Does my girlfriend spend too much time on online forums?
October 11, 2009 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Am I being unreasonable about how much time my girlfriend spends on online forums and message boards?

It's ironic that I am asking this on metafilter, but I really feel like my girlfriend spends way too much time online talking to strangers about every day things, hobbies, etc. What is weird though, is that she doesn't actually participate in many of the hobbies she claims she is on the message boards for. She just talks about them and the stuff she talks about sits and collects dust in our apartment (cameras, guitars, etc.) Hasn't touched them in over a year. She is a moderator on one forum and probably spends 4-5 hours each day, if not more, on these three forums. One being Fluther, where a bunch of people ask questions that can simply be Googled. I understand online community and what not, and when I say something to her she gets pissed off because I'm doing work for school. I am not, however spending nearly as much time doing graduate work as she does online. She is only these forums throughout the work day, and on her computer when I get home from work every day, even when we are cooking dinner she intermittently checks the forums for new posts or to answer ridiculous questions on Fluther.

Am I being picky or unreasonable? I just think it's strange but hey to each their own. I just feel like she is constantly at her computer. Yet, when I try to get her to go out in the "real world" and hang out with friends, she says the general population annoys her. Since I started dating her I really miss REAL social interaction with people, even with strangers. It now makes me reluctant to participate in many social events because I know she will be bored or despise being there. What should I do? I love her very much, and I don't want to come off as insensitive....I just wonder if it is unhealthy. She's a sweet, caring girl.

THanks in advance...
posted by kleenkat to Computers & Internet (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds as though this is less an issue about her being online and more about your feeling that she has withdrawn from interacting with you in the manner in which she did when you first met. This is not a criticism, because that sort of change in interaction style is a big deal in a relationship. I don't know if I would necessarily call it a lack of emotional fidelity, but it sounds like you're feeling as though she is forsaking quality time with you in favor of her online life. That is a legitimate concern, I don't blame you for questioning it at all. One could ask the same question if one's girlfriend were spending too much time doing community theater or attending book clubs or bowling to the exclusion of her partner.

I think it's time for a conversation about what your expectations are about her presence in your life, and that may include insisting that when she is with you, that she is REALLY with you and not living in a nebulous space where she finds it necessary to break off from even the most mundane of daily life tasks in order to continue with her virtual life.
posted by hippybear at 1:32 PM on October 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

The real issue is that she wants to stay in, while you want to go out. It's now at the point where you're changing to fit her lifestyle, i.e. being "reluctant to participate in many social events". Danger! Danger! Consistently Neglecting what you want to do to appease the other isn't good for the relationship!

You two need to talk about the fact that you're unhappy staying in all the time and whether she would like to accompany you to these various events. She probably doesn't want to every one that you want to go to, but perhaps there's a happy medium where you two go certain places together. Definitely bring that up when talking to her.

Note that framing this as a "Is one of us normal or not" question automatically paints one of you as bad and one of you as good. That's not good in a relationship, so try to approach things as equals, where a bit of compromise from both you helps you enjoy each others company while having new experiences.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:38 PM on October 11, 2009

Yet, when I try to get her to go out in the "real world" and hang out with friends, she says the general population annoys her. Since I started dating her I really miss REAL social interaction with people, even with strangers. It now makes me reluctant to participate in many social events because I know she will be bored or despise being there.

You already know what you have to do. I'm definitely a misanthrope but I know that no women I've dated would have put up with self-enforced isolation to their detriment. Find someone who will do fun things with you, not do their own thing 10 feet from you.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:41 PM on October 11, 2009 [9 favorites]

Accept your girlfriend for who she is and what she does. If she changes, she's going to be doing it for you, not her. Any such change won't last, because she doesn't really want to change in that way. What she wants to do is spend so much time online. Whether that is unhealthy or not is up to her. If it's preventing her from doing stuff that she wants to do, à la addiction, then it's a problem. Otherwise, it's not hurting her.

The problem lies with your expectations of what should be happening. You're expecting her to behave in a way that she obviously doesn't want to. If she wanted to behave in that way, she would.

Is this a dealbreaker for you? If not, suck it up & deal. If it is, move on. Either way, let her behave in the way she wants to behave. Love doesn't conquer (or change, or seek to change) all.
posted by Solomon at 1:43 PM on October 11, 2009

I totally agree with HippyBear and this has been an issue in our own home with my husband. I would suggest two things 1) finding out what the underlying problem is (stress, boredom, is the relationship on the fritz?) and 2) agreeing on a time when it's ok for her to be on the computer (say T and Ths for 2 hours). It might help. Good luck.
posted by stormpooper at 1:52 PM on October 11, 2009

I don't think you're being unreasonable.

Having said that, your reasoning "she doesn't even do the hobbies", "the questions posted are easily googleable" isn't particularly relevant. And if you've said that to her she may well feel defensive (maybe in a similarish way to a smoker who's being harried to give up).

Do you think this is just a phase/passing thing or do you foresee this being the way she's likely to want to spend her freetime longterm? As you don't like it now, you will probably like it even less in the future.
posted by selton at 2:02 PM on October 11, 2009

Yeah, leave out the nasty judgmental stuff like "she doesn't even do the hobbies", "the questions posted are easily googleable" and so on.

Just imagine she's ignoring you and watching TV for four or five hours a day. Treat it that way, and if that bothers you, find someone else to do whatever you want with.

It doesn't have to be a relationship breaker, unless she for some reason forbids you from doing anything without her.
posted by rokusan at 2:05 PM on October 11, 2009

You are a couple with mismatched levels of desire for social interaction. There are a couple of fine compromises for dealing with this and staying together: (1) you split up some evenings, with you going out and having a good time, and her staying in; or (2) the two of you go out together some nights, and stay in some nights.

The key, though, is that each of you does your part with a good will. If you're going out on your own, you don't come home and complain about how it wasn't any fun because she wasn't there. If she comes out, she doesn't sulk and complain about how the general population annoys her.

It sounds like you're doing all the adjusting here -- resigning yourself to a life without real-life social interaction in order to accommodate her desire to stay at home. Choosing one of these compromises, and then each of you considering the other person's happiness as important as your own, would be a fine way to go, but I don't think you should just continue to suppress your natural tendencies this way.
posted by palliser at 2:05 PM on October 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

yes, you are being unreasonable.

your girlfriend has every right to spend her time as she chooses. it is not for you to decide whether she should be on a website you don't care for, plays the guitar or goes out with you. if she decides that she wants to spend her days in a certain way and you try to stop her you are way out of line. the same is true the other way around: you may do with your time whatever you please.

the question you should be asking yourself is whether this person is right for you, if she gives you what you desire and if she gets from you what she desires. if you really are as unhappy as this thread makes it seem I'd consider finding someone better suited for you over keeping her from enjoying her time to the fullest extend. remember: this is not something she does because she has to, she chose it because she likes it. you would take that away from her, which is egotistical.

you would be right in mentioning your unhappiness to her. you should talk to her and see if you guys can work it out, whether you both think you want to make sure the other person is a bit happier and whether this makes sense. but first of all you need to talk to her. we are not the right people who can tell you what to do beyond telling you that yes, you are being unreasonable.
posted by krautland at 2:18 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would disagree that telling ask.metafilter the significant other in question doesn't really engage in the behaviors she talks about online is "nasty judgmental" or irrelevant. Kleenkat, presumably, is giving us these details because he or she does not understand what drives the girlfriend to enjoy these things--which is to say, what she gets out of it.

It sounds like kleenkat feels left out, nonplussed, and a little trapped by her behavior. I have one or two friends who behave like the girlfriend does--leaves the house much less, spends lots of time online doing things that don't seem particularly rewarding or meaningful--and it can be a little hurtful and confusing. I don't have any problem with or prejudice against this kind of behavior, in fact I would go so far to say that in college I was perhaps bordering on being antisocial with all the time I spent online. That being said, it can be hard for your friends and loved ones who don't "get it".

I believe, kleenkat, that much of this is about empowerment. It feels really good being a moderator or longstanding member of a forum or other online community. You're doing something and helping people. And I think the bit about unexpressed hobbies is huge, as well, but I disagree with your premise that she isn't involved anymore kleenkat. Do baseball fans on baseball forums play baseball regularly? Do fantasy sports geeks run their own teams? Do online FPS gaming communities frequently have deathmatches or even play paintball?

Things like real sports and hobbies engage the body and the wallet. It sounds like your girlfriend, kleenkat, is engaging these hobbies with her mind. And be careful not to lump all time spent online together as a single entity. I spend lots of time online, but that's because I can do lots of things online I used to have to do some other way--stay in direct contact with friends, manage social circles, shop, visit communities, do work research, learn about random topics, check out the news, read articles from my favorite authors, listen to music, even stay up to date on hobbies I might not pursue in my day-to-day life. And all of these things have communities.

"Time spent online" is far more broad than something like "time spent watching television" (which, in itself, is huge) or "time spent reading books" (which is more hugerlyish.) I suspect that your girlfriend is getting something online she lacks in everyday life--time spent with people she can help, people she agrees with or can sympathize with, and people with whom she shares certain things in common. The online world was practically built for that. How many people around me, geographically, share my taste in movies or music or clothes or politics or my hobbies? Very few. Online? The sky's the limit.

There are such things as internet addiction, but generally that kind of diagnosis can only come from the horse's mouth. Given that it has not done so in this case, I can only assume your girlfriend is happy with what she does online and thinks it reasonable. Feel free to suggest outside things, but she is going to feel equally free to decline.
posted by Phyltre at 2:27 PM on October 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

Since I started dating her I really miss REAL social interaction with people, even with strangers. It now makes me reluctant to participate in many social events because I know she will be bored or despise being there.

Let's get this straight:

You are completely dismissive of your girlfriend's social life and wish she would spend less time with her friends.
You would like to spend more time with your own friends, who she doesn't much like either.

So firstly, what do you really want?

If you want to spend more time with your friends, go and do that. There's no rules that a couple has to socialise as a unit 100% of the time!

Separately from your social life, If you'd prefer to spend more "quality time" with your girlfriend, how about suggesting activities that you can do together that you BOTH enjoy. Clearly going to wild parties isn't her idea of happy couple time. Maybe she could teach you about photography!

Finally, if it just BUGS you that she hangs out with online friends so much, get over it.

PS. People online are in fact real people. We live in the real world too.
posted by emilyw at 2:42 PM on October 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

If she can't even pause her online time to cook dinner, then yeah, she's overkilling it. I love the internet as much or more than the next girl, but there has to be a period in the evening that you spend together with your attention on each other. Otherwise, you're not in a relationship, you're in a college roommate situation. She needs to be a little more receptive to compromise.
posted by CwgrlUp at 3:10 PM on October 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

You're dating. You're not in a three legged race. If you want to go out, then go. There's nothing written in blood that says couple must spend every social moment together.

As to her internet time, what damage is it doing to her? If she's losing a job or gaming away her paycheck, then it's a problem. If she just digs the interwebs and wants to hang out there, then so be it.

BTW, I don't know what Fluther is, but I do know that it's probably not a good idea to build a relationship with someone who's interests you view as "ridiculous." If she cares enough about the community to moderate it, maybe you could ask her why she values it instead of telling her that the community could just google.
posted by 26.2 at 3:18 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

If she can't even pause her online time to cook dinner

Not sure if this is what you are suggesting, but if dinner isn't being cooked, this is something the OP can remedy. No reason why this should automatically be something the girlfriend is expected to do.
posted by marble at 3:26 PM on October 11, 2009

Marble, the OP said: "even when we are cooking dinner she intermittently checks the forums for new posts..."
posted by onshi at 3:31 PM on October 11, 2009

Which is to say, this is not about people assuming women should cook (or, to be precise, people assuming that others are assuming that women should cook); rather, it's about the question of how much hobby is too much hobby. I don't have any sage wisdom to offer except that the OP should try to reason this out by thinking of the forum-time as some unspecified time-consuming hobby -- someone above suggested baseball fandom -- and decide what to do on that basis. Thinking of the internet (and the people using it) as unreal is just a distraction.
posted by onshi at 3:35 PM on October 11, 2009

If she can't even pause her online time to cook dinner

I don't think that's the case - from the OP:

even when we are cooking dinner she intermittently checks the forums for new posts or to answer ridiculous questions on Fluther.

Popping away from cooking dinner to check an online conversation isn't any different from popping away to check the baseball score. There are a lot of words in this question that concern me, they are: ridiculous, weird, strange, unhealthy. People do all sorts of things that don't make sense to other people. Many hobbies that entrance some can seem like an incredible waste of time to others. What is coming through to me from the OP's question is that not only he doesn't understand his girlfriend's online hobby, but he doesn't have enough faith/respect for her to allow her to do something he doesn't understand without passing judgment. This has nothing to do with the time she spends online, but a more fundamental problem in the relationship that could be better mended by talking to the girlfriend rather than posting to askme.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:46 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

No, you are not being unreasonable, quite the opposite. It seems that your girlfriend wants to be in a relationship without actually participating in it. Talk to her. Don't attack her interests or how she uses her time, though.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:52 PM on October 11, 2009

I think you're being unreasonable in that you expect her to drop the stuff she wants to do to spend time with you, rather than breaking up with her because you two aren't right for each other. People want different degrees of "together" time and she clearly wants less of that than you do. Instead of trying to change her, or painting her as neglectful of you, you should move on. As hard as it may be to believe, there are actually people out there who wouldn't find her spending five hours a day doing anything to be upsetting.
posted by Nattie at 4:51 PM on October 11, 2009

Yet, when I try to get her to go out in the "real world" and hang out with friends, she says the general population annoys her.

I can relate to this, well, when I was younger. Before I started hanging out with my current groups of friends, I was bored by many real world interactions.

Maybe she is lacking intellectual stimulation in real life, perhaps she could join a book club or join a group at
posted by Eleutherios at 5:08 PM on October 11, 2009

Response by poster: OH yeah, totally irrelevant but I am a woman too. Re: dinner, I typically cook dinner but we do cook occasionally together. It just bugs me when I ask for a little help in the kitchen and she is busy moderating the forums etc. And yeah, she is definitely free to do with her time what she wants, no questions asked. I guess I have grown tired of not seeing my own friends, then when we do hang out with people, like I said - she seems incredibly bored or would rather be home, but.... when I go out alone she automatically thinks I'm going to go try and meet someone, or that I don't want her around! I try to soothe her insecurities, but instead of saying "Actually I'd rather you NOT go all the time with me because I know you'll be bored out of your mind" I say, "Ok, come on"

re: the hobbies... yes I understand we can engage in hobbies online etc. without actually doing them (like the baseball reference)...

I guess i"m just feel neglected I feel she would rather chat or talk to people online. Yes, I realize that people online are "real" as well! I have a few online friends.... but there is something about being social and physical interaction with other people that is not present when staring at a a screen...

Thanks everyone.
posted by kleenkat at 5:19 PM on October 11, 2009

Best answer: when I go out alone she automatically thinks I'm going to go try and meet someone, or that I don't want her around! I try to soothe her insecurities, but instead of saying "Actually I'd rather you NOT go all the time with me because I know you'll be bored out of your mind" I say, "Ok, come on"

Huh. You might laugh at me for being alarmist, but this sounds a little controlling to me. I know, I know, she's super-sweet and moderates a knitting forum, but hear me out: some people are controlling because it makes them angry to not be in-control, but some people are controlling because it makes them anxious to not be in-control. In the end, though, it has a similar effect: your horizons get narrowed to the point that you're both living the relatively shuttered life she's comfortable with.

If I were you, I'd want someone willing to see me go out, and be happy I'm having fun.
posted by palliser at 6:35 PM on October 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

Hm. Would you feel any differently if your girlfriend's online/away-from-you time was spent doing something you held in higher regard? For example, if she had a freelance web design job, was teaching herself a foreign language, or if the forum she moderated was for people with depression who couldn't afford therapy? Those things would still take up a good chunk of her time.

There are two issues here. One is that she is not making as much time for you as you want; the other is that you consider her interests to be silly and a waste of time. Either of these on its own can unhinge a relationship.

I think the first issue is the one you need to have a talk with her about. It's reasonable to want her to pitch in with cooking or chores. It's reasonable to want and expect to be able to spend a decent chunk of time with her without her rushing off midsentence to check her email. It's not reasonable to expect this all evening, or every waking moment (especially if you live together), or if you're not equally invested in spending the time with her. Some of this depends on context - if you consider dinner to be a date- or family-type event, the kind you spend at the dining room table asking each other how your days went, then divided attention is much less welcome than if you guys tend to eat dinner at the same time but one of you's reading a book and the other's online. There's time with your girlfriend and there's time around her, and the two of you might need to have a discussion about how much of each you want/need.

The second issue might not be something you can discuss/compromise on. She feels how she feels about what she does with her spare time. You can think it's a good use of her time, or you can think "well, that's what she does," but if you find yourself rolling your eyes at it, your relationship's days might be numbered. You mention when I say something to her she gets pissed off because I'm doing work for school - to me, that seems like she's saying "I'm not upset by how you spend your time, why are you bothered by how I spend mine?" I don't think it's possible to have a healthy relationship without mutual respect, and if she gets the impression that you think she's wasting her time online, she's going to start thinking you don't respect her choices/interests.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:39 PM on October 11, 2009

If you could convince her you have the right to go out alone and are not looking to meet others, that's the best option for staying in it. Her being "alone" on the internet would be akin to you going out alone, in that either of you could take an interest in an outside party but do not because of your monogamy. My boyfriend and I like different activities frequently, and we do them separately without cheating, so it's entirely feasible. If she can't deal with that compromise, then I would agree the behavior is controlling, and therefore, toxic.
posted by itsonreserve at 9:16 PM on October 11, 2009

I don't think you're being unreasonable at all. But, personally, I don't think that spending a lot of time online is healthy. If my girlfriend or my kids started doing it, I would ask them to stop, if not for the face to face interaction--which I believe is important--then to get some exercise. Lots of people will disagree with that, but there you go.
posted by smorange at 12:57 AM on October 12, 2009

So you have two separate problems that you need to solve. One, your GF being unhappy with you going out and socialising. Two, your GF not spending enough time with you.

I think your mistake is in seeing these as the same problem with a single solution, namely "GF goes out and socialises with you". You need two separate solutions.

Personally, I think her being uncomfortable with you going out alone is a problem SHE has that she needs to solve. You can undoubtedly help her with that, but if I were you my "help" would have an end goal of either being able to go out regularly on my own without upsetting anyone, or if that's not possible, ending the relationship.

Your second problem is something you can solve by coming up with activities the two of you can do together that both of you would enjoy. So, not going out with your friends and not hanging out on the internet. But there has to be something the two of you have in common that you can do together.
posted by emilyw at 1:58 AM on October 12, 2009

It says a lot that the person is unhappy when you want to go out with friends. There's no middle ground. She does what she wants and you do what she wants. Wash, rinse, repeat. Hard to see how that's considerate, reasonable and such. If there are real efforts on your part to find middle ground and it ain't happening... .
posted by ambient2 at 2:36 AM on October 12, 2009

Dump her. Obviously she's unhappy, you can't make her happy, and she doesn't want to make you happy.
posted by mhuckaba at 9:13 PM on October 12, 2009

Palliser brings up a great point; she's more in control online than she may think she is out a party. I'm a lot like this. I just get very anxious and feel dumb around new people. I never know what to say and it's a lot easier for me to write my thoughts out than hope my words or meanings get mumbled up in my nervousness verbally. Here's what would help me:

Quell her insecurities by taking her out spontaneously. Don't tell her beforehand, don't let her put on any makeup or just "do one more thing," before taking off -- that will just get her to change her mind. Have an evening planned out or just make a reservation for dinner. She might be angry at first but chances are she'll loosen up and remember how great it is to go out every once and awhile.

An ex was always trying to get me to go to college parties all the time. I wouldn't know anyone (save maybe one or two people I'd seen before) and I generally don't like that kind of setting even with people I do know.. it just seems fake to me and like your girl, I don't think I'll make any real connections.

I liked the guy a lot and wanted him to have fun, so I thought letting him go and staying home and doing my own thing (coincidentally sitting online all night) would be best -- but then I would spend all evening in my head, worrying about other girls and what if I would have had a good time?

Eventually he just stopped going and got depressed when people would call on Friday and Saturday nights, which made me feel like crap. What I found more enjoyable than house parties were going out to bars and clubs with smaller groups. Public places where I didn't feel as weird being in someone I didn't know's personal space.. or like everyone else knew each other and I was the weird "that guy's girlfriend." I was also always worried the parties would get busted for stupid people doing stupid things and I'd somehow get wrapped up in all of it. Naive to reflect on now but something to think about.

Find out if these are any of her concerns and work from there. I don't think all is lost like some people above. Good luck :)
posted by june made him a gemini at 4:40 PM on October 19, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, you guys are pretty helpful.
posted by kleenkat at 6:36 PM on October 21, 2009

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