This is maybe oddly specific and I imagine fairly low-stakes, but I genuinely have no idea how to handle it. My boyfriend and I are both busy people, and planning time together can take some doing. We live together, so while we do see one another a bunch in passing, it’s rare to have a genuine night in or a date. He is also a lot more spontaneous than I am; I’m a planner, mostly because I work a lot more hours than he does and also in part because having a rough sketch of what my next week looks like helps me manage my diagnosed anxiety.
Here’s the issue – oftentimes, I’ll really be looking forward to spending some time with him (may be structured or unstructured) but he will, at the last minute, essentially ask to cancel. Oftentimes it’s stuff that I’m invited to, too, but here are some examples:
1. At the last minute, his sister called and could we go have dinner with his family that night? Bonus points if I’ve already started cooking dinner for us (“can you just freeze it or use it tomorrow?”)
2. He got a text from the softball team he subs for, and they urgently need one more tonight or they need to forfeit.
3. His friend is in town for the weekend unexpectedly and he wants to hang out – since we’re just chilling at home/the corner bar is it cool if he and his girlfriend tag along?
4. His coworker ended up with an extra ticket to [sport/concert] and he just has one but it’s tonight only.
Like I said, in all but the last example he does invite me to tag along, but it really throws me. I’m not exactly introverted, and I do like to socialize in groups, but it really changes the character of our plans and can be a major re-adjustment of the dynamic – group vs. solo, going out vs. staying in, getting a chance to talk to him vs. spending most of the night watching him play a sport. Sometimes I feel like the third wheel to my own date night. I also feel like it’s a lot of extra effort to re-arrange things at the last minute and I usually shoulder that.
To be clear, it’s not a double standard. He is really laid-back and rolls with the punches, and any time I do have to change plans for my own reasons he takes it totally in stride. Also, it’s super apparent through our years of relationship that this is the way he was raised. His family seldom plan anything more than a day in advance, usually less.
Here’s the issue:
1. His position is that, since we live together, we can *always* reschedule or easily spend time together whereas the things that come up are usually time-sensitive or urgent (friend is in town just one night! team is in danger of forfeiting!). My position is that this happens often enough that I feel like I’m constantly being moved down the priority list and taken for granted. Also, I don’t have time to make a back-up plan for myself so if I beg off because the new plan doesn’t sound especially fun I’m effectively ditched.
2. His additional position is that, well, he is just asking and I have ultimate veto power. If I say no, he won’t do it. My position is that, by putting out there that he has this unique and time-sensitive opportunity and asking to do that instead, he’s putting me in the position of having to tell him “no, don’t do this thing you’d rather do – hang out with me, which you can do anytime.” It’s uncomfortable, and I’d rather not have the weight of his experience on my shoulders.
The (very!) few times I have said I’d rather we stuck to our original plan, to his credit he hasn’t complained or sulked or made me the bad guy to his friends. He’s taken it pretty much in stride.
But I still don’t like it, and I’m having a hard time finding words for why this feels unfair and crummy. He’s right that he’s just asking, and he’s also right that we see a lot of each other albeit incidentally. But what I’d like to see if occasionally for him to just say, “hey, sorry – we have plans already” to his friends without putting it on me. I’d like him to feel like our time together is an important enough commitment that it’s not on the same tier as “free time” in his calendar.
But it’s not getting through, and I often end up sounding like I want him to read my mind (“how was I supposed to know you wouldn’t want to without asking you?”). How do I articulate this in a way that still leaves room for who he is as a person (to be clear, sometimes I love his spontaneity!)? How do I manage this without being too high maintenance? To be fair, I can see how sometimes I say yes when I mean no and then end up resentfully picking a fight, which isn’t especially cool of me.
Thank you for reading my letter. She/her pronouns, please.
It’s easy in a long-term relationship where you live together to fall into the pattern of “Why should we gotta make the plans when I can see you any old time?”
It’s also easy to fall into the idea that Group Social Time counts as Together Time if he is there and you are there, and I know I’ve personally had to make it clear that “Hey being invited to be a spectator at your band practice is not the same thing as a date, hard pass btw, call me when you’re actually free.” Go in peace, hot-yet-oblivious-bass-playing-almost-boyfriend-of-1997!
My first suggestion is I think you should start taking your dude at his word and saying “I’d prefer we just continue with our solo evening, is that cool?” when you don’t want to change plans. At least sometimes! Like, family dinners are great, and family dinners can also come with 24 hours notice or else he might have to miss one because he has other plans (plans with you). If his claim is that he’d be cool if you said no is true, then see if he’s actually cool when you say no. You say he usually is, and if he continues to be, that’s good information. If he starts “resentfully picking a fight” when you say no that’s also good information.
My second suggestion is to ask him to clarify his question when he asks. “Are you asking me if I’d like hang out with your friend who is in town or telling me that you really want to hang out with your friend who is in town?” Get him to own the fact that it’s not just a simple question. Depending on how he responds, you can respond with what works best for you, like, “Can you and I have dinner together, just the two of us, and then you can peel off afterward and meet them?” or “Hey, I’m out, but go and have fun!” or “Sure, the more the merrier!”
I think the thing that’s bugging you is that he’s checking in with you to ask you what you think when it’s clear that he wants to go do the other thing. He says it’s a real “ask” situation but you don’t feel like it is, and right now, “Love, is it cool if my friends join us for drinks tonight?” = “My friends will be joining us for drinks tonight.” It would be more honest if he said “Babe, I can’t make dinner tonight, I gotta go play softball or we’ll forfeit” rather than going through the rigamarole of asking you thereby putting you in the role of Chief Timecop and Funkiller.
You say sometimes you feel like a third wheel to your own date night and you sometimes get resentful and pick fights. My third suggestion is, when date-plans turn into group plans, don’t go. You know you don’t like it except on rare occasions, so, turn “Sure, it would be cool if we all went together…I guess” into “Not for me, but you go and have fun!” and then stay home and do something else.
Fourth suggestion: If you do say yes to changing plans, can you add a request to reschedule right then? You say that you’re doing a lot of work of re-accommodating things, so, can you explicitly place that work on him? “Okay, cool, have fun. When you get home tonight, can we put something else on the calendar for just you and me?” His logic is that you can always reschedule something with each other, and yours is for that to happen on the actual space-time continuum it needs to be scheduled.
Fifth suggestion: Your letter is crying out for a regular, sacred Date Night, something where you both agree that On Tuesdays We Hang Out Together Come What May, and you both agree to say “that sounds great but I have plans” about any other plans that come up during that time window unless it’s a true emergency (involving a hospital) or a fun emergency (“I know we said dinner at home but I have Hamilton tickets, meet me at 7“).
The script for asking for a reset is “I am happier when I know that I will get at least one evening/week where it’s just you and me at home together and when I can put it on my calendar in advance as a done deal to look forward to. And it does bug me when we carve this out and then you want to bail. I feel like the bad guy who is holding you back from a fun thing if I say no, but I get annoyed if I say yes and now my evening that I looked forward to and carved out of my schedule to spend with you is shot. I want to make room to be flexible and spontaneous, but it would mean a lot to me if you would treat x, y, z as pre-existing plans that we have together that can’t be ditched so easily.”
And then ask him what he thinks would fix it. “Do you have any ideas for how this can work better?” “In a perfect world, how could we fix this so there is some room to be spontaneous but we also make sure that we put each other first?”
Sixth, I know I say this a lot, but make sure you are getting some time for yourself and that you have time & room to nurture your other social relationships. If you institute Date Night Taco Tuesdays over time you can also institute Go Have Fun & Give Me The House To Myself Fridays or Saturday Morning Best Friend Pancakes. It sounds like you’re busy and as a result a lot of your social units are couple social units. Make sure there’s something in there just for you.
Seventh, do what you can to delete the idea that having needs and desires inside a relationship makes you “high-maintenance.” What can survive without maintenance? “Boyfriend, I feel like I work hard to set time aside in my schedule for you, and when you keep rescheduling me or telling me that we can always hang out later, it hurts my feelings, can we figure this out together” is not the utterance of some witch-harpy-fury-gorgon-insert the scary mythological being of your choice*- hybrid, ok? These are normal human feelings and they are important because they are yours and they are real. ❤
*Friend-of-Blog Jess Zimmerman is writing an awesome series about female monsters at Catapult these days. Collect them all!
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