How to deal with mixed signals from a long-term SO?
February 22, 2009 9:07 PM   Subscribe

(Relationship Filter) What's a rational, fair, and non-dramatic way to deal with mixed signals from your significant other?

I've been in a serious relationship with someone for about a year and a half (I'm female, he's male, if it matters). Yes, not terribly long, but long enough that I believe each of us thinks that there is a good possibility that this may be it, so to speak. Things between us are overwhelmingly happy, positive, peaceful, comfortable...just generally awesome. We have much in common regarding how we view the world and how we'd like to spend our lives.

I do have the feeling that I'm getting some mixed signals from him, though, regarding how he envisions the relationship progressing. A year is too soon for me personally to start talking marriage (and again, that's just me), but I would like to know if we're at least thinking along the same lines with regard to relationships/our individual futures/etc.

This is what's happened: more than once, he's made comments that his income would be enough to support both of us "so that [I] wouldn't even have to work" (his words). Please note - to my knowledge, I've never given any indication that I expect him to support me, now or ever. This is something he's said on his own. He has also made references to living together, me moving in, etc. at least a dozen times. I have not made such comments, if it matters. Oddly enough, though, he really doesn't talk about future plans that much - e.g., say things like "we should go to Europe next summer," "we should go to a World Cup game one day", etc.

So. After giving this some serious thought on my own, I decided to broach the topic of moving in together. We had been talking about our current living situations & plans we each had, and I casually asked if he had been thinking about living together. The look on his face immediately changed and he made a vague reply, something along the lines of, "Well, wouldn't bother me, I guess." I wasn't sure how to respond and remarked that I thought us moving in together, if we decided to do that, should be something we each both actively desired, versus something that didn't "bother us too much." Long pause, then he made a vague reply about "someday."

I feel like I've made a fool of myself, but I was only responding to what I thought was a conversation he had already started. Thoughts on dealing with this confusion? Do I drop it completely and hope for clarification later, or confront it head-on? Something in between, perhaps?

Thanks for reading this far, and I appreciate any insight you can give me. If you've been in a similar situation (either in a position like mine or one like his), I'd definitely like to hear what happened & what you learned.
posted by pecanpies to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Breathe deep for a moment. You did not make a fool of yourself anymore than he has when he's made those remarks.

Generally, I'm all about having an open conversation about things. In this instance, I'm going to suggest you let it drop for awhile. I doubt he's adverse to the idea, but he also may need to some time to mull it over on his own.

There's really nothing good that can come out of you putting pressure on to clarify exactly what he's thinking. He probably doesn't know exactly. He's not intentionally toying with you by sending mixed signals. He's trying to figure it out for himself.
posted by 26.2 at 9:22 PM on February 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

You haven't made a fool of yourself. Your comment was completely reasonable, considering how long you've been together, and the fact that he has made similar comments before. Don't back down, don't feel like a fool, and don't worry too much. Also, YES, absolutely talk about it. Being in a relationship with someone you don't feel comfortable talking to just kinda sucks.

There may have been a reason he seemed hesitant about it that he's not telling you. But the only way you'll know whether it's some other thought process he's having, or if he's just kind of a jerk that wants to feel like he's in control all the time... is to talk to him.
posted by eleyna at 9:22 PM on February 22, 2009

[M]ore than once, he's made comments that his income would be enough to support both of us "so that [I] wouldn't even have to work" (his words). Please note - to my knowledge, I've never given any indication that I expect him to support me, now or ever.

When my friends that are at that LTR-y stage have said this to/about their SOs, I've always read it as an abstract attempt to enable the SO to pursue happiness through interesting-but-not lucrative (or even paying) work rather than wage drudgery and not as a suggestion that marriage/kids/dog/mortgage are right around the corner. YMMV.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:27 PM on February 22, 2009

Absolutely, after a year and a half it's perfectly reasonable to want to know if you are both on the same sheet of music about where this is going.

You might want to think about what you want, though (as you are starting to do). Do you want to get married? Why do you want to live together? Do you see it as a step towards marriage or as a goal in itself? If he does not want to get married or live together what would you do? Is the status quo good enough for now? Good enough for five years from now?
posted by txvtchick at 9:34 PM on February 22, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts.

26.2, yeah - I thought "chill the hell out for a bit" might be a part of the gameplan. This makes sense.

Eleyna, you make some good points. I think at this stage, I'm going to sit back for awhile and be a more active observer. After that, though, I definitely think having an actual conversation about this (rather than just trading remarks) is what's warranted.

Inspector.Gadget, that makes sense, but at the same time, I mentioned once that I'd considered getting a law degree one day, and since then he's been pushing me to go to law school. One of his reasons for this is because of the money I'd (potentially) make. I've made comments about how I'd like to travel to such and such place, and he'll reply that "traveling takes money...". Well, of course it does - which is why I save it, when it's around, and don't spend too much of it. So yes - mixed signals galore. ;)

Txvtchick, thank you, too. I'm not positive I could even answer all of those questions right now, but I've certainly been thinking about them lately. As I'll continue to do.
posted by pecanpies at 4:40 AM on February 23, 2009

Maybe it "wouldn't bother him" to live with you, but might it bother his family? I'm guessing you didn't mention his cultural/religious background because you didn't think it was an issue, but maybe it's something to think about?
posted by Lebannen at 4:55 AM on February 23, 2009

My guess is that he'd been seeing living together, marriage etc as being in some far-off future -- fun to think about, but no need to make any decisions. When you brought it up, it seemed much more immediate and concrete. And that's a new way of thinking about it, and I think he just needs time to get used to it.

(It's not that you were necessarily saying "we need to move in together, stat"; maybe it was just having to respond to you rather than bringing it up himself.)

I don't think you've caused any trouble here. Give him a few weeks or a couple of months. Now that you've brought it up, he'll have started thinking more concretely about things, and you won't surprise him next time.
posted by wyzewoman at 6:42 AM on February 23, 2009

You definitely did the right thing by bringing it up; don't feel like a fool. It is ALWAYS better to be explicit and open about your relationship rather than just assume and imagine and hope. I just ended a relationship because I couldn't commit to be with my boyfriend forever, and he wanted that, and I marvel at, and definitely regret, how little we ever explicitly talked about what we wanted and where we were headed. We did move in together, we had a shared bank account, we referred to each other to other people as 'life partners', we abstractly talked about kids (though I was always sort of resistant)...but we never explicitly and honestly talked about whether we wanted to be with each other for the rest of our lives. In retrospect probably because we feared such a conversation. Having been in what is possibly your boyfriend's shoes, it could be that one part of his mind is thinking that this could be it, while the other isn't sure, and he hasn't reconciled those two positions yet. Your raising the issue of living together is likely forcing that, which is a good thing.
posted by goalie at 7:01 AM on February 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Just a thought. But I thought us moving in together, if we decided to do that, should be something we each both actively desired, versus something that didn't "bother us too much" seems like a REALLY snappy response...

Were you asking about moving in but really angling toward an answer on getting married? His vague response seems not only justified but shows that he's on the ball. (You'll have to ask trick questions while he's half asleep with this one.)

I don't know but - you asked a loaded question and that's the answer you got - is what this all says to me.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 7:29 AM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think a lot of guys just have this kickback response to the idea of moving in, even if it's something they've been thinking or daydreaming about. Once you've put it into words, it's got a time limit on it, it's REAL LIFE, serious, involving FEMALE EXPECTATIONS etc. I had a similar experience with my boyfriend, and yes he went pale and needed two weeks to "prepare himself to talk about it" and then we finally talked about it, and agreed that it was something we'd probably end up doing, eventually. No big deal. But it was like a switch needed to be thrown in his head, and that switch is big and scary. The more you can do to make it not big and scary, not put time limits or any sort of ultimatum on him, the better.
posted by np312 at 8:15 AM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would recomment chilling out for now and giving him time to think, per the comments above. You shouldn't feel embarrassed; in fact, you seem quite direct and honest, which can only serve you well.

He may or may not realize that his comments were what spurred you to say what you did. I have said things to SO's that I have varying degrees of intent to follow-through on (e.g. vacation plans). The next time he's throwing ideas out (whether they're flights of fancy or real concrete plans), you are well within the realm of santiy to point out his words and get him to understand the effect they sometimes have on you.
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:31 AM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

He wants you to be successful, and so he's suggesting he could potentially support you while you get your law degree, after which he expects you would be able to earn enough to do all the things you want.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:21 PM on February 23, 2009

Sometimes people want something but they're also nervous about it, so they tell themselves they can do it later. That's what it sounds like to me. My husband was the same way after we'd dated a year and a half... he wanted to move in together, dropped similar hints, but when it came time for us to feasibly move in together that summer, he was really freaked out at first. I felt the same way you did -- what the hell, I thought he wanted this, I wouldn't have brought it up if he hadn't dropped those hints, etc.

He gave it more thought for a couple weeks, calmed down, and we moved in together. He was ridiculously happy the first couple days in that apartment. I, to be honest, was just baffled and couldn't enjoy it because I thought he'd only moved in with me out of convenience. I was confused about his feelings for a long time because of that one little time he'd shown reluctance to move in with me. And, oh! I took it the wrong way when he would say things like it only made sense for us to move in together... I wanted him to do it because he wanted to, right? Not because he had carefully worked out the cost-benefit of it and deemed it favorable. Well, he did want to, he was just scared of it, and it was easier to go through with it when he could tell himself he was making the rational decision.

I know all this now because after six years, we've talked about things like that. Don't freak out like I did, if you can help it. Don't pressure him and things'll probably work out fine. And if he seems happy when you guys move in, I give you permission to enjoy it. ;P
posted by Nattie at 1:20 PM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's a big difference between thinking about moving in, getting married, etc., some day vs. NOW. He might be totally onboard in the abstract, but not quite have his head around making that a reality. So any attempts to make it a reality might be met with fear and stalling. You might have to coax him gradually.

Speaking from experience, as the guy.
posted by callmejay at 2:17 PM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your thoughts. It definitely wasn't my intent to pressure him, imply that I wanted to set a time limit, or give any ultimatums.

Lebannen - good idea, but he's lived with someone before for several years. As far as I know, he has no religious or moral opposition to cohabitation.

mu~ha~ha - I'm certainly not "angling for an answer on marriage." Did you read the part where I said a year wasn't long enough for me to decide whether or not I wanted to mary someone? In any case, I don't find my reply snappy in the least. I realize I can't fully convey the tone or context of that remark. If I could, I think you'd agree with me.

It didn't occur to me that he could be thinking entirely in the abstract about this, but then the one time I make a remark, it would make things seem much more concrete. Looking back now, though, that makes total sense. I think there are a lot of factors at play, one of which is that many men seem conditioned to expect women to start pushing for commitment, marriage, babies, etc. early in the relationship. I'm thinking the alarms must have sounded as soon as I mentioned a more serious commitment, even though I thought it was his idea & his plan all along.

Thanks especially to all the guys who have chimed in, hearing your view of things helps tremendously.
posted by pecanpies at 2:58 PM on February 23, 2009

I think for some guys "someday" is not as far off as it might sound. It's their way of putting a little buffer between them and something that might be big scary change. Here is how my husband responds to the suggestion that we should do X:


"I don't think so."

"Wait, what?"


"It's not X I have the problem with, it's [800 practical objections]."

[two days go by]

"I was thinking maybe sometime we should X."

When your boyfriend says "someday" he may just be saying "Oh my god get me out of this conversation before my life changes before my eyes." But now he knows what you are thinking, and can chew on it a bit, until it maybe it starts to seem normal.

That said...I don't mean this as a downer, but you should probably at least consider the possibility that a seeming inability to communicate about what he wants could be a red flag. I'm not saying you should consider breaking up with him over this...but just be willing to think as your gor forward about what it means, because compatible communication styles are pretty critical to a marriage. (Mine and my husband's are because we've cracked each other's codes!)
posted by Betsy Vane at 9:18 PM on February 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Betsy, thanks for your raise a good point. We do have some significant differences in the ways we communicate, and while I don't think they're necessarily deal-breakers, so to speak, they will need reconciling at some point if we're going to stay together. He's mentioned living together quite a lot, but only through casual remarks that are often posed semi-seriously, leaving me totally unsure how/if to respond. I think that says something.
posted by pecanpies at 2:41 PM on February 24, 2009

« Older Help me find out if these nice-seeming tenants are...   |   Gotta find this song! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.