I messed up big time in my relationship. Now what?
January 11, 2017 7:03 PM   Subscribe

Long story short, I didn't fulfill a promise to help my fiance while he was under a lot of stress preparing for an extremely important presentation this morning. He is understandably very upset and disappointed in me. I feel terrible and have apologized repeatedly, but that doesn't change the fact that it happened in the first place and that this isn't the first time I've acted thoughtlessly and selfishly around him. How can we move past this? And how can I stop being so self-centered time and again? More inside.

In case the details matter, here goes. We are both PhD students, and this morning, my fiance had his candidacy exam (oral defense of his thesis proposal in front of a committee). This is a very stressful event, so in the last couple of weeks I've been picking up as much slack as I can around our home. Last night, I offered to go to the grocery store for him in the morning to get snacks for his committee. I failed to mention that I was supposed to be at a seminar by 9:30am (my adviser, who would be in attendance, had asked me to attend), but since he said he wanted to get to the presentation room by 9am anyway, I figured it wouldn't be a problem. He also said he'd go with me to the grocery store, even though my original intent in making the offer was to save him time in the morning. When we woke up in the morning, I remembered he had to provide coffee and tea to his committee as well, so I asked him where he'd be getting the coffee. He said he'd get it at Starbucks, which is just around the corner from the grocery store, so I asked if it wouldn't make more sense to get the coffee and snacks at the same time, but closer to the presentation time (11am) so that the coffee wouldn't get cold. He agreed, but I failed again to mention at that time that I'd have to leave by 9:30 and wouldn't be able to go with him anymore. In my head this didn't make a big difference because he was going to lose the same amount of time at the grocery store with or without my company, but in retrospect, that wasn't the point and I really should have skipped the seminar in favor of keeping my promise to my fiance and supporting him right up until the presentation -- or at the very very least, I should have made it clear much earlier that my adviser had asked me to be somewhere at 9:30. However, I didn't. I ended up going to the seminar after giving him only 20 minutes heads up, and my fiance had to go to the grocery store alone, when he should have had me around for moral support and to take some of the burden of preparing for this incredibly stressful event.

Basically, I was a huge ass and acted extremely selfishly at a moment of great stress and importance for my fiance. To make things worse, this isn't the first time I've been thoughtless or selfish in ways that have affected him, although this time is the most egregious. Like I said above the fold, I've apologized, but that really doesn't change anything. He also doesn't think there's anything I can do to make it up to him. Saying it won't happen again doesn't help because a) like I said, I've acted similarly on smaller scales before, and at those times have said I'm trying to change, and b) this was a really crucial moment.

So, my question is two-fold. First, is there anything you can think of that might help us move past this? Right now, it sort of feels like he might be disappointed and upset with me forever, like this could have permanently changed our relationship. I have no idea what I can or should do, if anything, and I'm freaking out inside. Second, are there any concrete strategies I can use to change my default, self-centered approach in these kinds of situations, where I end up acting in my own best interests even though the more appropriate choice would be put my partner first?
posted by st elmo's fire to Human Relations (136 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm perplexed more than anything by your reaction and how hard you're being on yourself. I'm an academic. I get that proposal defenses are emotionally stressful. It's not that I don't get that. But I think if you can hold his hand up until the very last moment, that's great, but if you can't (because, you know, you have a job, too), then you can't. I don't think it's selfish or awful of you to have gone to work when you needed to go to work. If he is being as hard on you as you are being on yourself, that doesn't seem reasonable to me. Would you have expected your fiance to cancel attendance at a work event to hold your hand before a big moment of yours?

I can't articulate exactly the vibe I'm getting from your question, but it really disturbs me how down on yourself you are, and I hope that this isn't because someone else is making you feel that way. Nothing here suggests that you are an awful selfish person. You offered to do him a favour (go to the grocery store before 9am), and you were prepared to follow through on that offer, it's not like you reneged. Something else ended up being more expedient for all and it cost him no more time or trouble than if you had done him the favour. You're beating yourself up for not having sacrificed for the sake of sacrifice.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:12 PM on January 11 [149 favorites]


I'm sorry but it sounds like your your fiance is overreacting, maybe due to the stress of this exam. I think the best you can do is apologize, and explain what you said here; the net result was the same since your initial offer was designed to alleviate his obligation of going to the store. Since he had to go to the store anyway, your presence is inconsequential. Did the exam go ok? Can you take him out to celebrate or take an entire day off for whatever his next big thing is? (I know nothing about school I'm sorry)
posted by masquesoporfavor at 7:13 PM on January 11 [15 favorites]


You didn't go with him to the grocery store to buy snacks. Your fiancé doesn't think there is any possible way for you to make up for the fact he didn't have moral support BUYING SNACKS AT THE GROCERY STORE.

Yeah, the problem here isn't you "acting like an ass" other than the point you seem to think this is actually ok. Not going to the grocery store to give moral support for snack buying isn't more important than being at the seminar your advisor asked you to attend.

My answer to your first question to help you move past this: please have your fiancé create an account and ask this question. I'd love to tell him what to do with his disappointment that he didn't get moral support buying some goddamned snacks.
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 7:15 PM on January 11 [173 favorites]


So just hearing this story (and not knowing what these other "selfish acts" were) I'm inclined to say your boyfriend just needs to get over it and you are being WAAAAAY too hard on yourself.

I totally get that this was a really big day for him, HUGE even. But it isn't like you promised to get the snacks and coffee and then never showed up, he just had to run errands by himself that he was going to do anyway.

Yes, he totally deserves to be a little perturbed with you but in my opinion what needs to happen here is you apologize honestly and with heart and understanding, bake his favorite cookies or make his favorite dinner, and then he needs to get over it within 24 hours.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:15 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Dude I was expecting this to be something really bad, but unless I'm misreading this, you...failed to keep him company at the grocery store???

I'm sure he's stressed now, but if he is still mad - and if you're still mad at yourself - in a day or two, you should rethink some stuff.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:16 PM on January 11 [37 favorites]


First, is there anything you can think of that might help us move past this?

get him to boil down his grievance into four lines or less so that he can hear himself say, out loud, "I am mad at my partner because they promised to help me buy snacks but then had to go to a seminar, and thus I was forced to buy snacks all by myself" ?

I would never try to get a grad student to develop a sense of perspective right before orals, but now that they're over, surely.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:17 PM on January 11 [61 favorites]


Ok I was on my phone before and decided you deserved my full keyboard attention. I'm concerned about the bit where you insist your partner's needs should come before your own. I love my husband SO FUCKING MUCH OMG and his needs are very important, but my needs come first always, barring some sort of disaster. This incident does not qualify. If he is telling you that you're self-centered because you chose YOUR OWN SCHOOLING over his then I would go as far as DTMFA. I'm sorry you feel bad, but I don't think you did anything wrong. Maybe a level 1 wrongdoing like oversleeping and being late, but definitely not even worth wasting your one-a-week question on.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 7:18 PM on January 11 [20 favorites]


I mean, I think I would find this maybe kind of annoying? Like, hey can you give me a heads up on your schedule on an important day for me? But what I'm hearing is this is now some kind of relationship-destroying event between the two of you and that just seems way out of proportion. You've already apologized which is great but if he won't accept your apology ever, what is his end game? Is he willing to end the relationship over something that makes him this mad? If so then that's what needs to happen. But if not then he's the one who needs to reach out to accept your apology & end the argument.

For your part I can see how you would like to think about ways to be more in the moment about stuff. Mindfulness training can help with that. I can see a bunch of potential ways this day could have gone better that don't really involve being in the moment but that do involve planning and people taking responsibility for their own stuff. A solid plan for the day would have been better, with both of you sitting down and deciding who would do what, and who needs to be where and at what time. But honestly that was on him too.
posted by bleep at 7:18 PM on January 11 [10 favorites]


He also doesn't think there's anything I can do to make it up to him.

He sounds like he's someone managing his stress poorly. You guys had a miscommunication (both of you, not just you, both of you). You shouldn't have to cancel going to class because you said you'd do him a favor. You've already been picking up slack for, by your account, weeks. If he's so bent out of shape for this one thing that he thinks it's an irrecoverable issue, I can't even imagine what would happen if you did something that was actually, actively, working against his interests as opposed to this which was a mistake.

Anxiety can make people terrible but you guys need to find a way to communicate better. It's not self-centered to go to class. It's possible self-centered to say you're going to do someone a favor and then neglect to tell them that the favor has a time limit on it. But even so, small scale stuff. If you want to work this out you tell him that sure you're sorry but if he's going to make this sort of a big deal out of things, he can talk to you when he's calmed down a little and has some perspective and then go do your thing for a while and enjoy not having him be all flipped out because his exam is coming up.
posted by jessamyn at 7:18 PM on January 11 [43 favorites]


Right now, it sort of feels like he might be disappointed and upset with me forever, like this could have permanently changed our relationship.

That sounds like a pretty terrible way to treat you, and completely out of proportion to the minor modification to the schedule that you made. Are these the kinds of tiny incidents that are getting identified (by you? by him?) as evidence of a pattern of "thoughtlessness" and "self-centeredness" by you? Is he gaslighting you?
posted by a sourceless light at 7:18 PM on January 11 [29 favorites]


As a former PhD student, I agree with If only I had a Penguin that you are being unnecessarily hard on yourself. You had not committed to anything more than getting snacks at 9. As far as I can tell, you did not lead him to expect that you were attending his candidacy exam.

As someone who has prepared the all important snack table for her committee, I agree with pretty much everyone else that this seems to be about your boyfriend's stress. I also want you to think about whether your relationship has a narrative in which which your prioritizing yourself and your career equally to your bf is framed as "selfish."

Regarding your questions, (1) perhaps one way to get past this is to ask your boyfriend to honestly consider how he would behave if the situation was reversed and (2) Should you actually be putting hand-holding another adult over your own career?
posted by MFZ at 7:21 PM on January 11 [19 favorites]


Yes, when I said above that I couldn't articulate the wierd vibe I was getting from your question... a sourcelight light hit on the head...gaslighting. Your question reeks of a person who is being gaslighted.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:25 PM on January 11 [23 favorites]


Yeah, at first I thought you were in charge of getting snacks for his committee and dropped the ball, so that there were no snacks or coffee at all, and there he was, in front of his oral exam committee, with no food or drinks. If I were him in that case, I definitely would be pissed at you and would probably stay so for a few days until I had cooled off and could move past it.

But you're saying that he was going to be the one buying the snacks in the first place? So, whether you were there or not, the day was going to go just fine? I dunno, I can't see sustaining the same level of upsettedness over this. Seems weird.
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:26 PM on January 11 [7 favorites]


when he should have had me around for moral support and to take some of the burden of preparing for this incredibly stressful event.

the hell he should have. Does he know some grad students don't even have martyred girlfriends to take on their burdens? Some only have crotchety boyfriends to add to them.

when I was in grad school there was one dude who had a stay-at-home wife who would sometimes, in addition to making his lunch, bake cookies for all those of us who shared the office even though she hadn't yet met any of us. he would bring them in for us with a big happy smile and it was the creepiest thing ever, but the one thing that would have made it creepier would have been if his wife was also a grad student and still did that (for his officemates, not her own).

yeah yeah moral support, mutual aid and comfort, definitely it's nice to be nice to your partner, we should all do it. but this is like...housewifely kind of support when it comes to the feeding and watering of his committee, or at least it has that vibe. If you'd promised to let him try out a presentation on you and bailed, or promised to proofread an abstract and didn't, or even just promised to take him out for drinks when it was all over and then couldn't, I would get it. But this kind of favor, while fine to do, and fine, he was cranky when he had to do it by himself, isn't some kind of automatic "should" situation for you.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:27 PM on January 11 [45 favorites]


Possibly related question: how did the exams go? I posed this question to Mr. Freedom and asked, if I had skipped out on snack-buying with him, would he be upset at me? and he responded, "Dunno, depends on how the orals went."

So . . . did the exam go poorly? Is this perhaps retrospective angst on your fiance's part?
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:32 PM on January 11 [11 favorites]


When you have a Big, Stressful Thing, does he pick up the slack for weeks on end? Would he prioritize helping you get snacks over his own work? Or is supportiveness more of a one-way street in your relationship?
posted by ottereroticist at 7:36 PM on January 11 [39 favorites]


Why was he buying snacks and coffee for his exam at all? Thats weird too, although if it's department culture, I guess you have to do it. It certainly doesn't happen in my department--the department provides snacks after talks.
posted by leahwrenn at 7:37 PM on January 11 [8 favorites]


charlielxxv, you misread. It was possible to go before 9am and she was prepared to and planning to do that. She didn't because he had to by the grocery store anyway, and he agreed it would be no extra trouble to get the snacks at that time. If the fiance had said he coudn't buy them at that time, OP would have bought them before 9am. What teh fiance wanted wasn't for the OP to buy them before 9am, but for the OP to go with him at 11am to buy the snacks so he wouldn't have to buy snacks all by himself.

On the gaslightiging issue, I feel compelled to note that even *I* felt a little gaslighted by this. On reading the question I was thinking of a student of mine who defended a proposal recently. Before the defense they asked me how these work etc. etc. and I mentioned in passing that another student had brought cookies, and that was very nice. He brought timbits. Now reading your question I had a brief moment of guilt thinking that maybe my mentioning snacks had caused him untold stress. To the best of my knowledge, he bought the timbits by himself with no help or support at all. Then I shook it off and realized that's crazy. A grown man can buy snacks and I'm sure he's emotionally recovered from the experience by now.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:42 PM on January 11 [30 favorites]


Did his presentation go badly? Because maybe it's some very misplaced anger on his part. Here's the thing: You didn't mess up big time. You messed up very small time. Yes, it was during a time when he was really stressed out, but this "there's nothing you can do to make it up to me" reaction seems insanely over the top.

You volunteered to help him do something, then realized it might be better for him to do it at a different time, he agreed, and you could no longer help him do the thing because of your own academic commitments. The idea that you should have skipped a seminar to help him buy snacks is mind-boggling. Yeah, you should have mentioned to him sooner that you wouldn't be able to go with him, but again, we are talking minor-annoyance level here, not "I am a horrible selfish person" level.
posted by ELind at 7:42 PM on January 11 [6 favorites]


Is this a thing where you know you didn't really do anything wrong and want us to confirm it, but are couching it in this "I'm the worst" language just in case MeFi does that pile-on thing it sometimes does to users who don't already realize they're the worst?

Because otherwise I don't see how you could ever be so self-flagellating about this.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 7:45 PM on January 11 [31 favorites]


and what you can do now is buy him a nice bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine, not as a groveling apology but just as a nice gesture to make him feel better after a terrible defense or make him feel great after a good one. if it is even possible to have a defense go well after buying lonely snacks.

just on the off chance you are correct about your own habits and are genuinely self-centered in general, this is a serious suggestion because I tend to have partners who think of this kind of thing (bringing me flowers after I have a bad time) more than I think of it myself, and I feel bad about it. So there you go. That's a nice thing to do that will make him feel better, if he is also nice.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:47 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Unless you guys are in some kind of TPE relationship this is just crazy. Please, from someone who has lived it, don't get sucked into thinking that his reaction to your choices today are healthy or appropriate. This sounds like your fiance is manipulating you in the worst way.
posted by Requiax at 7:49 PM on January 11 [7 favorites]


To answer a couple of questions that have been raised: He passed the exam, it went absolutely fine. However, he was up all night so he's very sleep-deprived -- I think he's fallen asleep in the other room now. It is apparently the culture of our department to provide snacks/coffee/tea for the committee at your thesis proposal defense -- not something weird my fiance thought of himself. And he is an amazingly thoughtful partner -- I can guarantee with 100% certainty that this situation would never have happened in reverse. We were long distance for the past year (just a few months after meeting) and are still adjusting to living together and being engaged (as of a few weeks ago) so I haven't actually been on the other end of this kind of situation yet, but I have full confidence that he will be extremely supportive when I'm preparing for my thesis proposal defense later this year. Historically, he's done more [unexpectedly] thoughtful things for me than I have for him. However, we do have a history where I sometimes do something that inadvertently upsets or disappoints him. In retrospect I always understand his perspective and feel quite obtuse for having been self-centered and not realizing ahead of time how my actions would come across, but this kind of thing seems to keep happening. When he's upset after these incidents, he'll say things like "I don't know" when I ask if he thinks we'll be able to work through it. But he always has come through in the end, in less than a day. Granted, it hasn't even been half a day since this happened this time, so maybe I just need to cool it while he sleeps. It doesn't help that I'm generally an anxious person to begin with.

Also, I already brought him flowers when I came home from lab. No one has ever gotten him flowers before and I tried to get his favorite (purple dendrobiums) but the store didn't have them so I got another purple orchid. But he just said "thanks" and kept acting distant and cold :(
posted by st elmo's fire at 7:51 PM on January 11


You're not the one with the problem being thoughtless and self-centered in this scenario. You sound like a very thoughtful and generous person who is engaged to a spiteful manbaby. I understand extreme stress and feeling frustrated by last minute changes that make things slightly less convenient, but your fiancé's response to this situation sounds cruel and ungenerous at best. With the exams over, he should be thanking you for taking the domestic load for weeks before his exams and also for the many considerations you must have made to his benefit. What he's putting you through now is not acceptable. If he makes you a whipping boy who he uses to reduce his own stress, please reconsider whether he is good partner material. What he's doing now is not OK and it's not what a loving partner does in this situation.
posted by quince at 7:53 PM on January 11 [60 favorites]


Also, I already brought him flowers when I came home from lab. No one has ever gotten him flowers before and I tried to get his favorite (purple dendrobiums) but the store didn't have them so I got another purple orchid. But he just said "thanks" and kept acting distant and cold :(

You are a saint who knows his favorite flower, and your only problem is you assume he's always right when he's mad. you're going to end up believing that you are a terrible girlfriend because you settled for an inadequate orchid when you could have skipped lab to spend an extra hour scouring the city's greenhouses for dendrobiums.

let him sleep it off and give him space to come to you and apologize for flipping out and explain it was just the stress. I believe you that he's thoughtful; that's what a thoughtful man will do.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:56 PM on January 11 [81 favorites]


He's overreacting, but it isn't that strange that he wanted a friendly face with him while doing his coffee and snack run before this giant presentation, and it is pretty annoying and strange that you waited until the last minute to tell him you weren't able to join him. It is extra strange that you suggested postponing the errand (even if it was the sensible thing to do) and still failed to point out that this meant he would need to do it alone. If I were your boyfriend, that's what would be bugging me right now. Do you have a pattern of witholding information until the last minute because you're worried he'll get mad?
posted by cakelite at 8:00 PM on January 11 [13 favorites]


I really should have skipped the seminar in favor of keeping my promise to my fiance and supporting him right up until the presentation

Look, I've been a Ph.D. student myself before, who was engaged at the time and since has married her non-grad student fiance, and attending a seminar that my advisor explicitly asked me to attend trumps the kind of handholding you mention. A partner who did not understand my priorities would have been DTMFA territory long ago.

I am worried there might be a pattern of your fiance getting upset when you prioritize your own academic pursuits and career over whatever he thinks you should be doing for him instead.

Being in a Ph.D. program is stressful as it is, and I am afraid your relationship might just be more stress, instead of something that helps you deal with the stresses and challenges of the Ph.D. process.

Instead of trying to get back into his good graces, I suggest taking a step back and reconsidering if this is the right relationship for you, at this time.
posted by needled at 8:03 PM on January 11 [39 favorites]


Historically, he's done more [unexpectedly] thoughtful things for me than I have for him. However, we do have a history where I sometimes do something that inadvertently upsets or disappoints him. In retrospect I always understand his perspective and feel quite obtuse for having been self-centered and not realizing ahead of time how my actions would come across, but this kind of thing seems to keep happening.

Human, much? It's easy to understand, after it has been explained, why your partner feels one way or another. That you cannot magically read his mind and understand that something you do will be upsetting to him in advance doesn't make you self-centered, it makes you human. I'll be honest, OP, I'm kind of worried about your definition of self-centered. Like all these other folks I read your question and kept trying to figure out what your heinous crime was and I couldn't find one single fucking clue.

Let your wonderful guy rest up and get over it. And start writing down this stiff and keep track of how your relationship plays out. It may be that you simply being you will be a continual problem for him. And if it is, that's about him--that's not about you. Your beau may be wonderful; I truly hope so. But if you are always feeling in the wrong, that's a problem. If you're often being told you're in the wrong, that's a problem. Keep doing reality checks because I promise you, you are not a terrible person or crazy self-centered based on this single example.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:04 PM on January 11 [24 favorites]


Sorry if I misread - there were so many changes to the plan that I lost track of what was going on and I don't have an extremely stressful event going on right now.

I think OP confused the situation, made everything more complicated (don't buy the coffee now, buy it later), and then peaced out. I'd be pissed too, and not pissed because I'm a manbaby who can't shop alone, but because my partner is at best occasionally unreliable and chaotic, at worst always unreliable and chaotic.
posted by charlielxxv at 8:07 PM on January 11 [8 favorites]


You both need to sleep, eat a proper meal, and spend some time de-stressing apart from each other before talking about this.

To me this sounds like the kind of horrible impossible fight that happens when everybody is stressed out and hangry and just needs a goddamned nap. Neither of you are in a good headspace right now, of course everything seems terrible.

Feed yourself, go to bed, wake up and focus on YOUR day tomorrow, not anyone else's. Encourage your dude to do the same. Revisit this on Sunday.
posted by phunniemee at 8:08 PM on January 11 [39 favorites]


This set off like at least seven of the abuse alarms I have in my head, all ringing together. :(

The only context in which I can imagine it makes sense for this to be A Bad Thing You Did is in an abusive situation. It's just really so far outside reason.

I'm sorry, I feel terrible saying that. But the gaslighting, as others have mentioned...it's alarming.
posted by schadenfrau at 8:12 PM on January 11 [34 favorites]


You aren't going to want to hear this: I think your partner is being a terrible partner in a way that is incredibly common among male academics and that is a bad sign for your relationship. And in a way that tends to attract smart, insecure partners, often women, who do not have a strong sense of their own value or even their own intrinsic human dignity.

I think what you're going to do is keep explaining to us and to yourself that you are indeed a selfish monster who can never make up to your partner that you didn't go with him to the grocery store. I think you're one-down in this relationship now and by happy coincidence (for him) you will always be one down in this relationship, possibly until he breaks up with you for one of his interns or grad students - who will, also by happy coincidence, turn out to be more "brilliant" than you, etc. We have been here, as the psychoanalyst said, before.

There is a sort of...subtextual tone in your letter that reminds me of things I've written when I'm absolutely unable to stop oscillating between hating myself for being a "terrible person" and feeling like surely actually I couldn't possibly be this terrible and what I did couldn't possibly be this terrible...usually over something like using a wrong turn of phrase or making a trivial mistake. In short, when I wasn't actually a terrible person at all and part of me knew it but was not able to overcome how I had been socialized to think I was terrible.

You're not terrible. You've been supporting your partner all week, picking up slack around the house. Probably the stress and trying to keep your partner's schedule straight was what caused you to get confused about the timing/communication - not selfishness but the kind of human mistake that people make when they are trying to do something that takes a lot of focus.

What do you think single people do before their exams? Fall apart into a sobbing heap?

Just idly - do you struggle with self esteem issues in the rest of your life? Do you tend to feel that you have never been as good as your friends? Or did your family tell you that you were terrible, selfish, etc over trivial acts of childish silliness? I bet you have a history of feeling like this, I bet it drew you to your partner and I bet it will continue to make you suffer enormously - as you are right now - until you can't take any more and break up or get therapy or both. (Ask me how I know, if you like.)
posted by Frowner at 8:15 PM on January 11 [120 favorites]


You didn't mess up big time.

think you're one-down in this relationship now and by happy coincidence (for him) you will always be one down in this relationship, possibly until he breaks up with you for one of his interns or grad students - who will, also by happy coincidence, turn out to be more "brilliant" than you, etc.
Yeah, this describes my relationship with another PhD student so closely it's chilling. That was not a good relationship. It took me a long time to see it, and a long time to get out, and a long time to get better.

You did not mess up. You made a very, very human mistake and the way your boyfriend is behaving is totally and completely out of line. Something is very wrong here, and it has nothing to do with you. I'm really sorry. Take care of yourself.
posted by sockermom at 8:56 PM on January 11 [22 favorites]


This will all turn out fine. Sleep deprived, stressful situation — hell, is he maybe hungry and lonely too? Ain't no getting around a bad mood in those circumstances.

Everything will be fine. Try too hard to fix it, and it'll just get weird. Leave it alone and be your regular old self (you sound supportive even to a fault maybe) and it will get better. The less you worry, the happier everyone will be.
posted by billjings at 8:59 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Yeah, this sounds like a moving day fight, where everyone is tired and just trying to get things done, and there are logistics and timetables, and you end up standing in the driveway yelling about who was going to buy the rope.

I'm guessing you didn't tell him about the seminar because you didn't want to "burden" him with the details of your day, which is a sensible thing to do. You didn't think it was a big deal for him to go to the shops by himself, because it isn't a big deal for grown arse men to go to the shops by themselves. His anger is an overreaction to feeling hurt (also probably because he feels ashamed that he wanted someone to come and help him buy snacks).

I'll believe you that he's better at this sort of thing than you are, it's often gendered, but not always. So you need to communicate better, and he needs to state his needs more clearly, and mostly, he needs to stop getting so pissed off when the world doesn't perfectly conform to his desires.
posted by kjs4 at 9:01 PM on January 11 [8 favorites]


" However, we do have a history where I sometimes do something that inadvertently upsets or disappoints him. In retrospect I always understand his perspective and feel quite obtuse for having been self-centered and not realizing ahead of time how my actions would come across, but this kind of thing seems to keep happening."

I don't see anything self-centered in your actions -- possibly it rises to the level of "slightly scatterbrained" which is both normal AND completely understandable after you've been living with HIS stress for the past month and picking up his slack. You're tired too and not necessarily thinking your best!

If these are the kinds of incidents he is holding out as evidence that you're self-centered and a disappointing partner, and he mansplains it to you until you feel "obtuse" for having not seen it, that is really concerning. Honestly I too see your partner being a man-baby here who can't manage his own emotions and who is sulking you into submission. I understand snapping in the moment when he was under a lot of stress, but now that it's over and he passed, he should have apologized for being so upset over such a little thing AND/OR if he's the sort of person who's prone to sulking, should say something like, "Sorry, I know it wasn't that big a deal and I'm upset over nothing, I'm just still processing out all my stress, let's go to sleep and I'll feel much better in the morning." When grown-ups overreact to things, they recognize that overreaction and do what they can to mitigate or control it. (Like, not every single feeling he has needs to be expressed and validated. Sometimes one's feelings are, for all that they are real and painful, excessive or unfair.)

(Now if you're an anxious person it's actually probably pretty tough for you if he says "sorry, I'm know I'm overreacting but I'm still in the middle of overreacting, let me sleep and I'll feel better in the morning"! But you can practice mitigating and controlling your anxiety, too, by reminding yourself that you're anxious and upset, which is okay, and you can live with that feeling until the morning, because you are both grown-ups who can live with uncomfortable feelings for short periods of time without having to be a jerk to your partner.)

If this is the dynamic -- he overreacts and explodes emotionally all over everything; you anxiously attempt to pick up the pieces and self-flagellate; he considers his overreaction normal and appropriate; both of you think it's your (OP's) job to fix his tempermentality and the fallout from his immature emotional self-control -- then I think a few sessions of couples counseling would be helpful so you could develop a more productive mode of coping with these disputes. However, if he's constantly running you down like this, sulking, and treating completely minor hiccups as if they're relationship-destroying earthquakes, by all means let him destroy the relationship over it and consider yourself well-shot of him.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:08 PM on January 11 [34 favorites]


Ok... tbh, if I were in his shoes, where it's the critical day, the culmination of years of work (and whatever else went along with that), everything's riding on it - those years and the future - and I wasn't overly confident that I could do it, and I was counting on my partner (who's been with me through this whole huge thing, and intimately knows what it is because they're doing it also) to be there when I needed them, but at the last minute I had to think about getting coffee - not just getting it, for which there'd been a plan, but keeping it warm, for the people judging my work, deciding my fate, the value of those years, the quality of my mind; to have to think about how much cream or sugar, about keeping the tray level, not spilling it anywhere, not giving anyone a dirty lid, on top of (and now just before) having to remember the whole and parts of my original and novel contribution to the world, and my responses to any and all potential criticisms - because my partner had to go to an optional seminar, to satisfy their adviser, and focused not on my limited ability to keep my head cool and be brave, but on keeping the coffee warm (for the people deciding my fate), and forgot to mention that they wouldn't be there - I would probably have slightly flipped out. Probably enough to throw myself, if I was nervous and not ready, and to feel irrationally but basically and deeply unsupported. (And it would hurt extra if I imagined that in my partner's shoes, I would have ditched the seminar to get the coffees.)

In such an irrational and (self-)wounded state, I think I would want to be reassured that I'm loved. I think that I might want to hear regret for the hurt and fear I felt, even though it wasn't intended. (And it's very clear that it wasn't intended.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:38 PM on January 11 [9 favorites]


The me from 10 years ago is jumping up and down saying DTMFA DTMFA!

I was a little worried about gas lighting from your original post, because you did absolutely NOTHING wrong (except possibly some minor miscommunication, which from reading your post, would stem from you being responsible for ALL communication in this relationship).

But the part that jumped out at me is this: so I haven't I haven't actually been on the other end of this kind of situation yet, but I have full confidence that he will be extremely supportive when I'm preparing for my thesis proposal defense later this year.. Oh shit. Been there done that.

Honey, this man expects you to be the little wifey. When you ask him to do just one little piece of what you did for him, expect to get super gaslit with "What? I never asked you to do that!?! What do you think I am, your secretary?" (That's word for word from my experience in a very comparable situation, by the way.)

Run. Run now. Run far.
posted by susiswimmer at 9:48 PM on January 11 [15 favorites]


I agree with what everyone else is saying about it not being a big deal. However I also want to make sure: is your fiancé the one telling you that he is super-mad at you and doesn't know if the relationship will survive? Or is this something that you are telling yourself? I've reread your question a couple of times and I'm honestly not sure whether this is stuff he has said to you or it is your own self-talk.

If he is telling you that it is a massive fuck-up on your part and you can never make it up to him and how could you possibly be so inconsiderate, the relationship will never recover blah blah blah, then he is totally gaslighting you and you need to get the hell out of that relationship.

If, on the other hand, he has been a bit pissed off with you or said he's mad or wishes that you'd told him you had to leave at 9.30, and you have then taken that and run with it and let your brain weasels convince you that you have fucked-up big time etc etc etc - then you really (and I say this with love) need to get some assistance with managing your anxiety. And probably some other things, like self esteem.

I say this as someone who has incredibly active brain weasels which, particularly when I was in my 20s, were very good at convincing me that the world was ending when in fact it was not. On the other hand, it also reminds me very much of my gaslighting, emotionally abusive partner when I was in my 30s. There is probably a correlation between those brain weasels and my susceptibility to the emotionally abusive partner. This is part of why I am in therapy.

You did not mess up big-time. You've apologised. You've made some lovely gestures to show how much you care, and you sound like a caring and thoughtful person overall. Please do not let either a gaslighting partner or your brain weasels convince you otherwise.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:49 PM on January 11 [40 favorites]


So you were thinking you'd be helpful by taking an item off his to do list. He changes the schedule (or you change it by pointing out the obvious but easy to miss when stressed detail that coffee* should be hot) and which made your assistance moot, in your mind.

In reality, he wanted emotional support and for you to tag along while he ran errands before a stressful event. He didn't want you to check off an item on a to do list. That's not unreasonable...But we can't always get what we want. Especially when dating a fellow academic. also specifically saying "hang with me that day" would help.

Seriously, you didn't leave him high and dry because the plan was he'd be grocery shopping anyways. If you had bailed on the seminar by saying you had to go grocery shopping for/with fiance for his orals, there's a good chance you'd be taken less seriously as an academic by your adviser.

Yeah, it'd probably have been better for you to be explicit: "I have a seminar, but can run out early to buy snacks." But it's an understandable miscommunication, especially if you didn't want to burden him. And one that in no way impacted the snacks arriving, he was going to the store too. He just didn't have you around when he wanted.

Ideally he wakes up and acknowledges this isn't the worst thing ever. He was understandably tired and stressed, but he can see how the miscommunication happened.

If you hadn't said that this was literally the worst thing you'd ever done, I'd suspect that it was the straw that broke the camel's back. So you'd routinely done worse before, but he can't tolerate it anymore. The fact that this is the worst makes me suspicious, especially if this is how he always reacts.

Part of being a good partner is not catastrophizing every miscommunication. My husband and I recently had something similar happen. We were preparing for a move and he was worried about X, on top of preparing for a job change during a stressful time of year at work. I had a few ideas how to handle X and brought them up in a vague way figuring we'd address the issue when it came up. He was very upset, he felt brushed off. When he brought up how he felt, he didn't say he didn't know if he could get over it. And he accepted my apology without hesitation.

And we never say we don't know if we'll get over a something. In fact, I've specifically said "I'm upset and need some time to cool off, but I love you."

* You're thoughtful OP. In addition to making the offer, you managed the situation so he didn't serve cold coffee. It's something that frequently goes unnoticed, and I wonder if you're doing more than either of you are cognizant of.
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:51 PM on January 11 [15 favorites]


If this man can't even go to the grocery store by himself without moral support, how the heck does he dress himself, breathe or defend his thesis without his mummy girlfriend there to do it all for him? I get that he's stressed and if this was a one off, you, not him, you, could get past him making this drama about your screw up of not holding his hand at the grocery store. But it seems like he does this all the time ' on a smaller scale' (there is a smaller pettier scale than berating your girlfriend for non accompaniment to a store, really?).

He needs to learn to manage his emotions about life and not use you as a convenient punching bag when he can't. And you need to stop wearing his lack of life skills and ability to deal with. It's his problem, not yours. I'd be interested to see if he throws his little toddler tantrums at his advisers too, when it all gets a bit much. Something tells me it's reserved solely for you, because he knows you'll blame yourself.

And if you think I'm being too hard on him, consider that this is how he treats you.
posted by Jubey at 9:52 PM on January 11 [14 favorites]


I have a sulker for a partner too. I tie myself in knots, like you are doing to try to end the sulk, and sometimes I make one or two efforts at ameliorating the sulk. Like you have with the flowers and the apologies. So, you've made your efforts to end the sulk, so let phunniemee's advice sink in.

Let the next few days be about taking care of yourself. If he brings it up again, watch for signs that he's had a real think about the two-person scenario, not just his own frustration and a piling on of guilt and anger on you about a fairly silly arrangement with the groceries. For your own part, drop the self pity of how much you did wrong here, and put it in its place. It's a tough week, the ball was bound to be dropped during some element of its play, and fortunately it was over a grocery store trip for which you were not a crucial dimension, nor was it a crucial dimension of his ability to cope with his exam. Maybe some element of it is an issue about whether he feels sufficiently 'held' during this week by you, and you could discuss that in a few days. The flair up on this issue and his sulk now, show that something deeper has happened. Take some time for reflection.
posted by honey-barbara at 9:54 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Let me take a guess. Are you a time-space optimist? Do you change plans on a whim? Do you leave things to the last minute and trust that they will turn out fine - sloppy maybe, but mostly ok? When things go off rail, do you respond with a smile and a shrug and a "c'est la vie"?

Is your partner a precision planner? Does he show up to appointments like the Germans - at least 5 minutes early (because on-time is late)? Does he live by the motto of "plan the work and work the plan"? Every time something goes wrong, does he analyze it and put provisions in place so it won't happen again?

If so, this is planning style mismatch that erupted under stress. It's a Tigger vs Rabbit scenario.

I am a precision planner type, but I work with a time-space optimist. In a work setting, it is mildly aggravating, and I have to explicitly plan around it. "Oh sure I'll help you with that" can just as likely turn into "Oops, I got side-tracked". "Let's talk about trying this" often turns into "We're all committed to it now!" I have to take everything they say and do, and dial it back a few clicks. I imagine it's more of a challenge in an intimate partner setting.

You gave an RSVP and pulled a no-show. You offered to help, but just plain forgot to tell him your other commitments. Then you switched the plans rather quickly, and ended up not meeting him as planned. It's not clear if he was waiting for you, without knowing you weren't coming. If so, then that's an added layer of stress for him to have to wonder where you were, if you were OK, and how long he should wait for you. If you hadn't offered at all, he would have been just fine.

If any of this fits, then the next step is to recognize these tendencies in each other and work out better communication about your planning styles. If none of it fits, please feel free to disregard and maybe someone will find it useful.

(I am not a dude, and I don't find his annoyance over the top.)
posted by metaseeker at 10:00 PM on January 11 [31 favorites]


Maybe you failed to mention the 9:30 seminar because you didn't want to "get in trouble with him"/have him talk you out of it?

Which would make sense given that he seems to think that you should be prioritizing emotionally supporting him over your career (what are you going to tell your advisor - sorry, I can't attend the seminar, my boyfriend won't let me?).

I think perhaps you both know what is going on here - he would like you to prioritize his career over yours and you won't but you don't want to say that because OMGZ a woman with a career!!!!! (aka you selfish person).

Just use this moment to think very hard about what you really want in the long term here.
posted by heyjude at 10:19 PM on January 11 [14 favorites]


This sounds like emotional abuse to me. I've been in relationships in the past where I am often made to feel like I'm a bad person and doing something wrong, thereby making me feel like I need to prove to them that I am not. Their side of the conversation always seems to make logical sense, but it's always rooted in manipulation. I suggest you take a step back and look at the relationship with a broad scope. You shouldn't be made to feel like you're not good enough.
posted by masters2010 at 10:21 PM on January 11 [11 favorites]


(Also - serious sleep deprivation can make people act very irrationally. I imagine more so in this situation. He will probably be less reactive after he gets some sleep (maybe in a couple of days, if he's been on just a few hours of sleep most nights this week).)

As for the larger pattern - maybe there's a bit of a mismatch also in expectations about giving, interdependence, and need for self-containment. If you're used to doing your own thing, and not expecting others to cater to you, and he actually puts himself out for others and tries to anticipate their needs, a conversation about those differences (when everyone's rested, after this) should probably happen. He could probably do with better asserting boundaries and articulating his needs, and as bleep said, for you, mindfulness (maybe even writing down the things he says matters, if you're sometimes a bit absent-minded) might go a long way. (Look into "love languages" and "attachment styles" if you haven't, maybe those would be relevant.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:26 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


You obviously are very aware of his schedule, why is he not aware of yours? In the weeks preceding his defence did he never ask what your plans were on that day? Has he been asking what your advisor has wanted from you and just forgot you had a major commitment? Or are you expected to know both your schedules and arrange logistics so they least impact him? I hope this is all due to his stress and tomorrow he apologises for being an ass and makes it up to you in some major way and puts real, concrete effort into his communication and relationship skills.
posted by saucysault at 10:28 PM on January 11 [19 favorites]


I haven't actually been on the other end of this kind of situation yet, but I have full confidence that he will be extremely supportive when I'm preparing for my thesis proposal defense later this year

Oh, no. You will be back on here at that time posting about how you are a terrible girlfriend for either (a) not fully appreciating the "wonderful" things he's been doing for you at the time, like taking out the garbage when it's his turn or (b) not being properly understanding when he blows off your defense for something extremely important to him, like his weekly game night with the boys.

This is predictable. Like, mathematically predictable.

Sorry, like an infinitude of women before you, you thought you were dating a man, but in fact you're dating a leech. He won't change, at least not on the timetable you need him to, and in the meantime he will simply drag you down. Get yourself a boyfriend who doesn't think of you as staff. They're not as easy to find as the proliferation of losers who will always be happy to swarm over a woman with low self-esteem and self-respect, but they do exist.
posted by praemunire at 10:45 PM on January 11 [30 favorites]


(I should say, orals/generals are extraordinarily high-stress, so if this were a single incident, I'd be inclined to dismiss it. But you've made it very clear that there's a pattern, where he's a saint and you're never good enough no matter what you do. How very very convenient for him that is.)
posted by praemunire at 10:46 PM on January 11 [12 favorites]


He also doesn't think there's anything I can do to make it up to him.

i saw this line and had to go back and very carefully reread your question three times to make sure i hadn't missed some vital piece of information in which you caused the death of his beloved pet or fucked his brother or punched out his grandmother or screamed a racial slur at the dinner table with his entire family present. i don't see any unforgivable behavior anywhere in your question. he is overreacting to an extent that makes me pretty fucking uncomfortable especially when coupled with how badly you're talking about yourself, like you're a huge godawful failure.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:31 PM on January 11 [87 favorites]


Is this Prince Harry of the UK we're talking about?

I'm a man but, quite frankly, you seem to be buying into every single stereotype that says the woman must bend backwards to please her man.

He'll get over the fact that he had to go to the grocery store by himself. And if he doesn't... well...
posted by Kwadeng at 11:48 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


If this was just about the snacks/coffee shopping, then I would maybe suggest that he lost perspective due to how overwhelmed he was with the strsss of the presentation. It's still not okay, and you would want to take a good long look at what it means for your future that this is how he handles stress, but it doesn't mean the relationship is doomed.

But: he passed. He passed! He should be overjoyed. Even if the stress of this thing was enough to make him lose all perspective, learning he passed should immediately take that away.

And yet: he is still sulking at you.

Think about that for a minute. Think about what his behaviour is saying. It is more important to him to indulge his feelings of being wronged than it is to celebrate. He is getting something out of making you feel perpetual guilt and obligation, and nothing you do will make that better.

I haven't actually been on the other end of this kind of situation yet, but I have full confidence that he will be extremely supportive when I'm preparing for my thesis proposal defense later this year.

YMMV (and I hope so!), but when a friend of mine was in a relationship like this during our PhDs, her boyfriend dumped her two days before her viva (final thesis defence) because she wasn't spending enough time with him.
posted by Catseye at 12:19 AM on January 12 [59 favorites]


You haven't failed him. You clearly love him and he went into his defence knowing that (or bloody well should have known that). There are things we do alone. It doesn't mean we don't have moral support. He's lucky to have someone who loves him so much. But it's a fact of life that you can't have your hand held in every stressful moment.

As an example, I've gone to the hospital twice for surgery. I'm single, it wasn't convenient to drag a friend or family member out of work to go with me. But I still knew I had their support. Hell, I would've had the support of anyone I mentioned it to, as I'm sure he did too. But even had I had my entire family present, I still would've been wheeled into surgery alone. You couldn't do this for him.

Please stop beating yourself up. Seriously, I thought you'd left his kid in the shopping centre or drowned his dog or something dire. Sheesh, your beloved partner should be able to forgive you even accidently burning the house down with his thesis in it. You didn't accompany him to buy snacks!!! If this is a relationship game changer, you need to not be in this relationship.
posted by kitten magic at 12:43 AM on January 12 [9 favorites]


Hey! Others have covered the advice bit, so I'm just gonna yell at you a little, if that's ok?

YOUR WORK IS AS IMPORTANT AS HIS. YOUR FUTURE IS AS BRIGHT AS HIS. YOUR TIME IS AS VALUABLE AS HIS.

I think women don't get that screamed at them enough.

Something else jumped out at me-- "when I ask him if he thinks we can work through this". Why are you asking that? Seriously: it's worth thinking about what kind of assurance you need, how invested you are in this relationship, whether you see him being the ultimate decider and decision-maker, and whether you might have some deep-down knowledge in your belly you aren't listening to right now. My sense is that when a relationship is really committed, robust and thriving, that question is not on the table.

And if the nuclear "can we work through this?" (even that's a different question than "do you think we can work through this") question is on the table, it's about like-- CHEATING or ADDICTION and not snacks. Let me just tell you from very personal experience that if one or both of you continue to be academics, this is the LEAST stress you will have to negotiate so keep your eyes open. Good luck with your career, amiga. You are obviously a very smart and giving person so I hope you are treating yourself like the gift you are!
posted by athirstforsalt at 1:14 AM on January 12 [32 favorites]


Sorry but lol whut? A proposal defense is not that stressful. And I've never ever heard of the defending student having to bring snacks and coffee for the committee, that is some dubious BS right there. N'thing that you are being ridiculously hard on yourself and your partner should chill out.
posted by spitbull at 1:18 AM on January 12


I missed "proposal", sorry. Stressful but not as possibly crazy-making.

He also said he'd go with me to the grocery store, even though my original intent in making the offer was to save him time in the morning.

In my head this didn't make a big difference because he was going to lose the same amount of time at the grocery store with or without my company,

This is sticking out for me, sorry to seize on it if it's not representative - is it that for you (if it were you), the best thing a partner could do would be to save you time so you could be free to collect yourself, focus your thoughts (while for him, obviously in hindsight, the best thing would have been company and that practical support)? If so, this speaks to different core comforts and sensitivities... you're each expecting the other to do the opposite of what feels natural. Your best thing - having space - is pinging a scheme of neglect, for him, and his best thing (doing thoughtful things etc) are a surprise that confronts you with needs you're not prepared to reciprocate, or even value? (If so, again, attachment stuff might help.)

Or, is it that it didn't occur to you that your presence is important and even could make a real impact on his wellbeing, if he's taken the role of expressing things and defining the emotional space? You do seem to be uncomfortable with taking a step, or making a misstep... do you feel he has control over the general dynamic, on a gut level?

The other thing is that you've only lived together for a few weeks, a year after meeting, with an LTR in between, and now you're engaged... maybe there is the thing of idealization confronting unexpected reality (at a stressful time)? Could that be part of why his feelings are so huge, and you feel so anxious?

If you don't know, talking more is the only way to find out. (After everyone calms down.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:04 AM on January 12 [10 favorites]


I think you were afraid to tell him about your morning seminar. Afraid because you thought it would complicate a stressful morning, afraid because you worried it would mean you couldn't support him as you envisioned or afraid because you thought he'd be annoyed. I think if you use those words, "I was afraid to say it," it may help you understand the situation more.
I also think part of his stress was that men do not typically bring coffee and snacks. You thought this was not a very big deal and you knew how to handle it logistically (get the snacks and coffee at same place/ get it right before so cofffee stays hot). He wanted you with him because he didn't know what he was doing. I'm not saying he should be angry the snack thing didn't happen as planned, but I think that's why a small thing became stressful to him. I think the "snacks" is a gendered task and you both could try to look at it that way.

ETA: I say this as a SAHM who knows gendered tasks. I found the above comment about the "creepy" coworker bringing cookies insulting. Maybe she was being nice and she likes to bake?
posted by areaperson at 2:29 AM on January 12 [11 favorites]


So, let's see if I'm getting this straight. Your fiance has a stressful academic event, which has been scheduled for some time. He knew he was going to provide snacks and coffee. (This makes sense to me, this was the culture at my school as well.) He waits until just before the actual event to make the arrangements. You offer to take over an item on his to-do list on the morning of, which was very generous of you and involved some sacrifice of your own limited time. He decides instead that he'd rather go with you--which kind of obviates the intent of your gesture, but you roll with it. He's allowed to prioritize what he wants here, and it sounds like (possibly without actually discussing it with you) he decided what he wanted was your company and reassurance, not the timesaving. Then, because you've been keeping mental track of his chores and the logistics, you ask, but what about the coffee? Wouldn't it save you time and keep the coffee from going cold if you go later and combine the coffee run and the grocery run into one trip? He agrees. The tradeoff here was that after the timing change, you wouldn't be able to go with him anymore, because you have your own completely reasonable things to do and your own academic career to manage. You didn't make this tradeoff clear to him at the time (maybe think some about why that is--did it just slip your mind, maybe because you were so occupied with keeping track of all his logistics in addition to yours? were you afraid of disappointing him, so you waited until you couldn't anymore?), so he's disappointed and you apologize. You recognize his disappointment and try to give him a meaningful gift (so thoughtful of you) to help cheer him up / celebrate the successful completion of this milestone. He isn't very appreciative, sulks, and acts "distant and cold."

It sounds like what you were trying to do was to save your fiance time, by taking over one of the items on his to-do list, so he could be better prepared. It sounds like what he wanted was your company and moral support right before a stressful event, more than the time he would have saved. Neither of you really communicated your underlying values to each other.

I'm like you--I would have appreciated the extra time so that I could mentally prepare, on my own, for my exam. If someone offered to do something off of my list so that I could have more time to think, that would have been priceless. It sounds like your fiance wanted your time, regardless of the to-do list, so that he could feel emotionally reassured before his exam. People can reasonably prioritize different things for themselves, but it doesn't mean they're all equally reasonable to ask of others. You tried to give him the gift of some of your time (go shopping for him at this specific time that worked with your schedule) and mental energy (planning out the coffee detail) so that he could have his own time back. He wanted you to give even more of your time (did he suggest that you skip your seminar, or was that all you?) and your emotional energy, beyond what you were able to provide. It's understandable that he would want your company, but you have your own constraints. I wouldn't even say that you misled him in any way. Once you pointed out to him that he was either going to make two separate trips or serve his committee cold coffee and maybe he didn't want to do that, you weren't changing the plan underneath him to suit your selfish whims. You were helping him out by pointing out that his plan wasn't a good one and it was necessary for it to change. Unfortunately, that change also meant that you couldn't give him what you had intended. If he had thought about that detail beforehand, maybe it could have been planned out differently, but, you know, things happen. (At most, you could have been clearer about what the tradeoff meant, and he could have decided, no, I'd rather have cold coffee or make another trip on my own if it means I get your company on this one.) But he shouldn't have taken it out on you. He shouldn't have encouraged you to take it out on yourself.

In terms of what you asked for, strategies for working past this: if what I said rang true, maybe helping explain your intentions to each other and hearing each other's intentions (and trusting the other person to HAVE good intentions) explicitly will help. It sounds like you've given him a lot of slack and he's given you none at all. That's not generous behavior in a partnership, to assume the worst of your partner. You're not giving yourself any slack, either. Nothing in what you've said you did sounds horribly self-centered to me. You may have assumed your partner valued the same things (time, etc.) than you did, but that's something to communicate further about and not the same as disregarding your partner.


And he is an amazingly thoughtful partner -- I can guarantee with 100% certainty that this situation would never have happened in reverse. ... Historically, he's done more [unexpectedly] thoughtful things for me than I have for him.
OK, but it doesn't sound like you would have wanted the same things he did, anyway, in his situation. Does he recognize that? Or does he just do (unexpected) things that go with what he thinks of as thoughtful, helpful things and not what you would actually like help with? You may be in the same boat, you're just more self-aware about it. This is a communication issue, and to some degree a recognizing-that-the-other-person's-desires-are-just-as-valid issue. It sounds like you're bending over backwards to understand his viewpoint and accomodate his feelings, and he's just not doing the same for you.

However, we do have a history where I sometimes do something that inadvertently upsets or disappoints him. In retrospect I always understand his perspective and feel quite obtuse for having been self-centered and not realizing ahead of time how my actions would come across
You inadvertently upset him, with a misunderstanding. He intentionally upset you. To punish you. Do you see the difference?

It doesn't help that I'm generally an anxious person to begin with.
This is something to work on, on your own, and to some degree in your relationship. It's good that you're recognizing this. It sounds like he has some anxieties, too, and it would be good if you both recognized that and he worked on it as well.
posted by spelunkingplato at 2:34 AM on January 12 [35 favorites]


Also, I think you at risk of losing a lot of perspective over this yourself, particularly about what is and isn't reasonable for you to do. To take just one point:

I really should have skipped the seminar in favor of keeping my promise to my fiance and supporting him right up until the presentation

If you had been one of my students, and told me that the reason you hadn't attended that seminar was because you needed to accompany your fiance to buy snacks and coffee before his presentation, I would be pretty unimpressed and/or quite worried about you. I would assume that either you weren't taking your studies seriously and were looking for excuses to duck out, or that you were in a relationship that was not being good to you, professionally or personally. I would certainly not say "but of course you should go with him, how selfish to do otherwise!"

It is worth taking a step back and really looking at the situation you're in from a calm, considering place. It's hard to do that when you're constantly anxious that your relationship is on the rocks, I know, but... that's why it's extra-important to do it when you're in a relationship where that kind of anxiety is business as usual.
posted by Catseye at 2:42 AM on January 12 [33 favorites]


Since this seems to be a feature of your relationship and not a bug, it would help inform responses if we knew why you didn't give him more notice you'd be unable to help him as promised.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:46 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Sounds like a combo of things
1. theres stressy stuff going on, on top of which you are adjusting to living together, which *is* messy and ridiculous at times
2. (or three.) he sounds spoiled nd should cut you some slack. dude. of course youre gonna make mistakes and bum each other out. but its also totally doble to say "hun, you dropped the ball, but i know it wasnt your intention!" its a good thing you guys communicate that to each other - but that should be it. fuck stonewalling. its so hurtful. tell him to man up. the whole deal is to support and be there for each other, not keep some mental list of all the times you fucked up.
3. force yourself to prioritize your stuff too. you sound like you really are doing your best
4. yeah, he might surprise you with thoughtful things etc., but there are many ways to show you love. and again, keeping score doesnt necessarily show the true status quo of the relationship.
5. maybe you didnt tell him about your seminar bc he was being cranky and you were too. that you can tell him. youre both human.
posted by speakeasy at 3:18 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I found the above comment about the "creepy" coworker bringing cookies insulting. Maybe she was being nice and she likes to bake?

She was, I am sure, but it was him being creepy, I should have been clearer. The thing was that he was using her labor and presumed personality to make himself liked, and also bragging about how great it was to have a wife who did this stuff for him, around and directly to a bunch of women who were his professional peers and neither had nor were such wives, even if they were also married, and could not be, for the same reason he was not such a wife. He was a gender traditionalist and happy to make it known. None of us were somehow above baking something nice for our fellow students to be nice and make them like us more, but nobody else would have had it done for us.

The tenuous connection to the question, and the thing about bringing coffee and food for your committee is, nobody who is a professor overseeing a Ph.D. student actually needs anybody to buy them coffee or feed them. they all have plenty of money and know where the Starbucks is. It's not about sustenance, it's about ritual consideration and deference: if it was just a matter of making sure the committee was caffeinated so they didn't fall asleep in the middle of the proposal, they could have the department secretary order a catered breakfast. the point of it is the student is the one who does it, so having a girlfriend do it for him, while nice of her, undoes the point of the petty little ritual. if you outsource it to the wife or wife-equivalent, it's not a symbolic courtesy anymore. at least, not your own.

anyhow I'm not saying any of this was in his mind, none of this makes it bad that he wanted company to calm his nerves. The reason it came to my mind was her notion that this was something she thought she should have done for him, like it was her job to share or take over that labor. but the only point of having a weird little tradition like that is that he's the one performing the courtesy.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:25 AM on January 12 [29 favorites]


I was a PhD student and for thesis committee meetings, defense etc we were expected to provide snacks and coffee for our committee. I remember asking for help from the person I was dating at the time with snack-related errands. I also helped with snack- errands for at least one boyfriend and lab mates as well. It is definitely the kind of thing that you want to delegate when you are doing thesis-related stuff. The day of there are so many things you're taking care of - stuff that can pop up suddenly that require you to spend three hours redoing graphs and then updating five figures in your talk.

I can imagine being royally pissed off if my fiancé didn't bother to tell me that s/he was going to just totally flake on me - even if I said I would walk with them to the store to get the provisions and even if there were pretty good reasons for the flaking. Mainly because if things went pearshaped in the morning I'd be hoping that my fiancé could handle the trip solo.

That said, I think that your fiancé should get over his bad self and realize that nothing bad happened and everything turned out okay.

I think that people reading this question might answer differently if the context was a wedding and the person flaking was the maid of honor and the bride ended up having to go alone to pick up the flowers. Perhaps this isn't quite that level of importance but I do remember being more stressed out about thesis-related stuff than when I got married.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:55 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


My heart hurts because not only do I think this isn't a grievous mistake, but from how detailed and thoughtful you seem in this post, I think you did mention it to him and he forgot/wasn't listening and told you you didn't mention it and now you believe you didn't mention it. Because in some relationships, it's easier to believe you didn't mention it than to defend yourself. I may be wrong and I hope I am.

The academic world is foreign to me, so I'm going to assume that snacks were necessary and this oral defense is a life-or-death situation. So I'll help with this...

Second, are there any concrete strategies I can use to change my default, self-centered approach in these kinds of situations, where I end up acting in my own best interests even though the more appropriate choice would be put my partner first?

A giant wall calendar in your kitchen with all of your stuff written on it in bright blue. Put it where he can't miss it. Update it every day with your information, so he can't accuse you of flaking on his things because you have something else to do. Make him add his own stuff. (Don't do it for him.) There you go.
posted by kimberussell at 4:14 AM on January 12 [7 favorites]


Still agog over the articulation of time-space optimist vs. precision planner modes of thought. Thank you metaseeker.

That's such a great way to capture an essential (and IMO very revealing) personality difference. Seeing things through that lens is kinda slowly changing my life, and making me flash back and re-evaluate a whole bunch of past conflict situations.

Perhaps that's a personal (and therefore off-topic?) observation, but those types of references can go a long way toward maintaining perspective for people like the OP (and myself) who get lost in the maelstrom of feels that interpersonal relationships can so often put in motion.

I look for these kinds of anchors to remind me that there is nothing new under the sun, and things that seem like they are going to overwhelm and crush me are only that powerful if I allow them to be. And that when it comes to people, nothing- NOTHING - is as important as communication and honesty.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:19 AM on January 12 [8 favorites]


When he's upset after these incidents, he'll say things like "I don't know" when I ask if he thinks we'll be able to work through it.

It would never even occur to me to ask whether we'd be okay after incidents like this, because my husband and I are aware that we are different people with different perspectives and things like this will happen. He's sulking and it's stoking your anxiety and insecurity to the point that you are losing perspective and beating yourself up over a miscommunication. Not even a mistake. Miscommunication. This can't be good for your self-esteem or mental health, and I'd wager that is exactly his intent.

Please ask yourself if you feel feel emotionally safe and secure with this man. Because you deserve that in your most intimate relationship, so very much.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:31 AM on January 12 [8 favorites]


I think everybody who thinks this is a gender issue is right, but I know I always want to take the woman's side in a heterosexual dispute so in fairness I want to imagine how I'd look at it if the genders were reversed:

imaginary female friend: my boyfriend is such a prick, he promised to help me buy food for my committee and then he flaked at the last minute to go to a seminar I didn't even know he had.

me: WHAT A BASTARD, was he trying to sabotage your career, did he even APOLOGIZE? does he not even CARE ABOUT YOUR WORK? [expecting the answer: no, for he is a tool]

IFF: oh yeah, he said he was so so sorry and acted like I might break up with him over it and if I did it would be no more than he deserved, and he brought me an orchid. cause orchids are my favorite flower, see.

me: .......oh.

IFF: every time we have an argument he not only gives in but says he understands my perspective and I was right all along and he wants to fix himself so he can stop being wrong and bad by not thinking just like me

me: ...

IFF: but the orchid was the WRONG GENUS

me: let's kill him then
---

tl;dr: even without the gender issues you're still not wrong
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:32 AM on January 12 [55 favorites]


I think there's a few different things going on here. One is whether you were actually wrong - mistaken or neglectful - in not telling him about the seminar until the actual day of the defense. (I really find it hard to see how you could have been wrong in going to the seminar at all, given that it is a professional commitment and your job is as important as his.) I guess people might disagree about whether it was careless not to warn him, depending on their own experience and expectations. But you also say 1) that this is evidence that you are self-centred and selfish and that there is something about you that you urgently need to fix and 2) that he says he doesn't know if you can get past this, hasn't accepted your genuine apology, and doesn't know what you can do to make it up to him.

The last two things are crazy, regardless of whether what you did was right or wrong. Even if you were wrong, it was the kind of mistake that wasn't intentional, that you already feel sincerely sorry for, and that had no serious consequences of any kind. And it happened in the context of weeks of carefully him-focused behaviour, with you picking up the slack around the house and managing his stress. It's just bizarre to have this kind of serious discussion about your moral character because of a slip like this. It makes it sound like both of you believe that Being A Good Person (Or Girlfriend) is a completely binary state. Either you do everything perfectly - no forgetfulness or anxiety or even (heaven forbid) accidental and occasional selfishness - or you are completely terrible and selfish and perhaps the relationship itself is at stake.

This is a really weird and unhealthy mindset. Most people are actually a bit forgetful, or over-anxious, or selfish, or lazy, or annoying, or perfectionistic, at least some of the time. When we catch ourselves behaving in these ways to the people who love us, it's nice to apologise and to keep an eye on the problem behaviour. The people who love us will normally accept our apologies, and move on. Of course for truly damaging or persistently annoying misbehaviour - say if you had stolen something from him, or cheated, or constantly used belittling language, or burned his thesis, or kept him waiting for half an hour every time you agreed to meet - the question whether the relationship could be sustained might arise in his mind. But this confusion on the day of his defense is the kind of thing that just happens in relationships between well-meaning and imperfect people. Part of what it means to love someone is to roll with their imperfections a little bit, give them credit for their good intentions, and cut them some slack - and be aware of when they are doing the same for you. Neither of you seem to be cutting you any slack at all, here, and that is troubling, particularly since you seem to be going out of your way to excuse and justify his behaviour.

Hopefully this unbalanced response is because he is too stressed and sleep-deprived to think clearly and tomorrow he will apologise for overreacting, tell you to let it go and thank you for the flowers and ask about your day. If not, that is quite a worrying sign. This level of anger and resentment about an unintentional mistake is much more damaging thing than a little forgetfulness or disorganisation, even on an important day. You are engaged to be married; there will be many many stressful and important events in your future lives together if you do marry. Living with a partner who is totally intolerant of unintentional mistakes, and all the egg-shell-walking that results from it, is no fun at all over a lifetime together.
posted by Aravis76 at 4:32 AM on January 12 [11 favorites]


This week I had to go pick up our car at the shop. I didn't know where the shop was so my husband gave me directions. He gave me incomplete and bad directions which literally resulted in me walking through knee-deep unplowed snow while it was below zero in the wrong direction for twenty minutes. And twenty minutes back.

Here was my response to him: Honey, that sucked! Next time can you please be sure you give me better directions?! Go make me some hot chocolate!

And that's the end of it; we'll never speak of it again. Because I trust that his bad directions were not an act of aggression on his part, but a simple mistake. Because I believe that he loves and trusts me, and he's made these kinds of mistakes before, but so have I. We are on the same team in life so we forgive and move on.

Your fiance is not treating you like a teammate. He's acting like you are an employee or a child who needs correcting and punishment in order to behave better. I read into your struggle with updating him on your morning plans that you were afraid to tell him what was going on because you were afraid
of his reaction. This is not a reasonable position for a successful marriage.

Nthing this: YOUR WORK IS AS IMPORTANT AS HIS. YOUR FUTURE IS AS BRIGHT AS HIS. YOUR TIME IS AS VALUABLE AS HIS.

Both of you must recognize that your individual work is equally valid, equally important, and you're in a busy time in your lives where those interests may compete with each other in which case you both have full rights to put your own work first.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:43 AM on January 12 [27 favorites]


This bit jumped out at me -

However, we do have a history where I sometimes do something that inadvertently upsets or disappoints him. In retrospect I always understand his perspective and feel quite obtuse for having been self-centered and not realizing ahead of time how my actions would come across, but this kind of thing seems to keep happening.

....In all honesty, I suspect that the reason why "this kind of thing seems to keep happening" is because the underlying reason for WHY you do things that "inadvertently upset or disappoint him" is because he is being EXTREMELY over-sensitive about peculiar things, and I also suspect that the reason that you "understand his perspective in retrospect" is only after he wears you down through being a spoiled brat over it for days and says and, and the only reason you "feel quite obtuse for being self-centered" and "[don't] realize how my actions would come across" is because you are expecting him to be a grownup instead of an overgrown toddler.

It sounds to me like he is an overgrown toddler who's never learned how to put on his big-boy pants and deal with things, and instead has perfected the art of the tantrum.

I swear this question is relevant - how close is he to his mother? This is setting off all KINDS of flashbacks for me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:44 AM on January 12 [17 favorites]


This is what I get from your post and update:

- I too was truly surprised that *this* merited your and your partner's reactions

- trying to think about your partner's reaction, I can actually understand getting sore about it. For me it wouldn't be about having to go shopping alone (not a big deal), but about the (petite) emotional rollercoaster of just having more things to think about and feel when I'm already overloaded: oh, we'll go to the grocery together; okay we'll go later; this is now figuring in my planning and maybe I have some nice thoughts and feelings about my partner supporting me and wanting to spend some time with me; wait now last minute she's saying "oh never mind I knew I couldn't go with you but am only telling you now"; I now go to my orals in a worse mood than I would have otherwise

- he might have been in a state of high stress to begin with; maybe you really do have a history of flakiness; you two got engaged very recently, which is also a very emotional thing, so maybe he's just been in a heightened/sensitive emotional state for a while now anyway

- however, given all that, this really is kind of nuts and doesn't speak very well of your bf. For one thing, this is more a communication issue than anything: you two should have had an interaction that went something like

A: So we'll head out to the store at 8:30?
B: Sure. / Oh wait, I'm really sorry, I can't - I have that seminar.

(If this specific interaction did take place and you said "Sure, let's meet at [impossible time]" then that's a different, and slightly stranger, story.)

If this kind of mishap happens a lot, maybe you both need to build a habit of recapping plans and not letting them stay vague until the last moment, when it turns out you have different understandings of the situation.

Your behavior seems more like flakiness than self-centeredness to me (I strongly think they are not the same thing). It sounds like he too was being flaky and stuck in his own head, expecting you to be around at whatever time he decided to go, without making sure that time worked for you.


I think there are some long-term lessons to take from this incident:

- take practical measures to overcome any natural tendency to flakiness (which is a normal human trait - not a great one, but there are far worse in the scheme of things and if this feels like such a huge deal to you, then it sounds like you have a relatively mild level of unreliability). Such practical measures can have to do with improving communication and increasing tolerance for humans being human

- your bf is terrible at dealing with stress and possibly with tiny disappointments

- you are more than normally self-effacing, which is an important thing to know about yourself. I think it would be worth working on getting a better-calibrated sense of what does and doesn't fall into a normal range of human failings and human reactions. This is not the kind of thing that should even come close to meriting a "do you think we can work through this?"

- it's possible that your self-effacing reactions feed into your bf's emotional issues. It would have been completely normal for you to have said "I'm really sorry I fucked up in forgetting to tell you the night before. I truly am. But I'm going to assume your sulking at me is due to out-of-the-ordinary levels of stress, because this feels really out of proportion."

- this is how your bf deals with negative feelings. Maybe it's a sign of immaturity or of controlling tendencies or worse things to come. Maybe it's just his big human failing, and one that he needs to be aware of and work on. You have to figure out if this is something you want to put up with for the rest of your life, and what your limits are here.

- it's possible you two are, in the long-term, incompatible in some way. It wouldn't necessarily mean that either of you is a bad person or insufficiently loving or in the wrong at all; it might just mean that you're not a good enough fit to be happy together in the long term. Getting engaged is really exciting and romantic. But it seems like it's also an important time to really start evaluating your relationship seriously and getting to the point where both of you are on the same page and have a similar understanding of yourselves, or your relationship, and of how you want it to look in inevitable times of stress, conflict, and disappointment. Because everybody is going to disappoint from time to time.

- once more, because this is important: you need a very strong sense of what falls into normal ranges of behavior, and of the range of behavior you, personally, can feel good with.
posted by trig at 5:05 AM on January 12 [5 favorites]


However, we do have a history where I sometimes do something that inadvertently upsets or disappoints him.

Uh, so you have a history of being a human being in a relationship? It sounds like the standard that you are trying to live up to here is that you never ever disappoint him or upset him, and that's completely unrealistic. I disappoint and upset my husband frequently. He disappoints and upsets me frequently. Because we are two human being who have our own problems and preoccupations and responsibilities that we are trying to juggle. (And I'm an academic, too, so, yeah.)

When he's upset after these incidents, he'll say things like "I don't know" when I ask if he thinks we'll be able to work through it.

That's not cool. Every time you (in his opinion) goof up, the relationship is hanging in the balance? That's an incredibly stressful position for him to put you in. The way this works in a normal, healthy relationship is that he accepts your apology, tells you it's okay, and if he's still a little sore about it, he recognizes that he's just having an emotional reaction and needs to cool off, and works through that on his own.

In any relationship, there are inevitably lot of a bumps and misunderstandings and disappointments, and also some major disasters. I urge you to think long and hard about whether you want to yoke yourself to a partner who can't seem to handle these upsets in a mature way that accepts and strengthens, rather than threatens and undermines, you and your relationship.
posted by BrashTech at 5:40 AM on January 12 [10 favorites]


He is using your anxiety against you. That is manipulative, gaslighting stuff. Holding out on relationship status over a misunderstanding about an errand is super manipulative. Agreeing with you that it's your fault is gaslighting.

And consider that a person who truly loves you and wants you to be the best happiest version of you, would do the opposite: that person would recognize your anxiety and seek to calm and reassure you. How would that feel? I hope you find out, some day.
posted by Dashy at 6:03 AM on January 12 [21 favorites]


This sounds like a communication problem. Communication with yourself about your own needs, and with your partner about them.

Getting deep into a self-blame spiral is not going to identify the problem or solve it, so stop. I know it will be hard to do that, if my own experience is similar to yours, but it is really, really not productive. I promise. It gets in the way of a better world.

Here's a thing I do, that I secretly and sometimes not-so-secretly believe is rooted in selfishness: I double-book, and make promises I can't keep. Sometimes I don't realize I've done it, other times as I'm saying "yes" I have a part of me that is saying, "uh, self, you don't have time to do that" or there's a nagging feeling that there is some reason why I can't commit but I can't put my finger on it. Often the reason I should have said no is because I have a previous commitment to my partner. Could also be work that gets the short end, too. Either way, this results in a fuck-up, and with me working longer hours, or being unnecessarily stressed, or me worrying that my partner will miffed at the minor but typical concession he will have to make (he never is, but he's a fucking saint. love you babe!) Because it turns out I "forgot" the other commitment, or it appears that I didn't think of how important it was, I feel selfish. But it isn't.

But it feels like it is selfish because it is about prioritizing my need to avoid conflict by creating a different conflict that resolves against my partner. But it's not like I'm being selfish in that I only care about myself, it's an not intentional selection of my best interests over someone else's welfare. I just don't want to disappoint anyone and I am super insecure and can't deal with a lot of normal stuff. I'm working on that, but I take heart that my intentions are good.

So, I'm working on communicating things more clearly to my partner and the world. Learning to express interest in helping / attending / supporting, but saying no, or I will check with my partner. Learning to tell my partner, hey I can't do that thing you want to do, or we planned to do, or I can do it but here are the parameters with that work with my other commitments. It's about boundary setting. I've realized that I need to set boundaries even if no one is trying to push them. I need them for me, to have a full life and not constantly feel like I'm disappointing someone because of the consequences of my need to please (hilariously ironic!)

I'm sharing this in case it rings any bells for you, since you said this one example, which is minor, is part of a pattern you've observed about yourself.

(There are a lot of folk saying your partner is a man-baby and maybe he is, but maybe he's just a person trying to figure out how best to deal with things, not having the tools to do it and ending up in frustration. Only you can tell.)

No matter what his situation is, if anything I've said rings true, think about your needs and boundaries, and how maybe your tendency to quickly conclude you are selfish is actually a manifestation of an insecurity that is the actual source of the problem. Ultimately, being clear about your commitments to yourself*, to your work, to your partner and clearly communicating those commitments to yourself and your partner (and your work people, where appropriate) will enable you to be a person with integrity, which is what everyone wants for you.

*The first step is to be okay with having those commitments to yourself.
posted by girlpublisher at 6:04 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


I came in expecting to find that you had done something like

- been sexually unfaithful
- not been waiting for them after they'd had surgery under general anesthetic
- not been emotionally/practically supportive after their parent or sibling had died.

Unless your partner
a) has severe social anxiety to the point that grocery shopping alone is very difficult/anxiety provoking for them;
b) has a physical disability so that driving/cycling/walking to the store alone is very difficult for them;
c) has a physical disability so that getting stuff off the shelves and carrying it around the store alone is very difficult for them,

they are MASSIVELY over-reacting.

I am concerned that either you are being waaaaaaaaaay too hard on yourself due to Anxiety/Depression/low self esteem,

and/or that your partner is being waaaaaaaaaay too hard on you due to their own:
- stress
- Anxiety
- Depression
- or being abusive/gaslighting towards you.

Could you have communicated about your plans better earlier on? Absolutely!

But the appropriate response from your partner is something like "I'm annoyed/angry/frustrated that you didn't communicate better about your plans earlier on, next time can you give me a really clear heads up about your movements so I can plan better," followed by "I love you" *hug* move on...
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 6:11 AM on January 12 [7 favorites]


and your only problem is you assume he's always right when he's mad.

This. He's drastically overreacting, he's being pathetic and dramatic. You're fine, all you need to do is decide how much of this bullshit you feel like dealing with.
posted by French Fry at 6:21 AM on January 12 [12 favorites]


I'm so old I had to read this question 4 times and was going to give it a pass but this is nagging at me so...

Here's a rule of thumb for a relationship. Note that I am not talking about huge betrayals like infidelity or killing the family pet (deliberately. Leaving the door open accidentally does not count). If a relationship requires perfection, it's not a partnership.

What you are describing is not a partnership.

This scheduling snafu, which is just that -- a snafu -- is nothing. Do people get tired and cranky about small things sometimes? Yes. But there is nothing here to make up for or that you need to move past. A true partnership is not just about enjoying each other in the moments that we are perfectly communicating and aligned. It is about respecting and supporting each other in all the little imperfect moments that make us human...sometimes crankily, sometimes laughing together a few days later.

I advise some therapy, and slow down. This is not a marriage-ready relationship.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:23 AM on January 12 [44 favorites]


Grad school is hell. You guys should revisit this next week once things have settled a little bit.

If he hasn't apologized by then, he's an asshole.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:26 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


When he's upset after these incidents, he'll say things like "I don't know" when I ask if he thinks we'll be able to work through it.

I'm going to gently suggest that you ask yourself why you feel your relationship is so unstable that this question needs to be asked constantly. Are you asking it because you want reassurance that he still loves you? Or are you truly questioning whether you will work it out?

If you are planning to be married, you and your partner should be able to approach life with the mindset of "we ARE going to be able work through it" and not question whether the relationship will survive every little bump and stubbed toe. Believe me, even the best marriages and relationships have arguments and misunderstandings and disappointments. Save the "will we make it?" worries for the BIG issues (infidelity, abuse, etc.)

If, on the other hand, normal disappointments and misunderstandings truly DO call the whole relationship into question, then you should think about whether this is a healthy relationship or one you want to be in long-term.
posted by belladonna at 6:36 AM on January 12 [12 favorites]


However, we do have a history where I sometimes do something that inadvertently upsets or disappoints him. In retrospect I always understand his perspective and feel quite obtuse for having been self-centered and not realizing ahead of time how my actions would come across, but this kind of thing seems to keep happening. When he's upset after these incidents, he'll say things like "I don't know" when I ask if he thinks we'll be able to work through it.

This is REALLY ugly, and none of the ugliness is coming from you. He is angry when you fail to live up to impossible ideals, punishes you emotionally, and makes you live in fear that he is going to end the relationship as further punishment. This is completely abusive and unhealthy, and if he can't figure out how to cope in better ways, you need to get away from him.

I completed my PhD as a single person, and it always weirds me out when male academics (and it is ALWAYS male academics) act as if their personal stress is so big that they can't help but spread it around to their female partners. Even when those female partners are also academics, who are handling their own stress and picking up all the emotional labor for their manbaby partners at the same time.

Also, I'm going to go ahead and point out that you haven't really answered the question about whether or not he serves you with the same speed and assiduity that he expects FROM you. You said, "I'm sure he would." Are you saying that you have never had a stressful situation since you met? Or are you saying that when you have a stressful situation and he does nothing, or doesn't notice, or actively makes it worse by making it about himself, you have trained yourself to make excuses for why he's "too busy" or "too stressed" or "having a tough week because [x]". (By the way, x? There will always be an x. His advisor is out of town and not answering emails. One of his students broke the honor code. There's a problem with his funding. The parking rates are going up. He found out the conference he wants to attend is going to be overseas and he's going to have trouble paying for it. There's a hole in his shoe. There will always be a reason, especially for academics, where performing intense stress is a sport.)

It sounds like he's demanding 100% empathy from you, and offering none in return.

I have a friend who married a guy like your fiance. In the end, he left her because she was "emotionally abusive", except his definition of emotional abuse was "sometimes you disagree with me, and my mom never disagrees with my dad". Please consider whether or not you want to spend years of your life, let alone decades, miserably trying to make amends for "crimes" that are imperceptible to anyone but your partner.

Oh, and I have another friend, who is actually kind of flakey (it doesn't sound like you are, btw, but let's pretend that his nasty assessment of you is true, for a minute). She forgets about plans, she cancels plans at the last minute, she randomly turns her phone off and is unreachable for long periods of time. She is also married. But she is married to a man who loves her for who she is, and who entered into marriage with her knowing who she was, and promising not to spend decades punishing her for being herself. They can laugh about it together, because it is a quirk, not a federal offense, and he went into their partnership with his eyes open. Why is your fiance determined to "train" you out of being a fallible human being? And why are you accepting this as a reasonable position for him to take?
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:39 AM on January 12 [49 favorites]


Hi, I too am a very anxious person. When my anxiety gets the better of me, I can sometimes snap, be a flake, or think I am the Worst Person Ever. (Spoiler: I'm not, and you're not, either!)

Please consider speaking to a counselor. I'm sure there's something available through your school, and a phD program is sixteen billion kinds of anxiety-inducing. I know therapy gets trotted out a lot on Ask.me, but it gets trotted out for a reason. Your anxiety is coloring your reaction here, and making you think that you're the worst, when you're really just having a stressful period. Getting some extra tools in your kit to help you handle your reactions and your feelings can be totally helpful!

Also, I think it might be good for you to know that you are not responsible for your partner's feelings. He is allowed to react however he wants--you can't change it. Your reaction to his behavior, though, is something you are in charge of. When he's acting like you're the worst (you're still not the worst), you need to be able to realize that you don't have to take it. You can talk about it, and work together to move forward, but you both are responsible for your own feelings.

Anxiety also makes me make mountains out of molehills -- I too, would have been afraid to mention a change in the plans to my partner, for fear of having him respond negatively. (But my partner never ever has responded negatively to my basic questions ever. But the anxiety made the mere thought of no completely paralyzing!)

As for the relationship, your partner is sounding petulant here. It could be stress (I was a zombie for weeks during similarly stressful sleep-deprived moments in my grad school career), and his sulking at your present is very frustrating! You two also don't seem to be communicating all that great. Could be stress, could be a mismatch in personalities. But you won't know unless you talk to each other.

I personally would give it a weekend to let the adrenaline/sleep-deprivation/etc. resettle, but I would also consider seeing that counselor to help me work through the is it me, or is it him, or is it our poor communication issues that seem to be popping up all throughout the question and your follow-up.

Finally, because it bears repeating: YOUR WORK IS AS IMPORTANT AS HIS. YOUR FUTURE IS AS BRIGHT AS HIS. YOUR TIME IS AS VALUABLE AS HIS.

You are important, OP, and you are worth it. So be good to you. First and foremost, be kind to yourself.
posted by PearlRose at 7:11 AM on January 12 [27 favorites]


Grad school is hell. You guys should revisit this next week once things have settled a little bit.


I'm sure it is, but so is planning a wedding, buying a house, the roof springing a leak, the furnace failing, mum or dad developing Alzheimer's, being diagnosed with cancer. How someone deals with stress is a part of who they are as well and sure, if this is a one-off argument then it is. But it is also critical information for a very newly in-person, living-together relationship.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:12 AM on January 12 [34 favorites]


I can see some of my own anxiety in each of you. If you're going to get married, this is a great opening to going to couples counseling to learn the skill you need as anxious people to communicate with each other and to work through the details of life.
posted by advicepig at 7:12 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


metaseeker's explanation of planning types is spot-on.

However, I am most definitely a precision planner. I absolutely empathize with his reaction, in the moment, of only getting a 20-min warning that you weren't going after all. I hate last-minute changes, esp under stress, and I can be pissy and rude about them.

But you know what? I recognize that that is MY problem and shortcoming. I am GRATEFUL to my wife for putting up with this bad habit OF MINE. I try to apologize for overreacting in the moment.

The fact that he was annoyed about the plan change is human and understandable to me.

The fact that he is still being a pissy jerk to you and acting like this is the Worst Thing You Could Do is not.

He has at least equal blame here. If you are willing to admit that you should have been more clear about your schedule, great. If he's not willing to admit that he was and is acting like a jerk, you guys have a problem.
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:15 AM on January 12 [11 favorites]


I think that people reading this question might answer differently if the context was a wedding and the person flaking was the maid of honor and the bride ended up having to go alone to pick up the flowers.

I just want to push against this a bit: I don't think the intention was to imply OP is permanently the bridesmaid, but there are some departments/academics that behave like that's the case and OP is already mentally putting her career second to her fiance's. Don't be a permanent bridesmaid, OP.

Or amend the analogy to say they're each other's bridesmaids, and he had to get his flowers on his own because she had to go for a fitting that couldn't be rescheduled. Sure, he had a more emotionally intense obligation, and maybe there should have been better communication, but she couldn't miss her fitting.

If your fiance is a planner*, OP, he needs to be more proactive at asking you what your schedule is or be more specific about when he'd like things done. Maybe you can have a shared calendar or something. He can't be just assume that you're going to be available on his preferred schedule. That's what's so kind boggling about this whole thing, to me. He just assumed you'd be around all morning. He's an academic, he knows that there are random obligations that pop up and assuming your schedule is wide open is silly.

Once he's had some sleep he'll ideally realize this isn't the worst thing ever and you both made assumptions you shouldn't have. In the future, when you offer to help, remember to be detailed in your offer so he can accurately judge if it'll work out.

*I'm a little skeptical of this. You made the offer to help out the night before. Most planners I know would have then walked through what he wanted and your own schedule rather than assuming you'd magically intuit timing. This wasn't a plan set in stone weeks ago. Then, when you saved him from serving cold coffee, the consequences of the change in schedule would already have been clear. He sucks at planning (cold coffee!), at least under stress. That's not on you.
posted by ghost phoneme at 7:22 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


There is a lot for you to read and mull over here, and many people have made the points I was going to make quite eloquently, so I will only say this: your internal monologue sounds EXACTLY like mine when I was engaged to an abusive academic who, in ways both subtle and overt, had convinced me I was a bad, selfish, and thoughtless person who was unable to put her Very Important Needs in front of my own. (By the way, she was also very good at painting herself as selfless and generous, which...was not the case, to say the least.)

The trick was that I didn't understand that she was expressing and reinforcing that belief; just one example is stonewalling me, acting cold and distant when I did "selfish" things like going to sleep at 4AM and not staying awake all night to help her write a paper. Like you, I believed my punishing internal monologue was a result of my own selfish actions and nature. I only realized the gaslighting was happening when I began dating my current spouse, who would NEVER let me talk about myself the way you are talking about yourself. She would never in a million years let me abuse myself and call myself selfish and thoughtless, because the thought of me punishing myself this way would be more hurtful to her than me forgetting any meeting or appointment she might have had.

If your partner is truly as selfless as you believe him to be, he should be able to put aside his annoyance when he sees you beating yourself up this way. Instead he is acting cold and distant, and I suspect that by allowing you to suffer he is showing his true colors.
posted by lieber hair at 7:36 AM on January 12 [22 favorites]


It's not clear that she saved him from serving cold coffee. His original plan was to get cookies early, go to the presentation room at 9am for some alone preparation time, then do a last minute hot coffee run.

A coffee run takes about 15 minutes and half a brain. She inserted herself into the process and convinced him to postpone the cookie run, and combine it with the coffee run. It's a time-effort equivalent proposition *if* there's two people. With one person, it expands to 30 minutes and 75% of a brain, which is not as optimal as the original plan of pre-fetching the cookies. This was all really very avoidable - it would have worked much better if she had just left it alone.

---

Maybe he truly is a selfish jerkface, but he can't defend himself here.

Maybe he's wondering - "Why can't she just do what she says she'll do, and be where she says she'll be? I just don't understand how anyone can be like that, let alone the woman I love! I need some time to process this."

Maybe she's wondering - "Why can't he put aside all his other stress and just hold me and tell me none of it matters because he will always love me no matter what? I am freaking out and I just need to hear those words right now and he's being so distant!"

I really hope they talk it out. Many couples have faced similar misunderstandings and come out the other side with a stronger bond.
posted by metaseeker at 8:24 AM on January 12 [6 favorites]


I think that people reading this question might answer differently if the context was a wedding and the person flaking was the maid of honor and the bride ended up having to go alone to pick up the flowers. Perhaps this isn't quite that level of importance but I do remember being more stressed out about thesis-related stuff than when I got married.

I went through this exact process, although my department had (still has, I hope) the courtesy to cater for its exams and in fact my advisor picked a snack for me on purpose that would make me smile. I get the importance and stress level of the event, which is why I said that, if it was a one-off occurrence, it wouldn't be great, but it wouldn't necessarily reflect badly on the health of the relationship. But it's not a one-off, it's a pattern.

In terms of planning, I am mostly a space-time optimist (I like this phrasing), but under certain specific circumstances I become not only a precision planner, but a precision planner who believes that everyone is lying about and/or will fuck up what they are going to do, that everything I need to use will be broken, etc. This is the result of (separate) professional training and it's not great for my personal life when it emerges. (For some strange reason, no one really wants to be around that when it's about getting to the movies on time...) I have a friend who is, frankly speaking, a serious flake even from the space-time optimist point of view, but I decided long ago that this was the price of admission for her friendship and that under most circumstances it's on me to manage the resulting feelings when our styles collide, not her. Because we're both grown-ups, and imperfect, and staying friends with her is my choice. But even when we were having a harder time with it, I didn't sulk at her for days about it.

So many women (especially) have the tendency to assume that, just because they're dating a dude, he must have their best interests at heart. That's actually not how it works. It may be a necessary piece of delusion in times and places when women's choices are restricted and their dependency on men substantial, but in the modern U.S., it's just harmful.
posted by praemunire at 8:37 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


I'm going to be VERY generous here and assume that he is not as wretched an entitled manchild as I am getting whiffs of from the post and other commenters in this thread.

You offered to do him a favor, he declined, and now he's sulking because your (also busy academic) schedule no longer permitted you to go? When your initial offer was to save him a trip, not be his grocery buddy? What? And, btw, what a thoughtful gesture on your part to offer to take something off of his plate at a time when he was stretched thin.

But again, if I'm being (VERY I cannot stress this enough VEEEERY) generous, I could see why this might have caused him some upset. Because if knowing that he'd get to see you before his defense, even if it was just buying snacks together, was THE THING that was getting him through the stress? I could see why he might take it a little hard if you suddenly couldn't when he thought you could. Stressed out people don't like surprises.

Note: that is NO EXCUSE for this pouty, passive-aggressive nonsense he is pulling. He's allowed to be disappointed, but he needs to talk that out with you and explain why it upset him and stop taking it out on you by guilt-tripping and withholding affection. That's a shitty way to treat someone you love.

As far as making sure it doesn't happen again, I'd say the best way to prevent a similar scenario would be to just NOT volunteer your time for things like this anymore unless your schedule truly permits and to let your partner know ASAP if your plans change if he's counting on you in some way to be there. I think in a scenario like this one, it wasn't that you couldn't go with him, it was that you said you could and then you didn't.

Do you two have a shared calendar? That might also be a good way to prevent any future scheduling mishaps if you both commit to using it.

Best of luck! Hopefully now that the thesis is over, he can get a little bit of perspective on this and realize what an ass he's behaving like right now.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:44 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Have him read this question and the answers.
posted by lalochezia at 9:52 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


* You're thoughtful OP. In addition to making the offer, you managed the situation so he didn't serve cold coffee. It's something that frequently goes unnoticed, and I wonder if you're doing more than either of you are cognizant of.

THIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIS.

It's real easy to notice little things about your partner when you don't have to worry about keeping the actual literal structure of your lives going. I used to think I was super thoughtless and selfish in my relationship for much the same reasons you seem to -- my schedule would get fucked up, I would plan something badly, I would run late or misunderstand things, you name it. Meanwhile he was always doing nice little thoughtful shit like giving backrubs I didn't know I needed, or finding a fun thing for us to do.

Then I was semi-unemployed for a few months-- I went from 65+ hour weeks (plus all that good good second shift shit!) to like 10 hour weeks. GUESS WHO MAGICALLY GOT BETTER at surprising my BF with baked goods or backrubs or dropping by his work with a coffee? Yeah you better believe it's easier to be thoughtful when you have the time to actually complete a thought. I was technically being thoughtless -- failing to think of my partner -- but not because I sucked, it was because humans can literally only do so much at once.

When work shit got crazy again I did try harder to carve out attention and space for my partner, because I was conscious of it now. But I also refused to feel like a bad person because I was too busy to get The Most Perfect Christmas Gift evar, or to randomly pop out for drinks on a weeknight.

Take stock of what's on your plate. Should all of it be there? Maybe it should! Grad school is overwhelming. But maybe, when you write it all down and get it out there, your boyfriend needs to do the same for himself and see whether he can maybe take up the slack now, so that YOU have the mental space and time to be thoughtful for a change.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:52 AM on January 12 [7 favorites]


(I also agree with others above that the main thing for you to work out is: Why did you not tell him about the schedule conflict? That answer will tell you most of what you need to know about this dynamic.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:55 AM on January 12


Wow, thank you everyone for your responses. First of all, I'd like to say that everything worked out well in the end last night -- I distracted myself from the situation for a few hours by cooking dinner, and once the food was ready, I let him know. He wasn't ready to eat/talk right away, but eventually he invited me to sit next to him on the bed, and after I explained how I was feeling and asked for some reassurance that he wasn't rethinking the relationship, he assured me he wasn't but just was feeling extremely sad (literally to the point of crying a bit later during this conversation, and he hadn't cried in almost 2 years, the last time being when he was going through a period of severe depression). He said he just didn't know how to deal with the sadness or what to say (it's fair to say that neither of us is as emotionally mature as might be ideal) -- I don't think he was fully aware of or thinking about how his silence and withdrawal (his usual way of dealing with big, negative emotions) affects me, although I've mentioned it in other situations before. Or if he did recognize how it was affecting me, he wasn't able to act on that knowledge in the face of his own overwhelming emotions. Anyway, it turns out he was sad because he felt extremely lonely, because in his moment of great need for emotional support (the morning of the presentation), no one was around. He was also worried that if I could "abandon" him in a situation like this, nothing would stop me from also abandoning him in more difficult situations down the road. I hugged him and explained my perspective, which was that I really, truly care about him but just had made a careless, horribly timed mistake in not telling him about the seminar earlier -- not that I intentionally abandoned him at a time of need. I didn't even realize how much he wanted me there for emotional support -- when I said I had to go to a seminar, he seemed a bit peeved but literally said "Okay," and I took him at his word. (During our conversation last night, I pointed out that he probably shouldn't say "Okay" when he doesn't mean it...)

**For those who have been asking, I think the reason I didn't mention it earlier was just sleep-deprivation-induced carelessness/confusion (I had also stayed up late the night before for my own work). That morning I was basically acting as though I'd already told him, and when he was surprised I remembered that I had specifically decided not to tell him about it the night before so as not to burden him with the details of my schedule, as at that time I thought everything would be done by 9am anyway (neither of us had thought about how/when to get the coffee at that point).

In the end, after hugging it out and listening to my take on the situation, he started to feel better and we were able to have a late dinner together happily :) He also thanked me properly for the flowers I had brought.

I think spelunkingpotato really hit the nail on the head with respect to our unspoken different expectations/desires for support under stressful circumstances. Although I actually know him well enough that I probably should have been able to anticipate how he'd want to be supported in this situation, I acted more along the lines of how I'd want to be treated (my original offer was a practical offer of time-saving to enable more solitary preparation; he really just wanted emotional support/solidarity). This seems like something we could discuss more at a neutral time when nothing terribly stressful is happening, so that we'll both be prepared to help each other in the most appropriate way.

Also: Or does he just do (unexpected) things that go with what he thinks of as thoughtful, helpful things and not what you would actually like help with? You may be in the same boat, you're just more self-aware about it. This is a communication issue, and to some degree a recognizing-that-the-other-person's-desires-are-just-as-valid issue.
This sounds exactly right and actually speaks to a related pattern in our relationship. He's taken issue before with my sometimes less-than-enthusiastic/not-so-gracious responses to unexpected (but objectively "nice") things he's done for me, where honestly I wasn't that enthusiastic because I'd just as soon have had him not do those things, as nice as they were. Doing unexpected nice things (from his and probably most people's perspective) is definitely a part of who he is, which isn't going to change. So I'm dealing with this by trying to be more conscious about responding graciously even when his gesture isn't necessarily something I *wanted*, since his intentions are good. However, in the case of what kind of support we'd each like in stressful situations, that is definitely something we should be able to work out ahead of time. There have also been important occasions where he definitely did take my preferences into account, over his, as long as he knew what my preferences were.

Finally, I hear those of you who are suggesting I need to work on handling my own anxiety better. I absolutely agree, and I'm going to make an appointment at my school's counseling center.
posted by st elmo's fire at 9:59 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


He's taken issue before with my sometimes less-than-enthusiastic/not-so-gracious responses to unexpected (but objectively "nice") things he's done for me, where honestly I wasn't that enthusiastic because I'd just as soon have had him not do those things, as nice as they were

Just wanted to point out that you are back-validating my prediction.

Your gestures are never enough because "you don't understand his needs," making you at fault and a terrible girlfriend; meanwhile, his gestures are lovely and thoughtful, etc., even though they're not meeting your needs, making you at fault and a terrible girlfriend for not being enthusiastic enough about them. You are at fault in every scenario. Hope you're prepared to live with that indefinitely, because it's not going to change.
posted by praemunire at 10:23 AM on January 12 [88 favorites]


He's taken issue before with my sometimes less-than-enthusiastic/not-so-gracious responses to unexpected (but objectively "nice") things he's done for me

Oh man. What an asshole. Really just. Jesus. every new word about this guy makes him just seem like the worst kind of emotionally manipulative "nice/sensitive guy"

He is using sadness instead of rage but the method is the same. To make you scared, to get him what he wants, and put you always on the back heel, always apologizing.

A million fucks to all of this.
posted by French Fry at 10:43 AM on January 12 [53 favorites]


He was also worried that if I could "abandon" him in a situation like this, nothing would stop me from also abandoning him in more difficult situations down the road.

I'm very glad that you guys had a productive talk and plan on having some more in the future when you guys are less stressed. I'm also a little concerned about the dynamic French fry and praemunire pointed out, although for the sake of space perhaps it's more balanced in reality than it appears in your response.

I also want to highlight that the quoted section isn't really healthy and something he may need to address through therapy on his own.

I think it's reasonable for him to have wanted you to be around and then be bummed when it didn't work out. Offering to help and then not letting him know your schedule probably exacerbated that a bit (he didn't expect you to just be around prior to your offer, right? That'd have been unreasonable on his part).

But his internal narrative ramped it way up, above and beyond what you could reasonably be expected to anticipate and manage. He recognizes that, right? He needs to find a way to de-escalate those feelings for both your sakes. Better communication will likely help, but not completely solve the problem.
posted by ghost phoneme at 10:50 AM on January 12 [12 favorites]


Finally, I hear those of you who are suggesting I need to work on handling my own anxiety better. I absolutely agree, and I'm going to make an appointment at my school's counseling center.

Good! Your fiance also needs to work on handling his own anxiety better.
posted by lazuli at 10:50 AM on January 12 [12 favorites]


I was almost sympathetic to him--I could see myself, if highly stressed, getting upset at your unintentional minor thoughtlessness and it takes me a while to process/articulate/move on sometimes--until your recent update. HE SULKED IN BED UNTIL YOU COOKED HIM DINNER AND HAD TO COAX HIM OUT OF BED TO EAT IT ? And now you have to do everything he wants otherwise you're triggering his fear of abandonment? This does not strike me as a cozy scene; this makes me feel sick like how I felt in an abusive relationship.

He badly overreacted. Did he demonstrate an understanding of that? Do you understand that?
posted by kapers at 10:53 AM on January 12 [71 favorites]


In the end, after hugging it out and listening to my take on the situation, he started to feel better and we were able to have a late dinner together happily

That's great. Did he also apologise for his overreaction, and the emotional cost it imposed on you? Was he worried to find out how upset you were by his reaction and did he promise you, for example, to be clearer about his needs and expectations in future and not to blame you for not reading his mind?

I know that a lot of people here sound unsympathetic to your fiancé, and it may seem harsh. You know him, and we don't, of course. But I think the reason is that he sounds a bit unsympathetic to you - or like he fails to empathise with you - and there's an obvious feeling of injustice about that. You keep telling us about things you do wrong, and how bad you feel, and things he does right, and how bad you feel about not appreciating them properly, and where are the examples of times that he has done something wrong and apologised or times he has expressed his appreciation of all the things you do for him? Maybe they exist, and you just haven't told us about it, but it makes it sound like you have a relationship where one person always feels like the bad guy, is always apologising and is never apologised-to. That is a bit troubling, especially when the apologetic bad guy is the woman and the injured party is the man, because women do traditionally have more unreasonable and damaging expectations placed on them in relationships than men and you seem to be replicating that pattern.

This isn't about who your fiancé is as a person - maybe he's great, and lovely, and just-sensitive, and all the things you say. It's about the pattern your relationship seems to have fallen into and the level of unhappiness for you and power for him this particular pattern seems to entail. I hope you can keep an eye on this, and monitor the extent to which your fiancé is as concerned for your actual needs and feelings as you are for his.
posted by Aravis76 at 10:54 AM on January 12 [19 favorites]


If he "doesn't know" if you'll be able to work through this... you won't. Because "I don't know" almost always means "only if you appease me enough--this time, and every time something you do in the future makes me unhappy."

If he truly doesn't know how to learn to trust you again, GET OUT. Assigning blame is not important; the key point is that he either :

(1) has no idea what he wants from a relationship, in which case you should step aside and let him focus on academia (not likely, but possible), or

(2) wants you to be entirely attentive to his moods and whims, and knows damn well that that's unreasonable, and isn't going to say out loud, "what would fix this is you devoting 100% of you top-level attention to me, always; if you can't or won't do that, I'm eventually going to drop you for someone who is."

You don't have to think he's horribly selfish or wrong to decide the relationship is not working. You just have to decide that the two of you want different things from it, and that if he's not willing to even discuss what those things are enough to make sure they're compatible, you need to get away so you can focus on your own academic and career future.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:05 AM on January 12 [10 favorites]



I know that a lot of people here sound unsympathetic to your fiancé, and it may seem harsh. You know him, and we don't, of course. But I think the reason is that he sounds a bit unsympathetic to you - or like he fails to empathise with you - and there's an obvious feeling of injustice about that.


This -- and, I think, you are getting a lot of perspective from people who are older than you are, and have dated dudes JUST LIKE this, and made excuses for him just like you are (excuses that come from the fact that you are kind, and you love him!) and later got burned, and even later than that, realized we were dating someone who was not capable of being in a relationship of equals, for a lot of reasons, some of which were not even his fault.

Young women often OFTEN find themselves in a relationship where they are bending over backward to keep everything smooth and unruffled, while the man in the partnership does no bending at all. It is not a recipe for happiness for you if this is the case.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:10 AM on January 12 [18 favorites]


Anyway, it turns out he was sad because he felt extremely lonely, because in his moment of great need for emotional support (the morning of the presentation), no one was around. He was also worried that if I could "abandon" him in a situation like this, nothing would stop me from also abandoning him in more difficult situations down the road.

Oh sweetheart. I know what I am about to say is not going to become relevant to you for a few years. But I am going to say it anyway.

This man is going to suck you dry and spit you out. This is not a healthy person making a reasonable demand. This is someone with incredibly deep issues who is expecting you to solve them for him with little effort on his own in an impossible way.

I had a terrible childhood and was abandoned in fairly profound ways, and I have known people who were abandoned in worse ways. And all of us who have moved into having generally healthy, productive lives have learned that we cannot irrationally expect a partner (spouse/parent/friend/therapist) to fill that empty hole inside us that comes from our pasts.

They can help, but they need - require - the space to also be on their own, human, imperfect journeys. That hole and need is our own job.

The fact that he is doubling down on this being a failure of yours to be that Perfect Angel Partner is such bad juju. It's so bad. I cannot tell you how bad it is.

1) You didn't abandon him at all. You went to your seminar. This is nothing like abandonment. Abandonment is not caring he broke his leg and leaving him on the side of the road.

2) Your Every Action is not a predictor of a crazy-ass future where suddenly you don't care about him at all. What about the 2342342343 thoughtful harmonious moments you have had? Did THEY COUNT in this moment of utter devastation because he had to get his own snacks? No? WHY THE HECK NOT?

3) We are talking about someone having to get their own snacks and go to their own presentation. What is this man-child going to do the day something serious happens?

I hope things go well. Please bookmark this thread for future you!
posted by warriorqueen at 11:12 AM on January 12 [67 favorites]


Whoaaaaa. Nope, this is one of those things where each time you post about how much better things are getting, it just looks worse and worse.

Although I actually know him well enough that I probably should have been able to anticipate how he'd want to be supported in this situation, I acted more along the lines of how I'd want to be treated

OK, or also he could have used the part of his face that makes words to *tell you* what he needed. Instead, he distinctly told you the OPPOSITE of what he needed ("Okay"). I mean we all do that sometimes -- we all occasionally agree grudgingly to something when what we want to say is "what the fuck!" -- but you are not his psychic crystal ball healer.

The more I read about him the more he's pissing me off on your behalf.

He does nice things for you when and how it suits HIM, not when it suits YOU.

He cannot bear the agony of a moment's accidental neglect; YOU on the other hand must put up with his sulking silence and grudging forgiveness, and grovel for the fucking privilege of it.

And this "I can't possibly be asked to remember the thing you've told me a bunch, about how it hurts you when i withdraw, because I'm too busy withdrawing!" bullshit? WHAT.

He sounds, to be honest, like someone who at best can't roll with the punches. Guess what? Adult life is literally just punches, for like 60 years. He's basically asking you to stand there and take all of them, for him.

Even with all of this, my feminine training (lol) forces me to provide the caveat of "he's probably not an actual human monster." And he probably isn't consciously trying to be awful to you. But seriously, he's being a crap partner right now! The fact that he probably doesn't exactly mean it doesn't change the fact that he's got to knock it off.

Bet ten bucks that if you start going to therapy he'll accuse you of trying to abandon him again.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:08 PM on January 12 [40 favorites]


It sounds like you legitimately forgot to tell him you had a conflict with your revised plans (the late-morning grocery/coffee run). If I were in his shoes, I would be annoyed and stressed about it, but if it was a one-off, I'd get over it pretty quickly and I certainly would not punish you for it. Brains are weird, and sleep-deprived brains are even weirder -- shit happens.

Now, if you habitually forgot to tell me stuff that affected our plans (no matter how minor those plans might be), I would indeed harbor some fear that there would be an abandonment situation coming down the road. I.E., maybe I'll be waiting at the airport with my bags in hand for 2 hours in 30-degree weather because my partner forgot to tell me that they couldn't make it.

Only you know for sure whether this is an actual pattern for you and whether his fears for the future are justified. If it was a one-time brain blip, then he's overreacting to a straw-man pattern that simply does not exist.

If it is a pattern, I think he has a right to be annoyed, but it needs to take a more productive form. Like, "Hey, honey, I'm concerned that sometimes you forget to tell me stuff that's important to our plans. That stresses me out because it makes me uncertain about how our planned events will play out. Can we work out a way for you to keep me in the loop on your schedule so we can both be on the same page?"

What gives me some wary feelings here is that you describe this as the worst thing you've done in the relationship, which suggests to me that all the stuff he's flipped out about in the past has been pretty minor. You haven't pulled the two-hour airport abandonment; you haven't done stuff that grievously impacts his schedule. But he's still reacted really strongly to those events, in a way that isn't appropriate. And that's where the real crux of my concern lies. Your mistakes (if they even were mistakes!!) have been minor throughout the course of your relationship, but they have been treated as greivous infractions. Please keep an eye on the implications of that, and the extent to which he's asking for things that transcend normal expectations and make you second-guess your fundamental worth.
posted by delight at 12:15 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


he... just was feeling extremely sad (literally to the point of crying a bit later during this conversation, and he hadn't cried in almost 2 years, the last time being when he was going through a period of severe depression). He said he just didn't know how to deal with the sadness or what to say...

What. The. Actual. Fuck.

He was so sad, sad to the point that he cried for the first time in two years, because you didn't go to the grocery store with him.

Wait, let me try that again.

He was so sad, sad to the point that he cried for the first time in two years, because you didn't go to the grocery store with him.

You're dating my first husband. If I didn't do all the emotional labor, and anticipate his every whim, and abandon my 20 credit hour class schedule, and call in sick to my three jobs, and do it all exactly how he wanted it done, there was a good chance I was going to wind up in the ER. He would be "so sad, sad to the point that he cried..." because when I put his dinner plate in front of him, the meat was on the left side instead of the right. Or because I was humming to myself while I cleaned the kitchen. Or because I took out the trash before he threw something away.

Pack your things up and run. Run as far and as fast as you can. This is not a good place for you to be.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 12:38 PM on January 12 [40 favorites]


Oh girl. You are getting some tough love in this thread and sometimes it's hard to learn these lessons through anything but experience.

But if this is how he reacts to a grocery mishap the morning of a defence, y'all are never going to make it through wedding planning. Or buying a house. Or renovations. Or a car accident. Or someone being unemployed. Or a miscarriage or a pregnancy scare or a pregnancy success or toddlerhood. And guess what a life together will bring?

He needs to be so much more resilient. You need to expect so much more resilience from him. You cannot always be the one being flexible, always deficient, always changing to his mood today, always cleaning up after his tantrums.

Either he is abusive or majorly depressed or both, but you did not ruin anything.
posted by sadmadglad at 12:54 PM on January 12 [29 favorites]


I mean, yeah. I know you're getting piled on at this point, but I have deep side-eye for someone you are engaged to pulling the "I just don't know if/when you're going to abandon me again." You are getting MARRIED. Married means trusting that person for the rest of your life. Married means if you are 20min late to meet them, you feel bad because they're worrying ABOUT YOU. You don't feel bad because you know it might mean an entire night of soothing and sulking because some shit happened.

It's a mighty shaky foundation, is what I'm saying, to be engaged to someone whose trust and confidence in you is derailed so quickly.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:56 PM on January 12 [10 favorites]


Also, please note that the following dynamic is a red flag:

My partner is The Best and Most Thoughtful Person Ever. I, by contrast, am an unworthy ingrate who doesn't have their shit together. I am really not worthy of partner's infinite goodness and they are doing me a big favor by putting up with my constant imperfection.

If this dynamic resonates with you, please take a closer look at what's going on. Are you putting your partner on a pedestal? Do you feel like your relationship is one prolonged self-improvement project, and that the success of your relationship is contingent on your ongoing purification of "bad" traits? Does your partner act like they know everything there is to know about Adulting, and that you're their remedial pupil?

If you feel that way, please know that there are people out there who will accept you more or less as you are, who will affirm you, and who will allow you to make your own choices instead of trying to shoehorn your lifestyle into a rigid framework of their own making.
posted by delight at 1:00 PM on January 12 [40 favorites]


Man, this question is haunting me. Your poor boyfriend - afraid to tears of being abandoned! Yet he is happy to let you live with the constant dread that you're just one more fuckup from being abandoned yourself.

This is not how healthy relationships work. If you're so terrible, why doesn't he just leave? He certainly knows you struggle with anxiety, which makes his behavior not just manipulative but downright cruel.

Look at the ways he benefits from keeping you insecure and desperate to please. I urge you to get outside help and perspective to see this dynamic for what it is.

Believe me when I say you are not the problem here.
posted by Space Kitty at 1:01 PM on January 12 [29 favorites]


Dearest OP, your partner gets to have all his feels, which is fine. What is wrong is that he doesn't explain what he wants: He doesn't tell you what he wants. He says okay and then wants you to read his mind and then sulks when you don't. I used to be your boyfriend. That is not a winning strategy for either of you.

Also, please note that, in contrast, you do not get to have your feels:
He's taken issue before with my sometimes less-than-enthusiastic/not-so-gracious responses to unexpected (but objectively "nice") things he's done for me, where honestly I wasn't that enthusiastic because I'd just as soon have had him not do those things, as nice as they were. Doing unexpected nice things (from his and probably most people's perspective) is definitely a part of who he is, which isn't going to change. So I'm dealing with this by trying to be more conscious about responding graciously even when his gesture isn't necessarily something I *wanted*, since his intentions are good.

What? It's objectively nice only if you like it; it's not nice because he thinks it's nice, and it's not nice because other people might enjoy it. You are not a cardboard cutout of a partner. You are an actual living, breathing, complex human with likes and dislikes. How come his likes (giving you gifts you don't want) are privileged over your dislikes (not wanting those gifts)? How come his dislikes (you not being there that morning so he chooses to act out about feeling abandoned, which is not your fault) are privileged over your likes (the desire to be at a work-related seminar)?

This is not a balanced relationship. He gets to be himself and pelt you with unwanted gifts; you don't get to be yourself. WTF?

I had a houseguest who used to bring crazy, over the top gifts when she spent the night. I hate that shit and the third time it happened, after I had already asked her to tone it down, I sat her down and said she didn't get to stay with me again unless she promised to bring one single edible item instead of 20. Because I hate that kind of thing. I didn't hate her, I adore her. My nervous system simply couldn't handle the gifts that many people would consider lovely--but not me. And I am all about taking care of me and making sure my most important needs are met because nobody else is in a position to know what those are. And when I ask for help getting those needs met, it usually works remarkably well.

When I was still living with my husband, I got some unanticipated money and wanted to put it in savings for retirement and my husband wanted us to spend it. I told my therapist how terrified I was that I'd end up eating cat food. And she said, "If that happens, you will be bitter and he will be saying, yum, tuna! Don't wait for his approval; do what you need to do to take care of yourself." And that's when I realised that I had spent much of my marriage not doing things I needed to do for myself because I wanted his approval. This is why I no longer live with the guy, who is a truly wonderful person.

Fuck your partner for never changing so you are forced to take gifts you don't want at all and then are forced to pretend to want them so his feelings aren't hurt because you are "supposed" to want them. Fuck the idea that he is more important than you and everything he does is more important that what you do. I am not saying you are blameless; I am saying that you matter. Your feelings also matter. Your likes and dislikes also matter. Your behaviour also matters. It's like you're trying to take up less space. I know what that feels like and guess what--when I made myself smaller and smaller and smaller for my husband nothing changed except I had become a small, timid shell of my true self and completely miserable.

Three links worth checking out:
1. Captain Awkward on awesome relationships
2. KatherynT's famous definition of a poop milkshake.
3. PsychologyToday on why good intentions aren't enough to make gifts welcome

Best of luck, OP. I truly hope this pile on doesn't make you flee Ask. We are not angry at you, we are worried (perhaps wrongly) for you. Remember, take what you like of our collective advice and ignore the rest.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:25 PM on January 12 [34 favorites]


He said he just didn't know how to deal with the sadness or what to say (it's fair to say that neither of us is as emotionally mature as might be ideal) -- I don't think he was fully aware of or thinking about how his silence and withdrawal (his usual way of dealing with big, negative emotions) affects me, although I've mentioned it in other situations before. Or if he did recognize how it was affecting me, he wasn't able to act on that knowledge in the face of his own overwhelming emotions. Anyway, it turns out he was sad because he felt extremely lonely, because in his moment of great need for emotional support (the morning of the presentation), no one was around. He was also worried that if I could "abandon" him in a situation like this, nothing would stop me from also abandoning him in more difficult situations down the road.

Look, the absolute best interpretation of this is that he needs therapy. A grown adult who is old enough to be in a graduate program needs to manage his feelings better than this. He felt sad? Well, yes, that is a thing that happens. No one was around? Yeah, this is a thing that happens. So his response was to take it out on you - not just in the moment, but afterward, despite your apologies and material gestures.

My therapist told me, in response to something about my childhood that I thought pretty trivial, that silent treatment and refusal of sincere apologies are actually pretty damaging things and that people ought not to do that to other people. (Did a parent give you the silent treatment as a kid? That can really reset your norms in bad ways.)

Your partner needs to manage his feelings like an adult. I have no doubt that he really did feel cataclysmically sad, fearful of abandonment, etc. But his feelings are not an accurate reflection of the world. You're responding as if his fears have content-level merit - as if you really need to make him feel that just because you didn't go to get snacks with him when he was stressed, that doesn't mean you'd abandon him if he got cancer. That's not a realistic ask for him to make of you.

People who are very anxious don't get cured by reassurance; they get cured by working on their anxiety. The best scenario here is that he is super, super anxious and not able to check his feelings against reality. A therapist can help him with that, and can teach him techniques for talking himself down and getting his expectations in line with reality.
posted by Frowner at 1:25 PM on January 12 [34 favorites]


By the way, when I say "there are people out there who will accept you more or less as you are," the "less" part should be stuff like "You tailgate other cars and that makes me uncomfortable," not "Let's overhaul a big part of your personality." If someone isn't okay with your basic approach to life, they should break up with you and try to find someone who's a better fit. They shouldn't just try to mold you into someone they happen to like better.

Sorry if this is a tangent, I just felt that it needed to be said
posted by delight at 1:33 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


I'm dealing with this by trying to be more conscious about responding graciously even when his gesture isn't necessarily something I *wanted*, since his intentions are good.

Just like how gracious he was when you knew the kind of flowers he prefers but they weren't available so you got the closest kind you could find? Oh wait, no. He sulked. And you even bothered to know his actual preferences!

Why doesn't he extend you the grace that you are extending to him over that? Why does he get to have a hard day and you don't?
posted by sadmadglad at 1:36 PM on January 12 [20 favorites]


One more thing: If you are, like your partner, thinking things but not saying them, that's on you. So if you are thinking, "I hate these gifts but he will never change, I just need to suck it up and be cheerful about this shit," that is a mistake and please stop. Yay for finding a counsellor!!!
posted by Bella Donna at 1:37 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


(literally to the point of crying a bit later during this conversation, and he hadn't cried in almost 2 years, the last time being when he was going through a period of severe depression). He said he just didn't know how to deal with the sadness or what to say (it's fair to say that neither of us is as emotionally mature as might be ideal)

Here we go. So I've been reading this 100+ comment thread where you, st elmo's fire, and everyone in this thread, have all been going through these labyrinthine play-by-plays of the scheduling conflict with your job and your fiance's grocery run, getting more and more confused, and finally just frustrated, because it's increasingly clear that the conflict you're talking about has NOTHING TO DO with any of the actual things that happened on the day of your boyfriend's proposal. This is the kind of relationship fight where an endless series of petty events and details (and then I got a flower, but it wasn't the right kind of flower, and at this point in the morning I realized the coffee would be cold so we had to change plans, and then I thought maybe Starbucks but we decided the grocery store was better, etc) gets used as a usually unconscious manipulation tactic to confuse the person who feels like they're the Always Wrong Bad Selfish Partner and throw them off balance. The purpose of this behavior is to make the Always Wrong Bad Selfish Partner so busy trying to figure out what the triggering event was, which very important detail was the crucial detail where it all went wrong, what they did wrong that made their good suffering wounded partner so upset, that they cannot pull themselves together to say or even think the truth: you did nothing wrong and your boyfriend is mistreating you by throwing this extended tantrum at you over nothing.

This fight isn't about the coffee being cold, or you not being with him at a crucial time, or you making any kind of horrible mistake. This fight is about your fiance being the kind of person who, either as a phase of mental illness or a core personality trait, demands that other people cater (in this case, literally cater, as in, make snacks and dinner) to his emotional whims, whose response to any kind of life stress is to regress to the kind of behavior a toddler having an emotional overload would exhibit and force the people around him into his tornado of emotional misery.

There was a very scary Ask a few days ago here from a mefite whose husband had started to get violent with her. I don't know if she's ok. I hope she's safe. A year or so ago, she started posting Asks about her husband's depression and fear of abandonment-- how he was so afraid of being abandoned that he demanded that she quit her job and do things like accompany him in the shower, or he would have weeping breakdowns. People commenting told her that if his depression was really so serious he could not shower alone, he needed inpatient treatment, not more sensitivity and accomodation from her. A year on, she is hopefully living in her car with her dog and on the way to being safe in a shelter or with friends, and neither she nor her dog have been harmed or killed by this man who has escalated from uncontrollable sadness and guilt tripping to outright violence.

Please look into counseling for yourself, both for your anxiety and for some perspective on this relationship. Your last update sounds like it was meant to be reassuring, but it made me afraid for you in a way that I wasn't sure of in your original post. From your first Ask, it sounded like it was possible that you and your boyfriend both just needed to get some sleep after a stressful, hellish grad school day; the last update about crying for the first time in two years because you went to your own job instead of going to the grocery store with him makes me afraid for your professional, mental, and frankly physical wellbeing. Please take care of yourself. You sound like an incredible person who anyone would be lucky to be partnered to. You don't deserve to be treated this way.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 1:52 PM on January 12 [64 favorites]


I'm gonna pull a stunning late reversal of my usual pattern and express some measured sympathy for a human man. please understand I am not practiced at this.

If it is all true what he said and he is not just being a big dramatic baby for whom every tear, every week, is the first tear in years and every sadness is the worst sadness, and he is not just a man who has never had to do anything adult on his own and so feels "abandoned" when he does normal student stuff on his own two feet

(this isn't the sympathetic part just the preamble)

if all that, then he is having a serious depressive episode right now, a real bad one, and all the fun-making of him for being a weepy mess is out of line and a bit sexist too.

HOWEVER it's not only not your fault, it's not anything you can do anything about and the last thing you should do is make yourself miserable just to keep him company. If he is as depressed as he would have to be for this to be understandable, you can't trust any of his value judgments about your actions. he's not reliable right now, even if he used to be. the more understanding and all-comforting and all-forgiving you are, the longer he will wallow. tell him that letting his pit of neediness go untreated is its own form of emotional abandonment of you.
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:18 PM on January 12 [11 favorites]


Historically, he's done more [unexpectedly] thoughtful things for me than I have for him.

What, he buys you flowers? Surprises you with tickets to see your favorite band? "Unexpectedly thoughtful" sounds like courtship, not Being There For Your Partner's Needs. Thoughtful acts of courtship don't count towards a person's actual thoughtfulness. Those are things he does at his whim and convenience. What happens when you need his support?
posted by the_blizz at 2:47 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]


(literally to the point of crying a bit later during this conversation, and he hadn't cried in almost 2 years, the last time being when he was going through a period of severe depression). He said he just didn't know how to deal with the sadness or what to say (it's fair to say that neither of us is as emotionally mature as might be ideal)

I cannot tell a lie, when I was younger I LOVED having a boyfriend like this. The tears! The open display of emotion! The needing me, oh, the needing me! The intimacy of sharing deep, sad feelings. It was probably my #1 want for an intimate partner.

Now that I'm older . . . it just makes me tired. The whole to-ing and fro-ing of the snacks and the coffee, the crying over being left alone . . . I guess now I'd just rather have an adult that can mostly manage their own shit. I remember once telling my college ex-boyfriend in a fit of emotion that I "hated helping him" because he always had more shit to dump on me and never took my advice to boot. I quickly apologized (abjectly, profusely), but he never let me forget it and it became another thing to be sad about. God, I was so tired by the time he dumped me.

OP, are you tired?
posted by chainsofreedom at 2:53 PM on January 12 [22 favorites]


I can't articulate exactly the vibe I'm getting from your question

I can. You wrote this as if you are expecting him to read it.

I agree with the people bringing up gas lighting because, holy cats, that's exactly what it sounds like to me. May I suggest you gain more experience in conflict resolution before you set a wedding date?
posted by _Mona_ at 3:33 PM on January 12 [11 favorites]


You can be depressed and abusive at the same time. Lots of people ARE abusive because they're depressed or suffering or whatever.

Doesn't make the abuse any better.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:53 PM on January 12 [10 favorites]


Hey, your update really worried me. I didn't read any of the follow up comments, but you sound like maybe you are painting yourself into a corner using logic that I recognize having used myself when I was in an abusive relationship with a fellow phd student. Maybe you are not in this situation, but it can not hurt at all to make sure that you have hobbies, friends, and a life outside of your boyfriend. Therapy, if for no reason other than having someone to blab to about your inner life without ever worrying about it coming back to haunt you or it being a burden. Prioritize yourself.

Take care.
posted by sockermom at 5:00 PM on January 12 [24 favorites]


Oh sweetie. Your response to his gifts should be your natural honest reaction. It isn't a "gift" or "thoughtful" if it's what HE wants you to want. It's something that YOU would appreciate. Him expecting a deep performance of gratitude for something he wants? Is awful. And combined with the rest of this, abusive.

You are being broken down and he is doing his very best to make it seem like that's something you deserve. I know it well. I've been there. And being there, it's hard to see. But it's happening and you need to get out of this relationship. You deserve better.
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 5:21 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]


I'm copying the text of a comment from sadmadglad in a thread from about a year ago because I think their advice to that poster is just as useful for you (emphasis and additions are mine):
There's a concept that came up in the amazing thread last summer about emotional labour, the idea of how some men seek to turn women into bonsai humans. In this question, I see you pruning and snipping bits of yourself — snipping at your time and money to prune your body, hiding your hurt, altering your own body preferences. Softening your anger and confusion. Lowering the volume of your voice. [Ed: In your specific case: altering your genuine reactions to things and experiences so that they better match his worldview. Treating your own work as less important than his. Spending enormous amounts of time and effort managing his emotions.]

Everything is becoming smaller and more compliant, more him-shaped than you-shaped. This is why so many people are bringing up abusive relationships, because this trimming and pruning and molding is how it starts until you are so small and quiet and compliant and isolated that you cannot rise up and assert yourself.

I'm also going to refer you to Against Chill, because you don't have to be the super chill relaxed cool girlfriend with no preferences. You can have body hair, and quirks, and the flu, and your period, and weird moods, and a personality, and an off day, and you are GREAT at all of those times. Your worth isn't based on his desire of you. [Ed: Or on you being the most perfect, most supportive girlfriend.] Your worth is in you and no one else.
posted by sadmadglad at 4:05 PM on January 31, 2016
I read what you have written, and I worry that you're heading for this bonsai life. Your question seems to be a version of "How do I shape myself so that he will be happy with me?" Please put away the pruning shears, and throw off his bullshit expectations.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:20 AM on January 13 [37 favorites]


The one thing I feel the need to say, that I don't think anybody else has (unless I missed it) is that I think the way this relationship evolved (from long distance to living together as an engaged couple) made you miss out on some of the steps of the typical "getting-to-know-you-better" phases: early dating, increasingly spending more time together, figuring out how to interact with each other, learning how each person reacts to things and situations and to the other person. It's during these steps that you're able to develop a better sense of not just who the other person is, but who you are as a couple and how you'll interact with each other and face the world together.

I don't know if you can go back and relive some of these early steps and fill in the growth gaps your relationship missed but maybe it's worth attempting it if you're determined to stay in this relationship and eventually turn it into a marriage. (Although, like pretty much everybody here, my instincts are screaming at you to run for the hills and get away from this guy as quickly as possible.)

Can you separate your living situation? Tell him you just need some time and space to be on your own for the next year while you finish up your studies? Explain that you work better in solitude with peace and quiet whenever you need it. That way you're not putting the desire to separate on his shoulders (which could get ugly). Ensure him (if that's truly your desire) that you'll still continue to see him, date him, grow the relationship, but with a bit of daylight between you, maybe both of you will be able to grow into stronger, more independent beings who are better able to navigate a relationship. (And if that doesn't work and you come to realize he isn't right for you, breaking it off will be easier.)

I hope you know that we've all got your best intentions at heart. Nobody here is telling you to watch out for yourself or break up because we want to see you upset and lonely. We just want to spare you the heartache and emotional mess and psychological torment we've either experienced ourselves or have watched our friends and family suffer through. We really do wish you all the best.
posted by sardonyx at 8:38 AM on January 13 [4 favorites]


OP, I think it would be helpful for you to stop self-flagellating. It's not productive and it's unnecessary. You were not "a huge ass." You did not act "extremely selfishly." You did not abandon him in his time of need. If you dial down the drama, you'll see what a lot of us are seeing - your fiance had a tantrum because you didn't go with him to the grocery store.
posted by kat518 at 1:38 PM on January 13 [7 favorites]


Along the same lines of Spelunkingplato's comment:

Opposing polarities of personality preferences can inadvertently cause conflict in a relationship, similar to the previously-discussed of time-space optimist vs. precision planner mode. I propose that Independence-First (yours) vs. Togetherness-first
(his) may have been a factor in this misunderstanding.

Check out this article:
Core Differences in Ways of Maintaining Emotional Stability
for a detailed discussion of these preference polarities, and how each partner holding a different preference can cause serious unintended difficulties in the relationship.
posted by Ardea alba at 1:48 PM on January 13 [7 favorites]


Men's mental health problems are not your problem. Making them your problem just makes you a victim. Usually, of emotional abuse by men who consider women to be inferior.

Be wary of this man and any future men you allow into your life. Break up and get therapy. It starts with unreasonable demands, gaslighting, tears, and ends years after you've been beaten to shit multiple times. Ask me how I know.
posted by love2potato at 8:35 PM on January 13 [5 favorites]


I can be quite stodgy and squiffy when people change plans on me at the last minute, which has probably cost me some friendships. I can imagine being momentarily taken aback by a "last-minute change" - putting that into quotes due to your fiance not checking your schedule to see what works well for you.

That said - he's being ridiculous. Throwing a tantrum, because you weren't available to go to the grocery store with him? That's just absurd. Now, if you'd burned up his thesis and reformatted the hard drive of your computer, so that he couldn't retrieve it, I could see this sort of reaction. But this is way, way, way over the top.

Because I was involved in a relationship like this back in the day, I can imagine what you might be thinking right now: "She doesn't understand how great he is!" or "She doesn't get how terrible I am!" or "If I just tried harder/was more thoughtful/took better care of him, I'd stop spoiling everything and our relationship would be perfect!"

No. No. No.

You are being set up. Consciously or not - and it may not be - your fiance is withholding love, changing where the bar is set, and pulling out all of the stops - anger, distance, and tears - to keep you permanently on edge and anxious. You will never be able to fully please him, because he does not want to be pleased. If by some miracle, you do manage to fulfill all of his stated goals (which usually can only be accomplished by dislocating your spine and twisting yourself into a pretzel), he will change the rules, and ensure you never win.

Also, you cannot heal him, no matter how much you love him, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you want to. He likes being like this. It works for him on a fundamental level.

No one could tell me back then, either, that I was selling myself down the river. I hope one or more of these comments get through to you. You are a young, vibrant, caring intelligent woman. You deserve so much more than you are getting.
posted by dancing_angel at 11:44 PM on January 13 [7 favorites]


Historically, he's done more [unexpectedly] thoughtful things for me than I have for him.

You're not in a contest, though, you're in a RELATIONSHIP. who's bought whom more cute stuffed toys or who's left whom more cute notes doesn't matter a bucket of warm piss if he's trying to manipulate you out of living your life.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:23 AM on January 14 [7 favorites]


I propose that Independence-First (yours) vs. Togetherness-first (his) may have been a factor in this misunderstanding.

I propose that it's mighty interesting that so many guys are all about "togetherness" when it's about women anticipating and providing their needs, and so many women are all about "independence" because we are taught to look after ourselves and also after everyone else at the same time. And from the same damn document, guys often feel free to express their upset and their preferences about what women should do, and so many women have learned to keep their own upset and preferences to themselves because so often nobody else is interested in listening to that stuff or paying it attention, except when maybe they are trying to get in our pants.

What would happen if you started asking for specific help with day to day things more often, and expressing your opinions more about how your guy's actions affect you, even when he's doing things with the best of intentions? If the answer is that you would then be in the wrong for not being more independent and not managing your emotions better, then something's messed up.
posted by emilyw at 6:55 AM on January 14 [14 favorites]


I thought about your question a lot before answering, mainly because it really confused and bothered me on multiple levels. I felt upset for you and the fact that your boyfriend is sulking over something relatively minor, and I also felt upset for him for your bailing after promising to help me on an extremely stressful day. But the one thing that sticks out for me is that you seem to be relatively fuzzy-headed about the whole affair -- in other words, you keep remembering/misremembering how the situation went down, you are really vague about past events where you claim he was super thoughtful and you were super thoughtless.. and I agree with others that this seems a bit like the behavior of someone who has been gaslit.. but it also may be the behavior and thought process of someone who is generally anxious and/or sleep deprived and/or very stressed and/or not taking care of themselves.

But here's what I want to say, that I don't think anyone has said yet:

If you "forgot" to mention to your boyfriend that you wouldn't be joining him at the grocery store after you offered to do the grocery shopping for/with him, then I'm guessing you are also "forgetting" to mention some other important details related to these other scenarios where you're saying you behaved very thoughtlessly and selfishly.

I completely agree with everyone that he's overreacting and behaving a bit like a ManBaby -- but let's go back to this:

I was a huge ass and acted extremely selfishly at a moment of great stress and importance for my fiance. To make things worse, this isn't the first time I've been thoughtless or selfish in ways that have affected him, although this time is the most egregious.

We have a few things to untangle.

First, you were not selfish. Get this clear in your mind. You were very thoughtful and generous toward him, you helped pick up slack around the house before his exam, and you tried to come up with a thoughtful thing to do to help him with his stress the morning of. The problem, as I see it, is that you did not communicate clearly and you withheld information that he would have needed in order to make an informed decision about whether to listen to your suggestion about when/where to get the coffee and snacks. In other words, if you had simply told him "Hey, maybe you should get the coffee later, but if you do that, I can't join you because I have a seminar.." then he could have made a decision as to whether he "needed" your emotional support so much that he'd rather go early with you and let the coffee get cold.. or he could have said "Oh, no problem, I'll get it myself - enjoy your seminar" .. the bottom line is, he could have made an informed decision.

Instead, you put him in a situation where you offered to help, then made another suggestion that resulted in your not really helping him at all, which then resulted in his feeling disappointment and perhaps more stressed on a very stressful day. You could have completely avoided this scenario by not interfering with his grocery plans in the first place, OR by clearly communicating that you had a seminar and could only help him during a specific window. But you didn't do that -- which is not "selfish", it's simply weird/bad communication.

None of this is, on its face, "can we make it pass this" material, BUT it is really, really odd and extremely easy to avoid. To me, it sort of reads like you unconsciously created this conflict that didn't have to happen and I am wondering why you might do something like that?

And yes, I am also wondering about these other incidents where you claim you were thoughtless. I know you marked the question as resolved, but could you maybe share one or two? Were there other situations where you didn't mention important information until the last minute or where you miscommunicated in a way that set up a certain expectation only to bail?

From what you've shared, this is not about your being selfish -- you absolutely should have gone to the seminar -- this is about poor communication between you two. If he needed to emotional support the morning of this exam, he should have asked for it -- if he was disappointed when you bailed unexpectedly, he could have told you that rather than saying "Okay".. if you couldn't have joined him at the grocery store at the time you suggested he go, you should have told him that.. so both of you are not telling each other important information at the time you should actually be sharing it.

Finally, I will say this: I don't really think you should marry this guy, at least not right now. You have no idea how much support and understanding and advanced-level-communication-skills-and-emotional-intelligence you are going to need from your partner. You better wait and see how he responds to your moments of need before you decide to commit to a lifelong relationship. Wait to see how he deals with your qualifying exam, your dissertation proposal defense, your insane deadlines and high stakes conferences and presentations and really stressful graduate school situations.

You've crafted this delusional fantasy where you know he would be there for you when you need him, except that you don't know because he hasn't proven this to you yet. And, as others have suggested, he is very, very, very likely (based on what you've shared about him), to not be there for you when you need him because he'll hold this grudge against you for not being his perfect fantasy partner. It kind of sounds like you are both in a fantasy relationship rather than actually doing the hard work of being flawed human beings who have to find a way to maturely relate to each other while also managing the very crazy-making hazing process known as "Getting a PhD".

So, please, if you care about yourself and also want to actually finish graduate school and develop your own career and maybe even also be in a relationship with a fully developed adult -- DON'T move forward with the wedding. Remain engaged for a few years and see how it goes. And, yes, get to the bottom of what's going on with your communication skills and being foggy-brained and forgetting important details until the last minute. It definitely sounds like it's related to your anxiety - which you will need to get under control to be successful in both your personal and professional life. Bring this up with the therapist when you meet.

Good luck!
posted by Gray Skies at 7:21 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


One more thing: You're getting a lot of folks here suggesting that your boyfriend's behavior is abusive.. and it very well might be. But even if you don't think he's abusive, per se, there are a lot of red flags that you need to take seriously and that should lead you to put the marriage on hold and spend some serious time re-evaluating the relationship. In no particular order, these red flags include:

- Mismanaging his own stress

- Being so emotionally underdeveloped that 1) he hasn't cried in two years and 2) only cried over a grocery store snafu

- Calling you selfish when you simply communicated poorly

- Sulking and behaving like a child

- Not expressing gratitude to you for the labor you did leading up to his defense to make his life easier -- WHILE YOU WERE ALSO PURSUING YOUR PHD

- Blowing a situation like this out of proportion

- Not explicitly asking for the emotional support he wanted; expecting you to read his mind

- Being mad when you don't get excited over him surprising you with things you don't want or need

All of these things are really bad form and as others have noted, this can certainly lead to abuse .. you two seem to have already set up a toxic dynamic whereby you're always the Bad Girlfriend. You don't need him to surprise you with "unexpected thoughtful things" you don't want. That's top level asshole behavior. The most alarming thing about your question is that you seem to be in complete denial about the fact that your boyfriend behaves like a Man-Baby / Jerk / Selfish Child, while labeling yourself as a selfish asshole. It's very one-sided and weird and you need to ask yourself (and your therapist) why you are the Bad Guy and he's an Angel in your mind.

So.. my point is.. regardless of whether your boyfriend is "abusive", the reality is that your relationship is already toxic and you shouldn't get married. He's not good boyfriend material, husband material and certainly not good "partner to a female academic" material. You two just moved in together and were long-distance previously.. that means you actually don't know him that well. You're just now getting to see how he behaves on a daily basis, and so far he is showing you that he's a lot of drama you don't need.

But even if you are not ready to leave him, you should work through these issues in therapy and figure out what's going on both in the relationship as well as with your own anxiety, communication and self-esteem. I am not sure you're in a situation that's so dire that he'll start beating you tomorrow, but you are in a toxic, one-sided relationship that, even if it never involves physical abuse, will probably destroy you emotionally. Ask me how I know.
posted by Gray Skies at 7:43 AM on January 14 [14 favorites]


Something I found useful from a book by Lundy Bancroft is the idea that in balanced relationships, both people are looking out equally for their own needs and are living up equally to their responsibilities to the other. In unbalanced relationships, Partner A focuses the entire relationship on their own needs and on Partner B's responsibility to meet Partner A's needs, leaving no room for Partner B to have any needs of their own and making no attempt to live up to their own responsibilities to Partner B. Your comments make it sound like this dynamic might be happening in your relationship, and that might be a good thing to talk to you therapist about.
posted by lazuli at 5:47 PM on January 14 [3 favorites]


Re: Gray Skies' mention of poor communication. If you frequently find yourself forgetting to voice things to your boyfriend, which then results in this behavior you/he call selfish and thoughtless, there might be something else going on cognitively or physically. Attention Deficit Disorder, lack of sleep, anxiety issues, and more could all cause you to forget to actually say the thing out loud that you are thinking, or communicate half a thought, etc. This "inherent personality flaw" you believe you have may actually be a treatable issue.

Whether this behavior of forgetting to mention important details is or isn't caused by some external factor or condition, if it is something that has happened repeatedly, you have to find a way to work together to work around this obstacle to achieving clear communication between the two of you. And you internalizing guilt and feeling like a bad person is not a strategy that's ever going to work. Another solution would be your boyfriend, knowing that you may forget to include details that might affect him, taking the time to dig a little deeper for details when you are making plans together.
posted by lieber hair at 12:35 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


If you frequently find yourself forgetting to voice things to your boyfriend, which then results in this behavior you/he call selfish and thoughtless, there might be something else going on cognitively or physically. Attention Deficit Disorder, lack of sleep, anxiety issues, and more...
I have to say this: these kind of "memory problems" basically vanished once I got out of a similar relationship. You can read through my history here if you want specifics, but for me, the "and more" was "being in an abusive relationship" and no amount of "working around" it was sufficient. Just a data point.
posted by sockermom at 1:35 PM on January 16 [9 favorites]


What makes your fiancé so special that he is entitled an emotional butler?

"it turns out he was sad because he felt extremely lonely, because in his moment of great need for emotional support (the morning of the presentation), no one was around. He was also worried that if I could "abandon" him in a situation like this, nothing would stop me from also abandoning him in more difficult situations down the road".

I am late, but I wanted to say this really resonates with me, because I also feel that way sometimes. Sometimes I can work myself into panic attack territory just thinking about how everyone I love will die one day and how my husband could leave me and I would be in utter despair.

However, you can tell your fiancé that he should stop using these feelings as a pass to be a massively needy, selfish, clueless douche. Because he should have understood pretty early on that these feelings and fears are his burden, and that it is his responsibility to learn to manage them through therapy and inner discipline.

Recently my husband very kindly offered to pick me up from work, take me to school and then drive me home again twice a week, for the whole semester, because he knows driving is super stressful to me. I know he has things to do, and I know it would be a PITA for him to do this, so I decided that I will drive myself after all. I know my husband wants me to be happy, but I could never forgive myself for transferring the burden of my own anxieties onto him. THAT would be selfish.

What I am saying is I can rely on my husband to always have the intention to make me feel less lonely or anxious, but it's my moral duty to not abuse his good nature. It isn't my husband's mission in life to micromanage my environment so I don't have to ever face anxiety or feel lonely. From how you phrase things, it sounds like you wouldn't expect your fiancé to do that for you either. What makes your fiancé any different?
posted by Tarumba at 8:58 AM on January 18 [6 favorites]


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