#1054: “Dealing with disproportionate sadness over extremely mild rejections.”

Dear Captain Awkward,

I (she/her) have been dating this guy (he/ him) for about the past 5 months. Things are for the most part truly wonderful; there are various stresses about upcoming job changes and moves, but he’s really one of the best people I know, and we seem to be pretty damn good together.

I am struggling with being upset if I propose doing something together and he replies ‘no thank you, I would rather be alone tonight.’ I want to figure out a way to find this less distressing. Head-wise, I know all the sensible things: he is a person who needs alone time; he acts like a person who really likes me; different people can want different things in a given moment and that’s just fine. But I am still getting more upset than I would like to. I don’t want to keep having these un-fun nights over something that seems (even to me!) to be so small. Do you have any advice?

Thank you for your time- I’ve been reading CA for a long time, and it’s been very important to me.

I think five months in is probably right on schedule to have a little moment of BRAND NEW LOVE IS DEFINITELY AMAZING, BUT ALSO NORMAL BORING LIFE STILL EXISTS adjustment. Not a crisis, just a little reminder from the universe that all the New Relationship Energy (NRE) that’s been created during the stay-up-all-night-kissing-and-talking phase of dating isn’t a magical perpetual motion machine that rescues you from mundanity, boredom, or loneliness.

Ideally, we could find a way to help you mentally reframe “not hanging out with me tonight” as something other than rejection. You know that your guy doesn’t mean it as a rejection, wanting to be alone sometimes isn’t a rejection, rejection is a subtext that your jerkbrain is adding to the situation. Can you stop describing it thusly and see if that helps, at least a little bit?

More practically, it sounds like what he’s turning down are fairly last minute invitations (“tonight”). You’re certainly not doing anything wrong by issuing those, but I do think there is some work you can do to mitigate the “Hanging out with you, Lover!” vs. “SAD EVENING ALONE” dichotomy that’s happening if he declines. Namely, next time you’re ready to text him to invite him out, think of 5-10 other things you could do with a free evening to yourself.

For example:

  • Crafts, hobbies, creative projects.
  • Writing cards and letters or having Skype dates with far-away friends or family.
  • Movies, theater, concerts, lectures in your area.
  • A quiet restaurant, a book, a table for one, and thou.
  • Inviting friends to hang out with you instead.
  • Stuff that makes your body feel good, whether that’s exercising it or anointing it with various unguents.
  • Errands: They gotta be done sometime.
  • Boring but necessary household shite what needs caught up on.
  • Things you’ve been putting off for “when you have time.”
  • Taking a class.
  • Volunteering somewhere.
  • Dressing the house-pets up in costumes and taking photographs of them to send to your favorite advice blogger.

Before you ever met this dude, what did you do in your life that made you feel awesome? It’s time to reconnect with those things. If you start to make the list and it’s like “Wait I can’t really think of anything” then, well, that’s a project right there. Remind yourself that this dude is just one nifty facet of your nifty life and you have lots of options for how you spend your evenings. Then, if you want to invite him to do something, send that invite. If he declines, give yourself permission to feel bummed out for a minute (beating yourself up for having a feeling doesn’t really neutralize the feeling). Then pick one of the things from your list and do it. Do it deliberately, intentionally, with good will and good faith, and see if you start feeling better.




160 thoughts on “#1054: “Dealing with disproportionate sadness over extremely mild rejections.”

  1. I’m on the other side of this, I often want a night to myself but I have to be careful with how I frame it to the boyfriend if he asks me to hang out, because I can absolutely see how a variation of “I’d rather be alone and do nothing than hang out with you” can sound awful, especially to someone who hates being alone and can’t see why anyone would choose it. I usually tell him I need to do laundry and/or go to bed early, because he’s told me the same thing in the past. Or I might say “I’ve been out and about so much recently, I need some me-time! Let’s plan something for tomorrow” I might not say “I’d rather be alone,” that does sound weird.

    That said, if things are already feeling “off” between us, something like “I wanna stay in tonight” can be a little alarming, like oh no maybe he’s pulling away to prepare for a breakup, but if I’m sensing that that’s a possibility, I’d probably ask him if everything’s all right.

    1. Ditto here; in fact, I think one of my relationship goals would include being able to say “I’d like to be alone for {x duration}” and have that be respected. That being said, I do like your strategy of attaching making some later plan in a defined future date/time – so partner does not feel like I’m just neglecting.

          1. LOL. For me a “date night” alone would be knitting, binge watching, and petting cats.

    2. I can absolutely see how a variation of “I’d rather be alone and do nothing than hang out with you” can sound awful

      Yikes, I can too, but does this happen much – or at all – in reality? “Do nothing”? Not read a book, watch TV, play video games, work on a coding project, catch up on chores, or meditate? Definitely avoid that phrasing if you’re the one delivering the line; consider specifically noting the tasks you don’t generally think are worth mentioning in order to avoid the understandably ego-shredding assertion that time spent doing literally nothing is preferable to time spent with the other person. (I understand the need for alone time very well, and hypothetically I could hit a point where I can’t handle social interaction and doing nothing alone actually is preferable, but I also don’t ever do nothing except as a function of my worst depressive episodes, and even then I can usually work on trying to relax my chronic persistent muscle spasms.)

      1. I rarely actually “do nothing” in the sense you describe – but often when I am looking for alone time, what I want as much as/more than actual solitude is unplanned time. I end up reading, or noodling around on the internet, or working on hobbies, or whatever, but listing tasks ahead of time would be emotional labor that would extend the amount of unplanned time I need. So a catch-all term is definitely useful – my ex and I used “veg”, which pretty much translates to doing nothing, but at least within our social sphere had connotations of “probably noodling around on the internet but more importantly recharging those introvert batteries”

      2. For me, alone time is somewhere between “do nothing in particular” and “not decide ahead of time what I’m doing.” I might spend a chunk of my time alone doing chores, I might spend it reading, I might exercise, or yes I might stare into space: and if I in fact do nothing at all, that’s OK. I haven’t “wasted” the time. In my household, we may ask “how was your alone time?” but that doesn’t mean “tell me what you did with the time while I was out of the house.” It’s fine to just say “good” (or “less restorative than I’d hoped”) without saying what if anything we did with the time.

        In a scheduling context, I would separate “that sounds like fun, but I really have to deal with this paperwork/catch up on the laundry” from “thanks, but I need some time to myself in the next day or two, and we’re already scheduled to do X tomorrow.” That’s partly because “would you like to hang out while I do laundry?” or “how about if I come over and hang out while you do the laundry?” would be a reasonable question for me and my partners.

        If one of us says “I need some time alone” the other might ask if that has to be tonight, or can wait a day or two if we have a specific reason. We don’t ask that very often, but we could. On the other hand, “can you put that off a day?” is a plausible question for basically solo tasks like laundry or for alone time, but “can I hang out while you do it?” is only reasonable for the chores.

        1. “if I in fact do nothing at all, that’s OK. I haven’t “wasted” the time. ”
          I think this is key, for me. I struggle with executive dysfunction anyway so I do spend a lot of time not doing much, but it’s stressful time because I’m trying to wind my way through the labyrinth my awful brain insists I complete before being able to do real-world tasks, and feeling guilty that I can’t just spring into action and get stuff done. Whereas dedicated “chill time” doesn’t provoke that same stress and guilt because I’m not holding myself to any kind of productivity standard that I can then be upset about not reaching.

          Time “doing nothing” may or may not be spent literally doing nothing, but that way of approaching it decouples it from expectations and guilt. And that, in and of itself, is really valuable.

      3. I think it’s maybe important to remember that the LW’s boyfriend’s sample reply did not include “do nothing”, he just said he’d prefer to be alone for a bit.

        It’s not that his plans of nothing are somehow preferable to any plans with the LW, it’s that his needed space alone is currently something he needs more than he needs to be with anyone.

    3. I agree with this. I mean, maybe I’m just swept up in the zeitgeist, but it doesn’t seem like LW’s dude is taking on any emotional labor here. His curt response, especially over text, leaves things pretty open to interpretation. I think it’s OK to discuss it with him, and to ask for a little more reassurance in those moments.

      1. I think it depends on what information he already has from the LW. Does he know that it bothers her? To me that seems like totally standard matter-of-fact communication and if he doesn’t realize his girlfriend doesn’t operate the same way, it’s on her to let him know. Which isn’t to accuse the LW of being unclear, either — especially this early in a relationship it sounds like a conversation that both people just haven’t quite realized needs to happen.

        1. Yeah, to me it just reads as Using Your Words in a perfectly neutral way. I’d say something like that myself, and in fact would be kind of miffed if my desire for some alone time required me to do a lot of hand-holding of my partner, honestly.

    4. I lean heavily introvert and now that I’ve really figured that out and figured out that the alone time I want is actually something I really need to recharge, I’m much more up front about that with people. I will say “I need my introvert recharge/alone time” or “Thanks for offering to come with me on errand, but I’m going to use it to recharge.” and will often try to follow that up with when I will be available. Not sure if re-framing it that way in your head might also help LW? Our society still heavily favors extroverts so even if you aren’t one, like I had, you probably absorbed a lot of that as “normal” or “good”

    5. My mom asked me to come visit her in Colorado Springs when my husband was going on a ski trip with his college friends near Denver. I told her I could never waste a week home alone by taking a trip myself.

      Fortunately, my mom is a huge introvert, so she got it.

    6. Yeah, I’d rather have that, because when ex said he wanted to spend a weekend alone, my alarm bells went way off. Another suggestion I saw in another post was also having those “off” days on a somewhat regular basis, like once a month or something, so the partner could grow used to it and not panic about the state of the relationship being in jeopardy.

  2. Of utmost importance, do not try to let your disappointment become his problem or use it to try and guilt him into changing his mind. Let not even a 😦 make it into your response.

    Not saying you do, but I’ve seen it from my more extroverted friends – sad faces, complaints on social media about how they are sad/bored/alone. It doesn’t end well.

    1. Ugh yesss. I’m really glad the LW here is aware that the sadness is in fact disproportionate and that dealing with it is her responsibility.

      I have an ex who was NOT aware. Their response to my polite, “I’m sorry, it’s really late and I have to get up early, how about Saturday instead?” was three days of ghosting, and a tantrum when we met up again. I understood that they felt lonely and rejected when I couldn’t hang out on their schedule, and I was sympathetic to that, but they seemed to think that any bad feeling they had in our relationship was My Fault and I needed to be Held Accountable For It. It was alarming and exhausting and definitely did not make me want to continue being in a relationship with them.

      1. I had an ex who didn’t get it either. She’d invite me to do something a few hours in advance, or invite me to 3-4 social events in one week, and start wheedling at me when I said no. She’d also take it personally if I didn’t want to stay out late, or needed a couple quiet nights at home.

    2. My fiancé and I lived separately for about six months longer than either of us really wanted to (if you want a recipe for just being So Fucking Glad To Live Together Already, do this thing, btw), and my response to proposed but denied hangouts was “Oh okay 🙂 see you X” It helped that we also had very well defined Always Hangouts so there was always an X to look forward to. In general though the inevitable sequellae to being the more social individual in a pairing is that you are always going to want to hang out a little more often than your less social partner does, and it behooves you to take that with a good grace.

      1. Yes to planned togetherness. Maybe not the same as LW’s situation, but maybe it will help: I, an intense introvert, used to live with my extrovert best friend. I came to dread getting home from work because she would ask me to hang out and most days I would say no and scurry to my room to decompress from the day. She felt perpetually rejected, especially because I never issued invitations to her. But the thing is, I never got the chance to arrive at the point where I felt that desire to hang out (which comes *after* having time and space to myself).

        We eventually talked it out and came up with a weekly ‘date night’ that was ours alone (boy did my future clingy boyfriend hate that!). What I learned was that it really helped me to be able to a) plan and b) to know that I would be using up some spoons on a given evening and choose how and where to conserve. Last-minute invitations (which for me include day-of and day-before) would get a reflexive No just because I didn’t have an inventory of available energy or a clear sense of how Yes would impact on my evening or week.

        This might not apply to you, LW, but if you do find yourself mismatched on a basic level eith regard to how much social time you need/want, now is a great time to start getting clarity on that with yourself and with your boyfriend (what do you need, what does he need, how do you bridge the gap, how do you recognize and communicate competing need a when they arise). (This should go without saying, but, if you need more social time in general, that’s a need you should be filling heavily from outside the relationship.)

        1. That’s what I was thinking, maybe the boyfriend should get the chance to issue invitations once in awhile so the dynamic isn’t always her asking and him refusing.

    3. That’s going to depend on the relationship and the people involved. I would feel pretty throttled if I couldn’t so much as express sadness at my partner turning down an invitation.

      1. I agree that loving disappointment can be appropriate. Something like “Awww, I totally understand! Of course I’ll miss you, though. Let’s spend time together soonish (heart emoji)”. You don’t have to be the eternal “cool and chill” girlfriend, as long as you expressly say you respect their wishes and try to focus on the positive side: you just like that person so much!

        1. This approach is full of compassion for both your own feelings and the other person’s situation ❤

      2. Yeah, or express being lonely later on social media! I mean, you shouldn’t make your sadness your partner’s *problem*, but if just … being sad/lonely and not hiding it effectively upsets them, well, I think just as your sadness at a turned down invitation is “your” problem, their guilt/upset at you feeling sad is “their” problem.

        1. The problem with social media is it depends how you use it; if you do it somewhere your partner can see it, it can seem really passive-aggressive. (now I am imagining plastering a shared space with “SO ALONE!” stick-it notes for partner to find in the morning – obviously most people mean it as venting but some people seem to use vague angsty social media it as a way to indirectly yell at their partner then claim “oh it wasn’t about you” or “I was just venting” etc – but it’s not a pretty dynamic)

          1. Yes. Why not express it in a journal? Same basic process of writing it out but without the awkward

          2. @chris —

            I no longer have social media, but I do tend to express sadness and loneliness to others because I’m seeking consolation, yeah? A journal won’t console me. But, on social media (or, now, in a group text), my friends will chime in and console me. Often, at least one of them will offer to hang out– either irl or via skype while watching a movie or working on at-home work.

            I think this is kind of tied up in ask culture vs. offer culture. Being from a predominantly offer culture except for specific contexts, I think asking for things feels so much harder for me than for others not in my culture. I have to work up my courage to make a direct request (aka, “do you want to hang out tonight?”), which means even a polite “no” is more painful than it would be, I think, if that question didn’t involve bravery at all. It’s hard to explain why asking for things can be scary in certain circumstances to people who have no mental map for that. To them, it’s like saying I’m afraid of toasters or something.

            Ask-culture people also don’t tend to realize that an expression of loneliness / stress / sadness is a prompt to offer help (in whatever way suits the offer-er best) whereas my offer-culture friends totally get it. I’ve found many people have a halfway approach that seems to work, where person A (from a mostly offer culture) expresses some frustration (sadness, loneliness, stress, anxiety), and then person B (from a mostly ask culture) asks, “Is there anything I can do to help?” and that’s usually enough of a bridge for person A to say, “I’d really like it if someone could ________.”

            I think if I ever have a long-term partner again, they’d have to be someone who doesn’t mind me voicing my feelings and doesn’t assume I’m trying to guilt trip them just because I’m not happy-and-fun all the time.

        2. I think… it depends on what you intend to get out of your expression of sadness! If I get a “Too bad :(” and I can just go about my business without having to reply and perform ‘making them feel better about it,’ then okay. But IME if someone sadfaces after a “sorry, I need tonight alone,” they’re looking for me to do something about that, either change my mind or at least try to soothe their sorrow–and that’d be a real problem for me.

          1. Hey, Indoor Cat—I agree that it is important to be able to talk to each other about feelings. The “awkward” I was referring to was the awkward B mentioned above—where social media becomes a way to indirectly communicate with a partner. I think that can make the issue snowball, instead of making it better.

            I am an introvert who needs alone time so I have seen this situation play out in my own life. Here is something the Captain said that really resonated with me: “If he declines, give yourself permission to feel bummed out for a minute (beating yourself up for having a feeling doesn’t really neutralize the feeling). Then pick one of the things from your list and do it. Do it deliberately, intentionally, with good will and good faith, and see if you start feeling better.”

            Turtle Candle had a good point that it depends a bit on what is said. I can imagine that posting ‘So Alone!’ social media (as in B’s example) might feel good in the moment but agree that it could seem passive aggressive to a partner who sees it the next morning. The letter writer here acknowledged that her feelings were disproportionate to the situation. For me, journaling can be a good way to deal with those types of in-the-moment feelings. And then move forward, as the Captain describes, and do something else — like ask other people to hang out?

          2. @Chris– oh, totally! Sorry, I kind of tangented. Actually, I think we agree mostly. I definitely know the LW’s feeling of “this feeling is disproportionate, what is wrong with me?” and for me, plan B is usually “find someone else to hang out with.”

            Also, I will be the first to admit I am not the most socially savvy, and social media is *the worst* for me. All the problems from regular socializing, minus all the important body language / tone of voice / how many people am I even talking to? clues. Which, for me the solution was, stop using social media to talk to people and just use texting / group chat / phone calls (which cleared up a lot of problems).

            But, I suppose I did write in sort of a cringe-reaction kind of way because I’ve definitely, in the past, made the exact kind of post B sees as passive aggressive. So…yeah, on the one hand, I wish people had cut me some more slack / assumed I was just a social dumbass rather than manipulative when I made those mistakes. But, on the other hand, that was definitely a mistake on my part, and I did ultimately realize it was on me to fix.

          3. The other thing is how often you do it. I don’t mind hearing some disappointment sometimes, but if it’s *every time* then that’s a problem.

      3. 100% agree. At the 5-month mark it’s time to gradually start moving away from fake “i have no emotions” responses. I’m a pretty open person about my thoughts by default, and my partner’s deep appreciation and support of that has allowed me to become more open about my feelings. I love having the freedom to say “aw I’m sad right now, but please do what you want because that’s important and I’ll find something else to do.” It works fine for our introvert/extrovert dynamic.

      4. “Oh well. I was hoping to see you tonight, but our Saturday date will be really fun!” is completely different from, “But now I am so sad and lonely and I feel abandoned.” It’s OK to feel sad. It’s not OK to dump your feelings on someone else to try to make them sad with you.

      5. I think the thing is though, expressing sadness can quickly turn into Circle Theory dumping in.
        Them: A family member is in the hospital, I can’t make it to our dinner date.
        You: +dumping in+ I’m so sad! Console me! Let me guilt trip you! If you really loved me you’d show up anyway! Don’t you care about how this makes ME feel?

        Where as comfort-in dump-out would be more like
        You: Oh no, that’s awful! I hate our dinner date has to be cancelled because I know you were looking forward to it but I totally understand and I’m here for you.
        And then finding a trusted friend in a further-out circle to confess that you know it’s selfish but you have Feelings about the dinner date being cancelled.

        Assuming all is good-faith and they are not cancelling just to personally punish/hurt you for funsies or because they honestly don’t care if you’re hurt or not, it’s sort of a given that they’re already dealing with whatever personal issues have forced them to cancel plans and dumping-in on them is just going to make them more miserable.

        I mean I’ve been the person attempting to power through emotional/physical issues to fulfil social obligations and been totally miserable the whole time. One of the most memorable was when I was attending my grandfather’s funeral and my then-GF called me up right after to yell at me that I’d had my phone off for the funeral and I knew how much it upset her when I didn’t immediately answer/reply how could I be so awful to her she was so very upset and if I didn’t soothe her hurt feelings immediately she’d dump me. I mean I have no doubt she was legitimately upset and hurt, but I wasn’t the right person to perform that emotional labor for her.

    4. I have… complicated feelings about this.

      As an extrovert who really does need social time for my own mental health (and who can’t get that need filled by going out to public spaces where I don’t know people), having too many nights with no social contact really does have an impact. And I’m a person who posts personal things on social media. While I would never EVER try to make any of my introverted friends feel guilty or bad about needing their alone time, it feels disingenuous to me to lie about how I am feeling personally. I might say something directly to someone like “I’m bummed, but totally get it.” If I then say on social media, “Having kind of a rough night and feeling alone… does anyone want to do something?”, and a friend of mine experiences guilty or discomfort around me expressing that because they want to spend that evening alone – I get that, but that’s also their own feeling to manage. I didn’t put it on them. I’m not blaming them (directly OR secretly). I’m being authentic to how I am feeling without assigning responsibility for those feelings to anyone, and I’m doing my best to resolve that problem by a) expressing how I feel in a way that allows me to feel seen/heard (social media), and b) problem solving by seeing if there IS someone who would like to hang out.

  3. Could part of your upsettedness have to do with having to change your plans once you have kind of “made” them in your head? I have several friends who have strong emotional reactions to having plans change or adjust at the last minute. (I think it’s from an anxiety thing?) Like are you assuming that he will say yes and planning for that in your head and then having to change that mindset rather quickly?

    If so, would it be helpful to have a more set schedule for nights you spend together vs apart? like “Monday and Thursday I go to my super cool dance class after work, so maybe Wednesday we can hang out?” Type thing. That way you know a bit more in advance whether you are hanging out with your awesome self or with him that night.

    Of course those plans might still change, but it might also help if you have a more set routine and less uncertainty, to not feel as rejected by changes. Or it might make things worse when he has to change plans because he had a rough day and isn’t good company, or whatever. So you should think about your feelings on that as well.

    1. That’s what I was thinking — having a “how much time would you ideally like us to spend together vs doing our own things” conversation with the romantic interest and setting up a regular weekly schedule. I know for me it’s easier to deal with potential sadlonelies if I see them coming. With my current romantic interest (four years as of tomorrow!) we’ve run into a thing where I don’t make plans for things with other people that wouldn’t include him because that would seem mean, and then he feels like he never gets any time to himself or for social stuff that I don’t want to go to. So I’m wondering if there might be a similar thing going on with the LW: not just that she’s framing her boyfriend’s desire for alone time as rejection of her, but also that she’s framing it as *her* rejecting *him* if she wants to skip out on date time for some other form of socializing or alone time. (Bonus points if she’s resentful that he’s able to ask for alone time when she won’t let herself do it.) Having separate lives is not mean or rejecting, and is better for relationships in the long run. (BTW, if there’s a huge discrepancy in how much alone vs together time you each want, you might just not be compatible, but it could also be a romantic myths thing that would cause problems in any relationship.)

    2. While I get where you’re coming from, trying to set “specific days’ with an “alone time” person might reeeally backfire. I struggle with finding volunteer activities, hobbies, etc, because I can’t really plan that “alone time” need in advance. It’s hard to push that need aside, too, and even if I do manage, it puts a damper on what I’m doing it because I no longer ‘want’ to do it. Even by myself, that has negative consequences (I once blew $ on a local arts course that I couldn’t finish). Knowing that it was someone else I was letting down as well would both make me feel pressure in advance (aggravating the wish for ‘alone time’ by knowing I could only get it by ruining someone else’s plans) and make me tense worrying about whether I was ruining the person’s time with me by wanting alone time while being with them.

      … yeah, it’s weird. But dammit, that’s why I really, REALLY love OP’s letter here. The way OP accepts that “he is a person who needs alone time” just makes me feel so warm and happy inside just knowing that someone accepts that about *someone*. Thank you, OP. That is an amazing gift you’re giving that guy, accepting it as part as who he is and not “something that clearly needs to be fixed, and clearly the best and fastest way to fix it is to make sure he doesn’t *get* any alone time and that’ll somehow ‘cure’ him of it like a weird and rare disease.”

      I like CA’s advice because it gives OP at *least* two plans per night that she can look forward to. I do that myself with friends who I know flake out at the last moment on plans even when they’re made well in advance. “I’m going to do x with y. Or if that doesn’t pan out, then I’ll do x (or a, or b, or c, or x a b *and* c) by myself.” It meant instead of sitting at home being annoyed that they said they’d do things and then didn’t, I shrugged my shoulders, grabbed my stuff, and headed out to have all the fun plan B had been sitting in the background holding onto for me in case I needed it!

      1. Oooo I need to try that with a couple of my flaky friends. I have spent so many times being so irritated that they’d canceled plans at the last minute when I could have already had a backup plan ready to go. Good thinking.

        1. I like to invite people to things I would also do alone, e.g. “Come to movie/Visit new exhibition at museum/walk by the lake”, and then if they flake it’s sad but I’m still continuing with my plans. otoh if I invite them to brunch and they don’t show, it irks me a lot more, so brunch is not a thing I would invite them to.

      2. Yes! Planning options B & C when proposing or making plans with people has been an indispensable strategy for me. I had brought a question like OP’s to my therapist, expecting to spend the whole session discussing it. I said my problem, she made this suggestion, and I was like, “Oh. That was easy.” Visualizing my pleasant night of [TV watching/cooking/doing laundry/taking myself out for dinner/doing puzzles] gives my brain something to do other than get overly/imaginatively invested in my plans with the other person, as well as a delightful consolation prize if it doesn’t work out.

      3. “While I get where you’re coming from, trying to set “specific days’ with an “alone time” person might reeeally backfire.”

        It’s worth trying it the opposite way, where there are specific days where everybody *knows* it’s an alone day in the absence of a true emergency or event that was scheduled weeks in advance.

        In my current relationship we have the same 2 days every week that are deliberately blocked out as time us to be apart and do our own thing, whatever that is. We don’t really even text on these days except to say goodnight and to exchange practical information if needed.

        We can always request more time apart if they need it, but I think that (for us) having those 2 days already on the schedule means that we spend *more* time together than we otherwise would. For example, we can spend all weekend doing things together and nobody feels antsy about “when do I get some time to myself” because we both know that Monday is an alone day and we’ll have a break from each other then.

    3. I was coming here to say just this.

      I noticed that once a relationship was several months in, I would usually stop making a lot of very advanced plans with my partner and default to “probably hanging out.”. That made me feel rejected more than I needed to, because my partners sometimes made advance plans/made alone time plans that they didn’t want to change last minute, and I was no longer making advance plans and wanted to see them more.

      I solved this by continuing to make explicit advance plans to see my partner during the week, even sometimes if we’d been dating for a couple of years (I still do this with my husband, even). I think there’s a lot of default to “only need to make specific plans with partner of [x] duration if there’s a special occasion,” and if you’re with a partner who doesn’t default to “probably seeing partner tonight” absent explicit plans otherwise that will lead to mismatched expectations.

      So, for me, that usually looked like (on my/my partner’s way out the door in the morning), “wanna plan to hang out Thursday and Saturday? I’ll be available on Wednesday after 11 too but I’m going to the symphony, and I wanted to claim some pre-bedtime hours with you.”

      With Husband, this now looks like a text of “if you’re not busy let’s cook and snug together tonight,” and then he’s not working in his workshop/I’m not working in mine that evening. But with partners I didn’t live with it was usually just explicitly blocking out time a couple days ahead.

  4. LW, this may not be your situation at all, and if so please disregard it, but I thought I’d share in case it is helpful. When I first started dating my boyfriend, I’d do the same thing but worse–we’re talking laying on the floor sobbing because the Boy needed an alone night. What I eventually realized was that this was pushing not just my “fear of being rejected by this cute sexy dude I really liked” buttons but also my “compulsively planning my life to try to control my anxiety” buttons. The problem wasn’t just that he didn’t want to see me that night; it was that we had PLANS and the plans were RUINED and now my carefully scheduled life was FALLING APART.

    We talked and realized that I, a chronic over-planner, treated “do you want to come over Friday?” as a set-in-stone thing that wasn’t going to change. Meanwhile he, a chronic “oh is that today”-er, treated it as a thing we were probably going to do but that could be flexible if either of us needed without it being a big deal. He learned to tell me further in advance “hey, I think I might not be up for plans tonight” and I learned to check in with him more to make sure that the plans I thought were solid actually were. (Now we live together and see each other all the time–yay!–plus I’m in therapy for what I finally saw were some really damaging control/anxiety issues.)

    Point is: In addition to the Captain’s good advice, it’s worth looking around and see if there’s anything else going on, even if it’s not specifically the issue I had. Do the two of you have mismatched expectations of what you should be doing as a couple or how you should communicate? Is everything else in your life (friends, work, mental/physical health) okay right now? Those things can really make the difference with things like this.

    1. **We talked and realized that I, a chronic over-planner, treated “do you want to come over Friday?” as a set-in-stone thing that wasn’t going to change. Meanwhile he, a chronic “oh is that today”-er, treated it as a thing we were probably going to do but that could be flexible if either of us needed without it being a big deal.**

      I remember I dated a guy who kept making afternoon dates for me to meet his daughter and then kept canceling them, and this made me incredibly anxious. I get that introducing your kid to a romantic partner is a big deal and something you want to consider carefully. So then…maybe do that. Maybe consider it carefully before involving said romantic partner..? If he’d just plain held off on it, I would’ve been totally fine with that. Constantly making plans and not following through on them made me feel really anxious and yanked around. Like – if they’re not solid plans should I just go ahead make other plans? Would I be a jerk to do that to a kid, even though these plans have never actually come to fruition before, so why should I think they’ll start now? Unfortunately, we weren’t able to talk about it, hard as I tried. He was just like, “What’s the big deal?” and acted like my feelings just made me crazy and high maintenance or something. Didn’t stay with him long.

      I’m currently having an issue where I can’t hear anything about my current boyfriend’s ex- without freaking out. More specifically, anything with the vaguest inkling that he may still have feelings for her. He really didn’t seem over her when we got together and used to dump on me about her for HOURS. This was early on, and over the years, he has definitely gotten the message not to do that any more, but part of me still worries that she’s “the one that got away” and I’m the consolation prize. She is his Baby Mama, so I have to deal with hearing about her occasionally.

      1. I think “the one that got away” is just one of those fantasies we spin for ourselves occasionally; we wistfully look back on a relationship that was in some way formative in our lives, edit out all the bad parts, and think “What if?” But most of us know it for what it is: a fantasy. Fun to imagine sometimes, but ultimately not reality. Our reality is the life we have chosen, the one in which we made our decisions and found a new love on whom to practice our hard-won relationship skills.

        1. Oh gods. I have a high-school/college* ex who refers to himself as my “once and future lover” and me as “the one that got away”. Dude. You’re married. With two children. No. Just no.

          *I graduated high school in 1988. Ahem.

    2. I would have (and have had) a serious objection to someone repeatedly canceling on things ze had committed to doing; I, too, enjoy planning in advance, as it’s our primary advantage as a species (abstract thought that allows for considering hypothetical circumstances and scripting responses in advance rather than solely reacting to immediate stimuli, possibly with some genetically predisposed behavior that is advantageous in the future). I’m assuming there’s a “yes” response to the question and not an assumption that simply asking establishes the plan – the latter would bother me intensely, too.

      We have a word for when one is potenrially interested in something but unable to definitely commit: maybe. It lets advance planners know to check in closer to the actual time to confirm (instead of foolishly interpreting “yes” as “yes”), and it allows non-planners to indicate potential interest without committing. Final note: if you respond with “maybe” and the person who extended the offer makes other plans, you can’t complain (or secretly harbor resentment).

      1. I always double check that plans are still happening, even if they said yes and not maybe. Especially if you make plans pretty far in advance, people might legit forget. Hell, I might forget myself. I know the boyfriend and I signed up for this couples cooking class last year and they were so popular that we had to sign up in December for a class in April and we wound up screwing up the day and forgetting it (although we weren’t letting anyone down socially).

        Better to pre-empt any resentment or hurt feelings by double checking. I don’t make a big production out of it, just like, “Hey, so we’re still on for dinner at 6?” on the day of, something like that.

        1. I always wonder why people do that! For me if a plan is made it’s happening and it’s on the cancelling person to tell the other person it isn’t happening anymore. The default is that it’s happening so there’s no need to check. I find it strange when friends check things are still happening, considering I’m not flaky and have never messed them about before by cancelling last minute or forgetting.

          But I’m a person who has dates booked in for June in my literal Filofax already and I find it hard to remember not everyone is like this.

  5. Do you both like scheduling? When I was dating my now husband, we would work out a week ahead of time when we would see each other that upcoming week. It let us carve out alone time/negotiate transportation since we lived in different parts of the city. This might help because you’ll know ahead of time which nights you are on your own and which are together time.

  6. Both my SO and I require a lot of alone time to be happy and comfortable in a relationship, so this dynamic of “A proposes to do a thing and B declines in order to spend time alone” comes up often for us in both directions.

    We’ve found that changing the phrasing of the invites makes a big difference to how it is perceived to both the inviter and the invitee.

    Rather than *asking* “Do you want to go to the movies with me tonight?” you can try *stating* “I am going to the movies tonight, let me know if you would like to join me.”

    From the inviter’s perspective this makes it clear that my plans aren’t dependent upon the other person; in this case I’m going to go have a fun night at the movies regardless of what SO decides to do so I have no reason to be sad or hurt if they opt out.

    From the invitee’s perspective it’s less pressure because now my input is not the deciding factor in whether Movie Night happens; I just have to consider whether I want to be a part of it. Instead of worrying about “how will XYZ feel if I decide to do ABC” I can just ask “do I feel like going to the movies?” and respond accordingly.

    1. I love this advice, partly because reframing it even in my mind helped me a ton as the person inviting! When my bf and I moved in together I just sort of acted like we had to do everything together. I really had to train myself that if I wanted to go out and read in a coffeeshop, it was okay if he didn’t want to go, I could go alone! Granted it was paired with being in a brand new city, so my nerves were acting up a bit. But either way, I got to do the thing I wanted (coffeeshop, movie, museum, wtv) on the schedule that made me happy. And then if he did come along it was a pleasant outing together. It greatly improved our relationship and now I do tons of social events and he mostly stays at home, unless I specify “this is a date thing I want to schedule with special importance.” Less stress for everyone!

      1. “When my bf and I moved in together I just sort of acted like we had to do everything together.” Boy, does this ring true for me. Many years ago, early in our relationship, my spouse and I had a talk about “just because I want to do some things by myself occasionally does not mean that I am being unfaithful to the relationship.” Which I wound up having to learn for myself later on when my spouse became much more involved in activities that I was not already part of. It remains a work-in-progress for us!

    2. This is a great strategy! I use it for advance planning and also to derail that common dynamic of group decision-making where somebody won’t offer suggestions and will object to every other suggestion offered. Don’t want Thai? Cool, you do you, I’m getting Thai.

  7. I feel you, LW, that’s me too. Part of the problem for me is that all of the emotional labor of planning our time together falls to me, so there is a lot of me proposing, and then him deciding yes or no. When you are always the one to suggest things, it does start to get tedious if they say no. I am also trying to learn how to ask for what I need – “I’ve had a hard day and would really like to see you tonight” vs. “busy later?” or something equally casual. It’s helps him understand that there is an emotional component to what I am asking him to do, rather than just an activity option.

  8. Also – I think this is something you get to assess at 5 months: is this the kind of relationship you want? Sure, at some point everyone deals with minor low-stakes rejections in a relationship and must learn how but you at least didn’t *say* that this is something you notice upsetting you across the board. If you do feel like you have a problem accepting rejections in other contexts and you want to work on that personally, disregard but if this interaction is standing out to you …

    Your feelings deserve a fair hearing. Do you want a partner who so often needs alone time to recharge? Is there a mismatch in how you demonstrate connected-ness and how often you’d like to see a partner, in how you like to make plans, etc.? Is this something you could live with indefinitely if it never changed, even if you get really good at finding something else to do? Does his communication style feel hurtful to you? Relationships are about compromise. It’s never just “you need to change.”

    Some things we need to get over because we have no choice in the matter (getting dumped, for example – it only takes one person to decide a relationship is over and there is no appeals process). Other things, we do have some choice. Maybe you choose to try and adapt. Maybe you choose to communicate (“hey, I’m working on being better about giving you space but sometimes the way you communicate that need stings. Can we talk about what the ideal state looks like? Would you be willing to manage our schedules differently so I’m not continuously asking you to do things you don’t want to do?”). And maybe, you decide that this person is awesome but you want/need something different from a partner. He’s fine, you’re fine, but your reaction is giving you valuable information. Don’t ignore it and stash your feelings because you really want this to work.

    1. I think it’s sometimes just that one person needs to change, for a specific issue. But yeah, if only one person is doing all the accommodating in a relationship that’s bad. And even when it is just a one person needs to change issue it’s reasonable for that person to want some empathy and patience and being listened to while they’re making the change.

    2. I was thinking something like this. Mismatched preferences for alone vs together time might be a sign of incompatibility, and that’s nobody’s fault.

      1. A college friend and my brother met somehow and went on a few dates. The friend spent a lot of time telling me about the things my brother did that she didn’t like. I kept trying to say, “Sounds like you guys aren’t a good match!” I mean, when you’ve only been out once or twice and you don’t like that he’s late or that he texts you at the last minute, maybe you walk away.

        I should have said, “I have known him my whole life and I promise you, he is not going to change.”

    3. I personally would be totally fine and even a little flattered to have a partner ask my to do stuff, I say “I need alone time”, and the other person says “Ooh, that stings a bit, can we talk about changing how you do that.” A few examples I can think of are: changing “No’s” to “Not right nows, can we plan on X instead” (as a few people have stated)- it shows effort and emotional willingness. The other thing is that if you are the “No”-er, maybe make an extra special effort to text that other person in the morning, or send a really cute text before bed time. I would do those things in a heart beat if it would help someone I loved feel less rejected/more secure in our relationship. And I’d probably think they were cute for asking for that!

    4. Coming here to say this. It’s fine if this really it a part of in-relationship you that you want to change, but you should also Sheelzebub it… If it never does change, would this be a worth-it price of admission a year from now? Five years from now? If you spent forever with this person, could you adjust to being an introversion widow a couple of nights per week? Or would it be hard not to resent and easier to be alone? Not asking rhetorically.

    5. I love this comment. It’s so tempting to dismiss or rationalize any negative feelings when you’re in a relationship and you’re really hoping it will work out. Needing very different amounts of alone time, or wildly incompatible ways of making plans, or communication disconnects that really bug you but you can’t put your finger in exactly why… these are all the sort of things that are nobody’s fault, but they can be really hard in a relationship over time. You don’t have to round up someone who’s only 60% compatible with you to ‘the one’ if it’s not working for you.

  9. Part of LW’s problem is framing run of the mill “no, thank-you”s as rejection. But, if this is an overall feeling for them — for example, if they feel too sad over other kinds of rejections and failures– I read a surprisingly helpful book not that long ago. It’s called Resilience by Mark McGuiness. It’s written mainly for artists and writers who have just started submitting their work places, but I’ve found it helpful in many contexts where I feel rejected and don’t know how to risk even more rejection.

    One thing he talks about s counting “small wins” to build confidence. Like: “getting rejected from one magazine doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer. I know that I’m a good writer because [I got an A on this essay / my friends genuinely laughed at the jokes in my speech / I’m really proud of this metaphor].” It’s like gathering evidence to make a case against the brainweasles (or irl critics) who use a single rejection as proof that you’re just bad at this and should stop trying.

    So, it might even be helpful to write out your small wins– on actual paper. Keep it with you, and let yourself be proud of what you’ve done. Then move on to the next thing.

  10. From the other side*, if I know I need regular alone time, it’s a good idea for me to tell my (actual or potential) partners that fairly early on: that there is no amount of closeness, intimacy, time, or affection that will mean I don’t need some time alone. It’s not about anything they’ve done, it’s that once in a while I need to shut the door between myself and the rest of the world.

    LW, if your partner is that kind of person, he’ll probably react well to being asked how much alone time they usually need. You know your partner and we don’t, but he might be good with scheduling some of that and letting you know. For example, would it help if you knew not to suggest random/casual hanging-out on Tuesdays, and/or to be told if he’s worn out and needs more time alone than usual? You’re not setting anything in stone here—certainly not five months in, probably not even five years in—but I find that both having some plans in advance, and knowing how much time someone is likely to have for me help me feel more balanced, and not have my jerkbrain ask “do they really want to see me?” even though rationally I know the answer is yes.

    *I’m a little bit on both sides of this question, because I need some time alone, and have been involved with people who need more than I do.

  11. Commenting for the first time to say that this advice I needed to hear right now in a platonic context; I get these kinds of hangups about friends when we’re just getting to know each other and I’m gonna try these steps

  12. It might be that your boyfriend is one of those people who prefers planned activities to spontaneous invitations. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to spend time with you. It’s just that by the time you invite him to do something, he already has a plan in mind for that day/evening and the prospect of changing it and re-organizing things is stressful. As a person who is like this and ends up rejecting a lot of spontaneous invitations, I feel that the onus is on me to propose an alternative or list some days/times when I’ll be available. Your boyfriend maybe doesn’t understand this yet, but that could be something to talk about in the future to meet each other halfway and mitigate your feelings of rejection. In the meantime, maybe try making plans with him a few days in advance — “Hey, do you want to go see a movie this weekend?” vs. “Hey, let’s go see a movie tonight!” — and see if that makes a difference in the number of invitations he accepts.

  13. Another thing to consider is that you two might need different amounts of lead time for plans.

    If someone asks me if I want to do something that day/night, even if that someone is a partner, my answer is going to be, “no, thank you”‘ 95% of the time. I am busy, I am a student, I do not have time for most spontaneous dates. I need at least a week’s notice, so that I can put it in my calendar and plan for it.

    Does your friend respond more positively to plans that are a week or more out? Perhaps you can have a conversation about how you like to schedule your time, and whether you should be scheduling farther out.

    1. Yes this is what it’s like for me too, not so much with partners but with friends. Usually by the day of, I’ve already made plans. Even if those plans are I’m looking forward to a night in alone with my Netflix queue. So more often than not I’m going to say no.

      Also as an introvert it requires more energy for me to do social things. I still enjoy them, but they require at least a little bit of psyching myself up for it. The more notice I have for a thing, the better I can do that.

      1. +1 to everything in your comment. Being around people is probably always going to be a source of stress for me, but I still like and want to do it. Spring something on me at the last minute, though? Yikes nope bye. (In politer terms to disguise the internal panic face.)

        The quote I always come back to is “…many introverts, when socializing, feel like actors.” That describes it almost perfectly; I can’t just *be* when I’m around others, instead constantly conscious of performing the role of ‘normal social human lifeform’. Hence the need to ‘rehearse’ and otherwise mentally prepare.

        1. “…many introverts, when socializing, feel like actors.”
          Where have these words been all my life?

          Probably overlooked because it never occurred to me that I am an introvert until a couple months when my therapist said, “hello, that’s classic introvert behavior.”
          Jaw drop: “it is?”

          1. My team went to a leadership day with an external training provider recently, and after about an hour we were discussing something and she said “well, you’re an extrovert, so…”

            I, my manager, and both my colleagues all burst out laughing, shaking our heads, and I had to explain to the bemused trainer that I was just an extremely good mimic of extroverts and would probably take several days to recover from the quantity of peopling I was being forced to do that day.

        2. OMG that quote and your explanation. Yes! I do feel like it’s a performance, and also my social anxiety making me worry about what I’m doing and saying. This is so apt.

      2. Usually by the day of, I’ve already made plans. Even if those plans are I’m looking forward to a night in alone with my Netflix queue. So more often than not I’m going to say no.

        Me too! I can sometimes do small things at the last minute, like going out for a single drink after work (and then going straight home), but most of the time same day plans just don’t work for me. If I know ahead of time that I’m doing something with someone I can prepare myself, but asking me to do something at the last minute is like expecting me to catch a surprise 50 pound bag of flour when you toss it at me. Nope, not gonna happen, I need time to prepare.

        I even like going out and doing things (heck, I just did a bunch of mock interviews with almost-grads from my college program), I just really really need advance notice so I can psych myself up.

    2. I was also thinking something like this. I also kinda hate the feeling of asking a date-friend to make plans and finding out they can’t, even when we have overall very compatible wants for how much time to spend together and are nuts about each other. One thing I’ve started doing with my very-busy-GF is changing ‘are you free tonight/Tuesday/etc’ to ‘when’s good this week?’ whenever possible.

      We still do spontaneous stuff and ask each other out on dates that are time-specific (concerts & etc), but as a default I like to start from ‘when will work?’ instead of ‘wanna go on a date at this particular time, y/n?’ We can each maneuver around our other obligations and alone time without stumbling through every time slot that doesn’t work. And having something set to look forward to makes it easy to hear no if I reach out at the last minute and find she was looking forward to a night of launder-reading.

    3. >>If someone asks me if I want to do something that day/night, even if that someone is a partner, my answer is going to be, “no, thank you”‘ 95% of the time.>>

      Ha, and I stress out when my partner says “hey want to do x, y, z, and q on Saturday” because I can’t guarantee I’ll have the energy that day —
      and either I shut them down and feel like a bad boring mean partner, or lock myself into something that MAY lead to Brainweasel Town. *headdesk*

      Moral of the story: Everyone is different! Communicate!

      1. RE: Planning Around Brainweasels –

        I am also someone who can’t always count on having the spoons to do a thing I promised to do when it comes time to do it. More or less every time I plan any activity, even if it’s something I like with a person I like, in the hours leading up to it my brain will scramble for a reason to cancel. The strategy that works for me with my closest friends is a hard commitment to ONE thing – “we should go to lunch!” – and a possibility of other stuff after – “then maybe we can hit the bookstore/movie/festival”. Then, if I get through lunch and I’m wiped out and want to go home, it’s okay to do that, I’m not backing out of anything that would absolutely require me. I find that the people I keep seeing are the people who are okay with me saying, “I can do lunch, definitely. Let me see how I’m feeling on the day, and maybe we can do stuff after.”

  14. Love the advice as always Cap.

    Another thing that may help is looking at your week ahead of time. Boy and I are both busy, but also introverts who need sleep, chore time, etc. We’ve gotten into the habit of planning the upcoming week together each weekend before.

    So I know we’ll hang tomorrow and all weekend, but not earlier bc he’s studying for a test and needs alone time.

    We even do this for casual hangouts. It’s nice to have a pizza and movie night to look forward to during the week.

  15. One of the things that really helps me with this is to focus on the fact that somebody being willing to say no to me means that I can trust their yes. I’m not coercing them into things, I’m not pressuring them, they actively want to spend time with me. (It’s a bit more complicated and nuanced than this, but I absolutely frame “making sure people feel comfortable saying no to me” as a virtue to myself, to help me deal with the Enormous Rejection Feelings.)

    Another part of how I approach this is trying to keep a list of things I want to do — catch up on a book or a TV series, experimental cooking, go out for a walk and catch Pokemon, do some intense music practice — and then frame the question in terms of preferences: “I’d quite like to spend some time quietly in the same place reading while you get on with your life this evening if that works for you, but I don’t expect interaction”; “I’d really like to specifically play board games with you at some point in the next 2-3 days, does that fit with your schedule?” “I’d love to curl up and cuddle and watch TV but I’d also be very happy to go off and catch some Pokemon by myself.”

    Other things that help me: if I’m not living with said partner and knowing when I’ll be seeing them next is Important to me, all dates include 15 minutes of calendar-wrangling so I can relax about Knowing I Will Actually See Them Again. If I am living with them, working out what frequency of active paying-attention-to-each-other (rather than running-the-household e.g.) interactions I want; with current residential partner it’s ~1 weekend a month + ~1 night a week, on average, of Doing Things Together in a focussed and planned way, before I start getting twitchy and anxious and resentful. (For non-residential partners I usually end up wanting approx “once a fortnight” evening-dates as minimum, at that point peferably including an overnight, plus one clear 24 hours with each other i.e. two sleeps every month or so. Obviously this gets More Difficult when long-distance.) Having actual agreed expectations about the amount of contact we’ll have makes me much, much less anxious in-between times — I might still want more, like, I would quite happily spend most evenings and at least 2 out of every 4 weekends in a pile with current residential partner, but it gets the anxiety and rejection-feelings and distress to a level that’s manageable for me.

    (Some context: as best I can tell I’m not being given an ~official~ diagnosis of cPTSD/Borderline Personality Disorder because, what with one thing and another, these days I’m actively managing it well enough that nobody with appropriate diagostic wossname wants to ~saddle me with the stigma~. The key point, though, is that it is a shit tonne of active, ongoing effort, it is Hard Fucking Work, if I stop I will basically immediately backslide to treating people in a way I’m not happy with, but it’s 100% allowed and okay and acceptable to feel heartbroken and rejected: it’s just what I do with it that’s important. And that’s a work in progress, too: a few months ago I realised that I was managing to pick fights with Current Residential Partner most times they went out to socialise without me. There was A LOT of context, I was dressing it up as superficially reasonable “you left a pile of shit in the hallway AGAIN so I can’t get my wheelchair out past it without moving it AGAIN” sort of thing, the trick there was to (a) designate physical space that I was allowed to dump stuff that had been left out inconsiderately without him getting cross at me, provided I was taking reasonable care with anythiing fragile; (b) enforce an end to the conversation and a 24-hour cooling-off period if it looked like I was doing the Picking A Fight/Disproportionate Upset Over Reasonable Behaviour thing, so I could work out what I was actually upset about; and (c) drawing some slightly harder limits around “okay well you DO get to do the thing of dumping potentially stressful information on me 10 minutes before you’re due to leave the house in such a fashion that there is no way for me to respond safely because it’s not okay for me to say anything other than ‘yes of course that’s fine dear’ without becoming Your Terrible Abusive Exes… but if you DO you then get to prioritise actually having the conversation you were putting off with me over leaving to spend 48 hours in a field without any mobile signal because I am Thoroughly Bored of the impact this has on my mental health.” So. Tools and strategies and working together in good faith.)

    1. One of the things that really helps me with this is to focus on the fact that somebody being willing to say no to me means that I can trust their yes. I’m not coercing them into things, I’m not pressuring them, they actively want to spend time with me.

      I thanked my brother once for going to the beach with us when we were visiting them in Hawaii, and then again for hanging around downtown Honolulu doing nothing while my family went to the beach, because he was the one who gave us a ride (they didn’t want to go to the beach).

      My brother’s reply was, “My wife and I are not nice people. If we do something, it’s because we want to do something. If we’re here, it’s because we want to be.”

      So when we went to Germany while they were there, and they met us at the airport (ostensibly to give us a cell phone) and had lunch with us, and drove us to Heidelberg, I almost cried, I was so touched.

    2. being willing to say no to me means that I can trust their yes

      This! I want someone to be honest with me! I think about this more in the context of, “Does this outfit look good on me?” but the principle applies in general.

  16. In addition to the advice above, maybe incorporate less intense hangouts? Instead of a DATE, just, one person reads while the other watches t.v., or bakes or plays a video game- essentially sharing a space without the doing everything together bit. Get some alone time mixed in with seeing each other.

    1. My husband and I call this “being alone together.”

      Once we started living together (>20 years ago) that was a thing we discovered we had to figure out: how much time at home we each wanted/needed to spend together, how much time we wanted/needed to spend alone together, and how much time we wanted/needed to spend alone.

      We discuss this (initially) in so many words – it took us a while to figure it out. And over the years our individual desires for each of those states has waxed and waned. To my mind that is an element in a relationship that can easily lead to misunderstanding and conflict if it’s not discussed, so being able to identify it and talk about it is important.

    2. This is what my fiance and I do most days. We figured out pretty early on that togetherness time is waaaaay more important for me than for him. I would prefer more time spent engaging in a shared activity. He would prefer more time to himself. Being alone together became our compromise. We still have dates and other shared activities, and we still have genuine alone times. But a good three quarters of our time at least is just us being in the same room doing different things. For him, it’s a manageable amount of togetherness that doesn’t feel suffocating, and for me, it’s an adequate amount of togetherness to get me through til our more together-ly time that’s focused on shared experience.

    3. The best friends are the ones you don’t have to say anything with. Companionable silence is lovely.

    4. My partner and I have a long history of doing things together but quietly apart, since we were long-distance best friends for years before we became a couple. The easiest way to do this is to have an instant messenger program open at each residence – we can each do whatever but from time to time we update each other, and at some point in the evening we have a proper conversation or two. Now that we live in adjacent houses, we still have the instant messenger programs open, for when we’re relaxing (or busy) in our own houses, and then we spend some quiet companionable time together in one of the houses, and some more interactive time too.

        1. I hear that a lot – and so far only from my women friends, heh. So far it’s been working out very well, other than having two yards to maintain.

        2. Oh god, me too.

          But as @LauraA says below, IME it’s women who prefer this. Speaking for myself, two big reasons are 1) I don’t want co-mingled joint crap (financial, material, etc) and 2) I know most of the domestic labour will fall on me, mainly because my cleanliness and tidiness standards are way higher than my partner’s. We’ve talked about living together but realistically after all these years I’m leaning heavily towards ‘Nope, I prefer my own private space that’s mine and mine alone’. Living on the same street on in the same building would be ideal for me.

  17. In case anyone else finds it helpful, I myself was helped by learning about Rejection-Sensitive Dysphoria, which is a symptom of my ADHD; it’s an intense (INTEEENSE) negative reaction to rejection or criticism, real or perceived, from other people. It happens, it’s bad, and then it fades. As a therapist, I’ve seen people whose mood is relatively okay turn suicidal for a few days thanks to a rejection, and then go back to normal and come to me saying, “What was THAT?” because they’re not depressed NORMALLY, and now it all feels so fake and weird and ???

    It helps me to know that RSD is a thing that happens and I’m just riding it out. It’s not reality, it’s not proportionate, but nor is it my fault or a bad life choice; it’s the same as the pain that comes when you hit your thumb accidentally with a hammer. Then I can let it run its course and focus on stuff the Captain recommends.

    1. Yeah, finding out that RSD was a thing was a literal blessing. It made work so much easier, for one thing. On a long break from relationships and friendships until I sort my stuff out, but I think this knowledge would have made it easier.

    2. Oh my God. Thank you! Knowing that this is an real neurological/psychological thing with a name and that it’s caused by ADHD is… I think potentially life-changing information for me.

      1. It is also treatable with medication. 1/3 patients have success with a certain kind of med, and 4/5 have success with a different dosage of that med combined with an MAOI. If this is a feeling you experience, talk to a doctor who can prescribe medications: https://www.additudemag.com/rejection-sensitive-dysphoria-how-to-treat-it-alongside-adhd/

        Not everyone chooses to pursue medications, and as Book of Jubilation says, sometimes it is enough to know that it is “random” pain (like accidentally getting hit with a hammer) and being able to ride the pain out knowing it will pass. That’s totally valid. I myself appreciate meds being an option for my mental health issues, so I figured it’d be good to pass that along.

  18. I like this idea, and I personally love this type of hang-out. But as an introvert with a hardcore extrovert partner, I will note that the potential pitfall is that both people have to understand that this is functionally shared quiet/down time; it may not be enough to satisfy the one who needs more interaction – and if that person then starts attention-seeking, the other may not get the quiet/down time they need. (Totally not from personal experience or anything. [cough])

    If you can strike the balance, it can be a great way to meet in the middle; it may help to identify very self-directed activities that don’t have a lot of noise and don’t prompt outbursts or the impulse to ‘share’ the experience. (Unless you’re baking, in which case please share all of it, with me, immediately.)

  19. A quick comment about something that I have found to be true:

    I often have extreme, punched-in-the-gut emotional reactions to minor criticism, small rejection, etc. It’s an unpleasant feature of my emotional landscape that persists throughout my life, but gets dramatically worse if I am involved with/crushing on someone.

    One thing that I have found helpful is, ironically, to AVOID processing emotions that I can positively identify as distortions on minor things. Generally speaking, everything that happens to me I process by writing about it, venting online, venting in person, etc. In the case of this specific kind of distortion, I have found that this often cements my reaction and makes those emotions far more difficult to move past than if I hadn’t created an external, somewhat-permanent record of how bad I am feeling about the thing that just happened.

    This functionally turns into sort of a breathing exercise for me — a “I feel bad, this really hurts, but I am going to sit on it and see if it diminishes in a reasonable time frame (3-12 hours,) instead of taking any kind of action that directly responds to this pain (even writing about it.)” This does NOT make the moment less painful, to be clear, but sometimes it means the emotional ache doesn’t persist as long.

    1. This is really helpful to hear. I do Morning Pages, and I often find myself avoiding writing about That Big Terrible Thing Yesterday That Hurt So Much because I don’t want to start the day reliving it and crying all over again about it. And that makes me feel like a failure sometimes: “I’m supposed to look The Thing in the eye and be Honest With My Feelings and process this stuff! Why can’t I bring myself to do it?” Alternately, “I’m doing the brave honest thing of writing about The Big Horrible Thing here, why isn’t it helping? Why is it just making me feel worse?”

      You’re validating for me the idea that sometimes it’s OK not to write about The Big Horrible Thing, or just not to write about it *yet;* and reassuring me that maybe I’m right in thinking that sometimes writing about The Thing can make things worse–I’m not just copping out on Facing Reality or whatever. Thank you!

      (Now if only I could get better at identifying when writing/processing will help and when it won’t. Because sometimes it does help and leads to little epiphanies and better context and stuff! But then sometimes it feels like wallowing in the horrible and reliving it. There aren’t many signs ahead of time except for my own desire to avoid the whole thing, which isn’t necessarily indicative that I *should* be avoiding, y’know?)

      1. I think for me part of it is just . . . giving myself a week or two before I come back in to do a postmortem on the situation and my feelings about it. If it really is trivial, even I will have lost some of the invigorating misery that was pushing me to examine it in depth.

        Other things cause genuine pain even after I’ve let them go for a while, but that’s generally because they reflect older patterns of dysfunction in my emotions, not because I didn’t deal with them *right that moment.*

        Other clarification: if there is an action another person could take in less than five minutes that is fair and not an undue burden (undue burden being very important to define in your situation) that would make me feel better, I think speaking up right away is a better option. I’m talking about stuff that I’ve identified is between me and myself.

      2. Actually, this is really good science. I went to a talk on debriefing strategies after major incidents recently, and one of the big take-aways from recent research is that asking people to recount traumatic things in detail within 48 hours of the event may force the brain to encode the trauma more deeply, slowing recovery times and reducing resilience. It’s okay to just let yourself breathe, feel and have cups of tea until you’re ready to think about it.

    2. ME TOO! The typically advice is to journal your feelings or talk about it with someone. But the more I talk/write/dwell/rant about it, the more my emotions escalate. When I force myself to sit on it, the feelings tend to fade faster.

      1. As someone who . . . ah . . . developed emotional coping skills quite late, I found that the “vent into a notebook” advice was a solid intermediate step when one is trying to move away from the idea that all emotions should prompt an immediate real-world response (like sending an email detailing the exact ways in which another person had failed you . . . ugh, past self, WHY.)

        “Sit on it before overprocessing” is maybe the step that comes AFTER the step where *all* you are trying to do is stop making other people responsible for your emotions?

    3. Jane, thank you so much. This is a really useful thread for me. I’ll be thinking about it for a while.

  20. When I find myself feeling really upset over this kind of rejection, I’ve realized it’s often because I’m not actually genuinely asking if they want to hang out. Sure, I’m phrasing it as a question, but what I’m actually feeling is more like “I really need some snuggle time” or “I’m bored and need something to do” or “The house is too quiet and it’s freaking me out” or “Help me process this hard thing that’s going on” or “We haven’t seen each other in too long and I miss you”. So, when they say no, my emotions react like they’re saying “No I won’t support you through this hard thing” or “No, I don’t care about you enough to miss you” or “I don’t care that you need ___”, even though they’re almost definitely not trying to say that–they likely have no idea I’m feeling that way in the first place, after all!

    One thing that’s helped me has been to start using really clear communication. If I want to go to a fun thing and they’re welcome to come or not, I try to say something like “Did you hear about X? I’m going to go, you’re welcome to come along if you want!” Or, if I’m upset and need support, I try to say something closer to “Hey, do you have some time to chat tonight? I’m dealing with ___ and could use some comforting” (and then have a backup plan to contact someone else if my plan A isn’t available, because sometimes people really are busy). If I’m just bored and hoping they’ll give me a solution to that, I can remind myself that there are lots of ways to occupy myself, this one individual isn’t the only possible solution here.

    I find that this often gets better results than a more generic “Wanna hang out?” It lets the other person respond to what I’m really wanting to ask (because now they actually know what that is), and it gives me a boost in preparedness to handle it if their answer is no (since I’ve already identified the root problem).

    1. I hope you don’t mind, I’m making a note of this way of seeing things so that I can use it myself. It’s fabulous! I wish I’d come across it years ago.

  21. I love this answer from CA! In my junior year of college all my friends (or so it seemed) went abroad, and I didn’t. My boyfriend was still around of course, but we were on separate ends of campus and couldn’t spend every night together! Thus, what I called my “loneliness routine” was born. A box of pizza rolls, a can of soda, and all the movies I wanted. It was simple and fairly cheap, but knowing I had a special routine and snacks I liked waiting for me on a “lonely night” rearranged something in my brain so that instead of following the “be sad and mope” routine, it snapped right into “snack and chill out”. I highly recommend it! I still use it sometimes (or variations) for days when I’m just feeling really blue. Activate “sad night” routine! And I can just go on autopilot because I’ve already planned it out previously and do things that are comforting.

  22. So, I’m in a relationship that’s 17 months strong so far. It’s really good and we have begun discussing moving in together next year once I’ve finished uni. I’m quite extroverted and he is the opposite in a lot of ways so we’ve had to negotiate things. I’m also a planner and he’s more “decide-on-the-day”. Schedules and the situation of when we first got together meant we had to plan things a lot. We were the couple that talked over messenger practically every night but were only able to see each other 1-2 times a week.

    We’re in the same city now but we both are busy people. We ensure to have at least one night a week where we have dinner etc. at his place or mine and there’s usually a sleepover of a weekend if possible. Sometimes we also meet up for a lunch during the week as a bonus or instead of dinner. I think of it a little like “feast and famine” – some weeks we’ll see each other quite a few times, sometimes due to circumstance we see each other only for that scheduled dinner/lunch.

    Things I’ve learned and am still learning:
    I know he needs his space and that he gets “peopled out” faster than I do. I allow for that and make sure to maintain my friendships that formed before and after we met.
    This includes letting myself feel and acknowledge and talk about emotions I feel when I’m not with him (“I miss you”, “I wish we lived together already so didn’t have to wait to see each other”) and he does too. Sometimes after a really lovely weekend, feeling down after I’m alone again needs to be acknowledged (& why) so that it can be seen that it’s a small emotion, expressing wants.
    I definitely have learnt that building scenarios up in my head is a thing I do so need to be aware of. We have discussed ways of making it easier for me to reduce the scenario to be more realistic – it comes down to communication.
    Also with scheduling itself – if I start to feel like I’m the one putting most of the effort in (your place or mine this week? Is it still the usual day? etc.), it’s okay to say, “hey, can you organise this week’s plans, bc I organised the last few.”

        1. I had a best friend like this. She moved in next door to me and it caused even more problems. Like “why can’t we hang out, you’re just sitting at home!”. Eventually I feelings-exploded and it was kind of the beginning of the end for us. If I had communicated any of my feelings to her (where was captain awkward website in the early 2000s) we could have talked about expectations about hanging out. Maybe the relationship wouldn’t have ended.

  23. The captain’s strategy of reminding yourself of what you like to do is sound (I think).
    Maybe focus on the friend part of boyFRIEND. how would you treat a friend?

    Plan something (see a movie, play video games, go snack shopping……etc) you can do alone and invite him along. If he says no you can still do the thing and have a good night.
    For example
    You; hey BF I am going to see *insert movie here* at *time* would you lilke to tag along?
    Him; no thanks I’d rather be alone..
    You; okay have fun with that if you change your mind you know where and when just text me.
    End of discussion

    It’s straight forward but doing this might occasionally open another conversation.
    You; going to *do thing* at *time* wanna tag along?
    Him; *thing* sounds fun but doesn’t work for me right now….next time it’s on tell me.
    You then note that down and bring it up a couple of days before whatever you are planning happens.
    If he still says no.
    the ball is in his court to say “oh! Are you doing *thing* this week mind if I tag along?”
    Or “I am doing *thing* etc…”

    It helps not to stress too much and focus on plans that work for you.
    That way you can mentally frame it as something other than rejection (am going to see an awesome movie)
    Couples do t actually have to do everything together.

  24. We have levels of invitations.

    1. If you are in town, you must come. This is typically limited to my daughter’s school performances and very occasional social occasions where his absence would be seen as a snub or an insult.

    2. I would like you to come to this thing. I use this judiciously and he trusts me.

    3. I am doing a thing and you might like it.

    4. I am doing a thing and I doubt you’ll like it, but you’re welcome to attend if I’m mistaken. (For example, he doesn’t like most movies or concerts.)

    5. A thing exists, and I probably wouldn’t go to it on my own, but if you want to, we can do it.

    6. I am going to a thing and you are not welcome to attend. I can probably count on one hand the number of times this has happened — things like all-girl events where his presence would be awkward.

    We’re going on ten years, so I guess it’s working.

  25. LW, this may or may not be useful to you, but as a habitual dweller-ruminator-worrier, I’ve found meditation to be super useful in helping me identify and let go of negative thoughts that used to build themselves into spectacular feedback loops.

    It doesn’t have to be spiritual, if you’re not a spiritual person, but I’ve found that spending ten minutes in the morning quietly observing my thoughts helps me later in the day identify those old patterns and tell myself “Oh, this is me worrying about stupid shit that never happens.” You may find that it would be helpful in recognizing and letting go of disappointment when these things happen. The fact that you’ve already identified that this is not a healthy pattern for your personal well-being is a big step. Best of luck to you!

  26. One thing I find useful when, for whatever reason, I’m feeling bad about the fact that my partner is unable to spend time with me at a given moment is to frame whatever I end up doing with that time instead as being in service of the relationship.

    This can mean doing something that isn’t fun for my partner so our time together can be higher-quality, like getting boring chores out of the way or watching TV shows that Partner doesn’t care about. It can also mean doing something that will make me better for my partner/for our relationship, like exercising or making some extra money. Anything that is good for me, or is good for us as a couple, or is good for the pleasantness and stability of my household, or doesn’t add anything by being done in my partner’s presence can very easily be justified this way.

    This may or may not be a healthy dynamic, but I do find it’s a practical way to psych myself into doing stuff rather than sitting around feeling sorry for myself, without requiring the difficult work of surmounting or suppressing my relationship obsession.

  27. I didn’t see this in the reply or comments, I’m thinking I might have missed it because it’s kind of basic – maybe have a big picture talk with him? Talk about your style of planning, your need for alone/together time, maybe have a fixed date-night, maybe if spontaneous things aren’t his thing, do the invite earlier, maybe he gets to have a day that he invites/plans for? talk about it? Creating coupleness is not an automatic thing, there is no happy ever after. Sometimes we’re lucky and think in very similar ways, most of the times we need to talk

    1. Yes, I was just going to suggest this. Understanding her BF’s needs/expectations in terms of alone time might help the LW reframe these conversations in her head.

  28. In addition to the Captain’s wonderful advice, I also suggest re-framing it in a way in your mind that a response from your boyfriend of “no, thank you. I’d rather be by myself” can end with you saying “Sweet! That means tonight I’ll have time to do whatever I want!” This was helpful when my relationship was new. My boyfriend would say he already had plans or had work to do or wanted time alone to unwind, and I’d get a major case of the sads and what-ifs. When I started re-framing it as “Oh! Well, now I can play Pokemon / bake cookies / pay my bills / lounge around in my underpants without any distractions!” it made me feel a lot better and helped me appreciate my alone time more.

    1. My partner travels a lot, so that’s what my daughter and I do. “Oh boy, we can have spicy food and go out to the movies and I get the bed to myself,” etc.

  29. I’m just here to express my appreciation for the word “unguents”! *adds to collection*

  30. If it’s possible, can you and BF try to work out a schedule of days you see each other? This would allow BF to have the alone time he needs while potentially lessening your feelings of rejection and disappointment. Plus, you’ll be able to start planning your own fun activities and hobbies during your “off” nights–if you know you won’t see him on Tuesdays, you can make plans to be busy that night so that you won’t be home by yourself, feeling lonely.

  31. Hello friend!

    (please note my mentioning my disorder here isn’t supposed to be diagnosing, but merely for context).

    I have borderline personality disorder and one of the things that comes with it (along with a bunch of nastiness) is a terrified emotional overreaction to perceived abandonment. So I completely understand your position, although my particular overreaction tends towards anger or panic rather than sadness.

    For me I’ve found having complete honesty with my people helps. They say ‘Hey, not a rejection, I just don’t feel up to hanging out tonight, still love you!’, I say things like ‘I know you aren’t having a life at me but I’m feeling a little ignored and unloved right now and would appreciate some just us time’ or whatever.

    To reduce the emotional reaction I use some specific emotion management tips I learned.They’re from a kind of therapy called DBT which is generally the most helpful for my kind of disorder, but since there’s no practitioners closer than 200 miles away, I use self help dbt apps and worksheets. I don’t know how helpful they would be to people without personality disorders, but I link them here in case they might help someone. https://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/emotion_regulation.html

    1. My diagnoses aren’t personality disorders, but I’ve used and benefited from DBT as well, so I can second that suggestion.

      1. I was actually thinking about the interpersonal effectiveness DBT module here too. I feel like have sympathies on both sides here, because I need a fair amount of alone time and also strongly prefer a validate-while-declining communication style. So something I might say to my partner is “I like you so much and I really want to hang out with you this week and also if I don’t get some alone time soon I’m going to move to Alaska/go live in the woods like a squirrel/burrow under my floorboards and go to sleep for a week”. That’s just my preference for communication. From someone I was dating, a flat “no thank you” or “I want to be alone” with no further followup plans _would_ feel bad. That’s not everyone’s preference or style but it’s mine. My partner does me the enormous kindness of validating and respecting that I need alone time, but I also go out of my way to show her that I am excited to spend time with her when I’m not introverting.

        I’ve had partners where calming them down about my need for alone time felt like too much emotional work, and honestly I don’t wish they’d kept quieter about it, I’m glad we realized we had different needs as far as type and degree of closeness even if we aren’t dating anymore as a result. But telling my partner “I need to go away and be by myself, and I’m excited about seeing you later when seeing literally any human is acceptable again” doesn’t feel like too much to me. So I guess the question for me is “is there something different your partner can be doing to show you that he values your company while still getting the alone time he needs”.

  32. Talk to him, talk to him, talk to him! My husband is an introvert who needs recharge time, I’m an extrovert who would spend every evening cuddling on the couch with him if given the option. This was definitely something we had to work through early on; it’s tough to go from that “everything is amazing and blissful” stage of a relationship to the “you are amazing but here are some things that bug me/bug you that we need to work on.”

    It’s okay to be disappointed if you wanted to spend time with BF and he needs to unwind. I still feel disappointed sometimes when my husband disappears to play guitar when I was looking forward to catching up on Mindhunter on Netflix, but now I understand *why* he needs it and it’s not personal. It sounds like you’re in a place where it feels personal and about you, instead of about him. You both have emotional needs the other person can help you meet, but they can’t be fully responsible for them either.

  33. I think the Captain’s advice is great, especially the part about thinking of other stuff to do.

    When I am caught in an emotional response I don’t like (overreaction, shame-spiral, whatever…) the best solution is often to distract myself. I’ll play a phone game, or watch a favorite move or work on a craft project. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to get my thoughts out of a particular groove… I’ve been known to say out-loud “Nope, nope, nope, not thinking about that now!”

  34. Awkward’s advice is pot on: If the boyfriend is unavailable, make a plan B. Shopping, chores, binge watching, books, video games, whatever. Nowadays there is a hundred things to do that you don’t have to feel bummed if plan a doesn’t work out

  35. Hi LW! I’ve had some similar emotional reactions in the past, and it’s tough, no doubt about it. Fortunately, I learned to do what the Captain suggested and go forward with my own plans alone, and that takes away a lot of the sting. And sometimes I find that I’m glad I went to or did whatever it was alone, because then I didn’t have to worry about how another person was experiencing it, e.g. are they having a good time.

    At the same time, I am very much an introvert and a planner, which means I often have to decline fun, spontaneous stuff with friends or family because I don’t have the energy, even if I have the time and resources otherwise. I don’t know what your boyfriends needs are regarding alone time, but at 5 months, I think I already would have had the discussion about my “down time” needs to make sure that my SO knows a declined invitation is never a personal rejection. But I’m also het-female, so I am aware of the lack of emotional labor a prospective boyfriend would do in this case, so I’d make sure to initiate that conversation.

    Your situation may be quite different, but if you two haven’t had a convo about balancing together time and alone time, and spontaneity vs planning, it may help. Good luck!

  36. If loneliness is the main problem here, one of the things that helps me is: picture him. Is he sitting in front of his computer in his boxers, maybe? Or laid out on the sofa in front of the TV with a cat on his chest? In bed with a book? Allow yourself to feel sad that he’s not there with you that night, but remind yourself that he’s happy doing the things that he does. Then distract yourself with something.

  37. So, I’m a huge Captain Awkward fan, and I’m not sure this comment will be helpful in any way, but…having seen this title several times while looking for new posts it’s starting to really bug me as being overly interpretive/judgemental. It could be “Dealing with hurt feelings over boyfriend wanting time to himself” or something else that just describes the LW’s situation, without implying that there are right and wrong emotional reactions with words like “disproportionate” and “extremely mild.”

    (I wrote a comment earlier that somehow disappeared into the void rather than getting posted, and I didn’t save it and don’t remember all of it but I can say that I sympathize about having a sort of Geek Romantic Fallacy of “we’re a couple so we have to spend aaaaaall our time together and if either of us wants time to ourselves that’s being Mean and I’m not doing that horrible mean thing to you so how could you do that to me” — not that I know that LW has it that bad, but it’s a thing, and it can take a while to recognize that it’s not healthy for the relationship or the people in it. If LW isn’t giving permission *to herself* to make alternate plans whenever the boyfriend might be available, giving herself permission for that might help a lot; ditto on all the advice on finding things you actively enjoy for when boyfriend wants alone time; ditto on the advice some people above gave that having a set weekly schedule might help.)

    1. I can see your point! If I recall correctly, this was a word the Letter Writer used about the feelings in the email, not a value judgement I’m assigning. The Letter Writer feels that the feelings are Too Much.

  38. Ditto to all the introverts, and the introverts dating introverts, and the extroverts too! Like always, the key is “using your words” and “is this person compatible with you.” Those disclaimers out of the way, I came here to say:

    Introvert Boyfriend and Introvert I had similar dilemmas early in our relationship (probably right around the 5-month mark). He likes to tell people that the first time I was like, “Can’t tonight: I really need to do laundry,” he was like, “OH MY GOD I AM GETTING DUMPED.” He also says that once he realized that he could, too, do laundry that night, he realized how much he had been missing his alone time.

    On my end, I was neglecting alone time in favor of the “we’ve hung out every night so we must keep hanging out every night FOREVER.” It was exhausting, but I liked him, so it was ok? I hit my breaking point first, but it could’ve been either one of us.

    Anyway, after that first awkward shift in our hangout pattern, it got easier. We started saying, “I need some alone time” or “I need introvert time.” Now that we’ve been together 7 years, we can say, “I need to play a video game you hate and also do laundry and maybe scratch my butt.”

    Time is what made it seem less like a rejection. Time, and just like the Captain suggested, reframing a “free” evening as “Yay! Now I get to do a thing that I only get to do when I’m alone!”

    My comments are rarely helpful here, but I’m with you, LW. See if next time you hear “I would rather be alone tonight,” you can summon a reaction of “Awesome! I’m gonna do that thing I’ve been wanting to do!”

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