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Why doesn't my boyfriend respond to my jokes and stories?
August 29, 2012 3:40 PM   Subscribe

Sometimes I can't tell if my boyfriend likes me.

I've been dating a guy for several years. He initially asked me out, and I was really happy, because I thought he was cute and neat. From there we started dating pretty regularly-- once or twice a week we'd hang out or do something fun. Eventually we started spending more regular downtime together, and we're both pretty on the level about wanting to be together. For most of our relationship, I let him make the moves, and I never felt like I was smothering him or pursuing him.

In some (most) situations we have great chemistry, but in others I have an impossible time gauging his reactions. I've always been kind of outgoing (for an introvert), but I feel like when we talk, I don't get the kind of response I would get from anyone else who liked spending time with me. Often I'll tell him something-- my thoughts about something we just did, or a story about something that happened during my day (usually one I think is funny)-- and he won't respond. At all. He doesn't say anything, or even make a noise of acknowledgement. At first I was a little mortified each time. Then I started teasing him about it a bit. Then I brought it up as an issue of vulnerability for me. But now I realize that it's still the same as ever, and I don't know if it's ever going to change. I don't feel insulted as much as I feel embarrassed, sometimes blindsided. If I put a lot of energy into the telling of my tale and he doesn't respond with anything (not even a stiff courtesy-laugh), I'm usually privately dumbfounded. I've realized lately that it can really hurt, and deeply undercuts my confidence. I feel sometimes like I'm not the same passionate/energetic person with him, because before I start to tell a story, I begin to feel anxious and preemptively embarrassed. Also, it means there can be a really inconsistent flow to the conversation... and at times I feel that while we talk about his issues in depth because I rely on probing and asking questions, he doesn't do the same (probably out of discomfort?), and so I often end up rambling if I talk about something personal, and feel like I'm not interesting to him.

Is this a thing? I realize we've been dating for awhile and we need to talk about it, but I feel like I've taken a lot of approaches-- joking, telling him seriously that I feel embarrassed, commenting when it happens (by his request)-- and nothing's stuck. Part of me wonders if he does this with everybody or just me. It seems that in groups he doesn't, but I'm also usually there to be the chatty one, so maybe it just doesn't show as much as when he's one-on-one. I find it mildly to substantially withering, depending on the day. (I know you're probably wondering how I can even deal with myself, but I'd say this kind of thing happens only 5-10%-ish of the time-- more than with any other friend I've ever had, but not enough that it derails me constantly.)

We're both more playful than romantic types, but he can be gushy and sweet and I generally feel cared about. Sometimes when I tell him about something like this he seems genuinely surprised-- I think he's overall happy and invested in our relationship, and doesn't realize that it feels unnatural to me. Still... is this a sign that he's maybe not as into me as I am into him? I'm kind of desperate, I feel like he still doesn't feel comfortable being extemporaneous with me after all this time. I'm stumped.

He's not super close to many people-- mostly his family, and he has a couple friends who he regularly talks to, but they're not take-a-bullet-for-my-bro type friends. Contrastingly, I've had a few close friends over time (though I'm not in touch with many right now). We both enjoy socializing in general, though. I feel I should also point out that we're both relatively shy and reserved, though in situations where we're comfortable we tend to get animated. I don't feel like there's a major personality mismatch. The one other relevant detail is that it happens most often when I talk about specific issues that I could see as off-putting-- such as dealing with my mental health stuff, or "internet stuff," or sometimes, women's issues. Sometimes I worry that he likes me on the surface but is put off by some of my weirder stuff, which obviously makes me feel pretty insecure. I've considered that he simply feels uncomfortable, but if my personality makes him uncomfortable I'm not sure what to do (he's never brought it up). Ask him how he feels each time? It does have the tendency to make things feel a little precarious, or to create a sense of distance when we're not together a lot, because I feel like I'm not totally safe being myself.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (48 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've had two partners who did this (including doing it more around awkward issues). One has aspergers, the other is deeply self-centered and sort of narcissistic. I am certain that both were very much in love with me, this way of interacting just wasn't something they saw the need for (I am not equating the two entirely separate reasons for this).

It feels undermining to me too, and it doesn't mean you have to live with it, but from my point of view it's a social skills issue not a matter of how much he likes you. I mean, I often talk to people I'm bored by or really don't like and do the work to make them feel listened to, just because that's one of the things that comes naturally to me.
posted by crabintheocean at 3:54 PM on August 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


1. Not everything you say will warrant comment or be interesting to him. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Maybe he literally has nothing to say to you about what you related to him... that shouldn't stop you from telling him these stories though. Part of being in a couple is sharing things the other person doesn't necessarily find interesting.

2. You're feelings are valid, and it's perfectly normal and natural that you feel put off by this - it sounds off putting. Have you tried, in that moment, trying to overcome your uncomfortable feeling and just asking him "How do you feel about that?" or "What do you think about what I just said?". You can even say "hello? did you hear me?".
posted by sid at 3:57 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey, why would this necessarily be something that's your fault? Maybe he's uncomfortable with some topics of discussion, but I think he's being kind of a jerk if he doesn't respond at all, especially if you've told him that it bothers you.
posted by runningwithscissors at 4:03 PM on August 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


I am certain that both were very much in love with me, this way of interacting just wasn't something they saw the need for

Seconding crabintheocean. This totally describes my parents. My dad loves my mom, like literally probably could not live without her, but he's never going to respond to things or get involved the way she'd prefer with some conversations. If she (or someone else) tries to explain to him why he should, or use various conversational tactics to get him involved, it's just guaranteed frustration to the point of madness. My parents have been married for about 45 years and my mom still tries to figure this out. Probably she'd say staying with him was worth it most of the time, but sometimes she'd say otherwise.

He is never going to change, or at least, you have to assume he won't. You have to decide for yourself if this is something you can live with/overlook or not.
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 4:03 PM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


He may be listening closely to you, but not know what to say. When many guys (not all, since everyone is different) talk about problems, it's usually in the context of "How can I fix this?" and other guys often respond with solutions, rather than expressions of how we feel. This can be a deeply ingrained habit, and hard to break.

When you talk with him you may simply be attempting to share your experiences or feelings, and he may be feeling this urge to help, rather than commiserate or share in return, but not know how what to do. So he stays silent.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:09 PM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've had a partner who is like this, and as others have pointed out, it has nothing to do with you. In my case, he just... didn't know how to respond to some of the things I said, and never learned the social skills to communicate that he heard me and appreciated me. It wasn't that he didn't feel those things - he just didn't know how to communicate it through everyday conversation. It was a pattern of communication in his own family. But, I echo what others have said - the real question is whether these type of interactions are what you want in this relationship. For me, it became very frustrating and made me feel small, even if he didn't mean it, and I found myself craving conversation. So don't take it personally, but think about what you need from this partnership.
posted by Ms. Toad at 4:10 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


He doesn't like to talk about specific things, as you identified in your question. Everyone is like that to a greater or lesser extent. I don't like to talk about: sports, home-improvement projects, investing, real estate, politics....well, the list goes on from there. If my partner brings those up, my eyes glaze over and it is hard for me to muster any kind of reasonable response. It has absolutely no bearing on whether I care about my partner. I am just not a good faker when it comes to stuff of no interest to me.
posted by nanook at 4:14 PM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's possible that you aren't giving him enough space to have his own thoughts when you talk to him. If your conversational style is anything like the way you've written this question, it might be that you're breaking up the natural flow of conversation for him by speaking for too long and going on too many tangents. I know what you're talking about. I have experienced exactly what you're experiencing in two different relationships. However, I am having a hard time figuring out how to respond to you, because there's so much packed into the question. Try slowing down and addressing one topic at a time. You don't have to say everything that's related to your main point. Basically, come up with a "tl;dr" sentence and say that to him instead of everything that occurs to you. If you're having trouble doing this, it helps sometimes to write down what you're thinking about before starting a conversation about it. It's nice to be able to think out loud and hone ideas with another person, but it seems like this isn't something your boyfriend knows how to do at the pace you're setting.

If he's caring in other ways and spending lots of time with you, he likes you just fine. You're not unlikable or intolerable or annoying. Just slow down when you talk and you'll find it easier to have him respond.
posted by rhythm and booze at 4:15 PM on August 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


Your feelings are valid, and I think that this may simply be a personality mismatch. That said, it sounds like a mismatch of 1%. If the other 99% of the relationship is great, don't you think it's silly to make this relatively trivial thing into an issue? None of us are ever going to find anybody whose personality matches ours at 100%, and if this is the worst issue you have in your relationship then you are WELL ahead of the game.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 4:24 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Have you flat-out asked him why he doesn't respond? Not just "when you don't respond, I feel bad," but that plus "Why don't you?"
posted by bunderful at 4:25 PM on August 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


+3 he doesn't know how to respond to these topics, and so he doesn't. Maybe you guys can work on him communicating just that much to you. Like he can say "I have no response to that" (which also works to make things slightly less uncomfortable, because it's humorous).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:56 PM on August 29, 2012


I can kinda relate, from his POV - I communicate to communicate, not just to "keep the channel open". Basically, what sid said - Your feelings matter, but don't really warrant a response. You haven't asked a question, you haven't imparted objective information, you haven't presented an opinion he can legitimately agree or disagree with.

Personally, I've learned to grunt some noncommittal noise-of-acknowledgement in such situations, but it took me years to figure out my SOs expected even that much of a response (after the years it took me to stop considering such statements, at least the negative ones, as a "problem" to which she wanted some sort of "solution"). But I honestly have no freakin' clue what I should say in response to an expression of "feelings".

I'd go with bunderful's suggestion - Try bluntly asking him about this - Not skirting the subject, not telling him how it makes you feel, but a straightforward blunt question, phrased as such. "Why did you you ignore me when I said that just now?"
posted by pla at 5:21 PM on August 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


It may be, as others have said, just an idiosyncrasy in his communication style, and have nothing to do with you, but I can totally understand why it would upset you. Not acknowledging when someone has spoken to you is rude. Though in a relationship a person should be able to let slip the rules of etiquette once in a while, this particular breach is hurting your feelings. I think it may help you if you let him know that even if he doesn't have a comment on what you were talking about, you need to know that he was listening. It can be as simple as an oh yea? or an uh-huh, or just a hug if it's something that you're upset about. Even if the topic of conversation isn't something he cares about, he should care about your feelings. If, once you've let him know how his actions are affecting you he continues to act that way, then it's time to worry that you have a bigger problem.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:43 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


You need to ask him, as suggested above.

He may not know what to say (and this might suggest that he's a poor conversationalist, or that your choice of topics is just mismatched.) He might not be listening, which would be rude. He might be exhausted from a long day and wish you could give him some quiet, and that's his way of communicating his need for you to shush. Or he might hear it and not think it's important, which is rude and a put-down in itself.

See what he says when you ask specifically.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:13 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


ften I'll tell him something-- my thoughts about something we just did, or a story about something that happened during my day (usually one I think is funny)-- and he won't respond.

Do you ask him what he thinks, or just make declarative statements and expect him to say something? If you've been dating for years, I'd hope you'd be comfortable enough to say, "So what do you think about that?"
posted by xingcat at 9:08 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree with all the good suggestions above and seriously am not trying to trivialize your situation but saw this the other day and perhaps it could be something as simple as it.
posted by jmmpangaea at 9:20 PM on August 29, 2012


Wait, which is it?

Often I'll tell him something-- my thoughts about something we just did, or a story about something that happened during my day (usually one I think is funny)-- and he won't respond.

or

It happens most often when I talk about specific issues that I could see as off-putting-- such as dealing with my mental health stuff, or "internet stuff," or sometimes, women's issues.

Is he unresponsive when you tell him regular 'ol stories about your day, or are commenting on the fun picnic you just had, or are just shooting the shit? Or is he unresponsive when you say that you're worried that you might have symptoms of endometriosis, but don't know whether it's worth it to go to a doctor, or try some herbal remedy you read about on the internet, but you sure hope something can slow this heavy bleeding?

If it's the latter: meh. Sometimes, people get uncomfortable and clam up when they hear stuff about certain topics, like sex or how to fix a carburetor, because they just don't know what to say. And they get awkward. Which makes them go silent. If it's the former, that is more of an issue. Being totally unresponsive, all the time, in the middle of shared conversations, about shared topics, probably reflects some sort of disconnect, whether it be between the both of you, or your conversation style.

That said...considering you contradicted yourself in your own question, I would caution you from catastrophizing based on isolated incidents, and making the mistake of conflating his silence surrounding your latest Chatroulette experience with every conversation you guys have.

sorry, I don't know what those uncomfy conversations were about, so I had to fill in the blanks. for illustrative purposes...
posted by vivid postcard at 10:04 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Part of me wonders if he does this with everybody or just me.

You can ask him this if you like, it sounds like he's open to discussing this.

Here's an interesting data point about people: different people respond differently to the same things. A lot of what comes naturally to one person is a learned behavior for another, and a third might never internalize it as a habit. If you are worried that he isn't interested/listening, then simply end your story or thoughts and ask "so what do you think about that?" and hopefully he'll have an answer. If he doesn't, then he hasn't been listening; if he does, then he's been listening but his interaction with such things doesn't align with your expectations. Awkward, but not tragic.
posted by davejay at 10:11 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


My partner is like this, but it's more random and he does make an effort when he catches himself. It's a reserved/introvert/spacey thing. Honestly, it's not at all an issue when I'm feeling awesome about myself, but when I'm not...it's a huge, glaring, and sometimes painful issue. You count on your significant other to bolster you when you feel bad about yourself, not make you more insecure.

The fact that it's about things that you suspect he'd rather not hear about makes me worry that it is more manipulative on his part, or entitled (he feels like you should entertain him and that he doesn't have to participate unless you please him).
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:13 PM on August 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, sid and pla, very much what they said. For some people, conversations involve two people communicating, sharing ideas and exploring topics together. Others want to tell their story and be listening to, period, and later they'll listen to your story in the same way. If he's engaged and communicative when you're sharing ideas and stories and exploring topics, but not when you're telling stories he can't relate to and doesn't know how to respond to, then you might consider that he's simply not a good audience for those stories.
posted by davejay at 10:18 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


The fact that it's about things that you suspect he'd rather not hear about makes me worry that it is more manipulative on his part

I want to jump back in and say that this applies, too. Sometimes, people clam up when they get uncomfortable. But that is not an excuse to disregard the feelings of your partner, or to not be there for them when it's important. Examples:

OKAY!

Terry: Did you hear that our dear friends Josie and George are total, hardcore kinksters? Someone saw them at a munch last week!

Dan (who hates gossip and knowing too much about other people's sex lives): ...


NOT OKAY!

Terry: (Painful, kinda gross) Thing X happened to me, earlier today.

Dan: ...

Terry: I'm really concerned about it. I might have to go to the doctor to check it out.

Dan: ...

Terry: It runs in my family. My aunt had complications from it, which she eventually died from.

Dan: ...


You know?
posted by vivid postcard at 10:21 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


After having my partner do this for almost twenty years now, I just don't talk to him about anything that's important to me anymore.

It is a problem and it is not ok, especially after you've asked him about it. If a coworker said something to me in the break room, no matter how uninterested I was in the topic, I would make some reply. Hell, I would reply to someone in the line at the grocery store. If he can't empathize enough to see that a response is needed, that's a bad sign.
posted by dawkins_7 at 5:24 AM on August 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Is this just a difference in communication styles or just the way he responds (or doesn't respond), instead of an indication of some deep problem in the relationship? I have a very close friend who tells a lot of stories and wants to talk over almost everything - I love her and her friendship but I don't want to have a deep conversation about everything or talk about every thing she thinks of, and while I understand that a bf/gf relationship is somewhat different, to me it's very similar. He may not even want to talk over all of "his issues" in depth any more than he wants to talk about yours.

Either way, you've brought it up a few times and it isn't going to change - can you become comfortable with this? I don't think you can push or talk him into interacting the way you expect him to. I think you need to accept it or move on.
posted by mrs. taters at 5:36 AM on August 30, 2012


I'm a guy, and one of my close female friends is like this too. I don't doubt she is someone who really likes me, she just is not good at this type of convo.

Don't take it personally. It might or might not be a dealbreaker for a romantic relationship.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:00 AM on August 30, 2012


He could... not be listening.
posted by French Fry at 6:33 AM on August 30, 2012


I got a weird vibe from your question, it seems, based on what you wrote that you don't feel comfortable discussing your relationship with your boyfriend.

You talk about being embarrassed when he doesn't respond. Why embarrassed, as in, you told a joke that flopped? I can see annoyed, or angry, but embarrassment indicates that you were attempting to entertain him and didn't succeed, and that his poor reaction was YOUR fault. That's backwards.

Are you auditioning for him? Do you feel like you have a say in your relationship? Is everything on HIS terms?

For most of our relationship, I let him make the moves, and I never felt like I was smothering him or pursuing him.

You seem afraid to initiate anything for fear of driving him away.

As others have said, he's just not interested in hearing these stories from you. Is that okay with you? It would really piss me off.

You've discussed with him that you need him to engage with you conversationally, he's unwilling to do it.

Is this a deal breaker for you? Are there other fissures in your relationship and this is just the big crack that you can see?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:03 AM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Part of me wonders if he does this with everybody or just me.

Well does he? I mean, many folks here have suggested talking to him about it (which I fully support and suggest) but I'm sensing you might be feeling frustrated because you feel like you HAVE talked to him about it without any changes/improvement/acknowledgement in the form of different reactions from him?

If it were me, I'd table all these feelings that you're currently feeling for the moment and treat it like an experiment over the next week or two. Continue telling your stories and observe how he reacts. Hang out with friends and observe how he communicates with them - does he make eye contact? Acknowledge what they're saying (including nodding, MmmHmm-ing, smiling, etc.?) Just observe. Sometimes as animated story tellers, we get so wrapped up in telling our stories that we expect ONE type of response. Different people have different ways of responding. Try listening and observing, just for a week or two and see if anything changes.

My BF isn't always like this, but sometimes he can be. When he does this and I'm in full-on story mode, it goes something like this:

ME: OMG you won't believe what happened at work the other day. My co-worker completely got steamrolled at boring meeting.

BF: ...

ME: I felt so horrible for her! She was giving XYZ presentation and then annoying co-worker completely threw her under the bus!

BF: ...

ME: She had already practiced this presentation to our group and everything, he should have asked all those questions during the practice session!

BF: ...

ME: And then when we left the boardroom we were accosted by space monkeys who forced us into their mothership and tied us down and made us eat ants for lunch. I never knew I like ants, actually.

BF: WAIT. WHAT?!

US: Laughing hysterically.
posted by floweredfish at 7:22 AM on August 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think this is a pretty common mismatch in communication preferences. Almost every woman I've ever dated has wanted, at the end of the day, to tell me about all the stuff that happened during the day. It's really, really difficult for me to stay engaged and not space out during these conversations. This has nothing at all to do with how I feel about the person talking. I just don't think the "how was your day?" conversation is very interesting. For example, the hypothetical conversation that floweredfish posted above just seems deadly boring to me. Funny stories from the day, in particular seem to be mostly only funny if you were there. So when my girlfriend starts this kind of conversation, I need to make an effort if I'm going to stay focused.

But. I do make the effort. I think it's totally legitimate for you to tell him that you need some sign of engagement from him. Just know that you're asking for a behavioral change that's going to take some time to implement, and you'll probably have to remind him a lot.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:51 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


This has been an issue in my relationship, too--sometimes we communicate like normal people, other times I feel like I'm talking to a brick wall. My partner was also surprised that it was a problem for me, and we've been able to figure out that part of it is that he has trouble task-switching--that is, transitioning from focusing on whatever he was already focusing on to listening to what I'm saying and engaging in a conversation.

So now when I want to talk to him and it appears he might be on another task, I ask for his attention, wait for him to acknowledge that he's ready, and then start talking and we have a lovely normal conversation. But it can be especially frustrating for me when it's not clear he's already focusing on something else, so I think he's just sitting down and chilling out but really he's trying to solve a work problem in his head and completely oblivious to the fact that I'm talking to him or waiting for his input. We have a silly little code for when this happens. You know the classic thing in movies/TV/books where one person is talking to another who isn't paying attention so they start saying crazy stuff to try to get their attention, like "...and then the space aliens landed and kidnapped our cat and left a fire-breathing dragon in its place"? Our code is "space aliens." So when I'm in the middle of telling him about my day or trying to get his input on dinner or weekend plans and suddenly realize he's not paying attention, I say something like, "...and I guess I'll just go ask the space aliens" (but in a light, playful way rather than an exasperated, aggressive way). This is such a well-established phrase for us that it's usually enough to get his attention and then we can decide whether to chat now or later.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:29 AM on August 30, 2012


Yeah, I can really sympathize. Also this is totally not a man/woman thing, because I've had boyfriends who could talk my ear off. Actually, most of my boyfriends have been that way. I'm like you in that I end up feeling kind of hurt, and stop talking about things that are important to me to a certain extent. I think maybe you have to decide whether you can live with it, and if you suspect not, talk to him about what a big deal it is for you. If he doesn't understand or can't change, it might not be the right relationship for you.

I'm actually kind of surprised so many other people have been through this-- I've always thought of it as a personal failing when it happens to me. So it's good to know it's a general communication problem.

(I understand the desire to entertain someone by telling them about your stories, and feeling embarrassed/unfunny/uninteresting when they don't respond. Sorry everyone else, but yeah, my first instinct when someone doesn't listen/isn't interested in hearing about someone else's day is that they're not interested in being emotionally supportive or they have a bad imagination. This is just a polite thing to do-- I do it all the time to my sisters when they need to unload about something I have no familiarity or interest in. It's really offputting when you need to get something off your chest and the person just stares at you. I feel like it's much easier for the quiet party to learn listening & response strategies than for the talkative party to learn to feel lonely and unsupported in their personal relationships. Because when I don't get this I definitely feel like there's a hole in my personal life.)
posted by stoneandstar at 1:35 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, as a girl for whom sympathy and making other people comfortable is encouraged, in the above scenario, this would be normal behavior (which didn't come naturally-- I had to learn it, and which was at first an uphill battle):

ME: OMG you won't believe what happened at work the other day. My co-worker completely got steamrolled at boring meeting.

BF: What, really?

ME: I felt so horrible for her! She was giving XYZ presentation and then annoying co-worker completely threw her under the bus!

BF: Oh man, what was he thinking? What happened?

ME: She had already practiced this presentation to our group and everything, he should have asked all those questions during the practice session!

BF: That is obnoxious, do you think he did it on purpose, or is he just clueless? OR, IF THIS IS TOO "GOSSIPY": That would really throw me off, do you think he knew what he was doing, or did his critical mindset not kick in until it was a real meeting?



... in other words, we're not asking for the Rembrandt of conversational effort here. It's just enthusiastic participation-- and when you're not interested, the desire to make the other person feel heard is where the enthusiasm comes from. When I've talked about it with a guy in the past he said he "didn't like to speculate about other people" or "gossip" but he loved to speculate and gossip, just about stuff in his life, not mine. So if your boyfriend seems to be kind of selfishly centered on just his own stuff, consider that he is a bit of a narcissist. And if he just doesn't like talking that much, he might not be a good long-term match for you.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:43 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, vivid postcard, I don't see the contradiction there. Those two sets of things can overlap.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:48 PM on August 30, 2012


I'm going to go against the general flow here and say I think this is extremely abnormal. I can't imagine someone saying something to me, no matter how uncomfortable and not in any way acknowledging that they were speaking to me. Even if I was at a loss for words, there'd be a facial expression or a shrug or a something. Just sitting there ignoring a person who is talking to you is rude.

And sitting there ignoring a person who has told you that they are sensitive about being ignored is so far beyond rude that I can't even come up with words to describe how rude it is. (But believe me, there's a facial expression expressing that I did, in fact, read that.) Making some acknowledgment -- even if it's the same damned acknowledgment every time "I hear you, but I don't know what to say" -- is not that hard.

Your boyfriend is making you an anxious, less happy person when you want to engage in normal, every day conversations, as well as when you want to discuss issues that are important to you. Relationships should not make you less happy.

DTMFA.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:33 PM on August 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


Or, I guess, not so much the general flow, but just a few answers that really surprised me for seeming to think this was actually okay.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:34 PM on August 30, 2012


stoneandstar : It's just enthusiastic participation

But... Doesn't that just encourage her to continue with the story? You've apparently missed the point of a noncommittal grunt - "I acknowledge that you have spoken, but this conversation holds roughly the same level of interest to me as that ant on the wall behind youOooh, did you know ants only have six legs... er... I mean, 'uh-huh'?"

My SO has girlfriends for a reason. I will absolutely help her through anything, will but that doesn't mean I have an obligation to waste an hour of every evening feigning interest in her office politics - Any more than I expect her to listen in rapt attention to how I tracked down a subtle bug today in the AP reconciliation caused by date format differences between the GL and the POS systems.


jacquilynne : but just a few answers that really surprised me for seeming to think this was actually okay.

Good relationships don't involve both sides "faking" it. You can call him - And me - Assholes, if it make you feel better, but we just don't speak the same language in this regard. Join a book club for shared interests, but don't expect 99% of guys to ever give the least damn about how Jane-aka-"not-you" felt when Sarah-aka-"not-you" threw her-aka-"not-you" under the bus in that big presentation-aka-"not-yours".
posted by pla at 8:02 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Agreed with jacquilynne; this is incredibly rude and weird. Nonacknowledgement is how I acted out at my mom when I was a sulky twelve-year-old. Your boyfriend is behaving like someone at a similar developmental stage.
posted by threeants at 8:35 AM on August 31, 2012


If my wife says something to me I listen and respond. Not because of the content but because she is my fucking wife and I care about what she says

If she deems to say something to me than it is important for me to listen to because she is important to me and a human being who's thought I care about.

A basic tenet of respecting your loved ones is treating them better than strangers.
posted by French Fry at 10:50 AM on August 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I acknowledge that you have spoken, but this conversation holds roughly the same level of interest to me as that ant on the wall behind youOooh

This reaction is honestly foreign to me. Even when I'm bored by a topic, I'm not bored to hear what my SO has to say about it. Even when I'm not exactly gripped by the conversation, I want to encourage them to speak about it, if that's what they want to do. I'm just not understanding that reaction at all-- perhaps it is a fundamental difference between certain people that is unlikely to be resolved. So, yeah, enthusiastic participation, because you're facilitating a conversation with a person that you love, and you are interested in their thoughts.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:03 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, when I tell my partner things like this, it's because I trust and respect them. When they tell me intimate things about their life, I consider it an honor. So it is important to me to make them feel safe and listened to and loved. With all my loved ones, actually.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:05 PM on August 31, 2012


My SO has girlfriends for a reason. I will absolutely help her through anything, will but that doesn't mean I have an obligation to waste an hour of every evening feigning interest in her office politics - Any more than I expect her to listen in rapt attention to how I tracked down a subtle bug today in the AP reconciliation caused by date format differences between the GL and the POS systems.

Well, office politics are easier to understand to a general audience than tracking down a bug. Also I don't quite get what you're saying-- do her girlfriends work in the same office as her? Otherwise, why would they be any better at listening to stories about her office politics than you? Why is that their job? But if my partner told me he'd tracked down a bug in the system at work today and he was pleased because it was kicking his ass all week and explained to me roughly what was getting in his way-- I would honestly want to hear about it. Even though I don't really care one whit about the topic in general. So yeah, I'm thinking it's a pretty deep difference, OP.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:09 PM on August 31, 2012


And implying that it's about boring each other to death and low self-esteem is really fucking shitty, because that's not my experience at all-- my experience is an incredibly strong feeling of intimacy and trust. So, whatever.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:10 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, office politics are easier to understand to a general audience than tracking down a bug.
Assuming for a second that's the case, it also makes it even more pointless, because they are a waste of time and the same everywhere. I wouldn't waste my SO's time with trivial bullshit that's in every job yet simultaneously devoid of content to anyone not in the exact same workplace, and I expect the same respect from them.

Why not tell your SO something new you learned, from a different field than he/she would normally focus on? Or your take on an interest you both share.

This is a derail anyway. But I'd rather do without the derail entirely than leave the last word as claiming petty office gossip takes pride of place over real, technical, creative, productive work.
posted by vsync at 9:16 AM on September 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, office politics are easier to understand to a general audience

Yeah, but if you don't know the people, then it is no more interesting than, say, listening to three old college buddies talk about mutual friends from school, reminiscing about things that happened there. You might understand it, but you have nothing to contribute, and since you don't know the people and you weren't there, odds are good there's very little of interest. So you end up going "mm hmm" "wow" "really" and such, so that they don't think you're a tool, but good lord man, at some point you just go talk to other people at the party, right? Except it isn't a party, it's your SO, and you feign interest as best you can, but you also don't want to encourage them to talk more.

And I say that in this spirit: I have always assumed I am boring. I probably still am. However, I have one person in my life who not only doesn't seem to mind when I talk about my work life, but actively encourages it. I take them at face value, and talk far longer/provide more details than I would otherwise...but at the same time, I don't know why they'd be so interested, and it would be kind of off-putting to find out they were encouraging me because they thought I wanted to talk more (even though they had no interest.) Actually, this person laughs at my jokes even when they admit later that they didn't understand them, so perhaps I should assume the encouragement is similarly not legitimate. The More You Know.
posted by davejay at 11:50 AM on September 1, 2012


What? Obviously my partner(s) and I talk about new things we've learned and interests we both share. But when office politics are stressing us out, discussing it with someone we trust and who will have our back is useful and worthwhile. What is this assumption that talking about your life is pointless and a waste because it doesn't contribute to anything, like people don't have emotions or stress or something? In my case, treating my relationship like an educational colloquium would be weird and competitive and one-upping and boring.

Plus calling it "petty office gossip" implies that real issues people have at work-- being passed over for a promotion or undercut by someone who doesn't respect you-- is a wussy emotional issue rather than a real source of stress and adversity. And Jesus Christ, I didn't say that it took pride of place over "technical, creative, productive" work-- this has nothing to do with the intrinsic value of any of these issues, it has to do with how people process their day and share it with people they're close to.

I don't think it's a derail necessarily, because it's possible that the OP's partner is using the same lines on her-- that her stuff is "petty gossip" he doesn't want to be involved in, whereas his is "important work." Unfortunately I've been there, with men who had an inflated sense of the importance of their careers, over and above any lesser career that involved people.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:52 AM on September 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


People are responding like I'm saying to "pretend" to be interested, when that's not really the case. When my SO talks about things I'm not interested in, I find aspects of them to be interested in. It just works for us. It really, really does. Sure, we make self-deprecating jokes about it at times ("yeah, riveting, I know") and self-awareness probably really helps, but there's something to be said for not stonewalling someone just because you don't find something they're obviously engaged in telling you to be 100% relevant to your own life and interests. But regardless of that, I think it really is a communication/love languages issue.

if you don't know the people, then it is no more interesting than, say, listening to three old college buddies talk about mutual friends from school, reminiscing about things that happened there.

I would feel this way if I were in a group of people from my SO's office who were all talking about people I didn't know anything about... but if I were talking to him one-on-one, I would want to know about what he does on a daily basis, even if that involved some "petty gossip" or whatever. Maybe I am just inordinately interested in people.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:58 AM on September 1, 2012


Also I just assume that in my normal friendships and relationships, I'll sometimes have to listen to them like "the person at the party," and that's a normal part of human relationships. If it happens constantly then I'll wonder why we're friends or in a relationship because we obviously don't value the same things or find the same things interesting. But in my experience with people I'm close to, it happens infrequently enough that it's not even a blip on the radar to occasionally ask a few probing questions about something I don't totally comprehend or have no experience with.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:01 PM on September 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not sustainable to feign interest, so you are better off knowing up front. It does make me sad to know that some people shut down with their partner because they are just not interested. I feel a partner should be supportive and have your back as much as you need it and that includes having the freedom to speak about what's on your mind. You can't change your partner, but you can ask for what you need. You can also make amends with those things you know your partner cannot provide you with and if you still feel unsatisfied, then there is a compatibility issue.
posted by i_wear_boots at 3:53 PM on September 1, 2012


[Few comments removed - please keep answers directed towards the OP and not other people in this thread.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:58 PM on September 3, 2012


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