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.
152 thoughts on “#1079: “Boundaries and ‘shoulds.'””
I have a similar situation, though without the “can I come along?” part – my boyfriend is temp to hire at work, and I like to travel but he doesn’t have the means to right now. We’ve been taking small trips instead (ones that can be accomplished by car) but meanwhile I am heading a few places without him this year.
Have fun on the trip! Europe should be awesome.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for a daily hey I’m alive checkin. Coordinating a real time conversation every day that requires WiFi is going to be tough. Stand your ground.
I’ve travelled a lot, and frankly – I would be annoyed if I felt that I had the obligation to contact somebody every day, because travel can (and should!) distract you. It would really dampen my travel experience if felt that I had to contact somebody daily and apologize if I forgot to text/call/Skype.
If I text with somebody organically, fine, but everybody else in my life (including close family) gets updated via Facebook when I get around to it.
At six months, this guy isn’t her main emergency contact anyways, which is another point. Any check in duties, if she wanted to do that, would probably fall to a family member or friend.
Yes. I got to take a two-week vacation a couple of years ago, and part of the whole *point* was not being obligated to communicate or make check-ins. That no one had to know where I was, for hours or even days at a time (although I did have planned meetups with friends), is so foreign to the reality of my day to day life, that *that* was the freedom I didn’t realize I’d been craving.
I wasn’t going anywhere I couldn’t get help if I needed it. I was on Facebook regularly. But not having the obligation to communicate or check in was part of what was important about the trip.
I backpacked twice with my brother across Europe, once in my teens and once in my early 20s. Were my parents worried? Of course! Did they demand we check in every day? No! Just “every few days”, usually when we’d travel to a new city. This was well before the age of smartphones; we’d have to find internet cafes and navigate foreign keyboards to clumsily type out “Hey mom and dad! We’re arrived in Budapest safely. Having a great time. Miss you, bye!” and that was the extent of communication.
And even that was a pain in the butt. Maybe it’s easier now with social media and smartphones, but daily requirements for checking in and talking? No! Just from a time-suck and logistics point of view, it’s a huge imposition on LW’s travels. LW should not be planning daily phonecalls around all the awesome stuff they plan to do in Europe. And from a more general standpoint… cling off, Klingon.
My parents are pretty chill but not THAT chill, so I figure if they were fine with their teenaged children gallivanting around Europe with no supervision, only checking in every few days, then that’s the reasonable bar for this situation. LW is a grown-ass adult; so is the boyfriend. LW does not need to juggle boyfriend’s feelings and insecurities during such a long-awaited and exciting trip.
Yes this. I’ve gotten better at enforcing boundaries with my mother lately, but it used to be she would expect constant contact when I was on a trip. Accounts and descriptions of what I was doing, emails, postcards etc. It made me feel like I was just narrating my trip rather than experiencing it. It dampened my enjoyment of a unique experience.
For LW, I would suggest contacting boyfriend organically when it feels right to you. Eg when you miss him. If you find you don’t miss him that often while you’re away, that’s useful information too.
Yeah, same. I am headed to the Middle East in a few months and literally the only reason I’ve promised anybody a semi-regular check-in is because I know how anxious my roommate gets and that it will actually keep her up at night if she doesn’t hear from me every day or two. Also because she accepts “Posts a picture to Instagram” as proof of life.
But if the guy I’ve been seeing asked for the same thing, honestly? He’d get laughed at. The point of travel (for me) is to get away from all of this. You can expect fidelity from me during a trip, not constant contact.
I hear you.
I did some solo trips overseas when I was in my early 20s. I looked about 16 years old. People kept asking me, with great concern, where my parents were. I decided of my own accord that a daily check-in was a good safety precaution, and this was just before the rise of the general-purpose internet and definitely before international cell phones. So I arranged to call my stepsister every day — she arranged to work overtime, so she’d be at her desk but not taking business calls since business hours were over, and I’d get up at the crack of dawn and go find a pay phone.
Here’s the thing — we both really enjoyed it. I’d say where I was, where I was going, and give whatever other information I had on starting the hunt if I didn’t check in when expected. We’d chat and I’d tell her funny stories of my adventures. If I thought I’d be really busy, I’d tell her I’d call in two days, not the next day. It was a fun thing for both of us. (I’m an early riser anyway — getting up at the crack of dawn on my vacation didn’t bother me. In fact, I quite liked having to get up and out because I saw sunrises over many horizons.) That enjoyment plus the extra travel security meant it made my trips better and more fun for me.
LW should call when doing so will make LW’s trip better for LW. If that means, “not at all”, that’s the way to go.
When I first started life as an independent adult, my mother used to demand that I phone her every. single. day. when I was on vacation. It was her way of saying “I don’t think you’re smart enough to be out of my control”. She certainly didn’t demand this of my brothers, even the two that were younger than me. So no, demanding a daily checkin is controlling.
Years ago my parents were used to using my frequent posts to flickr as proof of life. I had run off to live in the big scary city while they and the rest of the family were in my much more rural hometown. I planned a trip to Paris for 2010 and expected I would be able to post photos from my phone by finding free wifi or from the free wifi in the hotel so I told mom to expect to see them. Yep, you guessed it, free wifi was not as available in Paris as it was in the US at the time and I wasn’t going to spend the money just to upload phone photos. I didn’t think anything of it cause hey, on vacation enjoying myself. My mom admitted to me months later that she called my hotel just to verify I had checked in. They asked her if she wanted to leave a voicemail and she said, “No, I don’t want her to know I’m checking up on her, just that she is there.” I ended up standing in the entryway of a McDonald’s to use their free wifi to post a bunch of photos my last day which made her very happy.
Yes that exactly! Every day??? Esp in context of insisting he be allowed to go then his ‘compromise’ was to issue an edict? Nope. Nope. Bucket of nope
It is also possible to end up in places where it might not be possible to charge phone (happened to me, I completely forgot that I should have bought an adapter to a place of different sockets). Or there might not be reception in all places.
Agreed. But the key word in your sentence is “ask.” When someone in a partnership bypasses the “ask” and assumes “x” will happen I get cranky.
Hopefully he can learn a few cues about relationshipping and shape-up on the assumption track.
Agreed in the context of a marriage-like relationship where the couple shares obligations (house, kids, pets).
I went to Mexico alone recently and promised to check in with my husband twice a day. He had the same obligation to me last time he travelled alone. If something happened to me, he’d be the one to contact the embassy — and left paying our shared bills if I didn’t come home.
But I might not make the same promise to a newish boyfriend with whom I didn’t share any obligations.
I’m assuming the LW is American, which means that no matter what part of the US she and her partner are, she’s going to be a minimum of five hours ahead of her boyfriend while she’s away. While she should definitely argue against the suggested daily Skype calls on principle, there’s a practical angle as well. It’s not practical to expect her to stay up late at night to talk to him after he gets off work, or to stop in the middle of the day during her sight-seeing so that she can talk to him before he goes to work.
Plus, if she’s planning on hitting a lot of places on her trip, these daily Skype calls will inevitably fall during a time when she was planning to be on a bus or train, and even there’s free wi-fi, she presumably doesn’t want to annoy everyone (or allow everyone to hear their conversation) who’s stuck on the bus or in the train carriage with her.
I STRONGLY agree. I travel to different time zones for work, 8+ trips a year, typically week-long trips. I rarely contact my (long-term, co-habiting) partner.* Even if the time difference is only a couple of hours, the rhythms of our days are different, Skype access is annoying/unpredictable, and we’re having such different experiences that it’s quite time-consuming (and often boring for us both) to share them remotely. We have a nice catch-up when I’m back home, and in the meantime we both… enjoy our weeks.
We used to try to speak semi-regularly while I was away. I found that making firm plans to speak was very stressful for both parties when inevitably my phone ran out of battery/credit/no roaming access in country X, and it was a massive pain (or impossible!) to rearrange my whole day to access the internet, and so maybe I didn’t check in at the agreed time, and then partner understandably got worried. Or I fell into a deep jetlag sleep and didn’t hear him calling… Or we did connect, but one/both of us had to wake up at a terrible time to do it, and then that can throw out the whole day.
Making commitments to be in contact when you don’t know what your schedule will be or how you’ll be feeling is a recipe for stress for both partners. And that’s just for work trips – who wants to have that kind of stress while on a holiday you’ve been planning for 2 years?? I’m concerned that it would dominate your whole trip, and all those museum visits, fossicking at markets, meandering through medieval laneways, all-night techno parties, whatever your thing is – the enjoyment (for me) would be lessened if I were stressing about when it needed to be over. Be free LW! And let your partner be free to enjoy his fortnight too, without worrying when he can’t reach you, and hearing about experiences he’s not sharing when he does reach you.
*Since these are work trips, I have emergency contact arrangements in place that don’t involve my partner. And it’s possible that the best emergency contact may be your local embassy – unless you’re dating Liam Neeson.
Agreed. But if the boyfriend hasn’t traveled much, or internationally, he might not realize just what a complicated thing this is to arrange.
Absolutely, it’s difficult to appreciate if you haven’t experienced it. I’m hoping this may help the LW feel comfortable in her decision about how much (if any) contact to aim for. And love the Captain’s non-committal script.
Agreed. When I was in Malaysia for work, it was one thing to send a 7am for me / 7pm for them text to my family to let them know I was alive and well, or to call my then-boyfriend (now-husband) for a bit when I got home from work at 6pm my time / 6am his time before he went to work. But anything more than a one-way text / chat message required coordinating not just time zones, but also locations and activities, to make sure both parties were awake & available, and that I had wifi (which usually meant being at my hotel).
I think that’s not an unreasonable thing to want or request. It becomes an unreasonable thing to expect if the other person isn’t into it, though. Reasonable expectations in any relationship are those things to which both/all parties willingly agree. If you desire daily contact with someone, it’s best to pursue relationships with people who feel the same way, not to try to coerce someone who doesn’t feel the same way to sublimate their preferences in favor of yours.
It may not be unreasonable to *ask*, but it certainly is to *dictate* and *expect*.
This. I would be feeling differently about him if he had ASKED the LW to get in touch once per day. EXPECTING her to do it has raised the elevation of my shoulders somewhat.
I travel on my own a decent amount and would be annoyed if I had to check in with my partner every day, even though we’ve been married for a few years now. He doesn’t bug me, will send a text if he wants to check in, and received the same courtesy when he’s traveling solo.
We both enjoy our time separate as well as together.
Most of my away-from-home vacations involve going out of cell phone range – either to places where I would be using expensive roaming, or into a forest where I have no signal.
I give a couple of my closest family members basic information about where I will be, and a few emergency contacts who should be able to track me down or pass on a message in a real emergency…. But a vacation where my phone is turned on every day is not my idea of a vacation.
I disagree. The chances of someone dying while toodling around Europe are extremely slim. If the partner claims he needs daily check-ins because he’s worried about her safety, that would read to me like a bid for control disguised as the more palatable concern. There is really nothing to be concerned about.
Same. This is the reason the post-date ‘call me when you get home safely!’ trend makes me twitchy.
This is so very true. Of course safety in different European countries differs but still, even in the least safe countries, it is very safe in here. I live in Scandinavia and I consider myself very lucky; Scandinavian countries are among the safest in the world. Of course, the threats in different countries may be quite different depending on the time of the year; at the moment the weather is very freezing in here so the worst danger comes from frostbite while in summer in Mediterranean countries it does get hot.
To me it sounds like LW is already very well aware of all the risks in her travel: she has spent two years planning the trip! What an awesome thing to do! There are so many things to see in Europe and several European countries offer good quality health care should anything happen.
The odds are, LW will be quite safe and will probably experience tons of awesome things.
Depending where she lives now, she may be traveling somewhere safer than home.
Urgh yes, my mother is a master at this. Nevermind the fact that I was travelling from one European country where I would be accompanied by locals at almost all times to the European country *where I lived*, any border crossing required complete documentation in triplicate (phone, text, email). I am exaggerating only slightly.
Fortunately, I had learned the power of “no”.
Honestly, it’s not all that realistic to ask for even that. I was on a trip this past July where there were entire days not only without wifi, but without cell phone signal. That’s not going to be true of all trips but anyone demanding a daily check-in from me was going to be disappointed and that’s that.
Awesome advice as usual, Captain. I think it’s fine, fun, and healthy for either/both people in a relationship, no matter the length, to take some extended time alone sometimes if they want. This is def the case for me & my long term partner. I want to underscore paying attention to your feelings about this guy + the trip or any future trips because that will tell you a lot I think. Have so much fun on your trip!!!
Yes, couples do travel together. Serious, long-term couples travel together! Six months in, my guy and I were going on weekend overnights for weddings, but I wouldn’t have dreamed of taking him to Europe with me at that stage. At that point I don’t know if his presence would enhance the trip, or if all of the relationship weakspots come to a head and we’re forced to deal with them as we’re stuck together for the rest of the trip. So yeah, totally reasonable to not want your guy to tag along if you don’t feel ready.
And even a year or so in, it’s normal to take a trip by yourself and say to your SO “I’ll message you and send you pics, maybe we’ll find time to Skype, otherwise see you when I get back, love you!”
Yes! If I’m going to do a big dream trip with someone, it absolutely has to be someone that I know I travel well with–not just someone I like and get along with in daily life, but someone I’ve known long enough that we’ve already worked out the major bugs in our relationship, and where I know our traveling styles are compatible. It’s just too risky otherwise; if it goes bad, that could ruin the entire trip (not to mention the relationship)!
And even serious, long-term couples don’t ALWAYS travel together. They CAN travel together, they often WANT TO travel together, but it’s normal for even full-on married couples to take the occasional trip apart. Maybe you’re going on a trip to get together with college friends who your spouse doesn’t really know. Maybe your spouse isn’t interested in your new deep-sea-fishing hobby, and would rather stay home. Maybe you just really benefit from having an occasional chunk of time that’s solely for you to focus on yourself! I don’t know, I’d be really uncomfortable dating someone who couldn’t handle me doing things that weren’t about them. No matter how good a relationship is, everyone should have a little space for themselves on occasion.
My parents had 35 years together before mom passed, and they each took a vacation of sorts (~1 week) alone every year. It helped them stay in love, according to each of them when asked separately. Stand tour ground, LW.
There are just so many social scripts about how monogamous relationships (in particular, but also some poly relationship) *should* operate that have little to nothing to do with what the people in them actually want. I wonder whether thinking about the ideas around the ‘relationship escalator’ might help in terms of clarifying for yourself and with him what you want right now, and whether you are going to want what is ‘conventional’ in the future? I hope Europe is awesome and that you have a wonderful time. I also hope that you find a way of communicating that is nourishing for *both* of you, and that you aren’t steamrollered into forms and frequency of communication that works for you because his opinions come with the weight of social norms and expectations. Just because your desires are less commonplace than his doesn’t make them less valid or important. You might enjoy this piece I wrote:
Thanks for the link. So true about the relationship escalator.
I really appreciate this post in particular. I’ve never been in a relationship, and I travel alone at least once a year and really enjoy it, and when I pictured being in a relationship in future, I definitely felt the social script that Couples Travel Together. This thread has opened my eyes to the idea that I could be in a relationship AND still get to travel alone.
This, with the social scripts how couples should behave. My boyfriend and I have been together a little over 2 years, are in our late thirties, and for both of us this is the first serious relationship we’re in. That means A) we’re independent people already B) we needed to figure out what a relationship exactly means to us. While we talked about it both agree we should do things separately from eachother regularly (including holidays if we want to, but that’s not really an issue so far), we both noticed we still fall into the “trap” of what is expected from couples socially.
If you end up going to all / most of your social gatherings together, your calendar ends up being preeeettty full, which cuts into presonal interests time, date time or introvert recharging time (which we both need).
Funny thing is, in both our friend groups the concensus is, yes it IS accepted and good for your relationship if you do things separately, especially holidays! However, in interactions I do see friends also reverting to the old social scripts. E.g: friend Y keeps saying quite often when I see her: where’s your boyfriend, why didn’t you bring him?
Or I was chatting with a friend of his at a group gathering, ending up talking about our relationship. Her: So, how is it going between you now you’ve moved in together? Me: Pretty good, we do notice we both need to do some more things separately. Our social calendar gets so full! Her: Yes, it’s also very good for your relationship. By the way, when are you two coming over for dinner?
Anyway, what I wanted to say – there’s a lot of social expectations and even if you recognize those and are willing to talk about AND agree to do it differently, it can still be a bit tough. You need to open up that conversation with your partner, plus that conversation needs to come back on every now and then.
In terms of avoiding any larger “shoulds” on this issue – OP, I’m just here to tell you both to stay strong and to advocate for what works for you. I first started traveling/living abroad before Skype – and calling my parents meant navigating foreign phone systems, calling cards, and the expense of money in addition to the realities of time zone differences. As a result my parents and I settled on a once a week phone call at X time, and that process remained in place after the advent of Skype came around.
Post Skype and at the same time I was staying in touch by phone once a week, emails as needed, and the occasional emergency mid-week call – I had friends who were talking to their parents every day over Skype. As baffling as this seemed to me, that is what they did. And then at one point when I did tell my mom about this, instead of being like “you’ve been depriving me!” – her response was, I’m so happy I don’t have to worry with that kind of fussy schedule burden every day.
I say this because what works for you, what works for your boyfriend and works for other people/couples can vary greatly around communication. Especially when cost isn’t a major factor. If a daily text or “virtual postcard” (email or texted photo from your trip plus a quick – things here are neat, just say Sir ABC;s castle which was awesome!”) helps bridge the communication gap – then there are lots of middle ground options that do not involve daily Skype calls.
My partner and I take at least one trip a year separately from each other. Although it actually wasn’t intentional (he has a physical hobby that he likes to disappear into for a couple weeks each year, and I have a trip I take that, while he COULD come, his presence would change the dynamic & that is not to be messed with) we have discovered over the past year that those separate trips are CRUCIAL for us. We are both independent and stubborn people who can get easily worn down by the rigors of daily life. Taking time apart to revel in things that are important to us as individuals reminds us a) that life does exist outside of our relationship & it’s pretty dang good, and b) how much we love each other. It’s also, in my opinion, really sexy to see someone care deeply about something… even if it’s not happening physically in front of each other.
That being said, I agree with everything the captain said here about asking him WHY he’s feeling this way. Is he feeling insecure in the relationship? Is he codependent? Is he just jealous of the opportunity you’ve built for yourself? I think there’s a way to have this conversation that is loving and could help you both deepen your relationship. Six months feels like a long time, and it is, but it’s also so early in a potential long-term relationship. You’re just starting to peel each other’s onions, and this seems like a good time to see what those conversations look like between the two of you.
It’s sexy to see someone care a lot about something, even if it’s not an interest you share. I totally agree. I also find I feel very loved when my wife encourages me to do something that I care about even if they don’t want to join in (and I hope they feel the same way about me encouraging them to do things!)
If I only did the things we could do together, I’d be miserable. But sharing each others’ joy vicariously without feeling pressured to participate can really strengthen a relationship.
As always, The Captain is on point. It is so hard sometimes to step back and separate what you actually want out of a relationship from what it often feels like the world is telling you you should want. As always, relationships are not one size fits all so figuring out where you guys aren’t fitting cleanly and then figuring out if you are willing to negotiate those things is important. I agree that this trip will be great for you no matter what, but that it may also provide you with some much needed perspective on this relationship.
I agree with slfisher in that some kind of check-in protocol is a good idea, but that could be with any number of people. I went on a month-long cross country trip by myself earlier this year and would text someone when leaving one place and then send another when I arrived at my next destination. These were short and sweet and no one expected me to be chatty unless I wanted to be. As I was alone on the road, it was entirely for safety and to ensure that if the worst happened and I did go off the grid, there was a way to direct help to at least the right stretch of highway or the right geographic area. If you want to have that kind of check in with him and think it could be some kind of middle ground between “long skype call every day” and “I’ll let you know when I’m home”, do that. But if feel more comfortable checking in with your BFF or a sibling instead of him, do that – it doesn’t have to be any kind of referendum on your relationship.
Happy and safe travels to you! Hope it’s a wonderful adventure!
If I were in your situation, before the trip I would not make any commitments about frequency/type of contact, and I would try to be direct about how I was planning to immerse myself in the experience and didn’t know what I would want. Maybe I would promise to send a message as soon as I’d gotten off the plane, got my baggage, and got my passport stamped for entry. And after that I might try going through Europe writing notes in a notebook for later emails, rather than sharing the experience in real time. (Emails also have the advantages, like paper mails, of being re-readable later and of not needing to be both awake/available at the same time, unlike calls.) If you haven’t done a lot of solo travel before, you might be surprised by being lonely or wanting someone to talk it over with – I have great memories of chatting with my sister over photos I’ve sent of restaurant meals in faraway cities – but there’s nothing wrong with either wanting to not talk, or getting your social contact from chatting with strangers in the hotel breakfast room. I also like to share my travel-adventures by discussing the planning ahead of time and taking suggestions, by buying things for other people on the trip that they will enjoy using, and by showing them my photos.
On the other hand, I have kind of a hangup about people I care about keeping their bad news from me because they are trying to protect me. For me, it’s important that I can trust my people to let me know important things even though I’m on vacation. I’ve learned that not everyone thinks this way, so with a new person I try to be very clear. Yes, if you go to the emergency room for anything, let me know, even if you’re fine Yes, if your great-grandmother dies, I want to know, even though I’m not going to fly home for her funeral. If that matters to you, talk about it.
Have a wonderful time!
Or be direct that you don’t want to commit to talking/contacting *him* and will do it if you want to.
This this this. Yes. For me, this is the missing piece of Cap’s otherwise excellent advice above.
LW, it sounds like your partner is anxious and thus trying to get a clear plan in place so he knows what to predict. You can and should do that in the sense that you should communicate your expectations, but it doesn’t mean sacrificing your freedom of choice! You have every right to say, “I’m not sure what kind of contact I’ll want when I’m there, but I know it won’t be Skype calls. Here’s what I can promise to do, and anything beyond that will be played by ear.”
Oh Lw, sweet Lw, I know that “he gets my sense of humor, and gives me some alone time (but doesnt seem to really respect your alone time)” makes him seem like a great partner. But to me it looks like that he just revealed himself to not be that great of a partner.
I dont think he’s a bad guy, he just sounds very exhausting, needy, and most importantly, not that interested in listening to what you want. Did you notice how it took group of friends+therapist to convince him to respect your boundaries? Did you notice that after he was convinced by other people (and not by just listening to you) he dumped his feelings on you and made you responsible for his feelings? Did you notice that he’s still not listening to you? I know you did, because you are a smart and insightful person. But it doesnt matter if you find the best combination of slide shows interpretive dance and motivational speaking, he doesnt want to listen to you.
You mentioned that you havent had that many relationships. Don’t let the mentality of “but we get along” make you stay with someone who doesnt respect you. Some people really get our sense of humor, and can quote our favorite movie word for word. But those things dont make a compatible partner. They make a fun person to hang out with.
If in your situation I would break up with him. Go on my trip, maybe meet some fellow single travelers, maybe not. I would definitely go to all the cool places that pique my interest, I would try all the tasty food, I would turn my phone roaming feature off and take a break from the people back home (especially any recently made exs looking for someone to dump their emotions on).
You are still early into the relationship, you are still in the getting to know them stage. You found out you arent compatible (because he doesnt listen to you), I think its time to say goodbye. Or at least take a break from the relationship while you are on this trip. I think you’ll enjoy not being ignored and needing to take care of someone-else’s emotions
I love that this advice is “show, don’t tell.”
I feel like a lot of people would advise that LW have lengthy discussions about comfort levels in the months leading up to the trip and come up with a mutually agreed-upon schedule for contact during the trip.
Love that, here, the advice is “Go on the trip. Contact when you feel like it.”
If LW’s boyfriend is not comfortable without daily contact he can then deal with those feelings on his own. And then they can end the relationship if the trip proves they are incompatible in their conflicting needs for contact. Much better than LW setting a precedence for bending to his comfort level and compromising her enjoyment.
I hate that the advice is “show, don’t tell.”
“I know this is going to make you feel bad, but you can deal with these feelings on your own, I’m not giving you fair warning” is an awful attitude. The whole point of a relationship is that you care about the other person’s well-being. If some action you take might hurt them, the least you can do is let them know in advance
When someone is reasonable, talking things through in advance is considerate and kind. When someone is being unreasonable, talking something over (esp. when you aren’t really willing to negotiate or change your mind, or know the other person is the same) can make it worse. It’s ok to stop discussing a topic when it’s just getting worse. They’ve already talked a bunch and the boyfriend’s position is “You will Skype me every day.”
They had a discussion a discussion about going on a trip together. Frequency of contact is a separate topic, one they haven’t discussed.
Everyone enters a relationship with expectations that they believe are reasonable. Sometimes these expectations are at odds with your partner’s expectation. When you discover this, it’s time to have a conversation.
Most of the communities that I’m a part of are pretty progressive. Most of the straight women in them wouldn’t think twice before texting “Hey pick up some tampons when you’re at the store” as casually as they’d text “Pick up some milk”.
Now, perhaps their boyfriend doesn’t come from an equally progressive background. It’s okay to pick up the tampons. It’s also okay to say “Hey, I’m not comfortable buying tampons, sorry” – he’s entitled to his boundaries, whatever they be! She can pick them up at the pharmacy It’s even okay to say “I’ll pick them up, but I don’t like how you assume I’d be okay with this; In the future I’d like to have a conversation before I commit to buying feminine hygiene products.”
What’s NOT okay is tacitly pretending to buy tampons, coming home and saying “Well, I though your demand was unreasonable so I refused to even say no” just as his girlfriend’s period is starting.
“You will Skype me every day.” is not his position; it’s his belief about What Couples Do. It’s not abuse, it’s not a consent violation, it’s merely inaccurate. In many subcultures daily contact is considered a reasonable expectation. In many subcultures “let’s do x” is a valid way of phrasing “how about x?” If LW doesn’t agree, it’s time to say so. But pretending that she’ll contact him daily – which is what silence in this context amounts to – and then not doing so is kind of a shitty thing to do
I *never* said pretend. I said tell him you won’t do it! But also: If the trip isn’t for another month or so you don’t have to keep discussing it or negotiating until it’s time to leave. Right before you go, tell him you’ll be in touch at intervals that you want to be in touch. Discussing it more in an ongoing way just seems to ramp up the anxiety or pretend that “Skype every day” is reasonable or on the table. So it’s possible we agree? I don’t really understand how the tampon thing fits in.
American culture is awash in deeply entrenched beliefs that in cis-het relationships, the woman is responsible for stewarding the man’s emotions, both in carefully helping him to understand that he has them and what they are, and in fixing things for him so that he doesn’t have to experience any negative emotions. Part of that is the expectation that if he is feeling any negative emotions, she must labor unceasingly with great care and tact and loving concern and utterly reassuring certainty in his rightness until he feels only positive feelings again.
Which is why, sadly, we’re at a point in time where we just plain have to tell them to own their own feelings and manage them themselves a whole lot more than any of us like, and certainly more than they like.
Men can communicate like grown-ups just fine. If they want to have daily Skype calls, they know how to ask for that respectfully and see what the answer is. If they choose not do that but instead give themselves painful manfeelings by demanding things they don’t own, they can also handle just fine trotting off to get some therapy or talk to friends or fire up the Headspace meditation app.
No one is suggesting she deceive him, only that she let him handle his own feelings about finding out he doesn’t get to make other people’s decisions for them. There are some things you don’t get to demand the people in your relationships make you feel better about, and that includes trying to control decisions that aren’t yours to make.
@JenniferP Oh sorry, I misread your article; I guess we do sort of agree, my bad. The tampon thing makes more sense if we disagreed.
I’m still in favour of long conversations, but the gap between that and what you say is shorter
I’d throw in a vote for putting the kibosh on daily Skyping sooner rather than later. On this blog and elsewhere, I’ve often seen the advice ‘wait until the last minute to give them news you know they won’t like, then present it as a fait accompli and scram’ given in the context of controlling parents of adult children and other unreasonable people. In that context, it’s a good strategy.
If LW is in the place where she *needs* to use that strategy with her boyfriend, that doesn’t say great things about him or the relationship. If he’s going to react to her boundaries badly, better to find out now than have a FEELINGSBOMB of panic and sulking go off on the eve of her departure (when her mental energy should be devoted solely towards the awesome and long-awaited trip).
If the dude isn’t comfortable buying tampons, he isn’t mature enough to interact with where tampons go.
And if the dude is so bothered by his girlfriend traveling on her own that he’s insisting on daily contact, maybe he’s not mature enough to have an adult girlfriend.
Yeah, same. If you’re lying by omission to your partner because you don’t think they’ll like your boundaries and you don’t want to deal with the fallout, the responsible thing to do is just break up with them because you can’t treat each other respectfully.
Mmm, yeah, I get giving BF a few days to get their head on straight and maybe finding some kind of compromise (ie, maybe LW doesn’t ever want to have a scheduled check-in but a weekly one would make BF feel much better and is much more workable than a daily check in, etc) but I should think next time “and when we’re skyping every day…!” comes up LW should say “hey, I don’t really think I’ll be up for that”. I get maybe BF is excited and wants to hear from LW lots but LW should continuing to state what they expect/want. If BF can’t deal then maybe it’s not a good gig. And yeah LW really just doesn’t enjoy being with BF at all then that’s a whole nother thing entirely.
Yeah, it needs to be a conversation had before going away. Possibly as part of a larger “we are moving at different paces on this relationship”, possibly as a “we have a mismatch in our expectations of what our relationship should be like” conversation…
Also, and please hear me out all the way, if she’s in a relationship with this guy (and the same goes for him), this means that she will need to live her life a bit differently than as a single person. That DOESN’T mean she automatically takes him along or calls him daily on the hour, but it does mean that she needs to communicate and compromise more (and the same goes for him).
The relationship will need some kind of action, it can’t just go on hold like a gym membership while she’s away. Maybe some relationships can, but not this one.
Here’s the thing : boyfriend didn’t say he would like to be in contact with her, how about a daily skype session? That’s a negotiable request about communication, with no subtext. The underlying assumption is stated in the request: we are a couple who talks through our wants and needs. Compromise is possible.
The boyfriend said that what she can do to make him more or less ok with her trip is skype him daily. That’s a demand with unstated assumptions. The assumptions include:
– There are relationship stages. Boyfriend determines which stage this relationship has reached.
– Boyfriend is legitimately demanding to participate in LW’s (past) decisions, but he’ll accept a substitute : daily communication.
– LW ought to accept a communication style that suits Boyfriend.
– Discussion can’t be tabled.
These assumptions mean that further discussion is in the form of Boyfriend allowing concessions.
But that’s really off! Boyfriend isn’t entitled to decide how LW will have her vacation.
Yeah, my reading is that there hasn’t been a lot of hashing-out or talking-through, and that that’s actually fundamental to the problem, much more than Skypeing is? LW, I could be wrong, but what I feel like I’m seeing here is that your relationship has two settings?
Boyfriend: DECLARES SOME IDEAS ABOUT THE FUTURE (or just SHOWS UP AT DINNER)
LW: … I guess that was fine!
Boyfriend: DECLARES SOME IDEAS ABOUT THE FUTURE
LW: ::flees, distressed::
And it kind of seems like you want/(need?) someone to, you know, gently asks you what you want and makes space for you to think about it? It kind of seems like you’re feeling really pushed here? I don’t think that that means that this Boyfriend you’ve got is bad or abusive. I don’t think you need to turn the sitch into a war zone. But you seem like maybe asserting yourself when someone else has just DECLARED feels awful to you, and yet this person keeps DECLARING and DECLARING.
So you’ve got a couple of options, right?
0) He DECLARES and you sort of go “NO!!??! WHAT??!!?” and flee into the night. Is this what’s happening now? Because if so, that’s a reasonable explanation for why he’s going to his friends going “what?? what is happening??”.
1) He DECLARES and DOES STUFF and you DECLARE and DO STUFF back. You don’t try to talk to him about his feelings, he doesn’t try to talk to you about yours, the chips fall where they may. He still doesn’t have a lot of information and neither do you, but at least you get to do the thing that you wanted either way!
2) He DECLARES and you discuss [the item at hand]. So he says “it’s okay because we’ll Skype every day” and you say “To be honest, I care about you and I like talking to you but I don’t want to. The logistics will be difficult and I also sort of want to be off having my adventure and living in the moment, not watching the clock for Skype. What do you want and need here?”
3) He DECLARES and you discuss [all the declaring]. (This depends, imo, on not being as attached to whatever he’s declaring about as to trying to fix the declaring dynamic). Like, “hey, I really don’t like it when you just tell me what’s going to happen like that. Are you meaning to ask me? Like, do you think I’m going to make a counter-assertion if I don’t want to do the thing? Because what I hear is you being bossy and kind of being overwhelming, and I’m not sure that’s what you mean to do.”
2 & 3 are for people who you feel up to making a good faith effort with. If every single conversation (he DECLARED that both of you were having pizza and you ~discussed~ how tomatoes gave you heartburn so you didn’t have dinner at all you just fought) results in this dynamic not resolving itself then you’ve kind of got your answer (this dude sucks and is pushy). If every single conversation results in both of you ~discussing~ how he wants to hang out with you a whole lot and you kind of want him to please go away, you’ve got another sort of answer. On the other hand, if he can step up to the plate, listen to you, and then you can both make asks and feel heard and the situation doesn’t just drag out into Forever Argument, then hey. You got a thing resolved. And you practiced getting things resolved.
BTW, I’m not going to lie, a fair amount of the time when someone I’ve dated has felt really pushy about togetherness things and being together and missing each other and texting a bunch and ❤ ❤ ❤ 🙂 🙂 🙂 ❤ messages and I've felt like I wanted to move to an undersea dome city with no cell phone reception, it's… turned out to be fundamental incompatibilities. I just wasn't that into them. So it's okay if you're just super not feeling it, for whatever reason at all. If you both aren't feeling it AND want to change your communication style, great, life has a lot of opportunities to practice communication. Call it off and practice them with someone else!
I loved reading your last paragraph. I got a bit of a late start on the dating game; at 30, I’ve had only two (6 month+) relatively serious relationships and a handful of casual ones. For most of the casuals, and even more keenly during the first serious one, the guys in question were *heavy* texters, and I got very accustomed to the resentful ‘Oh, NOW what?’ reflex every time I heard my phone. An undersea dome city would have sounded heavenly. Similarly, long dates or too many dates in a short span of time made me anxious to get away from them.
It was starting to worry me, honestly; I thought that being a prickly introvert with entrenched habits of singlehood had doomed my chances of being able to let my guard down and enjoy being around another person. (I stayed in the above-mentioned relationship as long as I did because we were a great fit on *paper*, damnit, and I thought if we kept dating I’d eventually *force* myself to get accustomed to him. Not fair to either of us, in retrospect.)
When I met Second Semi-Serious Guy on OkCupid, we exchanged a couple of nice messages and then tried to set up a date in person. It became apparent that both of us were having incompatably busy months, and the first occasion when it would be good for us to meet was more than a month in advance.
In the interim, he messaged me one, maybe two times a week, none of the obligatory daily ‘How’s it going?’ I’d mostly seen on the site thus far. It was refreshing enough that I broke one of my own rules and gave him my cell number before meeting in person. He responded to this by *not* drowning me in a barrage of texts; I didn’t hear from him that way until we were confirming times on the day we were supposed to meet.
The trend has continued – we’ve seen each other once or twice a week, but contact between dates is minimal and mostly topical. We’ve done family stuff and are in the process of setting up a vacation together this summer. Initially I wasn’t sure how much of my happiness in the relationship was actually about *him* and how much was due to not being hovered over, but if this far in, I’m still pleased to hear from him and excited about the prospect of us spending more time together in the future? I’ll take it.
(Sorry for derailing, but tl;dr LW: if you’re feeling cramped, listen to your instincts.)
My needs as far as frequency and intensity of contact really do shift a lot, and being able to get on the same page about it is so good. My current significant other is a heavy contacter and I wound up saying “hey, I’m introverting, let me be the one to get back to you? Might be a day or two”. I cannot describe how wonderful and safe it felt when she said “that’s fine” and meant it.
Also, most people deal with conflicting needs by discussing it and trying to reach a compromise, and breaking up if no compromise is possible. Perhaps daily contact in the form of a text a day is an acceptable compromise to both LW and her partner, with the caveat that LW doesn’t know if that’s possible in advanced. “Much better than LW setting a precedence for bending to his comfort level and compromising her enjoyment” renders this process impossible
I think Captain’s advice here is important: “When you say “No thank you” or “I don’t want to,” how often do you find yourself having to renegotiate those with him?”
What you want may be different than what other people would be okay with, but I definitely wouldn’t want to renegotiate all the time.
This makes me think of the old book ‘when I say no I feel guilty’. When someone else’s ‘shoulds’ start to feel controlling it is certainly an amber flag for me!
Yup! Good old Gavin de Beckers rule: “if someone won’t accept your No, they are trying to manipulate you.”
A corollary: You don’t find out how “nice” a person actually is until you tell them “no” on something that matters to them. That’s when you find out whether they handle conflict resolution in a way you can work with or not.
And someone who thinks you don’t get to have boundaries until their friends and therapist confirm them isn’t going to be worth the work, no matter how “nice” they seem. That he did that is a big ol’ red flag. If it were me, I’d probably want to have a conversation pointing that out to him, that I’m not going to be okay with a regular pattern of being presumed unreasonable unless the “real” reasonable people are willing to grant me some of their reasonableness pixie dust. If he then cuts that out, I’d see how things go otherwise. Sometimes people really can handle being called on something that fundamental and they do just plain fix their behavior.
This has given him and his friends and his therapist a big heads-up that he 1) has a relationship escalation ladder in his head, and 2) he doesn’t get to assume that’s how things actually go. If he uses that realization to work out with his therapist a set of articulations about that vision in his head, so that he and the therapist can examine those expectations for reasonableness and appropriateness, and then he follows that by some respectful conversations with LW about requesting some of the things that are reasonable to request, I’d say that’s pretty promising. If he keeps on with the, “but the vision in my head is how relationships ARE and LW is WRONGWRONGWRONG to not follow the script in my head that I haven’t even communicated,” then, well, run like your tampon strings are on fire (that’s why tampons are relevant, right?).
Sounds like your boyfriend has a specific story in his head about your relationship, and he is expecting you to follow this internal script without giving you a copy to read. Instead of him expecting you to fill a role he’s already written out for you, it would be better if this is a story you build together as you go along with both of having agency and developing your own roles. So maybe sit him down at some point to have a meta conversation about the relationship and expectations and roles and what’s the story in his head vs the story you’ve been envisioning.
Regarding the trip to Europe, I feel you on it. My current job responsibilities don’t really allow me to take more than a day here and there and long weekends away from the work. My plan when this job ends is to live in Europe for 3 months. When I share this plan with friends and family, at least half of them try to invite themselves along for all or part of it. Including my ex. Who knows how many of them are serious about it. Not the same situation that you’re experiencing, I know, but that urge to join in someone else’s adventure is pretty common.
Absolutely make it clear that he needs to go from insisting/assuming to *asking* for what he wants from you during your travel. And that you may or may not be able to accommodate his desired level of communication. He needs to be able to accept the possibility of a no, and if he can’t, that’s definitely a problem. Maybe pick some specific points along the way that you will definitely reach out to him. The same way that the Captain talks about resetting communication expectations with demanding family members in terms of a regularly scheduled call and otherwise not responding or cutting communication short until the designated time for the usual check-in.
I can tell you from experience (not romantic though) that people who interact with you as “a person who fills a designated role” instead of as the person who YOU actually are, are soul-crushing to spend time with.
I’m related to mine; LW does not have to stay involved with hers.
OMG yes. My Mum seems to have this script or ideal in her head of how a Mother-Daughter relationship *should* go, and any time I deviate from that script, she gets stroppy and becomes manipulative and controlling.
You’re absolutely right, it does feel like she is trying to interact with this version of me, or what “a daughter” is, that she has in her head, and doesn’t really see the real *me* at all.
Ohhh FLINCH, Kitty, THANK YOU. You just wrote my autobiography. I feel so validated now. My mother does this too.
OMG, you have succinctly summed up the entirety of my relationships with my parents. I am simply the person filling in the role of “Daughter” in their lives — “Daughter” could be played by anyone and they would interact with that person exactly the same way. I’ve had depression with dissociation since childhood, and this state of affairs has contributed to (if not caused) those problems directly.
Sounds like your boyfriend has a specific story in his head about your relationship, and he is expecting you to follow this internal script without giving you a copy to read.
This is a perfect one-sentence encapsulation of why I stopped dating.
Yes – I think he has a girlfriend schema in his head and he is proceeding on the assumption that LW will do What Girlfriends Do. I was like this in my first serious relationship. I had a boyfriend, therefore he would do boyfriend things! And any time he went off script I got horribly anxious that it meant he didn’t really want to be my boyfriend. (Amazingly after six months of this he did not, in fact, want to be my boyfriend.)
I was 20, I didn’t know what was going on, it all went horribly wrong. This man is in his late 30s with a lot more life experience under his belt, but if he hasn’t dated all that much then he could still be carrying around the same wonky ideas (obviously he could even if he’d dated a lot, but newish territory is harder). Maybe the extra years and the solid Team Him will help, or maybe they won’t be enough.
And this point in the relationship is a key one, I think – far enough in to start thinking about the long term, not so far in that you feel super comfortable and sure of one another. Nerves run high. In any case, I think all LW can do is maintain the boundaries she needs – he’ll either reprogramme his expectations of Girlfriend or it’ll turn out that their expectations are too different.
For the first year of our relationship, starting three months in, my now-fiancé traveled to Europe 50% of the time for work. It was hard to be left behind (I did join him for one trip at about our 5 month mark), and I did not always hear from him every day when he was traveling. I had to do a lot of work on my own anxiety when I didn’t hear from him on a given day, but I knew it was MY anxiety, not his being out of reliable WiFi, that was the issue. I can tell you that it was helpful when he had so much as a minute to say “hi-bye” on chat, even if he was exhausted and about to fall asleep, or on the way out to breakfast in the morning. Where possible, we each sent an email every day, and it was really valuable in talking about things we might never have discussed so early otherwise (they got really long sometimes). It also helped that he kept me in the loop that he was about to travel to unknown places, so I knew I might not hear from him the next day. Sometimes I sent him an email anyway, even though he hadn’t been able to respond to my previous one, as long as I knew that I wasn’t doing it out of anxiety but out of a genuine desire to connect.
Now he’s traveling again (way less frequently), and because our relationship is strong, I’m kind of enjoying the quiet house even as I miss his presence and continue to send him daily emails even when he’s out of WiFi range.
Summary: he’s responsible for handling his own anxiety. You can help by being in touch when you can be, and keeping him informed when you may not be able to be. That is, of course, if and only if you want to be in touch and you want to keep him informed. I’m with the Captain that if you find being apart to be a relief, that’s worth some attention.
I’ve been to Europe twice without my spouse. We’ve been married for more than two decades. We do Skype, but he doesn’t expect it every day. In fact, he’s always saying he wants me to have a good time and not be worried about staying in touch with him.
Spot on with all the advice above.
‘You feel like he is trying to move the relationship along faster than you want to’
I… want to question this wording, because it subtly (and unintentionally) frames this as a situation where it’s expected that you will eventually get to the point of including your partner in all holidays and where the problem is simply that he wanted this at too early a stage. I want to point out that it’s also totally legitimate to feel that you’re always going to want the option of getting off on your own now and again. Is this how you feel? If so, how is Partner going to deal with that long term? Those may of course be questions that you want to leave until you’ve seen how the current ‘going off without Partner’ situation works out, but they’re questions that it’s OK and desirable to be asking yourself.
I had that thought, too. Maybe it’s not that LW thinks he is trying to move the relationship along faster than they want, but that he is trying to move the relationship in a direction they don’t want, ever.
Speaking as someone who really enjoys a clear progression towards mutual life entanglement (a friend explained the Relationship Escalator to me and I went oh! That’s what I WANT), nothing is ever, ever going to beat having clear discussions about both the things themselves (calling every day versus not, traveling together versus not) and what they mean to you. For instance, I have friends who rarely eat the same meal as their partner. They eat different things at different times and they like it that way. I personally really enjoy the symbolism of sharing a common hearth and breaking bread together and I prefer to plan my life so that eating breakfast and dinner together is the default – and I also want to sleep by myself pretty often. Some people really, really like the symbolism of sleeping in the same bed every night, no matter what, even if you have the flu, even if you have different sleep needs, even if you’re a thrasher or a snorer. I think the trouble usually comes from trying to use everyday actions as, like, a synecdoche for the state of the relationship without ever mutually clarifying what the symbols mean. Like, maybe this guy just has blind unexamined ideas of what couples do – or maybe he’s doing what the cultural script would tell him to do if the pronouns in this letter were flipped, and trying to read tea leaves about The Relationship based on whether or not you can get to a wifi connection at 8 pm EST every day. In which case it’s time to make the implicit explicit and talk it out, I suspect.
It may well be the case that there is a disconnect between the two of you regarding what kind of relationship you’re looking for. While I think there are some inherent difficulties with this model, and I think a lot of people gravitate toward it becasue of social norms and not necessarily preferences they cultivated that work well for them in particular, there are a lot of people who want a romantic partner who will be part of nearly everything they do. You sound more like me, LW – you want a romantic relationship to be with someone who is an important and significant part of your life, but who isn’t the entirety of your life. As much as you get along regarding other aspects of your relationship, if you have a fundamental incompatibility around the amount of time/activity involvement in each other’s life, that doesn’t lend itself to a lasting relationship that’s healthy and happy for everyone involved.
I’d say it’s worth having a conversation about how you each envision your ideal in this regard. As I noted, he may simply be defaulting to “extremely involved” because that’s very much normative in a lot of dominant subcultures, at least here in USA, and it may be the case that he actually WOULDN’T prefer as much involvement once he consciously interrogates his ideal/desires. Or he might really want that much involvement, in which case you’ll either have to find a compromise that works for both of you or break up (or one or both of you be miserable, but I don’t recommend that option).
“In a perfect world, how do you see this working out?” is a great question to ask a partner.
I’ve asked it, thanks to you, Captain. It’s always enlightening!
It’s a great question to ask anyone you’re having a conflict of expectations with! I use it on my mom, and I can see in her eyes the moment she realizes that what she wants (usually “for you, my daughter, to magically just know when to call or visit me, unprompted, in order to soothe my anxiety”) is going to sound ridiculous as soon as she puts it into words that have to be said out loud.
I went through this experience from the LW’s partner’s perspective; I (she, her) had been dating a man for nearly a year when he suddenly got the opportunity to go on a month-long, once-in-a-lifetime trip to a place that we had once discussed visiting together. I couldn’t go for work/financial reasons, but this was the rare time when he could take a month off, so he did.
As the person who wasn’t going on the trip, I had to do the emotional work of staying out of the trip: you have to be supportive without showing that you’re disappointed/sad/jealous even if you FEEL that way in the moment, because there are a limited amount of “I have feelings about your trip” conversations you can have, and a limited timeframe in which it’s appropriate to have those conversations before you need to switch to 100% support. You also can’t be the person who makes assumptions or demands about the trip, like “We need to Skype every day!” You have to hold back and let your partner do the thing, and it is HARD.
I know I didn’t do all of that work as well as I could have, in part because I was kind of figuring it out as I went along, and in part because I wanted my thoughts/feelings to matter. I didn’t want to be left behind, but I also didn’t want to be the sad/bad/clingy partner who drags everything down, and I didn’t know how to not be either of those. In my ideal world he would have waited until we could go together, and I was learning that this relationship was not that ideal world.
In the end, everything that I worried the trip would do to our relationship did in fact happen:
1. I worried that the trip would take all of my boyfriend’s time/money/energy for summer travel (meaning he and I wouldn’t be able to take a trip of our own) and it did.
2. I worried that communicating my feelings about being left out (and my logistical questions about whether we should also plan a trip) would make the relationship weaker instead of stronger, and it did.
3. I worried that my boyfriend would have an intense experience that would put distance between the two of us because he had grown/changed and I had stayed at home, and it did.
One of the hardest moments of the trip was the day he got back, when I learned that the person he had been traveling with had been Skyping with her partner throughout. I did not get Skyped with — I got a handful of emails over the course of the month — so it was hard not to feel like “we could have had Skype conversations but you chose not to,” whether or not that’s how he saw it.
We broke up a few months later, which we would very likely have done with or without the trip.
I’m sharing this to acknowledge that being the person who doesn’t get to go is hard, and there’s the double burden of feeling like you’re being clingy/possessive/a trip ruiner for not being fully enthusiastic and/or wanting to plan shared partner stuff while the other person is traveling. I’m not proud of my behavior during all of this, either.
A key factor here is the partner can say “I’m anxious about x because y and it would really reassure me if you z.”
Versus “You should z. It’s what couples do.”
LW, this advice is solid. Have fun on your trip!
Speaking of “shoulds”, I kinda wish bf’s therapist and friends hadn’t worded their advice as, “you shouldn’t feel insecure / anxious / frustrated that your gf is going on a trip without you.”
I actually think the Captain’s questions are a lot better than a declaration that given emotions shouldn’t be felt. If you (speaking broadly, not to LW) feel insecure, anxious, or some other “bad” emotion, that’s not a moral failing. It just means it’s time to take a step back and think, “what is underlying this emotion?” and “what are some safe, concrete steps I can take to alleviate or process this emotion?”
Since LWs bf is in therapy, hopefully he’s already learning how to do this. It sounds like the therapist is doing a good job, since they know that “insist LW soothe my anxiety by ‘making’ her include me on this trip” is not a healthy way to process this emotion.
I just wanted to throw this out there because having an intense emotional reaction isn’t helped by thinking, “I shouldn’t have this emotion”; generally all that does is make a person feel ashamed on top of feeling anxious or insecure, which isn’t an empowered state.
A better mindset is, “I feel x, so what can I choose to do about it? What coping mechanisms are healthy?” The “B” in both CBT and DBT is for “behavior” and the idea is to believe that you are capable of making many different behavioral choices in response to emotions, which is empowering.
Hopefully, bf will make a lot of progress in therapy regarding dealing with his anxiety in a healthy way, LW will enjoy her awesome solo vacation, and everything will get sorted. Good luck!
“I just wanted to throw this out there because having an intense emotional reaction isn’t helped by thinking, “I shouldn’t have this emotion”; generally all that does is make a person feel ashamed on top of feeling anxious or insecure, which isn’t an empowered state.
A better mindset is, “I feel x, so what can I choose to do about it? ”
THIS. So well said.
To be fair, we have no idea how the boyfriend’s friends and therapist actually phrased it, since we’re getting things thirdhand.
True, and I apologise to the LW if this comes off as criticizing her phrasing. She only had 400 words, so some things had to be summarized, nbd.
Ah, I know this well. A couple years ago I was planning a trip to the middle east with friends without my then boyfriend (now fiance). He said he wasn’t interested and didn’t care if I went but then seemed very annoyed that I planned on going anyway. I planned and saved for over a year and I was very excited to go. When we finally got down to what was making him so surly in the face of my excitement he finally admitted he was ashamed that he knew he couldn’t afford such a trip, financially and professionally.
Finally sitting him down and talking through his emotions about the trip allowed us to talk about other important things like finances and planning and where we want our money to go as a couple. It was great and this year I’m planning a short solo trip and we were able to discuss his feelings about it more openly and the planned level of communication that we’ll have while I’m gone. I’m not big on constant contact when I’m on vacation but I would send a short email every couple days when I had free wi-fi. The short updates and a little “Miss you! Here’s a pic of me doing fun thing” was worth it since it made him included and thought of while I was out having fun. It’s the concession I make to keep him happy and I still get to go on my trips. I also agree not to spend too much on my excursions so that there’s money leftover to do fun couple things – like Gingertea said, it can be hard to be the one left behind. You’re still new to the relationship so I’m not saying you have to plan a trip with this guy but maybe making plans together for something small would be a nice gesture and give him something to look forward to with you. Trip to an aquarium? Fun cooking class? There are cool things within his budget somewhere.
The point of this long story is sometimes the discussion and ensuing compromise is worth it if you’ve got a great partner and you’re just learning how to work as a couple. Talk to him about his real feelings on this and see if that takes you both to a good place.
Huh, a beardy bobsledder’s burly arms? I think he should worry much more about sexily ‘stached ski-jumpers…
It bothers me that the boyfriend insisted that they go on a trip together and was only convinced not to by friends and a therapist. Did his girlfriend’s wishes not matter to him? I’m also concerned that he wants a Skype conversation every day. I can understands wanting to make sure that your partner is safe when traveling abroad, but I get the impression that since he couldn’t go on the trip, he’ll do the next best thing. Not texting. Not a phone call. A Skype convo, which allows him to still see her and hear her voice. Personally, I would dump this guy. He doesn’t seem very considerate when it comes to boundaries. He seems needy. What void is he trying to fill? It’s great he has friends and a therapist, but we live in a society where it’s common, even accepted, to elevate our relationship with our significant other above all other relationships. This puts an enormous strain on our partners. Would the boyfriend in this letter be so pushy about going on a trip with his cousin or neighbor? Probably not. After all, he believes that relationships are supposed to be a certain way and for that, I blame society.
OP, your boyfriend already pushed at your boundaries when he celebrated Thanksgiving with you and he did it when he insisted on going on your trip you’ve been planning to go on and been saving up for two years. And now he’s doing it with trying to get you to Skype him everyday. To me, based on my past experiences, those are red flags. Definitely take your trip and enjoy yourself. When you get back, prepare yourself for some tough conversations with the boyfriend. I love the Captain’s advice and the questions she laid out her in response.
Enjoy your trip! And enjoy this comic, which I immediately thought of after reading your letter. It’s from Kimchi Cuddles. Perhaps it will apply here as well: http://kimchicuddles.com/page/28
It worries me that he thinks it’s ok to just declare that the LW is going to do something and has to be talked down from insisting that it be carried out. That dynamic is exhausting, and it’s not the kind of thing that goes away. What about when he decides something higher stakes than a vacation or family dinner, like having kids because “that’s what couples do”?
Those concerns occurred to me, too. I think it’s as likely to be a case of defaulting to normative expectations that he never questioned as a tendency toward boundary-violation or not taking LW’s needs/desires/concerns seriously that might present in other ways, though, as you note, this can still be a problem (becasue if there are a lot of non-normative preferences LW has, she’ll be running into this over and over), and it may well play out according to sexist dynamics. People who are otherwise conscientious can have some glaring blind spots due to social norms; luckily, for the actually-conscientious set, they (hopefully I’m one of them and can say “we”) can usually be corrected and will make a good-faith effort to do better in the future. But I agree it’s something to which one should pay attention, especially if this lack of consideration plays out in other ways.
OMG that comic is so great. ❤
On the other hand, it says something in this guy’s favor that the people he chooses to keep in his life are the kind of people who’d give him pushback on these issues.
I don’t know what will feel like comfortable communication for you.
I’ve done several amounts, but it has never been Skype everyday. In general, I’ve called my emergency contact or my SO on arrival and at departure.
I don’t keep travel diaries or take many pictures. I want to be in the moment rather than setting up my memories. So if you find yourself not taking holiday snaps, you’re not alone.
Have a wonderful trip.
This Is What Couples Do is the worst enemy of everyone, coupled or not. It can ruin existing relationships with what-ifs and not-good-enoughs and pressure, and it can prevent people even getting into relationships because if you’re not willing to Do those things what’s the point?
I loathe ‘should’ with the fire of a thousand nuns, always have.
” fire of a thousand nuns”
this is a good typo
How do I find this order of firey nuns, I would like to subscribe to their newsletter
Agreed. I am now picturing a thousand nuns attacking with really intense fire magic.
I love everything about this thread 😂
They’re the Sisters of St. Lucy. The flamethrowers aren’t generally talked about, even though they’re the only truly authentic way to make the saffron buns. I had to be the maiden in the long white dress with long wavy hair and the crown of candles more than once. Where she walks through the dark of the longest night, trolls fall back from her light into the shadows, a skill ever more relevant in the internet era.
Ha! It’s not a typo, it’s an old TWoP throw-back that is stuck in my brain forever.
@ Buni, ah, I have heard of that place but never spent time there. Anyway, it’s great regardless.
A six-month relationship is going to read differently to lots of people. Depending on the individual and the specific relationship, this can read as “early days,” “steady thing” or “getting really serious.” It sounds like LW and her BF might have different takes on this. If he’s just getting to “steady thing,” then his requests can seem needy—but if this is more serious and beginning to lean toward more commitment, his desire for a check-in, to travel together, etc. is well within norms. Not that LW isn’t able to set her boundaries where she wants regardless! But I think it might be good for them to have a check-in soon about where they are & where they see themselves headed, to make sure they’re more or less on the same page.
I, too, have spent most of my life single, traveling alone extensively, and keeping my boundaries in place. But when I finally met my partner on my 40s, I overnight flipped to wanting daily-check-ins and being happy to give them. I wanted him on ALL THE TRIPS. (Well, most of them.) That was one way I knew that, yes, really, I was ready for a long-term committed relationship with this guy. If LW isn’t quite there yet, IMO it’s worth figuring out whether this guy is (a) on the same page but figuring out this dating thing, (b) a little ahead of her in terms of wanting commitment but able to take things at her speed, or (c) OMG WE MUST NOW MATE FOR LIFE. You really need to know if option c is lurking.
Agreed. Several commenters have mentioned that “it’s still early” so this is too clingy of behavior. That may very well be the case, but I’m over here thinking, “Six months, though. Some people are getting pretty darn committed by that point.” It just depends on the relationship, and I do think there is some clear mismatch in perception going on between LW and boyfriend. He thinks they are more committed and enmeshed than she thinks they are. Or, he wants them to be more committed and enmeshed than what she wants them to be. It may be time for a gentle State of the Relationship discussion to figure out what it is everyone is picturing for where this thing is going and how fast that happens. What does each of their ideal versions of the relationship look like and how do those compare?
But if nothing else, LW enjoy your trip to the fullest and communicate exactly as much as you actually want to while you’re gone.
And more generally, I think it’s necessary to have a conversation about what kind of relationship each of you wants long-term. It sounds as if he is picturing a relationship where you two operate as a unit and make decisions together about your joint life; that might be due to society’s expectations about “what couples do”, but it might also be what he wants and needs in a relationship. As for you, I don’t know if six months is too soon for that kind of commitment or if it’s just not what you want and need in relationship, ever. So a discussion is in order; it could be that you two are just incompatible.
Boundaries are great and everyone should get to set their own, but the distance they put between people might be a dealbreaker. A friend of mine decided to have a frank discussion with her partner about what her boundaries were in their relationship. He took a few days to think it over and then broke up with her, basically saying “What you consider healthy boundaries feels to me like being alone and lonely while in a relationship. Obviously we are not right for eachother.”
Solecism’s comment above kind of captures what I’ve been thinking: you don’t know each other very well yet. Maybe this is a really good time to learn about him. He’s sad that you’re going on this great vacation you’ve planned. How about waiting for a quiet moment and then asking him, nicely, because you really like him and want to get to know him, “What is your idea of a great vacation?” And then just listen to what he says. Maybe he has never thought about it. Maybe one of his BrainWeasels is that the girl plans it and the guy goes with. If he’s encouraged to talk about what he wants, I think he could also be encouraged to actually plan it for himself, like you did, and experience that for himself, which can a lot of fun by itself.
You like the guy for a reason. It doesn’t sound like he needs this hammered into his head anymore, but rather that it could be solved with a useful distraction based on how you care about him.
Strike # 1= pushing himself into the family Thanksgiving dinner, uninvited.
Strike#2 = making it LW’s “job” to reassure him about travel, only after speaking with therapist and friends. He. Didn’t. Get. It . when the LW spoke, first.
Strike#3 = ultimatum : ” You will Skype me every day”; playing the “What Couples Do” (in his mind) card. This, in a short-life relationship.
Too much work here, methinks. This ball player would Take a Walk..
I like this spirit of the Captain’s advice, but I disagree about waiting to address this until you just do your thing during your trip.
I’m someone who sometimes has trouble adjusting when things are different from what I expected. That’s my issue to deal with, but if my partner *knew* I were expecting to hear from them daily and didn’t bother telling me that assumption was mistaken… well, I think that would be cruel. My assumption might be out of line, but they should tell me that so I can adjust my expectations.
If you find yourself *dreading* telling him that, though, then I think that is really crucial information for you. It should be really normal and not fraught to say, “Hey, part of the point of this trip for me is to be kind of cut off from the world! So I’m sure I’ll be thinking about you a lot, but I might not check in every day, and I definitely don’t want to Skype every day. I wanted to let you know that so you’re not expecting the wrong thing.” If that actually becomes a big deal where you need to manage his feelings around that extensively… well, maybe he’s actually not quite the right partner for you.
And if that’s true, I *definitely* think you want to figure that out now — not get sucked into drama and potentially feeling guilty (even though you would be doing nothing wrong!) during your amazing trip. Get this squared away first and keep your focus while you’re abroad on where it should be: everything you’re experiencing there.
Good luck and have a fabulous time!
Not blindsiding people with changed plans is good, but that implies that plans/expectations have been agreed on in the first place. In this case,: the LW’s boyfriend is entirely willing to announce what he assumes/expects she’ll do. “I don’t want to Skype every day, and I’m not sure how often it’ll work for me to be in touch” is easier to say in response to “I’ll miss you while you’re gone. Can we talk by Skype every day?” –a question— than to this “he expects…I’m not sure how open to compromise he’ll be.” In a sense, he’s the one who has sprung a change in plans on her–she started planning this as a solo trip before she ever met him, and first he tried to invite himself along and now he’s trying to put constraints on her schedule.
If I was going to be traveling around Europe (5+ time zones away) by myself, my spouse would like to hear from me every day, but if there were reasons that wouldn’t work, I’d say so, and we’d work something out. That “something” might mean trying to at least text or send a two-sentence email every day, or it might mean “if you want a call every day, some of those will be right after I have breakfast, and I’ll leave a voicemail if you’re sleeping through the night.”
I don’t know whether LW’s boyfriend hasn’t really thought about time zones here, or if he has and assumes that LW will be willing and able to interrupt her day, or evening, to call at a time that’s convenient for him. The time that’s convenient for her might be during the workday when he can’t jump on Skype, or early in the morning his time, or while he’s commuting.
“If you find yourself *dreading* telling him that, though, then I think that is really crucial information for you…. If that actually becomes a big deal where you need to manage his feelings around that extensively… well, maybe he’s actually not quite the right partner for you.”
This is really key, IMO. Whether LW talks with him about this again before the trip, or decides not to talk about it more, if it feels like he will make that conversation difficult for LW or that he will be “unwilling to compromise” on his expectation of daily communication, that is red-flag behavior.
Oh for the pre-cellphone days when a “regular”check in might be a 2 minute phone call once a week while travelling in interesting countries. AND you got the floor for an hour or two of excited photos when you returned. To me, giving a minute by minute (or that’s what it feels like) update takes away 2 fun things from holidays – both the immersing yourself in the experience while you’re living it, and the happy recitation when returning. People just aren’t as interested if they’ve already heard about most of what you did.
I’d fully agree with those who suggest a bit of contact by email (so you can save what you wrote for later) is plenty. But if you’re up for it, I’d like to recommend the old-fashioned snail mail & physical postcards. Lots of fun to choose at shops & write in cafes/ on museum steps/under the biggest tree ever – and also wonderful to receive (at least in my opinion), and they really do make me at least feel valued when I open my letter box & see one there! -also by definition they’re space constricted so they don’t take a lot of time to write.
I do think that’s it’s natural for him to be a bit wistful about not going though. But as others have said, big sad feelings are his emotional labour to deal with. Possibly though, you two having different ideas about what a good level of contact etc is during your holiday is far less important for your relationship that the abilility to talk though the differences & come up with a plan that makes both of you feel happy.
I hope you have a wonderful time.
Separate vacations from time to time can also be a good idea in a relationship. My sister and her husband have a deal where every year or so, the each take a trip without the rest of the family. For example, one year my sister went to Toronto for a couple shows and some museums, while her husband stayed home with the kids. Later, he went on a golf trip with his buddies, while she had a girls’ week with the kids.
So go on that trip, and enjoy yourself.
IMO for a trip to Europe, requiring a daily check-in is absolutely overkill. I am generalising here because I don’t know where you’re travelling LW, but Europe is not some hotbed of violence and crime. I think people get this weird knee-jerk “lady travelling alone = SO MUCH DANGER!!” reaction, but realistically you’re probably just as safe (if not safer!) walking alone around a European city as you are walking alone around your own city at home. Of course this depends exactly where you’re going and what you plan to do but if “I’m worried about you!” is a reason he’s demanding the check-ins, I think this is worth interrogating.
In the vein of “What Couples Should Do,” and in particular “What Women Should Do (In Relationships with Men),” I find there is often an expectation that women doing things without their partners is selfish and self-centered (even if that thing isn’t fun, like having a career), and that in a case where the interests of the man and the woman are in opposition, the woman is expected to be the one to “compromise,” which often means “completely acquiesce to the needs of the man.”
It’s possible your partner carries this expectation, even a mild version of it (“it’s unfair that she gets to go on this trip WITHOUT ME”). It’s possible that even if he doesn’t carry this expectation, he DOES expect you to be his personal soother (“okay, she can have her fun without me… but I’ll feel bad about it and need her to talk to me every day to make me not feel bad about it”).
I’m pointing this out not as advice specific to this one thing, but as a potential red flag to look for in future. You’ve been dating for six months. Do his expectations for the future of the relationship align with yours? If they don’t, is he willing to compromise (or even go with your wishes), or does he expect that you’ll conform to his plans? If he does go with something that isn’t his first choice or his idea, is it your responsibility to talk him through it and make him feel better about it? Again, these are long-term questions I don’t expect you to be able to answer, but to think about in your relationships in general.
Dear LW, first of all, I hope you have an excellent trip.
The word “clingy” — not yours, but it has come up in some of the feedback here is … not great? His preferences for together time or daily communication don’t have to be objectively wrong or concerning in order to be at odds with yours, or unworkable for you.
“No” is a complete sentence, and you don’t owe him an explanation of your preferences. But I think this may be signaling a significant difference between you. I had a really hard time when my Ex went off to Burning Man for a week and a half in the summer. Part of my difficulty was that I lived in a place populated by free spirits and found it hard to meet my needs for reliable human interaction. Part of it was knowing that Ex wanted to sleep with other people. Part of it was recognizing that Ex was pulling away from me in general, in ways that kind of hurt.
I didn’t tell him not to go. And I didn’t tell him that I needed to hear from him while he was away– that wouldn’t have been possible, and it would have been at odds with him.
It didn’t stop being hard, though, and it was a significant factor in us breaking up: I became clear that I was not going to have some of the things that help me feel loved in that relationship. If someone feels stifled in relationship with me, they are not a good partner for me. And if you feel stifled in a relationship with someone, they are not a good partner for you.
The most revealing thing about any relationship is how the person acts when you say no.
Haven’t got time tonight to read all the comments … but this brought to mind some experiences we had as a married couple.
He was in Europe on business; I was in the Eastern USA. We’d been talking every single day through lots of US business trips, so we had an established habit. But from Europe … first he called when he got in at night, and woke me up. That was fine the first night, and humorous the second night, but three nights in a row … NOT. So he suggested I call at the end of my day. Which interrupted a business meeting — oops.
By the end of the trip we’d figured out that the timing was just too awkward for the schedules we each had at the time.
Later, I went on retreat with a group of students while he stayed home. My one attempt at calling home was extremely awkward, because I was in the space of ‘spiritual retreat being very good’ and he was in the space of ‘fixing the washing machine.’
Good luck to this couple.
The last line is really important: “if the thought of being away from someone starts to feel like freedom, or a reprieve, then pay attention that.” I just haven’t figured out how to deal with this when you’re married and 10+ Years into the relationship. It’s a lot harder to walk away.
I don’t think I can improve on the good advice you’ve received here. I want to mention that this situation seems to play out *** A LOT *** in the women-only, solo-travel Facebook groups that I belong to. And LW, I don’t mean to imply that what I’m about to mention is part of your current dilemma, but I’ve heard too many instances of partner/boyfriend getting all squirrelly just before and during the trip, where the would-be solo female traveler finds out either a) he’s been cheating on her or b) he breaks up with her.
Also, he invites himself along at the 11th hour, expects the woman to make all the plans and do all the work (often throwing her original plans into disarray and causing all kinds of scrambling to make it happen), only to complain about the destination/itinerary/food/culture/language barrier. In short, the trip of a lifetime turns sour and he ends up just being a general pain in the ass who wants to stay inside all day and get drunk every night.
LW, after I pondered what you wrote for a while, it hit me what was most concerning me about your situation:
Either your entire relationship has involved you cutting him slack for going through a really rough time, or as the relationship has progressed you’re progressively cutting him more slack for going through a really rough time, or some combination of the two.
That…tends to wind up as either an explosively bad situation, or one that wrings all the life out of the one cutting the slack. Here’s why:
You have been getting deeper into the relationship thinking that how things are is temporary, that the amount of emotional labor you do for him is temporary, that the various sorts of resources, including life energy, that you expend on him for too little return, is temporary. You have beliefs, likely not clearly examined, and almost certainly not accurate, about how all this will change when he’s “in a better place”.
In the meantime, he is thinking that all this cutting him slack and emotional labor and investment for too little return is simply how you are in a relationship and what you naturally want to do and enjoy, and only right and natural and proper to do for a man as wonderful as himself. He doesn’t think there’s too little return and cutting of any significant slack, because he thinks the pleasure of his company is more than reward enough and he’s quite certain you feel the same.
At some point you’re going to realize that it’s not getting better, or not enough better, and that he’s costing you too much. Based on what I’ve seen of these situations, he will be furious at your duplicity in leading him down the primrose path, in making him believe that this is just how you are and ever would be, in convincing him that you want nothing more than to emotionally labor for him and devote resources to him at the expense of what you want from life, only to yank that rug out from under him.
Time for invoking some of the Captain’s most famous advice: If everything about your relationship were exactly as it is now, but 1 year down the road, or 2 years, or 5, or 10, would that still be what you want? Think really carefully about that one.
LW doesn’t say how long a trip she’s planning, but I figure at least a couple of weeks(?).
So with that, and this:
“Also, I knew that he wouldn’t have enough money or vacation time saved up”
“(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).”
With all this going on in his life, I wonder how (and/or when) he figured he was going to be able to fit a multi-week vacation into it?
I guess he hasn’t done much figuring about this at all, and mostly expect LW to somehow make this work?
Only six months in? He seems a bit controlling, frankly.
I really like and agree with the Captain’s advice. Just want to say, a number of folks have mentioned that taking trips together is something long term couples do. While that’s very true for some couples, my boyfriend and I took our first weekend-long trip together just a month in, and three months in planned–and loved!–a two week long international trip, and it was great. The key was not the length of our relationship; it was that we were both excited about planning and taking this trip *together*.
As the Captain and others have very aptly said, you don’t need permission to take a trip, and you are also not responsible for your SO’s anxious feelings about you traveling without him. I don’t mean to sound callous and there are ways to address his anxiety or sad feelings with kindness and care, but my first concern would be assessing if this is how any travel–or *any* activity–without him is going to be. I think Helen Huntington above put it very well, but having a frank conversation about YOUR expectations and YOUR boundaries feels very important right now.
I have absolutely been in the position of being envious about my boyfriend–the same one I traveled with!–going on other exciting amazing trips that I 1) was not invited on, and 2) even if I had been invited, could not have afforded. But making his trip less enjoyable to make me feel less bad is not an effective or kind way to handle my bad feelings. (As I wrap this kind of stream of consciousness comment up, I think what strikes me more than anything about the demand for constant face-to-face contact is that it seems to be a way to possibly make your trip less…well, less of a vacation and less enjoyable, whether that’s intentional or not.)
I hope you have a wonderful trip and that it’s everything you hope it is!
If it helps to make you feel more confident in asserting these boundaries, know that even couples who’ve been together for years and/or are married are allowed to make international trips solo. My wife and I can really only afford one big trip this year (if that, we’re still working on the logistics) but I want to go to Europe to see a close friend achieve a major milestone while my wife wants to go back to USA to see family, so we’re talking about each of us doing our own thing instead of one of us missing out. We’d miss each other a whole lot, of course, but two or three weeks apart won’t kill us. “Shoulds” and “normal” don’t matter at all compared to what you actually want in a relationship, but know that it IS totally normal for couples to do their own travel.
Coming from a person who just got out of a relationship with a narcissist who invited himself, sped up the relationship, and had no respect for boundaries, I would now consider this a red flag and now know most people do not act this way.
Have a great time, LW! Jedi hugs for yoU! ❤
I think the thing that would make me hesitate about following the Captain’s advice to not address it until leaving is that I would worry that it could start a long-distance fight that would taint my memories of this trip of a lifetime.
Personally, I’d be more comfortable saying something now- like, “I’ll miss you, but scheduling Skype sessions daily is too much for this trip. I’d prefer we Skype a couple times during the trip, and otherwise stay in touch with email and texts when we have free time and accessible wi-fi.” And then see what his reaction is from there.
He might just be surprised by the different expectations but okay with it… and if he’s not okay? Well, better to know that in advance, because I’d rather break up with someone before the trip and then block their methods of contact and simply enjoy my trip, instead of having him re-hash his desire for more contact every time you do talk. Or deal with him getting angry and sending nasty messages while I was wanting to just relax in a museum somewhere.
What you want- a solo trip without the need for constant checkins- is totally reasonable. But I also think that discussing expectations around communication when it comes to a significant other traveling out of the country is also reasonable. The level of communication he wants or expects may or may not be reasonable… or it may just be incompatible with you.
Thank you. I tried to say something like this in a reply upthread, but you’ve put it much better. Whenever he finds out about the lack of Skyping (now, last-minute, or when she’s actually on the trip), his reaction will probably be one of three:
– Understanding, reasonable discussion
– More boundary-pushing and guilt
– He goes off to consult the friends/therapist again and comes back with ‘permission’ for you to skip it
Neither of the latter two are things I’d want to deal with when I should be in TRIP!YAY! headspace; if he surprises her and *is* cool about it, that’s a load of wasted worry in the meantime.
As an European I see some practical issues here: how much does it cost to Skype from Europe to US (I assume you live in US, dear LW)? Skype does take a surprisingly large amount of bandwidth and not every hotel or bed and breakfast have a wi-fi that works well enough for using Skype. My husband travels quite a lot because of his work, from one day conferences to month-long research trips to Africa. Just like you, he, too, is an introvert and although I love him so very, very much, we are not often capable to talk with each other when he is traveling. If you do want to share a video call with him, I would recommend Google Hangouts, according to my experience they work far better than Skype over limited bandwidth. Also, using the mobile network in Europe is EXPENSIVE and not really that reliable in all places, so, practically it would be best if you could just use a chat application because, quite frankly, one cannot really promise that a wi-fi will work well enough, no matter what the hotels promise. I have so often been in a hotel where there should have been a wi-fi but the reality turned out to be quite different; once we just sat half an hour in the lobby downloading the maps of the area to a tablet instead of using a navigator; the hotel had promised that there would be working wi-fi in every room.
The Captain is absolutely right, like she tends to be: his reactions have left me wondering what is behind them. Your relationship is quite new so it is possible that he is in a different phase than you; perhaps he is still in the early symbiosis phase? Could it be possible for you to try couple’s therapy to talk about your ideas and expectations on the relationship? If your relationship is great otherwise, solving problems as early as they appear might very possibly just make it even better and also create helpful routines in solving problems.
I understand well that you do not want to spend a lot of time Skyping (if that is even possible): traveling to new places takes energy and after a day spent wondering all the sights and trying out new food one will be so very, very tired. The Captain’s questions were excellent and finding out what is behind his behaviour is important – but it might also be important to prepare him to the disappointment, that in reality Skyping him every day will be impossible.
When my husband travels he often sends me messages and photos using a chat app and I love those messages, no matter how short they are. I can see that he is thinking of me, we have a few special inside jokes which he uses in his messages and photos and they convey the fact that he is thinking of me. Things like that are probably not everybody, but I wonder if you could find something that unites you, a thing special for you? I have understood that many people making business trips travel with a stuffed toy with them, to remind of their family and loved ones and to possibly act as a surrogate, taking part in their adventures. I do not know whether that solution is suitable for you but I am sure you will find out a solution which works for you.
Norms change so much over time. I travelled alone half way around the world from where I lived at the age of 17 (a side trip when I was an exchange student) back when there was no such thing as the internet and international calls were exorbitantly expensive – and I never called home once in that two week period. It simply did not occur to me to do that. It’s a different world now, where there is a much higher expectation of contact, but it’s useful to keep in mind that *it wasn’t always that way* and therefore doesn’t HAVE to be that way now.
As an aside, all of the discussion here makes me realise just how dysfunctional my marriage was. My ex had a job which involved extensive travel, and on the one hand had this expectation of being included in everything I did (holidays were always together, he sulked when I had people over to dinner without him), and micromanaging things from overseas (the hot water heater having completely broken down is NOT the time to start investigating having gas tanks installed so you can switch from electric to gas hot water – you and your small child need a replacement ASAP) but on the other hand rarely called me or our daughter just to say hi and I love you when he was away, and it turned out he was seeing another woman on the side.
Even if negotiation is possible, having wildly differing expectations can be a sign that the relationship is not right for you.
“this guy” = distancing language
“tried to invite himself along” = presumptuous to do but not presumptuous to want an invitation at 6 months I would say
“should be doing” = controlling and/or just expressing you seem to be at a different place than he is depending on how it’s done and other things like body language/tone etc.
“should go by myself” = controlling and also…trying really hard to be Okay With This because friends and therapist said so and plus have no money to go and show up as a “surprise”
“he expects that” = controlling and now getting kind of bossy dude
“So I’m trying to cut him a lot of slack” = how’s that working out for you?
Based on my scientific analysis I’d say: You “SHOULD” not continue this relationship. (heh)
There too much “trying” and “controlling” going on here… at a time when things IMO ‘should’ still be so awesome and exciting that even hard stuff feels easy… at 6 months I ran home and couldn’t wait to open my email to see what my now husband was sending me. (Ah the heady days of using Screen Beans clip art to communicate my love… I digress.)
Plus we worked together during the day so it’s not even like I didn’t see him at work!
(And if I go on a trip of my own – or my husband does – I don’t want to be sitting around thinking I “should” do this or that… we both figure if we die or something the other one would eventually find out so this whole check in thing is weird to me. Living your life on the assumption that the other person is dead unless you hear otherwise seems so tedious. Which reminds me my mom always wanted us to call home to say we didn’t die driving home and I’d be like… but I drive to work every day so by that logic I should have been calling her each time I went to the grocery as well to report “I didn’t die on the way to get bread”… so maybe it was really about her missing us when we came home because we lived so far apart… I feel sad now that I didn’t do it and took it so literally and that it annoyed me so much because she is gone now).
Also… Gawd I just can’t shut up… in a previous relationship which was just awful in hindsight the “shoulds” were just falling out of my mouth all the time. I was just leaking shoulds everywhere and I’ve never been told I am controlling so it really depends… in my case it was like I was thinking out loud all the time because we were so out of sync… like I’d think “should this guy be going on vacation with his female “platonic” friend instead of me at X months of dating?” and I wished them well and no I didn’t ask them to call and let me know how it was going and stuff THOUGH I THOUGHT OF NOTHING ELSE REALLY… and we continued to date for some time afterwards with me stuffing down LOTS AND LOTS of shoulds… (and washing it down with wine and a whole lot of cigarettes).
p.s. my ex and his “platonic” friend are married now so go figure.
I’m not in this exact situation, but I definitely have been thinking a lot about how to have a “hey, I love living with you but I’m also discovering that I need more real alone time than is maybe possible in a cohabitation situation so I really want to take a road trip By Myself to refill my introvert cup” conversation with my partner, so a lot of this is helpful anyway.
“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,”
Personal anecdote time! I dated this guy. Twice. It went so far that either of them would take the word of a complete stranger over mine. Example:
Scene: Music store (I am An Old), looking at cds.
Me: Oh, she’s good!
Complete stranger: She really is good!
Him: Oh! I’ll buy it then!
Him: He looked like he knew what he was talking about.
The point here is that *he doesn’t believe you.* He doesn’t believe that YOU are the authority of your wants and needs and opinions. He needs to consult people he *really* trusts before he decides whether a given want or need or opinion of yours is actually valid.
Think about that.
If this guy turns out to be like the guys I dated? You’ll be hearing soon enough that you “don’t really believe” thing that you really believe, or “don’t really like” thing that you actually really like.
These guys were not very good guys and I’m not feeling very charitable about your dude here…
Klingon. Bogarting your ‘me time’ is a potential serious red flag please watch out for other boundary violations and plan accordingly. This guy sounds potentially possessive and weird.
Regarding when to talk about Skype frequency: There have been good arguments on both sides about which approach would be kinder to your boyfriend. Which approach would be kinder to YOU? If I were in your shoes, knowing that the discussion was coming and waiting such a long time to initiate it would make me twitchy.
Honestly that’s how I knew I was really done with my now ex. I had suspected it for a while, and then he went away for a week and I was bummed when he returned and I had to share a bed again.
Note: Everything worked out, story has a happy ending. He’s with a great lady who’s wants/needs that are much more in line with his and I have a wonderful new boyfriend and amazing solo apartment.
I can identify with this hiptobesquare. I had an ex who travelled a lot for work and I always thought that was the reason for the lack of connection I felt. His never being home became the bugbear for Everything That Was Wrong in The Relationship.
Until he got a local job and was home all the time.
Which was when I realized that the only reason we’d stayed together so long was precisely because he gone so much and when he was home all the issues were right there. Which brings to mind a book I recently I read a book by Jeanne Safer called Cain’s Legacy about sibling strife. The author talked about this cool thing she called the Geographical Proximity Fallacy which was when adult siblings write off their poor relationship with their siblings as being because they don’t live close to each other and she made the excellent point that if you weren’t close living under the same roof growing up then what different would it make if they lived across the road really.
I just started reading the comments and apologize if someone else has said something like this already, but I need to go to work and didn’t want to forget to make this point. This letter reminds me of something my partner and I realized recently, which is that we have very different ideas about how watching TV works in a relationship. If we have a show that we both like, I’m fine with watching some episodes together and some on our own, if one of us wants to watch the show but the other one isn’t around or isn’t in the mood for that show just then or whatever. But for my partner, it’s important to have “our shows” that we only watch together. It’s a special shared activity that becomes less special, and in fact kind of hurtful, if we don’t do together. By talking about it, we figured out that having shared activities that were ours made my partner feel connected; it was a kind of intimacy that he really likes. So now we have some shows that are “ours,” some shows that are not “ours,” and also other things that we do together to create a similar sense of connection.
I wonder if a similar thing is going on for the boyfriend from the letter. Maybe he feels like relationships have particular things that people do together, and going on trips together or talking every day during solo travel is one of those things (and having dinner together on holidays might be another similar thing, and so on). It can be super controlling, but it can also be someone wanting connection/intimacy and asking for it in the way they know how. If the LW is interested in staying with this man, it might be helpful to talk with him about why he wants to talk every day and if there are other ways to meet whatever the broader goal is. For example, if he wants connection, maybe having a long dinner together after the trip and talking about the LW’s adventures, or looking at the LW’s photos together, or reading Wikipedia pages about wherever LW is during the trip. But this might be more than the LW wants to do for a new relationship or for this particular guy, which is also fine!
This whole comment is awesome anon and says what I was sort of trying to say but failed really. I guess I realize the whole concept of “controlling” is interesting and loaded with tons of “shenpa” (look it up :-). What is controlling in one context is merely appropriate responding (or even showing care) in another.
Certainly there are people who try and control people out of a sense of possessiveness or because they are objectifying a person and feel entitled to do that but sometimes I think we’re using the word “controlling” to mean other people simply saying “hey if you loved me I kind of figured you’d WANT to watch Seinfeld Season 4 with me because wasn’t Season 3 together great?”. You saying that about TV shows made me realize rituals are actually deeply important to me and I wonder really if that was because growing up I always felt I was holding on for dear life in a world where my rug was always being pulled out from under me and could never count on people in my life responding to me in a consistent way. Or responding to me at all. But every night we had tea so I could at least count on that. (I probably owe my husband an explanation I suppose for why him watching an episode of House without me caused me to react as though he had accepted a job transfer without telling me. Oh see now that did happen to me as a child too.)
I am learning so much from this site so thank you so much to CA and all the letters writers and the commenters. It’s truly an amazing place here.
“Netflix Adultery” is the term I’ve heard for this.
anon, this is a great comment and a point of view!
I also stumbled upon this problem years ago; I had befriended a young man whom I liked very much and we spent quite a lot of time talking, going for walks and sometimes visiting restaurants. It just did not really seem to go anywhere and I was too shy to ask him whether he liked me or not at that time. Then I heard that he had taken another (female) friend to one of the restaurants we frequented. I was in shock for some time and then I just decided to give up and consider him a friend. I met another man, fell in love with him and started dating him – and then that friend asked me to date him. Well, too late for him.
The lesson might be: talk about your preferences and what is important to you, be it tv shows or restaurants or any other activities.
Anyway, thanks to everyone for the wonderful advice, and I’ll let you know how things work out!
Best of luck! Here’s hoping it’s the beginning of some good conversations and happy relationship growth.
AnonLW, best of luck to you! I hope your discussions will turn out fruitful. Also, have an super awesome trip and enjoy Europe to the fullest!
Maybe the LW wanted to have a solo vacation with the expectation that she’d be free to disconnect completely from at-home life? It sure sounds like the daily skype idea is an irritant. She could consider saying to the BF, “I’ll be gone for X days, and I’ll get in touch when I return”, if that’s how she wants to enjoy her solo absence.
Also, a good response to “couples/nationalities/races/groups/etc Do This” is: I’m an individual, not a stereotype, and This doesn’t work for Me.
“cutting [them] a lot of slack” is a gift I’ve become very distrustful of! In my case it basically meant I felt sorry for someone so I let them trample my boundaries. Guess what. When things in their life got better, I didn’t get any benefit. I was the first one left at the side of the road.
I didn’t become “omg you’re my truest friend you were with me when I was struggling I’m eternally grateful let’s go have some good times”. I became “hahaha , you’re a sucker and I have no respect for you, so hit the road cos I have better options now”.
I say fck slack. I’ll be as supportive as the day is long- just don’t cross my boundaries because you and everyone else get zero slack. I don’t have to sit still and be treated crappy just because something is wrong in your life.
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