those really work for me.”
What if what happened next was this?
Letter Writer: “Ok, can you suggest a time in the next week or two that will work? I really want to see it soon.”
Then if a couple weeks go by without your boyfriend suggesting specific plans to see Exciting Movie (and if you still even want to see it with him) try this:
Letter Writer: “I’m gonna see Exciting Movie this (Day at Time/Place). Last chance to join me!”
If the dude still can’t make the schedule work, that’s okay, you’ll go see it with a friend or by yourself, and you can watch it again or rent it together sometime. But he can’t lay claim to both “I want you to wait so we can experience it together” and “But I will never make a plan for that to happen.” Nopetepus!
Let’s apply it to the other situation: When his indecision making you late for (or miss entirely) a thing you wanted to do.
Letter Writer: “I am going to go dancing with my friends tonight.”
Boyfriend: “Cool, I’ll join you. Just let me finish this game.”
Letter Writer: “Well, I said I’d meet them by 9:00 pm so I’m going to leave in about 30 minutes. If you’re ready by then, definitely come along. If not, maybe next time!”
Then go at the time you said you’d go and dance your ass off with or without him. He can pause his game, or he can decide he’d rather play the game, but he doesn’t get to have it both ways. He especially doesn’t get to have you dancing attendance on him and missing out on the stuff you want to do.
I believe you that he’s a good dude, but here are things to watch out for:
- Your boyfriend pouts or resists or gets jealous or clingy when you go to stuff by yourself. Extremely annoying in small doses, controlling and scary in medium+ doses. Time for, at minimum, a “Come along or don’t, if you don’t I’m shutting my phone off and you don’t get to text me later ’cause you’re bored” discussion and also time to evaluate whether he’s controlling and needy in other ways.
- Your boyfriend resists or mocks the idea of scheduling things with you in advance. “Ok, sure…Mom” “Come on, let’s be spontaneous, Babe!” Dude, let’s not.
- You are always the one who has to schedule things without reciprocal effort from him, or, you’re ultra-aware of his calendar but he’s oblivious to yours (like you are his freaking social secretary). Planning the time you’ll spend together is the constructive, healthy kind of relationship “work”, but it is emotional labor and takes thought and effort and equal investment by both partners. Time for “I’d like to see you this weekend, but I don’t want to plan everything or just hang out while you play games. Can you look for something fun for us to do on Saturday?” discussion.
If adding a time & place and asking your boyfriend to do reciprocal planning doesn’t make things better, it might be time for a script like this:
“When I invite you to something, I’m learning that ‘maybe’ really means ‘no.’ And ‘later’ also means ‘no.’ (Give one or two recent, specific, examples where his hesitation meant you missing out on what you wanted to do). It’s okay if you don’t really want to come to (x events/hobbies), but I’d like you to be more specific and more clear when you tell me your decision so I’m not planning around you.”
Or “I get really excited when you want to join me for (things I like to do) and it’s a big bummer when you say yes and then it doesn’t actually happen. It makes me wish I’d just gone by myself when there was still time. Is there a way you’d like us to handle making plans that will help avoid this?” You can be clearer about specific time frames, but it’s not on you to do all the work of figuring this out. It’s very reasonable to ask him to do his fair share of work to help solve this between you.