Dear Captain Awkward,
I’m afraid I might be walking into an Alice situation (a la letter #247). My boyfriend’s family is very conservative and even though he is an adult, he not only lives with them (which is fine) but lives by their rules, curfews, and puts up with their interrogations over who he is spending time with, who his friends are, etc. They don’t know I exist, but he’ll be telling them within a month. He hasn’t so far because due to conservative culture reasons he can’t tell them he has a girlfriend, but rather that there is this girl (me) he wants to marry. And I’m terrified because they’re going to hate me (his mother especially) and I need scripts on how to deal with that when I meet them.
From everything he’s told me (and I take his word for it) I will be considered all wrong because I’m older than him, have been married before, am bisexual (here’s hoping his family needn’t find out, at least initially), am from a different culture (and don’t speak the language he speaks with his family, and his mother doesn’t speak English fluently), I’m not conservative and certainly don’t fit the mould of what a stereotypical wife would be like (I have no intention to just pop out babies, cook and clean, etc., which Boyfriend is fine with but his family won’t be), I’ve already vetoed the idea of us living with his family when we get married, and I’m expecting there to be body shaming.
Boyfriend has said that he expects his family’s displeasure about all of this to be voiced to him, and not to me and I know I can’t force them to like me. Boyfriend is also scared himself about their reaction to his upcoming conversation with them about wanting to marry me. I have tried to direct him to this site so he can read up some great advice about setting boundaries and making it clear what shit he will put up with and what he won’t, but he says that sort of thing is not done in his culture and apparently I just don’t understand (it’s true, I don’t), and while he sees that I’m trying to be helpful, it’s not helping because boundaries is just not the done thing.
How can I support him with this difficult conversation coming up for him (which will be more of an extended series of fights/arguments) while respecting his decision to not have me encourage him to set boundaries, while also being able to set boundaries myself? What am I meant to say to his family when I meet them (and yes, I’m trying to learn the language so I can at least exchange pleasantries with his mother)? (And yes, social anxiety and severe depression is making me overthink all of this, and yes, I am in therapy, but any scripts would help a lot!!).
Any help would be much appreciated,
Scared of future in-laws
Dear Scared of Future In-Laws,
First things first:
- Keep going to therapy.
- Make sure you have friends & family who are not your boyfriend in your life and keep your connections to them strong. If you’re about to get a whole bunch of negative stuff dropped on you by his family, you need to be grounded with people who think you’re great.
- If you don’t have this kind of strong network in place right now, build it. Take at least 50% of the effort you put into your romantic relationship and put it into finding friends & community. Don’t be in a “You and me against the world” situation with only your partner.
- Keep this question in your mind: If his family sucks, and he turns out to be not good at setting boundaries with them, would you still want to marry him?
Here are some cool ways your boyfriend could show that he’s the kind of person you want to marry:
He could make a plan to move out of his parents’ house. (Not always affordable, and not always culturally the right move, not something I’m blanket-recommending for everyone in life, but in this case, when this guy says he wants to establish independence from his family, he could, like, take steps to get some independence from his family?) What’s he like when he lives on his own, I wonder?
He could find people who are not you to talk through these anxieties with. I mean, so far, you’ve got “My family is going to hate everything about you, I’m oh-so-scared to tell them anything about you, and I’m not going to set boundaries with them because it’s Just Not Done in our culture” dumped on you. Maybe he could use someone else to process all of this with in a way that doesn’t force you to keep hearing about all the negative stuff? A friend, a counselor of his own?
He could tell his folks that he has a girlfriend and he’d like them to meet you. “I’ve met a woman who is important to me and I want her to know my family.” And then he could see what happens. He could take this out of the hypothetical where you talk through all the worst-case scenarios and into the real. In other words, he could give you a chance to see what all of this is really gonna be like before you make the decision to marry into it. If it’s going to suck it will suck just as much now as it will at some theoretical future date, so maybe rip the bandaid off and see what actually happens instead of worrying about it. If they act like jerks to you and he doesn’t set boundaries or defend you, then that’s important information for you to have before you start planning a marriage to him.
I feel like right now he’s trying to lock everything down and control everything – you reactions, their reactions, the whole damn future, in this really high-stakes way that is making you feel really anxious and worried and that puts your whole life history on the judgment block but doesn’t really ask him to risk or change anything about his own situation right now. He hasn’t really ever separated from his family. He is very identified with his family’s point of view about the world. There’s a whiff of “I want to marry you even I can’t stop listing all the things about you that make you ‘not really good enough for my family’ and how worried I am about that” going on here that I mislike.
When and if you meet his folks you’re going to be the kind, thoughtful, polite person that you are in everyday life. You’ll do just fine. Learning a few words of the language are a nice gesture, great, and you’re already just fine as you are and don’t have to improve or perfect yourself for this moment. If they don’t treat you well or like you, it’s not because of anything you did or will do.
Which makes me wonder, is he expecting some big change in you before that meeting or wanting some performance from you? You have understandable anxiety that his family won’t like you, but the real issue is, can you count on him to have your back? To strike out on his own? To make a family with you, where your shared rules and visions are the ones that count? He’s not responsible for his family’s feelings about you, but he is responsible for having your back and for not letting them mistreat you. I don’t know how you can really know this until you see it in action. He’s got to show you, with words and actions, that he can be a rock for you where his family is concerned.
I have a boyfriend of 6 months who I love very much. He is amazing in a variety of ways, but there’s one issue that we can’t seem to get past no matter how I try to approach it.
He’s not great at engaging in conversation on any subject that he’s not independently interested in. Often, I’ll bring up something I want to talk about, and he’ll not respond for a while and then change the subject because he “didn’t have anything to say about it.” However, I regularly have in-depth conversations with him about video games that I don’t play and music that I don’t listen to. He also interrupts me mid-sentence without noticing fairly often, which makes me think that the times he doesn’t interrupt me are less because he’s listening and more because he doesn’t have anything to say at that particular moment. I’ve told him that this sometimes makes me feel like he doesn’t care about me and doesn’t want to engage in my life.
The problem is, he has severe mental health issues and when I point these instances out to him, he reacts incredibly disproportionately. He’ll have episodes of not being able to move or function, he’ll start hitting his head against a wall, he’ll tell me that he hates himself and wants to die. He understands the issue and is taking it seriously, but it’s so ingrained in his personality that he literally doesn’t notice when he interrupts me or talks over me, and I don’t point it out as often as I should because I love him and I don’t want him to be that upset over something small. As a result, I just get more and more frustrated over time.
This seems to me like a very gendered issue: as a woman, it’s my job to listen to men and make them as comfortable as possible, but my own needs don’t get met. It’s something I’ve noticed in my friendships with other men, but I’ve never had to deal with it to this extent before.
Boyfriend mentioned at the end of last semester that he was thinking of going back to a therapist, and I’ve encouraged him to do so several times, but I don’t think he’s currently planning on it. At this point, we’re having weekly conversations about this issue, and he’s both asked me to call him out more often and told me he wished I did it less because it feels horrible for him to be continually told that his efforts aren’t leading to improvement. He says he’s really trying, but in the end I’m still getting interrupted and feeling ignored. I don’t know what to do.
I’d like to reemphasize that he’s caring, compassionate, has been incredible about accepting my asexuality, never pressures me, and is overall a great person. If you have any scripts for gently bringing up the therapist issue again, or any other advice, I would appreciate it. This relationship means a lot to me and it’s killing me to see him hurting.
Tired of This Dynamic
Dear Tired of this Dynamic:
It’s only been six months. THIS GUY IS SO MUCH WORK.
This is a very gendered issue, you’re not wrong, and I guess the question is, how long do you want to date a dude who interrupts you a lot and who can only talk about things he is interested in? And, when you ask him to stop doing stuff that bothers you, turns everything around so that you’re taking care of him and how sad he is?
Before we get to scripts I want you to do something:
Take two weeks “off” from trying to make the relationship work. In that two weeks I want you to spend a little less time with him and a little more time to do a couple of things:
- Connect/reconnect with your friends and family & people who generally don’t interrupt you or talk over you.
- Connect/reconnect with your interests – books, hobbies, things that you enjoy even if he does not.
- It sounds like y’all are in school, so, throw yourself into your classes, clubs, things you are interested in doing.
- Think about making an appointment with a counselor at school who can support you. Even if you think “I’m not the one who needs a counselor,” I selfishly want you to have the experience of being listened to without interruption for an hour at a time.
You love this guy, you don’t wanna break up, I get it. But now is a good time to re-ground yourself firmly in your life and remind yourself that you don’t deserve to be treated this way.
When you see your boyfriend, keep calling him out on the interruptions. “You interrupted me.” “You interrupted me again.” “I don’t know anything about that game, but what do you like about it?” “You see what I did there, where I’m not interested in something but I ask you about it because you like it?”
Keep track of how many times you gotta say “You interrupted me again just now” in a given day. Like, if you get to three, maybe go home and try again another day? You can make it explicitly about the behavior – “You keep interrupting me, I’m annoyed, I’m going home” or you can make it not so explicit. “Ok, good to see you, I’m gonna go sleep at my place.” The message is the same, though: “Keep interrupting me and I won’t want to keep hanging out.”
His “not being able to move” and “hitting head against wall” or “I hate myself and want to die” reactions to being told “Hey, your behavior is not cool!” are not your fault and not yours to fix. One script could be “I’m really sorry you’re feeling that way. That’s awful and I think you need to talk to a mental health pro about it so that you can feel better.” “I really think it’s time to call a counselor in – feeling this bad about this is not normal and you deserve some mental health care!”
But also, after you deliver those scripts, maybe go home for the day, and let him deal with his feelings? Like, I believe that he feels really bad when this gets pointed out but I also believe that he is sort of trying to train you to just accept him the way he is and not actually challenge him about stuff? And one way he could stop the awful feelings is to stop doing the thing where he interrupts you or tunes all the way out whenever you talk about something you’re interested in? Someone who self-harms when you set a boundary needs to work on his own emotional regulation. You can’t love him out of this.
Someone can be a “wonderful person” and still be too much work to be your boyfriend.
And hey, it’s worth noting, your asexuality isn’t something you have to apologize for or something that dooms you to substandard relationships where you do all the emotional labor.
443 thoughts on “#944 and #945: Dudes Who Come With A High Degree of Difficulty”
LW#2: I had a boyfriend that did the interrupting, not listening thing to me. When I’d point it out, he said that I tended to “ramble on” and it was boring him. He felt like I talked to much and that I demanded too much attention and needed too much engagement when he just needed to tune out. The problem was that it felt like *all the time*. Even when I was upset about something (work, school, family, whatever), I’d be discussing it, he’d be reading or not paying attention, I’d stop talking, then he’d start talking about something else completely unrelated and I’d realize that he’d been ignoring me the entire time. It made me feel utterly and completely worthless.
There’s no reason to ever let someone, mental health issues or no, make you feel like that. Relationships are work, but they shouldn’t be pulling-teeth levels of work.
oh, that’s harsh.
I have had interrupters, too, and my reaction is to completely stop talking when they interrupt. They do get it eventually, at least to the point where they recognize what they did.
the interrupting thing is a little bit sad with my current partner because a big part of the reason he interrupts me is that he’s so happy to know, or think he knows, what I’m going to say that I feel kind of bad being annoyed by it, but man, it’s tough feeling like I can’t finish a sentence around him.
My current partner also does this thing he calls “mismatching” where he looks for the flaw in an argument or a statement, just as a sort of academic thing. And I understand it because I do it to a certain extent, too, but it gets kind of tough to have a discussion sometimes because I feel like I have to be guarding my speech to make sure I’m not leaving any holes for him to jump in and say, okay, but what about *this* case? And like I said, I do it, too, just not as much, and I don’t know whether he really does it a lot more than I do, or I’m just more sensitive to it.
So your partner knowing what you’re going to say is more important than you getting to say it? And you can’t talk to him in an unguarded way because he’s trying to find flaws in everything you say? That sounds like something to call out. Does he do it to other people, or just you?
He actually does do it to everybody; he just does it to me more because he and I talk more than he does with other people.
Can you and your partner agree that there are times when “mismatching” is not the appropriate thing for him to be doing — when what you need is compassionate listening or support or mutually brainstorming solutions? Can you both agree that you will explicitly state when this is the case, and he will switch from mismatching to some other mode? And then other times, mismatching is okay because you don’t have a conflicting need?
For me, this would be a deal breaker if he didn’t see the value in being able to do that and/or wasn’t able and willing to make that change. Right now, all conversations have to be structured around his needs and desires, and you have to shape yourself to that requirement.
Yes, pretty much, and I know it’s not reasonable of me to expect him to know when it’s okay and when it’s not. It just seems that after almost nine years he’d have some idea without my explicitly having to tell him each time.
It falls into three categories:
1. Emotional/personal/business stuff that I don’t want to be mismatched on. At all.
2. Things I don’t mind a couple of rounds of mismatching on, but it gets annoying after that. Politics, for example.
3. Mismatching that seems like pointless quibbling. “Daughter might like hearts of palm.” “Okay, I’ll put hearts of palm on the shopping list.” “Okay, but they might be too expensive, or the store might not have them.” WELL, THEN, I WON’T GET THEM, OKAY? The shopping list is not something carved in stone, it’s simply a reminder to me to look for something, and yes, I do still continue to use my own judgment when shopping.
And yes, #3 is an actual example. And you might wonder, why does that set you off so much? It’s the fact that it happens a couple of times a day several days a week so I feel like I have to plan my speech very, very carefully to forestall the “Okay, but…” As someone else said, it’s like having to defend a thesis, or converse with Perry Mason, all the time. It’s wearing.
I understand it, I really do, because I have the same tendency myself, but I like to think I can put a lid on it sometimes. It’s the same thing with the interrupting — I’m not innocent of it myself, but I really make an effort not to jump in and finish his sentences for him, if only to model good behavior for him (which he has observed and thanked me for).
No, it’s not worth breaking up over.
“3. Mismatching that seems like pointless quibbling. “Daughter might like hearts of palm.” “Okay, I’ll put hearts of palm on the shopping list.” “Okay, but they might be too expensive, or the store might not have them.” WELL, THEN, I WON’T GET THEM, OKAY? The shopping list is not something carved in stone, it’s simply a reminder to me to look for something, and yes, I do still continue to use my own judgment when shopping.”
Stuff like that annoys me so, so much. I went to school so I could make career out of arguing with people; my husband and I married because we think debating is flirting, so I’m not opposed to a good intellectual tussle. But you have to know when to turn if off. Debate is like wielding an exacto-knife, it’s fine in the right context but if you’re swinging it around all the time it’s scary, exhausting, and potentially painful for everyone around you.
Quibbling with you about something that affects you deeply on an emotional level trivializes your strong feelings. It basically says, I know this is affects you a lot but I’ve reduced it to a purely intellectual exercise despite the strong emotional reaction it provokes in you. It’s a crappy thing to do.
Quibbling with you about the grocery list is just a waste of damn time and extends a neutral to unpleasant chore. It’s a slightly more sophisticated attention seeking tactic than a three year old saying, “mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy….” while you’re trying to do something. It looks like you’re already doing all the work on this chore, physical and emotional. The mismatching is piling on MORE work on you when you’re just trying to the unpleasant scut work of being a functioning adult done. No one wants to spend any more time on that stuff then they absolutely have to and it’s enraging if someone extends it for no good reason. This is also a crappy thing to do.
I’m sure your partner is a generally lovely, but in this aspect, he’s demonstrating some low emotional intelligence and disrespect for your time and emotional labor.
Heh. I had a boyfriend who’s variant of that came when we had long conversations over the phone. He was one of these guys who thinks he can get along on four hours of sleep a night. So we’d be talking for a while, I was in the middle of telling him something deeply personal and EEEEEE! a couple of keys would get punched when he fell asleep onto the phone handset. Not only was it like having a fire-alarm go off right in your ear, but it also made it clear that this deeply personal story (and oh by the way, I) just wasn’t all that spell-binding. It was very painful on multiple levels.
Took me a solid year before I finally dumped him (over something else), but it still makes me boiling mad in retrospect.
I have since concluded that it someone loves you and wants to be with you, they demonstrate this by, you know, wanting to be with you.
(Ran out of nesting)
slfisher said: “Okay, but…”
That’s the “Yes But” game. There’s a wonderful little book called Games People Play by Eric Berne (published back in the middle of the last century) based on the Transactional Analysis model. It’s a lovely little catalog of all sorts of little passive-aggressive ways to manipulate other people. (I think this book may even pre-date the concept of passive-aggression.) Hard to take a bully seriously once you’ve got names for his gambits.
ha, this sounds like my husband. He will sometimes try and finish my sentences because he’s excited and just get it wrong, and he totally does the ‘mismatching’ thing also. It can feel like he’s trying to defend the opposite position. I don’t think it’s intentional but it can be super annoying, and I will ask him to stop if it’s driving me too bananas.
that’s it exactly. thanks for understanding. 🙂
My husband used to do this until one day last year I had a tantrum at him and basically said, “Look, you are married to ME, and you know and ostensibly love and value ME, so why in the flying frack are you sticking up for these hypothetical people and making me do rhetorical gymnastics to keep from triggering the MUST HAVE FAIRNESS IN ARGUMENTATION part of your brain? Can’t you just default to freaking TRUSTING my thoughts and opinions and observations, and believing that I am smart enough to evaluate situations and people that I encounter at least a little bit better than you can when I’ve been in the situation and YOU HAVE NOT?!”
He got the point.
I have had a lot of male friends that do this and my reaction is the same as yours. I would get so exhausted talking with them about certain topics and feel tired and annoyed often after long hangouts. Not every conversation needs to be a debate! people can express different opinions and just let the opinions hang there! I definitely couldn’t date someone like this, I’d eventually blow up the same way you did.
A friend of mine has a friend whom he would sometimes invite to hang out with us, and it seemed like every time we did, I wound up yelling at him. And it wasn’t just “okay, we’ll avoid talking about politics and social justice”; I swear I would do my very best to stick to “nice weather we’re having” and “have you seen any good TV lately?” and somehow my mentioning that I’d read an interesting fantasy novel this week would become an argument about the validity of genre fiction. I found it unpleasant and it was really awkward for everyone else in the room. (I am loud and passionate. I know this and can mostly keep it under control – except around this guy.) Eventually I had to ask my friend to stop inviting me and this guy to the same events because it just meant no one had a good time except maybe Mr. Pick-a-fight.
just the other night I was at the gym, stretching. Nearby was a young ?couple? ?male female friend pair? I dunno. anyway. The conversational pattern was making me writhe in agony: *every* damn thing the young woman would say, the young man would question or challenge (the topic was: how to deal with stress). Her side was so defensive and explanatory, his side waiting to pounce, about a conversation that was otherwise just sort of shooting the shit: like, low stakes in the sense that they weren’t talking about “I didn’t like this thing you did to me” or whatever; the topic was “here is how I do my thing in my own life”.
it would have been way out of line for a middle aged lady stranger to jump in so I didn’t; I was just silently willing them “please go away out of earshot please please please please” (I did want to finish my stretching, and they did go away after about 5 minutes which felt like 20).
This kind of thing always reminds me of an MST episode where a character says “We thought X but were later proved wrong” and Crow says “Why’d you bring it up?”
If you want Hearts of Palm, get them. If you don’t, don’t bring it up and then act like I did something wrong by agreeing with you!
Otherwise called “silencing”. No one should have to run their casual conversation through a bully filter. We are not responsible for the actions of others.
slfisher, as an interrupter of the same stripe as your partner (the guessing what you’re going to say next part), I apologize. I aggravate the bejeezus out of my spouse when I do it, and it stings when he calls me out. It’s taken me close to ten years to learn better conversational habits than I started out with, but it was a change that needed to be made.
Funnily enough, Spouse did the mismatching thing, and I had to call him out on that. I don’t want every discussion to turn into a thesis defense, tyvm.
I also have the tendency toward the “interrupt to finish your sentence” behavior. My best guess is that this is something I learned from my parents — in our family, it seems like the way to signal “I am listening and following along.” Fortunately, I have a friend who pointed out, kindly but firmly, that that behavior was annoying and had the opposite of the intended effect. I definitely had an awkward adjustment period where I kept feeling like, oh no, maybe my conversation partners think I don’t care about this topic, but I think I’ve gotten to a much less annoying state — I now notice with my parents do it, and the effect it can have on their conversations, and can think critically about a behavior I didn’t even realize I had. I definitely owe it to that friend who was willing to let it be awkward! The point of this story is: if you know someone with this behavior, that’s one possible place it can come from, and “hey that’s doing the opposite of what you probably want it to do” might even work.
Also, if you’re the one with the behavior: as a shim to help quit, I find that it helps me to be very visually demonstrative that I am following along, like nodding vigorously when I would otherwise be tempted to interrupt. (This is probably also annoying, but it’s a work in progress.)
It occurred to me afterwards that it is familial; in fact, people have criticized members of his family because they are so quick to jump in to finish each other’s sentences that observers have trouble figuring out what the conversation is about.
I was also trained by my family to do this – in my case, my mom has memory and word-finding issues due to a brain injury so she’ll actively solicit it. Like “Honey, please go and get the towels out of the…. the….” and you’re supposed to jump in with “Dryer? Closet? Bathroom?” until she nods or says “yes, the downstairs bathroom”. It was incredibly hard to get out of the habit of doing this whenever someone pauses or stumbles over their words, and I still reflexively do it when i spend time with her, but I realise how annoying it must be!
This is actually a sociolinguistics thing! It’s called high engagement vs high considerateness, if I remember correctly. And it goes both ways – high considerateness people might feel high engagement people are rude and interrupting, while high engagement people might feel high considerateness people aren’t showing interest.
A reply to Codex- I have heard about this in the context of Ashkenazi Jewish speech patterns (because apparently we tend to be way far on the “high engagement” scale). After spending years in social circles that are primarily Jewish, my family has started yelling at me for interrupting them, but it becomes interesting thinking about how to switch my linguistic style depending on the group I’m in (because if I don’t interrupt in certain social groups, I’ll never get a word in edgewise, and interrupting is absolutely not seen as rude).
@Dana I do this exact thing for the same reason. And it’s hard for me to stop because I see it as a collaborative act, but my SO does not so I try to keep a lid on it with him.
But not with my mom because if I never did it with my mom we’d still be trying to figure out what she wanted from the fridge one time in 2009.
Totally in the category of “interrupting is rude”. To me, if you interrupt me (for something that does not involve blood or active flames) is a sign that you’re not interested in what I have to say and consider your thoughts more important than mine. I know intellectually that this is not always the case, that for some people this is just the way that conversations are meant to be carried out, but my gut has never managed to believe that. If someone keeps interrupting me I will eventually stop talking with them and probably stop engaging. (The No Interrupting does mean that large group conversations can sometimes be hard, especially if there are people who believe in the everyone interrupting everyone type of conversation.) I did have to learn to interrupt somewhat with my job since it’s a requirement at times in customer service (otherwise I could be with each customer an hour or two!), and I’ve grown a bit more proficient, but I still find it awkward.
He kind of had the thing where he had to try to “argue” and prove me wrong or find the fallacy in whatever it was I was trying to say in some cases. At one point in our relationship, he had said that he felt the tension and arguments put “spice” and thrill in it… I was actually kind of gobsmacked by it. I didn’t understand how all the fighting and arguing and stress, triggered by him, was actually enjoyable when it always meant antagonizing and pissing me the hell off.
Without getting into long and drawn out details over how it went, suffice to say he’s an ex and there’s a huge multitude of reasons and there’s so much the better. The actual ignoring more during a really upsetting day and me trying to have a conversation about it though was one of the major tipping points that led to me doing the huge step to getting out, which is why I finally had to leave my first comment. I knew I had to get out long before and was formulating an escape plan, but the actual breaking point, where I had the mental breakdown and couldn’t take it anymore, was a conversation that went exactly like that. It wasn’t the first time he had done it to me, but it was significant. And it broke me.
I have an ex like that too, and when I first met him I was thrilled – somebody who also liked to get into the nitty-gritty of arguments! And then I started my major in philosophy and that was what I did all damn day, and I liked it, but also sometimes I needed someone to just listen to me and not everything needed to be discussed and dissected and weighed up by its micrograms of advisability. I think it was the shift from friend-I-discuss-issues-with to boyfriend-who-I’d-like-emotional-support-from that was part of the issue.
Exactly! And that everything doesn’t need to be an argument or dissected or discussed. It seemed he always wanted to take an adversarial side or prove me wrong somehow. It was like he needed to always be the smarter person and show that he was. My self-esteem always wound up taking a beating whenever we were together, despite the fact that he’d act like I was too good for him. Looking back and analyzing it, it was like he was overcompensating on areas he felt he was lacking to prove that he was good enough to have me (he genuinely believed I was way too hot and good looking for a guy like him, so he had to prove that in order to keep a “catch” like me, he had to prove he was smart enough for it and did so by beating me down mentally. Really, I’m not that attractive, he just thought that… but neither am I that dumb to be treated like I’m a box of rocks.)
In my particular case, I don’t feel like my partner is doing it to put me down. It’s more like he does it as a mental exercise, looking for the flaws and the on-the-other-hands in a discussion. And I can deal with it, and even like it, to a certain extent; it just gets wearing after a while. (And yes, while I don’t think he’s been formally diagnosed, he does identify as being on the Aspie spectrum, as others here have mentioned.)
Isn’t that the funny thing about people like that – they love conflict and argument when it’s you absorbing the emotional payload of it, but as soon as you’re having a bad day and there’s conflict that they could help you with by engaging with it, they’re bored and zoned out. It makes me very suspicious of the “I just love to argue!” defense.
If someone ever said, “I just love to argue!” to me, I would interpret that as “I’m a giant asshole and you should run for the hills!”
I just love to argue!
… and if you’re my partner, and you’re having a bad day and you need someone to vent at, or if there’s a conflict-heavy interaction I can help you with, I’ll happily step in 🙂
My response to “I just love to argue!” is always “Oh that’s a bummer because I HATE arguing, seriously it is my least favorite, I would rather be covered in itchy pollen and eat soggy brussels sprouts.”
One of my academic idols did it to me the first time I met her — I said two sentences to her and her response to each one was ‘Well actually this one completely inconsequential tangential fragment of what you said is not strictly speaking completely true’ and I was crushed. And just didn’t bother to attempt to speak in her presence ever again. To me that kind of nitpicking says “I don’t actually care about what you’re trying to communicate, I just care about being correct more often than you.”
I do love to argue / debate, but here’s the important part: *99 times out of 100, I am willing to ‘lose’.*
I am absolutely up for having my mind changed, I love to hear alternative views to my own, I love to hear facts I didn’t even know I didn’t know, and I love when other people are passionate enough about their stuff to want to argue with me. But I will not interrupt, and I hope I can always recognise when the other person is upset / done, and I will only argue based on facts / solid experience.
In my (asd) brain something is either objectively true, in which case there’s no point arguing counter-factual, or objectively false, in which case bring objective facts to disprove it, or an opinion, to which every single person is entitled.
My partner does this too, and I think “mismatching” is not the right word for it. That makes it sound like it’s something other than what it is, as though your perspective and his just aren’t matching up in a way. But what it actually is (at least, when my partner does it, and it sounds like yours too) is arguing or playing devil’s advocate for fun. Not for a purpose, or even with a point in mind; just thoughtlessly arguing instead of engaging in a conversation. And I’m sure it’s fun for him. But he doesn’t for a moment consider that it isn’t fun for whoever he’s talking to. It’s quite a tiresome drag.
There’s also the It’s Okay To Not Like Things type, wherein you say “Oh I just LOVED La-La-Land!” and they feel the need to inform you of every aspect of it that was problematic or non-ideal. Because of course it’s not okay to like things unless they are perfect.
That’s sort of a thing I’ve had to learn to be more observant/considerate of my friends about. For me, the “literary post-mortem” after the movie heightens my enjoyment of it, but for one of my best friends, it kills the post-fun-movie buzz. We had one argument about it, and I realized not only was I being an inadvertant killjoy for her, but that she also assumed I was dissecting the movie because I hated it and wanted to point out all its flaws. I told her, no, this is *how* I enjoy a movie–but, more importantly, I wouldn’t do that with her now that I knew she didn’t share my enjoyment of that mode of engagement.
And we all lived happily ever after. The end.
But, yeah, I have friends for whom it’s, like, a moral failing in me that I liked X or didn’t like Y and they will SHOW ME WHY I AM WRONG and *argh.* I’ve learned to just say, “No, it’s not my thing, the end,” or “hey, it doesn’t have to be your thing, it’s cool,” and then get really boring if they keep arguing.
@stellanor,@vortexae — Yeah, I guess it’s a matter of knowing your conversational partners, because some people *cough, cough* genuinely didn’t like La La Land, for what
wethey believe are substantive reasons, not just nitpicks, and would have a lot of trouble not sharing ourtheir opinion with someone who brought the movie up.
I hate those people! Let people enjoy things ffs!
The worst is when they butt into conversations, when you’re talking happily about a movie or a game with other people and then Bummer Drummer swoops in with “well actually…”
OK, totes in agreement re: conversational buttinskies who jump in to rain on another conversation’s parade. But–and I’m asking seriously, because this human interaction stuff confuses me–what if, say, 3 people are standing around chatting, and Person A says “Oh, I just saw La La Land, and I loved it!” and then Person B is all “Oh yeah, so great!” and Person C has a different opinion on the subject. Obviously (?) it wouldn’t be cool for C to call A & B idiots, or even to imply that through tone of voice, but what are C’s options here?
C can say “It wasn’t for me” without jumping down anyone’s throat with the complete list of flaws.
I have a friend who is a bit like that sometimes and we have come to the unspoken agreement that I get to pick if we’re going to dissect something she disliked or not. If I absolutely love it and am totally comfortable in my love for the book/movie, we can dissect it and she can tell me everything she hated about it (although I may argue back). If I absolutely hate it and also couldn’t stand it, then we will cheerfully pick it apart. If it’s kind of in the middle for me, I like it and there are some flaws that if I thought about more I might dislike but I’m happy having fond feelings towards it, we don’t discuss it since she’s ruined some books/movies for me in the past that way. Basically, if I feel strongly about it one way or the other then I can stick to my opinions and enjoy debating it, but in the middle that’s harder. (I’m more likely to initiate these sorts of conversations so it’s rare that it will be an issue the other way around.) I don’t know if that would work for anyone else, but for a group of friends who discusses things a lot something like that might work.
(Another option for friend C in PollyQ’s question if some version of the above, i.e. having a way to figure out when a dissection will be fun for everyone vs. not, would be to say, “It wasn’t for me, I didn’t like [The One Thing].” I’ve found that if everyone is having a conversation and sharing why they love The Book/Movie, it can be okay to mention one or maybe two specific things you disliked if you aren’t a jerk about it. More than that and it can be obnoxious, but as long as you aren’t adding comments like, “And anyone who liked [The Thing] is clearly an idiot,” you’re probably okay. Of course, the Captain’s advice can be the best in particular if it’s a short discussion, but if it’s going on and on then that’s a way to feel like you can participate and be honest without just trashing something that someone else likes.)
@Polly: I was referring to situations where Person C was not originally in the conversation, but if they are present at the get-go they still have plenty of options. One of those options is keeping quiet.
A case study involving myself:
I hate Game of Thrones. I have many reasons for hating it, ranging from petty to legitimately critical. My job and social circle means I can’t avoid hearing about GoT. But want to know the number of times I have butted in to a discussion of the latest episode to inform everyone that I think Game of Thrones is a garbage show? Zero.
What I do: Scroll past it if it’s on social media. Stay quiet during in-person conversations, or mildly say “Oh, I don’t watch it. It’s not my thing.” Or I wander off to talk to other people, or amuse myself with my phone until the subject changes. I’m not gonna shit on other people’s parade. Not every conversation has to include me, or include my opinion. Even if I feel there are objective reasons that make a thing bad, it doesn’t mean that folks who enjoy it anyway are wrong.
I got into a mini-argument with a douchebucket on FB who was loudly proclaiming how he hated the new “Ghostbusters” movie because all the women in it were shallow chicks who were just shamelessly throwing themselves at the guy. I pointed out: “um… no they weren’t… the fat girl thought he was an idiot, the black girl wasn’t interested in him, and the tiny girl was a lesbian. Only the one girl was throwing herself at him, so if you’re not going to like something, at least make an argument that makes *sense*?”
“I didn’t like it!”
Ok dude… that’s… not using any of the reasons you said earlier. You made an argument that you didn’t like it based on a completely 100% false statement. If you don’t like it, fine, but if you’re going to give a reason, at least make it a *reasonable* one that *makes sense*.
“LOL whatever it was stupid!”
And that’s when I gave up, cause obviously dude wanted to just make stuff. I have no problems if someone doesn’t like something… sometimes you can’t articulate it or it just rubs you the wrong way, that’s a’ok! But if you have a reason and then someone points out that your reason is totally 100% incorrect, don’t be a douche about it, especially if your false incorrect reason was douchey in the first place.
dammit. I think the spamcatcher is eating my comment. 😦
The interrupting because “I know what you’re going to say” thing may be a sore spot for me because I have a speech disorder and guess what people like doing to me!! but really? I don’t think that’s an excuse. Communication is about a lot more than a simple exchange of information, there is also stuff about basic social and emotional connection with another human being. Interrupting someone is really disrespectful and basically signifies “I don’t care enough about those other aspects to spend the few extra seconds to let you finish what you’re going to say” (and for me, “I am sufficiently annoyed by the way you speak that I don’t want to spend the few extra seconds etc. etc.”). Even if he doesn’t mean for it to come across that way, it’s completely valid for you to feel upset by being interrupted and want him to cut that shit out.
Also, my brother used to do the “mismatching” thing and I am SO glad he’s stopped doing it for the most part because it was incredibly frustrating to deal with and made me not want to talk to him at all. The fact that you do it too isn’t an excuse either, although it may be worth looking into how much and how often you do it and whether that’s something you need to rein in more (saying this with all sympathy because I had to do this myself – my brother and I both got this tendency from our family). Feeling like you can’t have a normal conversation because you have to be on the defensive all the time and that someone you love cares less about your comfort than about having fun in an argument sucks, and at least I only had to deal with it with my brother, not my partner.
I dated a variation of this guy years ago as well. Only his traumatic childhood was worth discussing, only his feelings mattered. He’d bail at the last possible moment from plans made together. I got the sad puppy eyes when I broke up with him, but I hope he eventually got through his issues with his therapist and didn’t load it onto some other woman.
Ugh. I broke up with a dude like that a little over a year ago.
I occasionally do this bc I hyperfocus. I can’t read or look at something while talking to someone; I will eventually tune them out. Key difference: when called out I apologize and ask the person I’m speaking with to please repeat their story/point while I listen carefully the second time, stopping what I’m doing as necessary. This kind of stuff is voluntary at some point.
Your ex sucks. I’m sure he’s the kind of guy who could go over the minutiae of his favorite shows/hobbies for hours and gets pissed if your eyes even glaze over.
Heh. I had a boyfriend who’s variant of that came when we had long conversations over the phone. He was one of these guys who thinks he can get along on four hours of sleep a night. So we’d be talking for a while, I was in the middle of telling him something deeply personal and EEEEEE! a couple of keys would get punched when he fell asleep onto the phone handset. Not only was it like having a fire-alarm go off right in your ear, but it also made it clear that this deeply personal story (and oh by the way, I) just wasn’t all that spell-binding. It was very painful on multiple levels.
Took me a solid year before I finally dumped him (over something else), but it still makes me boiling mad in retrospect.
I have since concluded that it someone loves you and wants to be with you, they demonstrate this by, you know, wanting to be with you.
Tuxbox: Seems like we dated the same guy…whenever I talked about something that was important to me, his eyes would be fully focused on the computer or TV. And if the subject came up later in conversation, he would either be absolutely perplexed or would have the facts totally convoluted in his mind (Example: if I said “I told my co-worker about my sister being annoying” he’d remember it as “I hate my co-worker”).
But if I upset him even the tiniest bit, he could ramblerant for a half hour or more without giving me a second to defend myself, and somehow he had near-perfect recall of all my imperfections.
He once brought up something I did 8 years prior (that he felt was against him) in public that he threw out against me in public as a pot-shot in an attempt to humiliate me, and when I got mad, he then claimed “oh no one’s listening or anything!” Except he had blurted out in the middle of a crowded sidewalk “YOU DUMPED ME TO FUCK HIM”.
Of course people are going to perk up their ears as soon as they hear someone drop an F-bomb. And nevermind that it was something that had been done *years before*, and it was also “get the fuck over it” time? Holy shit. But yup, he’d remember mistakes and shit I’d made and hold them against me and pull them out years later as ammunition, but boy when it was time to listen because I was upset… *only* if it was totally 100% relevant to our relationship was he willing to pay attention.
Hey Cap, it might be a good idea to CW that link you gave for casual cissexism/transmisogyny because of the testosterone/nuts line.
There’s also some super bad analysis in the postscript, including “Women are more likely to end their marriages than men, implying they fear being single less, and there’s evidence that men suffer more from breakups in the long term than women do. This asymmetry can give women more power when in a relationship.” The fact that the author wrote an entire piece about the burden of labor men put on women in relationships but then was unable to realize that this would necessarily mean that women would have more reason to want to leave that relationship, and that their partners would also suffer more from the loss of a support system than they would from the loss of a support sponge, is just incomprehensible to me.
Re-reading it, gonna delete the link altogether. Thanks.
LW 944, boundaries may not be the done thing in his culture, but they are in yours. Whatever boundaries or lack thereof he wants to set for himself are his business. But part of being a couple is having each other’s backs, especially where family is concerned. Especially if you’re seriously planning on getting married (and it’s not just something you’re telling his parents). He may be right that they won’t splash all their negativity over you, but if they’re this controlling of him, I have trouble picturing them being laid back and easy-going where you’re concerned.
Also, even if they don’t lay into LW944, her Partner will tell her all about it, and that’ll be a royal pain
Yes, it sounds like a really good idea for her to lay that boundary: “Jojo, I need to not hear all the negative things your folks say about me. Keep it to yourself, or vent to someone else, but don’t lay it on me.”
Thank you for your input (and thank you Captain for posting!!)! I think I will definitely ask him not to pass on all the awful shit his family says to me and to make sure he’s talking to a counsellor.
And @KellyK, yes, I will make sure he has my back in any boundaries I feel I need to set!
“I’m expecting there to be body shaming.”
Repeat after us: Nope.
Of course none of this should be happening to my face… but I will not put up with it, nope!
Ugh. My wife’s family body shames her all the time (NEVER me, though) and I only know about it later even though sometimes I’m right there when it happens–in their language. I’ve taken to listening for the word for “fat” because I want to jump in and say, “Excuse me, but please don’t ever say that to my wife, it’s not okay even if she’s too respectful to say so!” Still waiting for the opportunity.
Maybe bringing up your concerns with your wife beforehand would help. That way, you can let her know you support her and get specific feedback on how she wants you to support her around her family. I sometimes found it easier to simply say “Cousin/Grandma/Aunt looks lovely” instead of gearing up for a direct challenge. People also don’t know how to refute a sincere compliment without looking mean.
Maybe perhaps instead of jumping on the word “fat” which is not an insult, it would be better to say “no commenting” at all? There’s nothing wrong with being fat. Or say that, even.
Seconding KellyK’s comment. Being in a marriage means supporting each other first, even if that means setting boundaries with in-laws. Hell, especially when that means setting boundaries with in-laws. In my marriage, it’s my parents that are the problematic in-laws and I’d gone most of my life allowing boundary infractions left and right. I realized how much it was damaging my mental health so my husband and I come up with plans to set our boundaries with them and we do it together. They’re visiting this weekend and we’ve already game-planned topics we won’t get into with them, lines we’ll use if they made rude comments, strategies we’ll use to calm down when we want to say something rash etc. We do this because it makes our marriage stronger and keeps us from fighting amongst ourselves. I’m worried that LW 944’s boyfriend is falling into the trap of defending his family from his girlfriend and vice versa without truly examining how he feels about his family and what boundaries he can live with.
Also, LW, it’s possible for YOU to set boundaries, one of them being: You have to have my back if your parents try to be horrible to me. idc what he does in his own family; you are a separate person who is allowed to set whatever boundaries you need.
Quite so. Is he more about the culture of his family, or about the family culture the two of you will create together?
Yeah, I think it’s really important to be as understanding and flexible as you can of your sweetheart’s family culture, which sounds like what you’re trying to do. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t get to have preferences or dealbreakers. It’s okay if you decide that his expectations about how you’re going to relate to his family end up being too much work.
I’m also a little worried that even if he’s right that they will be polite and gracious to you when you meet them, that their ideas of good boundaries for a son’s girlfriend or fiancée may be quite different than their ideas of good boundaries for a daughter-in-law. Or if you have kids, for their grandchildren.
It may be not the case, and they may even see their son as more independent once he’s married, but I would be wary of assuming that. It may instead be that they will expect to pull you into their ‘guidance’ as well, and that seems like a difficult situation to be in if your partner continues to be unable or unwilling to develop a more independent relationship with them.
If his relationship with them never changes, can you live with it?
This is SUCH A GOOD POINT. Her needs are not “lesser” because of his culture!
LW 944, boundaries may not be the done thing in his culture, but they are in yours.
Hee. And it occurs to me that refusing to set boundaries is, itself, a boundary. =:o)
LW 944, I am not thrilled with the way your boyfriend is making his family your problem, dumping all his anxiety on you, and relaying all these flaws that he has pre-identified for his family. The Captain’s advice here is great. I would also encourage you to ask him not to share all these criticisms of you, either those that his family does manufacture or the ones that he is preemptively creating (which really, WTF?!) If he starts, ask him to talk it out with a friend or a therapist. If he’s going to be a good partner, he needs to have your back, not rip you down. Also, is he good at respecting your boundaries? Do you think he will respect your boundaries with his family? This is crucial information to have before you marry him.
I once broke up with a boyfriend because he let his family trash talk me to my face and behind my back. Hearing so many horrible things about me (even second hand), defending myself over and over, and knowing that he wasn’t standing up for me was exhausting and made me lose a lot of respect for him over time.
“LW 944, I am not thrilled with the way your boyfriend is making his family your problem, dumping all his anxiety on you, and relaying all these flaws that he has pre-identified for his family.”
Thank you! I had a hard time articulating why this dynamic was disturbing.
It’s bad enough when people relay ACTUAL criticisms made by ACTUAL family members to their partners. I think now would be an excellent way to start saying “I don’t want to hear all the awful things your parents might think about me. If you don’t want to set boundaries with them that’s your call, but it doesn’t mean I have to be told all those things.” If he responds well to that boundary with YOU it’s a green flag for respecting it once his parents start to actually have Opinions on you; if he gets sulky or insists on continuing to share all these preemptive insults, you can bet you’ll be hearing more of them once his folks learn of your existence.
*an excellent TIME to start saying, that is.
LW 1 – He’s making his family your problem + dumping anxiety on you + relaying pre-identified flaws + ALSO not giving you any clear commitments or showing actions about what he intends to do about any of it (beyond not setting boundaries). I think Captain’s advice around seeing ACTIONS from him re his family prior to cementing any further commitment is very wise. I think it’s also worth bearing in mind that there are wider cultural influences, but there’s also specific family cultures (like the family culture created by Alice that you referenced) and it’s 100% OK to opt out of joining and/or abiding by a toxic family culture. That would not be you being prejudiced or lacking in understanding or a bad lover; that would be you taking very good care of yourself.
LW 2 – Does your BF have this problem with other people? Does he cut off anyone else? Does he have the same violent (towards self) response if an acquaintance or classmate or professor calls him out? How does he manage conversations generally? What happens if you ever call him out in front of others – can he manage his emotional response better with an external audience? If these communication dynamics and his emotionally charged responses only happen with you, and he can generally manage to not cut people off and/or handle being corrected by other people, then I would side-eye his behaviour veeeeeeeery hard.
As it is, it is a problem in that he is not able to handle correction and constructive criticism, he is not prioritising your need to be heard, he is not giving your interests equal footing, and he is (possibly unintentionally) setting a scene where you’re the bad guy asking him to do better and ‘causing’ his emotional response.
Holy crap yes, this, RE: the LW2 stuff.
LW, my partner has anger issues and chronic mental health issues. (I, too, am mentally ill but in different ways, which has made learning and comparing each other’s needs an interesting experience!). Now, when my partner’s depression is really bad, dealing with casual conversation is exhausting for him and listening to someone talk about their day is super hard for him. And when my sensory issues and anxiety are high, and especially when I have a migraine looming, I cannot handle any kind of sound volume and am hypersensitive to his naturally booming speaking voice just as I’m hypersensitive to whistling noises and the sensation of fabric tags.
But here’s the thing.
When one of us is in that place, we’re in that place about *everything*. If my sensory issues are playing up at work, I have earbuds I need to let me block sensation out. If I’m in public I’ll put headphones in and play white noise over my phone. At home, partner will avoid playing music or videos, and will use an extra-gentle tone of voice. If his depression is flaring up he’ll hole himself up in his corner of the workshop where he works and flood his world with music over headphones, and will avoid making or cancel social plans, and I’ll give him space and privacy and restrict conversation to checking in with him if he needs herbal tea or a blanket or other comforting things.
And when we’re in better places? We’re better. If I was only ever sensitive to my partner’s natural speaking voice and not sensitive to other people’s, my partner would be justifiably upset that I was either treating some aspect of him as inherently unlikeable or that I was making no effort to reserve for my relationship with him any of whatever resources allowed me to tolerate the same things from others.
LW, if your boyfriend’s inability to handle criticism is as bad as it is with everyone – if criticism at work or at school results in a similar reaction to what you get – then his situation is bad enough that he may not actually be able to be a partner to you, or to anyone else right now. If his inability to handle criticism is *not* this bad with other people, or if it’s something that changes in severity when he’s around other people, then the problem isn’t his mental health issues and how they relate to his coping mechanisms. The problem then would be that he’s using you and manipulating you to cut away pieces of yourself because that’s easier than dealing with his problems himself.
I’m so with you on LW2. If he doesn’t have those kinds of severe reactions when other people make him feel bad, that is a strong parallel to any other situation where outbursts or punishments are reserved only for the significant other; the person somehow manages to control themselves just fine at work, among friends, among total strangers, etc. Yet they “can’t help themselves” when they act out towards their partner.
Even if he genuinely is unable to manage his reactions, you are putting yourself in a position where he’s holding you hostage. The longer you stay in this relationship, the longer you are walking on eggshells and sacrificing your sanity and comfort to avoid “upsetting him”. Letting someone else control you and cow you into behaving only a certain way around them is not a healthy way to live–it’s toxic and abusive. You are only 6 months in. Get out while it’s still new, before this trap closes. Even if these reactions are 100% out of his control (which I honestly doubt) it is NOT YOUR PROBLEM and you don’t deserve to deal with it. A good, worthwhile relationship will not cause you constant annoyance and emotional strain.
I’m asexual too, btw, and I want to add that I know how…hopeless and thinned out the dating pool seems when your sexuality is “incompatible” with so many people. But that doesn’t mean you have to settle, or put up with shitty behavior. Awesome partners exist for you. You will find them. I did. 🙂
Yes, LW2. So many beeees here.
I had a friend whose partner was apparently mentally ill in a very similar way. Except in retrospect, he perhaps wasn’t self-harming because of an internal process. It certainly seemed more like he was self-harming AT HER. And his ‘anxiety attacks’ could have been totally legit, but also sounded a heck of a lot like a tantrum.
On the night of their final argument (I collected her and all her stuff the next morning), he actually used the phrase “You just have to agree with me! I’m really not well, you know. And it makes me worse when you don’t do as I say!”
It was also coupled by him totally going to start counselling soon. Or going twice and being “better now, I don’t think I’ll go back”, followed by starting again with a different medical professional (whom he also saw only a time or two…) (adding that of course it’s normal to switch counsellors until you find a good fit. But in this case there was a definite vibe of running away as soon as the work got hard, or as soon as some genuine self-reflection was required).
And she loved him. So much. But she decided to lay some boundaries and require that he treat her at least as well as she could expect from a decent, reasonable human. Which he couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t do.
She has so much more life and oxygen and freedom now.
Doing the dance of “his mental health is too fragile to cope with me being a real person” (as opposed to just a foil for him and his thoughts) is exhausting.
I hope you get some rest from it. ❤
“… relaying all these flaws that he has pre-identified for his family”
OOF, yes, that worried me too. I am perfectly capable of pre-identifying all the things I think other people won’t like about me, so it would really stress me out to have my partner helping me to identify more!
Cap’s advice to LW is good. I would also add something that might help the bf:
It may be worth suggesting to him that he works on an alternative reaction to being called out. Instead of trying to not do something (interrupt you, be dismissive of your interests), and then freaking out when he does it anyway, he can aim to repair the situation.
So instead of having a meltdown when you say “hey, you just interrupted me”, he can say “oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt! You were saying that ___?”, and then listen attentively to what you say. This empowers him to do something other than feel bad, gives you back your opportunity to speak, and demonstrates to you that he was, in fact, listening.
If he realises that he’s letting die a conversation you want to have, or if you tell him that, then instead of proclaiming that he’s the worst person in the world, he can ask a question – any question – about the topic. He’s been able to tangibly improve the situation, you’ve been able to connect through the conversation.
That said – these are things you may want to suggest to him. They’re not things that you should be leading him through by the hand; once he’s got a good idea of how to improve the way he treats you, it’s his responsibility to take the initiative to follow through on it.
Clicker training! Cookies as a food reward for letting her talk uninterrupted!
Tooooooooo much woooooooooooork.
Plus if you’re already training someone like a puppy, maybe just get a puppy?
And also much less satisfying than spraying him in the face with water every time he interrupts.
No, I have never EVER fantasized about doing that to anyone, why do you ask?
Also, that would require her to constantly buy/make cookies. NOOOOPPPPEEEE.
Ugh, wasn’t there a Klondike bar commercial like that? Where the guy got a damn K Bar and a marching band for doing his supposed loved one the deep honor of listening to her for 5 SECONDS?
No. These are things a parent or a therapist can help him with. These are things he can seek out himself. These things are not the responsibility of the LW, who has been dating him for a few months.
This. Relationships aren’t jobs. Unless the relationship is client/service provider.
This. Those are coping mechanisms, and they’re important to learn but your significant other is not the person to teach them.
Oh geez, 945. I’ve been in that relationship, where the partner responded to any criticism with banging-head-on-wall and “I hate myself and want to die” (in fact, those two things specifically, not just general physical self-harm and self-loathing, but literally those things). In my case it was with another woman, so the gender issues were… I won’t say ‘not present,’ but different.
And even so, even without that, I eventually realized that the fact that whenever she was upset she’d imply–or sometimes state outright–that if I didn’t back off my criticisms, it would cause self-loathing or self-harm in her. I couldn’t even say “when you say you’ll do the dishes and then you don’t for a week, it’s kind of a problem” without banging-head and I-hate-myself-and-wish-I-were-dead. So I stopped asking hard questions, stopped broaching certain subjects, and started doing all the dishes, and then all the laundry, and then, and then, and then… until I couldn’t anymore, and that was it.
The problem was that even if the self-loathing was genuine, its effect on me was to make certain topics off the table for discussion because I could not deal with nightly ‘I want to die’ conversations. I don’t mean things like her sexual identity or her religious feelings or other big issues, I mean that even things like “can you please take out the trash tonight?” could become verboten. And I came, slowly, sadly, to realize that I was living in a situation where I was doing all the chores and avoiding vast gulfs of topics and issues that might otherwise have been up for conversation; that I was walking on eggshells, and apologizing daily for not having sufficiently delicate ballet-slipper toes.
It’s okay to need things for yourself. It’s okay to not want to have to develop the most graceful eggshell-stepping toes. It’s okay.
I have been the head-banger I wanna die person. I had no social or coping skills. My childhood home environment had been severly physically and sexually abusive. It just felt normal and right to react as I was doing, well into adulthood. It was rewarding.
I wasn’t very aware that other people didn’t act like this. Soon, people would just Nope out. I expected it and that I was going to have to start over with a new (barely vetted but somehow conforming to my abnormal norm) stranger.
Reading LW 945, I saw that old me-self and thought, “Man, I wish people had just told me I needed to change.” And the next thought I had after that is “Olive, that was not their job!”
Olive, it was very gracious of you to share this. Thank you.
This feels very familiar, though in my case my partner was responding with a much weaker form of things than that (mostly just genuine general self-loathing and self-guilt-tripping) and I also tended to overreact to her reactions. But the aspect where I stopped asking about things and stopped bringing up things that bothered me even if they would be pretty easy to fix, and felt like I was avoiding vast gulfs of topics … yes, that. Very much that. And there was also the related thing where she was afraid of criticizing me, because of another facet of the same childhood history, so she was likewise avoiding vast gulfs of topics and feeling like she was doing all the work on a lot of areas.
In our case, that was after a decade of marriage, and fixing things was really important to us, and going to a couples counselor really helped us. One of the big reasons was that it gave us a safe space to criticize the other without the burden of then being solely responsible for comforting them through their reaction, and another big reason was that the counselor helped us learn that she was stronger at taking criticism than I feared and vice-versa. And a lot of it was simply guided practice, repeated week in and week out for several years.
I’m not saying that to say that it would work for you, or for LW945, or anyone else; just that that was a shape of how one couple mostly got out of it — and that it was possible, but that it was a very significant amount of work, and specifically it required not only that she learn how to not wilt under criticism but that I also unlearn all my learned expectations that she would wilt. And that was a long path, and there is no shame in choosing not to take it, even if the other person is learning to not do the self-harm and self-loathing — learning to trust that they’re not going to do that, and unlearning all the conditioning from the past history, is still not a small thing. (It’s not a small thing, even if you start afresh with someone you don’t have that history with!) And also just to say that I also know a form of this pain and you have my empathy, because it is awful and suffocating.
“The problem was that even if the self-loathing was genuine, its effect on me…”
Love this. I remember the following exchange with my partner:
Me: “Look, I need you to work on [issue that we’ve been discussing for literally years].”
Partner: “I know, I know. The thing is, I feel really ::bad:: about it.”
[repeat a million times over the years]
Me, finally: “Ok but I don’t actually ::need:: you to feel bad.”
Partner: stunned silence
Us: works on problem by honoring feelings but focusing on behavior. partner talks to therapist/best friend about feelings related to this issue, not me.
I think part of maturing in life is realizing that your inner guilt does not actually balance the scales of treating people poorly.
“your inner guilt does not actually balance the scales of treating people poorly.” – that’s pretty T-shirt worthy. ❤
Years ago at my first summer job one of my coworkers always said “don’t be sorry, just don’t do it again” when someone messed up. While I do think it’s a bad sign if someone doesn’t even feel bad for hurting you, feeling bad on its own just doesn’t magically fix things.
I used to tell my daughter, I don’t want to hear you say you are sorry, I want to hear what you are going to do different next time.
Lord, I hated that as a child. Somebody was mad! I wasn’t allowed to make a social repair? What the crap?
I’m only saying that because I’ve been thinking lately about what I would have liked instead. Maybe help/understanding about why it had happened? But a partner =/= a child! Like very very specifically you do not have to raise your partner to have good social skills! Clarifying whether this is “I need emotional acknowledgement” or “I need problem-solving assistance from you” can be helpful at any age, though.
My very first day of work at my very first job, I didn’t know where something was supposed to be put away,. This was a quilting shop and all the fabric looked the same to me (I knew nothing about cottons or knits or satins). So I just put things from a cart onto a random stand. The closing manager noticed, made me take them all down and sort them, and then walk around and straighten several areas of the store to learn where things went.
When I tried to tell her I didn’t know and was sorry, she said, “Don’t make excuses, just learn how to fix it.” I was 16, and that lesson has stuck with me. When I mess up (and obviously I mess up), I remind myself not to make an excuse, but just to figure out how to fix things.
“Guilt isn’t a punishment; it’s a reminder of the things you haven’t set right.”
I’ve had a relationship like this as well, head-banging and all. Somebody who would literally sink to the floor sobbing their heart out if they spilled a glass of milk. It’s too much to try to be someone’s therapist, mom, caretaker, AND their partner. You can find people to be with who aren’t the trials of Hercules to date.
“You can find people to be with who aren’t the trials of Hercules to date.”
Or even be alone and be much happier in the long run. There are worse things than being alone, and a lot of us in the commentariat have dated and/or married them.
“The problem was that even if the self-loathing was genuine, its effect on me was to make certain topics off the table for discussion because I could not deal with nightly ‘I want to die’ conversations.”
This!! Just because the other person doesn’t have ill intent or isn’t trying to be manipulative, this behavior still creates a toxic, abusive environment.
My partner has done a less extreme version of what the boyfriend in #945 does–he doesn’t hit his head on the wall, but once, after I pointed out something shitty he had done, he went to the bedroom, got in bed, and pulled the covers over his face. The last time he did this I raised the gender dynamic pretty explicitly. I said I knew he wasn’t being deliberately passive aggressive (he wasn’t), but that his actions were basically putting me in the position where I had to go console him instead of getting my own feelings dealt with/acknowledged, and that it wasn’t fair, and that it was asking of me a kind of gendered emotional labor that I didn’t want to provide. To his credit, he got it, apologized, stopped doing that thing, and engaged with me about the original problem. I think he genuinely hadn’t realized what was going on–that the outsized self-loathing not actually just a sign of how much he cared about having upset me, but a subconscious bid for care and reassurance, and a way to put his own feelings and needs back in the driver’s seat.
So, one thing to try is to be super-blunt about the dynamic you’ve pointed out in your letter? What do you think would happen?
Applause! to you for identifying that dynamic and still assuming best intentions and to him for stopping doing the thing and apologising for doing the demanding-being-consoled thing.
My boyfriend tends to be even more subtle – responding to any criticism with statements like “I’m the worst” or “why do you put up with me?” But as soon as I pointed out that when he does this, it’s fishing for reassurances in a manipulative way, he really did self-examine and start to stop himself from those gut reactions. Every once in a while he slips and my go-to response is “I don’t want to respond to that,” and he follows that up with “oh sorry, did it again. I’ll try not to (whatever we were discussing that bothered me).” It feels healthier for both of us, and you can have that, LW. And by that I mean a partner who can take your concerns seriously, and without wallowing or self-harming.
My husband says things like “I’m a piece of shit” or “Yep, I’m an asshole” when responding to any criticism. I used to try to jump in and protect him but now I say “You weren’t before, but yeah, with that comment I agree with you.” I’ve noticed that since I’ve started agreeing with him in the moment and pointing out that “Yes, you are being a piece of shit right now for reacting this way when all I did was ask you to hang up your damn towel!! (or whatever criticism it is)” he’s stopped doing it so much. The first few times I agreed with him he actually laughed and it took him right out of his sulky I-don’t-like-to-be-criticized mood.
This literally happened to me on Monday. I pointed out some asshole thing my husband did, he says “turns out I’m kind of an asshole sometimes” in that defensive non-defense kind of way and I said “well it’s a choice, you could choose to be less of an asshole”.
My dad. I grew up with this as my dad. As an adult he still expects me to manage his feels when he is upset. If I mention I am upset at him about something? “You hate me and wish I was dead. I should kill myself.” I try to ask him not to do something? “You’re right, I’m a shitty father.”
It’s exhausting. He expected me to do that as a child, to manage the feels train. And that negative voice is what plays in my head when I fuck something up. “I’m a fuck up. I should die.”
I did this with my dad one time, who has a terrible habit of witnessing or hearing about someone else’s problem, finding it so disconcerting that he falls into a bottomless funk of indecisive despair, and then becoming furious, inconsolable, and wounded (a) that the problem existed at all and that (b) some of his half-hearted advice for correcting it stunk or failed or was impractical or was simply not acceptable to the problem-haver. It’d gotten to the point where people had to pre-emptively apologize to him for their own problems and then explain, like suppliants, what they were going to do to fix it and ask for him to permit the plan of action. People tip-toed around serious shit because we knew he’d only make it worse and then make it all about himself, and even after the problem was fixed, he’d still be sulking (having lifted nary a finger to help in the meanwhile, but full of impractical advice delivered sternly).
He finally understood when I explained to him that my mom had avoided telling him about a car wreck she’d been in because she knew he’d only pull some attention-seeking tantrum that’d take time away from her filing the insurance claim and getting the car fixed and that what she really needed was his unconditional support sans counter-productive guilt trip.
He’s better now and when he senses he’s going in that direction, he brings up the Mom Car business all on his own as a reminder of what not to do. Just saying it out loud, reasonable and a little dispassionately but without sugarcoating, doesn’t always work with people, but it’s nothing short of a miracle when it does.
That’s awesome. Like truly.
I once dated a man who would also health to bed, pull the covers over his head, and start to cry every time he was faced with something he didn’t want to hear. The few times I tried to call him out on it he would say things like “I thought women wanted sensitive men” as if my only other option was to have him react coldly to me, with no emotion at all. I ended up being so resentful of him. I do not miss him at all.
BLEECCCH!!! Congratulations on getting away from him!
Women do want sensitive men – “Sensitive” as in sensitive to their partner’s needs, and “men” as in adults who don’t behave like spoiled little children. This chump was clearly neither of those things, good riddance.
“In Rejkjavik to cover the match, the novelist Arthur Koestler famously coined the neologism “mimophant” to describe Fischer. “A mimophant is a hybrid species: a cross between a mimosa and an elephant. A member of this species is sensitive like a mimosa where his own feelings are concerned and thick-skinned like an elephant trampling over the feelings of others.” — David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Bobby Fischer Goes To War, p.24″
LW 944, one thing that I struggle often with but that can easily be elided in these conversations is: it can be complicated–not unfixable, but complicated–when you marry into a culture that isn’t your own, especially if you are a relatively sensitive person and the culture you’re marrying into is a minority culture in a country where you’re largely part of the majority culture.
I’ve run into this myself with my partner. I grew up more or less centrally in mainstream American culture–not entirely in the defaults, but mostly. My partner didn’t. It can be difficult, from my perspective, to tell whether I’m going “no that’s a ridiculous expectation” because it’s a ridiculous expectation… or because it’s an expectation that is abnormal to me, but normal to the other culture, at which point “ridiculous” begins to take on the tone of an insult.
(To be clear, I can still reject expectations that are “normal” to their culture, or for that matter, to mine. But I’ll do it differently, and with more gentleness and sensitivity, if it’s something that’s an expected norm in the minority culture to which my partner belongs. The last thing they need–especially now!–is more outraged Othering.)
The way I have done this is to develop a Team Me that includes someone who is part of my partner’s culture group, and then doing reasonableness-checking with her. So she might say, “Yeah, if they expect you to bring a complicated dish to $religiousfestival, that’s normal; you can say no, but it’s not insulting that you were asked,” but then also “No, plenty of women in $religioustradition expect their partners to pick up after themselves; they’re just being weird about that one.” It’s important that this person is happy to perform this role–you don’t want to shoehorn someone into the Cultural Teacher role against their will!–but it can be hugely hugely helpful, and I’ve found that many people are happy to be the reasonableness-check person, so long as you don’t grill them at length (and maybe buy them coffee occasionally).
And that helps me to figure out when to deploy a flat “No, we won’t be doing that,” and when to use a softer, “I understand why you want us to do that, but it’s just not feasible for us.” Or whatever.
It’s challenging, but navigable.
Thank you!! Yeah, it is similar (we’re both from other countries and immigrated to the country where we now live as young children with our families, but the country I am from is also “western”). I don’t currently actually know anyone else from his culture group (and my social anxiety makes it very hard to meet new people!!)…
Could your partner introduce you to someone? I’m not personally familiar with cross-cultural relationships, but if there is a woman around your age that he knows from his family’s cultural center or religious organization, it seems like it would be a relatively easy bit of emotional labor for him (that would mean a lot to you) if he made an introduction. Basically setting up playdates haha.
I am uncomfortable with the idea of seeking out a friend from another culture for the express purpose of getting them to help you manage your relationship with your boyfriend and teach you her cultural norms. That feels…transactional instead of friendly, and it definitely feels like this person is going to have the Cultural Teacher burden on them. It’s different if you already had a friend from that group, or in the process of getting to know Boyfriend you also gradually met other friends from that culture. But looking specifically to have someone teach you about it so you can have a better relationship with your boyfriend? That feels kind of gross. how would you even know that a potential new friend would be interested in that?
I can only speak for myself, but I’m a woman from a minority culture. I don’t mind answering questions occasionally for my friends and coworkers – in fact, sometimes it feels nice to explain my culture and learn about theirs – but I’d be pissed if it became clear to me that someone originally got friendly with me because they were hoping I’d help them navigate their romantic relationship’s cultural minefield.
Thank you. I value your input and I think it’s absolutely his place to help me understand what reasonable expectations are when it comes to his culture and his family.
Yeah, I agree totally. It can be reasonable to ask with existing friends—it’s not a good reason to seek out a friend. Now, there might totally be online communities (either Friends of Captain Awkward or ones specifically devoted to cultural exchange) where it would be reasonable to pop in with, “Hey, boyfriend’s parents asked X annoying thing, and they say that’s totally the norm in Country. Is it, and are there ways for me to respectfully not do X?”
That way, you’re not expecting a specific person, who you may not know well yet, to be your cultural ambassador. You’re just throwing it out to a group of potentially helpful people, and those who have the time and bandwidth to throw in their two cents will.
There’s also the option of being upfront with the person of the other culture about this towards the beginning of the relationship, along the lines of, “Hey, I was wondering if you would be willing to help me out when I’m having a hard time understanding some of this new culture that I don’t understand.” I had success with that when I moved to another culture and wasn’t understanding what I was doing wrong. (In our case I was able to do the same in reverse, since my Cross-Cultural Friend was also interacting with several people from my culture on a regular basis and we were mutually dumbfounded.) They may or may not agree, but if you tell the other person upfront that you’re hoping they will help you out in this area then they have the choice to say yes or no.
This helped a friend of mine a lot who was in a similar situation. The friend was a close friend of the person with conservative parents, from the same culture, who became a mutual friend of both people and was interested in helping out in this way. She also helped my friend pick out a quite unusual engagement ring that their partner ended up absolutely loving, I’m still in awe at how well those two know each other.
Both of you are putting in a lot of work managing your partners. The Captain has given brilliant advice.
Some more things to think about maybe:
LW 944, you will want boundaries around how your partner and his family treat you. If they really will say horrid things, it’s his job to manage that and not force you into wrangling his emotions.
But right now this is what my landsmen call hypothetical tsuris. You haven’t met them yet. Maybe they will be lovely. Maybe not. Better to meet them now, low stakes, as the nice girlfriend of Partner; rather than as The Bride From Another Culture.
LW 945, your boyfriend has already trained you to mostly be quiet about his bad behavior, and to comfort him on the few occasions you have the nerve to mention it.
That saddens me. Six months in the two of you should be exclaiming joyfully over the marvelous ways you differ, as well as the lovely stuff you have in common. The Captain is oh so right. If he freezes or self harms, that’s a signal for you to leave. (At least for the day)
Jedi hugs to you both, if you want them.
LW944, We have a lot in common. I’m a divorced white American woman recently married to a Bengali man 8 years my junior, whose mother does not speak English. His parents were not on board with this. “Girlfriend” is a dirty word. They just assumed he’d be getting an arranged marriage. He tried to tell them about me when we first started dating, but they shut down and refused to talk about me till he told them we were getting married. At which point, they threw a shit fit.
Here are some of the ways my situation is different from yours: Husband and I both live in the U.S. Husband’s parents live in Delhi. That’s made things quite a bit easier and unlike your situation. But more to the point: Husband did NOT voice any doubts about our relationship or my suitability as a life partner for him. He also shielded me from his parents and their initial reaction. That was a conversation he had while I was not around. I am glad he did, because though he hasn’t told me exactly what his father said, I suspect it was something I’d never be able to forget as long as I know him. That’s a big deal. Your fiance has made his choice, and his parents should be his problem, not yours. If he’d ever tried to make me feel like I needed to somehow compensate for my age or anything else, I’d have been out of there. As it was, my involvement in those first difficult weeks was limited to wrapping my arms around him after his domineering father said something awful to him, making sure he knew that I was offering a different model of love than the one he’d grown up with.
So. I think he should tell them without you there, and make sure you’re not in contact with them for a while until they get over the shock, unless by some miracle they demonstrate they can be trusted with your feelings. I think that whatever manipulations/control mechanisms they throw at him in the future should be a thing he deals with himself and does not layer on you. You should not be shouldering the emotional burden of their disapproval. He should not, for example, tell you that his mom said this terrible thing about you and how sad it makes him in the hopes that you then comfort him.
Also, one tricky dynamic here is culture. Yours, theirs, his. It’s very tempting to forgive some incompatibilities or boundary-violations because you want to be understanding of cultural differences. My husband was quick to tell me that it wasn’t the fact that his parents are Bengali that made them freak out over this. The problem was that they are very socially conservative and his father is domineering. That is an individual problem, not a cultural one. Plenty of other Bengali parents would be totally happy about this. Culture matters insofar as it is a major factor informing the standards – conscious and unconscious – my husband and I each have about relationships and how we work through them. But it doesn’t get to be an excuse for bad behavior.
Wishing you the best, LW. 🙂
Yes, yes, yes.
I can think of at least one case immediately where someone close to me (A) has significant relationship issues with their partner (B)’s parents, in part because when A told their parents about B their parents said a thing, and A mentioned to B what they said, and B found it very difficult to forgive — and that poisoned a lot of their early interactions in ways that were very difficult for them to recover from.
Thank you! It is good to hear that I am not alone. He does intend to tell them without me present. He has explained to me that it’s a mix of culture (ethnic culture), religion and also family culture (and how the first two shape the latter).
Change is hard. Any time you are trying to move away from entrenched patterns, whether it is setting boundaries or learning to be a better listener for your partner it takes effort. It takes failure, set backs and uncomfortable situations.
But you can’t make other people go through that process. You can support them and try to be helpful, but ultimately the changes have to come from within.
For LW 2: There are hundreds of articles on the Internet about how to be a better listener. I bet they’re are even some very specific articles unique to his mental health issues and experiences. It’s time to go beyond “stop interrupting.” there are even techniques for active listening and learning to engage. If this is truly an area your boyfriend wants to improve he could do some research and try some different stuff. It can’t just be you scolding him constantly, he needs to try more.
Yep, LW2’s boyfriend needs to google “active listening” pronto if he wants to stay in a relationship.
LW the 2nd (#945), your boyfriend is behaving incredibly poorly. I know he says he’s trying to change, but I don’t see much in your letter to indicate sincere/effective effort from him. I do not think you should bet on him improving.
While he is severely mentally ill, that doesn’t mean that it is okay for him to dramatically self-harm or threaten suicide over mild and necessary criticism. That is suuuuuuuuper manipulative of him! I know you care about him, but you should not have to deal with this from a friend or partner no matter how ill they are.
A person can have severe mental health issues without being a rampaging dick. Seriously. Conversely, rampaging dicks with mental health issues are often very good at making it seem like their dickery is a mental illness symptom that you have to tolerate. I promise, you genuinely do not have to put up with your BF’s behavior. You really are allowed to set boundaries with him, even if he does frightening and upsetting things as a response. Please take what the Captain has said about caring for yourself and not being responsible for his problems to heart.
In particular, please tattoo this on your eyeballs: His “not being able to move” and “hitting head against wall” or “I hate myself and want to die” reactions to being told “Hey, your behavior is not cool!” are not your fault and not yours to fix. And please do go see a counselor! I second that so hard.
LW, I really hope that you do not… feel obligated to put up with selfish, abusive behavior that is purposely or accidentally controlling, just because you love the person doing it and he’s “too sick” to help it. Whether he’s in a really bad place and can’t control himself, or whether he’s acting maliciously, the end result is the same: you get hurt. You deserve better than that. And he deserves–and can deal with–the consequences of his behavior, no matter what his reasons or intentions. His mental illnesses do not give him license to act like this with impunity.
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. LW #945, please read bat lord’s comment again, and then one more time for emphasis. I dated this guy. I took on FAR FAR too much responsibility for trying to “fix” this guy. He could not/would not be “fixed.” You do not owe this guy all your work, and while you may care for him, you deserve so much better than this.
>And hey, it’s worth noting, your asexuality isn’t something you have to apologize for or something that dooms you to substandard relationships where you do all the emotional labor.
OMG THIS. I have lost count of the fellow asexuals I’ve watched endure unhealthy relationships because they think we don’t deserve better. We do. We are just as deserving of love and respect and support as any allosexual. We don’t have to be with people who “put up with” our asexuality.
LW 2, being asexual doesn’t make us broken. It isn’t a flaw we need to apologize for.
In my own life I’ve actually noticed a trend of men who are manipulative and mentally ill choosing asexual or seemingly asexual girls to vent to and to talk at and as someone who will take care of them, and reacting horribly if we ever say “no” or even “not now.” I, and a lot of ace girls I know are a bit unsure around guys and I think the manipulative ones notice and use that. I’m not sure if that’s helpful at all.
hoo boy, this reminds me of a dynamic i witnessed back in college. one of my friends was in a long-term relationship with a boy, and she realized she’s asexual, and slowly “but i’m just so UNDERSTAAAAAAANDING about your asexuality!!” became this trump card he pulled out at every argument. that relationship didn’t last very long afterwards.
asexuality isn’t this huge mark against us that we need to make up for in order to ~deserve a romantic relationship with anyone. and there’s a difference between someone who ACTUALLY understands & respects asexuality and someone who PRETENDS to respect it so they can cash it in for emotional labor or get-out-of-jail-free cards later… not that LW #2’s boyfriend is necessarily doing that, just that it’s been done a lot in some of the ace/allo relationships i’ve seen.
I’m loving this thread and how everyone pointed out this can be an ace thing specifically ❤
This. I have this very sweet print from Robot Hugs hanging on my office for my students to see, and another copy on my refrigerator: http://www.robot-hugs.com/healthy-relationships/ 🙂
LW 994: A possible suggestion for your boyfriend. Is he religious/ connected into his families religious community? I ask because if he is their may well be the equivalent of the reformist rabbi or a progressive Anglican priest (examples from my life) who have experience on dealing with the families of more progressive kids who are dating/marrying outside their community and conservative parents reactions. Someone like that may be able to support your boyfriend and give him culturally appropriate ways to support you when dealing with his parents.
Something that might give him the ability to say “Dear parents I know LW isn’t who you imagined, but it would be *impolite* to show your disappointment in their company” They can be grumpy at him, but it shouldn’t be your problem.
My teenage son does this all the time. He doesn’t descend into self hard but he does get really down on himself when I pull him up on it. And you know what? It doesn’t matter what his underlying issues are (there are several) it is not ok for him to behave in this way. Now, I’m his mum and it’s my job to help him with emotional labour and take him to MH pros and generally make a lot of decisions for him.
YOU ARE NOT HIS MUM. Your “obligation” or whatever to this guy is exactly as much as you are willing and able to give him.
If it were me, I would bail. I already have one moody teen*.
*He is a wonderful, smart, awesome boy but yikes it is haaaaaard work.
“It doesn’t matter what his underlying issues are (there are several) it is not ok for him to behave in this way.”
Yeah so can you come sit in on a parent meeting I have about one of my students next week?
Yep. My daughter has anxiety, and I say this to her all the time. Generally some variation of “I’m sorry you’re feeling bad right now, but you are still responsible for your own behaviour.” And +1000000 to the point that I am her mother and it actually is my job to teach her how to do this emotional labour at this stage of her life, but I would certainly not want to have that kind of relationship with an adult.
I have no idea how many times I’ve told my kids “It’s okay to be upset, but it’s not okay to take it out on everyone around you, especially if they aren’t the person who upset you,” but it is A LOT.
Like Monica and JMegan, I have kids who deal with anxiety and depression, and tend to react to criticism by punishing themselves emotionally, often far more harshly than the situation calls for. It’s difficult to deal with, but as their mom it is my job to both teach them and comfort them. I generally try to take the approach of “you made a mistake, it happens, now what are you going to do to fix it?” Putting the emphasis on what they’re going to do rather than what they’ve done can be very useful.
But your partner is an adult, you’re not his mother, and it is not be your responsibility to raise him, or fix him. As Paul Simon said, “breakdowns come and breakdowns go, what are you going to do about it, that’s what I’d like to know.”
Hee, “breakdowns come and breakdowns go” was the title of my LiveJournal for a long time.
Yes. Especially if you ever mean to have kids with this guy. Once there’s an actual child taking up your parenting energy, your ability to give it to any other adult in your life drops way down, partner or not. That stuff is finite.
Even if you don’t – this guy may or may not improve somewhat, but his coping skills are way behind and his personality is extremely self-focused. Can he change? Possibly. But he could change a lot and STILL be a partner who drains you dry, because his problems are simply that big.
Don’t compare any changes he makes to how he was at his worst, but to what’s ok for you to live with. That may be a difficult standard for him, personally, to reach, maybe impossible. But that’s not your fault, nor is it your job to absorb. His problems are never entirely going to go away, right now he is really not trying to manage them at all, and even his best self might be too much work.
So much this!
Ahhhhhhhh. My mother has taken the opposite approach with my sister – make excuses for her behaviour, but not actually be helpful or supportive. (I am really pissed off about this but will refrain from ranting.) I hope your son does well moving into adulthood.
LW944, I married a man from a different culture with a family similar to your BF’s family. He also lived at home and was very enmeshed with his family as your BF appears to be. His family’s language was not English. We have been married now for 20 years, and it has not been easy with respect to his family as they never accepted me, and I was always treated like an outsider. Although my DH has set good boundaries with his family now, it took a good decade into our marriage before this happened. My husband’s parents were by far the biggest stress to our marriage due to the enmeshed dynamic that my husband came from which completely conflicted with my need for autonomy and independence. I have a very low contact relationship with my IL’s now (I see them once a year), and my husband sees them about once a month. This is what worked best for me and our marriage.
A couple suggestions from someone who has been there done that:
First, do not marry this man until he moves out of his family’s home and begins to establish boundaries with his family. Right now, from what you’ve described, you are dating a man-child who is not ready for marriage. He is too dependent on his family and their acceptance.
Second, your future IL’s do not need to know about your sexuality, plans for kids, ideology, life experiences, etc. They are not entitled to this information, and hopefully your BF has enough sense to protect your privacy and not divulge this information. In time, if you establish a connection with your IL’s you can open up to them, but for now, polite and cordial should be the IL game plan going forward.
Finally, if I could have done one thing looking back on the 20 years of my marriage, it would have been to move away when we married. That would have forced the boundaries that my husband and I needed early on and would have really reduced some of the stress that was brought into our marriage from his side of the family.
This future marriage is about you and your BF and the vows you make to one another. You and your future husband need to always have each others back and put each other first above all others including his parents.
Thank you LadyDi! I honestly don’t think it’s possible for him to move out of his parents’ home before he marries (well not without completely destroying his relationship with his family and he is close to his younger siblings…). But I will definitely pass on your second point to him.
I take it you’re LW 944? If you are, then I beg you not to discount the first point, or let him discount it for you. If he has the money to move out and live with you after you’re married, then he absolutely CAN move out now and live with flatmates or friends now. He is CHOOSING not to in order to keep the peace with his family, but it is possible for him to do these things. There are ways he can keep the lines of communication open between himself and his younger siblings, even if their parents don’t approve.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the cooking and cleaning in his parents’ house is largely (perhaps even entirely) taken care of by not-him. He may believe that he will contribute equally to the domestic chores in his shared household with you, but I would strongly encourage you to wait until he demonstrates that by living on his own (or moves in with friends) before trying it out.
He has years of cultural programming that have trained him not just to not help with things like cooking and cleaning, but not even to see what needs to be done (and it should be noted that men from more liberal cultures often struggle with this, too). No amount of private disagreement with the expectations of his family’s culture on his part is going to prepare him for the actual drudgery of the chores he is currently excused from doing. As Allison also said below, once he’s away from his family, he might decide that his life there wasn’t so bad after all and seek to recreate it with you. Please make sure he demonstrates his ability to be a good housemate as well as a good partner before you marry him.
It’s a really good idea to be sure he knows how to keep house and otherwise live as an adult.
I was working in a highly skilled field with a man of a different ethnic group than me who was constantly interrupting, clearly thinking he was seducing me. He drove a status car, but reeked of cigarettes and complained at his shared custody of his children, so I would keep walking.
One day he dropped his veneer and his real personality emerged as he used an ethnic slur at me, “You____ (my group) are just practice! Then we marry our own!”
Twenty years ago and I guarantee this quote is verbatim, but hearing him say that is only an old memory, not this morning from someone in my home, or someone I once thought I could have kids with.
Intended to nest this with vivanator.
Yes to this!
Regardless of culture, there can be a dynamic that happens in older woman/younger man relationships where the woman has both more life experience and all of the cultural expectations of emotional labor/caretaking.
This can lead to her being the person who is best at handling things, which leads to her being the person who does everything, which leads to him being a middle aged man with the life skills of a 20 yo, while she is drowning trying to manage everything on her own.
This dynamic killed a lot of the love in my relationship with Spouse. It has taken years to get a more equitable relationship.
It would be worth it to wait to marry this man until he has demonstrated the willingness and ability to master basic life skills like:
MINIMUM (What it takes to be a decent roommate)
Maintaining his own living space (Cleaning, Purchasing food and household supplies, feeding himself)
Budgeting his own income to cover those living expenses.
PREFERRED (What it takes to be a decent spouse)
Maintaining their own physical and mental health
Managing their own relationships with friends and family
Doing all those things while actively investing in and maintaining his relationship with you
These skills are much harder to acquire one you’re already married and patterns of behavior have been set.
I had to stop doing a lot of essential things and let him flounder while he learned. This was difficult for everyone.
It would have been so much better if he had been working on those skills from the get go, rather than us assuming that since we were both good people it would work itself out.
+1 to all of this.
There was an r/relationships about this very thing a month or two ago — fiance was from a conservative background, and was refusing to move out on his own before they got married (or moved in together? can’t remember). She saw the dynamic of his mother making all the meals, doing all the cleaning, waiting on his dad hand and foot, and saw her future life, because the guy literally had never washed a load of laundry or cleaned a toilet. He kept saying, “I’ll learn how when you teach me when we’re living together,” and she couldn’t quite put her finger on why that bothered her, so about 50 of us were like EMOTIONAL LABOR IS WHY and GOOGLE IS FREE and DO NOT MARRY.
LW944, the reason so many people are saying he needs to move out is just what espritdecorps says. Even leaving ordinary gender bs surrounding emotional labor aside, do you really want to bring a dynamic of “I am competent in household management areas A-T; he is competent in areas B and N only due to his upbringing, so now either all other tasks devolve to me to DO or to teach him how to do” into your marriage? It’s a tried-and-true recipe for resentment on both sides, and resentment is a big part of why a lot of people divorce.
Moving out of a shared living space inevitably changes a relationship with someone – you’re not around each other as much, you don’t have to deal with their unwashed dishes or clutter, etc. – but it doesn’t have to completely destroy a relationship by any means, as evident from all of the people who have relationships, sometimes even very close ones, with people with whom they do not live. I suggest re-framing this: it is perhaps not possible for your boyfriend to move out without his parents choosing to destroy their relationship with their son. The fact of your boyfriend moving out isn’t destroying the relationship (if it were an inherent problem, it wouldn’t matter WHY he was moving out), and if he’s not cutting off contact or turning every interaction into a fight, he’s not the one destroying the relationship either. These are agentic choices – they might align with cultural scripts and may result form internalized values, but neither of those actually precludes alternative choices.
I agree with this. I come from a Bengali family and married my white husband a couple of years ago – he’s also younger than me, and I am well into my 30s. When I was younger, I believed that having a relationship with someone of my choosing would lead to my parents disowning me, the family being destroyed, etc. etc.
After some years of this shaping my approach to life and casting an enormous shadow on the relationships I had, I realised that (a) they probably wouldn’t disown me, as they are basically kind, loving parents with whom I have many differences, rather than abusive, controlling people who need to own me; and (b) if they did disown me for finding happiness my own way, that would be their choice, and I wouldn’t need to take responsibility for that. Like the LW, I didn’t tell my folks until we were engaged, because the concept of a relationship that doesn’t end in marriage is simply invalid for them. There were some initial fireworks, which were all directed at how disappointing I was for various reasons, and not at my partner (or the idea of him, as they hadn’t met him yet). I was somewhat ready for this, though it was very upsetting. I went home to my partner and he comforted me, but I always made it clear that it wasn’t his problem, and that he should meet them with an open mind and heart, and that I thought they would do the same. But I went in knowing that if marrying my choice of partner meant giving up my relationship with my parents, then so be it. Your partner needs to know which side he would choose if it came to it; he has to have thought about the worst case scenario and still choose to go there with you.
It was all fine; my parents – and all my extended family – love my husband now, and it turns out that for us the cultural differences are really just details: the big stuff, like valuing family and looking at the bigger picture, all translates very well. This may or may not be the case for you, but either way he needs to take responsibility for his choices, assert them and defend them. That’s his job, and he may not use you as the frontline.
He is refusing to learn how to adult before marriage. “Completely destroying his relationship with his family” means growing up. That’s the basic reality. It sounds as if it will destroy his relationship if you don’t do the culturally accepted thing and move in with his parents; how does he explain being unable to do the first but able to do the second?
1000x yes to this!
So far, it looks like you’re going to do all the work and suffer all the flak, and he won’t actually need to do anything. Being independent is something you have to do by yourself for yourself. If you get someone else to do it for you, you’re not actually independent.
I would also worry about whether he will ultimately want to break away from “how it’s done” in his culture. He may think he does, but when he discovers what that actually feels like to be living by very different rules from how he grew up (it’s a lot harder than anyone ever expects), he may change his mind. At best, he’ll break up with you. At worst, he’ll pressure you to be his good little wifey.
In his culture, are men expected to stay with their families and their wives to leave their own family and go to him and his? (“Patrilocal”) If you marry him, you might have to choose between divorcing him and living under the eye of his family for the duration of your marriage.
“In his culture, are men expected to stay with their families and their wives to leave their own family and go to him and his? (“Patrilocal”) If you marry him, you might have to choose between divorcing him and living under the eye of his family for the duration of your marriage.”
Yes, they are. But I have already made it clear that this will not happen, not ever, and would be a dealbreaker. He has agreed, as he actually doesn’t want to live with his parents forever.
I know you said upthread that it wouldn’t be possible for him to move out before marrying without damaging the family relationships but it sounds like moving out after marrying would still damage family relationships. So he’s putting off making that choice… until what exactly? Until he has a firm commitment from you? That’s no good. If he truly wants independence from his family, he should focus on achieving that with or without your eternal commitment in marriage. He should move out before marrying you. That way he can decide if he really does want to live apart from them. What happens if he moves out and decides he doesn’t like that after all? Do you want to be married to him when he goes back to living under his parents roof? I also imagine there’s certain things that his parents take care of now– bills, chores, home maintenance. He needs to learn how to manage those things on his own or I fear you may be the one doing all of that.
As the son, it soundd as if the parents moving in with him for support as they get older is also part of the culture. To say no would destroy his relationship lalala. So again — he needs to start as he intends to go on, and his new path in life, away from cultural mores, cannot depend on you being bound to him *first*. He’s making his choices all about you stepping blindly into a set future, while the only guarantee of behavior you have from him is that he’s afraid to step away from his culture. Big Red Flags.
LW 1 (944) I have a sneaking suspicion. It’s only a suspicion, as I don’t know you or your fiance, but maybe worth thinking about? What I’m wondering is, could you be, for him, the Instrument of His Rebellion? I’m not saying that he doesn’t have genuine feelings for you. But it seems possible he might be partly in love with what you represent, to him. It sounds like you are just about everything he expects his family to object to, and that might be both attractive and scary to him. In being with you, he gets to rebel against all that family and cultural stuff without really having to do all of the work involved.
That might sound really cynical, and I don’t mean to imply it’s some kind of plot on his part or that he’s using you deliberately. He might want to get out from under all of that (which isn’t unreasonable at all), but not know how to go about it, and here you are, being all these things his family doesn’t approve of – so there’s the lure of the “forbidden,” along with (maybe) a path out. Or part of him might be hoping that they’ll find out about you, freak out, and kick him out, thus relieving him of the need to initiate the break himself.
I don’t know if any of that rings true…might be worth talking to your therapist about it, if any of it does.
LW2 (955) – other posters have said it more gently, and your boyfriend may well have no malicious intentions. But his behavior is, in a way, controlling. As someone else wisely said, by reacting as he does, he is putting his feelings and needs back in the driver’s seat. And that’s…pretty gross. Yes, he’s mentally ill, but that doesn’t give him a complete pass to ignore you, to interrupt you, or to react in a way that results in you comforting him when called out – most especially not on behavior that he has asked you to point out to him.
In a way, he’s getting the best of both worlds right now. He’s getting all of the benefit of claiming that he’s working on changing…and all the benefit of you consoling him when he reacts. But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence that he’s actually doing the work of changing. Something that might be good to ask yourself: If nothing changes, how long would I stay? Would this be acceptable in a year? In five years? In ten? Mostly just something to think about if you’re so inclined.
I have an incredibly logical, flow-chart kind of brain, so I absolutely apologise in advance if this seems overly-harsh to some people, but I would say EITHER he is well enough to work on his problems within a relationship, OR he is not well enough to maintain a relationship. But not both.
It might be that he is genuinely unconscious of the problems his behaviour causes, and / or not currently in a position to reach out for help, and he has all my sympathy if that’s the case, but….yeah, not your problem to manage, LW.
I love this and am writing it down. It doesn’t seem overly harsh. It seems both logical and kind.
This is exactly why I’m staying single for the foreseeable future. I don’t see it as overly harsh.
LW 945: Like your boyfriend, I also have an extreme negative reaction, including an impulse to self-harm, when I realize that I hurt or even just inconvenienced someone. But I do my very best NOT to put the burden of dealing with that reaction on the person I hurt, because that’s not fair. If need be, after apologizing as calmly as I can, I excuse myself from the situation to deal with my feelings on my own.
However, I used to be pretty bad about dumping my self-hatred all over the people I had wronged. Two things helped: 1) therapy, and 2) having it pointed out to me directly that my reaction was actually making things even more difficult for the people I hurt. That’s a lesson your boyfriend really needs to learn. If you feel comfortable doing so, maybe you could specifically address this issue at a time when you’re both calm – but don’t feel like you have to be the one to teach him this, because in the short term, it’s likely to just provoke another meltdown, and it may be something he’s not willing to hear anyway. Really, it would be best if he could work through this with a therapist, who could help him figure out alternative strategies for dealing with these feelings.
No matter what mental issues your boyfriend may have, it still should be his (and maybe a therapist’s) job to manage his emotions around this, not yours.
Thank you for sharing your experience & insight. It was very encouraging to hear that you’ve been able to grow in this area of self-awareness & emotional regulation.
My 13yo daughter often threatens self harm over seemingly minor frustrations, such as being corrected. I am frequently unsure/afraid of calling her out on this behavior because she has followed through on her attempts of self harm in the past. Othertimes, I react in anger, almost uncaringly “daring” her to do something. I am often left feeling angry & manipulated after these long, emotionally taxing events in which little constructive consequence is typically enforced, either because I feel guilty for my own parenting failures or because I am too exhausted to follow through.
She is in therapy & takes medication, and I have seen improvements on many levels. This is just such a difficult behavior for me, personally, as a parent as I find myself inadequate for the task. Regardless, your post gives me hope that she/we can find our way to healthier days, and I thank you for that!
Perhaps it would be worth talking to her therapist together about this, so you could mutually figure out coping methods that would help both of you? Ways she can try to react, and ways for you to respond?
I don’t know what the confidentiality rules are for minors and guardians, but another option could be finding your own therapist to talk to. They don’t need the details of your daughter’s therapy to give you advice on parenting and dealing with your own emotional exhaustion. I know my mom found that incredibly helpful (I was in my twenties at the time, not a minor, but still).
I can recommend this book, should be you be interested in evidenced-based ways to parent around this. It has helped many parents I know.
It’s taken me years to find a partner who will listen and value what I say, so much of my past relationships were about not speaking up and being more convenient. It feels really good to be in a place where my partner wants to hear what I have to say. When my boundaries are honoured without lots of arguments, I feel very loved. Reading both these letters, I dated/was engaged to similar difficult dudes and looking back, the heartache wasn’t worth it. Back then, all that wrangling and emotion swallowing felt like what relationships were made of. I was frightened to be found defective and unable to ‘make it work.’ I thought being ignored to the point of arguing to be acknowledged was normal.
LW, you both deserve to be heard. These dudes are lucky to have an awesome partner like you, don’t fold yourself into compliance. You don’t need to make to prove anything to anyone about how tolerant and unobtrusive you are. You deserve to be listened to with a spirit of love and curiosity and kindness. If these Difficult Dudes cannot do that, that isn’t on you to fix.
LW 944, there is something important to consider here.
1. You have not met your partner’s family yet. You will go into meeting them for the first time on a “we are going to marry some day” basis.
2. You have already been told that your partner will not set boundaries around his family, and you’ve already seen that he lives according to their expectations and rules. You should assume that this will continue to be the case.
So. On that basis. What do you envision married life with your partner will look like? What are you signing up for, by joining your family with his? It sounds like he’s got you so concerned and self-conscious about meeting *his family’s* expectations and standards (while convincing you that it’s basically impossible for you to meet those same standards) that there’s not much space at all for you to consider whether they’ll meet yours.
I’m not saying you get to veto whether or not he gets to be close to his family. Holy crap, no. But all family’s come with some sort of cultural difference, albeit some there are wider gulfs than others, and a normal part of joining two people from different backgrounds is that *both of them* will push back and reset boundaries with their families to carve out a space for the new one they’re building together.
Whether it’s me explaining to my parents that no, we will not be moving onto a house they want to build for us on their land in the country they live in because we are not going to be moving there even though mum always assumed when she moved abroad I’d eventually follow. Or my partner enforcing to his father that he doesn’t get to shout me down into submission when *he starts a political discussion* and I have the apparently unmitigated gall to politely disagree with him. Sometimes it can feel like making a space for your partner involves endless boundary resetting with your own family, and sometimes that can be scary for them as they feel like everything’s changing, and maybe they’ll try to latch on even harder for a while to the way they’ve always assumed things would be.
“My family culture doesn’t allow for boundaries” is something that I always question. Because my family culture is pretty insular and weird and overarching, which definitely can make boundary-setting more difficult. But being willing to stand up and defend the person I love and say no to my family is one of the crucial foundations of being in a relationship with someone. Even if it’s Not Done.
Yeah, “my family culture doesn’t allow for boundaries” set off real red flags for me. Boundaries are absolutely necessary in any relationship and you have to be able to trust your partner/s to both respect and defend your boundaries.
Yup. Boundaries are not a cultural quirk: ways to say “no” exist, if I’m not mistaken, in every language discovered so far. It can be harder to push against parental expectations for some people than others, but anyone saying that they are not going to set boundaries in a relationship is actually saying that they want the relationship to be toxic and possibly co-dependent.
“anyone saying that they are not going to set boundaries in a relationship is actually saying that they want the relationship to be toxic and possibly co-dependent.”
The best tip I picked up from some self-help community way way back was:
Those who fail to plan are planning to fail.
This works for boundaries too.
Well, highly patriarchal cultures don’t allow for boundaries set by anyone other than the patriarch – that’s very much a real thing, including here in the USA (hello authoritarian Christian Headship, rape culture, etc.). So, in that sense, yes, boundaries (or whether people take them seriously, and whose boundaries are respected) can be a cultural quirk. Something being “culture” doesn’t insulate it from criticism or excuse harm it causes; I would say that a lack of boundaries is toxic whether or not it’s normalized in a given culture.
That said, if one is worried about cultural chauvinism, we can dodge the question of whether something normalized in a given culture is inherently toxic or not: the LW needs to be able to set and have a partner who is supportive of boundaries, so anyone wishing to date (and eventually marry, perhaps) the LW must be okay with setting and enforcing boundaries. It doesn’t sound like the boyfriend is. This makes him a bad partner for LW, not (necessarily) becasue there’s anything wrong with his/his family’s cultural norms, but becasue he’s not good with boundaries, whatever the reason.
Well Actually… this is mostly-irrelevant trivia, but Mandarin doesn’t have a literal translation for “no”. It just has negatives and other such qualifiers. As a foreigner, the phrase “do not want” becomes a painfully-overused hammer to compensate for that. 🙂 There are indeed less ugly ways to communicate “no”, but they’re so very indirect and delicate, and I was still wrapping my head around the concept of “yes doesn’t really mean yes” by the time I left. 🙂
Which is really weird now that I compare that to the mental gymnastics of trying to avoid saying “no” to my mother. Having words doesn’t mean you’re “allowed” to use them, I guess? She’s kinda anti-boundaries, and blows up when people attempt them, so I’ve been grey-rocking instead, and practising my boundaries in safer areas first. I just never noticed how I don’t use that word with her.
Having no single word for a thing, like “no”, does not mean there is no way to express the thing.
This could easily turn into an awesome linguistic derail, but for brevity I’ll compare the bajillion examples of “Germans have a word for (complex emotion/situation that takes a full sentence in English)” found on the internet. In English we use a sentence, in German they have a compound word, but both have it.
Same with “no”, and “boundaries”, and “adulting”.
What you’re describing is the concept of linguistic relativity, commonly known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Bear with me–I’ll circle back to the actual content of the letter at the end…
On the internet, Whorfianism manifests mostly as attractive lists of words which are purportedly “untranslatable,” and we’re supposed to coo over it like, “Oh these words are untranslatable! There is no direct word-for-word match to express x concept! Just 1 (one) word providing a window into an entire culture! So beautiful!”
It can be interesting to see how linguistics does impact cognition but it’s not without criticism. Colour-naming in language has been a topic of study since the 19th century; Victorian researchers (as you can well imagine) had pretty, uh, festive ideas about colour naming and colour sense. Firstly, William Gladstone (yeah, that one) looked at the language used in the Iliad and the Odyssey and proposed that Ancient Greek people couldn’t see hues, only light and shade; modern people can see and therefore have words for more colours. This sentiment is criticised by George Allen in Development of the Sense of Colour (1879): after pointing out that even animals can discern colour, Allen segues into Victorian scientific racism to support his point, which I won’t repeat here, but it involves the phrase “very low types of humanity.”
Now that probably sounds ridiculous on several levels. 1) WTF, Victorians? 2) What does this h*ckin nonsense Pear’s rambling about have to do with anything?
Linguistic relativity has been used in the past to justify various types of, let’s say, culturally essentialist attitudes which all too easily oversteps the line between acknowledging wonderful difference and exoticising/othering. Also it’s fun and necessary to acknowledge how we negotiate new meanings for pre-existing words, neologisms, loan words, etc, all the vibrant ways in which language is developing (see also: the furore whenever a new word is added to the dictionary).
Your comment is thinking about how maybe cultural/linguistic difference not so absolute after all, and yeah, I can really relate to not being able to say No to my mother. I can very directly say No to my parents in Thai and English, and while it’s been understood, it’s not always respected for a bunch of reasons. When I say No to my partner’s mother (white Irish + British), it’s not always understood or respected for reasons which partially overlap my Thai parents’. It’s a bummer, right? People can work through and overcome a lot of things; if people want to understand you and treat you well, they will make the effort to adjust attitude + language, I think, and that’s true for a whole bunch of situations.
Replying to Pear:
I am 100% loving this comment, as a linguist who did a research paper on color terms across three languages!
Ha! So Mandarin is responsible for one of the most popular meme phrases of all time!
“Often, I’ll bring up something I want to talk about, and he’ll not respond for a while and then change the subject because he “didn’t have anything to say about it.” […] I’ve told him that this sometimes makes me feel like he doesn’t care about me and doesn’t want to engage in my life.”
Part of Learning to Social includes realizing that you do not have to bring an original, intelligent thought to every conversation to make it worthwhile to have. Sometimes the best thing you can do is shut up and (actively) listen, especially when the conversation is about something you aren’t an expert in! (I’m going to assume these topics are actually comprehensible to a non-expert to begin with – more “video games and music that touch on the common human experience” and less “the minutiae of synchronized underwater basket weaving”.)
If he can’t even pretend to be curious about some random thing that happened to you during the day, how do you think he’s going to react when you want to talk to him about something that you have serious emotional investment in, but he does not? In fact, it seems it’s already happened. You’ve told him directly “This behavior makes me feel like you don’t care about me” and he’s shown no initiative toward changing it. Huge red flag alert. This is regardless of whether or not he has mental health issues – you can magically fix neither his unwillingness to book a therapy appointment nor whatever logistical hurdles might be getting in the way of him doing so.
One more thing I just noticed – Boyfriend “told me he wished I did it less because it feels horrible for him to be continually told that his efforts aren’t leading to improvement. He says he’s really trying, but in the end I’m still getting interrupted and feeling ignored.” Boyfriend needs a lesson in the Ring Theory.
I’d love to hear about the minutiae of underwater basketweaving, especially if it enchanted a friend or lover.
One part of being social that LW945’s bf could practice, is attempting to understand what it could mean to love something foreign.
If 945’s boyfriend is not able to listen, nor to train himself, nor to get a therapist, nor to control his self harm, he’s not ready for friendship or romance.
And if he’s not willing- oof
This stood out to me, too. LW, presumably, you can have conversations about games you’re not otherwise interested in because you’re interested in *him*. Your interests should be interesting to him because *you* are interesting to him. Bare minimum curiosity can be shown through questions like, “So, what do you like about ladybug husbandry?” He doesn’t have to start his own ladybug ranch to participate in your enjoyment. He just has to enjoy the fact that you enjoy it. 🙂
Yep. There’s a huge difference between asking a few questions about ladybug ranching and listening for 1 hr about some detailed subsection of ladybug ranch food plant varieties or something. It’s fine to not be interested in all the details, but not listening at all about any topics that interest your partner but not you isn’t cool.
It’s a balance, for sure. There needs to be a way to say “I love you and I respect your investment in this topic, but right now I don’t have the spell slots to continue engaging in conversation about this.” As of late it’s come up most often in the context of politics.
Re: Jenesis’ last paragraph, Boyfriend is putting you in an impossible situation. “Tell me when I do it” vs “Don’t tell me, it makes me feel terrible.” Those are opposites, and you lose either way–you tell him, he threatens self-harm; you don’t tell him, he keeps doing it. Whereas he WINS either way–you tell him, he gets your sympathy by threatening self-harm; you don’t tell him, he gets to keep doing what he wants with the excuse of “oh, I don’t even notice when I’m doing it.”
If you stay, you will continue to lose. The only way not to lose is to get yourself out altogether, and I know that will be sad and hard and you don’t even like to think about it, but LW 945, I strongly encourage you to think about it. Take care of yourself–there is nothing selfish about it.
Well, the more sympathetic interpretation to Boyfriend’s “Tell me if I’m doing it” “but if you tell me it feels like I’m not improving” is that he expected to solve the situation right away. i.e. “Tell me if I’m doing it, but I won’t be because I’m never going to do it again as of now.” Of course it’s still not a good thing that he can’t process this disappointment in his improvement in his own head, or at least with someone other than the person who pointed out the problem.
Ring Theory sounds interesting, but google is giving me lots of algebra with a bit of star wars and random other stuff. Which ring theory did you mean?
Wasn’t me who mentioned it upthread, but probably this:
It’s the same idea that people are talking about around here when they say “comfort in, dump out.” It’s this idea that there are rings of closeness to an issue or tragedy – the person it’s happening to is the innermost ring (or point), then there are the people in their immediate sphere, then the people THOSE people know, etc. So in a bad situation, when talking to someone on a ring further in than you are – closer to the problem – you comfort. When you want to complain and stress about what the situation is doing to you, you do it to someone FURTHER out from the problem than you are. Comfort in, dump out. There was a NY Times article (I think) about it a long time ago, and it’s linked in one of the older posts, but that’s the gist.
two others gave the link above 🙂 and there’s lots of good advice for being supportive of sick people there, but then, so much NOPE here: “The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere.”
auuuugh nopenopenope, so much nope with extra nopesauce. If the bf read that, wouldn’t he go “well obviously I’m in the center with my illness, so of course I can say whatever I like to GF and she needs to be supportive and stop bothering me with her inconvenient feelings”?
plus, in a more general sense… no matter how much shit life deals you, it’s not okay to say “anything you want”. I mean, at the extreme end, verbal abuse is Wrong. No excuses. And more generally, when I’m in pain, it’s not okay for me to take out my frustration on my husband. If I snap at him, I apologise. I expect him to be supportive and have a little extra patience, but I also take care not to put the whole burden of my illness on him, and I don’t want him to hide all *his* problems from *me*.
Their phrasing was over broad, perhaps. I don’t think they were giving people who are the epicenters of a tragedy license to be cruel and capricious. I think it’s referring the specific act of asking for care/comfort for the tragedy they are at the center of. If someone ‘dumps in’ they unfairly add to someone’s burden; the epicenter is unable to commit that specific act of selfishness by the specific act of asking for care or comfort from other adults who care about them, but people farther from the center are capable of being selfish in that way. In other words, the epicenter “can say anything” about their experience of the tragedy without committing the specific crime of adding to the burden of someone even more affected by the tragedy than themselves.
Haha, I saw that comment and went “past experience on CA means I know what they’re talking about, past experience as a mathematician makes me think that’s a really unfortunate choice of term for it because you will have NO luck on Google, let me tell you.”
LW944, I have also been a “chosen” person firmly left outside of a families’ culture. I had no tools to cope, was younger than my never-married partner by almost ten years and it sucked.
There never was a point when it was decided I could be allowed in. It was a war of many battles, with my almost-40-year-old partner always siding with their family, who united in blaming me for every failing.
The first gift-giving holiday, they barely made room for me at the table. I was given chores to do while the rest of the family chattered to each other. Succeeding years, I just stayed home alone while my partner went to the gathering-home. I would store the un-opened presents partner brought home (see how nice my family is, when you are still so mean to them!) in bags in the closet. When we’d married, the date and my costume were decided for me by partner’s family because, partner explained, “They’d been looking forward to it.” I nearly asked permission to attend the ceremony.
Partner’s parent had more say over the home we bought than I did, though we couldn’t of qualified without my excellent credit.
There’s plenty of old writings across many cultures that says this should be a new relationship, and the family of origin relationships are cherished, but now secondary.
Unless you get buy-in from partner, you face a future of playing second fiddle to the source family. Having kids will make it worse.
I feel like BF is and will be supportive of me… but not necessarily always in the ways that I need/expect. It’s kinda like we are on the same page but have different interpretations of that page (if, for example, that page is “this should be a new relationship, and the family of origin relationships are cherished, but now secondary”.)
That you say that your BF is/will be supportive, but not necessarily in ways that you *need* strikes me as a problem. If he responds/supports you in ways you don’t expect, but those ways still work for you, that’s one thing. “I didn’t expect that, but turns out I like it/am okay with it” is very different than “I didn’t expect that, and it is not what I needed.”
If you’re interpreting things differently, then you’re not really on the same page. People’s cultures and experiences definitely shape how they approach things, but there also has to be an openness to understanding how the other person is approaching it (which I get a sense from you that you are, but I don’t get much of a sense that your boyfriend is), and then a willingness to engage. Your boyfriend might be open to your interpretation, but if he isn’t willing to actually follow through on it, especially if it’s uncomfortable or actually difficult, then it doesn’t really matter how open to it he is.
Assume this won’t change, especially absent any evidence that it will change (and, in this case, with an explicit assertion that it will not). Are you okay with signing up for a long term relationship with someone who does not support you in the ways you need?
I disagree. Effective mutual support is one of the ongoing projects of long-term relationships. Particularly in cross-cultural relationships, but also in all relationships in the history of ever, understanding what your partner needs from you and how to give it is a never-ending challenge. This is something that has certainly changed and continues to change in my own marriage. We go through it every time some new life obstacle plunks itself down in front of one or both of us. Problem arises for one of us, feelings happen, the other doesn’t know how to handle it, we get it wrong, we argue, we figure out a better way. The question isn’t whether BF is doing “supportive” right in this moment (when nothing has even happened yet with his family, it’s all just anxiety at this stage), but whether he’s willing to listen and make the effort to improve. If ctroopr see no movement at all in this area over a reasonable period of time, despite efforts to communicate her needs, that will tell her something. It’s way too soon to make diagnoses. They have to cross the terrifying bridge first.
I repeat: this confrontation with his family hasn’t even happened yet. He’s anticipating how hard it will be, and he’s probably freaked out about possibly being rejected, and maybe he isn’t sure of his own strength, so until the moment comes he’s going to do some obnoxious verbal hand-wringing. They are both understandably anxious. But anxiety is the main thing that’s happening right now. Once the process actually begins with his actual parents, there will be a lot more information for ctroopr to go on. I heard a lot of the “but we don’t DO boundaries in my family” hand-wringing from my wife in the early months/years of our relationship. Well, they may have had no boundaries before, but they definitely do now. My wife decided the discomfort was worth it. I hope ctroopr’s boyfriend ultimately makes the same call.
I hope so too, ctrooper. One thing I learned that enabled me to leave my mis-fit relationship behind is, “Believe actions over words.”
You live freely, while he is only imagining what that is like. #teamctrooper
LW #945, I’ll be blunt here – I don’t think your boyfriend is making some sort of Herculean effort to not interrupt and ignore you and failing miserably because That’s Just The Way He Is. I think he’s making zero effort and then whining when you call him on it.
I say this as someone who comes from a family whose default mode of communication is everyone shouting over each other all at once, and where loudly interrupting is literally the only way to get a word in edgeways. I had a few mortifying situations where I started talking over a not-family person and they called me on it and I felt bad and awful. So then I started catching myself doing it and practiced active listening. (I also realised I have a tonne of anxiety around Not Being Heard but I digress!)
My point is that it wasn’t that difficult to learb to say “Oh I’m sorry, I totally interrupted! Please go on, you were saying X?” Unless your boyfriend’s tendency to interrupt/ignore you is directly linked to his mental health issues, this is a skill he too can learn without it being a huge dramatic deal. (If it is linked to his mental health issues, he still needs to fix it, but the approach may be different.)
All of the Captain’s advice is super solid as always, but one thing I would suggest is observing if he interrupts other people (particularly other non-women people) as much as he interrupts you. You’ll discover pretty quickly if this is an Ingrained In My Personality thing or an Ingrained In The Way I Treat My Girlfriend/Women In General thing. What you do with this information is up to you!
“I don’t think your boyfriend is making some sort of Herculean effort to not interrupt and ignore you and failing miserably because That’s Just The Way He Is. I think he’s making zero effort and then whining when you call him on it.”
I agree with this, but let’s stop for a moment and pretend that this isn’t the case. Let’s imagine that Boyfriend really is doing his absolute best to change, that he’s trying as hard as he can to stop interrupting the LW and to cultivate an interest in her life. What does that change?
He’s still not the partner the LW needs and deserves. So in practical terms, it changes very little.
LW, you deserve to be in a relationship with someone who finds you fascinating, who wants to hear about your life and your thoughts and your opinions. You deserve to be respected and you deserve to know that you’re an interesting and cool person who’s worth paying attention to. There are so, so many people out there who will want to date you and will be so stoked about getting to know you.
Also, “someone who accepts your asexuality and doesn’t pressure you to have sex you don’t want” is like, the lowest possible bar you could ever set for a person. * Everyone * who gets to spend time with you needs to meet that very basic standard. That’s not a thing he gets points for, it’s an absolute bare-minimum basic criterion for how people should treat each other. People shouldn’t be allowed to share an * elevator * with you who can’t meet that mark, let alone date you.
This is what I was thinking as I read the letter. Let’s say Boyfriend stopped himself from interrupting mid-sentence. Let’s say he learned to stop changing the subject. Let’s say he got good at listening while he was bored. Let’s say there was a miraculous stop to the head-banging thing. The bottom line is that he’d still only be pretending. You still deserve someone who’s interested in what you have to say at least most of the time. Once you’ve got that, the little stuff like learning when talking isn’t a good time or that the occasional pretend interest in that one topic is necessary, that all becomes window-dressing. Note that this works in reverse. There’s someone out there who doesn’t require in-depth conversations about video games you don’t play and music you don’t listen to. There’s someone who loves a lot of the same stuff you do.
I think sometimes we (as a culture) take the idea that couples won’t have everything in common too far. Granted there will be times each partner wants to go off and do something else with their buddies, times when you want to talk about that one thing with others who share that interest, but on the whole, the basis to coupledom is that you have things in common. And that includes thoughts and feelings about sex. What if you found someone who didn’t get bonus points for not pressuring you for sex but someone who genuinely wasn’t looking to you for sex, such that pressure wasn’t even a consideration. What if that attitude was something you held in common to the point where it was a foundation for the relationship, not a hurdle or something he’s okay with tolerating. You deserve that.
Also, “someone who accepts your asexuality and doesn’t pressure you to have sex you don’t want” is like, the lowest possible bar you could ever set for a person. * Everyone * who gets to spend time with you needs to meet that very basic standard. That’s not a thing he gets points for, it’s an absolute bare-minimum basic criterion for how people should treat each other. People shouldn’t be allowed to share an * elevator * with you who can’t meet that mark, let alone date you.
For real. You know what we call people who don’t clear that bar? Abusers. Rapists. I’m super glad LW 945’s boyfriend is not a rapist– everyone should be so blessed– but behaving correctly to you in one respect does not mean he cannot be a bad fit in other ways. Not even if you’ve been trained by past experience to expect friction on this issue. You deserve better than that and you should demand it.
So there are all kinds of people with whom I share very few interests, perhaps even none. I would find it tedious over the long term to have to feign interest in things I care nothing about when that defines nearly every conversation. Subsequently, such people will be, at most, friendly acquaintances of mine – if we don’t share enough mutual interest, I’m not sure why we would keep trying to have frequent conversation. Live and let live – it’s okay to not be best friends or romantic partners with every person who happens to exist within some given radius of oneself.
Also, I agree with Clarry that it makes sense for asexual people to date other asexual people (or people who are okay with a primary relationship that doesn’t include sex but may still want to be sexual with others, if someone isn’t looking for a monogamous, sex-free relationship), such that a mismatch in desire for sex isn’t an issue in the first place.
Also, I agree with Clarry that it makes sense for asexual people to date other asexual people (or people who are okay with a primary relationship that doesn’t include sex but may still want to be sexual with others, if someone isn’t looking for a monogamous, sex-free relationship), such that a mismatch in desire for sex isn’t an issue in the first place.
I am just going to point out here that LW has almost certainly considered this idea, as has, y’know, pretty much every person who identifies as ace under the sun, and that I don’t think allo people telling ace people how they should manage their asexuality is helpful in this conversation.
Seconding. Especially since there doesn’t seem to be acknowledgement of how, you know, how hard that can be since we’re comparatively not that common. All the ace people I know are through online relationships.
Or the lack of nuance in assuming asexual ALWAYS = not having sex.
I’m not sure where to put this comment in the nesting, so I’m putting it here. I’m afraid that my earlier comments have been misunderstood so let me try to clarify. Here’s what I said earlier: “What if you found someone who didn’t get bonus points for not pressuring you for sex but someone who genuinely wasn’t looking to you for sex, such that pressure wasn’t even a consideration. What if that attitude was something you held in common to the point where it was a foundation for the relationship, not a hurdle or something he’s okay with tolerating. You deserve that.” In saying that, I hope it didn’t sound like I was trying to micromanage a solution to Tired Of This Dynamic’s letter. I was trying to suggest that there are people in the world for whom “pressure to have sex” is not an issue. There are probably a hundred ways that it might not be an issue including plenty I haven’t thought of.
Let me draw an analogy. Let’s say I attend a weekly meeting of a group that’s interested in antique printing presses. Let’s say I have a partner who is giving himself pats on the back for being willing to attend these meetings with me. Or he’s giving himself pats on the back for “allowing” me to go. That’s okay but not optimum. It would be so much better if I was partnered with someone who shared my interest or who loved driving over with me so he could attend the Eating Habits of Underwater Starfish Association meetings next door. I was envisioning something where pressure one way or the other wasn’t something for points to be awarded for.
This is very well-put and I completely agree. LW, you shouldn’t need to persuade your boyfriend to feign interest in your passions and hobbies. A good partner will be interested in them because they are interested in YOU, and your passions and hobbies are part of you.
Yes. I expect not to be pressured for sex by the cashier at my supermarket. Living with someone who professes to love me requires a bit more.
“I don’t point it out as often as I should because I love him and I don’t want him to be that upset over something small.”
This is also a big red flag for me. You’ve only been dating six months and you’re already convinced that your desire for your partner to engage with your words is “something small”. You’re already absorbing the idea that not upsetting your boyfriend is more important than being heard. This is not good, LW. The problem in this scenario is your boyfriend’s entirely disproportionate reactions to your totally reasonable needs. Please don’t lose sight of that.
Yes. Six months in and you’re already trying to manage his emotions and reactions while suppressing your own. I am dialing into this thread from Experience Mountain and can tell you that is a path that only leads to anxiety, thinly-veiled anger, and a constant sense of being off-balance.
You are not small. Your wants and needs are not small. If he cannot handle being told he is hurting your feelings, he cannot handle a relationship with you right now.
Agreed. Of course you don’t want him to be that upset over something so small – but that’s because the one making a big deal of it is him, not you. The problem is not that you raised it, the problem is that, not to put too fine a point on it, he freaks the fuck out when you say, ‘Hey, not just your sounding board here.’ That is at best a massive problem in his coping skills, and at worst an enormous sense of entitlement buried under the apparent low self-esteem. Those things are going to be part of him whether you raise issues with him or not – and it’s the fact that they’re there at all that is causing the trouble. You could swallow every slight and frustration he ever inflicts on you and they’s still be there.
Honestly? Have a trial separation. Try life without him for a month. He needs to know that this is a dealbreaker, and you should get to experience that you won’t die without him (and might even feel better). This is not in any way fair to you.
I want to add something here. You know why it’s not small? It’s because he’s incurious about you.
Nobody is interested in absolutely everything that interests their partner, sure. But one of the benefits of a good relationship is that you’re interested in your partner’s personality – and that means learning about their interests to better understand them. After six years, you probably have a fairly good handle on them, but at six months, you’re generally still in the glow of ‘Ooh, I never knew that about you!’
This guy, though? He seems to be taking the line that unless you’re talking about something that he was already interested in before he met you, it’s not interesting. He isn’t trying to expand his interests to embrace you.
That’s not small. That’s ‘You make room for me, I don’t make room for you.’
Ice and Indigo: That was a total lightbulb moment for me about what was wrong in a previous relationship. Thank you!
Glad to hear it’s ‘previous’! 🙂
I just want to put it out there that a person who wants to die (or who regularly says that they do), and who is not or will not seek professional help for their problems, maybe is not in a place where they can be in a relationship right now. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, but I do feel that the relationship described in letter 945 definitely sounds like it falls into this category. If you can’t talk with your partner about the things that you need to be different in the relationship because every time you try to talk about it your partner starts self-harming or saying they want to die, then this doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. It is possible for people to change their behavior when they want to, but they have to want to.
LW, I’m so sorry that you’re going through this right now, it sounds really sad and really hard.
“If you have any scripts for gently bringing up the therapist issue again, or any other advice, I would appreciate it”.
LW #945: the problem here is not how gentle and patient you are, the problem is that your boyfriend is training you to be a mute provider of comfort whose needs or thoughts never matter. I hear you about his ill mental health. I believe you about all the things you love about him.
However. Threatening violence, commiting violence, and forcing you to witness violence is never an ok reaction to being told “please don’t interrumpt me”. It’s never an ok reaction, full stop. The fact that he’s the victim of his own violence doesn’t change the fact that you’re being forced to witness violence against someone you love. At six months in the relationship. For asking to be listened to, which, by the way, you totally deserve, and which is the baseline of respect in human interactions, leave alone romantic ones.
This is hurting you. You do not have to put up with being told time and again that banging one’s head against the wall is preferable to listening to you. You do not have to put up with someone you love hurting himself “”””””because of you””””””. You don’t deserve that.
Honesty area ahead: your boyfriend is hurting himself because he wants to, he needs to, or is his way of coping with shit. He’s the only one who can stop that, and he’s the only one who can do the massive amounts of work required for that. If he doesn’t decide to or can’t stop, that sucks, but it’s not your fault nor something you can fix. Your boyfriend is an adult who gets to decide how to treat his bod. That doesn’t mean he gets to use you or your needs as an excuse to hurt said bod.
If it’s like this 6 months in, it’s not going to get better. Especially since you already asked for him to change and he hasn’t made any visible attempts to. Shelzebub’s principle: How much more do you want to stick aroud if this never changes? Another 6 months? Two years? Three weeks? An hour?
TW: sexual abuse – You are not kidding about the “massive amounts of work.” I have yet to find a therapist who would listen, or a PDoc whose knee-jerk reaction wasn’t to drug me into a fat stupor.
My path out has been to hole up with a blank composition journal and Google Scholar, and a determination to dig myself out and maybe leave a trail for other hurt people. Here’s the thing though- there is no room for a significant other, least for me. I spent hours every day for a couple years just doing triage, and testing myself (am I fit for human consumption yet?) on this very website. This recovery is not a couple’s thing, I could not have managed a “How was your day, hon?” with anyone.
My “deal” is PTSD and autism spectrum, something I haven’t found a therapist for yet. I now know the self-abuse script I locked out the world to run on myself, was one stuck on me by the pedophiles in my family. If this is the deal with your guy, LW- not only is there no room in him for what you want, but, hard truth-your presence and desire to smooth everything over is blocking him from getting help.
The best thing you could do for him is show him what the desire to seek a healthy, loving relationship looks like. The courage to have hope. This means you let go with love and start your journey to find that healthy love. Want it for yourself, want it for him.
I’m so sorry you’re going through that 😦 I wish you strenght, and send many jedi hugs if welcome.
LW945 – does your boyfriend have a job? If so, when he is criticised at work (as we all are from time to time), how does he react? What happens if his parents criticise him? What about his friends? His teachers, if he is in school?
And if he doesn’t react by self harming and wanting to die, how come he can do that in those situations, and not with you?
I’m not trying to suggest that he has no mental health issues or that he’s not genuinely mortified and sad. But he must have coping strategies for the rest of his life. What are they?
This is an excellent comment.
Or if he doesn’t, how can you possibly be expected to cope with being the sole carrier of all his weight?
Dear LW#2, I am still living with a guy who’s sweet and kind, but too often does/says something that would make me clear that my opinion, interests and ideas were secondary (unconsciously considered, aware after confrontation).
The worst was that time when I was totally hyper about an internet campaign for diversity, sharing with him why I found it so interesting, and he left the room to go to the toilet when I was still speaking. I waited for five minutes thinking that I had missed a non-verbal cue and that we would continue the conversation after toilet issues had been solved… but then I heard him go into his hobby room instead and put the TV on. An hour later, he decided to check on me, and was surprised to meet me in sadness-rage mode. When I told him back, “you left me in the middle of a conversation, I feel so hurt and dismissed”, his answer was “but you must understand: I don’t care at all about that! I was bored”. I told him that saying that he didn’t find the conversation interesting would have been far more kind and mature than JUST LEAVING, and that I also found tremendously boring his updates about his board games-related hobbies, but I sat and listened because I knew how important was for him. His answer, instead of “I will make it better”, was “well, dear, you do not need to pretend for me”.
Another time, I mentioned to him that I felt neglected because I wanted to talk with him more frequently, but he was (after years on his own) so much in the dynamic of putting the TV on as soon as he arrived home, and he would watch series that I don’t feel confortable with (for reasons) and I could not stay in the same room if they were on. So he would be only available to me before going to sleep, and sometimes not even that, because he would bring his game books to read. So, I told about it and his answer was that that was the way he relaxed and I should stop trying to make him feel guilty about it. And why wouldn’t I just sit beside me when he was watching TV? I could be reading with earplugs on and it would be still “couple time” because he would be hugging me! He didn’t appreciate that I didn’t appreciate his suggestion.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s a cultural thing. My family evenings at home are normally spent all sitting together at the table, talking. At the weekends we would stay after lunch at that table talking about family history, culture, politics, riddles… After his only visit to my hometown, he mentioned he didn’t understand how we could endure sitting at the table for hours and hours, just talking. He told later that he hadn’t seen that in his family. They would spend family time in front of the TV.
LW, I wish I could tell how to make this better. But I couldn’t make it better for me. After making my point and see that any improvement was minimum and/or temporal, I began to stop bothering, or feigning interest in the things and activities that only interested him. And, not surprisingly, he nevertheless began resenting me. We tried to solve issues, but we finally decided that we couldn’t. After four years together, we decided to stop being a couple a week ago, and I am planning to move out. I love him loads, he says he love me loads, but our common ground was not enough ground for us two. We couldn’t share the things that we really were passionate enough with each other.
Jedi hugs if you want them. Breaking up sounds like the right thing to do but also very hard.
Thank you! To be honest I would prefer to stay as a roommate of his, because my only alternative right now is staying with my parents and that means losing 80% of my privacy, but with the need of closure of relationship (we are staying friends) it seems to be the most sensible to leave.
Walking away mid conversation, as if you were an IM window he could just close?
NOPE. Nope nope to the power of nopetopus.
You are a person, not an app. Someone who only loves you when you are convenient does not love you as a person.
Moving out and breaking up sound like 1000% the right call. Good luck with the transition, and may your life be filled with people who see and hear you.
Holy nope to the power of nope this is not a “cultural thing”.
I despise extended family gatherings, and this is the kind of behavior I would expect out of a roommate I was only sharing space with to cut the rent in half. Not a friend, and certainly not a partner.
If it’s a cultural thing, his ‘culture’ is dysfunctional. Societies do not work when people treat each other that way. Maybe he was raised by rude bastards, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay that he was a RUDE BASTARD!
No, even strangers don’t just up and walk out of conversations with each other. Even idle elevator chatter ends with, ‘Have a good one’
True. I was referring more to the “locks himself in the room watching TV all night” thing. If my housemates were not actually friends, I would not consider it weird and rude to eat dinner alone, or shut myself up in my room with a good book, or fail to take interest in my housemates’ activities. Especially if we are all university students operating on vastly different timetables.
If we were friendly, I would expect some regular conversation, even if it’s just remembering each other’s favorite TV shows.
What I tried to convey with “cultural thing” is the different need of both of us to sit and talk. I have the impression that talking is not important for him, as it is for me. And I see the same thing along his family members.
I too despise family gatherings because I hate small talk. I always try to drive the conversation to something more meaningful than “long time, no see” or “the weather is nice”. And I hate that EVERY TIME I reach the point that I am beginning to enjoy the conversation, after all the investment, someone interrupts (normally a late newcomer) and we are back to the “long time, no see” or “the weather is nice” all over again. When I was younger I developed the paranoia that it was because nobody in the family liked me and they couldn’t wait to get an interruption to get rid of me. That was also the reason why I reacted so strongly to him when he left mid-sentence, because it felt like the Old Not Good Days.
Ironically enough, the trigger for the breakup conversation was his annoyance because I had attended an event with his family, and – again – I had “refused to communicate” with his special ones. I have a hearing disorder that disables me to understand speech in very loud environments. And every gathering of his happens in places with loud background. This time someone hired a DJ for a reception and it was so loud that my ears hurt (and there was a newborn baby in the room and nobody was even bothered about that!). So, I retreated to a corner until everything was over, which is what I do when conversation is impossible, and – again – his relatives complained to him that I never seem to enjoy myself around them. I suddenly realised that I would be miserable in every meeting with his family, even for my hypothetical wedding or the presentation of my children, and I told him so, and that I didn’t want that.
I am always suspicious of people who demand my enjoyment in their company, but have no consideration of my person (when has the complaint “You don’t have fun! That’s so rude of you.” ever led to something positive?). That doesn’t only smell like douchebaggery, it IS douchebaggery. I think you dodged a bullet with that family here, and shame on them for not teaching your ex the true meaning of consideration.
ugh, that sounds like a terrible experience and really inappropriate feedback. If they didn’t wish to acknowledge that their choices made you unable to communicate, they shouldn’t have then guilted you for it.
Whoa. So this is the same guy who was happy to *walk out of* a conversation with you just because it didn’t interest him, and saw no problem at all with that, but still expects you to make *major* efforts to make conversation with people who matter to him? I have hit “can’t even” mode.
My ex once interrupted me telling him about something interesting/phenomenally sexist in a book I was reading to ask me where the batteries were (we were at my apartment). He wanted the batteries for the TV remote, because he was way more interested in flipping through the channels than in anything I was telling him.
I’m similar to you, our family did watch TV together too if we all were interested in a sport or show, but dinner for us was a 1-2 hr affair where sure, people could leave if they wanted, but often they didn’t want to, so everyone would just sit and chat. Now I can’t afford a place with a couch/livingroom, so it’s even more normal for me to sit in a not that comfortable chair at length and read, chat with whoever’s around, work on a crossword with my dad, etc. I find it weird when I’m visiting family and someone says, ‘let’s go to the living room’ or ‘let’s watch tv.’ I’m like where is that? lol. Over the summer I lived with people more your partner’s style and it felt very weird. I would come home and keep quiet because the TV was always on even though there were generally 2 other people in the room. I would cook and eat alone and do something else on my computer by myself. I guess I grew up in a house with very appointment TV viewing, so anytime the TV is on it’s not really talking time, and anytime people are cooking and eating, it’s talking time. Sure, when cooking alone I turn on a podcast or baseball game, but when someone else comes home I mute/turn down the game or turn off the podcast. Definitely something for me to consider when dating.
I tell you about my new rule for dating: if I ever visit a guy’s place and see a large pile of TV series DVD cases, I will retreat slowly.
Good for you for valuing yourself!! I wish you all the best in your new and improved life, and I hope your move goes very well.
I also grew up in a first-person, storytelling culture. The TV had one channel and the whole world and my friends was outside. Jokes were told around the dinner table. I find sitting in a room with other people, yet forbidden to talk while the “TV” is on, absolutely agonizing and don’t think we mesh.
I have sensory issues, and need downtime, but still talk to and connect with Spouse and our kids. Because I love them, want to know them, and enjoy interacting with them.
That’s the point of relationships. Connection.
LW945: is this a case of your partner’s eyes metaphorically or literally glazing over when you talk about your interests, or do you think he is just uncomfortable and worried about his inability to talk about things he isn’t familiar with, which is making him shut down?
If it’s the former: possibly consider that a partner who considers your hobbies/interests uninteresting, or engaging you on your hobbies/interests to be some gruelling chore, is perhaps not actually all that good a fit for you. I mean – I might be projecting here, but isn’t it nice to see someone you love excited or passionate about a thing, even if you don’t fully understand why? You deserve someone who loves listening to you and engaging with you even when you’re talking about something they aren’t invested in.
If it’s the latter: as others further up have said, he can get help with that. I have had similar issues in the past where I have frozen up in situations where I’m expected to be an active conversation participant (usually revolving around a person’s unhappy personal life, where I had no idea what the polite/sensitive/caring thing response would be). With a lot of training and a lot of reading online resources, I’ve finally managed to achieve a certain level of competency at having such discussions, even if I’m never going to be particularly graceful about it.
However: in that situation, I genuinely, wholeheartedly wanted to improve. It’s not that I didn’t want to have the conversation, I just didn’t know how; it was upsetting to me that I couldn’t, and a relief to be able to improve. If your partner doesn’t WANT to engage you, and in his heart doesn’t feel like he needs to or should (especially in a situation where he considers your interests to not be worthwhile), he’s not ever going to put in the hard work required: in which case, see point 1.
(as an aside, teaching myself to listen better/how to ask appropriate questions and keep conversations going in this one area also helped me in general – I found out to my surprise that my two younger siblings were both really impressed with how I was able to keep up engaging conversations with strangers at a recent wedding, which goes to show that ‘fake it til you make it’ really does work).
One of the things that jumped at me was how apparently easy it is for boyfriend to just change the subject, when that is something I’ve always had so much trouble in. I’ve had a bunch of these sort of scenarios:
Me: ooh you know, this thing, and I totally recall this other moment when…
Friend:emmm, how the hell did you get there from the topic we were talking bout?
Me: I, I, d-don’t know, I was trying something and, and…*twiddles thumbs *
LW #2 hasn’t given us enough detail, but if he’s capable of moving the conversation so seamlessly in his direction, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have social issues, it’s probably that he developed changing subjects as a coping device.
A lot of people who are shy and awkward usually default to staying silent and listening, but this type of reaction shouldn’t be rare.
I do feel like there’s a gendered dynamic to it tho; in my experience in high school (the apex of awkward for most), even the dorkiest, least boisterous, shy guy in my class could establish a conversation with just about anyone (it was a small school) and seem comfortable. Didn’t like sports? They just went and started to talk about video games and everybody joined in. I on the other hand had plenty of interests (anime, music, graffiti) but never felt comfortable, even embarrassed, voicing too much, preferring the silent and mysterious persona (I probably seemed like a bit of a jerk in retrospect). Even when I stopped isolating myself and sat down with everyone to hear stories and gossip, I preferred staying quiet. But the good thing about being quiet and listening is that you stop seeing other people and their lives as “so epically amazing” compared to your “boring, looser life”, because at the heart of my issue was that I didn’t feel interesting enough to talk and connect with others, but the reality was that I had a lot of more experiences and tastes in common with my piers, not just that, by hanging out and talking more often (even about subjects that I wasn’t very well versed in) I built up my repertoire of conversation subjects, the great socially awkward irony, it was my fear of not being interesting enough that kept me from becoming more interesting.
Back to the boyfriend, my super thought out theory was that because he’s a mentally disabled man, he’s somewhat aware that he doesn’t fit in to cultural expectations of masculinity, and like other men who are dragged down by patriarchal standards, finds ways to overcompensate, because it can be easier than questioning his insecurities.
On the other hand, maybe he’s someone who has succumbed inertia, it’s just easier for him to have a girlfriend who can take care of his emotional needs, with no reciprocation, than doing the work therapy entails. In which case, DUMP HIM
Maybe I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying, but the boyfriend’s method of changing the subject doesn’t sound all that seamless. The LW describes it as more like- LW *says something she is passionate about* Boyfriend: *long pause* LW: ….. Boyfriend: ‘so, about that thing that I like….’ I’ve had that done to me by guys and it. SUCKS.
My mum is very into gendered patterns of communication, coincidentally all of them end up with: ‘men are just Different and that is why your father has to treat me crappily, he can’t help it!’ but w/e- she always told me guys do this because they don’t know what to say. Maybe LW’s boyfriend also grew up with the idea that sometimes guys don’t know what to say. But he missed the part where when you love someone, you make an effort to be enthused about things they are enthused about. Like, when someone says something, it’s polite to acknowledge it. There’s a guy in my street (elderly, maybe has dementia) who will talk to anyone, always, and doesn’t really seem bothered if the person keeps walking away because they have to get somewhere. Often this person is me and I have to keep walking because otherwise I’d miss my train but I STILL acknowledge him and make a short bit of small talk when he speaks to me, even if I know he will keep talking when I leave.
I hope my point didn’t get confused, but mainly it’s that- maybe it’s time to stop using some perceived idea of what men can and can’t do to stop asking for better from them. It seems to vary depending on who you ask, what men can do, anyway. Really, it’s a very low bar for a relationship, ‘he says something after I say something I care about and doesn’t just leave a pause until he feels it’s ok to continue talking about himself.’ The LW can ask for more, and what’s more she can ask for MUCH more. I almost destroyed myself down to nothing trying to fit in with these guys I dated who didn’t seem to want anything but someone to cuddle and make into a wife one day, not a real person with passions and dreams.
I sooooo get where you are coming from, about the whole “that’s just how guys are” bull caca some people like to peddle. What I was referring to was how contrasting my situation, as someone raised female (even if I don’t completely identify that way), was to the guys I knew. I often relegated myself to silence because no topic felt safe enough for me, while most (not all) the awkward dorky guys I knew had at least one topic they felt comfortable broaching and being open with.
So, maybe the LW’s boyfriend may have no finesse what so ever when it comes to changing subjects, but it still shows that he feels capable and entitled to making the convo revolve around subjects he feels good with. Like I said, it’s his way of coping, not a defining trait that he can’t modify, and not something that should be shrugged off. People with mental illnesses can develop a lot of strategies to help them deal with life, but not all of them are healthy. In boyfriend’s case, making the conversation revolve around him can help him feel more in control, reduce his anxiety, and make him feel validated; but it comes at a steep price, he’s trampling his girlfriend (and possibly other people’s) feelings, he’s not actually engaging with others, he refuses to step out of his comfort zone, so he avoids making mistakes and also personal growth.
So, no, I’m not excusing his behavior, rather, in my eyes his whole “i only have to talk about A,B and C and I’ll be good” attitude is a red flag that this guy is the type to shirk off emotional labor and let it fall on others. Another red flag, him putting off therapy!
So whether he’s doing this out of insecurity or just laziness, I don’t know, but if his behavior doesn’t improve this relationship isn’t going to work.
BTW, mossyone, I’m so sorry you had to go through a similarly painful situation. There can be long and winding explanations, but no excuses from treating a partner so cruelly.
…maybe it’s time to stop using some perceived idea of what men can and can’t do to stop asking for better from them.
My mother’s CR (*) group was saying precisely this in 1971. I heard them.
I’m sad that people still experience this exact gendered crap.
(*) Consciousness Raising
I was loudly proclaiming this at least as early as middle school, which would have been 79/80, when they still called it junior high school. And yeah, it makes me both sad and angry that it’s still such a huge issue.
(LW 944 here – it’s ok, this is a completely anonymous username that no one in my life knows)
Firstly, thank you so much Captain for responding to my letter!! I can’t wait to read all of the comments here too! I have a small but solid Team Me and I am leaning on them for support too.
I know moving out would be fantastic idea for him, but the city where we live it’s not financially realistic AT ALL, and culturally he’s expected to stay with his parents forever and ever so him moving out when we marry will be a super big deal already.
I will insist he talks to a counsellor and/or to one of his friends about this. And as a couple of comments that I’ve read have suggested, I will insist that he doesn’t dump all the shit that his family may or may not say on me (hard as that will be for me, since I have a self-destructive tendency to want to know ALL THE THINGS).
“Girlfriend” is a concept that is not allowed in his culture. Hence why he’s been waiting until he’s sure we will get married before telling them (I made him give me a date and it’s less than a month away).
He’s made it clear that he doesn’t expect me to change and that the things that will bother his family about me (I have to admit, he only told me what those things would be when I asked, and he was reluctant to do so) are not things that bother him.
Also, he tried to make me promise to be nice to his family, and I said I would be perfectly friendly and polite but that I expected to be treated the same way in return, and if I am not I will (politely) not put up with that bullshit and will expect him to have my back. He said that’s reasonable.
Hi, LW! Thanks for more context. One thing really jumps out at me, and it’s the line “until he’s sure we will get married.” Are you also sure? If so, does this mean you and he have talked about it and decided to marry? If you have, why was he not sure after that conversation? That sounds fishy to me.
Well there have been issues that gave us both pause with regards to the marriage thing (and we’ve been talking through them with a couple’s counsellor). He is sure now and at this point I do think he’s just stalling, but now it’s just another week or two I just can’t be bothered pressing further. (The reason for waiting till now was because a couple of months ago he started a new job and without that job security his parents would apparently never even consider discussing the possibility of him getting married.)
Er. “Would never even consider discussing the possibility of him getting married”
I dunno that this is a red flag.
‘how will you support your wife’ might have morphed to ‘how will you contribute to household income” but it’s still a concern that parents bring up.
Except that’s not what ctroopr said.
I raised an eyebrow over that too. This guy does not sound like he is even trying to become independent from his family. At all.
My guess is that it’s not so much he isn’t trying as he’s never thought through all the steps.
Extrapolating from what Ctroopr says, they started out casual, but are now loving enough that she’s tired of being a secret. He feels that his parents will make his life difficult if he introduces (or even mentions) any woman who is not a wife candidate. Hence all the marriage talk.
I’m reading it as a compromise actually.
@Mrs Morley – Yes, it is indeed a compromise!
“…his parents would apparently never even consider discussing the possibility of him getting married.”
*blink* Um. I sincerely hope that this doesn’t mean that his actual statement that he’s planning to marry you is up for “discussion.”
Other commenters have already said this, but I’m going to say it again: I really, really, really strongly suggest that it is SUPER important for him to live on his own without his parents before you marry him. Based on what you’ve said so far about family culture, I doubt he is responsible for chores/ bills/ the daily slog of making home life work, which makes me worry that it would all fall in your lap if he doesn’t at least begin to learn how to do these things (and realize the kind of energy and time this work demands) without you there to manage it for him.
I’m gonna Nth down on this point.
I have, much of my adult life, been in charge of a household that could not function without me. Like gone for a week and it’s pure, unadulterated chaos.
It. Is. EXHAUSTING.
Imagine the tropey “No, Child, You can’t have that puppy because I don’t want to take care of a puppy or a dog or a senior dog.” and they promise to take care of it and you get the dog and then (surprise!) you take care of the dog.
Now imagine the dog is a house. And a car. And bills. And dishes. And a bathroom. And laundry. And soccer practice. And grocery shopping. And your own 40-60 hour a week gainful employment. And children. And a leaking roof. And school conferences.
Now imagine that there are other adults in the house and you’re still the only one taking care of the metaphorical dog that is actually your whole life.
Did I mention it’s exhausting? Adult responsibilities don’t tend come naturally. It is learned, usually through trial and error, and teaching someone who is supposed to be doing out all this adulthood stuff along side you? Not often workable. My experience with it is that the person who knows how to do it tends to… just do it.
“At this point I do think he’s just stalling…” I am pulling for you, ctroopr, but as someone who’s been coerced and bullied, this sentence feels as if a lot is being glossed over, whilst you believe you can/should “win” and get “marriage.” Do you have a sensation that this is a tug-of-war with future IL’s over this young man?
The other element that stood out to me is the idea that meeting the parents (a big life ritual) is also going to be informing them of marriage (another big life ritual.) Even if everything is fine, this will surely give you as a new couple, a very jumbled view of living.
Life contains many dirty dishes and underwear left on the floor, and circular arguments about why wasn’t this bill put on Autopay. In between “My family says our money needs to be spent on a new car for me” or even “Oops, pregnant” the small stuff’s going to have to become part of your life, too.
He might say ‘it’s reasonable’ that he should back you up, but you have absolutely zero evidence that he will. None at all. Zip. He can say whatever he likes, but his concrete actions so far have been 100% family, 0% you.
To pick a couple of random examples, what happens if you get married and his mother tells him she wants a key to your home so she can drop by whenever she wants? What happens if his family demands that he spends every holiday with them? Will he stand up to them and say no, or will it suddenly be cultural issues that you can’t understand and you have to give way to them just this once? Thing is, you literally have nothing to go on except his word that, honestly, he will magically develop the ability to confront his family once you’re married. About the only thing you can say for sure is that so far his clear priority is not upsetting his family.
He’s put you into a situation where he’s promising a lot, but all the evidence he can carry through will unfortunately have to wait until you’ve committed yourself into the relationship. Only then do you get to roll the dice and see if anything he’s said actually turns into action. That sounds like taking a big gamble to me.
OMG, “Key to the house.” LW comes home to find cupboards and the refrigerator rearranged and clothes refolded, b/c “he doesn’t like it that way?”
I actually had that happen once. Came home from a week-long camping trip with my then-husband to find my kitchen completely rearranged (my in-laws had a key because of a complicated co-owning of the house situation — also I was young and stupid and didn’t realize anyone would *do* something like that). To give him credit, he did back me up when I got upset over it — and gave her the whatfor when she started calling me names (I was 22, had had a very sheltered childhood, and had absolutely *no* idea that grown-ups *did* that sort of thing). We moved out less than a month later — leaving them in a rather bad lurch financially, which I have no regrets about whatsoever.
Even in places that are financially unrealistic, he can still find a way to live in his own. He can rent a room in someone’s house/apt, or live with friends or other roommates. If he can’t afford to share a space, then how can the two of you afford to live on your own as a married couple?
It’s just, if he’s never made even the smallest attempt to really be independent or live independently before you are married, he’s not going to suddenly and magically change after you say “I do.”
I had to fight tooth & nail to become independent from my own parents, not so much from any cultural traditions but their own idiosyncrasies. I can tell you this from me personal experience- it’s something I pushed back at all my life, and it still wasn’t easy. Nor did it end once I was an adult with my own life. It can be emotionally exhausting, and if he’s never gone against their wishes before, it might be better for him to start with baby steps (moving out, telling them he’s got a girlfriend) than throwing everything at them at once in a super high stakes all or nothing bet.
LW944, cosign me for “he should tell them about you as girlfriend.” I know, he can’t, culture reasons, but you and therefore he are going to be bumping into other culture reasons, and this one might actually be a good one for him to try out. Apologies if I’m just way off on the cultural landscape, but here’s why I think he should consider it:
1) It probably doesn’t carry emotional weight for *you* that you’re dating while unmarried? Not sure how much for your boyfriend. But you and possibly he can be unflinching and cool about this one for your own self while dealing with his family’s stuff. It’s really helpful if he can! Pushing against other things, like body shaming or sexuality or motherhood role, may be tougher on your side and his side.
2) Your boyfriend can bring this up at a time of his own choosing, any day he likes. As opposed to needing to react in the middle of something when, say, his mom body-shames you.
3) He can bring this up with them without involving you personally. As opposed to others where you are immediately entangled and he ought to disentangle you. Maybe I should have put this first, I think it’s big. This girlfriend thing really isn’t about you, and he should manage it that way. Even if he weren’t dating you, he probably wants to deal with the girlfriend thing at some point in his life.
4) I could be wrong, but my guess is his family won’t be actually shocked by this? Bothered that he defied them maybe, surprised that he grew to this maybe, but I suspect they have already been expecting this may happen sooner or later. So might be easier than some things where they’ve honestly never even thought about this idea.
In conclusion, (3) again.
Thank you!! I really don’t think he can tell them about the girlfriend thing. The “I can arrange a marriage for myself, rather than having parents/relatives do it for me” is a battle he’s only just sort of a little bit won, but the dust is still settling. I don’t think they would imagine him having a girlfriend in their wildest dreams. Them being shocked would likely be an understatement…
Then telling the family that is a good idea. Marriage will be a relief.
“Ma, Pa,I’m dating a woman!”
Chaos, arguments, lamentation
“Ma, Pa, you’re right, Ctroopr and I will marry. Thanks so much for encouraging us”
I’m only half joking
Haha, I will actually run this past him! I’m sure he’ll laugh it off and tell me I’m being ridiculous, but it’s certainly worth a shot. And you never know, he might end up using it to… lighten the mood isn’t quite right, but something to that effect (please excuse brain fart).
Glad you like it. You’re right, at least the joking around may make life a little easier for the two of you.
ctroopr, you keep saying your boyfriend “can’t” tell his parents that he has a girlfriend, but the fact is, he can.
It sounds like you currently live in a country where people date without a view to imminent marriage, and his parents have probably been exposed to the concept before, if only in the abstract. In the highly unlikely scenario that they haven’t, he can explain it to them. Yes, they will probably be shocked and it will be a very difficult conversation, if not a full-blown argument, with hang-wringing and recriminations and shouting, and that won’t be pleasant. But he CAN tell them. He is CHOOSING not to.
“I have a girlfriend.”
“Well, in our culture we don’t recognize girlfriends!”
“Well, her culture does. What a great opportunity for you to learn how another culture does things!”
I’m just saying.
Exactly. You come from a culture, too. And I’m gonna potentially make an ass of myself by assuming this, but it sounds like the culture you come from includes things like dating and living independently of your parents and being introduced to your significant other’s family before getting engaged. If you are going to make the cross culture relationship work, it cannot always be you who is compromising for the sake of his cultural norms; he needs to do some compromising for the sake of yours, and so far he has said a lot of very nice words about the things he’s going to compromise on, and has acted on precisely none of them.
Gonna add my third to this. Compromise means *both* sides have to give a little.
Both of these men sound like waaaay too much work. In the case of #944, I wonder if having her as a secret girlfriend is more of a rebellion thing for him. As in “Well, my parents might control every aspect of my life, but they don’t know about this part!” The trouble with that is, once he’s married and in his own house, he may default to his cultural expectations because he’s home free now and doesn’t have to do the secret rebellion any more. I’ve seen this before, unfortunately.
Relationships should not be this hard. Especially only a few months in. This is the test drive period for a relationship, it’s okay to park it and test drive another if it just isn’t working.
Mental illness is not an excuse for bad behavior, and if the 6 month boyfriend isn’t even bothering to get treatment for his mental illness, it’s even less of an excuse. If you’re writing to an advice columnist after 6 months, this is a huge problem.
‘Often, I’ll bring up something I want to talk about, and he’ll not respond for a while and then change the subject because he “didn’t have anything to say about it.” However, I regularly have in-depth conversations with him about video games that I don’t play and music that I don’t listen to.’
LW, I have to level with you- I saw this letter over on the forums, and when I read that my heart just broke for you, to the point where I could think of nothing constructive to say. 😦 I’m sorry about that. I’ll try and say some stuff here. I just want to reassure you that while this is really, really, REALLY common for men to do, it does NOT have to be this way in relationships. And you DO deserve better. And your interests DO matter.
I (cis woman) have had 3 romantic relationships with cis men where this dynamic happened, and one (abusive) friendship with a trans man where this happened. The latter came first and went all the way back to when I was about 12, and I learned not only to never talk about my interests but to keep them 100% hidden from him at all times, in case he used them to hurt me. This kind of thing going on did not set me up for a healthy balance of interest discussion when I began dating, as you can imagine.
The 3 guys I dated were varying levels of bad news, and we dated for varying times. One of them was the type who, after I said something about a subject I was passionate, would leave a pause..then change the subject. The first time it happened I felt this crushing disappointment. I had mistakenly assumed the because he was academic and nerdy that he would be interested in hearing about my interests. I expect if I had pointed out what he had just done he would have said he “didn’t have anything to say about it” just like your boyfriend. (Like- an acknowledging phrase?! A follow-up question?! ANYTHING BUT SILENCE?!) It is very sad when this happens and can feel like you just spilled your soul a tiny bit, talking about what you love, and they just blanked you. It can hurt. Please don’t underestimate how important sharing things that you love with your partner can be in a romantic relationship, or how sad it can be when you can’t do this.
Another guy, my first boyfriend, never listened either. He liked trading card games and so did I, so you’d think the shared interest would help, but we never talked about them and it was best not to because I beat him sometimes at the game and he was a bad loser. He liked to talk to me, but this took the form of him calling me and giving me an extremely detailed rundown of every mundane detail of his day, while he would NEVER ask about mine. Not being so much as asked about your day by someone who is supposed to love you can destroy your soul. I still think about how, multiple times, he would talk about how much money he was going to spend this week on rolling tobacco, how his friends were going to divide it, this subject stretching on and on and on for what felt like infinity…WHY did he think I wanted to hear about this? He was basically doing his budget aloud to me..wow young love!
I am now in the first relationship I have ever been in where we talk about each others interests, and I have grown to love the things that he loves because he introduced them to me with great awareness of how much he was talking about them (no one reply to this and say autistic men can’t do this btw, just a disclaimer- my boyfriend has Asberger’s and he is perfectly capable and anyone can be). And he happily indulges my interests and has come to enjoy many things that I enjoy. I cannot tell you how much of a big deal to me it is that we listen to each other’s music without conflict! I have NEVER been in that situation before. :’)
I’m sorry I just focused on that one thing but I wanted to emphasise how important sharing interests in relationships can be, I never want anyone to think this is something impossible or unimportant to want. Your interests, your music taste, the things you care about, are SO important and are a part of who you are. I really wish the best for you, whatever you decide.
You just gave me flashbacks to my college boyfriend who was obsessed with paintball and only watched ESPN. He didn’t give a flying fig about my interests.
944, his family lives in the world, right? They have access to media? They (I am willing to bet) understand the concept of ‘girlfriend’, even if it’s not one used in their culture. ‘Lalala, I can’t hear you’ is not voting-adult behavior. They would (I am willing to bet) live through the revelation.
Also keep in mind that while you’re marrying into his culture, he’s also marrying into yours. Why does his always take priority?
I’m guessing maybe LW is white, and she’s afraid that if she doesn’t default to his culture, she is racist or opening herself up to charges of racism/xenophobia.
Yes, I’m white, though I am also an immigrant where I live and come from a minority (albeit white) culture, though because I am white people often merge my culture and the culture of the country where we live together (as though all “white” cultures are the same, when they’re of course not). And yes, we are negotiating the intricacies of how he is also marrying into my culture, but I am certainly much more open to charges of racism somehow because I don’t (and can’t) understand his culture in a lot of ways because it is a lot more different to the culture of the place where we live than my own culture is.
… Has… Has he used the fact that you’re white and can’t understand his culture as a reason why you should allow something you’re really not okay with? I might be reading too much into this, but something about the way you worded that set my alarms off. I mean, sure, it’s great to be aware of white privilege and to be accepting of other cultures… but that doesn’t mean you don’t get to say “Y’know, this is Not Okay for me.” You can be totally respectful of someone’s culture, and still not be okay with their cultural expectations being applied to you. It doesn’t make you a bad person. But there is a HUGE gulf between “I am aware of the fact that this culture does things differently from mine, neither is more valid or good than the other, I will try to be as respectful as I can of this culture, while acknowledging that this is unknown territory” and “If you object to Thing, you are a bad closeminded racist because that’s the way it is in my culture.”
I really hope I’m reading more into it than is there, but if he *has* used that argument, even jokingly, that seems like it would be a big warning sign.
Does he acknowledge that prejudice against other races and cultures is not a white-only thing? And that if his family treats you badly you for being white, that will be you being a victim of prejudice? Maybe not dominant-culture prejudice, but enough to make your personal life a potiential misery, which also matters. Yes, a white person’s prejudices have a big societal advantage in a white-majority country, but that doesn’t translate to ‘You have to make personal amends for being white.’ And it certainly doesn’t translate to to ‘Every time we have a culture clash (or another kind of clash that could be passed off as cultural), you have to give more ground than me or else you’re racist.’
Prejudice is something all cultures can include, and right now it looks to me like there’s prejudice being leveraged against you while you’re the one being pressured to prove you aren’t prejudiced. I don’t like the sound of this.
LW 944 – I’ve been in a similar situation, and I also have a lot of friends who have been on bf’s side of it. At a certain point, we all make a decision about what our Adult Lives will look like, with sometimes much revising, and then go after it. If we decide our Adult Life will diverge in some very significant ways from our culture, our family, or the way we were raised, we’ve got a lot of growth ahead of us – we need to figure out what information we share with our families, how often we see them, how we set boundaries, the degree of estrangement we’re comfortable with, and what our overall approach is – fight the battle vs. disengage.
This is a LONG PROCESS. The boundaries muscles are ones you need to flex. You may or may not decide, after doing it a few times, that it’s worth it. You may change your approach. You may learn that you hew more closely to certain ideals than you thought, or you may realize that things need to happen in a different order (for example, wow – I really need to move out before I start issuing edicts about Who I Will Date because the family is doing stuff like Kicking Me Out).
It sounds like Boyfriend is right at the start of this, and that’s okay! Y’all can still definitely make it. But you should know that right now he is 100% figuring this out for himself, and until he has a lot more certainty around a lot of these variables, he will not be a good ally for you in this situation. That means you need to step back and be an ally for YOURSELF.
1. Temper marriage talk. That’s a lot of pressure for y’all, and while I’m sure it’s very grounding for him to discuss your relationship in those terms because it means if his family wigs out y’all are 5ever, it’s just super high stakes and high stakes plus a lot of uncertainty is a recipe for some very fraught situations.
2. Ask questions and talk through scenarios. Instead of, “OMG this might happen and it will suck and what will we DOOOO,” reframe so he can start thinking through his own boundaries and limits. For example, “If this happens, how will you handle it? What would you want me to do in that situation?” Then THINK – really think if that is something you can live with. Example: some people are fine being closeted to their SO’s family, while some find it profoundly hurtful. Where do you fall on that? As hard as it is, try to think about it in terms not of this guy who you adore but if a friend’s SO asked them to do the same, would you advise them to move on or stick it out?
As much as this is about him, it’s also about figuring out what you can live with, how you need to be supported, and at what point you need to move on
TL;DR – This is new for both of you. Communicate a lot. Try to get a good understanding of what ‘compromise’ looks like, and then stick to your guns.
Best of luck!
Hi LW #945, I’m a longtime lurker coming out of the woodwork to offer another perspective on your boyfriend’s problems. My brother and I (I’m female) are both autistic, and have both struggled with issues similar to your boyfriend’s. I tend to interrupt people, and hit my head when I’m upset, and my brother has a fairly narrow range of conversation topics he can speak eloquently on and a habit of going into self-loathing spirals when he feels he’s done something wrong.
To be clear, I’m not saying this to excuse his or our behaviour; my brother and I have both done a lot of work, with and without therapists, to improve on these things, and will continue to into the future. But if these issues are neurological in nature for him, then I can say from experience that, even if he’s really genuinely trying, they will take a long time to change, they’ll never go away completely, and he’ll need some form of specialized help which you cannot provide.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, even given the most charitable interpretation of your boyfriend’s behaviour, he’s not going to be able to be a good boyfriend for quite a while. Even at his theoretical best (which he may never get to), you may not be compatible with him, and I wouldn’t recommended sticking with him until you find out.
This is really compassionate and useful advice. Reforming bad habits can be difficult even for neurotypical people, but even if this is not a case of “he doesn’t care enough about you to change,” his behavior is still having an unacceptably negative effect and nothing the LW does can solve the problem, even and perhaps especially if the problem is that the boyfriend does not have the skills necessary to change right now.
I’m proud of you and your brother for doing hard work on the issues you have, and I wish you both strength and luck and happiness.
I have a person very close to me who is autistic, and we have developed a strategy for dealing with the “this topic is boring to me” phenomenon. When it’s something either of us really want the other person to listen to, we start off with “Can I tell you something about (my day, this thing I did)?” That’s the cue that it’s listening time regardless of whether it is interesting. I think it serves two purposes – one, it reminds us that the important part isn’t the topic itself but the function of it as relationship glue, and two, it reminds us that “listening to boring stuff” goes both ways. It’s not just me saying it to them as a “please pay attention to me now” signal, but they say it to me also, and that reminds them that I don’t actually find all of their topics interesting either. That is important because otherwise they kind of default to thinking they are always the one doing the heavy lifting of listening to boring stuff because their conversation is always so great, so them doing it makes them prioritize what they want to say to the stuff they really want to share, and acknowledges that I do that emotional labor of listening when I might not want to too.
That said, it took years for this to organically develop and for us to use it mostly regularly. It does take awhile and you may or may not find it worth putting in that effort.
(Just realized that I did that as a reply just because it had similarities with being autistic, but after it posted looked like it was directed at autilurker instead of the LW. Sorry about that, didn’t mean for it to come off as some kind of counterpoint/addition.)
Wow. Your perspective is clear and helpful. Thank you so much for sharing it.
LW 944, I hope you have an Epi-Pen, because I see a lot of bees here.
This may or may not apply to your boyfriend, but I’ve seen situations where one partner comes from a family that is very controlling and not so big on boundaries because of cultural or religious reasons, or just because they’re toxic people full of evil bees, and what can happen sometimes is that Controlled Partner starts dating someone outside of their culture/religion/whatever as a way of rebelling against their family without having to really own what they’re doing. Controlled Partner ends up trying to have their cake and eat it too, by complaining about Family to Objectionable Outsider Partner, but never stands up for Outsider Partner to Family, and is happy to let Outsider Partner be the scapegoat for all of Family’s unhappiness. And, honestly, the fact that your boyfriend won’t even consider setting boundaries with his family? Not good.
If the above dynamic is what’s playing out here (and I hope I’m wrong, and it’s not), my concern is that you’ll marry Boyfriend and find out that his family’s values are a lot more ingrained in him than perhaps you realized, and that his lack of boundaries makes you not just the scapegoat of his family, but of your own marriage as well. Be especially super wary about bringing kids into the picture, because grandchildren can really kick this dynamic into overdrive.
Again, I hope I’m wrong, and none of this is relevant to you or your situation. Best wishes to you!
You might be right and I don’t know and I fear that I simply won’t know until it’s too late and the knot is tied…
Thank you for your best wishes, and I’ll hold onto my therapist as an epi-pen of sorts, I guess…
I say this with the utmost sympathy and warm feelings— if you fear you won’t know who your boyfriend is (core values, ability to commit to you fully, ability to draw boundaries with family) until it’s too late, don’t marry him*. That is not a fear you should have going into a marriage.
* I’m not saying don’t marry him ever, I’m saying don’t marry him until you have resolved this fear. Which may be never, but that’s up to you to figure out.
Oh, my comment may have come out wrong. I am sure I do know BF fully. To the extent that anyone can ever know a person (I just mean that it does happen that sometimes people turn out to not be who you thought they were and given how things are stacked against us people keep telling me this might be the case, which I honestly don’t think it is, otherwise I wouldn’t even consider marrying him.)
I’m sure he is a wonderful, loving, and worthy person.
It’s just that a marriage needs two wonderful, loving, and worthy adults to make it work.
Yes! Your boyfriend may say that his family isn’t okay with dating. And it’s fine for them to feel that way. But part of what dating does is to give partners a chance to find out more about each other, in order to find out if they are compatible long-term. It’s helpful to know how s/he behaves when sick, how s/he handles holidays, how s/he handles conflicts, whether s/he can be trusted to take out the trash and clean the bathroom, etc. My fear is that if you jump right from meeting his parents into making plans for a wedding, you skip over the chance to find out how your boyfriend handles conflicts with his family of origin, which is a pretty important thing to know before committing to building a life and a family with someone. Also, cross-cultural relationships can be wonderful, but can also take some extra work and negotiation. Dating gives you a chance to figure some of those things out.
So even if his family isn’t okay with dating, it’s okay for dating to be something that’s important to YOU.
I wonder if what you tell his parents about the status of his relationship with you, and what the actual status of it is can be two different things? Maybe you can tell them that you plan to marry if it would make things smoother with them. But you don’t have to get engaged before you are ready to be engaged, just because that would make his parents happy. I would hope that when you get engaged it would involve lots of squealing and excitement, and I don’t get the sense from your letter that that is where you are. Maybe you really are there, or you will get there at some point, but I would hope you could wait on wedding plans until you feel ready. If your b.f. wants you to be engaged before you feel really ready to be engaged because it will make things smoother with his parents, it gives you more information about where his loyalties lie when there is a conflict between what you want and what his family wants.
If your b.f. wants you to be engaged before you feel really ready to be engaged because it will make things smoother with his parents, it gives you more information about where his loyalties lie when there is a conflict between what you want and what his family wants.
I wanted to say something like this in my previous reply but I wasn’t quite sure how to phrase it. It seems very much like he wants to be engaged before he brings up your existence to his family so they will be less angry with his rebellion. Not to say that he doesn’t want to be married to you because he loves you and can’t imagine spending his life without you, but it feels like it’s more important that his parents approve of your relationship status. What would he do if you didn’t want or believe in the legally binding part of marriage, or preferred a very long engagement, or to live together before marriage? Would he hide you from his family forever?
But you can know.
There’s is no magic to being married that will suddenly make any problems whatsoever go away. Either of you thinking that way is going to lead to a terrible disappointment at a time when you should be celebrating, and enjoying, your new life together.
PRE-marriage is a time for a discussion along the lines of: “Suppose X happened, how would we handle it? I can’t be the only one with boundaries, you need some too. What if your family objects to something I need to have, who gets to be happy?”
If anything, the scrutiny, pressure, and demands will increase once you are their son’s wife. If your fiancee is already unable to assert himself with his family about things HE wants, he is going to be that much less able to stick up for YOU.
I worry that he is trying to have things both ways; the freedom of the loving relationship you are offering, along with the support and care and approval of his family.
I do not see how that can possibly happen under the circumstances you have outlined. Please, ctroopr, do not just ignore this and hope for the best. Recognize, and discuss, what has to happen for the two of you to enjoy a loving marriage. Figure out just what must change to make that a reality. If enough progress is made by the wedding day, you can say “I do” with a happy heart.
Because you have arrived at the ceremony truly ready to commit to each other.
This this this.
This, so much.
I know people have said this all over the comments already, but I’ll add my voice to it: I really, really think your boyfriend should move out from the family home and manage that for a while before you even consider marrying him. People have brought up the issues of being able to live on his own and contribute to a household which are very, very important, but I’ll add another one:
You say it would cause chaos in his relationship with his family because that’s culturally Not Done. Well… I think that’s exactly why he should do that.
The plans you are making already involve him violating cultural norms in significant ways. That happening is already predetermined. The big difference is that if he moves out, the fallout from his family will happen:
1. at a time when you two are NOT 100% committed yet, so that if either of you discover that actually, it’s not going to work, he can’t deal with the family disapproval, you can’t deal with the BS involved, he can’t live on his own in a way that you could cohabit with, any of those things… it will be a lot easier to negotiate that and a lot easier to end the relationship.
2. without you being stuck in the middle!
I’m actually worried about the fact that his plan for gaining independence from his family is so closely tied to you, both because of what it might say about your BF’s desire for independence on its own (if you weren’t around, would he just keep living with his parents in perpetuity?) and because as far as I can tell, it will make it that much less likely for his family to come to accept you. I mean, imagine these two scenarios from his family’s point of view:
1. Boyfriend declares he’s going to move out > drama! horror! cultural expectations not being met! > Boyfriend moves out > Boyfriend stays moved out for several months > things settle down, family begins to work out how to deal with their rebellious kid > eventually, once status quo has been reached, boyfriend goes “so I met a really great girl and I want to marry her”
2. Boyfriend goes “so I met this really great girl and I want to marry her and move out to live with her”
In #1, BF rebelled from his family culture all on his lonesome and you’re a symptom of his rebellion. In #2, you’re the cause of his rebellion. Which do you think will end better in terms of his family’s acceptance of you?
I am really, really worried about the way this plan minimises the risk for boyfriend while maximising the risk for you.
I know as well that you mentioned earlier that moving out wouldn’t be an option because of finances in the city where you live. I wonder if there are other options he might be able to use. One of the first that jumps out at me is moving in with a roommate or two; he won’t get the same level of independence as he would living on his own, but it would give him a chance to live with people who are not his family and get some independence from THEM, in a way that might be more financially feasible. And if he’s not doing the daily nitty-gritty of chores right now, roommates are probably going to have an easier time pointing that out and not putting up with it than a wife would because of cultural gender expectations and the fact that they’ll be less emotionally invested in the relationship. Another option would be that many cities have people willing to rent out rooms/parts of their home, and in a lot of those cases the renter has a fair deal of autonomy (in some cases a whole separate home-within-a-home). Both of those would be cheaper than renting a whole place all by himself.
1000 x this
You have this exactly right. I explained upthread, but I married a man from a similar family as LW944’s boyfriend with a strong culture/religion that was different than mine, and an enmeshed family that had no concept of boundaries. In my DH’s case, he wanted out and wanted his autonomy from his suffocating and controlling family, however, instead of setting boundaries early on with his family when we married (he refused to move out of his family home when we were dating/engaged which looking back should have been an absolute condition to him and me getting married), DH, being the good, obedient, culturally programmed son allowed his parents to streamroll over us to try to get us in line with their cultural and family expectations. I was too naive at the beginning of our marriage to know how to handle this family dynamic. However, once boundaries started to be set by DH and me, I was then scapegoated by his family. “If it weren’t for HER, we would all be one, happy, enmeshed family”, and DH did not do enough to protect me from this.
20 years later, and I have cut off most of my IL extended family and only see my IL parents and DH’s sibs once a year as the disrespectful behavior I experienced was a relationship ender for me. Separately, DH owned up to not standing by my side through this and defending me from his family’s. Had he not done this, I would have ended my relationship with him too. Through a lot of work, we are now in a good place.
What I learned from marrying a man that comes from a family like this is that attaching “culture” to expectations, doesn’t make them any more important than your own expectations. They don’t trump anything. So, LW944 needs to figure out what her expectations are concerning her future life with her BF, and see if they are compatible with her BF’s expectations which should be distinguished from his parent’s expectations as his life is different than theirs (In an enmeshed family this is hard for a person to see and moving out prior to marriage will really help this man figure this part out).
Finally, do not add kids into the mix until these issues are worked out. If your marriage fails, you will forever to be tied to your IL’s due to your kids and your kids will be vulnerable to being swallowed whole by your ex’s familial cultural programming and enmeshment.
LW 945: At one point in time, my response to constructive criticism from my husband, at the time just my boyfriend, was to start crying and make the whole interaction about my *feelings* and how I was so terrible and how could I do that to him and how could he put up with me. (I’ve got some decent childhood trauma and issues of self-worth clearly) After a few times going down this path, he start pointing out that I was hijacking his emotions. He was the one justifiably upset by something I had done and he ended up consoling me. When he started to point out the pattern directly, I realized what I was doing and shut that shit down. I still get teary eyed during emotionally charged discussions, but I make an effort to hear what my husband has to say before I respond and I try to comfort him instead of the other way around. I wasn’t as extreme as LW 945’s situation, but I found it was really helpful for my husband to call out my behavior in a loving way. And he didn’t call me out when I was in the middle of crying about how terrible I am, btw. He found a neutral moment to bring up the pattern and directly laid out what kept happening and how it made him feel. But the work to change my behavior? That was all me. I did that work. LW 945, it sounds like you’re the only one doing the work and that’s not okay. Relationships involve work from both parties to be successful and satisfying.
I’m often in a similar dynamic with my partner, Vivinator. It can be really tough to manage the “I messed up (again),” “am I worthy of this person?”, catastrophizing dynamic, which also hijacks your partner’s experience, and I’m really glad to hear you have found a good way through this problem.
I (she/her) have some behaviors exacerbated by mental/neurological stuff, and ingrained as habit, that make my partner feel rejected and like I don’t care enough about him. Specifically, horrendous time management invades every part of my life, and I am constantly trying to gain ground there. At work, hours in office are set but not policed, so there, it’s a social/professionalism hindrance but I can make it up and just feel constantly guilty. When I am late to see my partner, however, it is really painful to him. He feels lonely and rejected, and I feel guilty and like I’ve failed again and will never be able to fix my problem and will continue to disappoint and hurt him.
Counseling is helping me, in figuring out ways to change my behavior and communicate with my partner to give him more of what he needs. (E.g. we are setting some meetable expectations and designating a few times a week when I will try my hardest to be on time, and allow other times to be more flexible.)
My four insights for LW945:
1. You are worthy of attention, and this treatment is allowed to be a deal-breaker. It sounds like your essential self is being deformed by this process.
2. Change can be very hard to accomplish alone, and clearly your partner’s recent efforts to solve it without professional help have not gotten him to where either of you want to be; trying something else (a pro) is a logical next step. (Would putting it in those terms help convince him to go?)
3. I do not want this to be taken the wrong way, but your mentioning the effects of his actions in the moment may derail problem-solving. You should be free to say what you want to and need to, but if you’re willing to experiment here it might be worthwhile or informative.
A lot of arguments I’ve had with my partner around being late to meet him involve him saying things like, “It makes me feel like you don’t want to spend time with me.” And I’m reminded of how bad that makes him feel, but it also makes me (a) want to reassure him that he’s reading negative intentions into my bad behavior (I’m not being late AT him, and perhaps if I could get him to deeply understand that, he would feel less rejected) and (b) feel really bad that this bad habit I’m trying to improve, but keep messing up on and worry I’ll never be free of, is so hurtful to my partner. Both of my reactions can tend toward me becoming really emotional and hijacking the conversation, whereas the productive place to return to is, “I’m sorry. I care about you. I’m trying to fix this.” In your case, as others have said, a good reaction from him would be, “I’m sorry. I care about you. Please tell me more about what you were saying.” (That is, doing something to remedy the behavior in the moment, and applying active listening.) In other words, an immediate chance to practice doing it right might be a better step toward his change than a reminder of how hurtful the behavior is.
So, this is a lot of emotional effort and cramps your style even more, but you could experiment with saying not, “you interrupted me again and that makes me feel like you don’t respect me” but “you interrupted me. Can you try hard to listen to me for the next two minutes while I tell you about this thing that’s important to me?” The way he reacts and follows up–does he listen when explicitly invited for a brief interval?–may help you gauge whether it is possible to get what you need from this relationship, and whether the amount of work that requires is too much.
I think that this experiment could also give you evidence of whether he’s just comfortable being self-centered and truly doesn’t care about what you have to say. You can see how he reacts when you explicitly bid for his attention. If it’s a mental/neurological issue he truly wants to fix, the ideal case is that explicitly calling for his attention for a few minutes should be a mechanism that continues to work over time (if you can be sure you have his full attention when you ask); he might see progress and suggest ways to improve this process. If he’s just a jerk, and he has been trying to tune you out this whole time, he might play along at first but become impatient or surly about listening. (Many other cases are possible, too. If he’s severely depressed, say, it would be hard for him to feel interested in much he cares about, let alone what you care about; and that could be a case where you don’t deserve the treatment you’re getting and you should break up, even without his being an irredeemable jerk.)
4. One of the joys of a relationship (partner, friend, family…) is to share support when one of you is down and to share vicarious joy about the things in your life that are going well, that you’re learning, and that you find interesting. One person may not be able to share all your abstruse interests/fandoms/tastes/intrigues, and everyone has a different threshold on how much they comfortably speak and listen. You deserve to have strong relationships in your life, and as others have suggested, please try to build your Team You with at least as much energy as you’re using to try to get what you need from your boyfriend.
LW #2 – ooooh…that would be a deal breaker for me. I hate being interrupted. As a kid my mom would interrupt me all the time with things like “I don’t care” or “Stop talking” any time I was saying something she didn’t like. She’s either physically walk out of the room or abruptly change the topic (if we were in a social setting). I used to think it was because I talked too much, but she did it even if I only said a sentence or two…so I learned it was more about her trying to control me than about me. The result? I will snap at someone if they interrupt me. I once had a co-worker who kept talking over me during a meeting and I barked at her (in front of our manager) “Will you please stop talking over me? My ideas are valid and worth listening to!” With friends and family I will say “Did I look like I was finished talking?” or “Wait your turn, I wasn’t done!”
I think CA has great advice…it’s a lot of work you’re putting in to a relationship so young.
I am so sorry that happened to you. That’s atrocious the way she treated you.
Yep, that was NOT you talking too much! I don’t talk that way to my son, and on a point of comparison, he’s autistic and three-quarters of what he says, he’s said before, often in the exact same words.
Jedi hugs. That’s a horrible thing to say to your child, or anyone, for that matter.
Weary fist bump of recognition. My mom’s favorite phrase, said as a “joke” of course, was “Shut up, DameB.” Because I talked too much. To this day she laughs about the phrase and can’t fathom why I don’t laugh with her.
LW2: it sounds like your boyfriend is using his mental illness to act like a sexist jerk and gaslight you. It doesn’t matter that he has mental health issues, he’s manipulative and jerky. I was exhausted reading your letter. I can’t imagine what a nightmare dealing with this man is.
Just a note from another commenter: you are a person who deserves to be treated well. There are plenty of potential partners out there who will accept you for who you are, including your asexuality, and who will not talk over you, who will not degrade you, and who will not make their glaring personality defects your problem.
Happy you called this out, Temperance! I was very surprised that Captain Awkward didn’t point out that this is a very clear abusive behavior in her response to LW2. Interrupting you all the time and then self-harming when you call him out for it seems like it’s grooming you to accept being interrupted/discounted/unheard. He makes your fight to be heard exhausting, and if you eventually give up, he gets his way. It’s manipulation at its finest.
He has already taught her to silence herself and view her desire to be heard as small.
(944) Even criminal defendants have the right to face their accusers and the right to an attorney. (I’m thinking of the 6th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.) Scare Of Future In-Laws has neither. She understands only that her in-laws are accusing her of various “crimes” (being too old, of having been married before, etc.), but she gets no chance to face them, understand the charges against her, or defend herself. Nor is her boyfriend acting as her lawyer.
The basic script I recommend is the one that starts “Let’s talk about what our lives will be like once we’re married.” This is a totally reasonable conversation to have under any circumstances. Things fiances talk about are where they’ll live, how many children, if any, they hope to have, how they’ll support themselves moneywise, what they see as obligations to family as parents get older and need care. Also religious observance, housekeeping. You’re certainly not going to make arrangements for every possible conflict that might come up in the future, but it’s worthwhile to bring up some contingencies. Then listen. I’m getting the feeling that Boyfriend might realize how unreasonable he’s being once the questions are posed to him. Like he might face on his own that he has no idea if he’s asking you to live with his parents or if he’s thinking he’ll move in to where you’re living. he might realize that he actually doesn’t have a plan. … And then you can talk about that.
Hiya! I’m normally a lurker, and I don’t even have time to provide the needed detail and citation right now, but for what it’s worth — the situation with the boyfriend in Letter 2 bears *several* indications of autism. (Like… ten indications of autism.) I rarely go there, and wouldn’t bring it up if it were just one thing, or even two or three things; there can be many reasons or diagnoses for any of these items, after all. But if someone else who’s well-versed in the presentation of autism agrees, hopefully they have the time to explain what it is about this letter that I’m picking up on.
I’m embarrassed to even be posting this. The compulsion to skip work and write a disquisition is strong.
Parent of an autistic kid, and yes, I agree it’s a possibility. I assume your points are:
– Binary interested/not interested
– Poor grasp of social back-and-forth
– Poor tolerance of boredom
– Meltdowns in response to social stress
But … well, if that’s true, that’s a lot he has to deal with before he’s ready to be in a relationship. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love my son to grow up and have a relationship with someone as nice as LW … but if he treated her that way (which I hope he wouldn’t), I wouldn’t expect her to put up with it.
If it’s a possibility, he needs to be very serious about seeking out a diagnosis and working on his coping skills. But if he’s at that social level … well, if social appeals don’t work on him, he may be stuck at a low level of cause-and-effect – that is, he’s motivated by consequences, as are we all, but ‘I’m distressing my partner’ is not a consequence to him. He doesn’t see it as an effect of his actions, but a cause of his feelings.
And if that’s the case, then what consequence would be necessary to motivate him to do the enormous amount of work it would take to become easier to live with? Because from what LW says, I’m concerned that staying in the relationship is creating a situation where he really isn’t grasping that he needs to make some major changes. If LW’s basic emotional needs not being met isn’t something that says to him, ‘This is a reason to change,’ it is possible that only making it clear that she’s ready to leave will get through to him.
All of which, of course, could also be true of someone neurotypical, and untrue of some people on the spectrum, because everyone’s an individual! 🙂 I agree the meltdowns and self-focus could be autism, but they could also be severe depression, or a personality disorder, or other things; it’s hard to be sure just going by the letter.
Oh, for the record – by ‘self-focus’, I don’t mean to say autistic equals selfish. Some of the autistic adults I know are exceptionally unselfish. I just mean that this guy evidently is self-focused, and his way of expressing it could be influenced by the kind of bluntness some autistic people have.
I’d like to reply to this because reading the second letter felt very much like reading a description of my partner. We’ve been together for 18 months and in their case, the reason for their behaviour is that they have autism. I will not try to diagnose the LW’s partner but simply share my feelings and what I did to continue the relationship based on a very similar experience. I’d like to put in some input from the point of view of knowing someone like this who actually isn’t being rude on purpose, I guess.
For my partner, they struggle to actually recognise when they are interrupting someone. In their case, due to their autism they actually can’t easily pick up the social signals that say “this is where you speak now” and “this is where you do not speak because it is rude” which causes them to interrupt my sentences. (If you pay attention to speech, it’s actually not as simple as it seems to not talk over someone if you don’t know the “rules” instantly) This has been intensely frustrating for me in the past but I at this point interrupt them right back every time with “let me finish my sentence, thank you” and then I finish my sentence. Me being able to do this has moved it down from a big annoyance to a minor grievance, along with partner trying hard not to do it. I had to learn not to feel disrespected by genuinely accidental social errors whilst still upholding my boundaries.
Additionally we also have the issue that they find it difficult to hold conversations on topics they don’t know or care about and may not even know why I want to do that. This can seem very uncaring but in the case of my partner they simply can’t think of anything at all to say and just don’t know how to do “small talk”. It helps me to directly tell my partner what I’m looking for and the affect it would have on me. For example: “Hey, I would feel really happy if I could tell you about a TV show I liked for a few minutes and then you can give me your thoughts on it too if you want to. What do you think?” This works well because they then realise what’s I’m trying to do and why. I also found other people to discuss specific topics with.
It’s been a really long road for us and also, my partner has instances of the head hitting and inability to move or speak after becoming overwhelmed. In the case of autism this seems to be something that generally happens periodically, but I expect this could be caused by many things for many people. In the case of my partner, the biggest trigger for this is anything that highlights social difference because there is a panic response from feeling like they have “done something wrong” socially which stems from a lot of difficulty in the past (especially school). In these situations my partner needs minimal input and absolutely no challenges until they’ve come back from their meltdown. (I recommend cuddling or sitting in the dark because darkness removes all the need for my partner to do social things like read my facial expressions or worry about theirs etc which is a comfort for them at those times.)
I’d like to 100% recommend having more than this person to share your problems and life with. In the beginning I tried to put all my problems and discussions onto my partner, thinking “well, I should be able to do all of this with them, right?”. It was very hard because they would quickly be overwhelmed.
Also finally, dating someone with these attributes IS very difficult no matter the reason why they have them. In my case we’ve come very close to breaking up in the past and sometimes I just can’t stand how much we misunderstand each other. In my case, I often have to feel that I’ve put myself last to make this work and that’s difficult. My partner’s brain will always think and process the way that it does right now, so although they’re currently beginning therapy (IMO they have untreated anxiety disorder secondarily), it’s not going to make them have a neurotypical mind. As a result, what really needs to happen for our relationship is a great deal of communication (everything! even the things you think you could never say!) and for both of us to never make assumptions and always clarify. My partner has also changed hugely since I first met them because they worked hard at the relationship and they have truly become a much less rigid person, I don’t know how to describe it besides that.
Underneath everything we love and respect each other and it helped us carry things forward to this point. I would say to the LW to make sure you’re not the only “life line” for your partner and try and take things really slowly so you can be really sure if this is what you want before you go into it.
Hiya, Austin, good to have your voice added in!
You may not have noticed one of the bylaws of the Awkward Army is we are blissfully free from diagnosing people here. After all, we can’t know everything from a letter, and arguing about is this X or Y isn’t what we laypersons can best do. After all, even people who are “correctly” diagnosed by pros can find their diagnoses re-labelled, and that’s by the people who are paid to untangle the politics of the DSM.
What does become a measure is, what the LW tells us about what a person is doing, and what the LW does, then we gab about what to do going forward. Your own experience and stories are much more valuable to us here, than you’ve experienced on other websites. 🙂
Even if he is, that’s not an excuse and I don’t think it matters in this context. It’s possible to be autistic and not an abusive asshole; I do it every day.
Very much this. The autistic adults I know in successful relationships, either romantic or platonic, tend to be extra considerate: the logic is, ‘I know I may make some slip-ups here, so you should just tell me, and I’ll just fix it, and neither of us will take it personally.’ The result is that they’re really nice people who treat others very well – which is NOT what this guy is doing.
LW#2 there are people in my life, one major offender in particular, who do exactly this, and not in romantic contexts.
This is a shitty, shitty way to be and I offer you all the soft feathers and hugs because it sucks.
If this behaviour of your BF is as much of a match for my experience as it sounds, then you are pretty much not getting conversations from this guy, ever. He may address you, but he isn’t having a conversation.
Does it go something like this?
Him: Hi! How are you?
You: (gets about half a sentence out)
Him: (starts talking about a completely new topic unrelated to you and your interests, as if the “you” in his mind said “Fine, how are you?” and he’s responding to the you in his mind NOT the actual person You)
Because if so, we are dealing with a common type, and I can tell you it is soul-crushing.
He might as well just make a vlog or talk to a pet, because the presence of another human isn’t actually registering much of the time.
Being literally not listened to, having your utterances disappear into the wind of responses that don’t map to them in any way, and being invisible except as decor slightly more interactive than a screen, are not fun experiences. You don’t need to sign up for it.
I can’t break up with mine because they are a family member (and this is actually an improvement over how our relationship used to be).
You are dating yours for only a few months. You can do so, so much better.
Partners who understands how conversations work exist.
*Ace high five*
Hi LW944, you say in your letter that the stereotypical wife in your boyfriend’s culture would pop out babies, cook and clean, etc. Does his mother currently do all the household work for him? Even if he swears up and down that he will share the work with you when you are married, and even if he fully intends to do his best to fulfill that promise, learning to take care of oneself as an adult can be a major undertaking. I understand that it isn’t feasible for him to move out and gain some practice/experience living on his own. It would at least be worth discussing in detail with him how you will divide up household labor and how he plans to gain any “adulting” skills he currently lacks.
Yes, his mother currently does ALL THE THINGS for him. And we’re working on him gaining adulting tasks. He’s practising cooking on visits with me and we’re discussing practical ways to tackle the difficulties of adulting (like cooking in batches and freezing meals for when we’re both too exhausted to cook – which he incidentally currently thinks is a preposterous idea because his mum cooks twice a day! … but then his mum also doesn’t work outside the house… he’ll figure out the wisdom of the concept in good time). And we’ve talked through some specifics of division of labour and he’s well aware that quite bluntly (since his mother is an obsessive cleanfreak and I’m really lax about that stuff and rather messy) if he wants to make sure things are done to the way he wants them, he will have to keep his end of the deal!
I’m glad he’s saying all the right things, but promising to do something isn’t the same as doing it. Knowing the wisdom of something isn’t the same as doing it. He probably has the best of intentions, but intentions don’t always translate to actions, especially in stressful situations – and this transition will for sure be high stress for him. He’s planning on going straight from living with his parents (and getting waited on) to living with you (and pulling his fair share). That’s a complete 180 of his life, it cannot be easily accomplished, and he needs to go into that with eyes wide open. That’s the only way that there’s a chance* you won’t have to become a mom/general to him.
*no, seriously, only a chance. Tbh, I suspect the question is not “if” you become a mom/general but “for how long.”
A couple clarifications:
1) When I say “intentions don’t always translate to actions” I didn’t mean that as a dig specifically against your boyfriend or even dudes in your boyfriend’s situation. I’m pretty sure everyone, myself included, has struggled with this. It’s just a fact of life – humans aren’t totally rational.
2) Maybe for this guy you’re willing to be a mom/general for a while. No judgement if so – there are some people who are worth that level of effort. If you’re willing to be the m/g, though, decide for how long you’re willing and what kind of progress is the most important to you.
Last of all, (I feel weird saying this because it’s about children and it’s not really my place, but this is the internet so I’m going for it), being a mom is hard. Maybe don’t start having actual kids until you don’t have to be the m/g for your husband?
I came here to say basically the same thing, which is: this guy, in whom you doubtless see many fine and wonderful things, needs to do some growing up and/or separating (in healthy ways!) from his parents. Growing up as in making decisions for himself, and learning to deal with conflict with his family, and so on. You, dear LW944, already don’t want to be the sole audience for his feelings about his family’s reaction to you existing in his life; I would guess that you don’t want to be the audience or coach to his feelings about all the things that would happen when you’re married.
I hear you saying he can’t live alone because it’s expensive – but I would also l like to push back a little on that. Surely there are many people with jobs in your area who… share apartments? Houses? Rent a basement flat? And I, too, have lived in very expensive urban areas, and I know how much of one’s income these things can eat up, and how unappetizing it seems when there’s an alternative, but I’m sure you’ve heard the quote ‘sometimes the cheapest way to pay for something is with money’? That rent money would be him paying for Adulting Lessons with his own money, rather than with your time together, your energy, and your attempts to convince him that cooking twice a day is not how most adults live or, more relevantly, how you personally plan to live.
Good luck to both of you working through these things.
Quoting because it bears repeating:
I realize that these lessons are something that ctroopr is happy to give, but they also establish a dynamic where she is using her time and resources to take care of his wants and needs (including his desire to avoid/delay a confrontation with his family, since this is being done without their knowledge), as well as one where she is the authority on the domestic sphere.
My fear is that when married, this turns into, “I’m tired and stressed out from how vastly different my life is now to how it was when I lived with my parents and siblings. Could you please handle [chore that was supposed to be his responsibility] right now because I’m so spent, and anyway you do it faster and better?” and ends with ctroopr doing vast majority of the chores they agreed they’d split. Furthermore, deciding what chores need to be done and when is a form of labor as well. It’s not enough for him to learn how to do these things; he also needs to learn to notice when they need to be done and to take initiative in doing them.
Not only is living on his own (or with flatmates who are willing to show him how to do things without being willing to do those things for him) the fastest way for him to learn domestic skills, I would argue that the whole process of figuring out your household budget, finding a place to live within that budget, signing a lease, moving, and then sticking to the budget are a valuable set of experiences for him to have had before moving in with his girlfriend. Furthermore, they’re experiences that are hard—if not impossible—to replicate in a practice environment.
If he’s working, it surely wouldn’t take him that long to get a deposit together. Even if his family expect him to contribute some or all of his paycheck to the household, he can set up a standing order so that money from his paycheck is automatically deducted and put into an account his parents don’t have access to. If he doesn’t want to be honest with them about where that money’s going, he can always claim his 401k contributions have increased or something like that.
Even without the cultural issues, this is a common issue for older woman/younger man relationships.
Spouse and I assumed that because we were good people who loved each other it would work itself out.
We were wrong. Very, very, wrong.
A large imbalance in life skills means you will have to either:
1) Set explicit, detailed, limits on what you will do and what he will do, and hold to them for years, keeping your advice and opinions to yourself, while your home, finances, and life are in extreme disorder until he’s learned how to handle things.
2) Do everything yourself
The only way to gain life skills is through making mistakes.
You can show him what to do, but until it’s his complete responsibility, and he suffers the full consequences of a choice, he will never understand why it’s important or be motivated to do it. He will never have the judgment to make decisions.
There’s no skipping that step.
If you do #1, he will know that you could have stepped in to prevent the bad things that will come from his mistakes, know that you know what to do, and he will deeply resent you for seeing him flounder.
If you do #2, your exhaustion and resentment will eat away at you.
This is a very, very good point.
Given the way men and women are socialized, this can even be an issue between two people of the same age. When I first moved out of my parents’ house, it was to live with a young man who was also on his own for the first time. While he was willing to make the effort, it quickly became apparent that I knew more about housekeeping than him, so I was expected to direct things.
Highlighted for clarity: ” which he incidentally currently thinks is a preposterous idea because his mum cooks twice a day”
He has no blinking idea what adulting looks like. You know this, obviously, but it bears repeating.
Do not marry until he learns adulting. If he wants to be with you he will find a way, “BUT I CAN’T BECAUSE PARENTS” be dammed.
“he’ll figure out the wisdom of the concept in good time.”
A great way for him to figure out the wisdom of this concept is to live on his own before you get married.
DING DING DING DING!
The only way to minimize being Household Marshall is for bf to learn how to do adult stuff without your coaching. That means he will have to live somewhere without you before you marry.
Here’s a list off the top of my head of some of the adult things my brother and I knew by 12 or so. I doubt if your boyfriend knows how to do this stuff.
– How clean to a bathroom
– What cleaning products to buy
– How often to shop
– What happens when you grocery shop hungry
– How to hem pants
– How to make a bed
– Which household tasks you hate
– How often to change sheets and towels
– How to do laundry
– How to clean floors
– How to shop for and make meals from recipes
– How to make a tasty meal from whatever is in the fridge
– How to make a tasty meal on a grill or in a fireplace
As I said, MorleyBro and I were kids when we learned this stuff. We didn’t have expectations of magic house keeping as adults. And it still took awhile for both of us to become good at adulthood.
I believe it will be more difficult for your fella.
Ctroopr, please don’t devote your honey moon to teaching him how to adult.
LW1: Have you met any members of your BF’s family? Siblings that are as bi-cultural/integrated as he is? Cousins? Anyone?
Do you have any way of verifying that what he’s telling you about his family is really true and not exaggerations brought on by his own fears and issues?
I am reminded of various situations where LWs and commenters were told to keep X (e.g., their sexual orientation or gender identity, or maybe something physical like a tattoo) a secret from Grandma or Auntie or whomever, and then it turned out that the person was totally cool with everything and the warn-ers were just using the spectre of Disapproval and Displeasure as a manipulation tool.
Is there any way something like this could be going on?
It doesn’t have to be malicious orchetrated manipulation, it could just be a nasty effect of BFs own anxieties, but it is still worth considering.
These family members are PEOPLE, not scary demons to be appeased by proper demonstrations of lifestyle.
This is all in addition to the above comments, not instead.
RE: Letter 2 in this post – One of my lovers and I are actually having a very similar situation right now in our relationship and are likely to be taking a living apart break, just to get some emotional breathing room. Cap’s advice is sound. Best of luck to you & writer 1!
LW944, the part of your letter that stopped me in my tracks was that you “vetoed” the idea of moving in with his parents after you are married. Which must mean your boyfriend suggested it! If he’s simultaneously thinking “I love my girlfriend and want her to be happy” and “my parents are going to hate my girlfriend and fight me on our marriage plans” *and* “it would be a good idea for all of us to live under the same roof!”…well, those are not compatible thoughts. It makes me think he hasn’t truly thought this through, deep down. Probably because it’s – understandably! – uncomfortable to do so.
I personally 100% would not marry this man unless he agreed to move out of his parents’ house for a while, symbolizing (to everyone concerned) that while he loves and respects his parents, he wants some autonomy. He doesn’t have to move in with you if that isn’t what you both want or if it would make the parental heads explode (although living together would be an excellent way to see more clearly how he feels about gender roles!), but he needs to live somewhere other than his parents’ home. If he’s not willing to do that, I think he’s not ready to make a marriage commitment – at least not yet – at least not to a person who doesn’t fit the mold his parents will be comfortable with.
And…if you possibly can…I wouldn’t rush into this, even if he does move out. Get to know the family a little. See how he reacts when there is conflict – not just once but for a little while. You need to know he’s really got your back, if the parents react the way you and he both think they will. Marriage to a person with difficult or even awful parents is totally do-able if your partner has your back. If not…it’s a long slog.
You both sound like lovely people – I wish you all happiness, regardless of how all this shakes out.
Oooh, that gave me a thought. His parents will be mad at two things: him getting married, AND him moving out, because even after he gets married he’s “supposed” to stay at home. Therefore his excuse that he doesn’t want to move out before getting married doesn’t really hold water, because that by itself will still anger them anyway. Putting both marriage/moving out together only serves to make it easier for them to blame her for both parts. If he were to split it up and move out first it would still be the same amount of anger, but less of it would be directed at her as the cause. (as long as he doesn’t say “she made me move out”). By refusing to do it, he’s ensuring that she gets even more hostility put her way.
I’m really glad someone else saw this because it’s been going through my head for most of the comments. SERIOUSLY. THIS.
This makes me wonder if some of his rhetoric about how much his parents will dislike LW are actually projections? Because if it is expected he will stay at home, but he plans to leave, he probably is anxious about both leaving AND about his family being angry at HIM for defying cultural norms.
I have adhd/bap and I do the interrupting/not listening thing ALL THE TIME, but the thing is, I recognize that it’s rude. I try to catch myself when my attention drifts away, and I go “I’m sorry, I spaced out, what did you say?” and actually listen the second time around. And when I realize I interrupted someone I try to go “sorry, I interrupted you, what were you saying?” Maybe it’s a gendered thing in that as a woman I have to think about this shit more than a dude does, but really, we have to live in a society with other people and it’s an important thing to learn. This may be boyfriend’s default way of operating, but he CAN learn ways to make it easier for other people to interact with him.
But yeah, boyfriend definitely needs to be in therapy if his reaction to “you interrupt me too much” is “I hate myself and want to die.”
I’m seeing both aspie and adhd flags here, and yeah, good therapists are worth the money.
I hope he sees a doctor/psychiatrist, too – if it’s an adhd thing, medication can bridge the gap between intending something and actually doing it, and having a bit more control over your own actions can do wonders for depression/anxiety. 😉 (but, ALSO therapy, because it’s nice to not hate yourself for the parts that aren’t fixed yet, and being able to choose doesn’t mean choosing wisely.)
If he really wants an appointment, but is too adhd/depressed/etc to make it happen, it would be kind to sit with him and talk him through booking it. It’s an awful catch-22 to be too sick to get help. You can’t and shouldn’t fix his problems for him, but you can point him in the right direction and give a little kick. 😉
LW 944 – I hope that you can find other outlets to learn about your partner’s culture other than your partner and his family. It’s really hard to separate a family’s personal dynamics from their capital-C Culture if they are the only example you have – and if he’s the only interpreter of that culture you have as well. Movies, books, internet resources of all kinds – I am sure that there are ways you can engage with his culture outside of him directly. He’s just one person, and one interpreter of his culture to boot.
My opinion, FWIW, is that you’ll have a better chance of building bridges with his family if you’re not only seeing his culture as an impediment to who you are as a person, but as a different way of life that has its advantages and disadvantages, conservatives, liberals, and radicals, and has fluidity as all cultures do. Right now your position has set you up as an unwilling antagonist to an entire culture, which isn’t the way it has to be. Good luck!
LW 944 I had same kind of situation only when his parents didn’t approve as expected I was eventually dropped like a hot rock and when i called him on it he was all i tried but they don’t approve but I saw very little try even though it was all i love you s and we were meant to be up until the great disapproval
hopefully this doesn’t happen for you but maybe prepare for the possibility he won’t have your back
Thank you, and I’m really sorry about your experience!
I’ve told him that this is something I’m scared of, and while at first he was disappointed in how little faith I have in him, he has since acknowledged that he understands my concerns and assured me that he will stand up to his parents and convince them to support/allow it. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
> convince them to support/allow it
But what happens if they refuse? Is he willing to go against their express wishes and do something even if they don’t “allow” it? Ultimately, he can’t control their behavior or force them to support/allow anything. If his entire plan is “I will convince them,” that’s not very reassuring.
I was engaged (maybe?) to a guy from a culture where parents got to weigh in. I thought we were engaged. We picked out a ring and talked about marriage and timing. We called each other fiance(e).
But every time I stepped out of line I got, “My parents are concerned you aren’t a good match” “My parents are concerned that you want to work after we get married” “My parents are concerned about how much I cook for you” and so on. It was infinite delays based on (supposedly) his parents. Yes, there was a cultural expectation of familial involvement. At the end, it didn’t really matter if it was him or his parents. I noped out of there.
He can’t be the princess that you rescue.
Convincing his parents to “allow” your marriage and standing up to them are two different things. If he is still thinking in terms of his parents “allowing” him to get married to someone deemed unsuitable in their culture (culture/culture or family/culture), he is unlikely to actually stand up to them on other issues, like say, the two of you not living in their home after the marriage. Or any of the other issues you mentioned in your letter.
“Convince them to support/allow it”
Cultural differences or no, these are not the words of an adult who is intent on asserting their independance.
My friend had a similar experience.
Our group had known her fiancé since the beginning of their relationship, she had introduced him to her family after a year of dating and he attended family events with her, but she still hadn’t met his family after three years and a proposal.
Her parents hosted a dinner to meet his parents, they attended, and were polite and friendly to her and her parents, giving every impression of approval. Before they left, they mentioned that they hadn’t known Fiancé was ready to think seriously about marriage.
Three months later Fiancé asked for the ring back. His parents had spent the time looking for a wife from his culture, he had met with several prospects, and chosen one to marry.
My friend was heartbroken and after two years of treating him like a potential son-in-law, her family felt betrayed.
I’m so sorry this happened to you.
Hi, I’m from a culture that sounds a lot like your boyfriend’s. (a parent once told my sibling that ‘boundaries are for white people!’) I think the Captain’s advice is right on and I also think your boyfriend’s position that he can only introduce you and change his life is really setting you up to be treated badly. So, I’m adding my voice to those who say he needs to move out of his parents home before introducing you. If he finds a way to first establish his independence, then he’s taking responsibility for that and you’re being introduced as one more step in a path he already started walking down. If he introduces you first and takes steps to establish his independence, you’ll always and forever be seen as the reason he strayed from the family and his traditional ways. While he and his family might find a way to be big enough to work through this, it’s also possible that this route will manifest as tension further down the line – how will he negotiate the challenges of wanting to be supportive to you with his ongoing desire to be close to his family and carry on some elements of his traditional roles ? Whether he admits it or not, saying he can’t move out before introducing you is just a way of displacing responsibility for family tension from him to you.
Thank you so much for your input!
I think I’m going to have to come clean with BF and tell him that I wrote in to CA and show him her response and all the wonderful advice the Awkward Army is sharing. I’m starting to think you’re all right and that he does need to move out… oh this is not going to be a fun conversation to have!!
These kinds of conversations are rough but necessary. Good luck and keep your support system close!!
Good luck LW! You can do it!
Haha, I’m having second thoughts about this now, because I just remembered that I started referring to his mum as a potential “Alice” in this situation… and if he looks into that story, he might be most displeased…
I’m going to go to bed and sleep on it.
Captain and Awkward Army, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s OK to present any/all of the ideas given here as your own… you don’t have to provide a literal IRL citation of this website.
If it bothers him that you see her as a potential “Alice”, then he should take stock of why he described her to seem that way. Because he did.
What you could do if you don’t want to tell him that you wrote in to CA is make a note of points that you think are helpful/relevant, think them over and rehearse them in your own words, and then share them with him. Maybe mention that you were talking it over with someone (you don’t have to mention it’s with CA and the Awkwardeers) and points got brought up. It doesn’t matter how they got in your head, it just matters that they’re there now.
It might go better than you fear. Either way, fingers crossed for you.
As someone who struggles with interrupting people, I want to second the suggestion of pointing it out right when it happens. I don’t always notice when I interrupt someone, and after asking some friends to call me out when it happens, I have improved a lot. It is a hard habit to break but it is easier when tie interruption causes it to take longer to get the thought out instead of quicker.
Also, LW944 – Gonna disagree with Cap re: rip off the band-aid – some practical advice from someone who’s been there.
I’m not USUALLY a fan of parceling out the truth in tiny, easy-to-digest snippets but something that’s worked well for me is to introduce someone to family in a really low-stakes situation – that is, you stop by to drop something off or pick something up, say hi and move on. Then maybe you meet them at the park for a picnic as a friend, with a set leave time. Then as you become more familiar, maybe you come over for dinner on a night when siblings (does he have them?) are also bringing friends, etc. and so on. Right now you are just “culturally different girl who doesn’t share our values and may want to take our son to planet Different People’s Values and never return.”
This takes some of the pressure off of each interaction, lets you feel out the situation (although it wouldn’t be the end of the world, you probably don’t wanna decide “omg I can’t live like this” in the middle of dinner after he’s just introduced you as his fiance), lets him feel out the situation (same story), and makes you more of a known quantity to them. It also gives you a window into the idiosyncrasies of their culture, an opportunity to meet different family members, a way to learn some of the language and customs and a way of knowing where you fit in the family unit. You have to remember you’ll do better by meeting people where they are, being an eager learner. Just like you, they likely want to share who they are without feeling judged.
Also, keep in mind that people from different cultures aren’t naive – it’s probably crossed his parents’ mind at some point that this would happen. In some cases, rules can be bent or even broken but they do need to be acknowledged. So everyone knows you do ‘x’ in public and everywhere else, but everyone understands you don’t do it at the house. Keep in mind that like in mainstream U.S. culture (you may or may not be American idk) there’s a lot of niceties we share and don’t really mean because it’s What’s Expected. You probably don’t shock them as much as you think or even as much as they may act, and they probably know a lot of folks that say/do/think all the same things you do. That sometimes makes it easier to take things less personally.
Thank you @laurencleansup!
I really do love your advice and I would really, really love to implement it… the problem is I don’t see how that’s possible 😦
BF is literally not “allowed” to have female friends (without huge backlash from his family), his mum doesn’t seem to like to have people except family over to visit, so friends coming over isn’t really a thing, me even dropping something off would cause huge drama.
Of course they know that stuff like this happens. But it’s not meant to happen to *their kids* and if it does then apparently not only will they be mad, but all hell will break loose with extended family back in his country-of-origin who will be furious at *his parents*, railing at them for raising such a terrible son and what an awful mistake they clearly made bringing him to the country where we live.
Okay, I’ve noticed a pattern here. You (and probably boyfriend) are very concerned over any backlash that will happen as a result of you guys doing things that aren’t allowed. However, the future plans that you both have involve doing things that aren’t allowed (you being more than a house servant, the two of you living together not under the parents’ roof, etc). At some point, there WILL be backlash. It may not be as bad as you anticipate or it may be Armageddon. However, if boyfriend wants to be with you long term, he will have to face backlash from his parents. If he is not prepared to do so, then he is not prepared to be with you. At some point, he has to start prioritizing your relationship over his parents’ possible negative feelings. I totally get how hard that can be, I’m in the process of separating from my own overbearing parents. But it is necessary for me and for my marriage, so I’m doing it.
Also, don’t take on the burden of literally everyone in the whole family’s reactions. That’s not your problem. That’s theirs.
Yes, this. It sounds like your boyfriend would like to handle this in a way that will allow him to get his parents’ permission to marry you. However, eventually he’s going to have to do something important that they haven’t give him permission to do (like move out to live with you.) It will be better for your future relationship with his parents if he moves out now and makes it clear that’s his decision, so that it’s not “your fault” the first time he breaks his parents’ rules. And it will be better for your peace of mind to find out whether he is really willing to face the consequences of doing something he doesn’t have his parents’ permission to do before the two of you get married.
Yeaaaahhh, really. How is putting a ring on it going to make all this backlash magically go away?
Somehow, your SO is getting what he wants – a hot, unconventional GF who gently and sweetly accepts the 10,000 reasons she mustn’t rock *his* boat – and you get.. you get… an offer to keep walking on eggshells for the rest of your life. From the answers you’ve given, you’re fine with putting your SO’s *choices* far, far ahead of any needs of your own.
If this is the choice you want to make, to allow someone else to direct your life based on his fears and fantasies, then your SO chose the right Bad Girl to shock his family and yet accept their dictates for her family life. Choosing to submit to someone else is a choice that has to be respected, and you do have the right to set aside your own needs for entry to clan life. It seems as if it might be something you’re considering as a real possibility.
If that is your choice, we’ll all wish you the best of luck.
ctroopr, I can tell you really love your bf from how much emotional labour and thinking you have already put into your posts here.
Every time you write ‘he is not allowed to [x] without causing tremendous family backlash’ I feel very concerned for you.
Your bf IS allowed to separate himself from his family of origin. He IS allowed to make decisions for himself about his life, including where to live, what to eat, who he socializes with, and who he loves. He is CHOOSING not to do these things.
Your bf has chosen not to tackle these normal, healthy developmental tasks of children growing up and creating necessary distance from their parents.
Your bf has not taken the most basic step towards healthy adult independence from his family of origin. He has not completed the tasks of growing up.
This means that bf is very much behind you in terms of adult functioning, and I can’t emphasize this enough: living with another person as a couple is challenging, even when both partners are at the same or very similar level of functioning!
This leads me to my main point – part of learning to be a functioning adult is learning how to negotiate relationships, including with family members. It seems like your bf has been effectively brainwashed and does not believe he has autonomy. Or, he would honestly prefer to sublimate his own aspirations and wishes, in order to not suffer the consequences of displeased parents and relatives.
This is another sign that he has not developed adult skills. And in your case, it is a MASSIVE red flag, because he would be flying in the face of his family by choosing you as his bride. He will have to deal with his family displeasure for as long as you are together, and longer if you have children but get divorced in future. Dealing with ILs such as these is incredibly taxing even if your bf had many years of practice at standing up for himself.
He is so very, very far from being a good candidate as a life partner for you. Please keep going to therapy, and keep open the possibility that he may be a lovely person but not the right person for you now. You deserve an equal partnership with somebody who has as much to offer you as you have to offer them. It’s not fair for you to be the one who takes 100% of the risks and suffering in this relationship.
Best wishes to you.
This may feel a bit confrontational, but one strategy I like to use with egregious interrupters is to point out the behavior, once. If it happens again, I will just keep talking. Make and hold eye contact, continue expressing my thought to its natural conclusion. Keep holding eye contact. Start reciting Hamilton lyrics/poetry/grocery lists. Hold eye contact, keep talking calmly and clearly until they STOP trying to talk over me. If they look bewildered, I’ll politely inform them that they were trying to talk over me and I do not appreciate that behavior. Then I finish whatever it was I was originally saying. This bizarre and uncomfortable breaking of the social contract to not allow someone to interrupt me seems to help drive the lesson home somewhat.
One person is being rude in this scenario, and it’s not me.
Oh, yes. I had occasion to do this recently with a person who constantly interrupts others to start talking about her life and feelings (in the context of a support group where everyone gets to take a turn to speak, no less).
I just carried on with what I was saying while she frantically tried to cut in–for a really long time–until she finally shut up. Felt amazing.
I’ve tried continuing talking when interrupted, a few times. The other person talked louder.
I guess it depends on the person who’s interrupting you. Or maybe I didn’t keep going for long enough.
I’ve had that happen before. I’ve had good luck with one or more of the following responses:
Say (in an irritated tone): “MAY I FINISH WHAT I WAS SAYING?!?!?”
Abruptly stop talking, give them a disgusted look, and walk away from the conversation.
I wouldn’t *start* with these tactics for a chronic interrupter, but after polite requests that the behavior stop have failed, sometimes letting them see just how much it frustrates you and pisses you off can be effective. Yes, it’s rude, but so is constantly interrupting your partner to the point that they barely feel like they can talk to you. Sometimes, running with the fact that the peace has already been broken in a given situation is really, really effective.
LW 944, He better look like Colin Firth, get 10,000 pounds a year, and have an awesome estate for you… or else the “here are all the reasons I shouldn’t marry you and why my family will hate you” proposal is a little too Jane Austen for my taste in real life.
I love you!!! And actually, he looks an awful lot better than Colin Firth, and come to think of it I haven’t even asked how many pounds a year his new job brings in, but unfortunately there is no awesome estate 😦
However, this is a brilliant reminder that I absolutely *must* watch Pride and Prejudice with him!!
Don’t marry anybody you haven’t seen their paystub (or offer letter if this is his first job since school) and their credit report. I know it’s not romantic, but way too many people find out about debts after marriage instead of before. you should know exactly what he makes, how much student loan or consumer debt he has, and whether he can live within his means, before deciding to link your financial future with his.
LW #944, is it possible your boyfriend is throwing up all these obstacles (can’t tell them he has a girlfriend, can’t leave the home, they’re gonna hate everything about you, can’t draw boundaries) as a way of signalling he doesn’t want to get married? Is it something you two need to talk about?
That was my first thought too. I could be 100% wrong though because I don’t know the LW’s Boyfriend’s culture.
Maybe I’d feel differently if I was madly in love with the guy, but “my culture and family is THIS UNFORGIVING about relationships with outsiders” would make me question how badly I really wanted to marry this guy and be part of his family (although in my case, my mother’s family is extremely clannish and the women don’t marry *out*, their partners marry *in*). I mean it’s a lifetime deal, especially if you toss kids in the mix.
LW #944 please, please, please pump the brakes on this.
I fear you’re using him being from another “culture” and you being Western to justify his behavior here. I’m white and American and married into another culture and while my husband and his parents are totally awesome, I have seen some really terrible things happen in other parts of his family. For example, his much more conservative cousin recently got divorced and gained primary custody over his 3 children with the help of his parents. His parents never liked his wife and ultimately turned him against her, and then financed the divorce and a PI to dig up as much stuff on her as possible for custody hearings. Worse, they were able to turn the 3 teenage children against her. They basically destroyed her life. This is because in their culture, as his parents (and he was the oldest son), they should have control over his life and his wife and children, and his wife was more “modern” and pushed back.
He needs to get to a place where he realizes that marrying you may destroy his relationship with his family. If he can’t handle that, you shouldn’t get married, because then he’s going to spend the rest of his life trying to appease both of you. I’m not saying he should actively cut his parents/family out of his life, but if can’t say “Mom, Dad, I love 944 and we’re going to get married. I realize this is upsetting to you and I’m sorry.” then it’s never going to get better. If he can’t say “Mom, you can’t say that about my fiancee”, then he’s not going to say “Mom, you can’t say that/do that to my kids”.
Maybe the reason he’s delaying telling them about you is that he knows this is going to destroy his relationship with his family, and he’s scared. That’s okay, but you guys need to slow down and you shouldn’t push him into something because he will end up resenting you. Do you think your couples therapist understands what he is dealing with from a cultural standpoint? The fact that you’re in therapy but writing in to CA is a big red flag to me – do you feel like your therapist isn’t adequately listening to your concerns? Or – please be honest with yourself – is your therapist giving you answers you don’t want to hear?
Finally – it’s okay to leave. It’s okay to love someone but realize that the practicalities of marrying them and spending the rest of your life together will not make you happy in the long run. That doesn’t make you a bad person.
I think there are a lot of conversations BF and I still need to have and will need to continue having, even after he talks to his family. Him talking to his family is something I want and something he is willing to do for me, even if this were to not work out in the end, because I cannot live with this being a secret anymore.
As for the couple’s counseling, I think he is adequately listening, and isn’t giving me any answers I don’t want to hear (he’s actually been really helpful so far), but the thing is we can only see him once a week (which I know is perfectly normal), but there is just so *much* going on here and of course my anxiety/depression-driven jerkbrain is overthinking everything, I was hoping having some scripts would help.
of course my anxiety/depression-driven jerkbrain is overthinking everything
Mmm, I don’t think so. Sounds to me like you’re thinking about this situation a good, necessary amount.
Here’s my concern–where are you all planning to live once you’re married? Because it sounds like his family is more or less the dominant culture where you’re living, which is going to make his switching, or even blending, to a Western/US model of marriage/family life all the harder for both of you.
We’re planning on staying in the same city for the time being (my immediate family lives here too), but no, his family is definitely not the dominant culture here. We are both immigrants, though my country of origin is as “western” as the country we live in now, whereas his isn’t.
Hi all, this is not only the first letter I’ve ever sent the Captain, but the first time I’ve ever commented on a post (or read much of the comments).
Can I just say – thank you all so, so, so much and I love you all!!
If you’ve commented about my letter and I haven’t replied directly, I’m sorry, I’m half asleep, I’ve been up all night, but I have read it, and I appreciate your input, and I’m just really amazed and grateful for how wonderful you are and it feels wonderful that there are people out there in the world who give a shit.
Always remember ctroopr that “cultural expectations” do not trump your expectations and all of the talk from your BK concerning his family’s culture are merely expectations and not mandates concerning how you must live your life. Also, with a family like your BF’s family, you will be swallowed whole if you do not stand firm on boundaries set for yourself and in your marriage.
Words of advice from a seasoned pro.
Thank you! As I keep reminding him: his culture isn’t the only one in this situation that has expectations. I have expectations too (some of them cultural), that are just as valid, and yes, I absolutely have boundaries.
Hi, LW 944! Sorry in advance to you and CA for the loooong comment … As a Westerner who is married to someone from an Eastern culture that comes with a lot of the same baggage you’re describing in your bf’s family (although my in-laws turned out to be kind and accepting) my take is different from CA’s and a lot of the commenters’. There will be red flags you need to watch out for, but I don’t see them waving yet. You are both going through something extremely difficult, and it doesn’t sound to me like either of you is disregarding the other’s feelings or “dumping” stuff on each other. I read it as the two of you *communicating* via frank two-way conversation about what the reality of the situation is. (If I’m reading wrong, if it’s a one-way angstdumpfest, that’s a bud to be nipped.) It’s too early to say for sure based on what you put in the letter, but if he is serious enough about you to have the “I want to marry this woman” conversation with his family, in the face of very real fears about their response, he must really love you and could turn out to be a keeper. His familial/cultural baggage will never completely go away and will probably cause both of you some painful/awkward moments in the future, but there is also great value in a love like that. He’s anticipating emotional punishment for his decision to be open with his family, and if he’s willing to endure that, I can’t help admiring his courage. (He does need to first find an outlet besides you for dealing with any hurtful things they say, rather than passing it along to you.)
My read on the marriage issue is this: his family will take him more seriously and listen to him more receptively if he approaches it as “I want to marry someone” rather than “I’m dating someone.” I disagree with CA that he should take the more Western-normative route of telling them he has a girlfriend when he is pretty clear that this strategy will not work. To us Westerners, introducing a girlfriend instead of a fiancee may sound like a baby step, but it sounds like for his family it would actually be more rebellious. I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by such an approach at this stage. There will be other hills to die on; this one isn’t worth it. Just because he tells them he wants to get married doesn’t mean you two are locked into an engagement or that you have to actually get married in the end. It’s simply his most effective verbal tool for introducing you (or at least the idea of you) to his parents. Moreover, it gives me no heebie jeebies because you didn’t indicate it would be insincere–it sounds like he is serious about potentially marrying you–and you also said nothing to indicate that you are against the idea of marrying him. If you two really are at that stage, there’s nothing wrong with informing his parents of the fact. TL;DR: If he says the “marriage” conversation is the right one to have with his parents, as opposed to the “girlfriend” one, believe him.
HOWEVER. Please tell him that there are a LOT of people reading this blog who come from cultures where boundaries between parents and children are Not A Thing. It IS possible to train one’s non-Western family to abide by certain boundaries over time–if one wants to. He has to learn to want to, or his relationship with you will suffer. I would not be with my wife today if she hadn’t recognized the need to set some essential boundaries. It started small and bumpy, but we have a good handle on things now. This doesn’t mean her family doesn’t still have what I consider to be undue influence on her psychologically, but it does mean she and I both have dealbreakers when it comes to her family (and mine, for that matter) and those dealbreakers are not to be ignored. Your boyfriend’s fears and beliefs are genuine and cannot simply be gotten over like flipping a switch. He has been brought up to think a certain way about what things like parenting and adulthood mean. He may think differently in time, but right now his reality is what it is. It sounds like you aren’t judging him for that, which is good. Definitely don’t judge. Just let him know there are paths forward in which he has a say. His parents love him and want him in their lives, and presumably want him to be happy, and that is his leverage.
Turtle Candle was right on the nose when s/he said that this situation can be more difficult if you’re a really sensitive person. It helps to have a thick skin and the ability to tolerate discomfort. Knowing your own mind, trusting and respecting yourself, and being able to let things go when you could just as easily take them personally … these are all helpful traits. If you aren’t ready for this, you have the permission of everyone here not to be ready.
I also agree with Turtle Candle that if you can get to know other people with bf’s cultural background, particularly people in your age group, they can give helpful reality checks. I always begin by believing my wife as to what is normal in her culture, but if something strikes me as a bridge too far, I have people I can ask for insight. As juilletmercredi said, don’t make friends with people of X ethnicity/nationality/religion just for that purpose, but don’t be afraid to ask people you already know, and get to know those in his circle if you haven’t already.
Pro tip: My wife has found my brash American persona very handy when she needs to tell her parents no and get results. Oh, you guys want me to do X or think things should go Y way? Sorry, but I’ve got a ball and chain now, my wife is the one I defer to, not you, and she expects Z, so the answer is no! But your mileage may vary. (I’m not remotely her boss, of course, but pretending to her parents that I am is really useful and has had no negative consequences so far. My wife could be seventy years old and they would still expect her to defer to her elders if she didn’t have a supposedly demanding spouse to please instead.) Second pro tip: Look for the things in his family and their internal and external culture that you can admire, respect, or appreciate. Anything from the cuisine to the challenges his parents may have faced in their past, there’s got to be something you can compliment or at least privately value when you start to feel like you have nothing in common with them.
@jo, thank you so, so, so much for your insight!!! I have been on the side of believing BF when he says that telling his parents we’re getting married is the right way to go (and in his culture that doesn’t mean we’re engaged, because engagement doesn’t seem to be much of a thing, as such, though that’s something I’m not fully clear on yet).
From what you’re saying it sounds like the main thing I need to do is make sure he has someone else to dump the nagative shit his family says on, and I will make sure that happens.
Thank you again!!
To LW945: One strategy that worked for me was to hand my then-husband a card to see a psychiatrist. He made one appointment and then refused to go back. He also refused to seek help on his own. That gave me the information I needed about his willingness to seek treatment for major depression.
LW 994: Part of the problem may be cultural, part of the problem may be his parents conservativism. But I think the real problem here is that your boyfriend is not mature enough for an adult relationship. I don’t “adult” as in sex, I mean “adult” as in being an actual adult.
He is not the first person to come from a culture and conservative family, but I doubt all of them act like this. Everything is about what his family expects. What does HE expect? There are a whole lot of people who live in such families who still develop enough of a sense to make their own decisions. He’s not doing that.
I see a lot of “but we talked about this” and “but he promised” and, particularly, “I know him so well.” Yes, I’m sure you do know him right now, but there’s not a lot of know, is there, because HE doesn’t know HIMSELF yet. How can HE possibly make a decision about whom he wants to spend the rest of his life yet when he doesn’t really know what he wants at all?
From this distant viewpoint, it looks like he has decided that marriage is the only way out of his controlling family. You love him for who he is (as undefined as that is), so he’s made it your job to provide that rescue, while doing as little damage as possible to the Image of the Perfect Son in his parents’ eyes. That’s toddler behavior. Toddlers expect to have everything they want, the way they want it. Adults do not.
Let’s say you do get married, he moves out and starts becoming his own person. Is that person still going to be compatible with you? All marriages run the risk of ending, because no one stays the same person they were when they got married, and sometimes the way people change makes what was once right, not right anymore. Yes, of course. But this guy does not know who he is. You don’t know who he is. It doesn’t seem like anyone could realistically consider marriage in your situation.
It may seem cruel, but I have to wonder what would happen if you just asked him, “Why do you want to marry me?” And then really listen to his answer.
LW944: It is absolutely great to be prepared for anything but also: maybe don’t be so quick to look for problems where there aren’t any? Your whole letter is based on assumptions and expectations when you really have no idea how his family will react to you. Maybe they will love you!
My husband and I could have been considered all wrong on paper too for a lot of the same reasons — he’s Muslim, I’m Christian; his family lives in a small village in the Middle East, I’m from a large North American city; I work and smoke and have tattoos, his sisters and brothers’ wives veil and stay at home with their kids; normally men in his village marry when they’re in their 30s to girls who are in their late teens while my husband and I are both 35; when I met his family they didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Arabic… the list goes on. And yet, as soon as I got out of the tuk tuk at his family’s home, both of his parents enveloped me in a massive hug and welcomed me into their family. Everything that they could have disapproved of, instead they found quirky or charming or just a weird facet of me being North American.
All I’m saying is, yes, be prepared with scripts and have your fiance plan to move out and do all the rest, but also don’t forget to open yourself up to the possibility that you and his family will love each other — either because of or despite your differences. Weirder things have happened!
LW944: It is absolutely great to be prepared for anything but also: maybe don’t be so quick to look for problems where there aren’t any? Your whole letter is based on assumptions and expectations when you really have no idea how his family will react to you. Maybe they will love you!
My husband and I could have been considered all wrong on paper too for a lot of the same reasons — he’s Muslim, I’m Christian; his family lives in a small village in the Middle East, I’m from a large North American city; I work and smoke and have tattoos, his sisters and brothers’ wives veil and stay at home with their kids; normally men in his village marry when they’re in their 30s to girls who are in their late teens while my husband and I are both 35; when I met his family they didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Arabic… the list goes on. And yet, as soon as I got out of the tuk tuk at his family’s home, both of his parents enveloped me in a massive hug and welcomed me into their family. Everything that they could have disapproved of, instead they found quirky or charming or just a weird facet of me being North American.
All I’m saying is, yes, be prepared with scripts and have your fiance plan to move out and do all the rest, but also don’t forget to open yourself up to the possibility that you and his family will love each other — either because of or despite your differences. Weirder things have happened!
LW944, in your letter and your comments, I’m seeing a lot of “he can’t” and “he won’t be able to” and “it will be impossible for him to …”
I suggest that you work on mentally changing all those can’ts to “If he does this, he believes it will have consequences that he considers unacceptable.”
An action that may have unpleasant consequences is not the same thing as an action that is impossible. It’s going to be important for both of you to own the fact that the choices he faces are difficult ones, but they ARE choices.
Now. So far, he has interpreted the culture clash in such a way that
– It is impossible for the two of you to casually date for a long time and get to know each other over time
– It is impossible for you to get to know his parents in any role other than fiancee
– It is pretty damned unlikely that his parents are going to accept you in the role of fiancee
– It is impossible for him to have any experience living as an independent adult before marrying you
– It is impossible for him to marry you without setting boundaries with his family
– It is impossible for him to practice setting boundaries with his family before he marries you
When you look at that list, it’s clearly untenable.
I think you need to slow this relationship waaaaaay down. I get that the two of you are feeling loving emotions, but I’m willing to bet that if there weren’t cultural issues you wouldn’t be thinking about marriage this soon — and that’s a good and useful instinct.
You don’t know each other well enough yet to get married. The fact that you come from different cultures requires MORE time before marriage, not LESS.
Thank you @Serin!
Just to clarify – BF and I have actually kinda been together for almost two years (it started off a lot more casually than what it is now though), it’s just been a secret, with only a very small handful of people (including, thankfully, my family) knowing about it. Yeah, culturally it would be completely taboo for me to get to know his parents as anything other than the woman he intends to marry, but that doesn’t mean that we have to get married in the end. And if that’s something I need to go along with to ease the way with his family I’m ok with that.
My guess is that in the end he will end up setting boundaries with his family without calling them boundaries (and if that’s what it takes for him to be ok with it, so be it) because it cannot work unless he at least does his part to enforce MY boundaries with his family. And the way I see it, even saying that he will not be living with his family when he marries is setting a boundary.
I hope that makes sense.
I think a lot of your predictions are on what you would find intolerable if you were in his shoes – and I don’t think that’s a great way to predict your future with another person. For instance, you say it cannot work unless he enforces your boundaries with his parents, but there’s a good chance that he thinks telling you what you want to hear and telling his parents what they want to hear is “making it work”, regardless of the consequences for you.
If he has never had to work to make food appear, when you both come home hungry, he’s not going to think “Oh, I should’ve prepped dinner earlier in the week; I’m so tired now and I have to cook!”; he’s just going to wait for you to make food (and you will because you’re hungry) and food will magically appear for him the way it has his entire life.
You wouldn’t think like that, because you have probably lived alone and experienced the consequences of not making dinner – you go hungry. Same with housework, bills, ect… These consequences aren’t going to be real for him; he is probably not going to think that way because in his world, not doing normal, Western adult things has never negatively impacted him.
I’m another person saying he needs to live on his own before he moves in with you. He may need to live with roommates or in a run-down neighborhood or he may not be able to afford his hobbies for a while, but he needs to figure out how to be an adult on his own.
LW #945, we could sit here and go round and round as to how you can help your boyfriend with his mental health issues and debate whether he’s really unable to help going catatonic or banging his head or threatening suicide whenever he’s faced with mild criticism, or whether he’s just controlling you, or is it a little bit of both, oh well I was in this situation and here’s what helped and I was like boyfriend and this is what helped etc. etc. etc. all night, but you know what?
You are only six months into this thing. This is not a case where you two have built a life together over years, complete with mortgage, kids and dog. This is not a case where he was never like this before, but since he lost his job/his mother died/he suffered a head injury he’s been like this and what can you do to help him.
Yeah, he suffers a mental illness. Doesn’t mean you can’t bale. You can bale on a terminally ill cancer patient if the relationship isn’t working out. Maybe he’ll get therapy and become a perfect listener. You don’t have to stick around feeling frustrated and ignored because of a guy who can’t even learn to feign interest in what you have to say and bangs his head against a wall if you point out that he’s hurting you.
There are other guys out there, better guys, who don’t react to criticism by hurting themselves, who won’t care that you’re asexual because they’re ace themselves or have a very low libido, and who will do you the basic human courtesy of listening to you when you need to talk about stuff both frivolous and important.
“who won’t care that you’re asexual because they’re ace themselves or have a very low libido”
Or just aren’t jerks… you do not have to be ace or have a low libido to be in a relationship with someone who’s ace and let’s not tell aces that only those who are will be able to tolerate them.
Actually, I’m sorry to pile onto this, but this is making me more and more uncomfortable the more you think about. A partner who just “won’t care” about your sexuality for some reason is… like that’s not something to tell people to aspire to??? I would never say to a bisexual person that they’d someone find someone who wouldn’t care they were bisexual because that person will have a high sex drive or be bisexual themselves. That’s not right.
If you are in a relationship, romantic or otherwise, with someone, you shouldn’t just “not care” about their sexuality. You should accept and appreciate it like every other part of them! And if you love someone who’s ace, you should love that they’re ace, not just “not care”.
Sorry, this is just… making me wince.
I’m sorry, you’re right. Consider it withdrawn and replaced with “someone who won’t make you feel like they’re doing you a huge favour by accepting your asexuality”.
I’m not trying to be adversarial but what’s the difference between telling a gay person to date other gay people and telling a ace person to look for other ace/ low libido. While sexuality is not everything in a relationship sexual compatibility is still very important. And even if people who are incompatible try really hard it can still be too much of a burden on a relationship.
Sorry for weird sentences. I’m typing on my phone and it does not want to work with me
How many ace people do you know that live within 20 miles of you?
I wish I could edit this because I’d rather instead quote upthread where Kaz said:
“I am just going to point out here that LW has almost certainly considered this idea, as has, y’know, pretty much every person who identifies as ace under the sun, and that I don’t think allo people telling ace people how they should manage their asexuality is helpful in this conversation.”
Although, dude, bisexual people exist. And frankly I don’t think you should be telling anyone who they should be dating!!
I want to start of by saying that I don’t think that people who are ace should only be allowed to exclusively date other ace people. And to answer your question, surprisingly above average, but I am in very specific circumstances. However it doesn’t change the fact that two people with mismatched libido have a fundamental incompatibility. And sadly even the relationship in which the partners are understanding and accommodating of each other’s sexuality it can still lead to resentment and then guilt for being resentful and a whole host of jerk brain. I think we all aim to try and find people that we are compatible with especially someone who’s going to be out partner. I understand that people who are ace have a very low dating pool, and if a person likes someone they should give it a shot (again I don’t want people who are ace or anyone else to be in dating ghettos). But it’s alright to screen for potential compatibility, and if I see my ace friend go from one unhappy relationship to another one I will want to help them find someone who will be a good match for them. (Sorry for any weird sentences or spelling. I’m still on my phone and my giant thumbs and tiny keyboard do not match)
I really just point at the above. Telling ace people that hey, maybe they should consider only dating other aces:
– is not a new and groundbreaking idea
– is generally not a viable solution to anything due to the numbers problem
– ignores the diversity of attitudes towards sex that exist on the ace spectrum
– indirectly reinforces the idea that asexual people who do date allosexuals will probably have to accept a certain amount of pressure about sex as the price of entry because “it’s a fundamental incompatibility, it will lead to resentment”
– plays into common anti-asexual attitudes that demonise asexual people in relationships with allosexual people
I’m sure you mean well, but this is not helpful. Can we maybe stick to telling LW that she deserves a relationship where acceptance of her asexuality is treated as an unquestioned premise instead of her partner going above and beyond, where she isn’t pressured into sex she doesn’t want, and that asexuality does not mean you have to accept being treated badly in a relationship?
Oh yeah, and maybe “any allosexual person who doesn’t think they’d be able to manage a mismatched libido relationship doesn’t have to be in one, any allosexual person who is in a mismatched libido relationship and realises it’s not working is free to break up.” It takes two to tango and all.
*points again at Kaz’s comment* Thanks for being more eloquent than me.
It’s in moderation but I left another commenting basically saying – no, you don’t get to tell anyone who to date and that’s really weird and kind of condescending to do.
Sexual compatibility matters in every relationship; it has nothing to do with being ace. And asexuality is very complex; it doesn’t just mean “doesn’t want sex.”. Every ace person is different. Some are sex averse or sex-repulsed. Some won’t even masturbate. Some only masturbate. Some enjoy touching but not penetration. Some are indifferent to sex. Some enjoy sex! Some end up being demi-sexual or gray-A. All that matters is that the other person respects the ace’s preferences and boundaries–the same as any other healthy relationship. Sex is not automatically a dealbreaker or a huge burden on a relationship just because one person is ace and the other is not.
I think a lot of folks on here are being a little harsh towards LW #944’s boyfriend, or at least taking the least-charitable view. As someone who lost his entire immediate family over getting married (in my case because of gender) crossing this line can be *scary*. And brutal. And result in horrible abuse. And there might be a lot of Very Good Reasons to be hesitant or afraid that we shouldn’t be dismissing. Now, I don’t know this man’s situation or his family, so maybe it’s not as severe as it was in my case, but I also don’t think it’s fair to assume that he’s being over-dramatic or just projecting his own reservations about LW onto his family.
Now, I DO agree with the Captain’s and many other peoples’ advice that he move out of the home ASAP, both to make sure that he and LW have a chance to know each other when he’s not in his parents’ immediate influence, and also for both of their protection in case things get rough. Even if he introduces LW as a fiance rather than a girlfriend, if they really want to pull out all the stops to get him to break up with her, they will. And that’s going to be a lot harder to deal with if he’s living in their house, or if they can use the fact that he’s living with them as leverage (again, speaking from experience here).
None of that means that what he’s doing right now is okay or going to work out in the long run. Things need to change. He needs to figure out how to navigate this with his parents sooner rather than later and he might need support with this (which should be to the level that LW is able to provide and not more). And yeah, he should definitely start working on this before marriage. But I just want to cautiously suggest that I’m getting a “just man up” sort of feeling from some of the comments here which I don’t really think is fair or helpful.
I do think you’re correct to a point – but we’re also talking to the OP (advice for him would be quite different) and, even though I think it is probably quite hard for him, the OP’s version of events points to a guy who is willing to talk a bunch about all the different things that *are* going to change but hasn’t been able to make any changes to a situation that is not sustainable for the OP. I think the point is less that he needs to “man up” and more that the OP needs to see evidence of change happening before she commits to him; that is, the OP needs to see evidence of the relationship she thinks she’s committing to; right now she’s only seeing evidence of a relationship she doesn’t want to commit to.
But part of the reason people are saying the OP needs to see evidence is because we do understand this is all going to be really hard for the BF and might be a longer/slower/much different process than they are envisioning right now. And I can see how that advice is reading as telling the BF to “man up” but that’s really not the intention, I think.
Thanks for chiming in! I agree in general with that advice, but I think there are definitely some comments on this thread that are overstepping boundaries in the way they are treating OPs boyfriend, including calling him a child, implying that OP should break up with him, implying that he has sinister intentions by expressing his fears, and implying that LW and bf barely know each other (she later clarifies that they’ve been together for 2 years).
I know that people are responding to LW and not bf and that makes a difference, but it’s pretty triggering for someone like me in these comments who remembers being in bf’s situation. I remember how hard it was to even admit to myself that I loved my SO and even harder to start dating because, deep down, I knew I was about to walk through hell. And I did, and it nearly killed me. And I remember bringing it to my therapist at that time and him saying basically “you’re an adult, right? Just grow up and act like it” without even considering how victim-blaming that is or what situations might make that so much more difficult for me than him.
And yeah, in the end I did learn to grow a backbone, I learned to set boundaries, I learned to “man up” (or other-gender-of-your-preference up), and those were all good and necessary things. But those things took time and support and empathy to master, not derision and judgment. I’m still pretty angry at my former therapist for failing me so badly at a time when I desperately could have used the support of an outsider looking in.
Obviously I’m really seeing a lot of this through my lens of experience and not everyone has to and that’s totally fine. Not everyone has had the experience that I have or that bf has had. But I’m just asking everyone to at least avoid victim-blaming and treat this man with some empathy instead of assuming that he doesn’t know his own family or the risks he might be taking.
Had you — or the OP’s BF — written in about *your* situation, he — and you — would have received input that dealt with your end of the *relationship* issues. This isn’t about him, or you. This was about the OP’s choices and needs. They are DIFFERENT from her partner’s needs and issues; therefore, the reality of *her* life had to be acknowledged, which includes the child-like position her partner was clinging to. We cannot ignore reality and pour balm over the pain of someone who is not asking for help, and to do so would destroy the very reason OP came here asking for help.
Reality is triggering — there are some topics that I cannot read about, and perhaps this is one topic you can’t handle for your own reasons. However, people do need help to rise above and recover from the pain caused by childish partners. Despite your own discomfort with your past behavior, asking that we ignore the OP’s pain and focus on the partner’s distress isn’t reasonable. I think further up the thread there’s a discussion about guilt, which seems to be part of the reason you dislike seeing this topic brought out into the light — even now, you don’t like to see the *result* of a partner embracing the position of child. But as that upthread discussion made clear, no one needs you to feel guilt; its there to remind you that you haven’t made the amends you wish to make. Go out and make those amends, and perhaps the triggering and discomfort will vanish.
Hmm, you’ll notice that I never said that the OPs needs aren’t important or that we should only focus on her partner or that changes shouldn’t be made; I actually said the opposite. I’m objecting to people making wild and uncharitable assumptions about her partner that may not be warranted and aren’t helpful and are downplaying the possible seriousness of the situation. And to hell with your “reality is triggering” patronizing bullshit; do you say that to all trauma survivors when they say someone is being cruel? I survived some some blood-curdling abuse in my time and I’m sure as hell not incapable of handling a few jerks on the internet. But that doesn’t change that it’s perfectly reasonable for me to point out when those people are being jerks and suggest that maybe they should consider how their actions impact other people.
Also, no, the discussion of guilt above has absolutely nothing to do with my response here, nor have I ever suggested it was, but good job on making more unwarranted assumptions. I’m not in any way guilty for my behavior. What sort of victim-blaming bullshit is this? No one should feel guilty for being abused or for fearing abuse! You have absolutely no idea how I handled my own situation or whether I or my partner have anything against each other for the way it played out so kindly leave your wild speculations and condescending bullshit at the door, thank you very much.
Wow, holy projection batman. Please stop speaking for my husband. You’re being rude. He was not being childish by taking his time and being fully aware and scared that he could lose his family by marrying me. He is not and should not be uncomfortable by this. He did not hurt me by doing this; I wanted him to try to keep his family connections. We communicated like adults and when the time came to cut off his family, he has done so. He has no amends to make. Where in the world are you getting that from?
The LW should definitely make sure that her boyfriend will put her first before they get married. But it’s not like they seem to be planning to tell his family about him wanting to marry her and then get married the next day. There will be plenty of time to let things play out. My advice to her would be to let things play out and see what happens and how everyone reacts, and make decisions from there. Make sure the time she is waiting is reasonable (for her, whatever that ends up being), and don’t get married until the dust settles.
I hope the LW sees this. I like to think that if the LW’s boyfriend had written in, we would have shown the compassion you’re modeling here, so I hope she knows that we don’t think he’s a terrible guy or anything. I think sometimes we get pretty protective of our LWs. (:
Anyway, thank you beentheredonethat for sharing from this perspective.
I empathize with this. I had a similar, though slightly different conversational style with a friend who had a habit interrupting a lot. She would try and finish my sentences-incorrectly- and would “actively listen” by summarizing what i said, but incorrectly. It drove me absolutely mad and made me constantly question what was wrong with the way I was speaking. It was nearly impossible to have debates/discussions because every point got bogged down by clarifications and restatements and arguments over what was the “correct” way to phrase “opinion A”
The habit that eventually ended the friendship however was her tendency to interrupt me on emotional topics and try and find “solutions” to them. For example:
Me: Grahg! Every conversation with my mother is a game emotional Russian roulette! I wish I could have a normal mother-daughter relationship!
Her: Try making better memories by playing a card game with her. (This is literal)
The issue was not so much that she was trying to fix my problems (but A. She fundamentaly couldn’t, and B. She wasn’t my therapist and I wasn’t asking her for strategies, and C. it made me feel really shitty to have every emotional convo turn into a problem that needed to be fixed! Right now during brunch!) But that when I repeatedly identified the behavior and asked her to stop she would not.
Near the end I found that I had begun doing the same thing to her as well! It felt terrible! all of our conversations sank into a pit of nit-picking. Talking was so much work! A never ending slew of defensive acrobatics and I was done having “constructive conversations to engage mutual understanding”.
The Captain is right. Some people are just a lot of work. Often, they are not bad people, and often it’s not even their fault, but it is more about an incompatibility. You get to pick which incompatibilities are prices of admission and which ones are deal breakers.
It’s not that 944’s boyfriend needs to man up, it’s that he needs to grow up. He is acting like a child and doesn’t seem to have many adult life skills.
Trying to think of an ideal solution here – he finds a great job/educational opportunity in another city that would require living away from his parents? And lives there a year or two without them?
A really really long engagement, like a couple of years? (It would be great if he happened to find work that required moving out of his parents’ house and living alone or with roommates for some of this…).
I’m also curious _exactly_ why he thinks ‘he just _can’t_ move out of his parents’ house” I.e., is it that he thinks they will be hurt? That they will judge him for it? Or that they think their friends will judge him or them for it? Those each have somewhat different practical solutions – e.g., a job or educational opportunity can be a good explanation in many social groups that don’t value independence for its own sake. Other barriers can be dealth with by talking and reassurance. Still others are things that will not change if he marries, so he might as well start learning to deal with them now.
It’s also possible that his parents will be more understanding than he predicts. But in a healthy family – even a rather controlling one – some level of discussion of these things is possible.
As a person married to a Dude With A High Level of Difficulty and Cultural Differences … let me ask you what I wish someone had asked younger me. Is your relationship balanced in a way that is healthy and happy FOR YOU? Is the payoff that you get for doing all the bending and compromising and emotional labor WORTH IT TO YOU in the long run? Are you willing to live with him as is for the next INFINITY? What would a healthy balance look like and feel like TO YOU? Boyfriends are supposed to be fun, not a second job. Best of luck to both of you.
I mean, maybe I’m projecting some of my stuff here (HA!) but should you really be turning yourself inside out to solve another adult’s problem? Someone else said it upthread — if he can’t do basic Socializing and Manners or Have Boundaries With His Family, he’s not ready to be in a relationship with wonderful You. What is going on with you that you are willing to put up with all this mess?
I concur with beentheredonethat; responses to 944 have been unreasonably negative towards the LW’s partner. I think Turtlecandle and Jo both made good, levelheaded and informed points for the LW.
I have to say, though, the original advice reads to me as–with respect–both ignorant and irresponsible. Just pairing 944 with 945, which describes a clearly abusive partner, was wrong, both in the sense of being misleading, and in the sense of being morally wrong. Being culturally different is not similar to perpetrating domestic or emotional abuse, and the two should not be equated.
Even if there was some evidence that the LW’s partner was using cultural difference as a cover for abuse–and I agree with beentheredonethat that no such evidence exists–it is important to maintain the distinction today. In the present US political context, eliminationist racism against Arabs and Muslims is often justified–in mainstream media!–by painting those cultures and religious traditions as completely lacking historical development, internal variation or dissent, as “oppressive to women,” and as bent on world domination. Suspicion towards the LW’s partner need not come from from such a hideous place, but it can feed the fantasies of the paranoid, and justify bigotry for people who truly have no context. *A lot* of US-born citizens have no context for understanding or even conceptualizing real cultural differences.
Just a note – LW 944 didn’t say they live in America. They might do, of course, and goodness knows America isn’t the only racist country, but still.
I’m not sure that “with respect” is quite the cover for being disrespectful that its made out to be. And it isn’t at all useful in turning a poor opinion based on poor reading skills into a sensible response to the Captain’s good advice. This is not the MSM and no one is justifying bigotry. But thank you for providing an excellent example of “I just love to argue!” syndrome.
I agree. It’s hard to read this in a time where we’re confronting so many racist attitudes about non-Western cultures. There’s more than a whiff of pathologizing of a culture going on here, rather than taking one person, his actions, and his family at face value. I really hope that LW 944 can separate out what speaks to their actual situation over what is inferred through stereotype and bias in some of these comments.
LW #945, what is really ringing the alarm bells for me about your description is:
a) Your boyfriend cannot deal with even a mildly and pleasantly-phrased request in the “That thing you’re doing is a problem for me, so can you please not do it?” category. As in, completely and scarily freak-out levels of not dealing.
b) He does not, apparently, see this fact as being a significant enough problem that he needs to go and seek help pronto with his mental state.
And that, bluntly put, means that this man is not currently in a place where he is able to handle relationshipping.
The issues around him being a poor conversationalist – I am in no way meaning to minimise them, but they almost feel incidental to me. Clearly they aren’t for you, and I can see why, and why those are exactly the kind of thing that can be more trouble than they’re worth in a relationship, so maybe ‘incidental’ is not getting across what I’m trying to say. What I mean is… regardless of what the behaviour was that you were objecting to, regardless of whether it was significant or trivial in itself, regardless of whether the particular behaviour to which you originally objected is something that you ultimately decide you can live with or something that’s a deal-breaker, HIS RESPONSE TO YOUR OBJECTION is a deal-breaker.
Because even if this behaviour was something you could live with, something you decided it was worth it to you to put up with (it doesn’t sound as though it is, and that’s totally OK too, but even if it was), a relationship can’t survive in healthy, workable form if one of the people in it can’t or won’t deal with something as basic as a “Can you do this thing differently from how you are currently doing it” request.
Within a relationship, you both need to be able to take your partner’s needs and wishes into account and to have some kind of workable-for-both-of-you way of reaching satisfactory compromises on those inevitable occasions when one set of needs/wishes clashes with the other. Without that, you don’t have a functional relationship. Even if you have a relationship that’s great in other ways, it’s still not a functional relationship. It’s like a car where the brakes don’t work; it may be a lovely car and gorgeous to enjoy sitting in and listening to the sound system, but it’s still not a car that is actually going to work as a safe, functional car in the day-to-day ways that a car owner needs a car to work.
Your partner is not currently managing it, and that means that he is not someone with whom you can manage an actual working relationship. It doesn’t need to matter, for purposes of this decision, whether it’s ‘can’t manage’ or ‘won’t manage’ or some of both. It doesn’t need to matter whether his underlying problem actually is autism, as someone suggested, or something different. Those questions are things that are for your partner to sort out, preferably with some type of therapy; the issue you have, here, is whether to stay with him given that he is not doing the sorting, and the answer is ‘No’. That doesn’t make you unsympathetic to his problems. It makes you someone who recognises that he isn’t doing the relationshipping work right now and that that is a good and valid reason for you to wish him well with his life and be on your bike.
Dear LW 945:
You asked for gentle scripts which might get your boyfriend to a therapist.
I don’t think anything will get him to a therapist except his own recognition that a therapist will help him be happier (or at least function more easily).
That said, if he values you, your absence may be an incentive. That is, here’s a script that might help. Use it at a calm moment. Leave immediately if he reacts with crying, silence, self-harm, etc.
Boyfriend, I love you very much. I want to be with you. In order for me to stay with you, you will have to stop interrupting me, stop ignoring my attempts to talk about my interests, and most importantly, you will have to stop having meltdowns at any criticism or disagreement. It’s clear that you can’t make these changes on your own, and I can’t make these changes for you, I can’t guide you either.
You will have to do this with a therapist.
If you don’t change in these ways, I will leave you. I don’t know when. I may last a week or a month or a year, but I know that I cannot bear this forever.
So let me be very clear: I love you, but I won’t be with a person who ignores my needs and privileges his unwillingness to hear criticism over my need to be heard. Please make it possible for us to stay together.
I doubt if you will get to complete this script. He will probably burst in proclaiming his unworthiness. But that’s the point isn’t it? He isn’t hearing you.
LW 944 – Is there a college nearby where you might be able to take or audit a course on your boyfriend’s culture? I teach Judaism at the college level and I’ve had quite a few students in my classes who are there because they are dating someone Jewish. I think it helps because I’m not part of their partner’s family dynamics and am outside the situation but at the same time can help with information and context. Also they can ask me all the questions they want without worrying about offending me because, actually, it *is* my job to educate them. If you marry your boyfriend you will be affected by his culture one way or another for the rest of your life, so it might be a good idea to explore what resources you can find for learning more about it.
Hi LW 944 (ctroopr), hope all is well with you. There are so many great comments here that you’re probably completely overwhelmed! Just wanted to chime in as a woman from a background that sounds similar to your boyfriend’s, although without the expectation that we remain at home well into adulthood. I have two siblings, a sister and a brother. From what I’ve seen, in non-western immigrant households, the double standards that male and female children are raised under (where the boys are allowed more day-to-day freedom, exempted from doing chores, not shamed for their bodily functions and appearances, etc.) often results in a situation where the daughters fight harder for their independence, whether surreptitiously or openly. My sister and I used our educational achievements to leave home as soon as possible. We love our parents deeply and really want to make them proud. But we were each willing, in our own ways, to do the hard work of separating from them and forging our own paths – resulting in months and sometimes years of misunderstandings between us and our parents, fights, screaming matches, tearful confrontations, etc. By contrast, my brother has experienced a ‘failure to launch’ from western standards. He still lives at home, has a kind of separation anxiety, is hampered by the dual attitudes of our parents (that boys are special and also in some ways less capable of emotional maturity and homemaking than girls) and of the wider mainstream culture (that being a man means earning a lot of money and having a ‘presentable’ woman to match). The brothers of many of my immigrant friends are going through similar difficulties. In this regard, our parents’ cultural beliefs have done them no good.
All of which is to say, I completely understand the terror that your boyfriend feels at challenging his parents and how impossible it may feel to step outside of their rules. (It took me many failed tries; I endured a life-threatening medical complication alone rather than admit to my parents that I was sexually active as a 20-something, for instance). This does not make him a coward or a child, only a human person in a very difficult situation. The initial breach is only the start of a very long period of reckoning in which the parents will try to convince the child that boundaries are unnecessary and fatal to family feeling, that different choices are a sign of disrespect towards the parents and culture, that the parents have ‘no choice’ but to cut off the child to avoid social shame, etc. But I will say that the longer my friends from similar backgrounds (male or female) put off this moment of reckoning the harder it became to do. In boys from these families, the desire for autonomy is often really underdeveloped, ironically. I scrimped and saved and lived with roommates because freedom was so important to me as a principle. My brother has never had a similar feeling; he’d rather live at home and off my parents than lower his standard of living. What and who does your boyfriend value? Does his answer align with your own?
Good luck! We are rooting for you 🙂
LW 945, I’m someone that struggles with social cues and interupts people more often than most (especially people I’m close to as I tend to let my guard down). I do it far less than what you’ve described and have gotten better at it over time. My dad has the same problem but worse, possibly because it’s considered more acceptable in men so he had less presure to learn. When I’m tired and frustrated I’ll often end up finishing people’s sentences for them if I feel like they’re taking too long, and I’ll also get irritable when they tell me things I already know. (The solution for me is generally to spend some time alone or doing something that doesn’t require conversation.) I also have a lot of anxiaty stemming from my struggles with social situations.
If your boyfriend has issues with this that are exacerbated by the gender dynamic and not just caused by them he would almost certainly have noticed some of it long before he started a relationship with you. He also probably found ways to manage at least some of these issues in some settings. However he’s doing that may not be healthy or useful in the long run but most of us find a way to adapt to some of what society and interaction with other people demand of us. Even if he’s expected to be able to get away with it in romantic relationships (conciously or unconciously) if he’s managing in other parts of his life then he’s already worked out a way to do it. I certainly coped with my social issues in ways that weren’t healthy, and you might not want him to apply whatever he’s doing with other people to you, but that’s something for him to work out with a proffessional. You’re obviously in a better position to see what’s going on here so sorry if I’m way off the mark with all this and best of luck!
For Scared Of Future In-Laws– Even if Boyfriend From Another Culture did move out from his parental home, you have to be clear that that is just something he could do that would help both of you gain more information about each other. It is not the single requirement for your marriage, and if he does that, he can proceed to the next step of telling his parents about you. For example, if he did move out, and then his parents dropped by to visit whenever they wanted, and if he never told them that it was an inconvenient time and they couldn’t come in, and if during their visits his mother did all the cooking and cleaning, well, you can see where this is going. You don’t want Boyfriend saying “I got an apartment like you wanted.” I can almost imagine given what you’ve told us that he gets the apartment, but his parents have their nose in the finances still paying for more than half.
(Nothing to do with marriage and culture, but a house in my neighborhood was rented to 3 guys shortly out of college whose parents wanted to help them launch. The first weekend the father of one of them drove up with a truck and a lawnmower and mowed the lawn. In the winter, he showed up with a snowblower. The mothers came over to clean up after the loud parties that the neighbors complained about. This was supposed to help them become more independent.)
LW #945 – I’ve been the sensitive, super self critical one in a relationship before. Not to the point your boyfriend is, LW, but I can see myself in him. I know you care about him, and he has genuinely good qualities, and your relationship would be great if not for that-one-little-really-big-thing.
But I want you to believe me and the other commenters here when we say: You cannot fix this. There is no script kind and gentle enough to make him understand that this matters. He has to want to fix this.
And even if you completely dropped it, and accepted that your boyfriend would never care about your day to day life, and that you would be interrupted forever, and could never complain. Even if you did that? He would still lash out like this. I hope you understand that. You are not causing this. Even if you did everything you could to avoid upsetting him, his brain is a lying jerk, and he would interpret innocent things as evidence that he is terrible and deserves to suffer.
This is not your problem. This is not something you can fix.
And you do not deserve to be on constant alert, trying to make sure your boyfriend never has to feel bad about the bad stuff he is doing. This is not kind to yourself. This isn’t even kind to him.
I know because, as I mentioned, I have been the sensitive, self centered person in a relationship before. I have trauma and mental health issues. There were good things about our relationship, and I did not want to be having those meltdowns. But I didn’t truly understand the harm I was causing until I broke it off, and started looking at myself. It was nearly impossible to do while still in the relationship, thinking about the relationship, trying to make the relationship work.
I know you want to do the right thing, and you are dealing with a lot of internal and external pressure to stay and support him. That’s why I want to reiterate: You cannot fix him. Nothing you do is causing this. The best possible thing you can do is to leave. Get away, give him space to deal with things himself, and more importantly, give yourself breathing room. There is no excuse for the way he’s treating you.
Ctroopr, I chose a guy who’d been working as a roadie for years with bands. V used to the whole shoved together with people, different cities every couple days. He got tired enough of moving gear to take a related job where he had his own place, and coincidentally, he and I started a relationship.
I’m more like you-I knew how things worked, I own a very nice vaccum; I like to have a pantry of food, as I grew up neglected and hungry. So he and I start couple’s counseling. I tell him what’s important to me, that I want us to have a social-spiritual life, join a club; that I want to go cycling together, etc. He says to the minister and me, Yes he wants all that too. I believed him.
Well, we got married. And he never joined in.
He still tinkered till he fell asleep at his workbench, did all his own banking, laundry, shopping completely separate for me. His friends flopped at our house with their stinky pot and laughed that he was whipped at our wedding. Sex was only when he felt like it.
Why wouldn’t he tell me that he wasn’t the person he said he wanted to be? I was so hurt. And it was a waste of a precious decade of both of our adult lives, me exhausted trying. There’s a lot of versions of “unavailable.” Life is an exciting challenge. I don’t want a partner who is.
I’ve concluded that if partners are a box of puppies, I want the one who comes to the front of the box to meet me.
if partners are a box of puppies, I want the one who comes to the front of the box to meet me.
Comments are closed.