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We are at different ends of the emotional spectrum, are we doomed?
December 10, 2012 3:00 PM   Subscribe

We are at totally different ends of the emotional spectrum, are we doomed?

My girlfriend and I are in our mid 20's, we've been seeing each other for a year and a half, and we're at totally different ends of the emotional spectrum.

I am pragmatic, calm, efficient, fairly quiet and tend to be brutally honest. My girlfriend often complains that I am "emotionally cold". I work in a high pressure competitive job which compounds these traits. I love my girlfriend deeply but have a hard time showing it.

My girlfriend on the other hand is loud, passionate, and hot headed. She loves fiercely and completely.

It has been at times the best relationship I've ever had. We complimented each other, laughed long and hard together and generally had a load of fun. However our relationship is now on a knife edge.

My girlfriend has had a rough year and we can't seem to deal with these problems as a couple. She needs to talk for hours, gather her thoughts, cry, cry some more, worry about it and then work through the problem together. I don't tend to get upset, I'm poor at talking about emotions however I am very good at finding whatever solution there is to the problem at hand.

If your house was flooded I'm the guy you'd call to get your family out of there by any means, someone who'd get you fed, warm and into another house, and sort out all your insurance at the same time. If then you needed to talk about how it upset you I'm useless and you'd need to call my girlfriend.

However my girlfriend is constantly disappointed because I'm not meeting her emotional needs and I'm very frustrated because I feel I'm trying to do the right thing buts its never enough to satisfy her emotionally.

This weekend she said she needed some space and to be alone. I left her alone but she contacted me on Monday to say I should have been concerned about her and at least text her to see if she was ok. This sums up our relationship perfectly. She feels emotionally let down and I feel frustrated by doing what I thought was best.

My questions are:

Is there any hope to this kind of situation?
What steps can we take to try and meet in the emotional middle? Is there much point?
Are there any other couples out there that have similar differences? Do you compliment each other?
Am a destined to marry a cold hearted ice queen?

Example, answers, anecdotes all welcome....
posted by JIMSMITH2000 to Human Relations (36 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
"totally different ends of the emotional spectrum"

You're not lying here, but you're bringing in an arbitrary classification that isn't really needed. Your differences or similarities aren't really the defining characteristic that will make or break your relationship, but rather your ability to embrace and enjoy, rather than resent these differences.

It's not a question of "are we too different?" but rather "do our differences enhance or hinder our relationship?" Some differences are perfectly complimentary, others not so much.

You should talk more. With each other, about these things. Your girlfriend wants your input and wants to know you've heard hers and are taking it seriously. You say, "If then you needed to talk about how it upset you I'm useless," If you want to make this work, see if you can change that. Try and be less useless. Pretend your girlfriend's house just flooded and she has nobody else but you to talk to about it. Do you best.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:08 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


First of all, there's absolutely nothing wrong with you. I married someone very similar to you. He has a lot of strengths but emotional analysis is not one of them. I know this, so I get my repeated dissection and bean-plate needs met by my girlfriends. I am also more emotionally self-sufficient than your girlfriend. So while there is nothing wrong with you, you may simply not be a suitable partner for her.

I left her alone but she contacted me on Monday to say I should have been concerned about her and at least text her to see if she was ok. This sums up our relationship perfectly.

I would suspect your girlfriend is constantly disappointed because you're not guessing what her emotional needs are. If she wanted you to text her, she should have said that. She doesn't get to be pissed off about not getting what she wants when she hasn't asked for it. She certainly doesn't get to be pissed off when she's said what she wants (to be left alone) and you've... done that. This makes me think there's some drama posturing going on here.

Note that there are people who need constant drama and conflict to prove that their partner is really engaged in the relationship. These people tend to be either a) in their 20's, or b) people you don't want to date at any age.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:18 PM on December 10, 2012 [24 favorites]


you are: pragmatic, calm, efficient, fairly quiet, tend to be brutally honest, emotionally cold, don't tend to get upset, poor at talking about emotions, very good at finding whatever solution

she is: loud, passionate, hot headed, loves fiercely and completely, needs to talk for hours, gather her thoughts, cry, cry some more, worry about it and then work through the problem


Just looking at the way you describe your personalities (and how the two of you would react to a friend's crisis - you would "do" everything and your gf would just "talk") it sounds like you don't value her contributions as highly as your own. If your gf is sensing this (and as an emotion-focused person her empathy is probably beyond your comprehension) she will of course feel this disrespect and not know how to address it - or understand how you cannot see the signals she is so clearly sending out to you.

It is great you have identified that you are poor at talking about emotions, it is a skill you can build by using it, a lot, not focusing on solutions to your girlfriend's pro;lems. She is an adult and can find her own solutions but clearly feels the need to share her journey with you - her partner.
posted by saucysault at 3:24 PM on December 10, 2012 [27 favorites]


If your girlfriend is having a hard year and needs to talk for hours, she should see a therapist.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:26 PM on December 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


If you hang in there until a time of real crisis, your cool demeanor might take on a different aspect.

Then she may say to you, "You really held it together, you are my brick, my rock, I would have fallen apart without you keeping your cool and handling things."
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:32 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


You might visit us over in this thread for some reading ideas to help you understand her more.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:32 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


To me it sounds like your girlfriend is very in tune with emotional cues and needs, to the point that they are blatantly obvious to her and as intuitive as breathing. You on the other hand, seem to be much less naturally in tune with subtle emotional cues.

I would recommend talking wither her about this in the context of explaining that your inability to predict her emotional needs is not because you don't care or love her, but because it isn't as natural to you as it is to her.

Also PLEASE read this article about Logical versus Emotional talking styles. It was unbelievably helpful to me when I was in your position.
posted by Shouraku at 3:33 PM on December 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


Highly possibly a mis-match that won't easily resolve because these sound like constitutional personality traits that aren't going to change. In my experience, men and women often have some of the differences you described and they are often manageable to some extent, but in your case the magnitude of the differences might be insurmountable.
posted by Dansaman at 3:35 PM on December 10, 2012


My boyfriend and I are sometimes like this but with reversed genders. We have a few guidelines that work for us.

- No mindreading - if he wants a response from me and is bummed that he doesn't get it, he can ask for it. Same for me. This is challenging because sometimes what you want is someone to "just know" when you need a specific response or wants someone to do something unasked for, but that doesn't work for us and we are no good at it. If I need a hug, I have to ask for a hug. If he needs me to just listen while he talks about work (and not try to problem solve) he has to say that. Not saying this is The Right way to do it, but it works for us.
- Processing time - I have a reasonable amount of time where I can just handhold and say "there there, it's going to be okay" but after a certain limit, he needs to avail himself of other sources - friends, family, therapists. It's okay to draw a line in terms of how much time and effort you can reasonably give to a thing. When my dad died he was there for a lot more general "there there"ing than usual. When he was dealing with complicated custody issues, I returned the favor. When I felt I couldn't help any more, I suggested he find some other people to be part of his support network. He certainly could have, at that point, said "No I pretty much need a girlfriend for this" [i.e. made it a dealbreaker] but did not. We have a decent thing going that I think works for us. I also think there's a way to say "I care about you a great deal but I don't think I am the right person to talk to about this issue" instead of "I can't talk about this"
- Debriefing - for both of us, we're not great at managing a conflict when it happens if one or both of us is upset. We try with varying degrees of success to realize we're having some trouble and circle back to it later and spend some time reflecting on the reasons we like to be together even though we are different. Usually when we've cooled down some we can talk through these things and achieve common ground and/or spend enough together time to soothe ruffled feathers. It's worth making sure you revisit things that aren't going so well when you're both in a better place for dealing with it.

Above all, I've found that my tendencies to be more analytical and/or emotional (since I have the capacity for both) tend to reflect my partner's abilities in these areas somewhat. So now that I have a partner who is more emotionally in touch with himself, I withdraw more. Not sure why, and maybe it's age, but it may be that the two of you play out these roles specifically because you're so different and it makes you each more the way you are, if that makes sense. I totally feel like this is a workable thing but you both have to find a way to appreciate, understand and above all VALUE the makeup of the other person as much as you value your own way of looking at things.
posted by jessamyn at 3:53 PM on December 10, 2012 [41 favorites]


Another non-talking lady with a talker husband here. I decided that I would try to learn better "active listening" skills. Michael Hoppe and the Center for Creative Leadership have boatloads of books on the topic.

It's helped me a lot, not just with my marriage, but with friendship and work stuff and even navigating health care.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:04 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, you're totally not doomed. My fiance and I do this.

My answer: The first stage is actually for both of you to recognize your strengths and your weaknesses, and make sure to value them equally. You may be strong in producing solutions, but weak in emotional self and external awareness. She may be strong in emotional cues, but weak on discussing impartially and looking for solutions. It might be hard for you to really see your girlfriend's way of dealing with things as equally important, and vice versa. It's important for each of you to feel valued and heard in the relationship.

Fiance's answer, reading over my shoulder: First, the above doesn't actually change anything. While accurate, it is not a solution. Stay conscious of the way you're interfacing, delegate responsibilities to your strengths. The most important bit is not to try to change her, let her be herself.


Take this as you will.
posted by corb at 4:20 PM on December 10, 2012


To me it sounds like your girlfriend is very in tune with emotional cues and needs, to the point that they are blatantly obvious to her and as intuitive as breathing. You on the other hand, seem to be much less naturally in tune with subtle emotional cues.

I'd also like to point out that, while this may very well be true, I do have a number of emotionally sensitive and in-tune friends who have frequent misunderstandings, blowouts, or conflicts because they read "cues" or subtexts into communication that just. aren't. there.

I think jessamyn has best answer here, so far.
The only suggestion I would have is to actually have a conversation with your girlfriend, when things are calm, and see if she can tell you what, exactly, she is needing from you. And what, perhaps, that might look like, in practical terms. Because while some of the conflict here seems to stem from being not-so-great with emotions, some of it also seems to be due with her expectations that you should be a mind-reader, or her inability to understand that you will take statements and requests like "give me some space" literally.

If you still feel like you suck at talking about emotions, consider whether nonverbal contributions can help. I am a hyperanalytical lady, so I am pretty poor at talking about the feelings, and have definitely frustrated some friends. At some point, I realized that just hugging them when they were crying, even if there was nothing I could think to say, made them feel tons better about my interactions with them than if I had just stood there, or (perhaps worse) launched into Research and Problem-Solving Mode.
posted by vivid postcard at 4:24 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is tough. I have been your girlfriend in this type of situation, and the difference has spelled the end of the relationship in more than one instance, even though both of us cared for each other very much. In fact, I think sometimes this type of miscommunication can actually create a breakup where really neither person wants things to end. It seems like you two do communicate about this, but have you gone to your girlfriend and just said what you're saying here? That you love her deeply and have a hard time showing it, and you want to work on this with her and make her feel better about things, and you know she's going through a difficult year? Then just...I don't know....spontaneously given her a hug?

These websites people are recommending to you are great, but one thing they don't mention is that no matter how ballooned with love for her you might feel inside, she's shockingly unintuitive about that, and it's very possible that the only way she feels it is by your giving her comfort and affection. If she needs to talk, perhaps she just needs you to put your arm around her and listen. If she tells you she's having a hard time emotionally, just listen to her and reassure her you're there. It seems like what she wants is to know she's safe with you, and not alone.

The push-pull thing with saying she wants to be alone, though...there's no way you could have navigated that. Next time, though, you'll know from experience that when she says she wants to be alone she might just mean "I want to be alone for half an hour and then I'd like to be checked up on."

Gosh, I wish I could give better advice than this, but then I guess I wouldn't have this problem either.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 4:24 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm going to have a different take then most people here:

To me it sounds like your girlfriend is very in tune with emotional cues and needs

No. It sounds like she's really immature:

She needs to talk for hours, gather her thoughts, cry, cry some more, worry about it and then work through the problem together.

It sounds like she's emotionally out of her depth a lot; if this is her reaction to things that most adults deal with, it sounds like she needs some therapy.

You may or may not have problems relating emotionally, but her spilling of emotions all over everything isn't any more in tune with anything. Most people would find dealing with her exhausting.

Sounds like you've been a trooper, but if she keeps framing this as "you don't meet her emotional needs" then, there's no hope and you don't want to deal with it.

This weekend she said she needed some space and to be alone. I left her alone but she contacted me on Monday to say I should have been concerned about her and at least text her to see if she was ok. This sums up our relationship perfectly.

She's a whiny game-player on top of it. Get out now.
posted by spaltavian at 4:41 PM on December 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


This weekend she said she needed some space and to be alone. I left her alone but she contacted me on Monday to say I should have been concerned about her and at least text her to see if she was ok. This sums up our relationship perfectly. She feels emotionally let down and I feel frustrated by doing what I thought was best.

This is going to escalate. She is beginning to get it that you will not be there for her emotionally, so in order to protect herself she is going to stop reaching out to you and instead start saying "leave me alone." She is still hopeful that you are going to be the person she needs, but you will follow her explicit directions instead, and leave her alone. That in turn will widen the gulf.

I am just now emerging from the painful end of a situation that was much like this (so there may be some projection here). But the fact is, at a certain point your girlfriend is going to need to protect herself from the constant disappointment of not having her emotional needs met. Just don't add insult to injury by saying "but you told me not to call you!" She does not want you to obey instructions (more burden on her), she wants you to take action and be someone she can rely on.
posted by headnsouth at 4:42 PM on December 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


I feel I'm trying to do the right thing buts its never enough to satisfy her emotionally.
I think the "are we doomed" in part hinges on what the "right things" are (from your perception, from her perception" and how long this has been going on. I can tell you that I am not as emotional as your gf but I went through a very rough year a few years back. I needed a partner who was good at "listening" but I was dating someone who was best at "fixing." I dumped him, eventually. We weren't a good match anyway, but he didn't really try to listen, because he wasn't actually interested in changing his communication style to support/complement mine. This is why I think knowing what you're doing that you see as supportive versus what she's expecting might be helpful.

I had a coworker who was in a relationship that sounds a bit like yours. She responded to her boyfriends "fixing" by becoming even more emotionally needy. The more he withdrew, the more she ramped up. It ended messily. If you have a pattern like that, you may be doomed.
posted by sm1tten at 4:53 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh! Also, I forgot to add: a lot of the conflicts my fiance and I get into is over definitions and interpretations of things - both very well-meaning. For example - when your fiance said "space", she meant, "I'm going to be physically apart, but I'm not actually distancing from you." When you heard space, you heard "Leave me completely alone."

This probably manifests in other areas. With my fiance and I, recognizing it was an issue allowed us to take the time to figure out things that might have different interpretations, understanding that it wasn't an issue of one person failing to explain or the other person failing to interpret, but that both of us knew this was a problem and would try to avoid it by reaching out to check even if we did think we understood things. Treat it like you're speaking an entirely different language, and that these are words with multiple meanings. Because they are.
posted by corb at 5:00 PM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hi. My relationship has had elements of this. It led to some really rough spots where things were on a knife edge just as you describe -- she needs something I can't provide, I'm trying my best but flailing, and we both run out of ideas. We've grown past it a lot, mostly because I was able to change my behavior. It took me a while - mostly a complete re-framing of my interactions with her (and with other people), and a personal transformation out of the cold rational fortress in my head and into the messy world of warm, emotional, feeling humanity, which has been a long time coming for me. Your relationship probably is doomed if you can't hold out a hand for her when she grasps for one, because this is something she needs from her partner. Many people need this from their partners. Whether being with another cold person is your destined fate or not is something you'll have to figure out.

I've been the fixer before. Oh, you're hurting right now? Maybe you should see a therapist. Let me see if I can find one for you. There, done, good night! What's wrong with this? It shoves it back in her face. It makes her problem about you and how good you are at fixing things. It's telling her "stop crying" instead of hugging her; it casts her problem as a simple logistical difficulty rather than an emotional burden she's bearing; it rejects the validity and importance of her emotions and it thus rejects her. When she comes to you, the problem she has is NOT the circumstance that makes her feel upset. The problem is that she is upset. When you try to fix the circumstance you are doing the wrong thing, because that does not fix the upset. Love and comfort and being heard fixes it.

Try this:
"How are you feeling?" instead of "are you okay". In the latter case it's clear you want the answer to be yes, so she'll feel pressured to say yes; asking "how" is open-ended and gives her room to reach out to you if she needs to. "It feels like something's wrong", if she's being quiet or withdrawn.

Try "How was your day" too. You can never say this too often.

"That's too bad", "That sounds really hard", "This must be really tough" when she is going through a rough period or feeling down. Validating her feelings, giving her permission to be upset when she needs to feel upset. Don't say things like "don't worry", "it's not so bad" -- that's throwing it back in her face. "It'll be okay" can very nice to hear, though.

"Is there anything you need?" or "What would feel good for you to do tonight?" instead of "here are some things I think you need" or "what do you want me to do?". Let her needs be the focus; don't make it about you.

Many women are socialized not to ask for help from male partners and not to seek support from them, lest they become too "demanding" and cause the guy to back off. It may help to bear this in mind because it means when she does reach out to you, she really needs it -- she's had to overcome the stigma and fear that comes from doing so. And yes it's true that this does demand more work from you; this is the whole 'in sickness and in health' thing, it means we have to help our partners shoulder their burdens from time to time. Maybe she's worth it, though?
posted by anybodys at 5:08 PM on December 10, 2012 [35 favorites]


An analogy:

There is nothing wrong with picking up pizza on the way home. It's cheap, filling, nutritious if you do it right, saves you time and energy in the kitchen, cleanup is a snap, etc. There is also nothing wrong with buying fresh ingredients, working together to chop and marinate and stir over low heat and wash/dry/put away the pots & plates.

Your girlfriend has made it clear that when her stomach is upset, pizza makes her feel worse. She feels better through starting from scratch, trying to make sense of a recipe, getting some help from you to read the instructions, taking turns tasting the sauce to get the seasonings right, trying one thing and then another before feeling sated and wrapping up the leftovers to bring to work the next day. But whenever her stomach is upset, you keep bringing home pizza. She says "I've got all these ingredients here and I want to figure this out, bear with me while I read the recipe out loud a few times before I get the pronunciation right, help me with the accents because I'm a little confused..." and you keep saying "you're just hungry, have some pizza, it will fill you up, that's what you need!"
posted by headnsouth at 5:09 PM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


You can wind up so much trying to 'do things right' that you miss the actual nuances and contexts associated with 'doing the right thing'.

When your girlfriend says that she needs space and to be on her own, that does not preclude you in any way reaching out to her via text and asking if she's okay. The right thing to do is to ask if she's okay - but you're trying to do things right by not having anything to do with her at all lest she gets pissed at you. Now - if she were to get pissed at you for texting her in that way, she would be OTT and a sign for you to DTMFA.

Is there any problem with her talking to you at great length about things? Does it make you emotionally distressed? If not, then you are her sounding board - you sit and listen and be supportive (but try to solve nothing). If it's distressing or hurtful to you in some way - then she needs a therapist.
posted by heyjude at 5:35 PM on December 10, 2012


tend to be brutally honest

Here's a question to think carefully about: are you sure that you're not accidentally acting like an asshole? The reason I ask is that the most abrasive, unkind people I've ever met have never thought of themselves as abrasive and unkind. Instead, they have, 100 percent of the time, thought of themselves as unusually honest. There's no way for me to know if this is the case for you, but I suggest you examine just what it is you're saying to her when you're being "brutally honest," and think about whether she would describe it in such positive terms.
posted by Ragged Richard at 5:36 PM on December 10, 2012 [34 favorites]


I feel I'm trying to do the right thing buts its never enough to satisfy her emotionally.


Having been on both sides of this problem, I think you're actually thinking of this in a non-productive way. The issue here is not so much that your girlfriend has too many emotions, it's that you're only dealing with her emotions, and not dealing with yours.

What are your emotions? Fear, most likely, and possibly anger. General discomfort. Anxiety. The sense that you are underappreciated. Probably some combination of all of these things. Not that you'll necessarily experience these emotions in the standard way people think of them. You may find yourself feeling simply blank in these situations. Or mildly irritated. But probably, on some unconscious level, your response to her emotion (and to your own emotion, which you're bound to have in these situations) is to shut down in the face of it, because it makes you uncomfortable and you're simply not sure how to respond. You've probably never had a model of how people empathize with each other. And you're already conditioned to know that there's a "wrong" response -- a response that will make her more emotional (the last thing you want) or unhappy. Which is going to make you even more careful in these situations, which will shut you down even further (and make her feel even more desperately alone).

Already at this stage in the relationship, you're worried on some level that she is a bottomless pit of emotional need -- that nothing you can do will satisfy her (really it's two worries -- she cannot be satisfied, and you are inherently not satisfying to her). So you cope the way you've always coped: by taking a fear (that you can never satisfy her) and trying to translate it into something actionable (determine whether you should simply break up). That's a good strategy for a lot of situations, but not for making this relationship work better.

If you do want to make this relationship work, I'd suggest you look for a couples counselor, not to talk through practical matters, but to be in the same room with you and your girlfriend while she is emotional. A good counselor, in these situaitons, will help you both manage your emotions, so that she doesn't spin into an emotional state where she can't be comforted, and you don't let fear/anxiety/discomfort shut you down. The counselor can also help you learn to genuinely, neurologically empathize, and teach you how you to be emotionally present for someone, even when their emotions feel overwhelming.

I mean, there is a chance that she's actually sort of unhinged, and so emotionally needy that she's not capable of having a healthy relationship. But if that's the case, you two have probably had problems from the very first week, and she has these problems in all areas of her life (she's probably unable to maintain friendships, or a career, or finish school). If that's not the case, then it's probably a relationship dynamic-- you two are pushing each other in these directions, and a counselor can help you both out of this dynamic.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 5:49 PM on December 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


Far from being doomed, this is an incredibly lucky split to have in a relationship. There will be times when your instinctive reactions will save the day, and there will be times when hers will do the same. Diversity of strengths ftw!

but yes, everyone above makes good points. In order to have this be a diversity of strengths within a unified relationship rather than a divisive source of tension, you have to make sure that you treat it like a diversity of strengths. This means that you (and her, too, but you're the one who wrote the question so I'm talking to you) have to acknowledge that her high emotional state is a strength. It's particularly strong when you're dealing with problems that don't have a solution, or where you can't implement the solution yet, where the "problem" is "how do I get by and seek happiness when things are this way?"

This doesn't mean you have to cater to and anticipate her expectations. You're not a mind-reader, and it's unfair to expect you to be one; she needs to ask for the specific things she needs. The best way for you to help her with that is to make sure that when she asks you for something, you are responsive, honest, and enthusiastic about answering her, because if you shame or belittle her for needing this thing, she'll quit asking but she won't quit needing it. And that way lies madness.

It also doesn't mean that you have to meet every need that she has. That's impossible. It's fine for you to just not be able to do this for her to the full extent every time. But you also need to communicate that clearly, honestly, and without shame; it's unreasonable for her to know that you've hit your limit unless you tell her.

Finally, I'd suggest eliminating "brutal honesty" in favor of "caring honesty." There's no cause for brutality in a loving relationship.
posted by KathrynT at 5:51 PM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


People who think of themselves as logical and who attribute their lack of emotional skills to their logic are often the least logical people out there. The truth is that there is an entire science of emotions and it is often possible to predict with great precision what people will feel when and the application of logical thought to emotions is incredibly enriching.

Some people who make that excuse might think (out loud or in their heads) emotions are not worthy or important enough to apply their logic to. That position is not at all logical considering what an important role emotions play in life, politics, everything, basically.

In my opinion it is much more intellectually honest (and logical) to admit that this has nothing to do with your logic, any more than you would say that you are a very logical person while your SO is very athletic. Rather, you are just not strong in terms of emotional 'skills.' She may not be either. Saying that you express yourself via the language of logic while she expresses herself via the language of emotions can be absolutely true even while you suck at logical intelligence and she sucks at emotional intelligence.

If you really are logical though, and you are willing to apply that logic to emotions rather than wash your hands of them as being outside of your identity or notice, there are a lot of resources to learn more about how people in general function emotionally. Since you are already intimate with your girlfriend, if you combine those resources with increasing your knowledge of her specifically, you will have enough data to which to apply your logic in order to get to some workable theories. For example, you might be able to consistently predict when brutal honesty will be more hurtful than helpful to her and to the relationship, and then it is a question of deciding which you value more at that moment - your sense of yourself as a brutally honest person, or her feelings and the relationship. You will also be able to see yourself more honestly. Feeling frustrated in the moment and scared for the relationship because she wants talk and comforting and you want logical solutions is an... emotional response.

I don't know whether you are doomed or not but like others, I think it has less to do with each of your general orientations towards logical or emotional expression and more to do with each of your abilities to harness your actual logical and emotional intelligences. Your part of that might be to make a project of your own emotional intelligence. My general reading recommendations include Harriet Lerner, Miss Manners (yes really), Carolyn Hax, and Deborah Tannen, though I'm sure there's a lot more out there.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:53 PM on December 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


I've rowed that same boat, friend.

And no - No hope. If she didn't take the initiative because she considers you "cold", trust me, after a few years she'd drive you completely batty with her nonsensical chatter about mental fictions that form the basis of her whole world and which you consider little more than a nuisance to actively minimize.


Salamandrous : People who think of themselves as logical and who attribute their lack of emotional skills to their logic are often the least logical people out there. The truth is that there is an entire science of emotions and it is often possible to predict with great precision what people will feel when and the application of logical thought to emotions is incredibly enriching.

Cite please?

No, emotional stupidity doesn't make you automatically hyperrational. But yes, hyperrationality does greatly reduce your patience for those who would argue passionately (and emotionally) about such trivialities as what to have for supper.
posted by pla at 6:51 PM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


No, emotional stupidity doesn't make you automatically hyperrational. But yes, hyperrationality does greatly reduce your patience for those who would argue passionately (and emotionally) about such trivialities as what to have for supper.

Emotions and reason are irrevocably interlinked. It is inappropriate to think of things in "hyperrational" and "hyperemotional" terms, as emotions form the basis of our reasoning abilities, even in those who fancy themselves logicians. See here for a discussion of the (not new) research that's been done on this. By fancying oneself "unemotional" one is simply ignoring the underlying role one's emotions have on one's decisions. When someone says "I don't understand because I'm hyperrational!" what it really means is "I don't understand because I feel a different way and lack the empathy to relate to the other person!" "Hyperrationality" is an easy way to dismiss what another person thinks by characterizing one's own decision as sensical and right, while the other person's thoughts are "nonsensical chatter about mental fictions that form the basis of her whole world".

OP, if I were you I'd read the article I just linked. And it might help to think about your difficulties in multiple terms: introversion versus extroversion, and Ask vs. Guess.

Your girlfriend is an emotional extrovert. She actively processes and expresses them to others, and expects it in return. So she's developed the "emotional skills" that allow her to express her emotions, empathize with the emotions of others, and help them process their own. She's also a Guess-type person when it comes to emotions, as she expects that you've read how she's feeling and "know" that you're supposed to check up on her, even when she says she wants time on her own. Because after all, that's how she's going to process her emotions, right--by expressing them to others. If you don't contact her, it means you're not interested in how she's feeling.

I'm guessing you're more on the emotional introvert side of things, right? You process this stuff by yourself. You don't really talk through your emotions with other people, and you're not used to them talking them through with you. And it means you're not going to expect people to want you to randomly contact them to talk about their emotions. They're doing their own thing! If they wanted you to help, they'd Ask, right?

You guys definitely can find a middle, I think.

First, she's got to know that if she wants you to do something, even if she thinks it's a totally intuitive thing to do, she needs to ask you to do it.

Second, you have got to stop thinking about her type of emotional processing like it's irrational or useless (because that is the message that's coming through your post here). Just because it's out in the open doesn't mean it's not analogous to what goes on in your head, even if you're not aware of it.

When she is talking to you, put yourself in her shoes. Not in the "If I were her I would do this because it would be so easy" shoes. Put yourself in the "I remember my feelings when I was in a similar situation" shoes. Express her emotions back to her in a way that urges her to continue processing them. This involves phrases like "When that happened to me I felt very ____", "I bet that made you feel _____", "Did you feel ___ about that?" I am going to guess the less understood she feels, the longer the time she spends on "crying and worrying about it"--because in her mind, since this is a collaborative process the two of you cannot start working on a resolution until you understand her emotional space. And when it comes time to start suggesting ways to approach the problem, you use stuff like "How would you feel about ____". Remember: it's not that your emotions aren't involved in your decisions. It's just that hers are closer to the surface of her conscious mind.
posted by schroedinger at 8:08 PM on December 10, 2012 [20 favorites]


Came in to say essentially what Ragged Richard said, that I and a lot of others find the great majority of those who wear the "brutally honest" badge tend to come across as smug, mean-spirited assholes (and that it usually doesn't go well at all when those people are spoken to in the way they speak to people).

Too, a perception that your self-described qualities were cast in a more favorable tone than hers.
posted by ambient2 at 10:07 PM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


I guess I am not going to agree with the way pla and spaltavian see it, but I can't argue with their advice -- if that perspective echoes how you feel, then I doubt there's common ground to be found. There's kind of a choice to be made in how you see things. That approach means the end of the relationship, full stop. Personally I think you could have a great opportunity to grow in front of you and you should not give up yet.

I popped back in here to echo what KathrynT said -- that this split actually has the potential to make a really great relationship dynamic, once you get past the bumps. My rational-scientific and her emotional-intuitive together make for an incredibly rich shared world -- far richer than I could ever find if I dated someone exactly like me -- and make us a really good team, able to support each other. And just as KathrynT says, her high emotional state has been an incredible strength in our relationship. She's taught me so so much and she's opened up a new world for me and she's really helped me process some of my own (heavily repressed) emotions. The price of that is that I have to be very gentle and tender towards her and help her through the darkness. Sometimes this can be hard; sometimes she needs a lot; sometimes she acts in ways that we would both agree are less than ideal; she doesn't want to lay her burdens on me, she doesn't want to feel insecure or lonely sometimes, but this happens -- it's part of the ride.

It's the price of admission, as Dan Savage would say, to be with her -- you have to try to meet her in the emotional space. The gap may be too great, but you can try. In my case coming to an understanding of what was going on and beginning to be mindful of the way I responded to her made a tremendous difference in the way she was feeling almost immediately.
posted by anybodys at 11:34 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just don't add insult to injury by saying "but you told me not to call you!" She does not want you to obey instructions (more burden on her), she wants you to take action and be someone she can rely on.

I am surprised and dismayed by this comment. If she says "don't call me" then take her at her word and do not call her. Then you can be someone she can rely on to do what she asks when she articulates her needs like an adult, and not some creepy guy who ignores her words and her boundaries because he know "what she really wants." Gross.

No means no, do not call means do not call, don't touch me means don't touch her, right down the line. If she's playing games with those rules or running "if he really cared..." experiments, that is mega destructive, poorly balanced and not someone you want to be with.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:33 AM on December 11, 2012 [14 favorites]


When your girlfriend says that she needs space and to be on her own, that does not preclude you in any way reaching out to her via text and asking if she's okay. The right thing to do is to ask if she's okay - but you're trying to do things right by not having anything to do with her at all lest she gets pissed at you. Now - if she were to get pissed at you for texting her in that way, she would be OTT and a sign for you to DTMFA.

So the OP is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't?

OP: I left her alone but she contacted me on Monday to say I should have been concerned about her and at least text her to see if she was ok.


You could try explaining that you can be concerned while still respecting that she asked to be left alone.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:17 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think that people who hae different emotional styles can absolutely make things work if they're willing to put in the effort and be a team.

Having said that:

If I were dating someone and they admonished me for not doing the opposite of what they asked me to do, I would dump them on the spot.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:11 AM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


You can get therapy, you can apply your analytical skills to her emotions and twist yourself into a pretzel to try to make the relationship work. If you do you will spend the rest of your life walking on eggshells. Run Away.
posted by txmon at 8:10 AM on December 11, 2012


This weekend she said she needed some space and to be alone

Does not to me suggest that you can't send a text that says - R u ok?

Texting is the most unobtrusive communication there is - no boundaries are being violated - he's not rocking up at her house or asking her out - he's asking if she's okay in text form because they're in a relationship.

I don't think he should be a mindreader and I'm not an advocate of people blindly ignoring others' boundaries - but there are nuances that exist in relationships that I think come with experience.

How do you deal with the emotional needs of others - by listening to them (she said she wants to be on her own - ok, don't call, don't show up at her place, don't ask her out) and by analysing the situation (she's my GF, she's been through a lot recently, I care about her, I will leave her alone because that's what she wants, but I will check in to make sure nothing bad's happened because I care about her and want her to know I'm there for her if she wants me to be).

The OP is young and they've put themselves and their partner in their own separate boxes (emotional! unemotional!) and it's limiting their capacity to relate to their partner freely (I'm this, she's that, we're incompatible! And it's just not necessarily true).

Learn to actively listen and actively analyse situations and contexts - and know you're never going to get it 100% right, it's not possible.
posted by heyjude at 12:25 PM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


You could try explaining that you can be concerned while still respecting that she asked to be left alone.

Being concerned is a fairly fundamental part of being a relationship (or, in my view, being a part of humanity - but I know people's mileage vary on this significantly).

You have more to gain (for everyone involved) by reaching out to someone than you have by not reaching out to them.
posted by heyjude at 12:30 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I said I needed space and my partner texted me "Are you OK?" I would be furious. I do not find texting unobtrusive and I would find such a communication to be an explicit violation of the boundary I had clearly laid out.

However, it doesn't matter what you and I would do; the OP isn't dating us. The question if he is suited to date his girlfriend, and if she has communication expectations in line with yours, I am not sure he is.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:07 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


If I said I needed space and my partner texted me "Are you OK?" I would be furious.

I would too but for a different reason. "Are you OK?" requires the recipient to engage in dialogue with the sender, to share her emotional state with him ... in that situation I'd be angry and hurt that he wasn't respecting a clear boundary I put up when I said I needed space.

This would be doubly true if the reason I needed space was because, like the OP's girlfriend, I feel I can't rely on my partner to be a source of support for me when I express ... that I'm not ok about something.

On the other hand, the OP could certainly reach out and actually share something real without requiring any response whatsoever from the space-needing girlfriend ... a text that said "thinking about you this weekend" or "miss you see you Monday" or "hope you are enjoying the solitude" or any number of things that don't intrude and don't require engagement on the recipient's part convey warmth and affection and support while respecting boundaries.

To a certain extent these are subjective reactions and to some people they probably look like semantic differences but in my view it's the absolute opposite of the kind of mind-reading and eggshell-walking that people are afraid of. Say what's on your mind and ensure that the environment is a safe place for your partner to say what's on their mind. Honest, thoughtful, and respectful communication requires respecting the other person's point of view even if you don't share it or even grok it. It's not so much a problem that one partner is a verbal processor and the other is a silent fixer ... it's a problem that one person is described using positive terms (calm, efficient) and the other using negative terms (hot-headed). That shows a lack of understanding and respect for the way the other person deals with slings and arrows.
posted by headnsouth at 1:29 PM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


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