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I don't want to be Betty Draper
December 11, 2009 2:35 PM   Subscribe

My seemingly happy and egalitarian relationship actually feels like Mad Men. Can I stop it?

We started out as an egalitarian couple. He would come over, I would cook, he would do dishes. Costs of dates were split, and now we have a joint account for shared expenses since we live together. There is no drama or fighting in our relationship and it appears superficially as one of equals.

From the inside it no longer feels that way. His attention drifted away from me gradually over six months after we started living together. He had me around whenever he wanted, so I dropped to the bottom of his priority list. I have a regular 9-5 job, but he is a graduate student and keeps weird hours. He stopped coming home for dinner most nights, and will only come home to eat with me if I cook and say that I want to eat together, and he doesn't have some urgent meeting or project.

We won't go out on a one-on-one date unless I say specifically "I want to do X, not with our friends." Otherwise most outings are for social events, not for us. Forget presents, surprises, or other romantic gestures. I don't ask for these things because I'll probably be let down, and more importantly it would make me sound like a gold-digger. It would ruin the idea that I am a cool, low-maintenance girlfriend who is interested in a relationship based on mutual support.

I have said I feel undervalued. I do 75% of the work of having a life together. I make him coffee every morning, and I went to pick him up from campus the other night because it was raining hard and I didn't want him to have to walk. The last time I needed to go to urgent care because of an arm injury, I drove myself with the bad arm because he was too busy to drive me.

I am fine with this in the short term because I have a little more free time than him, so I don't mind chipping in more than 50% to help him finish his PhD, but it goes mostly unacknowledged that I do this, even though I have pointed out twice that I want some (any!) recognition for sacrificing for his academic and personal success.

He says he knows he hasn't been good at that, but he wants to improve. He still feels the same about me, it's just graduate school. All I get is verbal praise, and since his actions fail to change, I'm starting think he's insincere.

But, if I protest any more strongly, I'm ruining every idea of who I am as a woman and how I should behave in relationships. I'd be a nag, the pathetic kind of super-woman who has to micromanage everything and doesn't have an emotionally equal relationship because she bargains for chores or material goods. She can't get what she wants without whining or drama or manipulation. I thought if I was just kind and relaxed (like I was at the start) I would get my needs taken care of.
Now I don't think I can get that out of my current relationship, and I doubt I'll get it anywhere else.

I don't know how to get what I want in a way I respect. I've tried asking nice, and it hasn't worked. Any other way (bargaining with more sex, withholding or increasing affection to "train" him, threatening to end an otherwise satisfying relationship unless he shapes up) is despicable and manipulative.

Do I give up with this person and hope one day I'll meet someone who's going to respond to me as an equal? Is there any way to save it without making demands that destroy the concept of having a relationship that's naturally balanced and caring?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't think this has anything to do with the male/female thing, and more to do with the fact that your partner isn't very considerate. He couldn't drive you to urgent care and made you drive with a bad arm, because he was busy? Seriously uncool.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:39 PM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


The last time I needed to go to urgent care because of an arm injury, I drove myself with the bad arm because he was too busy to drive me.

This isn't the same as not being good about "date night" or not reciprocating on housework. This is seriously wrong and he should acknowledge it. I don't know how to fix the more subtle stuff, but I would have a serious talk with him in which you make it explicit that you expect him (your partner) to care for you in emergency situations, regardless of what's on his to-do list.
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:42 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do I give up with this person and hope one day I'll meet someone who's going to respond to me as an equal?

Short answer (and hard to hear): yes. But, before giving up, you two really need a serious heart-to-heart conversation.
posted by ericb at 2:43 PM on December 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


Any other way (bargaining with more sex, withholding or increasing affection to "train" him, threatening to end an otherwise satisfying relationship unless he shapes up) is despicable and manipulative.

Increasing affection to train him is ethically acceptable. Witholding it is not.

What Shamu Taught Me About A Happy Marriage.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:45 PM on December 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


This has become my rote answer for relationship questions like this, though for good reason, I think. Have the two of you had a detailed, open, and honest discussion about this issue and how it makes you feel. If not, do that first, and come back with the results. Without that, it's hard to diagnose much else.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:47 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I mean this as kindly as possible, having been in a similar situation before: this sounds less like an issue of equality or inequality, and more that your significant other sounds selfish and/or self-involved to a degree that may be affecting your relationship, and might just be too into himself to be truly into you in the way you want, need, and deserve. I also think it's self-defeating crazy talk to tell yourself that you are unlikely to get your needs taken care of in a different relationship.

Clearly, he isn't giving you what you need, and you're giving way more than you get. Talking to him has not helped. I say the healthiest thing for you would be to pack up and start over on your own, on your own two (clearly capable and self-sufficient) feet. Being happy on your own is vastly better than being locked into a dead-end situation with someone who cannot/will not give you what you need, and as a happy extra, being on your own also sets you up nicely to maybe meet a new guy who will bend over backwards to make sure your needs are taken care of even after the six-month honeymoon period passes, just like you've done in this situation. You deserve to have your caring returned.
posted by sarabeth at 2:48 PM on December 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


Short version: never make someone your #1 priority when you feel like he has put you at the bottom of his priority list.
posted by sarabeth at 2:50 PM on December 11, 2009 [35 favorites]


The last time I needed to go to urgent care because of an arm injury, I drove myself with the bad arm because he was too busy to drive me.

Absolutely unacceptable. This type of thing happened a couple of times in my marriage, and it was a BIG part of the reason I left him. You really need to make it clear that this is a HUGE BIG DEAL and that if it happens again, he can stay on campus for good. This may be a good time to ask yourself what you actually getting out of this relationship.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:53 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think this low key hostility is pretty common amongst people who have emotionally checked-out of a relationship, but have not yet realised it on a more intellectual level. So, he's probably not happy on some level with what the two of you have together and this is a passive-aggressive of expressing it and perhaps provoking a larger conflict which he can then point to and say "fuck it, we're done." This is especially likely to occur in a relationship which is failing in the low-key way you describe, but the people are living together and are therefore to a greater or lesser extent co-dependent.

I don't think you give up on it without having a serious talk with him, but you need to have that serious talk with him. Like, this weekend.
posted by modernnomad at 2:53 PM on December 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


When you drove yourself to urgent care, did you first ask him directly to drive you? I only ask because my own grad student boyfriend, who is terribly sweet and wonderful, is a bit absent-minded and I could easily see him being wrapped up in something and not realizing he should drive me if I didn't ask him.

If you asked him to drive you, and he said he was too busy, you should seriously consider ending this relationship. This goes beyond inconsideration/business/usual grad-student awkwardness and is never going to be a fulfilling relationship for you. You're not being cool and egalitarian, you're being a doormat.
posted by booknerd at 2:55 PM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


This was me about five years ago, except it was a marriage. He put his Ph.D (and lots of computer games) well above me on the priority list. I left, and it was the best decision I ever made. It had become what I considered a living death. The way he is treating you is unacceptable and you also need to get out of this relationship. It's not worth being with someone who does not respect or support you. Good luck to you.
posted by snugglebunny at 2:56 PM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Where does the "I must be a perfect, non-nagging girlfriend who doesn't rock the boat by asking for too much" restriction come from? If this is something he's telling you, then yeah, ditch him. But the way its phrased, it sounds like it might be self-imposed, and either way, you're clearly starting to feel resentful toward him because of it. It's perfectly okay for you to ask for what you want in a relationship, or tell him that you've been unhappy, or even decide to leave if it turns out he's not capable of giving you what you need.

If you guys end up together for the long haul, he's gonna figure out eventually that you're not 'the perfect woman' anyway, so you might as well quit trying if it might make you happier.
posted by Fifi Firefox at 2:59 PM on December 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


Every relationship goes through its rough patches. But if being with someone requires you to become someone you dislike/don't want to be, then break it off. You'll hate yourself and resent him later.
Plus, refusing to drive you to urgent care is a total deal-breaker. It screams: you (your safety and well-being) are not as important to him as __________ (whatever he was doing). You're looking for a relationship of equals, you've clearly NOT found it with this guy. Respect and consideration isn't something you should have to demand from a SO, it should be there already. And according to the info above, it's thoroughly lacking in your relationship.
posted by Neekee at 3:00 PM on December 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


There's 'nagging' as in criticizing everything your partner does, and then there's requesting that two people, in a partnership do their fair share. Your partner sounds a little selfish, but if you don't say clearly (I'm not sure if your 'asking nice' was direct enough to be clear), you need to. Relationships aren't naturally balanced and caring without some mutual effort to make them so.

Looking at this based just on what you said, the points that stand out to me are you financing his schooling, and "The last time I needed to go to urgent care because of an arm injury, I drove myself with the bad arm because he was too busy to drive me.". Especially him not driving you to emergency. Whatever he was doing, he could have called it in and you guys could have got a note from the doctor if he needed an excuse. That's insane with a capital I.

Also, threatening to end an otherwise satisfying relationship unless he shapes up is not despicable or manipulative: if it really matters enough that you'd end it, it's just a direct communication. If it doesn't really matter enough that you'd end it, then it would be lame, but not despicable.

(I'm also surprised that you have more time than him - having been a grad student and now working 9 to 5, I recall having way more free time when I was a student!)
posted by Kurichina at 3:01 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


It would ruin the idea that I am a cool, low-maintenance girlfriend who is interested in a relationship based on mutual support.

My heart goes out to you, because this sounds too, too familiar to me. But see, do you ever notice how many women out there get a lot of attention from their partners, and they seemingly don't deserve it? (I mean, they act princess-y and you think, "I would never act that way.") That's because we need to hold ourselves up as valuable. Don't be low-maintenance. It doesn't make you cool. It makes you easy to take for granted. I don't mean this in an antifeminist way; I'm not saying you should demand gifts or nag. And yes, grad school is super-demanding, but it is not that bad. Geez. Drive a girl to the hospital.

Anyway, is it too late to establish yourself as valuable? I'm not sure. Hopefully not. But if there's ever a next time with a new man, keep reminding yourself that you get what you ask for. Let it be someone who wants to please you. And never badmouth a previous relationship (not saying that you would, but just saying it in general) because it lowers the bar.
posted by Knowyournuts at 3:04 PM on December 11, 2009 [35 favorites]


The last time I needed to go to urgent care because of an arm injury, I drove myself with the bad arm because he was too busy to drive me.

Yeah, this made me raise an eyebrow or two. I would consider this a pretty egregious breach of the "watch each other's backs" principle. Assuming he wasn't rescuing children from a burning bus, that's not cool.

I don't know what to tell you to do, but you might start considering the fact that this guy may not be "the one" for you, and that perhaps your time together should be coming to an end in the interests of your own happiness and sense of self-worth.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 3:06 PM on December 11, 2009


You seem to have the egalitarianism thing a bit backward. You're saying you don't want to explicitly ask for what you want, instead hoping he'll read your mind and assume you want more of X, Y, and Z. But if you aspire to have the most egalitarian relationship possible, you should be completely upfront in saying you want more of X, Y, and Z. (Granted, there are certain exceptions; for instance, you might not be able to ask for more surprises since that would make them no longer surprises; also, he should obviously prioritize helping you in an emergency, assuming he's aware of the seriousness of your condition.) This isn't tantamount to saying you should give up on the ideal of egalitarianism and resign yourself to playing a traditional "woman" role in the relationship. After all, wouldn't you apply the same principle to him in the event that he felt some of his relationship needs/desires were going unmet?

Gender equality shouldn't be about cleansing your behavior of anything that might happen to resonate with this or that gender stereotype. It's about pursuing what you sincerely want rather than being tied down by social norms about how this or that gender is supposed to behave. Based on your description, it seems like you actually are letting yourself be tied down by gender norms -- it's just that they're pseudo-progressive rather than traditional gender norms. You seem to be inhibited by thoughts of "wait a minute, I can't want [or ask for] that because then I'd be reinforcing outmoded notions of femininity." (That's my honest paraphrase on what you're expressing in your question; if it's inaccurate, please just disregard it.) Well, that's no way to go through life -- who cares whether what you want out of a relationship is traditionally feminine or masculine or none of the above? If you're dissatisfied, you're dissatisfied, and that's a big issue that needs to be addressed with him if these feelings are as persistent as they sound from your question.

As to your comment that "threatening to end an otherwise satisfying relationship unless he shapes up" would be "despicable and manipulative," I would suggest that you reconsider this stance. Based on the fact that you took the trouble to publicly post this long, thoughtful question, replete with specific examples and nuanced qualifications, these seem to be important enough issues in your relationship that the best course of action might be to give him an ultimatum. There's nothing inherently wrong about telling someone: you know what, there are a lot of good things about our relationship, but there are also these problems that are becoming a big enough deal that they could potentially be a deal-breaker.
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:10 PM on December 11, 2009 [27 favorites]


It would ruin the idea that I am a cool, low-maintenance girlfriend who is interested in a relationship based on mutual support.

There should be some sort of universal maintenance scale, 1 being the lowest, 10 the highest. Don't fall into the Feeling Good Handbook's category of "All or Nothing thinking", that if you want some tiny thing then OMG you're a high-maintenance bitch from hell. Having said that, if he's a 1 on the maintenance scale, and you're a 3 or 4 (not even halfway), then you still could be kind of incompatible and then it's time to separate.
posted by Melismata at 3:12 PM on December 11, 2009


I thought if I was just kind and relaxed (like I was at the start) I would get my needs taken care of.

No, that's not how it works and that's never how it's going to work. You have to actually ask for what you want and sometimes you have to literally or figuratively grab life or an SO by the head and demand what you need or want.

The only reason why you want are "demands" is because your SO is taking your for granted at the moment. As long as you're willing to accept that, it will be what you receive. Stop doing that, you deserve better.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:16 PM on December 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


But see, do you ever notice how many women out there get a lot of attention from their partners, and they seemingly don't deserve it? (I mean, they act princess-y and you think, "I would never act that way.") That's because we need to hold ourselves up as valuable. Don't be low-maintenance. It doesn't make you cool. It makes you easy to take for granted.

Well put, and very true.
posted by HotToddy at 3:17 PM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


You have to ask directly, and the adjective that should be applied is "firmly" rather than "nicely".

Try "I need you to be home for dinner 3 nights/week."

If you have tried that already, and it hasn't worked, yes it's time to move on. If he can't respond to a direct request in a way that satisfies you, go find someone who can.

(Note that I don't necessarily think he's in the wrong, here, he's just not for you if he can't respond to your clearly expressed needs).
posted by nat at 3:26 PM on December 11, 2009


The last time I needed to go to urgent care because of an arm injury, I drove myself with the bad arm because he was too busy to drive me.

I stopped reading after this... so I could scroll to the bottom and post:

Dump him.

What exactly are you getting from this relationship?
posted by eleyna at 3:29 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can have an egalitarian relationship quite easily, starting today.

To do this, just treat him the same way he treats you. No cooking meals for him. No making him coffee. No chauffeuring him.

When you're being the perfect housewife and he's doing nothing, he has a pretty good situation. Why would he want to change it?
posted by medusa at 3:39 PM on December 11, 2009 [13 favorites]


If it were just that he doesn't put himself out for you, that would be bad enough. But it seems that living this way has convinced you that you don't even deserve someone who's willing to put himself out for you. That's sad. You do deserve it.
posted by palliser at 3:51 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd be a nag

What good fortune for a selfish person for this concern to be planted in a woman's mind.

Whatever you do, don't let concern about being 'a nag' invalidate real feelings and legitimate concerns.

Even if your concerns were unfair, you still have a right to voice them and be heard and have your feelings addressed respectfully.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:51 PM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


At least start by letting him make his own coffee in the morning. Damn.
posted by chinston at 3:52 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


If he wants a something cool and low-maintenance, he'd probably be more comfortable with a doormat from Etsy, not being in a relationship.
posted by AlsoMike at 3:53 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I totally agree with Knowyournuts. It's not just that you can't save a relationship by making no demands. That's true, but even more than that, it's really hard to respect someone who makes no demands.

It sounds Rules-ish and ridiculous, but part of relationships is making demands and meeting each other's needs.

As to whether this change can be made in the context of this relationship, or not, I don't know. Good luck.
posted by mercredi at 4:04 PM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


In general, it sounds as though you're expecting your boyfriend to read your mind and intuit what he ought to be doing. For example, most outings are for social events, not for us. Have you told him that you want to have regular evenings out with just the two of you, or are you expecting him to draw connections between the separate times you've said "I want to do X, not with our friends."? It's possible that he's just really bad at recognizing that they're part of a larger picture; he may think you're happy overall with going out with friends, and that the times you've said "just you and me" are exceptions.

IME, relationships are lower-drama, more egalitarian, and more fulfilling for both parties if both people are able to clearly communicate what they want and need. You write Forget presents, surprises, or other romantic gestures. I don't ask for these things because I'll probably be let down, and more importantly it would make me sound like a gold-digger. Your boyfriend doesn't know what's going on in your head. He may not understand that these things are important to you. If that's the case, it would be a pity to break up because of his failure to do something he didn't realize he should be doing.

Have you talked with him about it? Tell him you need regular reassurances that he loves you and you're important to him (and that that doesn't necessarily mean flowers/jewelry/insert-romantic-cliche), so how can you two make it work for both of you? If his response is "Whatever, I'm not the flowers type and you knew that when you met me," he's saying he's not willing to put any effort into the relationship, and breaking up sounds like a better idea. But if he says "Oh, okay, uh... what should I do?" he's at least willing to make an effort, and it's worth further discussion.

The only reason the not driving you to the emergency room episode isn't making me say "dump him" is that you seem to have this pattern of not clearly saying what you need. Did you tell him you needed a ride, or ask him to drive you? If yes, and he refused, I would consider that as a sign that he doesn't care about your wellbeing. If you didn't say anything explicitly, I think it might be an unfortunate example of Ask vs. Guess approaches.

And yeah, I'd stop making him coffee.
posted by Lexica at 4:25 PM on December 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


-Stop doing things you don't want to do
-Stop expecting things from him unless you're willing to ask for them
-Stop this kind of thinking: "I don't ask for these things because I'll probably be let down"

Every nice thing you're doing is causing you resentment, so don't do these nice things.

But, if I protest any more strongly, I'm ruining every idea of who I am as a woman and how I should behave in relationships. I'd be a nag, the pathetic kind of super-woman who has to micromanage everything and doesn't have an emotionally equal relationship because she bargains for chores or material goods.


Hmm, it seems like you have bought into some really harmful stereotypes about women (gold-diggers, pathetic, etc). Do you have many female friends? If not, it might be something to work on.
posted by kathrineg at 4:40 PM on December 11, 2009 [13 favorites]


It would ruin the idea that I am a cool, low-maintenance girlfriend who is interested in a relationship based on mutual support.
Get over this. Seriously. I mean the "cool, low-maintenance" part.
I make him coffee every morning
Stop.

Seconding Kathrineg totally. Do what you want to do. Ask for what you want in return. Stop thinking the choice is between suffering in silence to be "easy-going" or nagging and manipulating to secretly get what you want. You are both adults and get to choose your level of engagement with each other.
posted by tamaraster at 4:47 PM on December 11, 2009


It's interesting that you compare yourself to Betty Draper, because I see that, too, but probably not in the ways that you think.

Betty wasn't a doormat in the beginning of the series because she did traditional women's work. She was a doormat because she made no demands of Don. Her feelings and desires not only go unmet, but they go wholly unconsidered.

That is what makes Betty an emblem of a pre-feminist housewife, not the actual nuts-and-bolts of her job. She sits back and waits for Don to anticipate and fulfill her needs and her life without ever thinking about, much less asking for, what she really needs to be happy.

Because, after all, asking for what you need is unfeminine, naggy, and unattractive. Sound familiar?

To have a truly egalitarian relationship, you need to state your needs to your guy clearly, and not necessarily "nicely" (remind yourself: isn't Betty nice? Where does it ever get her?). If you want to go on dates more, ask him out on dates, or set aside one night a week for date nights. If you need to discuss division of labor in your household, sit him down and make a chore chart. If things don't change after you discuss your specific needs with him (and I say specific because "make the coffee twice a week" is a lot easier to do than "be more thoughtful"). If things don't change after you've had a discussion like this about your needs, and given him time to step up to the plate, then you need to think about whether it's a relationship that you want to be in.

There's this fairly traditional expectation that romantic relationships consist of a man who will constantly intuit a woman's needs and rise to the occasion--but I think Betty's a pretty good example of why this doesn't work. I know this might sound, in some ways, unromantic. But really, if you want an egalitarian relationship, you need to get the nuts and bolts of communicating and day-to-day living tightened before you can work on the more fun romantic stuff.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:55 PM on December 11, 2009 [15 favorites]


I am doing a PhD full time while my wife works full time. My priority has remained the family and doing at least some of the chores around the house. There is no excuse for the way he is behaving.
posted by spacefire at 5:08 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think he needs to be living on his own and making his own blasted coffee. If he's too busy to put out any effort, he's too busy to have a girlfriend.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:26 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


When I was in grad school I could become incredibly self-involved and most of my life and my relationship revolved around the school schedule -- finals week, group projects, activities. I'm sure my husband has a list a mile long of the ways in which I was self-involved, annoying, absent-minded and forgetful. HOWEVER, we did talk about this a lot. When he pointed out to me that I was being a boob, I listened. I made lots of effort when I could ease off of school to make it up to him. And sometimes when I was ready to go out with my classmates and blow off steam and wanted him to come with, he would decline and I would too. Because it wasn't fair to drag him into a bunch of people who were just going to talk all night about school.

So. Talk it out. Lay it on the line. Take note of his response. Be more demanding. This PhD is his gig and you are being supportive of HIM. You expect the SAME support in return. Yes, the tables are somewhat turned against you but you should let him know that if he expects the same you that he fell in love with when you two started this thing, he's going to have to make some changes. Good luck.
posted by amanda at 5:33 PM on December 11, 2009


Mr. F frequently asks me if I'm getting what I need from him and reminds me to get on his ass about it if he's taking me for granted. He does this because he came equipped with the self-awareness to know that this is a potential problem for him.

It doesn't sound like your SO has that self-awareness, and it sounds like you are incredibly self-aware and analytical about this sort of thing. That suggests to me that there's a mismatch here that might not be fixable.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:38 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I had a really long questionably coherent response typed up, and then I read the thread.

-Stop doing things you don't want to do
-Stop expecting things from him unless you're willing to ask for them
-Stop this kind of thinking: "I don't ask for these things because I'll probably be let down"

Every nice thing you're doing is causing you resentment, so don't do these nice things.


Yep. katherineg got it in four sentences.

If you're making "sacrifices" instead of compromises, you're never going to be happy. So stop. Recognition won't make it better, you have to stop feeling like you're giving something UP to maintain the relationship. The easiest way to do that is to just not give the thing up in the first place.

No one is perfect and as you've found out, trying to be "perfect" makes you cranky and unhappy. The commenters who talk about your feminist dream of the low-maintenance perfect woman are dead-on. Stop doing that. The perfect feminist woman doesn't give a shit about gender norms and if she needs her back scratched, she hands her partner a back scratcher and says "Please."
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:46 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Did he KNOW you hurt your arm and needed to be driven to the emergency room? If so, sever immediately.

However, if you had said, "oh honey do you have time to give me a ride" and his response was "kinda busy," then you silently trundled off with a crippled arm, then maybe it is just that he's absent minded and you want him to be a mind reader.

Also, how much are you paying for his grad school? Is there an element of "I can't leave him, he can't afford it on his own?"

Stop doing things for him that he doesn't thank you for. Like, altogether. And whether he notices or not, talk to him about it.
posted by ®@ at 6:49 PM on December 11, 2009


God, this reminds me so much of me in my 20s. I'd grown up thinking that if two people really cared about each other they'd try to anticipate each others needs. Sort of a Golden Rule thing. It took a while to realize that I'd learned it from watching my parents engage in a passive-aggressive contest. My mom kept telling me I was being a doormat, but her actions totally confirmed my attempts to sacrifice myself for my various boyfriends. The only thing missing from my relationships was a passive-aggressive partner. I just got the aggressive part. So I kept sacrificing, hoping the guy in question would see how much I loved him and return it in kind. I even felt guilty asking him to pay attention to me. If he wouldn't without my asking then the attention felt tainted when I got it.

I know that sounds confused and rambling, but I guess what I'm saying is that a relationship should have both partners acting like Don Draper, not both acting like Betty. Don't feel guilty or unloved for demanding what you want. He sure doesn't.
posted by irisclara at 6:56 PM on December 11, 2009


It would ruin the idea that I am a cool, low-maintenance girlfriend who is interested in a relationship based on mutual support.

Why is this idea so important to you? Why can't you just be who you are and need what you need, without having to label yourself as bad or undeserving for needing or wanting more than the crumbs your boyfriend is throwing your way? Whose idea is this that you don't want to ruin, yours or his?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:22 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I agree with others that you need to forget about the gender role-based analysis. If you, as one human being in a romantic relationship with another human being, want a truly equal relationship based on mutual support, then you get to talk to the other human being about it and ask for what you want.

I've got a bad feeling about this, though. The friend of a friend had a live in boyfriend whom she supported through law school. They actually became engaged midway through his course, but then early in the last year his behaviour towards her changed. He no longer spent much time at all with her, but instead either was studying or out with his friends. She asked him if anything was wrong. He said nothing was wrong, he was just stressed out and needed to relax. She let him be. Then he dumped her just weeks after he graduated. The relationship had been over for him since the previous fall, but he stayed with her just because it was in his financial interests to do so. She figures she spent $20,000 on him that she will never get back. All she had was an engagement ring that she kept and sold to recoup some of the loss. Not saying this is what your boyfriend is doing. He may just be self-absorbed and will shape up if you make it clear you aren't happy with him and won't stay if things remain as they are, but... it's something to keep in mind. If the guy is only going through the motions, you need to cut your losses and leave.
posted by orange swan at 7:42 PM on December 11, 2009


I am sure you have a strong attachment to this man, but I just don't see how someone who needs to be told that there is something wrong with not driving you to urgent care could ever be a good mate, no matter how many conversations you have. He sounds horribly selfish and a relationship with him is only going to increase your resentment and/or lower your self esteem even more.

I wish I could shout from the rooftops for women to stop having such low expectations of men. Women need to organize into a civil disobedience movement and refuse to cooperate with this system. If women do not cooperate the men who behave in this way would have to change or be alone. As others have said the current ideal you are holding up for yourself isn't very feminist. Realizing that you are at least equal to him is.

I clung to relationships like this too. I didn't think there was better and if there was I didn't think I deserved it. Finally one day I became friends with the type of guy many women overlook for one reason or another. In just a few weeks I fell for him. Now that I have experienced what it is like to be with someone who makes no bones about wanting to be with me, who makes me his first priority, who concerns himself with my best interests, desires, and feelings, I could never ever go back. I wish I could zap into your mind what this kind of relationship is like. If you truly knew, you wouldn't be posting this. You would be packing up and not letting the proverbial screen door hit you.
posted by Original 1928 Flavor at 8:58 PM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


It would ruin the idea that I am a cool, low-maintenance girlfriend

Others upthread have said this in a way, but: this is the very epitome of Betty Draper.

The idea that it's important to squelch what you want if it would make you in any way not the "perfect" gf/wife for a man.

Everyone is entitled to want exactly what they want in a relationship, no matter what it is. If you wanted to sit on a pile of 100 cushions all day being fed bonbons and complaining about a pea, you are entitled to want that and that is perfectly legitimate.

What we're not allowed to do is try to force someone else to give us what we want. We are entitled to want it but not entitled to get it.

So. The solution is not to just squelch what you want to be the perfect male fantasy woman. The solution is to ask for what you want, whatever it is, and if that's irresolvably incompatible with what HE wants, then maybe you two just aren't right for each other.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:14 AM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


"It would ruin the idea that I am a cool, low-maintenance girlfriend who is interested in a relationship based on mutual support."

I know what you mean, and I've been there countless times. You are scared that maybe you don't deserve a relationship after all, and you want to feel deserving of the relationship. Guess what? You deserve more than this.
posted by autoclavicle at 5:31 AM on December 12, 2009


"The last time I needed to go to urgent care because of an arm injury, I drove myself with the bad arm because he was too busy to drive me."

Wow. If you can't count on him in a situation like that.... wow. Ask yourself this question and force yourself to answer it: "If I couldn't count on him in a situation like that, why do I think I'll be able to count on him in the future?" Do NOT let the word "busy" be part of your answer because that's a copout.

He isn't romantic towards you (no one on one dates unless you initiate it).
He isn't there for you when you are in need.
You're not high on his priority list.
It's time to move on.

You. Deserve. Better.
posted by 2oh1 at 4:11 PM on December 12, 2009


I spent ten years married to a guy like this. I convinced myself that I needed to bend over backward and make allowances because he was significantly younger than me and had "given up so much" to marry me. It's crap, frankly. What is important to you isn't important to him. What you need, he's not willing to give you. Don't live like this.
posted by lemniskate at 5:20 PM on December 12, 2009


*There's this fairly traditional expectation that romantic relationships consist of a man who will constantly intuit a woman's needs and rise to the occasion*

B-I-N-G-O !!!

Snark-alert {please take as tongue-in-cheek}: And you, the super-woman, uber-feminist, need-no-man, but I choose to be with you, so I do all these these things because I am a rock and have no needs, cuz' needs=needy. Heck, he might have even withdrawn over the past six months because it is abundantly clear you don't want/need any of his affection, romance, help around the house, etc.. because clearly this is your identity and he doesn't want to shatter that.

Read PhoBWanKenobi again 'cuz it's the truth.

Disclaimer: author is married (and in couples therapy for 1+ year) to a woman who is stuck believing gender sterotypes. It has been a long, hard, slog. Sorry you pushed a button. Fix this now before marriage and kids!
posted by teg4rvn at 1:12 PM on December 15, 2009


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