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The guys I date tell me I deserve better. If not from them, who?
June 19, 2012 9:14 AM   Subscribe

"You deserve better"...say my boyfriends.  What's up with this trend?  And if/since that means they won't do it, how can I actually get better treatment?

I've dated a number of guys, in timespans ranging from a few months to a few years (not counting anything casual here).  Inevitably, I get treated pretty shabbily, then I tell them clearly and undramatically that I'm hurt, and then they come out with "You're awesome and you deserve someone who treats you better." Subtext: "but it won't be me."

How can I derail that at any point?  How can I not get treated poorly in the first place, or how can I encourage them to respond by stepping up instead of giving me the wishy-washy "break up with me, you deserve better"?

By treating me poorly, I don't mean outright abuse or anything that severe.  Not terrible, awful treatment, just...poor treatment.  I'll give some examples, but let's not focus on the specifics, these guys are done.

Example #1: I went to get a medical procedure done.  Although it was minor, both Adam and I thought the procedure would be very painful, with a somewhat difficult recovery over the course of a week+.  I sent him a light e-mail the night before, and didn't get a reply.  I took a Friday afternoon off to go, while Adam was still at work (but even if he'd been free, I doubt he would've come to hold my hand).  No "go get 'em, tiger" or "thinking of you" e-mail the day of.  The procedure actually went incredibly smoothly and much less painfully than either one of us had thought.  Usually we see each other on weekends, but I went to my parents' to recuperate.  On my way, I sent him an "omg, it hardly hurt, I'm so thrilled" e-mail.  No reply.  On Monday morning, I e-mailed him again, saying (briefly and calmly) that I was pretty bummed I hadn't heard from him to acknowledge the procedure or ask how I was doing.  I asked if there was anything I could do to enable easier communication somehow (e.g., I was just e-mailing because he hates phones, but would it be easier to text or IM?).  Answer: Nope, you just deserve better than me, blah blah blah.  Adam and I had been together for two years at this point.

Example #2: When I was in a relationship with Bill, an actor, I went to a lot of his shows, with tickets generally ranging from $10 to $25.  At this time, I was really struggling to make ends meet.  Going to his shows completely wiped out my discretionary income (which was, like, $5/week) and often meant skipping meals.  He knew that.  I always went to his shows because I wanted to support him, I wanted to know what he was talking about, and I often enjoyed myself.  After 18 months, I found out that if he'd wanted to, he could have gotten me into almost all of his shows for free, and he regularly comped his other friends.  I was totally surprised and baffled, but not accusatory, and the conversation ended again in "You deserve someone who treats you better."

Example #3: I was head-over-heels for Chris, who claimed to be in love with me, but he was dithering between me and his ex, depending on her behavior.  He eventually went back to her for good, but not before having a ton of conversations with me about how he was the worst person on earth and I deserved better than him.  (I just wanted him...)

Example #4: I had been dating Dan exclusively for six months when I got a major promotion.  He was busy with work for the next two weekends (which was fine), then eventually he said awesome, I'll pick you up on Saturday night and take you out to celebrate.  We talked about it all week.  I cleared Saturday night, got all dressed up, spent a ton of time on makeup and hair, and he just never showed.  He didn't answer his phone.  I cried myself to sleep.  On Monday he e-mailed me, without any excuses or explanations, to tell me how much better I should be treated.

These aren't the only examples; there are about a dozen from varying dudes, in addition to the usual litany of forgotten birthdays/valentines/anniversaries (none of which came as surprises to the guy), bedroom inequities, and other everyday disappointments.  What is causing this?  Are these guys just acknowledging that it's not fun for me to date a jerk, but also that they're not going to stop being a jerk?  They keep telling me to find a guy who'll treat me better -- but every other guy just tells me the same thing.  And they don't come out with it after a week or a month or two; the examples are all way into relationships.  Am I correct to infer that they just don't give a shit anymore, and treating me shoddily until I gtfo is easier than an actual breakup?

Other information: This is all in New York City.  I'm 25, dating guys around 27-35 (so shouldn't they be past this?).  My expectations, I hope, aren't ridiculous.  I'm not looking for jewelry or carriage rides or Mr. Right, I would just really like to date someone who doesn't treat me like crap...and acknowledge it.  When bad stuff happens, I don't go into an "omg, this is unlivable, you are a terrible partner, how dare you" tantrum; I'm calm about saying "well, this makes me sad, is there anything we can do to change it?"  I hope I'm being reasonable in my expectations, but I feel like maybe that's not possible because every boyfriend is failing them.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (119 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
Believe what people tell you about themselves.

My feeling is that you're ignoring earlier warning signs about these guys, before the specific incidents you mention. I'm not sure what you mean by the "usual litany of forgotten birthdays/valentines/anniversaries" -- that's not usual, at least not for me. Yes, they are telling you that they're going to continue to be a jerk.
posted by peacheater at 9:22 AM on June 19, 2012 [37 favorites]


He eventually went back to her for good, but not before having a ton of conversations with me about how he was the worst person on earth and I deserved better than him. (I just wanted him...)

He was dithering between you and his ex, and you knew it, and you still wanted him? Why? I'm not being facetious, you need to figure that out. I think disappointments will be a part of any romantic relationship (nobody is a mind-reader, sometimes things happen), but if you find yourself constantly let down by the guys you're dating, maybe you're picking the wrong guys, trying over and over to make 1 + 1 = 3.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:24 AM on June 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Am I correct to infer that they just don't give a shit anymore, and treating me shoddily until I gtfo is easier than an actual breakup?

Yep. I think the fact that they're all telling you roughly the same thing is coincidence. I mean, "you deserve someone better" is right up there with "it's not, you, it's me" as far as cliched break-up reasons are concerned.

It seems like you're dating these people for extended lengths of time, which makes me think that there were more examples of jerk-ish behavior throughout the relationship that you just sort of tolerated. So the issue, really, is that you're giving too much of your time to assholes who treat you poorly. The first time, the very first time, someone does something shitty to you when you start dating, tell them to cut the shit. The next time, tell them to fuck off and find someone who doesn't. That way you're not dropping two years of your life on some jackass and instead concentrate on finding a decent person.

Also, don't date guys that can't pick between you and their ex. That will never end well.
posted by griphus at 9:24 AM on June 19, 2012 [25 favorites]


Some of this is bad luck but since you can only change your behavior, stop being such a martyr. If something is bankrupting you speak up. If your boyfriend doesn't call when he should, give him hell, don't ask how you can change.

The Rules might help with some of this. Problematic book but perfect for women like you, IMO. Also try He's Just Not That Into You or the book about how men marry bitches. Basically, you need to be less nice.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:25 AM on June 19, 2012 [23 favorites]


You teach people how to treat you. Don't over extend yourself for your boyfriend. Be normal. If you can't afford something, say so. If you feel like getting a commitment to go out on a date with a guy is like pulling teeth, then he's not interested. Not really.

That's the hardest part. So many guys in your cohort have been catered to, coddled and spoiled that they don't know how to treat a girlfriend. They're selfish jerks.

These guys don't turn into jerks, they're jerks when you meet them, it's only after you've let yourself be mistreated time after time after time that even THEY'RE ashamed at how little you respect yourself.

Can you handle being alone until someone who is worthy of you shows up?

Do you even know what you want? A great exercise is to sit down and write out a description of what you want in a partner. Put everything in there, if it's important to you write it down.

Now, think back on the men you've dated in the past. How many of them didn't even check off two items on your list? Why is that?

It's because you settled. As a very wise person once told me, "You get what you settle for."

Going forward, don't settle. If having a good job is important to you, it's not shallow, it's on your list, don't date a guy who doesn't have his act together in the workplace. If being polite is important, don't date a guy who texts throughout dinner.

You get the idea. Don't get involved all at once, slow your roll. Also open your eyes. These guys aren't very good at disguising their true selves, you're an expert in making excuses for them. If he's inconsiderate early on, it's not going to get better, and there's no good reason for it.

Take a year off from dating. Reconnect with your girlfriends, focus on your job. Volunteer. Boys are off the table for now. Once you're back in the habit of treating yourself well, and of being treated well, only then can you get back in the dating pool.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:26 AM on June 19, 2012 [77 favorites]


Ouch. This all sounds miserable and I'm so sorry you've gone through it.

Unfortunately, my first thought here is that people tend to attract similar partners. I found that at times when I was mentally or emotionally unhealthy, I tended to attract men who were the same. Except I was down on myself and sad, and they were down on themselves and wanted to kick someone around.

I dated a lot of guys who pulled stunts like the ones you're describing, and it took me a long time to realize that the common thread in all of those situations was me. I accepted their behavior and let them keep doing it, at least partially because I thought I couldn't do any better and I had to stick with them.

My recommendation would be to forget about these dudes and concentrate on yourself. Why are you staying with these guys for long periods of time, as griphus noted? Did you ignore red flags? Did you stick around even when your little voice was telling you not to?
posted by anotheraccount at 9:26 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


You may have a fear of setting standards in your relationships, and when you don't enforce it, these guys not only walk all over you, but they tell you.

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. It WILL scare away the jerks early on, but that is what you are going for. The guy you will want to be with won't even bat an eye.

I also think that a man saying "you deserve better" can mean stuff like this:

-What’s wrong with you? In fact, there must be something wrong with you if you’re with me because I know I’m no good. You should want more for yourself, but since you don't, I'm going to keep on being an ass.-

Then they put you on a pedestal, when they will then undermine your self esteem and expectations to bring you down to their level.


So, look for Mr. Right, he's the one ON YOUR LEVEL, who you can be upfront with your standards, and won't need to be shut down right away when these shitty patterns are established. The trick is not to relax your expectations but to solidly and unwaveringly uphold them.
posted by cakebatter at 9:27 AM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also "you deserve better" can mean a few things ranging from "I'm depressed" to "the fact that you practically encourage me to treat you so shabbily creeps me out"
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:28 AM on June 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Let me deal specifically with each of your examples and what my own response would have been to each of them:

Adam: I would have already told him that expect him to be there for me during the procedure. If he was unable to take time off work, I would understand, but in all other circumstances I would have expected him to accompany me. I would certainly expect emails before and after the event. This would have been an instantly dumpable offense. I wouldn't have waited for him to tell me that I deserve better (though you definitely do).

Bill: I would have told him early on that I could only afford so many tickets. If I found out that he was comping other people without comping me, hell yes, I would have been accusatory.

Chris: Why would you want someone who thinks so little of you that they can't decide between you and his ex? You should have dumped when he started the dithering.

Dan: I would have expected more and sooner -- a celebration on the night of, or the next few nights since getting the promotion.

I hope you dumped all these people immediately after these incidents. In general, I feel that you're being too undemanding. Don't be afraid of turning into a raging bitch all of a sudden. You have the right to have your needs met in a relationship, and asking for that is not unreasonable. Try to figure out early on if a guy is likely to be considerate and kind to you. That is the most important thing.
posted by peacheater at 9:29 AM on June 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


The Rules might help with some of this. Problematic book but perfect for women like you, IMO. Also try He's Just Not That Into You or the book about how men marry bitches. Basically, you need to be less nice.

omg. no. are you kidding? don't play stupid games. but don't date someone whose behavior toward you is less than what you want. as soon as they do something, let them know you aren't down with it. if they do it again, remind them. and if they do it a third time, drop them and stop wasting your time on them. expect more for yourself.

don't over-think this. it's really a pussy's way of saying: "you're not the one." period.
posted by violetk at 9:30 AM on June 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yep. I think the fact that they're all telling you roughly the same thing is coincidence. I mean, "you deserve someone better" is right up there with "it's not, you, it's me" as far as cliched break-up reasons are concerned.

griphus is totally right about that. But even though the phrase is bullshit coming from those guys, it's true. You do deserve better. If you raise your expectations and date (and stop dating) guys accordingly, you will get better guys.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:35 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Facing Codependence. The Rules might have some useful strategies among its dross of creepy internalized sexism, but Facing Codependence will help you understand how your code got so buggy.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:36 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think maybe your expectations are too low.

Sounds like maybe you put up with more than anyone else before you had put up with, and kept coming back for more. Maybe they just thought the two of you would have a one-night stand, or a fling, and that would be the end of it. Maybe they weren't even looking for a relationship with you, or (sorry!) weren't that into you. But you were so easy-going, they just went with the flow and let it happen. And rather than making these guys feel bad when they didn't hold up their end of the bargain, you were reasonable and accepting to the point where they ended up taking advantage of your good nature.

Which is, yes, a shitty thing to do. It sucks, because you are a loving, giving person, and these losers have been taking advantage of that quality.

Eventually, when you finally take them to task for really letting them down, they don't have an argument because they know you're right; they didn't expect you to stay around so long anyway!

My advice, for what it's worth, is to not fall into this pattern of easy acceptance with every guy you date. Have higher expectations from the beginning. Don't assume you both want a relationship. Don't make sacrifices by default.

You don't have to be a drama queen to insist on more respectful treatment! Just know what you need from your partner, and let a prospective guy know early on that it is important to you. If he can't meet that need, it's better you don't get too emotionally invested. Otherwise, you constantly sacrificing and giving more than you get back comes across as martyring yourself because you are desperate for a man, or a relationship.
posted by misha at 9:44 AM on June 19, 2012 [24 favorites]


I just noticed this: Going to his shows completely wiped out my discretionary income (which was, like, $5/week) and often meant skipping meals. Skipping meals? That's the kind of thing you shouldn't be doing for any guy, whether he asks you to do it or you "want" to do it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:46 AM on June 19, 2012 [20 favorites]


Yeah, this is just a variation of "he's just not that into you," unfortunately.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:46 AM on June 19, 2012


Oh, and they're right! You do deserve better.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:48 AM on June 19, 2012


When I've heard this line, of versions of it, it was sort of code for "I like you alright as a person, but not enough to really invest any time/effort in it, and I'm not really attracted to you." Now, in my case that was not coming from boyfriends, but from guys I wanted to date, would have dated, except that they weren't that into me. In your case, seeing as these guys did actually get into relationships with you, I think it means not that they aren't attracted but that deep down the relationship was never that important to them. It was something they slipped into and were too lazy to get out of, and maybe they even enjoyed it, but they never saw it as a SERIOUS relationship, or you as what people who are not on MeFi would call "the one."

I agree with others who are saying that there are probably signs early on that you aren't catching--or are ignoring?--to indicate that these guys are less than completely enthused about being with you. But it's hard, because while some of these signs might be quite obvious once you start paying attention (being stood up, or charged for tickets) mostly they're probably in the intangible sense you get of how someone feels about you. If you don't have higher standards, you can't recognize at first that these guys are not meeting them.

Also, it sounds like these guys are not entirely awful people, they at least know the right thing to do even if they won't do it, and they are in fact being honest when they say you deserve better. That's going to be another thing that might be hard at first, because from your POV they're not obviously being total asses to you. But I think over time you can develop a set of standards about how you want to be treated, and you'll recognize these signs much faster.

On preview, what misha said.
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 9:51 AM on June 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Don't accept shabbier treatment from a man than you'd accept from a platonic friend, you know? All these examples are just... really terrible, and I can't imagine that they came out of nowhere with no warning patterns. It sounds like you've gotten used to the idea that men will be cruel to you and you just have to keep giving. This is very wrong and will never ever get you to a stable, fulfilling relationship. It is MUCH better to be single than to be with someone like this. Dump anyone whom you can't depend on to be kind and responsible and caring.

One other thought: these behaviors might indicate that these guys never thought you were their girlfriend, but rather a long term booty call. Could this be right? If so, well, stop giving so much of yourself to booty calls. It sounds like a dating time-out could be useful.

And keep your chin up - I could have written this post in college, but I just stopped letting these people into my life. And I was single for a long time; but I finally met someone just right for me and am pretty ridonkulously happy these many years. It'll happen for you too; but first you need to define your standards and not accept people into your bed who don't meet them.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:52 AM on June 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


Sorry to keep commenting on this question, but it got me thinking about early signs to watch out for in the beginning of a relationship, before it gets to the stages detailed above. I feel that there's this sense that if a woman does all the right things in a relationship, she can somehow make a guy be nice to her. I think that this is not possible. What you need to do is find a nice guy to begin with, who you are also of course attracted to. Some questions to suss out whether a guy is nice or not:

1) How does he behave to other people? Is he nice to people even when he doesn't want something from them? How does he treat unattractive women?
2) Does he stereotype people or make dismissive comments about entire groups of people?
3) When at a restaurant, how does he behave to the waiter/waitress?
4) Does he ask about your days, and make an effort to learn about the people in your life? Does he remember little things you tell him?
5) If you need a small favor from him, does he make every effort to do it for you, or does he make excuses? Do his other friends depend on him too?
6) Is he happy to introduce you to his friends and to meet yours? Is he unashamed of your relationship? Is he proud about dating you?
7) Does he ever insult you and then tell you you're overreacting if you call him on it?
8) Does he ever lie unnecessarily?
9) Is he respectful of other people's feelings?

I could come up with many more questions, but they all boil down to figuring out the character of the guy before you commit to anything. You want someone who is kind and considerate. If the guy is not kind and considerate, nothing you can do will make him become kind and considerate.
posted by peacheater at 9:52 AM on June 19, 2012 [37 favorites]


Basically, you need to be less nice.

I haven't read the books the young rope-rider mentions, but I agree you need to be less nice. You were making a lot of accommodations for these guys, right? Dial it back in the future. A relationship needs to work even if you're not being nice.

These guys would have done you a favor if they had shown their true colors earlier.
posted by roger ackroyd at 9:53 AM on June 19, 2012


Inevitably, I get treated pretty shabbily, then I tell them clearly and undramatically that I'm hurt, and then they come out with "You're awesome and you deserve someone who treats you better." Subtext: "but it won't be me."

There's no place in your summary or any of your examples where you state what you want. The common thread is that you are doing all the work of the relationship and once the lightbulb goes on and you say so, they're gone. The answer then would be to not do all the work of the relationship.

Example #1: I went to get a medical procedure done. Although it was minor, both Adam and I thought the procedure would be very painful, with a somewhat difficult recovery over the course of a week+. I sent him a light e-mail the night before, and didn't get a reply. told him I want him to take me there, hold my hand, take me to my parents to recover, and bring me Thai food. (And if he balks, you walk.)

Example #2: When I was in a relationship with Bill, an actor, I went to a lot of his shows, with tickets generally ranging from $10 to $25. At this time, I was really struggling to make ends meet. So I said to him, "I'd love to support you & your theater troupe but I'm strapped for cash, can you comp me tix? I'll go with your friend X and we'll cheer you on." (He balks, you walk.)

Example #3: I was head-over-heels for Chris, who claimed to be in love with me, but he was dithering between me and his ex, depending on her behavior. So I said "I"m a monogamous girl, time to fish or cut bait, pal." He eventually went back to her for good, but not before having a ton of conversations with me about how he was the worst person on earth and I deserved better than him. (I just wanted him...) and I said "whatever, that's your problem, later" when he rambled on about what a horrible person he was.

Example #4: I had been dating Dan exclusively for six months when I got a major promotion. He was busy with work for the next two weekends (which was fine), then eventually he said awesome, I'll pick you up on Saturday night and take you out to celebrate. We talked about it all week. I cleared Saturday night, got all dressed up, spent a ton of time on makeup and hair, and he just never showed. He didn't answer his phone. I cried myself to sleep. I called a good friend and we went out dancing.
posted by headnsouth at 9:54 AM on June 19, 2012 [53 favorites]


This is just a series of weaselly guys trying to back out of the relationship without having to be the 'bad guy' and break up with you (so you will have to do all the work). I hope this is just an unlucky string of schlubs for you, you do deserve to be treated better than this.
posted by troika at 9:55 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think books like the Rules, Bitches and He's not into you are actually quite helpful for many women because gender relations and dating norms seem to have really gotten messed up in the past few decades. Dont take everything they say as gospel but think about why their messages are not the ones you see in movies and tv shows. There is such a strong message from the media about "crazy bitches", high maintenance girlfriends and trickster girlfriends eager to spring baby mama drama on poor innocent men, well as the erosion of any kind of dating ritual (formally asking for a date and identifing what the two of you are doing is actually dating/being in a relationship, not expecting sex on the first date etc), that the guides that tell you how to set high standards are a good thing. Too many women are so eager to prove they aren't "like all those other girls" they are completely relectant to set any standards at all. And too many guys have been raised on those media messages (and the false bravado of their friends) that THEY arent sure what is acceptable behaviour. Forget pre-marriage classes; people should be taking pre-dating classes on boundaries, not settling and how to communicate effectively - and no dating allowed until you get an A in the class! I used to think yeah, not accepting a Friday date after Wednesday is a game, but I now view it more as well by Wednesday you SHOULD have exciting plans for Friday (not necessarily with a guy...) and a boy that calls too late either doesn't get that most things (reservations, tickets, transportation) are worth being planned for or assumes you will cancel plans with friends because Penis. Take time off from dating and only date someone so exceptional that you can't risk missing him, but then again, he should be willing to wait six months or a year for you because you are worth the wait. There are a lot of great guys out there who are wondering why the nice girls always stay with assholes that don't appreciate them, find one of those guys and make a life together.
posted by saucysault at 9:56 AM on June 19, 2012 [25 favorites]


Skipping meals? That's the kind of thing you shouldn't be doing for any guy, whether he asks you to do it or you "want" to do it.

Yeah, here's a simple test you can do with any guy you're dating (obviously with the particulars changed for that situation):

Him: "Hey, are you coming to my show tonight?"
You: "I can't, I'm broke. I'd love to hang out after and you can tell me all about it."

SCENARIO A (The Keeper):
Him: "Oh, that's cool. See you then!"
You: "Yep, break a leg!"

REPLY 2 (The Asshole):
Him: "I thought you wanted to support me."
You: "You're single now!"
posted by griphus at 9:57 AM on June 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


I suspect part of your answer may be found in your small print...

I'm 25, dating guys around 27-35 (so shouldn't they be past this?)... not looking for jewelry or carriage rides or Mr. Right...

If you're being too obvious about that, then it's a large part of whom you attract: guys who KNOW they can get away with treating you poorly, because there's no consequence to them long-term. A large part of what makes most men "grow up" is having something to lose if they don't -- or at least thinking they might...
posted by Pufferish at 9:58 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Its just a stupid way of saying they are sorry and that it wasn't your fault, that's all.

Just ask for what you want up front. That's all you really can do.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:14 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


A lot of guys are willing to sleep with a woman who they don't envision a long term relationship with. You've been good for boosting their self esteem and they don't want the responsibility of fully participating in a relationships. But the kindness you offer is something they have no problem taking.
posted by discopolo at 10:15 AM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


There is something I tell friends and I communicate in my relationship with my wife and will hopefully instill in my daughter. Friendship, love, and close relationships are not an excuse to treat people poorly or excuse poor behavior.

Having that kind of relationship is an expectation of better behavior from people, and if you're not getting it consistently it's not going to get better because there is a fundamental part of something healthy and sustainable missing.

So don't look at it as you need someone who treats you better, look at it as someone who treats you equitably for the commitment you're in. Set that expectation, be up front about it. It is one of those things that goes both ways, and I've had to work on it in reverse myself.
posted by iamabot at 10:16 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know, you're a great person who belongs in a relationship. You're open to a relationship and there isn't anything wrong with you. There is something wrong with the guys you date, but not with you. Tooany people can be withholding and damaged and selfish. Just take care of your heart and be as kind to yourself as you were to those dopes.
posted by discopolo at 10:18 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


dating guys around 27-35 (so shouldn't they be past this?)...

Giiirl, no. Rampant assholery isn't a number, it's a phenomenon.

The trend I'm seeing is that you are overly-accomdoating to these guys and there is some pattern of yellow- or red-flags that you are ignoring, overlooking, or minimizing. You need to work on your bullshit detector, your people picker, whatever you call it. Maybe your expectations are not a match for the guys you are dating.

What do your friends think? Do they ever express negative feelings towards the guys you date? Do you listen?
posted by sm1tten at 10:19 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


[This is a followup from the asker.]
I don't mean to threadsit, and I'll stop after this, but I wanted to head some speculation and assumptions off at the pass.

- I realize that the examples are all DTMFA-caliber, I did DTMFA in all those cases. Those were the first bad examples that came up in months-years of dating. Re: Bill, which was my oldest example -- yeah that was especially bad, but I really did like going to his shows (and it was 100% my decision to prioritize them); I just had no idea that being comped was possible.

- After Chris, I took about 18-20 months off from serious dating. I was totally fine with being single, I actually prefer it in some ways. During this time I had a couple casual hookups, which I didn't try/want to turn into a relationship. I only began dating Adam after had pursued me and demonstrated really great, kind behavior nonstop for 6+ months.

- I want to clarify again that I'm not desperate for a relationship. I usually take months off in between. Then I go on plenty of dates, but the vast majority of guys are weeded out after one or two. I guess I should've made it clearer, but I'm not desperately trying to convert all men into boyfriends, my friends all joke about how few people I like.

- "doesn't call when he should" -- what? how often is this? Am I really supposed to keep a mental stopwatch and leave rage-filled voicemails if he doesn't meet my schedule? That is crazypants. I understand if he gets busy, because I get busy too and I can't always call every day. I also totally understand postponing holidays/celebrations, because sometimes I need to do the same. I just always get to it eventually and that's not always the same on the other end. Again, "give me my present now. That one's not good enough, I want a better present" seems like a bad (and equally crazy) way of dealing with it. So, what, do I just DTMFA the first time he skips a check-in, or his present isn't as pricey or timely as a princess might want?

- Also, please, no more Rules recommendations; it just makes me question the other advice you're giving. I am an adult and I try to communicate like one. I have zero interest in acting out someone's artificial game-playing. I don't want to have to pretend to want more than I actually want and bargain down. If I'm negotiating a salary, sure, but who wants a relationship that adversarial?
posted by cortex at 10:19 AM on June 19, 2012


in addition to the usual litany of forgotten birthdays/valentines/anniversaries (none of which came as surprises to the guy), bedroom inequities, and other everyday disappointments.

I'm 25, dating guys around 27-35 (so shouldn't they be past this?)..


It sounds like you are expecting some degree of inconsiderate behavior. You shouldn't. Speak up for what you need. I can't comprehend some "usual" litany of those behaviors. If the person I was dating forgot my birthday, I would be very disappointed and let them know. But more importantly, I would have let them know beforehand that it was important to me.
posted by gaspode at 10:21 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


"The Rules might help with some of this. Problematic book but perfect for women like you, IMO. Also try He's Just Not That Into You or the book about how men marry bitches. Basically, you need to be less nice."

The reason why these books are generally derided by society, is because they will tell you what (specifically) to do in order to set boundaries and insist on better. They will not just go "OMG, yes, you should have more self-esteem, just HAVE it, obviously something's really wrong with you!!! Stop having this problem!"

Of course society doesn't want to let you near any source of information that would tell you *how* not to have this problem.

These books are variously twee, offensive, and at times manipulative, but that's not why they are forbidden texts. They're forbidden because under the layers of marzipan and coyness they actually contain information you can actually use to solve the problem of repeatedly being treated like crap. For this reason, I strongly recommend them.
posted by tel3path at 10:25 AM on June 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


Okay, sorry, on preview I missed the part where you don't want anything to do with these books.
posted by tel3path at 10:26 AM on June 19, 2012


One thing I notice here - your initial question and follow-up mimic your problem. Your initial question is very mild and gives an impression that you're a total milquetoast; your follow-up is much stroppier and gives more facts. It sounds as though you have a good idea of what you want but for some reason you aren't leading with it. Why is that?

Sometimes I wonder if this is a New York problem - all my friends in New York end up getting treated so much worse by men than my local friends that it's difficult even to get my head around.

All these guys sound really childish. Maybe you should date men your own age? Maybe guys who are still living the super-duper-casual single life in their early thirties are less likely to be capable of/interested in a reciprocal relationship?

Also, do these guys have anything else in common? I tended to be drawn to people who needed to destroy me, for example - people who would first be dazzled and attracted by my cleverness and then would need to get competitive with me and triumph over me as a way of proving something to themselves about their own brains and abilities. And since I am actually kind of a doormat, they would always succeed. Only when I recognized the type of person who would do this - and recognized that what attracted me to them was the emotional charge of the competitive/destructive interaction - was I able to stop dating those people. Even now they allure me - that bright little sparkle of connection that invariably will lead to them telling me that I'm stupid and have bad politics and to me crying alone far into the night without breaking up with them.

Anyway. Do these guys have a common personality? Does that personality parallel an abusive parent's? Does it reinforce something else you believe about yourself? Or maybe you really, really want not to be needy, so you're pushing yourself to act way less needy than you actually are (and frankly, needing people not to break their promised to you is a very reasonable need) and then feeling hurt when these men treat you like a public convenience? Are you trying to prove something to yourself by setting yourself up to fail with these guys?

(And for heaven's sake, I've helped out total platonic friends when they were sick and would have done so for casual friendly acquaintances; it's a very low bar.)
posted by Frowner at 10:34 AM on June 19, 2012 [16 favorites]


I guess I should've made it clearer, but I'm not desperately trying to convert all men into boyfriends, my friends all joke about how few people I like.

This could be part of the problem. I'm picky too, and when I find someone I do like I tend to go overboard trying to keep them because I think they're really special. I also fail to notice signs of disinterest and compensate for inconsiderate behavior.

I've been working on this by expanding the pool of people I like (not date; just like) and being more ambitious for myself rather than satisfying that ambition through relationships. I recently had the opportunity to get strung along again and I said no without any real regrets, so I think it's working.
posted by rhythm and booze at 10:34 AM on June 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


"his present isn't as pricey or timely as a princess might want?"
"Am I really supposed to keep a mental stopwatch and leave rage-filled voicemails if he doesn't meet my schedule"
"bad (and equally crazy)"

You seem to have black and white thinking that paints women who stand up for themselves as CRAAzzzZZZZZZZyyyYYYYY girlfriends and that the other side of the coin is just to accept and rationalize whatever crap behavior you don't like until it seems ok.

There are many other ways of dealing with unmet expectations. That is what people are trying to tell you with the Rules etc. Those are just ways to set boundaries without engaging in crazypants behavior.

You really need to ask yourself if you are open to questioning whether your behavior is part of the problem because your response essentially shuts down 100% of the advice in this thread, which is all geared towards you, the only variable of which you have control in these situations.
posted by cakebatter at 10:34 AM on June 19, 2012 [33 favorites]


I have zero interest in acting out someone's artificial game-playing.

Having personal social boundaries and enforcing them is only game-playing if you're playing it like a game. If you don't mind your guy (or friend) making and breaking plans to go out at the last minute (for example) then that's fine. You're a casual kind of person who prefers casual plans and goes with the social flow. But if you DO mind it, if you personally feel disrespected when people do things like this to you, and if you make it known (in conversation, and if that doesn't work by eventually ending the relationship) that you do not enjoy this sort of casual planning, that's not a game. It's just having honest preferences about the type of interactions (be they romantic, platonic, or professional) you want to have with other people.

I'm not saying you have to go read a bunch of self help books if you don't like them. It's just that you sound (and maybe this is inaccurate) as if you can imagine two types of girlfriends: the demanding, psycho-bitch type (which you are not) and the easygoing, understanding, undemanding type, which you strive to be. And you are...but maybe to a fault. There's something in between, and those stereotypes aren't always helpful in thinking about this stuff.
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 10:35 AM on June 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


You seem to have black and white thinking that paints women who stand up for themselves as CRAAzzzZZZZZZZyyyYYYYY girlfriends and that the other side of the coin is just to accept and rationalize whatever crap behavior you don't like until it seems ok.

This is a good point too. I wonder if there's some internalized misogyny going on? Like if you set boundaries you are being one of those Awful Women Who Are Mocked On Television and that would really mess up your self esteem?

I've definitely been in a headspace where I think "I am not going to do all those crass, high-drama things; I will just take what comes because I am a better person than that, and only crass, vulgar people make a fuss about [trivial bourgeois thing]". Usually I do this about money and responsibilities rather than relationships - and I often lose out badly because I have not wanted to muddy myself by taking care of my interests.

Oh, and here's another question: do you set boundaries effectively in other areas of life? If you don't, your problem may be that you don't have enough practice identifying and protecting your actual needs.

It's good that you are moved to ask this question, as obviously you are kicking things into gear.
posted by Frowner at 10:39 AM on June 19, 2012 [20 favorites]


You talk a lot in your follow-up about not being desperate and being happy being single, but that's kind of missing the point. It's not about what you're like when you're single, it's about what you're like when you're dating. When you're dating, you let behaviors slide that you should not slide. You can be doing that for reasons other than being desperate or hating being single, and you can do it for reasons that are subconscious.

What do you think those reasons are?
posted by anotheraccount at 10:40 AM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


So, what, do I just DTMFA the first time he skips a check-in, or his present isn't as pricey or timely as a princess might want?

It sounds like what's getting in your way here is that you have a mental framework in which you're either really accommodating or you're a princess, and there's no in-between. But there's actually a lot of space between those two possibilities. So, yeah, I would say that if you dumped a guy because the present he got you wasn't expensive enough, that would be unreasonable. But not calling before or after surgery is a totally different animal from that. Just to present a counterexample, I once dated a woman who came over to be with me after surgery even though she knew she was going to break up with me a few weeks later, because she is a decent person, and that's what decent people do.

I realize that the examples are all DTMFA-caliber, I did DTMFA in all those cases
Except, you kinda didn't. Instead, you initiated a conversation trying to save a series of relationships that had clearly just passed dealbreaker territory. Your first example stands out to me because of this:
On Monday morning, I e-mailed him again, saying (briefly and calmly) that I was pretty bummed I hadn't heard from him to acknowledge the procedure or ask how I was doing. I asked if there was anything I could do to enable easier communication somehow (e.g., I was just e-mailing because he hates phones, but would it be easier to text or IM?).

He had just behaved in a way that was, by most people's standards, totally unacceptable in a relationship. Your response was to ask him what you could do better? It's ok to stand up for yourself in a relationship, and to ask for what you want in advance. That doesn't make you a crazy bitch or a princess, unless what you want is a castle.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:42 AM on June 19, 2012 [33 favorites]


I am an adult and I try to communicate like one.

I hear that. However, I think somehow you are communicating to these guys that you aren't worth fighting for. We don't know what that is but that's the only thing I can think of that is within your power to deal with. You are the common thread. Either you have just been unlucky in a very similar way or there's something you can do about it.

Two quick examples from my own life. Steady, great boyfriend suddenly drops off the radar. Won't answer the phone or return calls or reach out at all. I finally catch up with him and he's acting like I'm crazy and that it hasn't been over a week since we talked. He's being evasive and weird. I just had a hunch and said, "You know what? You're being really fucking weird and I don't like it. When you're ready to talk to me, you know my phone number." He doesn't call. Two days later, I find out he's sleeping with his neighbor. Now, there was a moment where I could have just pushed my feelings aside and chalked it up to "he's busy! don't be so demanding, crazy lady!" and given him a big hug and then this shitty behavior would have continued. So, that was a moment and I'm glad I took my hunch and rolled with it. And when we did talk some time later and I was still very angry with him he did tell me that I deserved better. I said: duh!

And here's one I'm embarrassed about: great, sweet boyfriend. But, after a few months, I just wasn't feeling the spark. He was sooooo accommodating and easy to be with and never in the slightest upset or irritated with me and went out of his way to do nice things but... well, I wasn't feeling the spark but I didn't really know how to get rid of him. So, I started treating him poorly. Finally, after an incident where I was truly behaving badly and he was just prepared to let it roll, I broke down and broke up with him. Truly terrible and immature behavior on my part and I still feel bad that I could ever do that. I was young and stupid but I really had no excuse to be cruel.

So, those are two ways these things happen. And, after that, I did my best to try to be up front both about what I wanted and to let other people be up front with me about what they wanted. Sometimes those are very uncomfortable conversations. But, I can think of two relationships that probably would have strung me along before fizzling that I narrowly avoided by say, "Hey, dude, I really like you and want want us to be exclusive. Are you into me or what?" And then I dated my husband and he was awesome and there was no need for any kind of game playing. I asserted, he answered and vice-versa.
posted by amanda at 10:45 AM on June 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


It starts at the beginning. You say you're interested in dating, and your problems indicate that you want/expect a certain standard of intimacy and companionship, but then you reel waaayyy back and try to say that you're not "desperate for a relationship" and similar.

Listen, you don't have to be desperate to want a relationship. If you want casual dating with no commitment and not much emotion, keep doing what you're doing, because it's working. If you want to be with guys who have a little investment and consideration for you, who are reliable and want to be involved in your life, then you DO want a relationship - I think it actually may be you who doesn't feel you deserve one.

The kind of guy you want to be with is the kind of guy who has relationships, not casual-lazy semi-dating arrangements.

Start at the beginning. Start with different kinds of guys. Spend some time envisioning what a good relationship looks and feels like for you. What would the guy do? Say? Show? How much time would you spend together? What priority would you have in his life? Once you have some criteria established for what kind of person this needs to be, look around you. Chances are some people you know are in the kind of relationship you'd like to have. It resulted from their early choices about where to find someone to date, whom to rule out, whom to rule in, how far and fast they decided to let things progress, etc. So try some different approaches that assume you are worth investing in as a person and as a partner.

But if you're not willing to do anything differently, then you're not going to see any changes. Basically, this isn't a problem with the guys - they're heels, but they never promised to be anything other. The problem is that you were wishing for more, and not acknowledging it - and you're perfectly entitled to want more than what guys like that offer. Date some decent guys.
posted by Miko at 10:45 AM on June 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


the only time a guy told me that he thought i was too good for him- it sounds terrible, but I think I was. And it was clear to me that he probably did feel that way. It was sad because he was a really likeable guy in some ways.

Maybe either you are dating guys who aren't good enough for you, or maybe you are giving off the vibe that you feel you are too good for them, or a combination.

A friend once told me that I was water when all he wanted was a coca cola (I wasn't into him so it was all good). He tended to go for girls with scruffier life circumstances and habits because his were scruffier.
posted by saraindc at 10:46 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I realize that the examples are all DTMFA-caliber, I did DTMFA in all those cases

In every example you gave, they dumped you. Whatever problems you had in the relationship started waaaaaay before your bf ignored your emails and calls for days while you were in surgery.

Honestly, all of these just read like examples of you being way more into the guys than they were into you.
posted by empath at 10:50 AM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


I have your problem right here:

"My expectations, I hope, aren't ridiculous.  I'm not looking for jewelry or carriage rides or Mr. Right, I would just really like to date someone who doesn't treat me crap..."

Your expectations are FAR too low, and crappy guys are getting through any filters you might be employing. From now on you want jewelry and carriage rides, and if Guy isn't courting you properly - no second date! Got it?

Yes. You should probably read The Rules. (ugh. I know.)

Here's where you were lead astray: You know that thing about how being a "high-maintanence" or clingy/needy girlfriend is supremely unattractive to guys? Yeah. That's a lot of bullshit right there! That's only designed to make it easier for assholes to sleep with women who are better than them. Really. There are no points to be gained for being the "cool" girlfriend. Only heartache.

- You have to learn to read men/people better (obvious examples: people who gossip about others will gossip about you; if you notice stinginess or selfishness in someone, this usually translates into selfishness towards you eventually from that person; people who think it's OK to scam businesses or cheat on their taxes will probably take advantage of you in some way, too, down the road, etc. etc.) When you notice a significant flag early on, don't take it personally, just bounce.

- Trust your gut instincts more. I know you have them.

- Raise your expectations considerably. It's OK to be without an SO for periods of time. The right person kinda shows up when they do, don't be dating jerks in the meantime! Make some space for the right kind of person to come along.

- Are there ways in which you are not totally on the "up-n-up," so to speak? Maybe do a personal inventory and work on your own character flaws while you are waiting for a great gy to show up? Y'know - prepare for success, prepare to be the type of partner you want to be in the ideal relationship you are looking for.

- If whoever you are dating does not fit the mold of "Ideal Relationship I Am Looking For," -- bounce and move on. Stop wasting time and energy on jerks.



Best.
posted by jbenben at 10:51 AM on June 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


Oh, and Sidhedevil recommended Facing Codependency, and I'm going to second that. It's not The Rules, and given that you don't like the bullshit aspects of the Rules, you'll probably like it because it's about being authentically yourself and cutting bullshit out of relationships.

It doesn't matter if you don't think you fit some definition of "codependent" - it's a great book for just getting your head straight about what to expect of yourself and others in a relationship, and how to handle your emotions, be clear, and be authentic and true to yourself while improving your relationships with others. The kind of ex post facto negotiation/wheedling/taking responsibility for a failing that's not yours which you did with the partner who didn't show up for surgery is exactly the kind of thing that I don't think you'll ever do again after reading this book.
posted by Miko at 10:52 AM on June 19, 2012


Hmm. Maybe you shouldn't do this:
When bad stuff happens, I don't go into an "omg, this is unlivable, you are a terrible partner, how dare you" tantrum; I'm calm about saying "well, this makes me sad, is there anything we can do to change it?"
and instead go into a tantrum?

I'm sorry but if a woman would react for my infractions like you described I would just assume that there is nothing I couldn't do and get away with it. And, if I was a jerk, I would test this assumption (and then get bored and dump her).

I'm 34 married male (with previous LTRs) and consider female's tantrums an essential method of educating males what they expecting from relationships. Men are simple creatures and need obvious method of communicating with them.

Besides women without tantrums are boring.
posted by przepla at 10:56 AM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh, and finally - don't keep thinking that "older=wiser" when it comes to guys. Far from it. If anything, what happens is that the pool of men who are single dwindles in the later 20s and 30s, and therefore the proportion of men in that pool who remain single because they are never going to get invested in someone else or maintain a long-term, caring relationship in their entire lifetime is larger and larger as time goes on. This means you're more likely to hit one and consequently you kind of have to be more evaluative as they get older, not less.

Meanwhile, a lot of men your own age and younger are mature and caring and fully capable of holding up their end of a relationship.

There are plenty of nice older guys too - just don't think that because they're older they've naturally matured. Some people never do.

You know how you can tell who's mature? They act mature, and treat you like a mature person would treat another person they care about.
posted by Miko at 10:57 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's a lot of possibilities going on here.

1. Maybe you aren't making it clear what you need and expect from a relationship. You use the word "dating" a lot which, in my mind (and possibly to guys in the age range you're seeking) means casual, non-committal, few-strings-attached, hookups, etc. Maybe these guys really thought you were just dating and didn't realize until they fucked up that "dating" to you actually meant more than that.

2. Maybe you are feeling a little unsure about how okay it is for you to have needs and expectations in the first place? As others have pointed out in this thread, you make it clear to us that you're not asking for carriages and diamonds. Well, your two options aren't demanding nothing or demanding carriages and diamonds. The reason why some have suggested The Rules and other godawful books is because those books focus on examples of why it's okay to have needs and why it's okay to communicate those needs. No one is saying you should take the books' advice verbatim. Just that you may need to get a little more cozy with the idea that it's okay to have expectations and that having expectations does not mean you are looking for carriages and diamonds.

3. Okay, you're only 25. I am sure you will hate hearing this, but you have tons of time to have a happy relationship. Your 20s are kind of supposed to be about being in relationships that go nowhere. And it sounds like in a lot of cases, you were lucky enough to be in happy relationships until something shitty happened. That's how dating works- it either leads to a forever commitment or it ends one way or the other. It just happens that many of your experiences so far have ended because the other person fucked up. It wouldn't be a better conclusion if it ended because you fucked things up. So what do you do to make sure guys don't do this again? You keep dating, you get older and more experienced, and one day it just works.
posted by joan_holloway at 10:59 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I asked if there was anything I could do to enable easier communication somehow (e.g., I was just e-mailing because he hates phones, but would it be easier to text or IM?).

I was totally surprised and baffled, but not accusatory,

He was busy with work for the next two weekends (which was fine),

When bad stuff happens, I don't go into an "omg, this is unlivable, you are a terrible partner, how dare you" tantrum


I don't mean to pick on you by highlighting these comments, but it seems like you are doing a lot of justifying or minimizing of your emotions here. It's not crazy to ask your partner to make a bit of time during a busy period to celebrate an accomplishment; or to be accusatory when you find out that your partner has been allowing you spend money you don't have to support him when he could have made it easier on you financially; or to expect your partner to 1. be able to figure out on his own what communication methods work for him and 2. reach out to you when you have a health issue.

I used to deal with this crap all the time in my twenties. I wanted a guy who treated me decently, but I put up with bad behavior and, surprise, guys I dated treated me poorly. I couldn't understand why I kept "ending up" with jerks. Finally I started observing friends in better relationships and realized that many of them just did not put up with bad behavior. Sometimes that meant the guys in question treated them better, sometimes it meant they just dated other guys. (Personally, I'm not a fan of the former - I don't feel like I should have to "train" grown men to treat me with basic respect. But it works well if it's simply a matter of different expectations or communication styles.)

However, once you start developing basic standards for how you expect to be treated and stick with those standards, you do have to accept that you might be alone more. For instance, a few years ago, I started dating a cute, nice guy. But then he started getting "squishy" about making plans. He'd want to keep everything super-loose, not wanting to make plans, and then wanting me to hang out in, like, an hour. I hate that. So I told him that, while I'm happy to hang out at the last minute if both of us are free, the fact that he never wanted to make firm plans made me feel kind of crappy. Well, that was the last time I saw him. And I was kind of bummed, because he'd seemed promising, but at the same time, I hate feeling like I was being taken for granted. And even if it was just a difference in communication styles, it was clear that he wasn't willing to work around it, so we wouldn't have been good together anyway.

On preview, after seeing your comment: Just to be clear, it's great that you are weeding out lots of guys. I used to weed out lots of guys too! But then I would fall for one of these guys, and I would put up with all sorts of crap. I've actually seen this with lots of people - feeling that connection with another person can be so powerful and intoxicating that it sort of blinds you to bad behavior. You want to believe that this is the right person for you.

I would honestly suggest some therapy. Not because there's anything wrong with you, but because it seems like you might need some recalibrating re: what is ok and not ok in a relationship. This is one of the best things my therapist did for me. It's great to have an objective observer.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 11:00 AM on June 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


I would be careful about buying any rhetoric that suggests it's your job to train men into adult behaviour. If these guys were respectful people, it would not occur to them to treat you like this in the first place. If they were respectful but just made a mistake out of ignorance or bad habit, they would respond reasonably to a "hey that upsets me" from you. And if they respected themselves, they would be totally repelled by your expressing your objections through temper tantrums instead of through simply pointing out that they've upset you.
posted by tel3path at 11:01 AM on June 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


There's no way to inspire these guys to "step up"; when they say you deserve someone better, they're saying they are not willing to put in the effort to become the man you want them to be.

I've had one guy say that to me, and it was devastating. And totally passive aggressive--I mean, thanks for saying that I'm better than you while simultaneously saying I'm not worth it! He also treated me generally poorly along all the lines you described. Thinking back on it, I'm horrified that I allowed it to happen.

I totally identify with your aversion to being *that* girl (drama queen/crazy/princess), but you can still have high standards without playing into that role. Since you've experienced such a longstanding pattern of this, though, the key is probably how you get with these kinds of men in the first place.

I'd guess you are giving off a kind of "laid back girl" vibe that men are attracted to because it seems simple/easy for them (finally, a girl I can just hang around with without the pressure of being The Boyfriend!). And while that's great, it's also misleading. Sure, you don't need expensive jewelry or 5 star dinners, but you're not a bathmat. I'd say you need to reevaluate what kind of expectations you DO have of your man and hammer those into your mind before you start looking. That should adjust your "vibe" and hopefully the right kind of men should follow.
posted by dede at 11:15 AM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


It occurs to me that in any given relationship you can think of the "expectations" as one big pool. Sometimes the pool is deep at one end and shallow at the other - one partner has a lot of expectations and the other partner has few. Sometimes the pool is about the same depth all the way across. But "expectations" do not belong to each party alone - they are mutual.

For example, you don't want to be high-needs, so you just put up with whatever. But the guy is basically being high-needs. Only you're not recognizing it because his needs are not diamonds and carriage rides - they're just "my time is my own and your time is mine too", "I need not to have to care about your feelings", "I need not to have to make any effort to take care of you". All the "expectations" in the relationship are over on his end of the pool.

We live in a society where it's normal to help people we care about and where it's normal to do what you say you'll do (especially in a "we'll go out tonight, I'll pick you up" way). That's the baseline. You can be high-needs in the sense that you say "When I am sick you must get me imported dragon caviar topped with crushed stars", that is you can add a positive need onto the norm. But you can also be high-needs by saying "when you are sick I expect to be relieved of the social norm to be nice to you".

Maybe if you stop thinking of these guys as being laid back but instead think of them as being super-duper high maintenance that will help.

And frankly, if you're spending all your time waiting for them, going without meals to support them and hauling your poor sick self around town, then they are high-maintenance. Hell, at least if someone wants fancy meals or diamond earrings at least you can just buy them and be done - you don't have to do the dance of the seven veils just to get them to call you.
posted by Frowner at 11:23 AM on June 19, 2012 [41 favorites]


And if/since that means they won't do it, how can I actually get better treatment?

By not settling for anything less than quality treatment. You sound too nice, guys pick up on this , put themselves first, use you, and don't respect you. You appear to be ok with this, to some extent, whether you realize it or not.


Put yourself first. Ask for what you want and need in a relationship.

"Adam, this sounds scary, can you be there?"

"Bill, I'm really struggling with finances right now, so I can't go to any of many of your show, but we like to. Let's brainstorm on how to make that happen.

"Chris, what the hell, I'm steak, not chopped liver. I can't see you anymore if you're not going to give me the commitment I want."

"Dan, fuck you and don't call me again."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:31 AM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


If it helps - I think I would have cried myself to sleep, too, in similar circumstances. Even if I could have summoned a girlfriend to go dancing with at the last minute, I probably would not have been super fun company.

Do I think that going dancing amongst your peers would have been a constructive response? Yeah of course, that's why it was offered as a suggestion - and of course I'm taking it too literally. But I raise the point because I think it unwittingly plays into another stereotype.

The whole point of romantic involvements is that you feel strong emotion, and strong emotion can lead you into temptation to let things slide. But, it's not like those of us who have boundaries are invulnerable badasses with hearts of stone and nerves of steel.
posted by tel3path at 11:34 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


You're probably attracted to some common quality in all these men (they all sound fairly self-involved) but there's probably something else, in common, that you really like about them. Are they confident? Clever? Successful? That stuff can be nice, but is in no way a predictor of whether or not they will be a good boyfriend. I had this problem, and solved it this way. After six years of awful, I'm now in the best relationship I've ever had and feel more loved and taken care of than I could possibly imagine.

Here's my advice going forward: WIPE FROM YOUR BRAIN WHATEVER QUALITIES YOU THINK YOU ARE NORMALLY ATTRACTED TO. Your old criteria is not helping you. Make a conscious choice to avoid the people you normally warm up to first at a party, for instance. Then, make a list of what really matters to you — the things you never got from these guys. Is it consideration? Kindness? Respect? Whatever that quality is, LASER IN ON THAT LIKE A HEAT SEEKING MISSILE, and pursue people you notice showing THOSE qualities. Notice the guy at the party who picks up someone else's spilled drink, holds the door for strangers, refills the ice cube trays on his own, etc. Notice the guy who is good to you immediately, and pursue him.

You might find yourself surprised by how nice things can be.
posted by amoeba at 11:43 AM on June 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


If it helps - I think I would have cried myself to sleep, too

I agree with tel3path, this is normal when you're hurt, and a good indication that you're not being treated fairly. And it just occurred to me that things like this - crying yourself to sleep over him, going without food to spend money on his shit, repeatedly emailing him about your medical procedure even when he doesn't reply - this is what the wrong kind of guy will think is The Crazy. You're not somehow avoiding being Crazypants Girl by doing things like this. The other way around, where you make (reasonable) demands and set boundaries upfront, will actually come of as far less nuts.
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 11:46 AM on June 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


Well, my #1 advice is as always, love and like yourself. BELIEVE you deserve good things. It does NOT have to be money related. You are a good, decent human being, and you deserve happy. A good relationship is one where yall both put in equivalent units- be they time, care, communication, love, etc.

Speaking of, what is your love language? I suspect it is quality time. (there is also touch, gifts and services, words of encouragement) Knowing how you receive and try to give love is very important. Especially when you date people with different love languages and both people feel like they give tons of love and get none in return.

From a practical standpoint: Where do you meet these guys? Who does the 'asking out'? How soon is the sex? How good are you at communicating? Arguing? Standing up for your needs and wants? Compromise? BTW, compromise does not mean always doing what they want. Do they remind you of your father? Or mother? Is there any abuse in your past? Not saying you set off any of my flags for it, but there is often a correlation between abuse and well, doormatty behavior.

As most mefites, I think therapy can help. Or at minimum, a good long introspection. You have a long history of dating... Maybe decide to not date for a full year?

Seems odd, but maybe watching a few episodes of Millionaire Matchmaker might help. There is some fluff, but Patti has some good advice on 'tuning your picker so it picks the right guys'
posted by Jacen at 12:14 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


You don't have to enforce your boundaries with "tantrums." You can quite calmly say, "that doesn't work for me." I sense you are working very hard at trying to be perceived as the opposite of the crazy demanding clingy girlfriend and I get that because I also balk at big emotional displays, but there is a stronger way to communicate that would probably help you see better results. You are entitled to express your displeasure when a partner treats you poorly. One thing my husband and I work very hard at is asking for what we want. It's been a learning experience for me because I have historically been a pretty detached and distant "cool girlfriend" and in the past I haven't found most relationships worth the trouble of "relationship talks."

Perhaps these men pursue you because they see that reluctance to express negative emotions as a sign that very little effort will be required of them and let the relationship drift on until some minor action is required on their part that they decide is just not worth it to them. Are some red flags popping up well before these relationships get to the "you deserve someone better" stage? In some of the examples you give, it sounds like the guy suddenly starts into "you deserve something better" when otherwise things had been okay. If the change is very sudden like that I'd probably suspect the dude met someone else that he preferred to be with.

Also, do not ever do anything for another if it harms you. That's a hard and fast one.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 12:39 PM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


"They treated me shabbily, and I still wanted to be with them."

"You deserve better" means, "You'd be better off walking away from guys who show little respect for your feelings. I am one of those guys." He's actually thinking, "What's her problem? This makes no sense. She hates the way she feels, but keeps wanting more. Why doesn't she do the logical thing and find someone who treats her better?"

The logical thing isn't that easy. You meet someone new and you want to give them the benefit of the doubt. You let "little things" slide, and then pretty soon you're tolerating their 'mistakes' and 'minor misunderstandings.' They make excuses and rationalize, they say you're over-reacting, and you want to be reasonable. Meanwhile, time is going by, and you're unhappy.

It can be even harder to get out of a bad relationship than a good one. You've put up with a lot, ignored your own needs for quite a while... if you give up, was all that for nothing? It's hard to give up the hope that things will be better.

Keep asking yourself, "Why do I make it okay for him to do as he wishes, but not okay for me to do the same?" Maybe you've been raised not to give weight to your own feelings. It was really helpful to me to see a therapist for a few sessions in which we used actual situations from my life and worked on new responses that would let me state my needs without complaining, nagging, losing my calm. I also learned that I didn't have to persuade anyone that they should change what they're doing. If they didn't agree, then it was disappointing -- but if a guy doesn't want to treat you with the same consideration you give him, you really have to back away.
posted by wryly at 12:47 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow, tons of good advice here... I have this exact same problem so I'm very heartened by all of this.

One self-help book I would recommend, which I'm reading right now, is Be The Person You Want To Find, by Cheri Huber. She's a Zen practitioner so if that aspect doesn't bother you, pick up a copy. The big thing I'm taking away from it, so far, is that I don't even really know what it is that I want out of a relationship. I just... end up in relationships with guys that like me enough to pursue me, and then I start trying to live my life the way it seems like they want me to, usually by putting no demands on them and taking whatever bullshit they want to throw my way. It sounds like you probably need to figure that stuff out, too, so... maybe give this book a try. It's no Rules, I can guarantee.
posted by palomar at 1:00 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's up with this trend?

You keep dating people who don't give a shit about you, aren't that into you, and/or are inconsiderate or selfish.

And if/since that means they won't do it, how can I actually get better treatment?

Dating guys who aren't like that. Forget about trying to "reasonably" get someone who isn't that into you or treats you poorly to do better. I don't think I have ever heard of that working.

I get treated pretty shabbily, then I tell them clearly and undramatically that I'm hurt, and then they come out with "You're awesome and you deserve someone who treats you better." Subtext: "but it won't be me."

That's hardly a subtext. They are pretty much flat out TELLING you that they don't care how hurt you are or how you feel and they have no intention of treating you better.

How can I derail that at any point?

Break up with them the FIRST time they exhibit this behavior, if that occurs before the 6 month mark. I mean it. When you see the first sign of this behavior, all you do by continuing to give them chances, talking about it, trying to work on it, sticking around to see if it gets better, etc., is continuing to enmesh yourself in something that will eventually get you hurt. Obviously you have seen that this doesn't end well. So - FIRST time, if it happens before 6 months. After that, it may be a fluke or a weird circumstance or something else. Before that, the odds are that this is just how this person is.

How can I not get treated poorly in the first place

I think this is kind of avoidable when dating strangers. I think the best way to avoid it is to date people you or your close friends have already known well for a long time but even that is hardly foolproof. But you know, it's mostly unavoidable for it to happen once. The key is how you RESPOND when it happens. Will you tolerate it or will you move on?

Or how can I encourage them to respond by stepping up instead of giving me the wishy-washy "break up with me, you deserve better"?

No "encouragement" from you will change this. The only thing you can do is decide what kind of relationship you WANT to be in, and leave if you're not in it. You can tell the guys you date what that would be like, sure. But your doing that is not going to make someone treat you well who doesn't care about treating you well.

I'll give some examples

I agree that those guys treated you horribly. I would be really, really upset in your shoes.

I asked if there was anything I could do to enable easier communication somehow (e.g., I was just e-mailing because he hates phones, but would it be easier to text or IM?). Answer: Nope, you just deserve better than me, blah blah blah.

There, you have your answer from Adam. He is TELLING you, no, the problem isn't the communication format. It is just very simply that I don't feel like being supportive of you and I'm telling you very clearly right now that I don't intend to. I also know the way I'm acting is wrong but I really very simply just don't care.

Adam and I had been together for two years at this point.

But that is probably not the first time he acted like this towards you right?

I found out that if he'd wanted to, he could have gotten me into almost all of his shows for free, and he regularly comped his other friends. I was totally surprised and baffled, but not accusatory, and the conversation ended again in "You deserve someone who treats you better."

Translation: I really don't care how much money you spend on my behalf and how that affects you and I wouldn't lift the slightest finger to make your life a bit easier. I know that's wrong of me but I just don't care.

I was head-over-heels for Chris, who claimed to be in love with me, but he was dithering between me and his ex, depending on her behavior.

So hopefully you can see how someone can say they are in love with you but that doesn't at all mean the same thing to them that it does to you. It doesn't mean, to them, that they care about you, that they won't cheat on you, that they won't do anything to hurt you, that they won't lead you on for years, that they care about you at all. It doesn't mean any of those things, for SOME people. So... AVOID those people who don't feel the same way about it that you do!!!!!

These aren't the only examples; there are about a dozen from varying dudes, in addition to the usual litany of forgotten birthdays/valentines/anniversaries (none of which came as surprises to the guy), bedroom inequities, and other everyday disappointments. What is causing this?

What's causing it is that some people are really uncaring or just don't care about you specifically, AND YOU KEEP DATING THEM!!! Stop dating them, dude. Not everyone is like this. Why do you stay with them?

Are these guys just acknowledging that it's not fun for me to date a jerk, but also that they're not going to stop being a jerk?

Yes

They keep telling me to find a guy who'll treat me better -- but every other guy just tells me the same thing.

It only seems like "every" guy says this because you keep dating the rotten once and KEEP dating even after you find out that they are rotten. If you dated guys who weren't like this, then "every other guy" would not be saying this to you because you wouldn't be involved with guys who say this.

Am I correct to infer that they just don't give a shit anymore, and treating me shoddily until I gtfo is easier than an actual breakup?

Or, they are content for you to stick around as long as you keep providing them with sex, emotional support, or whatever else. It's really win-win for them because they're not giving anything and they don't care if you break up, so any extra sex or whatever is just a bonus.

dating guys around 27-35 (so shouldn't they be past this?).

Hahahaha no, there are jerks of all ages. If someone is a selfish jerk, that's not something they necessarily grow out of. Sometimes it gets even worse with age. Also, personally, I found the guys in their mid-late 30s who I dated in my early 20s were the worst of all. Something about the kind of guy who seeks out that sort of power and experience imbalance.

My expectations, I hope, aren't ridiculous.

Not at all

I'm not looking for jewelry or carriage rides or Mr. Right

Even if you were, that would be okay too! You're allowed to want whatever you want.

I would just really like to date someone who doesn't treat me like crap...and acknowledge it.

Then do so. Date guys who naturally behave that way. Rather than trying to change guys who just aren't like that.

When bad stuff happens, I don't go into an "omg, this is unlivable, you are a terrible partner, how dare you" tantrum

Maybe you should have a tantrum like that. Not that I think it would change anything about how the guy acts and I'm sure he would paint you as an irrational harpy or whatever. But I think it would be good for you to affirm that these guys really ARE terrible partners, they ARE treating you like shit, and it IS something to be angry about. If you did that, maybe you would believe it, and stop putting up with it, and find someone else.

I'm calm about saying "well, this makes me sad, is there anything we can do to change it?"

That's great. But you're just stopping there. You asked that and you received your answer from the guys which was "No, there's nothing we can do to change it." So thing to do is not just stop there and feel hopeless. The thing to do is say, okay, it looks like we can't resolve this problem, so we need to part.
posted by cairdeas at 1:36 PM on June 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


I am also worried that you think a guy who doesn't act like this is a really rare creature. One of the myths only expected by deluded people who are expecting carriage rides and diamonds. Or something that you can only get if you're like a perfect supermodel brain surgeon. So, I just want to reassure you that it isn't rare at all. I have had some incredibly giving, loving, and caring boyfriends and I am a very average and quite flawed person. These guys were also not some kind of unobtainable Prince Charming. They were completely normal and obtainable guys who were just LIKE THAT in a personality sense.
posted by cairdeas at 2:02 PM on June 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Others have already amply covered a lot of things I was going to say, but I wanted to bring this up: Have you always waited for guys to pursue you, or have you ever tried (gently) doing the pursuing? I'm assuming at least some of this has been the result of online dating. Personally, I think only looking for older guys sets you up for failure because you're going into it with the erroneous expectation that older = more mature. And these guys might be thinking that younger = naive and will let them get away with more crap. All you ultimately want is someone you feel good with and who is looking for the same kind of relationship you are looking for, right? That's all most people want.

These men might be seeing something about your dating profile (again assuming that's how they found you) that makes you sound really low-maintenance and easygoing to the point where you won't expect much from them, so that when things get a little more complex they simply think "No thank you" and they're out the door. That's one of the sad results of being an intelligent, independent, and self-sufficient woman, I think. It's not necessarily a matter of low self-respect, which is a misconception a lot of guys get when a woman puts up with their crap time and time again.

If you are doing online dating, you may want to try (gently) initiating contact to see if maybe you can find a higher calibre of man that way, rather than simply leaving it up to guys to pursue you and sweep you off your feet.
posted by wondermouse at 2:48 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Or something that you can only get if you're like a perfect supermodel brain surgeon.

That reminds me of this excellent blog post about young women feeling like they can't expect a relationship or decent behavior from a guy if they aren't "perfect." It's mostly about young women who feel that way because of body image, but I think it's a broader phenomenon. Reading this post was a real wake-up call for me, OP, and it might be for you as well.

Also, I just want to say that you are really sharp and smart and brave to have laid this all out so clearly. I'm trying to imagine how it would feel to read all this advice if I had posted this a decade ago, and I think I would have felt kind of defensive and a little bit judged.

So I just want to say that what you're going through is pretty normal. It doesn't make you crazy or broken and it says absolutely nothing about your worth as a person or a girlfriend. I think it just means that maybe, somewhere along the line, you learned some unhealthy lessons about relationships, and now it's time to unlearn those lessons.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 2:58 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


[This is another followup from the asker.]
I am getting a lot of awesome comments that are making me think, but I'm also seeing a lot of comments from people who definitely didn't read the question or my follow-up. I am breaking up at the first sign of this douchiness! I am comfortable spending time single, and I already took almost two years completely off from dating. I screen out the vast majority of guys including all guys who are shady/unreliable/assholes (to me, waiters, customers, anyone) upfront. In the examples above, the guys seemed anywhere from fine to fantastic for months or years. I know kindness and consideration are huge pluses for me, and I believe I'm screening for that in early dating stages, but it falls apart down the road. My other major criteria (on a par with kindness) are intelligence, shit-together-ness, and chemistry.

I think part of my problem is that although I have boundaries and I'm fine with defending them, I'm learning from this thread that they aren't where other people's boundaries are. If a boyfriend is too busy to call everyday, that's totally, legitimately fine by me (I get it, because I'll probably be too busy to call sometime next week). But that doesn't mean it's okay with me to fall off the radar for 4 days, or during a major issue. If a boyfriend is busy at work or with family, I'm totally fine with postponing a celebration a week or maybe two -- not like sniff-sniff, passive-aggressive, I gueeeess I can put up with it (even though it makes me sooo saaaad) -- I truly do not mind at all. But that doesn't mean it's okay to postpone indefinitely and wind up never celebrating the holiday.

I think these guys may be seeing the first half (she isn't angling for the most expensive/difficult present possible?) and assuming the second half (she doesn't care if I skip it completely!). Does that sound realistic? I think I've been pretty clear about expectations, I actually thought that was one of my strengths, but I can definitely work on being clearer.

For everyone talking about middle ground between doormat and CrrAAAaaaZZZyyyy, I would appreciate examples/clarification. I actually feel like I'm already in the middle, e.g. from the OP I'm calm about saying "well, this makes me sad, is there anything we can do to change it?" and working toward a solution (or breaking up if it can't be fixed) -- I thought that was assertive. If you've been saying I should be more forceful, please tell me specifically what that would look like. Not tantrums -- I am absolutely not willing to date anyone who thinks tantrums are a normal part of relationship maintenance, you have got to be kidding. I am a woman, not a kindergartner.

Also, to clear up misconceptions again: I dated Bill in college, when everyone was on a really tight budget; I also skipped meals if I wanted to buy myself books, bubble bath, or tickets to shows he wasn't in, for example. I didn't e-mail Adam nonstop; I sent him three sentences on Friday, maybe five sentences on Monday, nothing in between. The procedure was a minor outpatient thing, not actual surgery. My parents or other role models were never abusive to me or to each other. On the other hand, I actually can't think of any contemporary friends in a relationship that I would want; many are single (most happily), some are in situations that work for them but don't interest me (like polyamory or FWBs), some believe they're in perfect relationships but aren't aware of all their partner's behavior (including what would be dealbreakers).

A lot of these comments are definitely giving me new, serious questions to think about. Thanks again for those.
posted by cortex at 3:02 PM on June 19, 2012


For everyone talking about middle ground between doormat and CrrAAAaaaZZZyyyy, I would appreciate examples/clarification.

Here's a great example:

If a boyfriend is too busy to call everyday, that's totally, legitimately fine by me (I get it, because I'll probably be too busy to call sometime next week). But that doesn't mean it's okay with me to fall off the radar for 4 days, or during a major issue. If a boyfriend is busy at work or with family, I'm totally fine with postponing a celebration a week or maybe two -- not like sniff-sniff, passive-aggressive, I gueeeess I can put up with it (even though it makes me sooo saaaad) -- I truly do not mind at all. But that doesn't mean it's okay to postpone indefinitely and wind up never celebrating the holiday.


Have you ever said that flat-out to anyone, the first time it comes up, before it gets to DTMFA territory? If you are satisfied with the response, and the way things go from then on, then I would say that's a good middle road.

I just have to note one other thing. I'm noticing a LOT of pre-emptive defending in what you write, making it clear that you are most decidedly NOT the sort of person who would whine, cry, be passive-aggressive, be a princess, etc. I'm wondering if you spend a lot of time around others who think lots of women do those things, or talk a lot about women doing those things? If so, I think those are also guys to really steer clear of, even if they're totally lovely with YOU at first.
posted by cairdeas at 3:09 PM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


I am getting a lot of awesome comments that are making me think, but I'm also seeing a lot of comments from people who definitely didn't read the question or my follow-up. I am breaking up at the first sign of this douchiness!...In the examples above, the guys seemed anywhere from fine to fantastic for months or years.

I'm totally losing track of what you think your problem is. You're tired of dating guys who let you down, except that they totally don't let you down, sometimes not for years, until they do, and then you break up with them right away? That doesn't sound healthy. I think you need to consider that you have a blind spot concerning being treated poorly by the guys you date. You're making all these excuses for these guys and I have no idea why. Who cares if it wasn't "actual surgery"? Come on, that's crazy talk.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:21 PM on June 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


I am breaking up at the first sign of this douchiness!

I'm a little confused about this, because in your anecdotes, you don't seem to breaking up with them at all, much less at the first sign of douchiness. Rather, it looks like you're confronting them about their douchiness, whereupon they're saying "you deserve better," which is them breaking up with you. I think a lot of us have just been assuming that everyone knows this without saying it out loud, so I wanted to get it out on the table. When a guy says "you deserve better," that guy is breaking up with you.

But look at your examples:

1) On Monday morning, I e-mailed him again, saying (briefly and calmly) that I was pretty bummed I hadn't heard from him to acknowledge the procedure or ask how I was doing. I asked if there was anything I could do to enable easier communication somehow (e.g., I was just e-mailing because he hates phones, but would it be easier to text or IM?).

2) After 18 months, I found out that if he'd wanted to, he could have gotten me into almost all of his shows for free, and he regularly comped his other friends. I was totally surprised and baffled, but not accusatory

3) He eventually went back to her for good

4) I cleared Saturday night, got all dressed up, spent a ton of time on makeup and hair, and he just never showed. He didn't answer his phone. I cried myself to sleep. On Monday he e-mailed me, without any excuses or explanations, to tell me how much better I should be treated.

I just wouldn't characterize any of these examples as you breaking up at the first sign of douchiness. They all read to me like someone treating you in a way that's totally unacceptable, you wanting to talk it out (often in a really, really accommodating way), and then the guy breaking up with you by telling you that you deserve better.

Maybe this is the problem. Maybe you think that you break up at the first sign of bad treatment, but there's a specific kind of bad treatment that slips under your radar, so you're putting up with it without even realizing it.
posted by Ragged Richard at 3:22 PM on June 19, 2012 [25 favorites]


I have to agree with Ragged Richard. In reading your examples, I didn't think you were the one doing the breaking up.
posted by palomar at 3:24 PM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's hard to give specific examples because you've vehemently ruled out the sources of information I could cite, as you're adamant that the kind of person who would pay attention to them is abhorrent to you. Since encouraging you to become an (in your own eyes) abhorrent person would go against the spirit of the advice we are all giving, and since you wouldn't even be guaranteed success by selling your soul in that manner, there's just no point in my going there.

Since you say these guys behaved well for years until they didn't, and since you say you were doing exactly and only what you were willing to do, and tolerating exactly and only what you were willing to tolerate, and in general behaving with integrity and assertion in line with your values; I guess the only conclusion to draw is that the relationships were good until they broke up - which is just one of the harsh realities of life. The only course of action is to keep looking. Sorry, it sucks.
posted by tel3path at 3:26 PM on June 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm calm about saying "well, this makes me sad, is there anything we can do to change it?" and working toward a solution (or breaking up if it can't be fixed) -- I thought that was assertive.

No, assertive is "well, this makes me sad, is there anything we can do to change it? and here's what I need you to do to change it" and then you specify exactly what you want him to do, since it's his action/inaction that made you sad, and you know what it would take to make you not-sad. Tell him, don't ask him, what you want.

That's what's missing here. In a given situation, from a boyfriend, in a relationship, as weekend plans ... what do you want?
posted by headnsouth at 3:34 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the update!

I do think part of it could be just an age thing. As you say, you wouldn't want any of your friends' relationships, either. Many others have pointed out that this kind of frustration and disappointment is a common theme of relationships in your 20s.

I think these guys may be seeing the first half (she isn't angling for the most expensive/difficult present possible?) and assuming the second half (she doesn't care if I skip it completely!). Does that sound realistic? I think I've been pretty clear about expectations, I actually thought that was one of my strengths, but I can definitely work on being clearer.

I definitely think that's a possibility. Another thing that was really hard for me to learn was that many men (like many women) actually like a woman to be a bit more ... engaged, I guess is a neutral way to put it. I used to be really hesitant to ask for things because I didn't want to be vulnerable. Like you, I prized my view of myself as independent and strong. But everyone likes to feel needed and wanted, and by not making my needs known, I was robbing the guys I dated the opportunity to step up for me.

But there's a difference in how people express that desire to be needed. A mature guy can say "Hey, I'm feeling a bit neglected in this relationship. It seems like you're not very invested." An immature guy wants you to play games and make him prove himself.

This is not to excuse any of the behavior you listed! It sounds like you were well-rid of all of these guys. BUT even decent guys might think that it's ok to disengage from a relationship with a woman who seems to have disengaged herself.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 3:35 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, I'm just genuinely confused about this:

I am breaking up at the first sign of this douchiness!

vs., for example, Chris, who claimed to be in love with me, but he was dithering between me and his ex, depending on her behavior.

It sounds like the Chris scenario went on for a pretty long time. So, since you asked for examples of middle ground, that is an example of where I think most reasonable people would cut Chris off when he first dithered between them and his ex. They wouldn't continue in the relationship as he was dither-ING.
posted by cairdeas at 3:37 PM on June 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


OP, in all compassion, I think you are just resistant to hearing the message. I think ThePinkSuperhero is insightful in calling it a "blind spot."

I am breaking up at the first sign of this douchiness! I am comfortable spending time single, and I already took almost two years completely off from dating. I screen out the vast majority of guys including all guys who are shady/unreliable/assholes...

I understand that you think you are screening and feel like a selective person. But it's likely there is something wrong with your screening process, because you've reported several of these relationships, and you are the only common denominator.

I think part of my problem is that although I have boundaries and I'm fine with defending them, I'm learning from this thread that they aren't where other people's boundaries are.

That might or might not be true, but that's not actually the source of your problem. It's not that you're super free and easy and everyone else is just more uptight and doesn't understand how open your boundaries are.

I'm like you in that I spend a lot of time solo, travel solo for work/friends, and sometimes can't celebrate an occasion ON the day of the occasion with my live-in partner. But I can assure you there's no way in hell this partner would check out during even a minor surgery, or neglect a celebration without a plan to make up for. Why? Not because I communicated my expectations in an elaborate back-and-forth where I thought up excuses for him and catered to his preferences and gave him every possible out, etc., but because he's a good guy and he cares about me. Without that one essential ingredient, all the negotiation skills and relationship scripts and the like are not going to make a damn bit of difference. Because a guy that doesn't care doesn't care enough to step up when you ask for what you need, and it sounds like you've been all too eager to take what you need and kick it behind you and stand on it and pretend it isn't there in order to give the guy whatever you think HE needs.

It's entirely possible to have a relationship of emotional intimacy, reliability and steadiness and still give and enjoy a lot of individual space from each other as you each lead your own lives. It sounds like you like that kind of relationship, as I do. But it also sounds like you've mistaken emotional distance and lack of intimacy for space and freedom. You seem to be expecting the level of emotional intimacy to be there, when it's just not and in some cases maybe never was. Lack of affection isn't the same thing as space and freedom. It's just lack of affection, and sometimes maybe laziness or self-centeredness. There is entirely a middle way, where the emotional aspects of your relationship, your close connection and your trust for one another, are really strong, while you maintain a strong commitment to living your own life and being an individual. These aren't two different paths, or something about you that folks here can't understand. It's just that IF you want intimacy, you seem to be behaving in a way that communicates that you DON'T want intimacy. I

ntimacy doesn't equal a call every night and texts all day, or a standing weekend date, or any of that stuff. That's just arrangements. Intimacy is the trust that you feel that you can listen and be heard, care about someone else and be cared about. You don't have to be worried about being "high maintenance" or anything like that (not sure why you're worried about that, anyway) - just start prioritizing your need for intimacy. And don't grant it to someone who doesn't seem to be giving you equivalent priority.

[I also wonder why you're so reluctant to be characterized like you think other women are -- "carriages and roses," "tantrums" . By any chance, do you consider yourself a 'guy's guy' kind of girl? Do you think that it's ridiculous to feel anger at a partner, or have high expectations for a partner? It may be that you only hear, or pay too much attention to, negative characterizations of how adult women behave in relationships. There are a lot of those out there, but they don't reflect reality. And the rhetoric you hear from guys doesn't always match the reality of what people value and how they behave anyway. I think this low opinion of other women might be connected to things here.]

It concerns me that you're seeing everything about the situation other than your own selection of and tolerance for the kind of guy who does not want to be in a relationship. It's not that these guys want to be in a loose relationship, or one with a lot of independence - they don't really want to be there for you.

Yeah, it may be the vicissitudes of life, just a run of bad luck with several guys in a row who, in the end, just got tired of being in a relationship with you. That does suck, and maybe there's nothing more to learn from it.

But the thing is, I don't think someone whose experience can be described that way would be able to give so many incidences of going the beyond-extra mile for other people, and stuffing down their own hopes and needs in the meantime, and then respond with excuses for them and defenses of herself. It doesn't seem like just chance.
posted by Miko at 3:39 PM on June 19, 2012 [30 favorites]


Something's weird with your examples if you're saying that you break up at the first sign of bad treatment. It's just not what your stories are saying.

The guy that knowingly let you pay for tickets although you were skipping meals to do it? Should have AT THE VERY OUTSET said "I don't want my shows to be the reason you're hungry, that isn't right, I'll see you after" even if comping tickets weren't an option. (The fact that he had comp tickets is just icing (albeit sparkly icing) on the douche cake.) He showed you his colors 18 months before you confronted him about it.

The guy that dithered about the ex? Was not sure he was excited to be with you, and told you so.

(In fairness, the guys from #1 and #4 sound like standard "I'll do something so crappy that she can't NOT break up with me" stories.)

But also don't forget - you are 25. Many, many of us have not found the right person at this age. And I'd venture to guess that even the happiest-married of us have stories about the freaks, sadists and losers that we dated before we found the right person.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:39 PM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


even the happiest-married of us have stories about the freaks, sadists and losers that we dated before we found the right person.

True that.

Still, I do wish I'd have learned a little earlier how to sniff out the freaks, sadists and losers and the OP is doing great at asking now and opening up the possibility of learning it sooner and maybe having some happier late 20s.
posted by Miko at 3:44 PM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


For everyone talking about middle ground between doormat and CrrAAAaaaZZZyyyy, I would appreciate examples/clarification.

It seems like in your latest follow-up, you're justifying your actions and saying there's no other way you would have wanted to behave, but in your OP, you seemed very upset by how the boys responded to your actions. And you included those actions in the anecdotes, so you must think they have some relevance. So I'm sort of confused now.

But I think the middle ground is where you say "I'm okay with doing all these things, but only if you respond by doing these other things." Not where you do all these things and just expect them to see you as the cool undemanding girlfriend who nevertheless requires attention and support. E.g. with Adam, was that the first time ever that he didn't respond when you emailed him something important? Or the first time he didn't support you dealing with something potentially difficult? It's hard to believe that he was the perfect attentive BF up until that very moment, and then that one thing ruined it all. I mean, maybe he was. Stranger things have certainly happened. But I feel like there must have been some earlier situation(s) where he learned that it was okay with you if he ignored or declined to be there for you, when you could have said, "I don't need to be in contact all the time, but if I email you twice re: something important where I need your support and you don't answer, I'm not happy with that." With Dan, did you never before that incident give him the impression that you were totally down with him being super-casual about scheduling dates?

I don't think every relationship that ended was your fault. You're young, and some people are just jerks, and some people aren't really but they act jerky sometimes, and some couples just aren't compatible or have different views of how and where their relationship is going. But I don't think this is some new male trend. Some of it is probably just bad luck, but if you want to think of it in terms of what you can do, that part has to be either how you pick guys in the first place, or how you teach them how treat you. (I think I may have just quoted Dr. Phil. I'm really sorry.)
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 3:56 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also be wary of over-thinking everything. It sounds like you spend a lot of time rationalizing stuff. Consider that this might weaken your instincts. But aside from that, yes, 25 is young.
posted by wondermouse at 4:05 PM on June 19, 2012


It seems really inconsistent for, on one hand, a guy to treat you really well for X number of months or years, and on the other to do some horribly douchey out of character thing and then break up with you.

One way to reconcile this is that you just have exceptionally bad luck, and you're some kind of dating outlier that attracts terrific guys who all of the sudden flake out and dump you by saying "you deserve better."

The more plausible way to reconcile this is that there's some kind of common pattern in your relationships with these guys, and the most likely pattern is that they all somehow learn that it is okay to treat you poorly.

That is why the pattern keeps repeating itself, and it's also why they all say the same thing when they break up with you. I mean, listen to what they say: you deserve to be treated better. Do you really think they were all just meaning the one particular incident that precipitated the breakup?

This must be horribly frustrating, because at least by the way you're approaching this question you're levelheaded, openminded, and mature. But maybe a takeaway from AskMe's reaction is that, in some way, the way you interact with them teaches your boyfriends that they can get away with being pretty substandard boyfriends.
posted by MoonOrb at 4:17 PM on June 19, 2012


When bad stuff happens, I don't go into an "omg, this is unlivable, you are a terrible partner, how dare you" tantrum; I'm calm about saying "well, this makes me sad, is there anything we can do to change it?"

Tell, don't ask. Don't be so conciliatory. Tantrums are dumb, yeah, but I think you're signaling to them that they can walk all over you. I'm thinking of some calm boundary setting. Like, "that's not ok. I like you but you can't treat me like that again."

There are really only two possibilities here. Either you're missing or ignoring warning signs (not necessarily that they're jerks--maybe that they're not that into you), or you're in some way telling them that it's ok to treat you like crap.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:27 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think Miko's on to something. This jumped out at me:

it also sounds like you've mistaken emotional distance and lack of intimacy for space and freedom. You seem to be expecting the level of emotional intimacy to be there, when it's just not and in some cases maybe never was. Lack of affection isn't the same thing as space and freedom. It's just lack of affection, and sometimes maybe laziness or self-centeredness.

I've totally done this. Maybe you have too. You don't sound needy or clingy. In fact, you sound perfectly reasonable. But you're probably missing red flags because you're not seeing them as red flags. You might be seeing them as signs of a guy being independent. And sometimes it's really hard to tell the difference. It seems like the douchiness is surprising you because you probably interpreted earlier behavior on their part as being independent or cut them slack because after all, we are all human.

You don't have to be princessy, but perhaps you should start judging your dating partners by the same standards you judge your friends. For example, if I were having a minor operation and asked my friend Susan to come along, I'm pretty sure she'd do so. I know you didn't know about the ticket-comping for quite a while, and probably couldn't have predicted Dan would go AWOL. But with Chris, if you know you're dating a guy that still has feelings for another woman, you know there's a 50-50 chance he'll end up with you. So that's a risk you have to be willing to take and just suck it up if it doesn't work out.

I also wonder if there have been guys who liked you that you didn't like back because you thought they were too clingy. Maybe they actually weren't. Think about the traits you consider clingy versus those you consider independent. Then talk about them with friends, or even visit a marriage and family therapist for a session or two for this one issue. It's not always easy sorting these things out. Maybe other people can point out specific things you were misinterpreting. If you feel like MeFiMailing me I'd be happy to discuss what I've learned at greater length.
posted by xenophile at 4:32 PM on June 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Some people have mentioned this, but to reiterate, these two statements do not go together:

in addition to the usual litany of forgotten birthdays/valentines/anniversaries (none of which came as surprises to the guy), bedroom inequities, and other everyday disappointments.

I am breaking up at the first sign of this douchiness!

The "usual" litany of disappointments and inequities is douchiness! That's when you break up with them! Long before the particularly egregious examples of douchiness you list.
posted by grapesaresour at 5:15 PM on June 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


OP, I have also been in this situation repeatedly, as have many of my single late twenties female friends in New York. Much of the advice given upthread is very helpful. You don't want to read the Rules, but it might be helpful for identifying blind spots you are missing (you can then toss it in the trash); it certainly was helpful for me. Even more essentialist than The Rules, but a much better and more nuanced and useful book, is Mars and Venus on a Date.

Some of what may be happening here is that men notice you are permitting them to get away with small things and they resent you for it because they know they're being unfair to you, and they do actually care about you. But then they act horribly or indifferently just to see what you will do because they want to make sure you will call them on it, and when you don't they feel things aren't working. This does not excuse their behavior at all. But it may be a way of testing you to make sure that not everything is permitted.

Oddly enough, when I've been in these situations, things seemed to feel better for everyone involved when I got angry about it, so there may be some (very unfortunate) merit to the comment above that "tantrums" are useful in relationships.

All that said, dating different kinds of men is always a good tactic and probably a simpler one.

Also, when you first get attached to them (preferably before sex), very early in the relationship, make it a point to visit their apartment, maybe even as a surprise, and observe very carefully how they react to your presence there and how you feel there. This may give you a good idea of the kind of person you are going to encounter down the road.
posted by luckdragon at 6:52 PM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't understand why feeling anger, or expressing it, is always characterised as a 'tantrum'. In some cases, its perfectly normal to be angry - and expressing it is appropriate. More appropriate and healthy than swallowing it and feeling the need to put on a strained, self-denying 'calm, adult' facade in the face of ridiculously disrespectful circumstances. Sometimes people need to feel the weight of This-is-not-OK, and you have a right to show the way things affect you (N.B. Talking 'angry voice' here, not violence).

I agree with posters who've mentioned being the 'guy's girl' and internalised mysogyny. Think about how these tropes (dreaded high-maintenance princess!) exist as a strategy to serve (some, awful) men at your expense, and how exceptionally well they've worked so far.

We all encounter bad people when dating, and sometimes even stay with d-bags when circumstances make leaving hard. I bet most people here have at least one story like that. (I have many!) The only difference between you and other people is you put up with bad behaviour for longer than they do. Practically, being assertive about your need for respect, your expectations for behaviour, etc will improve things. Good luck!
posted by everydayanewday at 7:40 PM on June 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


You might get some use out of these threads: "Help me hone my creepometer" and "Give me the benefit of your hindsight" .
posted by endless_forms at 7:53 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems really inconsistent for, on one hand, a guy to treat you really well for X number of months or years, and on the other to do some horribly douchey out of character thing and then break up with you.

It may be inconsistent but it's not odd or rare at all, happens all the time! After all, it the easiest approach to breaking up from people who may have not been jerks to start with, may have been been nice enough people, but are certainly still a bit "unripe" especially in relationships. I think this is in part what's been happening, a mismatch of levels of emotional maturity.

I think you (asker) may be on to something in one of your follow-ups - that those guys only saw the first half of your 'easygoing in expectations' attitude and assume it extends way beyond. And that you may have assumed in turn that they would be mature enough to understand where the line was.

This happens a lot too. Sometimes even among trusted friends, if you're the one who is always more easy going and independent and not fussy with dates and being spot on time and calling every few days, well, even the nicest people tend to assume your not-being-fussy-about-the-small-stuff means you will be ok with some bigger stuff - and sometimes it's not even deliberately taking advantage of you, it's just that people tend to do that, take things for granted, and that they also don't know what you need from them until you tell them or make it a lot clearer through your own behaviour.

Also, what xenophile said above, rings very true and typical of similar situations: But you're probably missing red flags because you're not seeing them as red flags. You might be seeing them as signs of a guy being independent. And sometimes it's really hard to tell the difference. It seems like the douchiness is surprising you because you probably interpreted earlier behavior on their part as being independent or cut them slack because after all, we are all human.

Lots of other good advice above, if I were you I'd take everything into consideration, but just one last thing - let's keep in mind relationships are the messiest area of human life which is pretty messy in itself, and it can be damn hard to find people - not just romantic partners, but even friends - who are on the same page in terms of maturity and expectations and kindness and openness and ways of expressing affection.

It's a matter of experimenting, and a lot of luck too. For all the work you can do to try and identify and clarify your own needs and express them better, and recognise the people who are on the same page and avoid those who aren't, let's keep in mind that in meeting partners and establishing relationships there are also so many variables outside of your own control. So do reflect on all the advice here, but don't try and overanalyse your past relationships. Shit happens. If at 25 you were in a happy long term relationship with a wonderful man in a city like New York, I have the feeling a lot of people would consider you very lucky.
posted by bitteschoen at 7:57 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


One example that jumps out at me is that when the guy was ignoring you when you were getting surgery, your response was to ask if there was a way you could make communicating easier.

Why would you take that on? Why didn't your immediate needs come first? He was treating you so badly and instead of calling him on it, you framed the situation as wanting to help him (communicate with you). That reaction seems so far out to me, as if you replaced your basic human needs by some meta need to control the situation by continuing to be the understanding girlfriend who doesn't get upset or ask too much.
posted by Majorita at 9:50 PM on June 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


Please read Miko's comment many, many times. But to directly answer your question of parsing between issues of let's-talk-this-out vs. laying-down-the-law, this is the standard I go by:

If whatever bothers me about the situation CANNOT clearly and unambiguously be laid at one person's feet as intentional, willful disrespect, I go for the let's-talk-this-out. Note that THE VAST MAJORITY of situations fall in this category, assuming both of you are kind, caring, and reasonable human beings (see Miko's comment again). So, for example, boyfriend's work is supersupersupersuper busy right now and he has 16 exams and sick parents to deal with, and if I'm not geographically close enough to help him with some of the load, I will totally understand if we don't see each other that week. In other words, if the cause is out of our control, it's mild-chat-worthy. "Hey, I get that you're busy, but I am kind of bummed at not seeing you. Can we do something about that? I can come over and bring some food/feed the dog, but can also leave you alone until this week is over."

I would even have slotted Chris into this category, at first. Or the forgetting of anniversaries/birthdays/etc. But if after some "let's talk about how to improve this" chats and your mutually-agreed-upon solutions are getting soundly ignored ("I KNOW I'm being unfair to you, but I'm not SURE" even after you've stated clearly "hey, this is not working for me" or "hey, it's really important to me that we celebrate my birthday"), the issues get moved onto the second category.

If, however, whatever bothers me about this situation can CLEARLY be laid out at one person's feet, because of flagrant negligence/lack of respect and consideration, then yeah, I break out the dude-wtf. Note this is not a tantrum. This is defending your boundaries. Your hospital example would fall into this latter category, because seriously, wtf. Yes, it was an outpatient procedure, but after-the-fact realizations aside, BOTH of you thought it would've been more painful/serious than that at the time. He might not have been able to get out of work, but his negligence of your well being, shown by the inability to even send a 10 second TEXT during your recovery period, was 100% unacceptable.

Note that a lot of the times, which category issues would fall would depend on the couple and their agreements. It's not about the specific arrangement of calls every day vs. calls once a week; your arrangement is up to you two to agree on. It's not about how you're cool and unassuming and you'd never pitch a "princess fit" if you don't get the gift you EXACTLY want. It's about trust and intimacy and that BOTH of you feel heard and valued and loved by the other, instead of flagrantly neglected. If you're treated as the latter, it's time to break out the dude-wtf...and then DTMFA.
posted by Hakaisha at 2:33 AM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Majorita said what I was thinking...that the blind spots, the diminished importance of your needs and feelings, and the contradictions in your story between your OP and your follow-ups might stem from a need to feel in control.

The contradiction that stands out to me the most is your follow-up assertion that you absolutely DTMFAs the instant they showed their douchey colors...but that's not what happened at all, in any of the situations you described. In reality, there had been "the usual litany" (usual?! litany!!?) of previous indications that these guys cared little about meeting basic, practically default relationship needs. And when it came down to it, you put the ball back in the guy's court each and every time. Maybe you were ultimately the one to walk away in a couple of those cases, but only after the guy told you, "You deserve better," which basically means, "I know I treated you like crap but I don't really care, so if you leave then meh whatever." In both follow-ups, you are adamant that you were as assertive as possible without being crazy, but all you did was very gently ask what you could do better for next time, or in the other three cases, you didn't really say anything to them at all despite your legitimate hurt feelings.

The point is, you seem to act one way, but you want to view yourself in a certain other way, so much so that you unwittingly rewrote the narratives of these experiences to fit better with your idealized self-image. It's a striking disconnect, and one that I've seen before in my friends who keep winding up with different versions of the same unfulfilling relationships.

There are a couple ways I've seen the need for control play out that might be relevant. For one, you might try to control someone's ability to hurt you by lowering your own needs and expectations. If you set low standards, it becomes much less likely that someone will disappoint you. This can manifest as the self-image of The Cool, Low-Maintenance Girl. It's a difficult self-image to let go of, as it's not just a defense mechanism, it's also a flattering way of both viewing yourself and presenting yourself to others, especially to men.

Another aspect you might want to gain more control over is simply the choice to stay in the relationship. You might overlook or excuse a lot of bullshit because you really want it to work out with this guy, and acknowledging how broken things are would leave you with no rational choice but to leave that very instant. It's counterintuitive, but a common defense mechanism at play here is actually The Independent Girl self-image. It's the idea that you're not the kind of woman who needs a man in your life, therefore opting to stay with him must have been a well considered, active choice, rather than a rut that you happen to be passively stuck in. You might even acknowledge the bullshit, but tell yourself that it doesn't really bother you because you're also The Cool, Low-Maintenance Girl, so it's okay for you to stay. In other words, your strongly held self-conceptions may actually mask your ability to be objective about your relationships and your behavior within these relationships.

The truth is, these methods of exerting control on a relationship are bogus. They only give you the illusion of having control and in the meantime, prevent you from learning how to truly enforce your boundaries. The only real control you can have in these situations is firmly knowing what you will or won't stand for in a relationship and having the objectivity to spot red flags, thus knowing when to cut your losses. There's no other magic to it. There is no way to make a guy treat you better when he doesn't have any regard for you in the first place (or for women in general, or even people in general).

I think of myself as pretty low-maintenance when it comes to my relationship with my husband, but it's not something that everyone is privy to. My husband earned that privilege by demonstrating that I am just as much of a priority in his life as he is in mine. Maybe it would help to look at these qualities that you want to emulate, not as things you need to have on display all the time if you want to think of yourself in a certain way, but more like the "real you" that you only reveal to people who are deserving of your awesomeness.
posted by keep it under cover at 2:42 AM on June 20, 2012 [30 favorites]


one thing that came to mind regarding the medical procedure situation - quoting Hakaisha above: Your hospital example would fall into this latter category, because seriously, wtf. Yes, it was an outpatient procedure, but after-the-fact realizations aside, BOTH of you thought it would've been more painful/serious than that at the time. He might not have been able to get out of work, but his negligence of your well being, shown by the inability to even send a 10 second TEXT during your recovery period, was 100% unacceptable.

That's true, but re-reading the asker's description of it, I'm wondering if perhaps she was herself a little less than clear in expressing how much she'd have enjoyed some form of emotional support and attention while she was undergoing the procedure?

And YES I KNOW in a nicer and more caring world you wouldn't even need to express such a basic need, it's be implied and taken for granted and the minimum basic requirement, any boyfriend/girlfriend, any good friend, sometimes even a more casual acquaintance who was informed you had to undergo a procedure that involves a week's recovery would at least take the time to send you a "go get 'em, tiger" or "thinking of you" for all the effort that takes. Ideally, a good boyfriend/girlfriend in a stable relationship would offer spontaneously to come with you and distract you and cheer you up and spoil you a little afterwards, because it's nice to do these things for others and it's nice to have them done to you when you need them.

But, hey, it's a big city and a big cold world, and sometimes in big cities even such basics of caring human interaction are harder, because there is more distance and more coldness and more personal independence and 'personal space', everyone for themselves, sometimes people do take that a bit too far and forget that showing that you care is not a burdern or an invasion of personal space.

And maybe, just maybe, you end up forgetting that yourself too - maybe you're not projecting the image of the person who would appreciate or need that sort of support at all, maybe you're projecting so much the image of the totally self-reliant woman who doesn't need anyone, that less than nice and less than caring people take that as a shortcut to just not give a shit, you know? That doesn't mean it's your fault for not communicating clearly enough that even if you are a self-reliant no-frills non-clingy woman you still appreciate basic displays of caring and support -- but hey guess what, even such a basic concept is really hard to reconcile in some people's brains! They take the cues that best suit them!

Good caring people will keep showing their interest and support to you, and offer to be there for you even if you're the kind of person who keeps saying "ah no worries I can manage / thanks but no need I can do it on my own", but even good caring people may need a little prodding and reminding that you are human and vulnerable too, and that you need them to be there for you as much as you are for them.

It won't take anything away from your self-reliance to be more open about needing clear demonstrations of emotional support, in reasonable terms - maybe you are too afraid of coming across as needy as clingy yourself, you inadvertently take that so far that you avoid giving even the most basic signals of appreciating some attention and caring, and that's contributing to people taking the easy way out. Others have hinted at this already and I'm wondering if this didn't play a bigger role than the asker acknowledges.
posted by bitteschoen at 4:36 AM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Attractions change and it isn't always about the individuals involved. Relationships are difficult. Most people are bad at ending them. And if they were good for several months or years before ending poorly/abruptly they were still good for that stretch of time.

"You deserve someone better" is just a line. I don't think I'd read anything into it. It doesn't sound like you're doing anything wrong - I find it cruel to chide you for falling in love with someone who happens to still be stuck on their ex - and you're doing a lot right, treating people reasonably and not jumping to horrible conclusions every time something isn't perfect in addition to putting thought into analyzing your process.

There's no crystal ball and no magic potion to keep a couple together. The best way, in my mind, is to keep trying, keep putting yourself out there as yourself without games, without trying to play mean.

Good luck!
posted by mountmccabe at 5:39 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the modes you communicate in are the only modes you're comfortable with, and/or you really need a partner for whom a calm 'This makes me sad' lights a fire under him to fix things, that's fair enough.

It's just that that rules out a lot of guys, who are not like that period, or who could learn to be like that with a woman who was comfortable with that process.

Then it seems to me that you need a better way of eliminating the guys who are not right, before you get intimately intertwined with them.

And it seems to me that you are learning that better way through painful experience, which is the same way most of the rest of us learn this type of thing.

(Considering deeply the possibility of signs (or men) you have, if not overlooked, at least not taken seriously enough, is a good way to help yourself actually learn from your experiences, which is a much more valuable thing than having been right all along).
posted by Salamandrous at 5:46 AM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, there are (so far) 92 answers to this question -- most of them saying the same thing in different ways. The majority of the answers have multiple favorites.

What this says to me is that A LOT of people have very confident feelings about what you need to be doing to make things better.

I know you feel like much of the advice is off the mark, but I think it would serve you well to just follow it anyway. This whole thread is a giant love-letter saying "You're not seeing things clearly. We care about you enough to write and write and favorite and favorite, and this is what you need to do . . ."
posted by MeiraV at 5:59 AM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


OK one last comment.

First, I'd like to note that I share your distaste for the Rules. I haven't actually read it but have read summaries of it, and it definitely seems to portray the kind of game-playing in relationships that I truly loathe. It also seems to further the belief that if guys treat you badly, it's mostly your fault, rather than it just being a douchey guy. Finally it seems to want to mold all women into this super-feminine perfect companion, and if you fail to become that perfect feminine woman, it's obviously your fault (you shouldn't have called, you shouldn't have made the first move, you should have let him pursue you -- blargh). So definitely not asking you to read the Rules.

The thing that I keep getting from your initial question, as well as your follow-ups, which others have pointed out as well, is that you seem to have internalized a lot of the language that not-so-nice men use to describe women and to dismiss their complaints. Here are some examples from your posts:

My expectations, I hope, aren't ridiculous. I'm not looking for jewelry or carriage rides or Mr. Right

When bad stuff happens, I don't go into an "omg, this is unlivable, you are a terrible partner, how dare you" tantrum; I'm calm about saying "well, this makes me sad, is there anything we can do to change it?"

Am I really supposed to keep a mental stopwatch and leave rage-filled voicemails if he doesn't meet my schedule? That is crazypants.

"give me my present now. That one's not good enough, I want a better present"

his present isn't as pricey or timely as a princess might want?


Now first of all, I'm really not denying that there are crazy, unreasonable women out there. I'd argue though, that they're a far smaller proportion of women than some men would like you to think. I've often heard perfectly reasonable requests or wants being dismissed as CRAZY, hysterical, demanding women acting out. No of course, you shouldn't throw any tantrums, but it's perfectly OK to be angry, if the situation warrants it, such as after your minor medical procedure. In such a situation, I would have been hopping mad and certainly completely unwilling to make it out to be even partly my fault for not communicating better.

There's this pernicious idea out there that it's really important to be the cool, independent girlfriend, as someone mentioned above. Independence is a positive quality, of course, but try to ensure that you don't lose track of what you really want when you're projecting this image. Sometimes I have to shake my head when I hear of things that my friends do when dating guys -- to give an example, a good friend of mine was dating someone. At one point, she was really really sick and she told me how sweet it was that this guy she was dating seriously stayed overnight with her and took care of her. Early in the morning she needed some sort of medicine very badly and he immediately offered to go get it for her. Of course, she said, "she couldn't let him do that for her." I sort of nodded and said uh huh, of course. But internally I was thinking, why the hell not? You're sick, he's there, he's dating you. What else is he there for if not to support you when you're sick? It's ok to expect significant support from people you're dating seriously, just as you would from friends or parents. How they react can tell you a lot about their character.
posted by peacheater at 7:08 AM on June 20, 2012 [14 favorites]


Jumping off peacheater, if you minimise your needs throughout the whole relationship in an effort to be the low maintenance girlfriend you will never really understand your partner's true character. It is in times of stress/crisis/expectations that a person's true character comes out, and, in the case of dating, what seperates the men from the boys. You want to see how they step up early in the dating phase rather then find out after you are invested that they do not have the maturity and respect to be adults in a relationship. I don't think you should create a false crisis but being vulnerable and honestly asking for help in a difficult situation will allow you to gauge how they would respond in a major crisis. Travelling together, trying something completely unfamiliar, getting out of both your comfort zones are great activities for building intimacy and seeing each others coping skills. He can also then judge himself how you deal with stressful situations and whether you communicate honestly and work together as a team.
posted by saucysault at 8:09 AM on June 20, 2012 [19 favorites]


First, I'd like to note that I share your distaste for the Rules. I haven't actually read it but have read summaries of it, and it definitely seems to portray the kind of game-playing in relationships that I truly loathe. It also seems to further the belief that if guys treat you badly, it's mostly your fault, rather than it just being a douchey guy

Actually, no, it doesn't. What The Rules talks about is correctly assessing a guy's interest in you.

For example, one 'rule' is not to accept a date for the same night you're being asked. Think about why. The guy hasn't thought about you until just this second, and anticipating being bored, has thought to call you to see if you'll keep him company (and maybe have sex with him.) What is so attractive about that?

Where we might fail is thinking, "Why not? My plans were to paint my nails and organize my sock drawer, hanging out with Dude sounds better than that."

Why that's not such a hot idea. The guy now knows you're interested in him, and that you don't have anything else going on. If he's not serious about you, and he clearly isn't if he's calling for a last minute date, he now knows that he has a back up.

Game playing or setting a boundary? Even if you'd rather hang out with Dude, it makes sense to set a boundary for yourself that says, "I'm only going on dates with guys who give me a few days notice." Is this a game? No. It's valuing yourself enough to wait for a guy who will plan a date with you, rather than someone who remembered you existed and thought your company would be preferable to sitting home with the dog.

Lord knows I've made plenty of excuses for guys in my day, but thank heavens I matured and lerned to put myself and my interests ahead of someone elses.

It's a hard thing to admit, but if you're super-interested in someone you make the time to plan and do. Only when you're in a LTR is it okay to call someone at the last minute and say, "Hey, my poker game fell through, want to go to that Thai place you wanted to try?"

I'm not saying it's the greatest advice in the world, but it really is about figuring out a man's level of interest in you, BEFORE you invest all kinds of feelings and time into him.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:48 AM on June 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


I just wanted to pop back in one more time to let you know something that might be helpful. As others have noted, you seem to have a really clear idea of this "crazy bitch" that you absolutely don't want to be. I have a hunch that you've heard a lot of guys talk about crazy women, and particularly about how a relationship ended because the woman turned out to be crazy, and so you're really trying to avoid falling into that category. If any of that is true, then there's something you really need to know:

Often, when a guy goes through a breakup and he either wants to save face or just doesn't feel like getting into a whole postmortem, he will just say, "oh, she turned out to be crazy" as an explanation and move on. I've done it myself. A lot of my friends do it as well. It means nothing. "She turned out to be totally crazy" = "we broke up and I don't really feel like talking about why."
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:01 AM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


And to piggyback off of what Ragged Richard is saying... every time a guy I know has talked about how crazy his exes have been, it turns out that what he deems crazy is the reasonable expectations a woman might have of her partner -- you know, that he might show up when she's having surgery, or even call her. For dudes like that, whatever they don't want to be bothered with will be labeled as crazy.
posted by palomar at 9:30 AM on June 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


Rather, the reasonable expectations ANYONE might have of their partner. It's not crazy to want someone to check in on you after a procedure that was expected to be painful and difficult. What's crazy is not checking in at all on a partner going through such a thing, and then to be all, "buhhhhh, you deserve better, hurf durf" when called out on bad behavior.
posted by palomar at 9:31 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


You have so, so much good advice here, but I keep thinking about this thread, so I want to say one more thing:

The way to be the super cool, independent, non-crazy girlfriend is not to do what you're doing. In fact, it's the exact opposite. Women who are independent, not crazy, and truly value themselves and their time will call a dude out on his bad behavior in a firm and immediate way. As others have pointed out, turning a guy's crappy behavior back on your own (totally reasonable) actions - like asking him if there's something you can do better or if he prefers another method of communication - is what non-independent girlfriends do. It doesn't qualify as "crazy" per the way you seem to understand "crazy," but it's just as wacky nonetheless.

As everyone else in this thread has said, when you give someone a reason to respect you, they're either gonna do it or get out. There will be no dithering about exes, because they know that you won't accept that. There will be no not showing up, because they will anticipate your completely reasonable angry reaction and will call if they're not gonna show. The way that you've been functioning in relationships simply has not encouraged men to respect you.

Good luck.
posted by anotheraccount at 9:41 AM on June 20, 2012 [16 favorites]


Also, I think it might be really worthwhile for you to think about the times when you would see something as "spoiled princess" if a woman wanted it, but perfectly okay and reasonable if a man wanted the same thing or equivalent. Because I think you might really be holding yourself back from totally reasonable action out of a deep-seated sense that women asking for their wants and needs are being "princesses" and they shouldn't ask for much, and then only for the "right" things, but when men do the same, it's perfectly normal and reasonable.

For example, you mention women who want carriage rides and jewelry. What would you think about a guy who really to go BMX riding and get a high-end set of body armor as a birthday present? What would you think of a guy who wanted to go jet ski riding and get a rad-looking sports vest as a birthday present. Would you think the words "princess" "brat" "spoiled" "unreasonable" "deluded" "psycho" about any of that? It seems like the thought wouldn't even cross your mind and instead you would do your best to get those things for the guys.

In the situation where you were going to get surgery, couldn't get a hold of the guy you were dating, and then asked him if the method of communication was convenient enough for him... what would you think if the genders were reversed there. Say you were friends with the couple where the guy was going in for surgery. And the woman was saying, "I won't even bother to contact him while he's going through this, because the methods of communication he's using aren't convenient enough for me. The only thing that's convenient enough for me is Facebook chat, and if he can't use that, then oh well, we'll talk another time." Wouldn't you think that woman was the ultimate princess brat of the century? But when you thought that might be going on with the guy you were dating, it seemed like you felt it was this perfectly reasonable thing you should try to accommodate.

Maybe you think that I am way off but if there is an inkling that this might be going on with you, I think it would REALLY help to try to examine these biases and figure out if they're really logical or not, and where they're coming from.
posted by cairdeas at 10:10 AM on June 20, 2012 [31 favorites]


Reading these comments is doing me a world of good -- so thank you so much for asking this question!

I have very similar issues, so I'm learning a lot. I recently had an experience that has changed the way I think about "deserving better" and feeling taken care of in relationships.

I've always been the Cool, Low-Maintenance Girl also, also known as The Girl Who Puts Up With A Lot of Crap. You can read my past question history for the tons o' drama that actually turned into.

My new boyfriend has done some minor douche-y things... along the lines of your usual litany, and I was the Cool Girl who didn't say much about them, or tried to negotiate and problem solve, and blah blah.

Last week, I got royally pissed at him. Not rationally problem-solving. Just pissed. I was genuinely mad for something he did that was inconsiderate. I think that's the first time I'd ever approached someone in a relationship that way. I wasn't mean or violent, of course, but I was clearly really pissed.

Since then, he has taken such good care of me! I think he just really thought that the other things didn't bother me, because I didn't show that I was bothered. I think the rational discussion stuff just didn't really penetrate. Seeing that he hurt me really made all the difference. He didn't want to hurt me -- he was just oblivious. I think expressing strong emotions in the form of getting mad when someone hurts you is really important. Maybe it's not true of everyone, and maybe it's even a bad sign in the relationship (I dunno, I suck at relationships), but it has made a HUGE shift in this relationship I'm in now. I think he genuinely didn't know that I was upset until I showed him. We have talked more about the relationship and gotten to a new level. He seems to be thinking about how to make things better a lot, and wants me to "discuss my needs" and actually asked me to "be more pushy" about getting him to fulfill them.

So I really suggest just getting mad when something (justifiably) pisses you off, or crying when something really hurts you. I think some people just need to see that it bothers you, and maybe these guys were like that.

Looking forward to reading more replies and learning from everyone!
posted by 3491again at 12:03 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


That you live in NY I'm sure doesn't help you to have long-term relationships. Relationships that begin in New York are notoriously short-lived for obvious reasons. It sucks being someone who falls in love easily - I'm the same - but when you're surrounded by people who don't, you're not going to find a lot of long-term stability. I'd think of it less in terms of "signs" and "warning signs" and more in terms of the milieu you find yourself in.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 1:00 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure, outlandishmarxist. Every kind of person is in NYC. So while there may be 10 times the amount of people who you wouldn't find long-term relationship stability with, I think there are also 10 times the amount of better prospects too.

I had my first serious relationship, with an exceedingly sweet, giving, loving guy, when I was a teen in NYC. Years later, I also met the MOST giving and loving boyfriend I have ever had, in NYC. That boyfriend, I met him during the year of my life when I had an untreated anxiety disorder that was so severe, I was having multiple daily panic attacks and on the edge of not functioning. The support he gave me that year was exponentially more than the brattiest princess would ever dare to demand. Support that was way, WAY more than an "average" or "reasonable" level. The thing was, I never asked for it, and I never needed to. He just slowly started doing it of his own accord. He did all those things entirely because he wanted to and that's the kind of person that he was.

So, even in NYC, I think you can find this, and I think it's still good to look for signs of how the person feels about you, and their feelings about acting in a caring way towards others.
posted by cairdeas at 1:13 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


So, I am way late to this, and don't have much to add that's better than what's discussed above. But, I like to talk, so... The thing that got me, while reading your post, was Example #1: I went to get a medical procedure done.  Although it was minor, both Adam and I thought the procedure would be very painful, with a somewhat difficult recovery over the course of a week+.  I sent him a light e-mail the night before, and didn't get a reply.  I took a Friday afternoon off to go, while Adam was still at work (but even if he'd been free, I doubt he would've come to hold my hand).  No "go get 'em, tiger" or "thinking of you" e-mail the day of.  The procedure actually went incredibly smoothly and much less painfully than either one of us had thought. I was under the impression that you were going to say that you hadn't expected that response from someone you'd gotten to know for six months.

And then you said you'd been together two years!

The thing in, there is something just so hesitant about sending your boyfriend of two years a breezy email before surgery, kicking back, and then waiting for a response. I mean, after that amount of time, I would imagine you would already know how this communication would go down, before the breezy email were ever sent.

Ex 1: I just has a minor, but painful and awkward procedure done. About 92 seconds before getting in the car to go to the clinic, I looked over at the boyfriend and said, "oh, yeah, I totally assumed you're driving me to this and we're going for ice cream and beer later, because I know you are, but it just occurred to me to check that you don't have a meeting scheduled for today, so like, do you?" He was laughing, because of course he was going. He had his keys in hand. We both knew he'd reschedule any meetings, if it were an issue.

Ex 2: with an ex of mine, in this situation, I would have been sure to remind him of the appointment a few days before, so he could ask for time off work. If he couldn't get it, he would let me know the day before, so I could get a friend to come with me. No biggie! We'd meet up for dinner that night or the next day. But the key is that I already knew how this communication and scenario would go down, since we were on the same page, even of those pages have differed in different relationships.

That you seem so blindsided in this scenario is rather curious. I echo was someone above said, too, about how you describe these relationships as "dating." This suggests to me that there is a lack of real intimacy or connection gelling here. I mean, I can tell you about when I was dating my partner; though we aren't married, we aren't just dating. Something has meshed here that's gone beyond that early phase.

You might want to ask yourself why everything seems so breezy and casual after multiple years. I'm not saying that you should be MERGED LIKE GLUE after that time, but...I'd expect to hear you describe you relationship as a real, connected relationship, as opposed to a dating thing. And I know you're not digging the advice above, but I think a lot of people here are onto something that is a real possibility, but that you are resisting.
posted by vivid postcard at 1:29 PM on June 20, 2012 [15 favorites]


I just want to state that it is in NO WAY a referendum on you that you have been surprised by so many guys.

Not everyone knows how to pick the perfect guy or girl. Not by a long shot.

It has something to do with being able to check in with yourself and honestly, truly, know what is there in your heart. What your heart is telling you.

What are you feeling when he isn't there for you during a medical procedure?

What are you feeling when he is considerate to his friends, but somehow figures you will fend for yourself?

Why is this person your boyfriend, and not just your drinking buddy, or FWB? What expectations do you have that they will care for you, love you?

These feelings are much more vital information than what our culture says about crazy girlfriends.

Also, I really find this puzzling:

Why dismiss the mythos of "Why Men Marry Bitches?" but not the wildly inaccurate myth of the "demanding girlfriend?"
posted by kettleoffish at 5:58 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


I sorta wonder what gender role you actually present in your dating life... In fact, I wonder if you are too much The Guy. I'm stereotyping and sexism-ing and extrapolating and theorizing wildly, but here goes.

For example, I know Rob and Roberta. Rob is sorta a schlub. Nicest guy ever, but not... a lot of testicular fortitude. Roberta, on the other hand, has.. ladyballs. Roberta keeps wanting Rob to man up a little, but kept refusing to ease down on HER manlyness, thus not giving him space to man up. Dunno how relevant it is, but I kept thinking of it. So take it for what its worth.

Also, good luck! Mefi roots for you!
posted by Jacen at 6:13 AM on June 21, 2012


Roberta keeps wanting Rob to man up a little, but kept refusing to ease down on HER manlyness, thus not giving him space to man up.

Jacen, I get what you are saying, but Rob doesn't need space from Roberta or anyone else in order to set his inner man free. It could just as easily be said that Roberta would feel less pressure to "be the man" once Rob started taking on that role. Blaming Roberta for Rob's lack of "testicular fortitude" is really, really wrong. It's chicken-and-egg stuff and one can't blame their own behavior on the other.
posted by headnsouth at 7:11 AM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


[This is another followup from the asker.]
Back again with a messy hodge-podge of responses.

@cairdeas: "Have you ever said that flat-out to anyone, the first time it comes up, before it gets to DTMFA territory?
Yes, that's almost verbatim what I said to Dan when we agreed to postpone it. His response, obviously, was to agree totally aaand then stand me up.

@ThePinkSuperhero: "I'm totally losing track of what you think your problem is. You're tired of dating guys who let you down, except that they totally don't let you down, sometimes not for years, until they do, and then you break up with them right away?"
I totally get that this is frustrating for you, but yeah this is exactly what I feel like I'm running into, which is exactly why I'm incredibly frustrated too. They seem fine (to me!), then way down the road they pull something that is obviously completely not okay, then they respond with "I'm so sorry, I suck, you deserve better" (this is the really wow-this-is-a-pattern part).

@luckdragon: "Also, when you first get attached to them (preferably before sex), very early in the relationship, make it a point to visit their apartment, maybe even as a surprise, and observe very carefully how they react to your presence there and how you feel there. This may give you a good idea of the kind of person you are going to encounter down the road."
I appreciate most of your comment, but this part is very strange to me. This is New York, and these are inter-borough romances; you can't "just drop by" without an hour of traveling, each way. Without even a text as a heads-up? This seems incredibly weird to me, and I definitely wouldn't appreciate being on the receiving end of this tactic -- it would creep me out a ton. Other people's thoughts?

More general responses: Chris's dithering went on for maybe two weeks -- not great, but still doesn't seem the same as putting up with it for months. I also want to clarify that in situations where I'm calm, I'm not secretly angry but sitting on it, I'm not having to strain to prevent door-slamming "fuck you" arguments. The calm "this upsets me, let's fix it" response is what seems natural to me. Yelling, or whatever, does not. If you think I should be more assertive (calmly), I would still love examples.

Re: the "usual litany" -- for example, it's not as easy for me to come (I think this is pretty normal for women). So at first the orgasm ratio is maybe 4:5 over the course of a week, then maybe it slips to 3:5 or 2:5 over the course of years. I'm not consciously keeping track, I'm still always happy to participate, but orgasms don't always happen. Also, I'm usually thrilled to go down. A guy being unwilling to go down is a dealbreaker for me, but if he's like "whatever, it's fine" (rather than "SO MUCH FUN"), it's not fantastic for me, and we tend to move on to things that are fun for both of us. It's slippage, it seems pretty normal and understandable, and I don't know where to draw a line (and enforcing a line seems like really no fun, anyway). Would totally like advice on this.

I really feel like "maybe YOU are the real misogynist" people are going down a well-intentioned but wrong path here. It's not that I think Bitches Be Crazy, but I realize that society does generally default to that, and I was trying to compensate for that so as not to get a lot of those answers here. Obviously I overdid it and gave the wrong impression -- for the record, I'm not a "guys' girl," I'm feminist and happily femme, I have a great mix of friends. But I do really appreciate the reassurance that what I'm hoping for isn't crazy.

Re: The Rules et al.: I'm not making any claims about whether or not they work. Men may love bitches, I'm not even interested in arguing if it's true or not. What I'm saying is that even if it is true, I am not willing to go to those lengths or date anyone who would require that in a relationship. I would rather be single than, just for example, lie about my boundaries/limits and expect to have them bargained down. I'm hoping for someone who can be honest and communicate with me at face value, someone on our own team, not someone to scheme against.


Here's what I think I'm taking as possible answers (if I'm omitting anything huge, please tell me):

- This may be a New York thing. -- I'm happy to blame New York (I see more than a grain of truth here), but open to suggestions other than moving.

- This is a normal 25-year-old thing. -- How do you have the stamina to keep putting up with shitheads and retain any desire to make yourself vulnerable to more?

- This may be partly because of my different boundaries. -- As above. I felt like I was being clear, but I'll definitely work on being clearer.

- In my/our independence, I'm unknowingly failing to create intimate relationships. -- This sounds possible, but I'm not sure how to change it. I am comfortable calling these guys to cry; they're comfortable getting emotional and telling me about deep personal stuff, like their dad mistreated them, their grandma died, an ex screwed them up by doing whatever, they're secretly afraid of whatever. We cuddle, we e-mail about what we had for lunch or about dumb jokes we made, we shave each other's butts. It's totally possible that there's another level of intimacy I'm missing, but I don't know about it because I never experienced it. What would that look like and how would we get there?

- There must be earlier signs I'm missing. -- Possible, but if so, I would really like more advice on what to look for. When we start dating, these guys are not being rude to waiters, standing me up, booty-calling me, setting up last-minute dates, being MRAs/racists, scamming third parties, etc.; they do pass the 101-level filters I know about. Those who don't pass are definitely out. If the successful guys are actually showing douche signs early, they've got to be 201 or 301 or graduate-level. If I have a blind spot here, I don't know where it is! I would appreciate more of those tips.

- You're turning down guys who actually like you, or are "too clingy." -- I really don't think this is it. My main love language is touch, which often comes off as me being clingy if I always want to cuddle or have sex, and I have to consciously dial it back. A guy who's into that touchy-feely or sweet-email-sending "clingy" stuff is worth more than gold. I turn down "Nice Guys," but if a guy comes off as genuinely sweet, kind, and responsible, that's a huge magnet for me.

- You're not showing that you'd like support. -- Also possible, not really with these specific examples, but overall definitely possible. I am totally fine with expressing that I'd like support for small things; if a guy's coming over and we're going to make dinner, I don't have a second thought about texting to say "hey, can you pick up some whatever on the way"; if they're going near my tailor, I can ask them to get something of mine; if I've had a tough day at work, I can ask to vent and know I'll get a yes. The trouble is that bigger things -- medical procedures, promotions, deaths in the family -- don't come along often! If they're acing the small stuff, I don't know how they're going to respond to bigger things until it's too late, we're already years into a relationship. I can plan to handle it on my own, and if he contributes, great (Adam), or trust and be let down (Dan); neither one sounds good but I don't know how to guarantee a third option.

- You need to take time and make yourself better. / You need to stop believing you need to make yourself better. -- Some of each? That Schwyzer article was absolutely spot-on, though. Maybe it's partly the influence of my poly friends, but I feel like nobody is ever going to be 100% satisfied with one woman, unless maybe she's a part-time pediatrician and Victoria's Secret supermodel, and obviously also perfect in every other way. I'm not into kids or Victoria's Secret, but I'm also not into polyamory, so. . . .


Thanks again for all the great responses. This is a ton of answers for an AskMe, so it must have really struck a chord -- it seems like this is something a lot of people go through . . . and based on the number of sockpuppets, maybe also a thing most people are ashamed to have experienced? I'm still hoping for more advice/info, but if I weren't anonymous, I would be giving out a bunch of best answers now. In chronological order: peacheater, ocksay_uppetpay, Pufferish, rhythm and booze, Miko, the essence of class and fanciness, Frowner, tel3path, wryly, xenophile, bitteschoen, keep it under cover, saucysault, Ragged Richard, palomar, vivid postcard, and many more. Not all of the comments are easy for me to read, but I think they're really helping me a lot. I appreciate it.
posted by cortex at 11:08 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, you started off appearing to ask one question (why do I constantly get maltreated in relationships?) and by the end the question turns out to be something else (why don't guys who've treated me well for years also treat me well during breakups?).

No-one can answer the second question for you because it's a non-question. At a certain point, there are no answers to life and the human condition. People break up, and this can be done well or badly but it's never enjoyable. It's too bad these guys didn't make a more graceful exit, but they're gone, so it doesn't really matter.

People here have really extended themselves to answer what they thought was your question, and your response is to tell us that we didn't bother to read the question in the first place, and that our advice is so wrong you're not even going to consider it. You close with a wall of text that attempts to help us get your question through our heads, and telling us how grateful you are for our (obviously failed) efforts - thanks, that's something, I guess?

I always think that the retort "if you do X the same way you posed this question about X, no wonder there is a problem" is such an obnoxious thing to say; obviously, we don't manage our lives in the same way we ask questions and vent on Metafilter. However, I cannot help but ask myself it applies here.

It's no skin off my nose whether you follow my advice or not, but at a certain point it's no longer worth the effort to get rejected in this way. My natural reaction was to throw up my hands and think to myself "well, obviously she deserves better advice than we could possibly give her" and not even bother to say it. I am, however, going to go out on a limb and make one last effort by pointing out what the experience of interacting with you has seemed like for me, on the off-chance that I'm not wrong this time and/or that it could have any meaning for you.
posted by tel3path at 2:56 AM on June 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


Wait, yeah, your position is that these guys have treated you well, until they didn't, at which point you broke up? That's not what I understood originally from your question. If that's the case, then your question is really about how to find guys who treat you well while at the end of the relationship and/or won't break up with you. As far as I know there's no answer to that question other than to hang in there until you meet the right person, but being clear on what your question is might help you to answer it.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:56 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're still more concerned with being resistant to advice and showing how it doesn't apply to you than you are about solving the problem(s).

I think we may have long left the territory where AskMe can be helpful, and entered the territory where maybe only therapy can be helpful. You've had about a dozen good issues raised that may be at play here, and though people can raise them, no one can do the work of making you consider them and make changes - especially if you're so certain that those people aren't right about the issues. You are going to stay stuck if you can't try something different.

Blaming NY is BS; I know several couples who met in New York, married, have families now.

The calm "this upsets me, let's fix it" response is what seems natural to me. Yelling, or whatever, does not. If you think I should be more assertive (calmly), I would still love examples.

Work on it with your therapist. I can say that underreacting is a hallmark of insecurity and repressed emotion that often doesn't pay off. People don't read this as "wow, what a chill, calm, and respectful person; I'd better be extra respectful in return." They often read it as "free-spirit/un-invested/doormat." Also, the important thing about emotion is not that it be absent, or controlled, or held at arms' length: it's that it be appropriate. And feeling and expressing anger openly when you are wronged is appropriate. Under-expressing it is just as inappropriate to the situation as overreacting is. Why are you so afraid to feel your anger?

I would rather be single than, just for example, lie about my boundaries/limits and expect to have them bargained down.

Hm, but you're the one bargaining them down yourself.

What would that look like and how would we get there?

It would look like having not a single second thought about calling someone for support and help when you're scared about your upcoming surgery. Not a second thought. Taking it for granted.

How do we get there? Probably begins with choice of man. But bring this question to your therapist.
posted by Miko at 7:06 AM on June 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


I feel like nobody is ever going to be 100% satisfied with one woman, unless maybe she's a part-time pediatrician and Victoria's Secret supermodel, and obviously also perfect in every other way

Oh, yeah, and this is exactly the kind of thinking you can feel free to question in therapy. This idea about women doesn't pass the reality test. Because you're an overthinker, you might like a CBT therapist as is often recommended here. They can help you locate the assumptions you base your actions on, question those assumptions to find out where you are working with an assumption that doesn't match reality, and intervene in your own thinking to interrupt less healthy responses. All this is really helpful, if you're willing.
posted by Miko at 7:09 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's slippage, it seems pretty normal and understandable, and I don't know where to draw a line (and enforcing a line seems like really no fun, anyway). Would totally like advice on this.

Just because it's understandable doesn't make it okay. Once you start noticing, be like "dude, I like orgasms too, wtf". It is not fun. However, the result of living in a sexist society is that women don't get our needs met on a long-term basis without doing some unfun shit, because we are all trained to think of men's sexual pleasure as necessary and women's as "whatever". After years with someone you should be able to have a conversation like this:

"Hey, I like orgasms too. You need to be giving me more, this feels really unfair."

Not "what can I change about myself to make you be decent". Simply let them know that you expect them to be decent and they are starting to not be decent.

Also, you're monogamous, that benefits the guy JUST AS MUCH as it benefits you. JUST AS MUCH, if not more, because guys have socially accepted as "not cheating" outlets like strip clubs and enormous amounts of porn designed for male interest.

As long as you see a relationship as the guy doing you a favor, and see your job as being perpetually fun and understanding etc etc, your relationships will make you feel bad and you will come across as a martyr.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:00 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, the reason you come across as misogynist is that you seem to have the impression that other women who do ask for what they want are not understanding, or unfun, that women who expect men to honor their monogamous commitments are being held their by the woman even though they're not satisfied...these beliefs and ideas are really deep-down misogynistic because they come from the basic idea that a woman asking for what she wants or being upset about how she is being treated should not be communicated unless it will be neutral or pleasant for a man. Somehow men are tough enough to go to war and run countries and shit but if they're asked to go down on a woman as much as a woman goes down on them--OH MY GOD, THE POOR MAN, HAVING TO DEAL WITH THAT!

These are complicated questions and it sucks that our society is so sexist that intimate relationships have these fucked up issues to deal with because there often is no ideal answer for women.

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:09 AM on June 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh and finally, in relationships it is important to "negotiate downward" to some extent. You seem to be really upset with this as dishonest, but it isn't dishonest, it's just smart in terms of boundaries to have them be different for different people/relationships.

I give my partner of 5 years much more leeway when it comes to certain things than I would give someone I don't even know! Different person, different boundaries. If my partner is 45 minutes late to dinner, I'm annoyed, but I know he has shown a long-term pattern of considerate and loving behavior so I don't feel the need to break it off with him and I wait as long as I need to.

If some dude I have been schtupping for a week is 45 minutes late to dinner, I will never know because after 20 minutes I'm out of there. It's not dishonest to have different boundaries for these different situations.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:15 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anon: I'm glad you found some helpful advice in here.

If you're still reading this, I want to share some more of my own experience with you. A couple of years ago, I posted an anonymous question here asking a somewhat similar question about my relationship history. The content wasn't exactly the same, but it was similar in that I really needed some help figuring out WTF I was doing wrong in my romantic life, because I was having the same problem over and over again.

I got a lot of good advice, but one strain of advice really irritated me: several people told me I needed to stop viewing men as scary "others" and treat them like people. I was so irritated by this advice, because I was like "I don't do that! I have lots of male friends. Clearly these mefites are just projecting from their own experiences." I was tempted to have the admins post a follow-up saying so, but I was mefi-experienced enough to know that would Not End Well, so I kept my thoughts to myself.

But I was sufficiently frustrated by my problems that I decided to seek out a therapist. (Which, by the way, is an excellent thing to do if you're having the same problem over and over again. We all get stuck sometimes, and an objective, trained professional can help you figure out what your blocks are.) In the process of therapy, I came to realize that those irritating mefites were actually a teensy bit right. But it was so much easier to realize it on my own, with the help of my therapist, than it was to absorb it from anonymous internet strangers. Because when I heard it from anonymous internet strangers, it threatened my core idea of who I was, and made me feel judged and defensive.

So I would suggest you just spend some time absorbing what you've read here. Don't feel like you need to act on it right now. Just think about it, and observe how it makes you feel. Start seeing a therapist and talk about it with her. Don't feel like this is a problem you need to solve right away. Try to avoid the line of thought that there's one right way of doing things and that you're a failure if you do things differently. In fact, completely erase the idea of "failure" when it comes to relationships from your mind. Just observe and learn. Be patient with yourself and the process. Once you realize that this is not a problem to solve but an opportunity for the type of growth that everyone needs to experience at some point, the whole thing will get a lot easier.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 4:27 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


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