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Dear Captain,

A few months ago, I met a cute new person and we clicked pretty well from the start. We both had another primary partner at the time and we often talked about those relationships as well as (of course) many other things. After a while, he and his primary broke up, and he was pretty devastated by it. I didn’t mind that he was a bit more “down” when we spent time together, and it seemed only natural to me that he talked about his break-up feelings sometimes. I still don’t mind those things.

Now here comes the difficult part: I feel like this relationship is getting more and more asymmetrical. I’m busy with a demanding job and an active social life (and I like it that way), and he has a lot of time on his hands. He has made it clear that he’d prefer to spend much more time together than we currently do (including weekend trips and the like), while from my perspective we’re close to “too much”. He is way ahead of me with things like “I love you” (WAY too early for me!). I feel like I have to be “on” at all times when we’re together, because he always seems worried that I’m not being enthusiastic enough and something must be wrong and don’t you like me anymore?

He’s had a bunch of personal issues come up lately, and he’s generally pretty unhappy right now. I find it really hard to find a balance between being kind to a person I like, and setting some “don’t make me responsible for your happiness!”-boundaries. I understand anxiety and sadness and insecurity, because I deal with plenty of that in my own life, but it feels like he’s subconsciously weaponizing these things to demand my time and attention. He often says things like:

  • “you’re the only good thing in my life right now”
  • “I feel like everyone is rejecting/leaving me lately”
  • “I’m not doing so well,
    , can I come by tonight? I need comfort”
  • “I’m dealing with so much shit that I can’t carry it on my own”
  • “You give me so much strength when we spend time together”

I really like this guy! We have a lot in common and we’ve had fun times together. I would love to see him once or twice a month for many moons to come, and for us to grow closer over time, but right now I feel like I’m under siege and I have to focus on setting boundaries and finding new ways to say “no” all the time and it’s starting to suck the joy out of what (I hope) could be a genuinely fun and rewarding relationship – through good times and bad.

Can I salvage this? How can I communicate with him in a way that does NOT say “I can’t handle people who have negative emotions ever”, but rather “it feels like you’re using your emotions against me and that’s not cool”?

Thank you!

You’re absolutely right to see a litany of “you’re the only good thing in my life” and “everyone else is rejecting me (so you won’t, won’t you?)” statements as being red flags of codependence. I’m not sure the end result of my advice is “fun new relationship is salvaged!” but I think you do have a good opening here to have an honest talk with him about getting help in handling hard life stuff and the reciprocity & seriousness of your relationship.

There are two separate conversations to be had here. I’m not sure in which order, so, use your judgment.

Conversation #1:

[Partner], I can see that you’re really suffering right now as you [grieve the loss of primary relationship][handle this recent raft of difficult life stuff]. I’m feeling overwhelmed by it all and I think it’s time to find some more support for this stuff. Maybe a trained sounding board – like a therapist or counselor – can help you process all of this.

There is a 99.99% chance he will feel insulted and hurt that you are fobbing him off on other people instead of investing deeply in his emotional well-being yourself. Get ready for some intenso responses involving “You are tired of me and you are going to reject me like everyone else” + 1,000 reasons that therapy/counseling is impossible/useless/too hard for him. This is because:

  • He is primed to feel rejected right now. Everything that isn’t “I love you come over right now and let me comfort you my dear boy” = rejection.
  • You are sending him to other people instead of wanting to deal with it yourself. (That’s okay! Just, acknowledge the truth of that so you don’t fall for the negging when it comes).
  • Mental health system is imperfect and it does take a lot of resources and energy to find a good fit and treatment that can work for you. It’s a hard thing to do when you’re feeling great, never mind when you’re feeling terrible. It’s okay to acknowledge the imperfections in the mental health system and also remind yourself that those difficulties don’t automatically make his emotional well-being your sole problem to deal with on demand in real time.

Follow-up script:

I know this sucks and that’s not what you wanted to hear. You’re right, I am telling you that you need to find other people besides me to lean on, and you’re right, the mental health system can be really difficult/annoying/expensive. But I am not comfortable or prepared to continue being your main sounding board about this stuff. I think your problems are real and serious and that taking them seriously might involve bringing in a trained listening person for a little while. Think of it as giving yourself the gift of a safe space to unload and process all of this that’s 100% focused on you, a little time in your week where you have permission to feel as sad and lost as you need to feel and get all the feelings out so you can start to heal and deal with them.

Get ready for a question like “So I guess I’m not allowed to talk about serious stuff or feelings with you anymore?” (It’s 99.99% coming)

Your script: “That’s not what I’m saying, but I am saying that I don’t want the time we spend together to be all about [Serious Feelings Stuff and Comfort]. I am asking you to find and take advantage of some alternate avenues for support and comfort, so things with us can be a little more balanced than they have been.

Chances are he will not like it. He likes his comfort to come with a side of romance/sexytimes and whyyyyy should he make an effort to find a therapist when he has youuuu? But you’re doing a kind thing by being honest about your limits and directing him toward something that actually has a chance of making him feel better.

Conversation #2 

Sometimes the answer to “I had a terrible day, can I come over and be comforted” is simply “Sorry, not tonight.” And then you put your phone away and focus on what you originally planned to do and he finds a way to self-soothe somehow. If he deals with that well, then maybe it can get better.

That doesn’t mean there is no big conversation to be had. He wants to say “I love you” and plan weekends away and remind you that you’re the only great thing in his life and it’s making you feel crowded and overwhelmed. Time to talk about that. Maybe time to also talk honestly about the way you do polyamory, like the fact that you have someone in your life that you consider to be a primary partner and that there is a hierarchy there maybe not of feelings but in terms of how you allocate time/vacation days/long-term relationship planning, etc. It seems like your relationship really worked when he had that in place too but now things have become unbalanced. This conversation might mean that y’all create something new together over time or it might mean that he and you find out that are unsuited to each other.

The thing where he wants you to be “on” and show that you are sufficiently enthusiastic seems to be the best entry point for this conversation, as in, the next time he makes you you feel that way it’s time to talk about what’s up: “Listen, I like you a lot, and I like you enough that I can make space for you to be sad and grieving right now but that also means that you make space for me being tired or having an off night or for not exactly mirroring your enthusiasm back to you. For example, we’ve only known each other a short time and I’m not ready for ‘I love you’ yet. I would love to get there someday but I need more time. When you say ‘I’m the only good thing in your life’ I know you mean it as a compliment but it feels like pressure. Also time we spend together is already about the maximum time I have to spend with you in a given week. Like of course it would be nice to spend ‘more time’ together, but I can’t do that without breaking other commitments that are pleasurable and important to me. I need you to understand that and focus on enjoying the time we do spend together.

Then, say the thing that’s the elephant in the room: “I feel like you want me to take the place of [Former Primary Partner] in your life, and that’s an okay thing for you to want on an emotional level, I get it, but it’s too much/not the right fit for me/not what I signed up for/making things unbalanced between us. I care about you a lot and I want to find a way to keep this going, so, how do we build something that is enjoyable and true and emotionally supportive without me feeling so pressured and you feeling so rejected?

He’s not going to like hearing this because it’s going to feed into the story he is telling himself about how everyone rejects him. Also there maybe is no balance between “Ideally we’d hang out once or twice a month, forever” and “LOVE ME!!!!!” But if you can’t talk honestly about this stuff and you keep feeling suffocated and overwhelmed, the thing is not going to work. “I’m at the limit of what I have to give you in terms of time and affection” isn’t what any romantic partner really wants to hear, but it’s important information if it’s the truth. The truth can hurt but it can also help us make good decisions about how to take care of ourselves. He may decide that what you have to offer is not enough for him. You may decide that what he wants is just not compatible with what you want and need. That would be painful, but I have to think that it’s better than letting him continue to build this fortress of need around you while you’re looking for the escape hatch.

Reminder for commenters: Spell out the whole word “polyamory” please.

Hiya Cap’n!

I’ve been dating my boyfriend for just over three years, and after a stint of long-distance, the two of us have recently moved in together.

Captain, it’s not going well.

Most of the ways it’s not going well are problems on my end, though, and they’re all pretty minor, falling into the category of ‘either suck it up and compromise or use your words to try to fix the problem.’

Captain, how do I tell the difference between us not being compatible and me not being enough of a grown-up to put in the work? I’ve never been in a relationship this serious before, so I don’t have much of a sense of how this is supposed to go.

Here’s the crux of the matter, I think: I am really freaking organised. I had a very chaotic childhood, where my ‘organisation’ sometimes determined whether my brother and I would eat that day. As a teenager I was then taken in by a foster family whose idea of fun was a multi-day backpacking/rock-climbing trip — great training in how to plan. My early career was spent working jobs where the health and welfare of myself and those around me depended on my ability to mastermind; due to disability, I now work an office job in a different industry, but my current role still boils down to ‘be the most competent person in the room.’

Anyway, I’m really on top of household stuff (and also an excellent cook, if I do say so myself). My boyfriend is…not. My boyfriend’s the type of person who constantly starts fires in the kitchen. Who loses household bills. Who forgets to go to important doctor’s appointments. Who is late to everything. Whose bedroom looks like a tornado hit. Whose fridge still contains leftovers from three months old that are now incubating the most amazing mold.

I would be delighted to take over all household chores. Really. I like cooking! I like cleaning! I would so, so, SO much prefer to, say, just take the trash out myself than to have to bug my boyfriend several dozen times to take out the overflowing, rotting trash. I would so much prefer to ask Boyfriend what he wants for dinner and then to make it happen myself than for it to be ‘Boyfriend’s night to cook’ which often turns into ‘it’s late at night and there’s nothing to eat in the house because Boyfriend forgot and LW only reminded Boyfriend twice rather than three times, and somehow it’s LW who goes to the store and ends up making dinner anyway.’ Boyfriend is welcome to take care of the garden (I freaking hate plants), the car (disability = I can’t drive), anything in his name (hey, it’s not messing with my credit score), anything that he himself owns, etc, but I’d really just as soon do any joint household stuff.

Boyfriend, though, keeps having tantrums about this. Like…we were having some friends around for dinner, and Boyfriend asked if he could help, so I asked him to set the table, but he didn’t, so an hour later when it was dinner time, I just set the table myself. MAJOR MELTDOWN. Apparently I was supposed to interrupt Boyfriend, who was entertaining our guests, and remind him to set the table. And I’m like: ??? It’s fine? It’s just a table? It’s not a problem for me to set it, I was in the kitchen cooking anyway? Or, a few times when Boyfriend has done our joint laundry, a bunch of my clothes vanished into the waist-deep chaos that is his bedroom (and then as near as we can tell, he later donated them to a charity shop, not realising they were mine???), and I don’t have the spare cash at the moment to replace these clothes, so I’ve started doing my own laundry separately. And now every single time Boyfriend sees me doing a load of laundry that is clearly just mine, Boyfriend freaks out. And I calmly explain, ‘Boyfriend, I’ve had X, Y, and Z items disappear, so I’m lot more comfortable washing my own clothes, but I really appreciate the thought, thanks,’ but that doesn’t really work. So now I’m doing my laundry in secret to avoid a Boyfriend!meltdown? Which is probably my own fault, but also kind of sucks?

So, Captain, what do I do?

I know from Boyfriend’s perspective, I’m being controlling. The answer may just be ‘chill out, LW, learn to live with a bit of chaos.’ I also know that there’s a lot else going on in our relationship that I’m not particularly happy with that is not going to be fixed by one or both of us chilling out. (We aren’t sexually compatible.) (I’m a politically active antifa SJW, whereas he comes from a pretty conservative culture and is fairly ‘meh’ about politics.) (He tends to monologue, and I find this exhausting.) (He doesn’t think ‘people like us’ should get married — think ‘I don’t think a Muslim and a Jew should get married’, though that’s not our specific demographics — and I’m still fairly saddened by this, both because I would love to get married and because I think this reveals a disturbing level of internalised bigotry.)

FWIW, my therapist thinks I should leave him. But I’m disabled and broke and his emotional and financial support are pretty great and he really is a lovely person.

Halp.

I don’t want to do all of the household chores *and* navigate my boyfriend’s ego. (She/her.)

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Greetings, Captain Awkward!

To get to the point, I keep getting inklings that my boyfriend isn’t as loyal as I would like but I’d love your perspective and any advice you might have.

My boyfriend has a couple of female friends who are not friendly to me, and he doesn’t seem to mind this.

For instance, after Boyfriend and I spent time with some of his friends, I said something kind about “Alice” (I can’t remember what it was) and he said he was impressed by how I rise above her, because “she sure isn’t kind to you.” Alice flirts with him and is mean or dismissive of me. It’s textbook boring high school stuff (we’re in our late 30s, for Christ sake!) and she’s kind of flighty and blabby, so I just roll my eyes inwardly and move on. But I didn’t realize that he sees how rude she is to me. He flirts right back with her and gives her big hugs and kisses, which is pretty gross to me since he’s aware of her rudeness.

It would be great to have a game plan and/or script for the next time this person is around and decides to avoid making eye contact with me and ignore what I say while flirting with him.

There’s another female friend with whom he has a brief physical past, has known for many years, and wanted to be in a relationship with not long before he met me. She flaked on him then, not responding to letters or texts, and she only came back into the picture after he and I started dating.

All throughout our 4-year relationship, “Sue” has sent him little texty-texts saying she misses him and “How long is it going to be before I can see you again?” They get together every now and then. He’s always said she’s a very good and close friend, but that it would be “weird” for she and I to meet. Two years into our relationship, I had to insist that she and I meet. However, Sue backed out of meeting me at that point saying (via text) that she’d have to put their friendship on hold while she searched her heart…but a few months later she was back to her little texty-texts and wanting to see him.

More than three years into our relationship, he wanted to see her and I again said, wait, if you have this supposedly close friend who lives in the same city as us and is so important to you, then she and I need to meet. It’s so fucking basic. But she became angry and spouted something about prudes and Catholics, and that she’s known him for so many years that she shouldn’t have to meet me in order to see him…before finally agreeing to meet me (with him). She then flaked a few hours before we were supposed to get together, and didn’t respond to his follow-up text to pick another day. Now it’s been another few months and he wants to see her and tells me that he knows she needs to be willing to meet me and acknowledge our relationship, but I don’t feel like she’s ever going to be someone I can trust even if she does put on her big girl pants and actually meet me.

I have a lot of other things in my life to think about and focus on, and these women are like annoying flies buzzing around in the background. But when I focus on them, I doubt my relationship. When my boyfriend and I talk about them, he tends to say that I’m making a bigger deal of it than it is and that Sue is just a good friend and that Alice is kind of gross. I think he’s mostly innocent but likes their attention, the thrill of the non-girlfriend and all that.

Do you have any thoughts on these situations, or talking points to help me feel empowered?

Thank you!

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I had a bunch of travel in July and never got that month’s version up. So, here’s another round of that thing where we answer people’s search engine queries like blog questions.

1 “Awkward coworkers who wont get hint

.”

Hints don’t work. They just create a sea of plausible deniability for clueless people to splash around in while you get more and more frustrated. If you want your coworkers to understand or know something, you gotta say it, as briefly and directly as you can.

2 “Is it bad to break up with someone after a day

?”

It’s no fun for anyone to break up after a day, but it probably beats the alternative of continuing to date somebody you don’t want to be with and lying to them about it for more days. You get to change your mind! Do the kind thing and tell the other person now.

3 “Should you notify your estranged father of your wedding?”

I would say that if you’re estranged from your dad, you certainly don’t owe him an invitation or an announcement. If you do want to tell him, I would also keep my expectations very low about what he’ll do. Weddings and funerals and baptisms don’t fix the stuff that’s wrong in families (& often exacerbate it), so what are you really hoping will happen if you give him this news? I wouldn’t count on any of it happening.

Weddings are one of those things that really show it when “cherished fantasy of what a parent should be and do” and “actual parent” don’t match, and I’m sorry that a happy occasion is causing a new sting of grief for what was supposed to be.

4 “What to do if hubby abuses because of MIL?”

Ouch, what a gutpunch.

Whatever your mother-in-law has done or whatever she is like, your husband is still abusing you. Until he stops, gets some help, apologizes, and changes the behavior, it’s your husband’s fault and his responsibility, and offloading the blame or an explanation onto his mom doesn’t change the fact of what he’s doing. I hope you can talk to someone about getting yourself to safety. Here’s the number for the USA National Domestic Violence Hotline.

5 “What does it mean if a guy says I have a girlfriend at the moment.”

It means some version of “not you, not now.”

6 “My husband thinks I should work out more.”

Lots of people should probably work out more and wish they worked out more. Lots of people should also stop telling other people what to do with their bodies. Do you want to work out more? When and if you do, that’s when you’ll work out more. You are the boss of you.

7 “An sms to a boyfriend who treats you like shit.”

A. “Bye! We are broken up now. Leave me alone.” B. “New phone. Who is this?

8 “Why does my husband get mad when I touch myself.”

Who knows? Insecurity? Mistaking marriage for ownership of you & your body?

What I know is that you are the boss of your body, including your sexual relationship with your own body. You don’t owe your husband an accounting of your solo activities. They are none of his business.

9 “While using a dating site should you be upset seeing someone you’re talking to off the site.”

On the one hand, the people in the dating site don’t live in the site, hanging upside down like bats at OkCupid headquarters to sleep at night, and it is quite possible to encounter a potential date-friend in the wild. Sometimes the world can be very small.

The “upset” part comes from, how does everyone handle it when it happens? Do they act weird and overly familiar and talk loudly about where they know you from, like it’s your kid’s parent-teacher conference and the teacher is like “Kid, you didn’t tell me your mom was a babe! I totally swiped right on her!“? Or do they say “Hello, nice to see you” and act calm and relaxed and safe? That’s all good information to have.

Or, do you feel like they are trying to figure out where you work and live and hang out and you get a stalker-y vibe from it, like they were seeking you out, trying to run into you? That would make me pretty upset.

10 “I live in a condo and a neighbor constantly knocks on my door. How do I tell her to stop?”

Neighbor, please stop knocking on my door, let’s save that for emergencies where something is on fire or flooding or bleeding. If you need to reach me otherwise, please leave a note or use my email and I’ll get back to you when I can.” #hintsdontwork

Then, you don’t always answer the door, and if you do, jerk the door open and say “What’s wrong?” because you’re expecting an emergency.

11 “My boyfriend said he can manage my appearance.”

Your boyfriend appears to need a mannequin or Real Doll or a Barbie he can outfit as he pleases all the livelong day, and you appear to need a different boyfriend.

12 “My boyfriend is depressed and takes everything out on me.”

Depression is not your boyfriend’s fault.

Taking everything out on you is a choice he is making. Do you want to stick around to be mistreated?

13 “How do I make friends for my husband.”

If your husband wants friends, suggest that he try Meetup.com or take a class or find a hobby group or play a fun sport or volunteer somewhere. Then let him do 100% of the work of following through with that.

14 “I love my professor how do I know her feelings?”

I asked her her feelings and she said that she doesn’t love you back. She wants you to enjoy her class and learn a lot from it and then go and have a great education and happy life.

15 “Dating a married man is hard. You cannot call him.”

It is known. If things like “regular calling” and “not sneaking around behind someone’s back” are important to you, consider the non-married as your dating pool.

16 “Can you masturbate if your roommate is deaf?”

Back to school time! It’s not all study tips and deals on extra-long twin fitted sheets, is it?

Masturbation is great and you should totally do it sometimes! However, if you share a bedroom with a roommate, wait until your roommate is not home to rub one out, ok? It’s just polite.

17 “Is it ok to just stop at a person’s house without calling first?”

But…you could call? “Hey friend, I’m in the neighborhood, any chance you’re home and want to hang out for a bit?

If you want to know if you have a “just drop by!” relationship with someone, here are three indicators:

  • They’ve told you to just “drop in, no need to call!” using words.
  • They also drop by your house.
  • You’ve asked “Is it okay if I just drop by sometime?” and they’ve enthusiastically said “Yes! Any time!”

Even if those three things are true…I would still call or send a text. Again, why wouldn’t you? Are you being chased and need a quick place to hide?

18 “Can a girlfriend influence your teen son to be a bad person?”

I’m sure it’s possible? And if your teenage son is acting like “a bad person,” it might feel better and be really convenient if there is someone else to blame for all of it who isn’t your precious-sweet-angel-baby-boy?

But, again, if your teen son is acting like “a bad person,” then he is making choices to do bad things, and I think any conversation you have with him needs to not displace his choices onto the girlfriend. Focus on his behaviors and the choices he is making, please. Don’t buy into the narrative that how he behaves is the fault of others’ influences, and don’t let him do it either. He’s responsible for his behaviors, and no girlfriend (or parents) can influence him to act like a jerk without his participation.

19 “New boyfriend who makes you feel sad.”

“Hey New Boyfriend, I like you a lot but since we’ve been dating I feel sad all the time, so let’s break up.”

20 “Can I date an insurance agent?”

Pro:

Insurance agents need love too!

Con:

Your insurance agent is at work and he/she has to be that nice to everyone. So I wouldn’t like, replace online dating sites with calling insurance agencies for fake quotes or anything.

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Are you there, Mayhem? It’s me, Captain Awkward.Image description: Dean Winters as “Mayhem” from the Allstate Insurance commercials. He is a white man in a suit slumped in the back of a very damaged car covered in seat stuffing.

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Hi, and thanks for an awesome and helpful site!

My situation: I’ve recently begun a new relationship, and am experiencing some…friction. I’m having trouble telling how much of the issue is incompatibility, and how much is me being “rusty”/ungenerous/inflexible, and I would love some outside insight!

A bit about me: I’ve never been a big dater, and being in a sexual/romantic relationship has never been a priority for me–I’ve been happily single for long stretches, including recently. I know that I have some real trust issues and some sensitivity around body image and bodily autonomy, probably stemming from “Stuff From the Past” (nothing deeply traumatic, but still stuff). I enjoy sex, but I’m not a big cuddler or casual toucher, and I am strongly anti-PDA.

My new date-friend is *much* more oriented towards physical affection: his actions make this clear, and he has straight out said that touch is his primary “love language”. The way this has been working out in practice is that we have fallen into a pattern where he is always instigating or escalating different kinds of touch, or talking about my body, and I am always shutting him down/pushing him away. Examples: we were in the midst of a conversation (that I thought was going really well! we were having an emotionally intimate moment) and he kissed me mid-sentence, before I could finish what I was saying…Or, he wants to rub my knee during the entirety of a hour-long car ride…Or talk about my “sexy hips” in a family restaurant at 2PM. Or make out in a public place. Even his “thinking about you”-type texts are always touch/body based–“Sending you big hugs”, “I wish I could see your pretty face”, “I want to tickle your tummy and give you kisses” (That last one I had a really visceral negative reaction to, and we did have a conversation about how tickling is NOT my thing…)

All these things make me *so* uncomfortable. I’ve tried to explain my boundaries/comfort levels, and I genuinely don’t think he is trying to make me uncomfortable, I think he just deeply doesn’t understand. To him, touch always feels great and is a sign of affection, compliments about my body are meant to make me feel good, etc. And he never makes me feel unsafe–whenever I have told to him to stop doing something, he stops right away. But I don’t like to have to keep saying “stop”! It feels shitty and mean.

I have also been second-guessing myself and my own feelings: I’ve definitely had the thought of “Don’t put your hands on my body in public like you own me” but I think that has more to do with my own current political rage, and less about him as an individual, and that seems kind of unfair? And then another part of me wonders whether I should be trying harder in general–maybe I’ve been single too long, maybe I’m too guarded, maybe I should learn to be more affectionate, maybe my hangups are getting in the way of me having something really nice, maybe my discomfort with touch is not a true preference but a result of all my past issues and it would be “good” for me to work through that a bit. Maybe it’s really sad that compliments about my body make me cringe, maybe it’s weird and cold and ungenerous of me to be like “touch me during sexy time, please, but omg can you just keep your hands to yourself when we are watching Game of Thrones?” Or, maybe we are just straight up not compatible and we will only make each other unhappy!

What do you think? (she/her pronouns are fine)

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Hi there,

This is maybe oddly specific and I imagine fairly low-stakes, but I genuinely have no idea how to handle it. My boyfriend and I are both busy people, and planning time together can take some doing. We live together, so while we do see one another a bunch in passing, it’s rare to have a genuine night in or a date. He is also a lot more spontaneous than I am; I’m a planner, mostly because I work a lot more hours than he does and also in part because having a rough sketch of what my next week looks like helps me manage my diagnosed anxiety.

Here’s the issue – oftentimes, I’ll really be looking forward to spending some time with him (may be structured or unstructured) but he will, at the last minute, essentially ask to cancel. Oftentimes it’s stuff that I’m invited to, too, but here are some examples:

1. At the last minute, his sister called and could we go have dinner with his family that night? Bonus points if I’ve already started cooking dinner for us (“can you just freeze it or use it tomorrow?”)
2. He got a text from the softball team he subs for, and they urgently need one more tonight or they need to forfeit.
3. His friend is in town for the weekend unexpectedly and he wants to hang out – since we’re just chilling at home/the corner bar is it cool if he and his girlfriend tag along?
4. His coworker ended up with an extra ticket to [sport/concert] and he just has one but it’s tonight only.

Like I said, in all but the last example he does invite me to tag along, but it really throws me. I’m not exactly introverted, and I do like to socialize in groups, but it really changes the character of our plans and can be a major re-adjustment of the dynamic – group vs. solo, going out vs. staying in, getting a chance to talk to him vs. spending most of the night watching him play a sport. Sometimes I feel like the third wheel to my own date night. I also feel like it’s a lot of extra effort to re-arrange things at the last minute and I usually shoulder that.

To be clear, it’s not a double standard. He is really laid-back and rolls with the punches, and any time I do have to change plans for my own reasons he takes it totally in stride. Also, it’s super apparent through our years of relationship that this is the way he was raised. His family seldom plan anything more than a day in advance, usually less. 

Here’s the issue:

1. His position is that, since we live together, we can *always* reschedule or easily spend time together whereas the things that come up are usually time-sensitive or urgent (friend is in town just one night! team is in danger of forfeiting!). My position is that this happens often enough that I feel like I’m constantly being moved down the priority list and taken for granted. Also, I don’t have time to make a back-up plan for myself so if I beg off because the new plan doesn’t sound especially fun I’m effectively ditched.

2. His additional position is that, well, he is just asking and I have ultimate veto power. If I say no, he won’t do it. My position is that, by putting out there that he has this unique and time-sensitive opportunity and asking to do that instead, he’s putting me in the position of having to tell him “no, don’t do this thing you’d rather do – hang out with me, which you can do anytime.” It’s uncomfortable, and I’d rather not have the weight of his experience on my shoulders.

The (very!) few times I have said I’d rather we stuck to our original plan, to his credit he hasn’t complained or sulked or made me the bad guy to his friends. He’s taken it pretty much in stride.

But I still don’t like it, and I’m having a hard time finding words for why this feels unfair and crummy. He’s right that he’s just asking, and he’s also right that we see a lot of each other albeit incidentally. But what I’d like to see if occasionally for him to just say, “hey, sorry – we have plans already” to his friends without putting it on me. I’d like him to feel like our time together is an important enough commitment that it’s not on the same tier as “free time” in his calendar.

But it’s not getting through, and I often end up sounding like I want him to read my mind (“how was I supposed to know you wouldn’t want to without asking you?”). How do I articulate this in a way that still leaves room for who he is as a person (to be clear, sometimes I love his spontaneity!)? How do I manage this without being too high maintenance? To be fair, I can see how sometimes I say yes when I mean no and then end up resentfully picking a fight, which isn’t especially cool of me. 

Thank you for reading my letter. She/her pronouns, please.

Hello!

It’s easy in a long-term relationship where you live together to fall into the pattern of “Why should we gotta make the plans when I can see you any old time?

It’s also easy to fall into the idea that Group Social Time counts as Together Time if he is there and you are there, and I know I’ve personally had to make it clear that “Hey being invited to be a spectator at your band practice is not the same thing as a date, hard pass btw, call me when you’re actually free.” Go in peace, hot-yet-oblivious-bass-playing-almost-boyfriend-of-1997!

My first suggestion is I think you should start taking your dude at his word and saying “I’d prefer we just continue with our solo evening, is that cool?” when you don’t want to change plans. At least sometimes! Like, family dinners are great, and family dinners can also come with 24 hours notice or else he might have to miss one because he has other plans (plans with you). If his claim is that he’d be cool if you said no is true, then see if he’s actually cool when you say no. You say he usually is, and if he continues to be, that’s good information. If he starts “resentfully picking a fight” when you say no that’s also good information.

My second suggestion is to ask him to clarify his question when he asks. “Are you asking me if I’d like hang out with your friend who is in town or telling me that you really want to hang out with your friend who is in town?” Get him to own the fact that it’s not just a simple question. Depending on how he responds, you can respond with what works best for you, like, “Can you and I have dinner together, just the two of us, and then you can peel off afterward and meet them?” or “Hey, I’m out, but go and have fun!” or “Sure, the more the merrier!

I think the thing that’s bugging you is that he’s checking in with you to ask you what you think when it’s clear that he wants to go do the other thing. He says it’s a real “ask” situation but you don’t feel like it is, and right now, “Love, is it cool if my friends join us for drinks tonight?” = “My friends will be joining us for drinks tonight.” It would be more honest if he said “Babe, I can’t make dinner tonight, I gotta go play softball or we’ll forfeit” rather than going through the rigamarole of asking you thereby putting you in the role of Chief Timecop and Funkiller.

You say sometimes you feel like a third wheel to your own date night and you sometimes get resentful and pick fights. My third suggestion is, when date-plans turn into group plans, don’t go. You know you don’t like it except on rare occasions, so, turn “Sure, it would be cool if we all went together…I guess” into “Not for me, but you go and have fun!” and then stay home and do something else.

Fourth suggestion: If you do say yes to changing plans, can you add a request to reschedule right then? You say that you’re doing a lot of work of re-accommodating things, so, can you explicitly place that work on him? “Okay, cool, have fun. When you get home tonight, can we put something else on the calendar for just you and me?” His logic is that you can always reschedule something with each other, and yours is for that to happen on the actual space-time continuum it needs to be scheduled.

Fifth suggestion: Your letter is crying out for a regular, sacred Date Night, something where you both agree that On Tuesdays We Hang Out Together Come What May, and you both agree to say “that sounds great but I have plans” about any other plans that come up during that time window unless it’s a true emergency (involving a hospital) or a fun emergency (“I know we said dinner at home but I have Hamilton tickets, meet me at 7“).

The script for asking for a reset is “I am happier when I know that I will get at least one evening/week where it’s just you and me at home together and when I can put it on my calendar in advance as a done deal to look forward to. And it does bug me when we carve this out and then you want to bail. I feel like the bad guy who is holding you back from a fun thing if I say no, but I get annoyed if I say yes and now my evening that I looked forward to and carved out of my schedule to spend with you is shot. I want to make room to be flexible and spontaneous, but it would mean a lot to me if you would treat x, y, z as pre-existing plans that we have together that can’t be ditched so easily.”

And then ask him what he thinks would fix it. “Do you have any ideas for how this can work better?” “In a perfect world, how could we fix this so there is some room to be spontaneous but we also make sure that we put each other first?

Sixth, I know I say this a lot, but make sure you are getting some time for yourself and that you have time & room to nurture your other social relationships. If you institute Date Night Taco Tuesdays over time you can also institute Go Have Fun & Give Me The House To Myself Fridays or Saturday Morning Best Friend Pancakes. It sounds like you’re busy and as a result a lot of your social units are couple social units. Make sure there’s something in there just for you.

Seventh, do what you can to delete the idea that having needs and desires inside a relationship makes you “high-maintenance.” What can survive without maintenance? “Boyfriend, I feel like I work hard to set time aside in my schedule for you, and when you keep rescheduling me or telling me that we can always hang out later, it hurts my feelings, can we figure this out together” is not the utterance of some witch-harpy-fury-gorgon-insert the scary mythological being of your choice*- hybrid, ok? These are normal human feelings and they are important because they are yours and they are real. ❤

*Friend-of-Blog Jess Zimmerman is writing an awesome series about female monsters at Catapult these days. Collect them all!

 

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Dear Captain,

My best friend, Anna, who I’ve known for many years and love very much, is currently irritating the heck out of me and I don’t know what to do.

She hasn’t had the greatest dating history, and through the years I’ve always been there for her to give advice, be supportive or just be a shoulder to cry on.

However, lately there has been this girl she likes, and no matter how many times I encourage Anna she just wont tell her that she likes her. Instead its constant discussion about a text she sent, what picture she liked on instagram, how she tweets, so on and so forth. When she doesn’t answer a text from Anna I get a hundred texts from her freaking out about how she must be wrong and she doesn’t like her anymore and that she’ll never find anyone.

It. Drives. Me. Batty. And I feel like a terrible friend for feeling that way. From what I’ve observed theres like a 90% chance that this girl likes Anna back. But she just wont tell her that she likes her. Instead she comes to me.

My own dating history has proven to me that its better to be rejected and move on then to obsess over things. However I realize that not everyone feels that way.

If I hear about this girl’s social media usage one more time, I’m probably gonna explode. If she knew that I felt like this, Anna would feel incredibly guilty and bottle everything up, which I don’t want her to do. I just want the conversation to have a little bit of change. Theres only so many times you can comfort a friend for not having a text responded to before you don’t know what to say anymore.

Help!

Want To Be A Good Friend

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