I’m a woman in her mid-30’s who’s been dating a man a few years older than myself. We’ve only been together for about 6 months. Neither one of us has a very extensive dating history; he’s only dated one other woman, and I’ve only dated two other men. At first he seemed like the perfect match for me – we have the same quirky sense of humor, we share some similar interests, and we usually have a good time together. He’s also been very considerate of the fact that I’m extremely introverted and require a good deal of alone time.
I do have a major concern, however, and that is that we seem to have different ideas as to what our relationship boundaries should look like. For example, I’ve been saving up for the past two years to take a trip to Europe, and I finally have enough money and vacation time saved. I’ve been planning this trip long before I met this guy, and this is something that I’ve been looking forward to doing by myself. Also, I knew that he wouldn’t have enough money or vacation time saved up (his job gives much less vacation time then does mine). When I told him about the trip, however, he basically tried to invite himself along. When I tried to stress the fact that this was something that I had planned to do alone, he argued that we’re in a relationship now and we should be doing things like this as a couple. He went home and talked to his friends and his therapist, and apparently they told him that he shouldn’t be so upset that I want to go on this trip without him. So now he’s saying that I should go by myself, and have a great time – but he expects that we’ll talk on Skype every single day. I’m not entirely sure how open to compromise he’ll be on this – I was pretty upset about the whole thing – but I certainly don’t plan to call him every single day from across the globe.
(I had some concern about this a few months ago, when he basically invited himself over for Thanksgiving dinner when my parents were visiting. However, I wanted my parents to meet him, and everything worked out fairly smoothly, so I kept my mouth shut at the time).
I’m just having a lot of trouble with the fact that a) he tried to invite himself along in the first place, and b) the fact that now he thinks he can decide how often we’ll talk while I’m gone. I’m also aware that he’s going through a really rough time right now (he’s dealing with the recent death of one grandparent and taking care of another grandparent with Alzheimer’s, and his job situation is also not very good). So I’m trying to cut him a lot of slack. I’m also aware that I might not be communicating my expectations for our relationship as well as I could – I just never dreamed that he would react like this. I could really use some advice on how you think I should proceed from here.
I’m so encouraged by how you asserted yourself around the trip and made it clear that you wanted it to be a solo trip. That tells me that your boundaries are in good working order and that you know yourself and what you need. Whatever happens with this relationship, you’ll be just fine.
The other encouraging thing is that he has friends and a therapist who can reality-check him. He’s going through some tough things but you are not his only support system or social connection. To be clear, even if you were the only other person in his life, it wouldn’t obligate you to spend your whole vacation Skyping with him, but it relaxes me on your behalf that he does have other folks to talk to.
I think it’s okay to ask a significant other planning a big trip, “Mind if I join you?” but I understand your trepidation when he started insisting that this is what couples do and that you should allow him to come along even when it became clear you didn’t want him to.
As for what to do now: You could talk about this a lot more with him before you leave, or you could let it drop until you’re actually on the trip. At which point I think you should Skype him exactly as much as you want to. It’s not like the text message doesn’t exist, why does it have to be a daily conversation, esp. with time differences and your schedule being all over the place with travel?
Here’s a script for right before you leave: “I’ll miss you, too, and I’ll get in touch when I can, but I can’t promise it will be every day.” Then, maybe send him a brief daily text to say hello, as a nice thing to do. If he makes it weird (keeps insisting/telling you that people in a relationship should not go on solo trips or should Skype every day), I think it’s an opening to say “Hey, what are you so worried about?” or “What is this really about?”
- Missing you a lot?
- Worried that you’ll stray into some beardy bobsledder’s burly arms?
- Not conforming to an idea he has about what couples should be like and what they owe each other?
- Jealousy that he can’t afford the trip or the time off right now?
Whatever it is, give him an opportunity to put it out there so you can deal with it directly instead of via all this pressure.
The fact is, you are both adults with rich lives and it’s okay to not live every second together or thinking about each other. It’s okay to want to go away for a little while and be alone and see the world (I go on trips with just my friends w/o Mr. Awkward at least once a year, it’s GREAT).
If your boyfriend is smart about this, he’ll schedule time with his friends and enjoy some downtime while you’re gone. If he’s not smart about this, he’ll keep clinging onto you and pressuring you to spend your whole vacation worrying about him.
I have some blanket advice for folks when you hit that “this relationship is pretty great so far but I’m not 100% sure if this is what I want” stage, in those first few months when the initial glow wears off. That advice is: Spend some time reconnecting with the things in your life that make it awesome that aren’t about your partner. Make sure you’re investing in your friendships, your physical and mental health, your career & studies, your hobbies and interests, your support systems, your living space. We all make adjustments about how we budget our time and focus when someone new enters our lives, and 6 months in is a good time to look at whether these adjustments are truly working for you.
It’s also a good time to reexamine expectations and “shoulds.” What relationships in general “should” look like doesn’t really matter in relation to what both of you want your specific relationship to look like. This trip you’re planning now is a solo one. Do you want to start planning a joint trip together with this guy for next year? Meeting your parents at Thanksgiving went fine, despite your trepidation. But do you want to include him in your holiday celebrations going forward? When you think about the future, how much of your thinking involves the word “we”? When you say “No thank you” or “I don’t want to,” how often do you find yourself having to renegotiate those with him?
You don’t have to answer these questions for us right now (or ever), but they are good ones to start thinking about so that you’re making decisions about your relationship that align with what you want from your life. The question in your email subject was: “Am I making too big a deal of my boyfriend’s behavior?” And the answer is, if this is bothering you, then it’s really bothering you. You feel like he is trying to move the relationship along faster than you want to, and it’s worth examining why you are out of sync here. Do you need more time to relax into it or are you feeling on some level like he is not the one?
On a final note, if the thought of being away from someone starts to feel like freedom, or a reprieve, then pay attention that. This solo vacation is important for a lot of reasons.
P.S. Have the best time.