Why would my S.O. be so opposed to my attending the same industry event as him?
January 28, 2010 9:58 PM   Subscribe

Industry event coming up and my S.O. really doesn't want me to attend, for some cryptic reason. He won't tell me just what the reason is, only throw out vague statements. Help me understand this situation. People who work in similar areas as your significant other - any advice? (others too)

S.O. and I are in separate, yet somewhat related positions in a specific industry. There is a big event coming up that I had planned to attend if I could swing it financially. S.O. has to attend for work. I planned to go to the event to enjoy myself, try out new things, and to network my ass off. Since I'm at the beginning stages of my career, the latter could really come in handy.

I presented the idea of attending together to my S.O. and he immediately nixed the idea. In fact, he asked (rather strongly) me not to attend at all. When I pressed the issue, stating my plans to attend. He told me not to come. He in fact, told me that were I to attend against his wishes, we're over. Huh?

I am understandably confused by the vague nature of what I can get out of him. I'm angry over the ultimatums and the big mystery. I have told him all this. He reacts angrily and things don't get clearer. This is not usual.

This will be his first big industry event (and mine), and he is in his first real job, for reference. He has, in fact, helped me and encouraged me to get certain opportunities in our field before, so he does care about my career.

I told him that I'm perfectly fine with attending separately, staying in different hotels, and not interacting much if at all during the event. If keeping things strictly professional would help, that's fine. I want to attend. But this isn't good enough for him. We got into a fight about this and he keeps telling me to trust him and not to go.

He said I'd be a mental distraction, and that he is asking me to forego the event so he "can be okay". You'd think that your S.O. would be a source of comfort, no? Either way, I really want to attend, for a number of reasons.

I'm extremely confused and he refuses to elaborate, simply asking me to trust him and to wait until next year's event to attend. I've already registered and paid admission, by the way, but I can cancel if necessary.

I feel like I will be resentful if I have to stay at home for reasons unknown, while he is there and I'm missing fun and potential opportunity.

Does anyone have any idea what his reasons might be? I already told him that he has no right to give me ultimatums, and he does have a bit of a controlling streak. I value my relationship and want to spend my life with this man, but no one is going to control me like that. This whole thing is just really, really odd and out of the ordinary.

I told him that if he just explained it in full and his reasons were good, I could process the whole thing and deal with perhaps not going. But I'm at a loss here.

I am NOT looking for relationship advice, so no DTMFA - none of that is helpful. What I am looking for is some clue into what I may not be seeing here, how to decode and understand his reasons and if I can't, how to cope if I decide to attend or if I don't.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (108 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
My first thought is that your partner might have an illicit relationship with someone that also attends the conference and doesn't want you to know about it.

Don't let petty ultimatums with no clear explanation keep you from advancing your career.
posted by chiababe at 10:02 PM on January 28, 2010 [69 favorites]

Maybe he's planning a surprise.
posted by cmoj at 10:05 PM on January 28, 2010

He wants to go to titty bars with the boys? Is it that kind of industry?
posted by mr_roboto at 10:05 PM on January 28, 2010

I'd guess your partner wants to get laid at the industry conference, only not with you.

But there could be some other reason.
posted by dfriedman at 10:07 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Does he have a hard time networking?

Me, I'm pretty shy; I don't really like attending big conferences with very good friends, because then I'll only talk to them, because I'm shy. But I really need to be talking with other people; that's why I'm there.

Alternatively, do *you* have a hard time networking? I also don't like attending big events with someone who will expect me to take care of them, because it's hard enough just dealing with my own issues. And it really sucks to finally get a conversation started with a colleague only to have a friend of mine who's a little clueless come in and mess it up.
posted by nat at 10:11 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe he's jealous of you, somehow. Perhaps he thinks you're smarter, better, going to be more successful in your seemingly related career, whatever, and sees you attending the conference as a threat to him, his own career or professional standing. That'd be pretty difficult to admit to one's partner. But my first guess was cheating, too.
posted by 6550 at 10:13 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

The first thought that popped into my head which just kept getting stronger the more info I read is that he has another girlfriend/SO/wife? who will be there. It's more than wanting to get laid from a random he might otherwise picked up (as you would just forgo it that night) there is someone he specifically doesn't want you to meet or know that you exist.

For him to threaten to end your relationship if you go says that the stakes are very high for him and he's desperate that you/they don't find out. (Maybe he's shagging his boss?) All of this is pure pure speculation but I would consider it imperative you go at this point, he's hiding somehting huge, regardless of your own work ambitions (and you should certainly go for that reason alone). Dodgyville. Let us know how it goes.
posted by Jubey at 10:17 PM on January 28, 2010 [21 favorites]

This is probably a really far call, but is there any chance he's hiding something from you about his career that would be exposed at the conference? Like he was fired and hasn't told you?

That ultimatum sounds like a pretty desperate action on his part.
posted by prettypretty at 10:19 PM on January 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

I am having a hard time thinking of a reason other than cheating. There could be other reasons, like the one 6550 mentioned, but it seems like he could give you more specific vague information, if that makes sense. If it's something innocent, it doesn't seem like he should be getting so defensive. The ultimatum is even more unnerving.
posted by a.steele at 10:22 PM on January 28, 2010

He's being an idiot for being defensive instead of 'fessing up whatever's eating him. But I will offer the story of when I did something a little similar:

When my SO and I were a new relationship, I, in the heat of the moment, floated the idea that he could come with me to the meeting at which I'd be working. Oh, shit. That's a TERRIBLE idea. I'm stressed, working 15-hour days, and will only want to vent about work if another human is present at the end of my day. I had to uninvite him.

He really, really didn't understand. He swore that he would entertain himself in [interesting city] without me, wouldn't be underfoot, wouldn't be a distraction, would endure some work venting, wouldn't keep me up late, but I was (correctly) absolutely sure that I really, really couldn't stand him being around with me in work mode.

If I were in your shoes, I would explain that he's making you crazy with the vagueness and that he needs to spill it or you'll assume the worst.
posted by desuetude at 10:25 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Maybe he's planning a surprise.

Assuming the OP's significant other is sane, he wouldn't go to such lengths (threatening to end the relationship!) to hide a surprise - nor would he do something that holds back the OP's career for it.

This is incredibly weird. Shyness or a surprise could explain him preferring you not to attend, but not an ultimatum like that.
posted by ripley_ at 10:28 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everyone says he's cheating on you because this is the internet, where people naturally gravitate toward the most salacious and least kind assumptions.

He probably enjoys mentoring you because it gives him a feeling of mastery. It places him in a structural position of superiority and he enjoys the feeling of being solicitous and generous with his knowledge and being respected for that, in turn. But a professional conference is where the big dogs are and he is most likely worried that he can't maintain that position with you while simultaneously deferring to the people he respects. This probably makes him anxious and hence the absurd ultimatum. Given the weirdness of his reaction, he's likely running through all kinds of scenarios in his head involving you figuring out that he's a fraud or some senior person in the field humiliating him in public.

So, ask yourself: are you ready to fly on your own? If so, tell him to grow a pair and attend the conference by yourself. If not, hang in there, learn what you need to from him, but be aware that he's effectively announced to you that he can't allow himself to consider you an equal in the field. So there'll be a conflict or a surrender in your future if you choose to stay with him.
posted by felix betachat at 10:33 PM on January 28, 2010 [8 favorites]

FWIW, I have known my husband for seven years and we've been married for five and 2009 was the first year he was allowed in the room when I'm presenting. For the first few years, I vastly prefered that he not go with me at all. There are two reasons for this. One: he makes me nervous; I feel much more flawed and vulnerable in my personal life than I do in my professional life and I sort of don't want that reality in the room sapping my confidence. Two: I live my life in little boxes and I DO NOT LIKE THEM TO TOUCH.

Perhaps your boyfriend is, like me, simply a freak.

Or perhaps your boyfriend has had a fling with someone attending the conference and everyone knows but you, which will potentially be awkward for him. (Not to mention you.)
posted by DarlingBri at 10:36 PM on January 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

My husband and I work in related fields of the same industry (VFX) and run a blog together in a tangential field (comics).

There is no way this sort of "OK, you're not going to NAB/ Comic-Con/ CineGear, either with me or without me, or else" setup would be normal for us. I can't even think of a situation where that would even come up, unless one of us was, I don't know, pitching Marvel to write the X-Men and was paralyzed with terror at the prospect of having the other person even in the same city at the time.

And shit, if one of us did land in that situation, you'd better believe it'd be "Spouse, I will utterly pants-shit if you are even in the same city when I do this X-Men pitch. Talk me down," not "I will totally divorce you out on the front steps at the top of my lungs if you show up in the same city while I pitch this X-Men thing."

I also don't get why it's this year in particular that has him horked off this much. What is he doing that's going to be more acceptable for you to see next year? Is he gunning for an opportunity at a firm you've been trying to work for-- "ha ha, I'm going to go pitch the X-Men behind your back, SO, and there's NAUGHT you can do for it! A ha ha ha!"-- or is he having one last go-round with a hot colleague?

I really don't know. It's certainly phrased in the least-savory way possible, though, and in such a way as to arouse every possible fiendish suspicion. Not cool.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:36 PM on January 28, 2010 [7 favorites]

He's cheating on you, or felix betachat is right and he's a narcissist. Either way, go to the conference.
posted by smorange at 10:36 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

I can understand someone wanting to keep their professional and personal lives separate, but he has to more clearly state that desire. That doesn't seem to be the case since you've offered to keep those two worlds separate while you are out there by staying at a separate hotel and keeping interaction to a minimum. That gesture, btw, was a understanding and generous offer on your part.
posted by tommccabe at 10:43 PM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

This guy is hiding something major from you.

There is something major that you will discover at this conference if you go, something he wants you not to discover.

He's either sleeping with someone, or his professional situation is at odds with the way he's described it to you.

But an ultimatum? He's saying that he knows that whatever you discover at the conference will cause the relationship to end, so better to be in the driver's seat rather than justbe caught red-handed.

I'm not saying hit the "DUMP" button.

I'm saying that he's lying to you &/or hiding something significant from you and willing to threaten an end to the relationship of you take steps to discover what that is.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:45 PM on January 28, 2010 [7 favorites]

He's probably just resentful of the loss of 'professional space' in having you involved in the same career as he is; you didn't do anything wrong, people just sometimes have feelings like that which may or may not make sense. At the same time, since feelings don't make sense all the time, he's not required to feel 'comfort' at having you along; he's only required by the relationship to express that in a coherent way so that you can make sense of it and plan for the future. Whatever his feelings are, you need to talk to him about it; there's nothing we can figure out for you, since we don't know you and we know even less about him.

Don't fall into the trap of trying to call his bluff. Threats are just power games – and threatening to go to the conf unless he explains is just as fruitless. Focus specifically on what he said: he said that attending the conference alone is more important to him than this relationship. That is a huge statement. Maybe there's something behind it; maybe he really, really cares about his career, and is letting you know (badly, but vividly) that he will always put his career ahead of his relationship with you. There's nothing morally wrong with that, but I get the feeling that it wouldn't really work for you. So ask him, point-blank, why being alone at this conference is so important; be ready for evasion, be ready for confusion, but be ready to insist, without letting up, that you need to know this if you two are going to make it work together. If this would make him want to leave, what will make him leave tomorrow? And if this bothers him so much that he sees you as threatening, how can you avoid being threatening in the future? I am not saying you two shouldn't be together; you say you want to be with him, and I trust that that's a measured decision. But you do need to be absolutely direct and completely honest about why this bothers you, and you need to make it clear that threats like that undermine the relationship in a fundamental way. He needs to open up. There's not much more to it than that.
posted by koeselitz at 10:46 PM on January 28, 2010 [17 favorites]

imo his reasons are irrelevant. The veto and ultimatum are disrespectful to you as a person, a partner, and a careerist.

This is a place for you to better your future in your career. Explain to him that this feels like a betrayal both personally and professionally, and an ultimatum can NEVER be backed up with vagueness. If this is big enough to end you as a couple, then he'd damn well better have a real reason for you, end of discussion.

As with the others, my first thoughts were to the salacious: if not an affair, then the basic wanting to have the nights out with the boys at the strip clubs, buying lapdances for eahc other and all that. That's some big male-bonding/networking there. Or he want to hire an escort.
Or he is incredibly insecure. Or he thinks he will have to babysit you and that will waste time he needs to be spending more productively.
But, sad to say, most every damn time a man pulls out the "NO but I won't tell you why you must trust me" schtick, there's fucking involved.
posted by Billegible at 10:56 PM on January 28, 2010 [13 favorites]

I honestly can't come up with much, like most other posters, other than affairs, a desire to make sure you remain subordinate to him in your professional development, or something similarly lame and/or skeevy as a reason for this reaction.

Even if the reason is one you'd think was fair enough if he disclosed it, his way of communicating the problem is unacceptbale.
posted by rodgerd at 11:00 PM on January 28, 2010

Oh, I knew we'd have to address this. Look, there are a lot of somewhat ridiculous guesses floating around here about him cheating; people on the internet see the words "conference" and "partner not going" and think "CHEATING!" That's because people haven't apparently read the question. Two points.

First, here's the salient point in the question itself:

anonymous: “This will be his first big industry event (and mine), and he is in his first real job, for reference.”

Okay, so do we all get that part? This is his FIRST conference, and it is for first legitimate job in the field. If he's going there to cheat with somebody, he's either (a) a real pro who has been going off to places and wooing ladies he's never met in whirlwind weekends; or (b) such an incredible idiot that he's already started an affair with a coworker in his first major job in the field and has already laid down plans for a hotel tryst which will be his first-ever opportunity for such a thing. Have we got that? There is no possibility that this is habitual – it's his first conference.

Second, there's the big threat. Pace Pirate-Monkey-Bartender-Zombie, but cheaters don't make threats. Guys who are cheating on their wives or partners don't say things like "don't call me when I'm working late tonight, or I'll leave you!" "Don't come by the office when I'm there on Saturday, or I'll never speak to you again!" Threats are suspicious. Anybody who's managed to keep an affair a secret doesn't do it by making bombastic threats to leave at the drop of a hat; he does it by deception. anonymous, you say that you told him you'd be happy to stay in a separate hotel; why wouldn't that mollify the cheater, since he'd then be totally free to cheat as much as he likes? If he were meeting up with someone, he would have calmed down at that point and said it was fine. He didn't; there's something different going on.

People will probably keep coming in here and telling you that he's cheating on you, anonymous. My advice to you is not to worry too much about it; often when a bunch of people say something like that, it can seem jarring, but that's just how the internet is. Trust your instincts, be rational about it, and above all talk to him until you understand where he's coming from.
posted by koeselitz at 11:01 PM on January 28, 2010 [19 favorites]

Here's the thing: affair or no affair, he refuses to talk about why in the world he is putting this conference above their relationship. He refuses to communicate with the OP, which to me is a red flag. A big, fat, waving-in-the-wind red flag.
posted by too bad you're not me at 11:06 PM on January 28, 2010 [55 favorites]

At the very least, he's not interested in your career (and financial) well-being, only his.

At worst, he's stabbing you in the back career-wise, using emotional blackmail to control you, and he's mostly likely hiding something very very serious.

By taking DTMFA off the table, you are saying you're OK with all this. I wonder why would you think this is an acceptable sort of disagreement to be having with an intimate partner?
posted by jbenben at 11:06 PM on January 28, 2010 [8 favorites]

I wouldn't give him the ultimatum of "you tell me or I'm going to the conference." I would give him the not-really-an-ultimatum of "you tell me why something about this conference is more important to you than our relationship, or I have no reason not to be in a relationship with you anymore."
Just because he HAS to go for work, and you are CHOOSING to go for networking doesn't mean you have any less of a right to go to the conference than him. If you are a professional in that field, why shouldn't you be able to go? He's being ridiculous. Either he's hiding something shady (like having lied about his career, more likely than an affair), or he is so insecure in something about himself or you that he is willing to sabotage the relationship to keep you away. Now, as far as the affair thing, it seems less likely unless he has a BIG secret, like an entirely separate significant other. Flings tend to know they're the other man or woman and are willing to hide the affair in public/when the S.O. is around. If people at his job know he has an S.O., seems unlikely.
posted by ishotjr at 11:21 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

That is: or I have no reason not to be in a relationship with you anymore.
posted by ishotjr at 11:22 PM on January 28, 2010

You're seriously overthinking it. If you think the conference will advance your career, go, and don't spend the rest of your life regretting not going when in 6 months weird-behaving S.O. goes off to rehab or chasing the booth babe that winked at him. Whatever the root of his hinky behavior is, felix hit the nail on the head.. he's ready to go on without you, why the hell shouldn't you be prepared to go on without him?

I told him that if he just explained it in full and his reasons were good, I could process the whole thing and deal with perhaps not going. But I'm at a loss here.

Obviously he doesn't want to explain, so if you want to pursue the 'why', maybe you verbalize the possible reasons to him and explain what your reaction would be? "So I'm going to assume you need to see an old girlfriend during the evenings.. I can get past that, just use a condom" or "So you need to do lines of coke off a pole-dancer.. call me in the morning or call me from jail so I can bail you out?"

If it's SxSW you're coming to, you'll have a great time.. there's some networking that goes on here, but there's also tons of beery boozy fun, even during the interactive portion, and plenty of options for everyone to get whatever they're after, prurient or career-oriented.
posted by TuffAustin at 11:22 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

An ultimatum like that is just begging to be tested, if you ask me. Win-win!
posted by salvia at 11:23 PM on January 28, 2010 [6 favorites]

If he values you so little that this is all it takes for him to end the relationship, what's in it for you to stay? He fundamentally doesn't care about you or your career.

If he's that willing to end the relationship for whatever reason, then go. You deserve better.
posted by aquafortis at 11:26 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm slightly worried about the direction this discussion is taking, so I want to step back a little and gentle reconsider some of the things that I think are going on in your situation, anonymous.

I still feel pretty firmly that the core problem is that both of you are engaging in exerting power over each other whereas you ought to be working on opening up and communicating with each other. Power games can be very, very difficult to avoid, especially in the society we're in, because power is a large, looming specter that seems very important and significant. Often, when we dismantle the power struggles, we find that, behind them, there are relatively innocuous or at least quite acceptable things behind them. They're like the Wizard of Oz; they make a big noise, and they seem to be very large and political and important and all that, but behind the curtain they're just small and frail.

It's easy to see him as being domineering, controlling, manipulative, maybe even narcissistic. And this action is probably all of those things. But you said above very clearly that he is not – you said that he's helped you in your career, too, that he's supported you as a partner should and that he's backed you up commendably. So I'd say you should give him the benefit of the doubt; you need to know what the heck is going on inside his head, but I think it's very possible, even most likely, that he's just in over his head emotionally on something.

People often have a very hard time expressing exactly how they feel about a particular thing. That's especially true in the context of our careers and how they relate to our spouses' careers. You say he's supported you a lot; that's great, but it might be that he's held back some desire for space or for independence because he felt as though it would be wrong to demand those things of you. If he did that, and kept it bottled up inside, it would make sense for it to come out in a very weird threat like that.

That's really only one of the many, many possibilities. People blurt things like that out all the time. I'm not belittling it – on the contrary, I think you need to have a long talk with him about where that was coming from – but be prepared to discover that it was coming from misdirected feelings, repressed guilt or resentment, or some other emotion that he's been keeping inside. It's normal to have to let those emotions out and talk about them; that's the sign of the health of a relationship, and it'll be really great when you guys can talk this through.
posted by koeselitz at 11:26 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, lots of people seem to disagree with me, and think that you should push right back and call him on his bluff. The reason I said you shouldn't is this: he said something very significant. He said that the conference is more important to him than the relationship. I'm fairly certain that he was speaking emotionally, and didn't really mean it, but if you call his bluff, you are declaring to him that the conference is more important than the relationship to you, too. No matter how you swing it, I really don't think that's healthy. Both of you sound like you value it. Your tone approaching him should probably be one of reconciliation, not division, if you want to preserve the relationship: 'I really care about you, and I honestly believe you care about me, so how could you say this?'
posted by koeselitz at 11:32 PM on January 28, 2010 [8 favorites]

I can think of a few other reasons why one might have the impulse to ask one's SO to stay home from a professional event:

- SO is deliciously distracting, and it's really really impossible to say no to dinner, extra time in bed in the morning, gossiping -- but this event is really really important, succeeding is very important so that we can have a chance at a truly excellent life, and the stress and having to handle the tension between the two is unbearable -- but explaining this makes one seem and feel like a weak person who can't just choose to focus on work;

- SO is used to flirting to get way (probably not in this case); having a love along will make flirting seem weirder;

- SO finds poster's attire, appearance, attitude, or conversation mildly embarrassing, and wants to solidify his position before introducing this new person;

- SO is part of a tight-knit group which has a strong shared sense of identity built around loserness and singlehood; having a girlfriend might weaken or dissolve this identity and group membership;

- SO is known as a Catholic priest; breaking of celibacy vow will lead to many long, distracting explanations;

- SO finds relationship incredibly stressful for whatever reason (constantly wondering when girlfriend is going to leave, constantly trying to be better person) and just can't bear living with that stress along with new conference stress;

- SO has been looking forward to professional conference for years and years, but the beautiful imagined vision of conference-going doesn't have room for girlfriend - SO wants to live his vision/dream, but thinks this sounds too ridiculous too explain.
posted by amtho at 11:37 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

He's been mentoring you, but he's almost as new to the industry as you are.

He's represented some of your work as his, and will be (informally or formally) presenting it at the conference.
posted by orthogonality at 11:38 PM on January 28, 2010 [48 favorites]

koeselitz - I favorited you. And I want to put a condition on that.

Threatening to end a relationship over something like this.... I don't know. The BF's reaction is very extreme. People only act that desperate when they are, and I can't help but think there is a lot more to the story than "misdirected feelings." Ultimately, there is an ugly disclosure under that rock way bigger than feeling smothered or insecure.

I applaud the the call for being non-divisive, but I wouldn't go as far as reconciliation until the OP knows exactly what the deal is.

The only type of man I knew who would threaten me with stuff just like that was a cheater and a liar, and probably a narcissist. Myself and others made excuses for him for years. We all got seriously burned. I'm really worried the OP is downplaying something serious.
posted by jbenben at 11:52 PM on January 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

>: He's represented some of your work as his, and will be (informally or formally) presenting it at the conference.

This strikes me as the most likely possibility.

I would go to the conference and find out what's going on. Sounds like a win-win situation to me. Such ultimatums are not what a good relationship is based on.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:54 PM on January 28, 2010

Too bad you want to network, otherwise you could go incognito a la Wilma and Betty at the Royal Order of Water Buffaloes meeting. Or Lucy and Ethel at The Club.

Maybe he stole an idea from you or innocently passed on an idea that you had to someone who then turned into something that will be discussed at the conference.

Maybe he's giving a speech or is on a panel and thinks he might freeze if you're there.

Maybe he thinks you are too beautiful/smart/funny and is worried someone might woo you away from him so his entire focus will be making sure that doesn't happen.

Needless to say, he needs to tell you what the hell is up. Until he does you should be the one threatening to end things. Life's too short to play mind games with someone you supposedly love.
posted by wherever, whatever at 11:57 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

And along with my little aside... I think orthogonality has it.

"He's represented some of your work as his, and will be (informally or formally) presenting it at the conference."

That is exactly the type of shit we put up with from the guy I used as a personal example, above. That, and the sleeping around behind everyone's back.

Ah, youth.

OP. Play it cool, keep the drama low for now. Go to your conference. Agree to pick up the conversation with your BF about your relationship after you get back.
posted by jbenben at 12:00 AM on January 29, 2010

My first impression here is that he's scared shitless that he's going to screw something up here and he doesn't want you within a thousand miles of it if he can avoid it. That doesn't mean it is that, and not any other particular issue, but there it is. I wouldn't assume cheating. I have known people in the past with performance anxiety such that they were a mess if they even thought a family member might come to the place they were performing. This could be like that. But our guesses matter very little.

Don't just go and assume you're going to patch stuff up later. If this isn't about him covering something up but is an issue of irrational feelings, then behaving like that just says, "I don't care about your anxieties, I just care about my career." What you've told him so far is, "Provide me with rational reasons to not go and I'll consider it." But maybe he doesn't have rational reasons. If you go and find out he was just having performance anxiety and not doing anything awful, what do you do when you get back? Tell him oops, sorry? It's not gonna fly. And if you find out he was, it's over anyway. So you might as well just assume that going ends the relationship. This may be worthwhile, but it doesn't sound like what you want.

In the end, if it's just that he's anxious, usually in a relationship, a conflict between someone who is required to do something and someone who just wants to do something means that the want has to give in. He can't opt out of this, you can. This is why you have to be the one to give a bit here--not that your career is less valuable or anything else. You've got a chance at career enhancement, but it sounds like he's doing the sort of thing where a sufficient screw-up could cost him his job.

I would stay home, contact people I knew and trusted in the industry to see if there was any sign of behavior like him having stolen someone's work or whatnot, and spend my effort opening up some conversation about our respective feelings, if I wanted to salvage things. But if I liked my job better than I liked the SO, well, that might be another story.
posted by larkspur at 12:20 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree that it's damn weird, in my reference frame, to be calling out relationship-ending ultimatums over something that isn't a Huge Frakkin Deal. But I have known couples who yell "divorce!" every time someone doesn't do the dishes. It may just be something that he jumps straight to when he's angry (in which case you need to find out and work on fighting fair).

I've agreed with pretty much everything koeselitz has said. AND with the possibility that there's something he doesn't want you personally to see at the con - if he's presenting, maybe it's stolen data or he's just petrified at the thought of having you in the room. Maybe, as amtho mentions, he's afraid you'll embarrass him in some way - maybe he told the guys he's single to bond with them better, or told them about his bombshell of a genius girlfriend and is afraid you won't live up to his stories, or is just irrationally petrified that they'll find out he's really a person with a heart and not some super-worker (I had that fear in my first job).
posted by Lady Li at 12:23 AM on January 29, 2010

Here's another non-cheating explanation for his behaviour: his gut reaction that he didn't want you at the conference (because he's insecure, because he doesn't want you competing with him there, professional jealousy, whatever) got voiced, he recognizes it's a lousy reason, whatever it is, and he doesn't know how to back down. Having escalated it to an ultimatum, he's trying to deflect it by turning it into a trust issue, because now, the original sin of an unworthy thought has been compounded by the escalation. Throw in a dash of control issues, and there you go: he's neck deep in shit over essentially nothing. He might be worrying about this right now, trying to figure out how he got there and how he can fix it.

It wouldn't be the first time a relationship was wrecked by doubling down on a glib mistake.
posted by fatbird at 12:26 AM on January 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'd guess that the ultimatum is because he did or plans to do something so bad (plagiarism? sex? whatever?) that he thinks it will make you leave him.

Assuming this is the case, the question is: if your SO did something so bad you would probably leave him, would you want to know about it (even though it would mean leaving him) or would you prefer not to know about it (even though it would mean staying with someone who did something so transgressive that if you knew you'd leave him)?

Answer that, then proceed accordingly.

(I vote you go to the conference, even if it means you ditch Mr. Ultimatum. But then I don't much care for threats or secrecy, myself.)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:34 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been to huge industry events with my entire team and managed to only see them across the room, glancingly, despite being in the same meeting center for hours and cross-pollinating clutches of people as we mingled. In other words, even if your SO were so sensitive as to be concerned about your presence at the event throwing his game, it's a meaningless worry and he's going to need to shed that in order to succeed, anyway.

As many have said above, don't let his whatever it is keep you from attending. You can be pretty much guaranteed to benefit directly and permanently from being there, if only to learn how these events work while you're still a year more junior than you will be next time the event comes around. It's not as meaningless as it sounds - you can get away with having stars in your eyes, being more nervous, not knowing as many people, having less to broadcast when you network, and still come out with major learning and new contacts. Not that you can't do that next year, but striking while the iron is hot and you're still fresh is a major advantage. Whatever his reasons really are, it's more than selfish to ask you to stay away from something you not only should do for your career but were planning to attend before it became drama.

Go and ignore him (or briefly & professionally acknowledge him - sans drama, regardless of the situation you find him in). Stay in separate lodgings, preferably in the vicinity of colleagues who will have no idea they're buffering you from relationship weirdness. And, again, keep it professional no matter what you find out.

But, then, you might be choosing your career over your SO. And that might be "DTMF" advice, although that's not the intention. All I can say to that is he's laying a pretty heavy ultimatum on you for seemingly no reason at all when he knows how important this event is for career development. It doesn't matter if he's doing something raggedy behind your back or planning it - you're not wanting to go to be by his side, you're wanting to go to advance yourself. If he can't accept even that arrangement without scratching a mysterious line in the sand, you need to focus more on self-preservation than on whatever has him tweaking.

What a terrible situation to be in. I wish you luck regardless of the choice you make. Be true to yourself and the future you desire.
posted by batmonkey at 1:12 AM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

if you call his bluff, you are declaring to him that the conference is more important than the relationship to you, too

As usual, koeselitz's advice is really good. But deciding to go does not have to send this message. The message could be a question about process. The question on the table now, it seems to me, is whether you make decisions together, or not. For me, calling his bluff for me would be saying "sorry, but you don't get to just tell me what to do."

Given that there have been other controlling actions in the past, the ultimatum would have put me halfway out the door. In relationships, it's important to me that we respect one another's autonomy. If the rest of you can subject yourself to arbitrary and capricious ultimata made in the heat of the moment, then make excuses for the other person so that you can view the situation with understanding and compassion, then reach out sympathetically again after they react hostilely to your first attempt at discussing it, more power to you, seriously.

But personally, I would (considerately and respectfully) clarify that I couldn't decide not to go on the flimsy basis I had at the moment, and that I'd really like to talk about a way to work it out or understand why it was unresolvable, but that if we couldn't have that conversation, I'm sorry, but I wouldn't be able to cancel my plans to attend. I would do my best not to interact with him, and if there's anything else I can do, he should tell me. If he broke up with me over that, then for me it would be good that the relationship ended.
posted by salvia at 1:13 AM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Ultimately, I think there are a lot of good suggestions above about what the cause might be. I'd suggest you step away from that for a moment, however, to consider this: he has something going on with his desires that is so important he'd break up with you over it, yet he is unwilling or unable to communicate effectively about it.

So, we can take two viewports for consideration:

If we're taking the most charitable view, that his intentions are innocent but he just sucks at communicating things (the "doubling down on a glib mistake" theory, one of those above that I like) then you're dating a guy who can't communicate, and that's never a good thing.

If we're taking a less charitable view (plenty of possibilities are noted above), that his intentions are somehow nefarious or he's been hiding something (from you, or hiding the fact of you from other people) then you're dating a guy who's doing a bad thing, and that's never a good thing.

If I were in your shoes, I wouldn't attempt to figure him out in either case. I would simply state something like "I hear and understand you, but this conference is important to me, too; I don't know if you have a perfectly understandable reason for me not to attend and just can't communicate it, or if you're trying to hide something from me, but frankly I don't care -- if me going to this conference is something that you'd leave me over, then do it, because I don't want to spend the rest of my life with someone who's either willing to hide things from me or unable to communicate with me. So now's your chance to clear this whole thing up, which is what's best for us; otherwise I'm going to the conference, because it's what's best for me."

Of course, I have a history of being a hardass like that and having it pay off (in this case, him effectively communicating a legitimate reason for you not to go, or saying "I'm an idiot, of course you should go" are both ideal payoffs) so YMMV.

At the end of the day, the one thing I would not do is skip the conference.
posted by davejay at 1:21 AM on January 29, 2010 [39 favorites]

Entirely regardless of the whole "what is the boyfriend up to" issue: just go. Boyfriend being a dick? Get a different hotel. Take a different flight. Don't bother hanging out with him.

It sounds to me that irregardless of the relationship issues, this is an important event in your industry and therefore provides critical networking opportunities for you. You should be advancing your career whether or not you have your boyfriend's permission: in twenty years, you might still be in this industry but not with this guy. SO's are not a good excuse to keep you from being the best that you can be.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 1:33 AM on January 29, 2010

didn't catch the "cheaters don't make threats" statement before...

cheaters do make threats. lots of them. often. sometimes they're obvious, sometimes not. but it's common practice for cheaters to rely on all kinds of silly and not-so-silly threats in order to either protect their endeavours or keep a door open (which may be one and the same).

if they're ethically flexible enough to cheat, they're ethically flexible enough to find ways to make the person they're abusing the trust of feel even less comfortable with confronting them.
posted by batmonkey at 1:57 AM on January 29, 2010 [9 favorites]

It seems like this has turned into a power struggle for you both. It might be possible to de-escalate (is that a word?) the issue, if you approach him and let him know that you don't want to end the relationship over this.

Ask him if he feels like he's actually communicated himself properly to you. If he says no, or that you're not understanding him, take the time to sit down calmly and start the conversation again from the beginning, wiping the slate clean of what's come before and just trying to figure it out. People who aren't good at communication can still learn how to do it better, and before they do, they can usually manage to get across their side of the story eventually.

If he indicates that he's said all he's going to say, and will follow through on breaking up with you over this, then I don't really know what you can do. You've already given ground on some things to compromise, there's not much left other than staying home because he thinks you should just trust him without any reason. When you ask "why?" and his only answer is "because I said so!", he's treating you like a child.

You've indicated that he's been a bit controlling before. If you get the "because I said so", then he's controlling *and* doesn't think you deserve explanations for weird shit that he does, or the opportunity to further your career in the same way that he does. You would be getting into frog in boiling water territory - how much disrespect are you willing to put up with before you jump out?
posted by harriet vane at 2:30 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

(****: ***** ******. You can choose whether to think things through, rationally, or go with your gut, instinctively. I see too many "gut" reactions here but I can understand the whole selfish-gene mentality. I mostly go by gut, and it has burned me just as thinking-things-through has. YMMV.)

There are a million possibilities.
1) His boss will be there and he is nervous as is.
2) He's going to focus on meeting new contacts and making connections, and doesn't want the distraction of a girlfriend following him around. Believe me. It is tremendously distracting.
3) His ideas and work philosophies are entirely incompatible (and uncompromisingly so) with yours that having you argue him (during a pitch, etc) would destroy his credibility.
4) Work does not equal girlfriend time.
5) He doesn't enjoy your company around work friends.
6) He does not want to pay for additional meals/hotel rates/bills/expenditures on you.
7) His boss said he must go alone. (Cost/high-risk presentation/high-profile event)
8) He wants to keep his options open for after-conference events.
9) He is buying you an engagement ring.
10) His best friend lives in the town/city and they're going out for drinks after.
11) He doesn't want to be with you this weekend.
12) He's ABSOLUTELY cheating on you.
13) His mother doesn't approve of you and she's going to be there.
14) You aren't good at your job and might make him look bad.
15) He is terribly uncomfortable with having you around during work stuff.

Okay. So maybe not a million, but 10's of things on his mind. Which sucks, when the only reasons a person should be attending a conference in the first god damn place is to a) learn new stuff, b) meet new contacts for business and c) have a bit of fun.

If you can't leave it alone, and he doesn't feel like he can trust you, then you're pretty much SOL anyway. I would suggest a girls' night out and party and gossip about this then.
posted by Khazk at 2:45 AM on January 29, 2010

I agree with koeselitz's doubts that it's an affair. I think a cheater would come up with a compelling reason why you shouldn't come and then work hard to keep you calm and unsuspicious.

I think his angry and incoherent reaction points more towards something fatbird suggested: a silly escalation that is now out of his control.

My guess is this: If this is his first big conference, perhaps he's overly worried about what his colleagues will think. Perhaps he's worried about being branded as "whipped" if you come along.

"Ha, ha, I guess you won't be joining us at the strip club tonight, Boyfriend of Anonymous! Ho, ho, we're off to bond as a group whilst watching gravity's effects on female mammary glands! We will also consume large amounts of high-percentage alcoholic beverages! Well, have fun watching a Hugh Grant movie tonight on pay-per-view... On Monday morning we shall recount our dalliances around the water cooler while you watch from the sidelines like a quiet, neutered puppy, ha, ha!"

Men are stupid sometimes. A lot of the time, actually. But that still shouldn't excuse him from telling you what's going on, regardless of how embarrassing the truth may be.
posted by Ljubljana at 2:50 AM on January 29, 2010

I'm less interested in why, and more in the how: it's incredibly manipulative--bordering on controlling and emotionally abusive--of him to try to MAKE you not do something that would forward your own career goals by threatening to end the relationship.
posted by availablelight at 5:00 AM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think people are overlooking a very likely possibility: the guy is going to his first big conference, and having his SO there will look to others like he's not taking it seriously, rather he's just using it as an excuse for a semi-paid vacation with his partner. Unless you're extremely well established in your field - which is not the case here - having your partner there always undercuts any message of hard work and dedication. It always looks like the SO is taking advantage of a paid hotel room by having his partner there, and probably looking for any opportunity to duck out and spend time away from the conference and with the other person.

I'm as far from a pointy-headed boss as possible, but if an employee brought an SO along on a conference - even though that's not exactly what would be happening here - I would not be impressed. Someone who's proven themselves and proven that they know how to work a conference effectively - maybe that would be OK. Maybe.

There's one other possibility: OP, are you and your SO gay? Is your SO in the closet at work? I see nothing in the original post that indicates that this is a straight couple. This whole bit with the threats could be nothing more than embarrassment on the part of your SO that he's not out to his co-workers. OR - it could be that the co-workers or bosses have made enough homophobic comments to make it clear that there IS a professional threat to coming out.
posted by mikel at 5:02 AM on January 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

I really don't get stage fright. I feel pretty comfortable (sometimes too comfortable) speaking publicly, that is, unless someone I am close to is in attendance. If a close friend or family member is there, I'm sunk. I stammer and stumble. I think its my "character" I just can't get into the character of confident, knowledgable speaker-guy if I know deep inside that someone out there is seeing through it. Recently I had to give a presentation at my brother's workplace and he introduced me and everything, it was a nightmare. Luckily my wife and his wife decided not to come and he sat beside me where if I didn't turn to the side I didn't have to see him and I could pretend he was not there.

Now, he could be getting jitters or he could be getting some convention "strange" one way or the other could result in vague, embarrassed half excuses.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:12 AM on January 29, 2010

Maybe it is his first big conference and having you there would be a mental distraction? Like he said? It could be that if you were there, he'd feel guilty—no matter what you have told him—for not spending time with you while you were both in this same, "foreign" location, and he'd feel more comfortable just being able to do his own thing.
posted by synecdoche at 5:16 AM on January 29, 2010

On the serious note: Ultimatums do not breed healthy relationships.

And you have us 'guessing' at a why. If you're in a relationship and there isn't any real communications, you're in real trouble. You've said, "Please, no DTMFA," but then again, you're asking for conjecture about someone's shady behavior.
posted by filmgeek at 5:22 AM on January 29, 2010

We have no solid facts. Ask him if he is having an affair.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:27 AM on January 29, 2010

Regardless of his motivations, this is bad boyfriend behavior. Respectful
partners don't invoke the nuclear option over things like this.
posted by DWRoelands at 5:31 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's really up to him to enlighten you as to what's going on. The internet doesn't know.

What's for damn sure is that you should go to the conference. If you cave to this ultimatum, whatever it's driven by, you will only invite more ultimatums and threats, and it will be the death of your relationship. You should be ready to listen to him and do your best to understand his feelings, but you should NOT, even for a minute, consent to making your own life smaller for the sake of his comfort.
posted by jon1270 at 6:02 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nthing "go." And if it was just stage fright/awkwardness at your presence, he wouldn't have invoked the Ultimatum. Beyond that, we don't have enough to go on, and neither do you, apparently—hence the need to go. If I were you, I would feel a need to know what's up, above all else.
posted by AugieAugustus at 6:11 AM on January 29, 2010

I would bring it up once more, calmly, and ask whether or not he was serious about ending the relationship if you attend the conference. If he reaffirmed his statement, you need to realize what kind of guy you're with. It doesn't matter if it's the most innocuous reason in the world - stage fright, nerves, whatever - he is willing to sacrifice your whole relationship to avoid communicating with you. He's hurting your career without telling you why. This is very, very Not Okay.

At that point I would stop pandering. Stop mentioning it. Book your own flight and hotel. If you see him at the conference, give him a polite nod and move on.

I'd be as confused as you are and mad as hell.
posted by amicamentis at 6:59 AM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Regardless of why he does not want you to be there, which we really cannot figure out for any certainty it is clear he is being an unreasonable dick about this. If you have any self esteem at all you will go to the conference, do whatever you can to advance your career and tell this jerk to fuck off.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:02 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Agree with Mikel... he's in the closet at work.
posted by cp7 at 7:12 AM on January 29, 2010

I also agree with pretty much everything koeselitz has said here.

I doubt he's cheating. My work life and personal life (like DarlingBri's) are also in separate little boxes, as are my wife's. We try not to mix them if possible, mainly because we tend to distract each other. I'm pretty sure that's not unusual.

What is unusual and unacceptable is he's threatened to end your relationship if you attend. As koeselitz says, this means he places a lower priority on your relationship than his career. He needs to be far clearer about why he's being defensive. What is it about you attending that he finds threatening? If it were me, I'd confront him about it further.
posted by zarq at 7:31 AM on January 29, 2010

This seems fairly straightforward to me.

You say that you're both in the early stages of your careers, that this is his first big job and that this would be his first industry event. You say that he's told you that you'd be a distraction and that he needs you not to be there so that he can "be okay."

I work in comics, and I remember what my first big industry events were like. They're terrifying. If your SO is anything like me, he's probably half-convinced that he's going to say or do something wrong to jeopardize his entire career, and that it will take every ounce of his will and composure to effectively network in the way in which he needs to to make this conference worthwhile.

As a few others have said or implied, your SO is likely worried that he'll be a strung out, emotional mess during this conference. He's probably worried that if you're there with him, you'll not only distract him form what he needs to do, but put him in a place where he risks sabotaging your relationship by venting his fears and anxieties toward you. (Does he manage his anxiety well? Does he have a history of taking his frustrations out on you or picking fights when he's under stress?)

None of this excuses his terrible behavior of course. While his fears and anxieties are understandable he clearly isn't managing them very well -- he shouldn't be tossing out ultimatums and he owes it to you to be forthright about his reasons.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:59 AM on January 29, 2010

I do not get a good feeling about his behavior, and I admit that my first thoughts were that there's something there, this year, that is so, so important that you don't see or find out about. But you know what, it's equally possible that he has a deep insecurity and is scared of you being there to witness him be less than mentor-worthy.

But here's the thing - if you want to spend your life with him (potentially), then do you want this to set a precedent for what kind of behavior you will and won't accept from him? You've asked for an explanation, been willing to talk it through - but he just says no, you can't go or we're over?

It makes zero difference reason what his reasons are - he doesn't get to issue unilateral, no-explanation decrees about what you do. He just doesn't.

I say keep talking to him about it, and try to de-escalate as much as possible. In other words, be firm, but nice. If he doesn't give you a good reason to stay home, don't stay home.
posted by KAS at 8:01 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

koeselitz - "He said that the conference is more important to him than the relationship. I'm fairly certain that he was speaking emotionally, and didn't really mean it, but if you call his bluff, you are declaring to him that the conference is more important than the relationship to you, too."

I don't think this is right. If the OP goes to the conference, then he/she is declaring that the relationship is less important than not being controlled by arbitrary ultimatums.

Here's an example: my wife is very important to me. Certainly she's more important than my job. If there was some irreconcilable conflict between my job and my wife, I'd choose my wife in a heartbeat. In fact, when my wife moved to Kentucky for grad school, I told my company that I was moving to be with her and they could either let me work remotely or else I'd be quitting. (Fortunately, they decided to let me work remotely.)

But, if my wife suddenly announced that she wanted me to quit my job and refused to give any explanation, just "quit by next week or I'm leaving you" , then that would be on her. One party in a relationship can't just say "follow my orders without question or we're breaking up". I'd say that's a principle much more important than any conference.
posted by tdismukes at 8:03 AM on January 29, 2010 [18 favorites]

You want to attend the conference; this is something you control. You want to understand why your SO does not want you to attend the conference; this is something your SO controls. At this point, all you can do is ask him to help you understand, but, in the absence of an explanation beyond "just trust me!" it doesn't make sense to skip an event that could be important to your career. Because, really, while it's reasonable to feel discomfort at the idea of seeing your SO at a professional event, and it's reasonable to want to present a certain persona in professional settings, it's unreasonable and wrong to make bizarre threats, evade clarifying questions, and then say "trust me."

I think it would be reasonable to say, not as a threat but as a statement of fact, "I have been looking forward to attending this conference and am excited about it. You have presented me with anger, ultimatums, and threats in order to deter me from attending. If you can help me understand why you are so uncomfortable with the possibility of my attending the conference, I think we can work out a solution. However, I can't listen to your angry threats and ultimatums and simply say 'ok'--I need to understand what's going on before I make choices that could seriously adversely affect my career."
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:06 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, having reread your post one more time, one part in particular stands out:

S.O. has to attend for work. I planned to go to the event to enjoy myself, try out new things, and to network my ass off.

You don't say if he'll be traveling with coworkers or not, which strikes me as an extremely important detail, as his freakout may have as much to do with company politics as anything else. If this is a new job, he may still feel insecure in his position within the office and his relationships with his coworkers. Not wanting to have to juggle his romantic relationship in addition to carefully managing vulnerable professional relationships seems pretty understandable to me.

This may just be poor wording on your part, but it also seems like there's a considerable gulf between your reasons for wanting to attend -- he is required to for his job, and you want to because you think it might be interesting and handy. He has no choice as to whether or not he attends this, and he may be irritated with you because he feels like you're causing him professional stress for what he may feel to be frivolous or impulsive reasons.

But again, I would stress that none of this is an excuse for ultimatums with vague explanations. He needs to be forthright with you.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:15 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am NOT looking for relationship advice, so no DTMFA - none of that is helpful. What I am looking for is some clue into what I may not be seeing here, how to decode and understand his reasons and if I can't, how to cope if I decide to attend or if I don't.

Your partner made this about your relationship, how can anyone advise you on this and it not be relationship advice?

I wrote something longer and just deleted it because it was unnecessary. Here's the bottom line:

Stop looking for more information to fill in what you don't know. Not only is it simply conjecture and unknowable, it's irrelevant.

You know everything you need to know about this situation from his words, actions, and refusals. Is this behavior acceptable? Is it going to be acceptable in the future when other conflicts resolve themselves this way?
posted by phearlez at 8:19 AM on January 29, 2010

Does he have a history of taking his frustrations out on you or picking fights when he's under stress?

I'm going to answer for the OP, if stress and fear is what is causing him to make these sorts of ultimatums (ultimatae?) then yes, he does have a history with this.

But really, stress and fear could be his motivation here, in which case he could also be embarassed and not really wanting to talk about it. Is that great for a relationship? Certainly not. Is it completely normal? You betcha.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:23 AM on January 29, 2010

Oh girl, are you sure you're not dating my ex? Looking back, I never would have thought he was cheating on me.

*His threatning to end our relationship because I didn't give him the best birthday party... I saw it as odd and hurtful but never saw it as him cheating on me. (By the way he was always making ultimatums about our relationship.)
*Him jumping down my throat when I made an innocent statement of something out of place, and him accusing me of thinking he's cheating ('cause that's what his step-mom used to do to his dad). Wow, again... odd but still didn't think he was cheating.
*Or him becoming really angry when I insisted we saw a movie together but he doesn't remember and made me take back my statement.
*And of course pulling the classic, "It's not you I don't trust, it's him" whenever I had friendly interactions with men and would accuse me of being more connected to them but him.
*Let's not forget the "I can't let you visit my workplace, I don't want people to get in my personal life, I'll meet you downstairs, so don't even bother dropping a gift to surprise me."

You mentioned he has a slight control streak. Mmm, yea that was my ex, until I saw it become worse as I became more comfortable with myself. Yea, I'm sorry but him making desperate threats without backing it up, wreaks of him cheating. I was just like you. We were both go-getters, good education, made something of ourselves. I wanted that in my life and I couldn't wait to get married and thought maybe things will get better. Thank GOD I went through what I went through because angels were telling me to wake the fuck up and smell the Starbucks. I know you didn't want a DTMF and I won't tell you that. You need to come to the realization something is way off. It doesn't matter how long it takes, you just need to come to it at your own speed.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 8:41 AM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

He thinks that your presence there is detrimental to his career (regardless of the benefit to yours). He's being selfish - and an ass! He's either embarrassed of you or prefers to get further ahead in field than you.
posted by Neekee at 8:42 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I told him that I'm perfectly fine with attending separately, staying in different hotels, and not interacting much if at all during the event.

If the conference is big enough, and the OP does the above as suggested, SO and OP probably won't see each other through most of the conference. This rules out performance anxiety and the fears that the OP would be hanging him around like a puppy. There is something not right here with SO's behaviour, and whether it's something nefarious or not, the communication issue and threats don't sit right. Unless he actually fesses up with a reasonable explanation of why he doesn't want OP to go, OP has every right to go to the conference.
posted by pised at 8:42 AM on January 29, 2010

This is super fishy behavior. It is not cool. If he's that glib about ending your relationship over it, then you might as well go anyway. This guy sounds weird.
posted by anniecat at 9:09 AM on January 29, 2010

You've asked him to share his reasons. He refuses to do that. Asking us for his reasons isn't going to give you the answer you need.

Without additional information, this is a pretty trivial issue for a relationship ending ultimatum. At some point this is about how decisions are made between the two of you. Are decisions made with two fully informed partners? Are both partners needs considered? Right now, he's demanding obedience to his whim. It's up to you how much you're willing to cater to that.

He's asking you to do something that be detrimental to your career without telling you why. As long as you two work in the same industry, there are going to be times your professional paths cross.
posted by 26.2 at 9:11 AM on January 29, 2010

I agree that it doesn't matter that much why your SO really doesn't want you to go: the fact that he has made an ultimatum and refuses to explain himself are the immediate problems.

Not knowing the guy, I really don't know what the best tack would be here. But my instinct would be to say something like this: "Look. I'm going. You can stay home if you want. You can dump me if you want, but I really don't want that. What I do want is for you to acknowledge how incredibly disrespectful it is for you to tell me to stay home, and how incredibly suspicious it looks that you won't explain yourself. I don't want a relationship where you get to order me around, and I don't want a relationship where we refuse to discuss things, even difficult things. Especially difficult things."

At this point, I really can't see any valid reason for him to want you to stay home that wouldn't be relationship-ending if you found out. Perhaps he might not want you in a certain presentation, or horning in on his action during a meet-n-greet, but that's not a reason for you not to go.
posted by adamrice at 9:12 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

One caveat, if he does wind up giving you some sort of plausible excuse: that could be a lie too. He might try to think of something you'll accept just to get you to stop bugging him. Something deep and important is on his mind, and for the time being he's not sharing it with you. As others have said, do whatever it takes to advance your career, at the very least don't let him hinder that part of it.
posted by Melismata at 9:29 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

He's not having an affair. He's totally freaked out at the prospect of his first big industry event. He has no clue what to expect there, but feels that he has to keep his game face on at all times. You've probably never seen his gameface and he likely thinks you don't think he has one. He doesn't want you to see it. My own experience is that SOs are like kryptonite to my gameface.

Most likely cause: he's worried as hell about his big event, he doesn't want you melting his gameface, and escalated his position and can't find a way to back down.
posted by bluejayway at 9:44 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

This sounds extremely suspicious. At this point, it almost doesn't matter if it's cheating or going out with the boys or whatever. He doesn't want you to know something; that much is clear. And if you go, you two are "over"? If someone said that to me, we'd already be over. Or I'd at least be considering it. It's a bad sign of things to come. If I were you, I'd tell him that if you honestly expects you to just "trust" him and not go, then you deserve to be trusted with a complete explanation. And if he's not willing to give you that, then you're over. On your terms.
posted by katillathehun at 9:58 AM on January 29, 2010

Sorry, I meant if HE honestly expects you to just trust him.
posted by katillathehun at 9:58 AM on January 29, 2010

If my wife told me anything was going to make us "over" without further explanation. It would be over.

This does seem like a crazy cover for something. Maybe he's cheating, maybe he told his office you we're dead to get out of something important, maybe he got fired 3 months ago, maybe he's really someone's assistant, maybe he's not going to the conference. We don't know.

But that's not the issue. The issue is the insanely dramatic ultimatium he gave you and the fact that he, not you, has made this professional issue an extremely private one.

An approach to this might be: "Tell me why you are trying to act like my parent instead of my partner... or it's over" add reasonable adult behavior to taste.
posted by French Fry at 10:10 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you go he'll dump you, but if you stay you'll feel resentment and have relationship problems anyway.

I'm guessing that he's thinking, "I already told her being there would make me uncomfortable, there's no need to further explain it. If she insists on going anyway she doesn't respect me enough, and the relationship should end."

His communication methods are poor. If you decide not to go I would suggest waiting until the feelings involved in all of this die down, and then work on some communication exercises together.
posted by biochemist at 10:27 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't think a relationship where you're given threats in response for wanting to do things that advance your career can possibly be a healthy one. At best, he's treating your career like it's less important than his. That's pretty disrespectful, especially considering the adjustments you've tried to make (staying in a separate room, etc.) to accommodate his distress at this.

You don't want to hear advice to dump him. That's fine. But I think you should do what's best for your career regardless of whether it results in him dumping you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:48 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

So the best-case scenario is that he's irrationally anxious about his first big industry event, and that he feels he'd be able to focus better without you there. If you were feeling incredibly generous in that scenario, and the event wasn't a make-or-break one for your career, you could maybe consider staying behind to make him more comfortable. HOWEVER, that would be an immense, self-sacrificing favour on you your part -- for him to *demand* that you do this shows a complete disregard for you as a colleague and an equal. He is telling you that he considers *his* emotional insecurity to be *your* problem to solve. He expects your role as his girlfriend to automatically trump your role as his colleague, and he expects you to fall in line unquestioningly, without so much as a proper explanation. This is not the behaviour of a man who respects your career, or your actual free will as a human being.
posted by TheLittlestRobot at 11:01 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

"It's not you I don't trust, it's him"

There are, I find, two clean indications that someone would cheat on you, even if they haven't yet (presumably because of lack of opportunity):

"It's not you I don't trust, it's him/her" -- this tells you that the person considers you to be helpless in the face of someone else's advances, presumably because they themselves are helpless in the face of someone else's advances.

"He/she isn't interested in me" (in response to an inquiry about potential intimacy between them and a third party) -- this tells you that the person considers an affair to be out of the question because of the third party's feelings, not their own, which ties nicely into the idea of being helpless in the face of someone else's advances.

Mind you, it's possible for someone to cheat on you without those phrases being uttered, but I consider those to be gold standard tells. By comparison, an epically overblown response (ultimatums and all) to reasonable behavior or inquiries is something I consider a gold standard tell for something is being hidden.
posted by davejay at 11:46 AM on January 29, 2010 [6 favorites]

The only possible information you're going to get here is going to come from him and not any outside speculators. If you really want to know, you have to give HIM the ultimatum, that if he can't give you the (convincing) reason why you shouldn't attend, then you're going to attend. The helpful speculation of people here is only going to end up giving you some reasonably possible acceptable reasoning that you can take and use to push the whole thing out of your mind.
posted by rob paxon at 12:43 PM on January 29, 2010

I agree with BlueJayWay. He is freaked the F*** out and can't even express why you being there is so frightening to him. I sort of get the feeling that you guys are in a 'dream industry' lke music, games or movies or something and have both wanted to be for some time and you have both put in some effort to get there. He probably feels that he has a very slippery grip on his dream career at this point and adding you to the mix of HIS FIRST INDUSTRY CON OMG just adds too many variables that are out of his control.

I'll give you a little hint though. Your first con sucks. You have all these grand illusions of what it is, but when you get there you don't actually know anyone yet. Cons only get better the more of them you go to because you get to run into people you partied with at the last 10 cons. When he gets back, he will wish you had gone so he would have had someone there that he knew, felt comfortable with and could have processed things with.
posted by jopreacher at 1:27 PM on January 29, 2010

I'll through out this theory:
I don't think there is a reason. I do think this is a test. If he's got a controlling streak, consciously or not, he's just trying to see if you'll submit to this control. He may have tested you before. He probably doesn't want you to go but the reasons are sort of vague and eh, whatever - not really concrete good ones. But since he doesn't feel like having you there, he said so, assuming (based on your previous acquiescence to his tests) that you'd just not go and he'd get his way. When you pushed back he issued the ultimatum because he didn't know how to really respond - he has no reasons and he knows no reason isn't a good reason so the only response it to up the ante to the ultimate test.

The point isn't really why but how you deal with it. It's unreasonable for him to not give you a concrete, rational reason why you should not go especially if by "go" you mean "appear in the same event space as him but have no other contact" as you said you could do. Without knowing the reason then he's just a controlling asshole and how you decide to deal with that is... well, you've just passed his test if you decide to stay haven't you? Who knows what the next one will be?

Also, in discussing this with him, I wouldn't lob any sympathetic softball possibilities in his direction and let him catch the easiest one. He really needs to communicate the reason. Or failing that, back off from the ultimatum.
posted by marylynn at 2:02 PM on January 29, 2010

It's unreasonable for a partner to say "You can't do *some reasonable job-related potentially rewarding thing* and I won't give a reason, and if you don't do what I say, we're through." The possible reasons are varied and unknown, but he is absolutely being unreasonable.
posted by theora55 at 2:13 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

We know the reasons you want to attend the conference, OP, but what about your SO? Have you talked to him about why he is going, is he excited about it, is he presenting, is he scared, anxious, dismissive about it?

It might be too late now to talk about it outside the context of "WTF why are you telling me I can't go!" But I also think thats something huge you need to sit down, look in his eyes and say "I need you to talk about this". Forget about why he said that, focus on the fact he said that. Don't ask why he doesn't want you there, ask why he makes statements like that, why he doesn't open up about huge things in the relationship.

If he still doesn't open up, as an exercise, put yourself in his shoes. Work backwards from his ultimatum, what could motivate him to say that and not explain it? Fear? What could make him so afraid? Loss of control? Try to talk to him about those things.

Ultimatums in relationships are not good. In my opinion, to keep the relationship you need to break down the ultimatum, dissolve it.

Good luck!
posted by Admira at 2:56 PM on January 29, 2010

You're a relatively new couple, so there is a possibility that this is a test. If you yield to his ultimatum, you're helping to establish the ground rules for the relationship.

In this case, the Rule he's trying to establish is: "You do what I tell you to do. Because I say so. No, I don't have to give you a good reason."

Now, relationships have been built on rules like this; but are those the terms that you want for this relationship?

If you don't go to this conference, do you think he'll let you go next year?
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 7:16 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

My first instinct for him not wanting you to attend is, “He’s threatened by you,” not that he is cheating, like others have suggested. Maybe he’s afraid that you’ll show him up, despite your concessions to stay in a different hotel and not interact a lot.

But rereading your post, I get the sense that he is really afraid and threatened of something, to the point of not being able to express it. Maybe he’s not a good communicator anyway. Him having a bit of a controlling streak raised a bit of a red flag for me. People try to control because they are scared.

He’s put up a HUGE wall and he is not willing or unable to let you in, and would rather just break up with you and not tell you what it is. Which leads me to think that he is really *ashamed* of something. Shame makes people do crazy things.

He said I'd be a mental distraction, and that he is asking me to forego the event so he "can be okay".
I think this is your biggest clue. If you’re there, even actively avoiding him, it sounds like he’ll still be thinking of you (and maybe not in a good way) and being distracted. I’m inclined to go with amtho’s guesses. All of those guesses would be reasons why he thinks it’s better for you to not be there (because you’re going to ‘find him out’) and that it’s better for you to not know the reason. Maybe he’s trying to protect you from knowing some “ugly” truth about him (or what he really thinks of you). Which is immature.

Others have said that this behaviour is unacceptable and you should break up with him, etc. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and guess that he is unbelievably insecure/ashamed about something. And that could be what drives you to end up breaking up with him – maybe he’s not totally emotionally available to be in a relationship.

Having said that, you could not go, find other things to do at home (don’t feed your anger and resentment), find other industry events that you could go to (if those exist and it’s possible for you to go to them) and see how your relationship plays out in the coming months. Maybe after some time has passed you’ll get an explanation from him as to why he didn’t want you to go in that he tells you directly, or you learn more about him as a person and put the pieces together. But I guess you have to decide if you can forego this career opportunity for the sake of your relationship. (“If it means that much to you dear...”)

Or you could just go, deal with his reaction, and reap the benefits to your career.

Or you could pre-emptively break up with him, and not tolerate this behaviour, as a lot of people have suggested.

I doubt talking to him and trying to understand where he’s coming from is going to get you anywhere. I doubt you’re going to get the reason out of him. Whatever it is, he just feels that he can’t tell you, and that may have to do with him and not you. So if you decide not to break up with him, you could just go and say, “Honey, I’m going to go by myself, I’m staying at this hotel, I’ll stay out of your way but this conference is a great opportunity for me and I want to go. We can talk about it after we get back.” He may threaten to break up with you. Let him. If he can’t deal with you being there, there’s obviously more that he can’t deal with. Is this someone you want to be in a relationship with? Either way, him being this uncommunicative and controlling, I feel, is a pretty bad sign for your relationship. If you stay with him, you may need to get therapy further down the line. I don't think something like this can just go away or be a one-time thing.
posted by foxjacket at 8:13 PM on January 29, 2010

What an interesting thread! And really well-thought responses.

Just came in to reiterate- No matter what you do with the guy, be sure to go to the conference.

Also, you two are not captains of nuclear submarines that responses need to be decoded!! You are in a relationship with this man- talk like a man and a woman and don't play captain-captain.

Have a great conference!
posted by xm at 8:39 PM on January 29, 2010

A lot of the suggested reasons could be true, theoretically, but I think these are most likely:
  • He is looking forward to being a classic jerk-at-a-convention like you see in the movies. Drinking, gambling, strippers. Time away from you to be the frat-boy slob he can't be when you're around. Dr Jekyll doesn't want you to see Mr Hyde.
  • On the contrary, he is thinking you're going to spoil the event for him professionally by clinging to him, slowing him down or diverting him, insisting he do session A with you when he really wants to do session B alone, wanting to spend time doing personal stuff like dinner and dancing when he wants to work the professional angles as hard as possible.
  • He is looking forward to just getting away from you for a few days, in which case the industry event might mean little more to him except an excuse to be away from home. Your offering to attend separately in this case would still leave him feeling guilty about ignoring you when you're right there.
  • He's got someone else and you would get in the way of the nonstop bonkfest they've been planning for this event.
In any case, if you don't go, you have to send a spy, someone who is willing to bring back incriminating pictures, because he's just a little too insistent that you not be there.

But... I've just tried to imagine myself into his shoes. If it were me going away for this thing, I'd probably not be too excited about finding out my own partner was coming along. Getting away on my own for a few days is great.
posted by pracowity at 5:36 AM on January 30, 2010

You two clearly need to communicate better-- it seems obvious that he's part of the problem, but one part of your question makes me wonder whether your way of communicating on this might be feeding into it too:

He said I'd be a mental distraction, and that he is asking me to forego the event so he "can be okay". You'd think that your S.O. would be a source of comfort, no? Either way, I really want to attend, for a number of reasons.

I'm extremely confused and he refuses to elaborate, simply asking me to trust him and to wait until next year's event to attend.

I'm getting a little bit of a sense of "what he's saying doesn't make sense and can't be the real issue, right?" from your "You'd think that your S.O. would be a source of comfort, no?" Is it possible that when you're talking to him you're communicating that disbelief? As many others have stated, and I agree, it's entirely understandable to feel like a partner (even one you love very much and have a wonderful, supportive relationship with) would be a mental distraction that would make me feel "not okay" at a work-related event, and to want them not to be there. Now, his clamming up on the details is not cool, but I wonder whether possibly he is feeling judged or doubted by you, or feeling embarrassed or misunderstood. Maybe he's refusing to elaborate because he doesn't know how to say it any better than "you'll be a mental distraction and I don't think I can handle things with you there," and he feels like he's digging himself into a hole with you and doesn't want to dig any deeper. Maybe he's tried to elaborate but keeps saying the same vague things and so you're reading it as refusal to elaborate (is he typically articulate about his feelings, or not?) Maybe you've said or implied (or he just thinks you think) that him not wanting you to be there is a sign that he doesn't love you that much, because if he really loved you he'd feel happy to have you there, and he feels boxed in because he does love you but he just really doesn't want you there.

Obviously this doesn't change the fact that, despite what I think could be a totally natural inclination to not want you to be there, it's really problematic to be insisting you not come (when it's clear you really want to be there) and threatening to end the relationship over it, rather than saying something like "I understand this is something you really want to do, and you have every right to come, but I would feel really uncomfortable about you being there this year, and would really appreciate it if you would do me the huge favor of staying home just this one year." (And obviously it doesn't preclude the possibility that he is indeed actually doing something sketchy and these aren't his real reasons!) But purely on the "evasive non-answer" front, you might want to consider whether you are playing into that dynamic by treating what could be genuine, hard-to-articulate discomfort as confusing/evasive/suspicious/unbelievable.

Note: I don't mean to accuse you of acting like this, so I hope you don't feel attacked or feel the need to defend yourself if it doesn't ring true. It's just a scenario that occurred to me might be a possibility here.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 8:48 AM on January 30, 2010

Random fact: almost all controlling and/or abusive behavior is driven by fear, insecurity, a willingness to make uncomfortable feelings someone else's responsibility to fix, and a sense of entitlement about his needs being more important.

A big part of being in a controlling relationship is being willing to buy into those things and make excuses for someone else. It's also marked by trying to understand why they would do the things they do. There's even a book called Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, written precisely to give people in these relationships enough information to stop wasting their energy asking why. Another truth about controlling relationships is that the requests for control start small and escalate.

None of this may apply to you or him or this relationship, really. Is this one-time behavior or a pattern? I agree with the concern about the precedent: you teach people how they can treat you.
posted by salvia at 11:44 AM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

There's one thing I wanted to come back to add. Several people mentioned having their partner there as an obstacle to networking. I've found it to be the opposite. Having Mr. 26.2 work half the room is much more efficient than me doing it alone. When we cross paths, we get a moment to relax with someone we know. Having met a large number of folks, I can introduce him to people who are good contacts for him. Or I can take the person's email address and introduce them after the event ends. Plus, if I need help breaking free of someone, I send out the bat signal and Mr 26.2 is there. We're in different industries, but often attend each others events to help one another.

If your boyfriend's objection is about networking, then you might offer some ideas of how you two could be more efficient as a duo.
posted by 26.2 at 12:56 PM on January 30, 2010

Piecing together other people's advice, I think he is super insecure and anxious about this conference going well and for whatever reason imagining you there increases his anxiety (what if she sees me fail? what if she distracts me?). Other people keep forgetting that you can attend the conference due to your own job and not as his SO, and you've offered to be in a separate hotel room and everything, so that's not the issue. But of course his feelings are probably not rational and even if you kept away from him you'd still be a presence there, distracting him due to his own anxieties about you.

He tried to articulate this to you ("you'd be a mental distraction") but that didn't seem like a good enough reason to you. But you were thinking rationally, not emotionally. When you didn't respect his honest reason, he felt you weren't respecting his feelings/anxiety, which are very real and big to him, but which he probably isn't displaying or articulating to you. Some people have real issues with sharing their own insecurities. Often they build such a shell of confidence to counter their real insecurities that they have a hard time becoming vulnerable for even the people who are supposed to accept them the most. Maybe he doesn't want you to see him as weak and fearful.

Anyway, he definitely needs to gain some emotional maturity in order to identify his own feelings and why he's having them. This is a big deal and many people forget how much not knowing your own feelings can confuse situations like this.

But he doesn't necessarily have to have anything more nefarious going on than strong emotions.

However, like everyone said, threats are not acceptable no matter how shamed or fearful or whatever he is. He needs to communicate with you on this, trust is built on honesty and open communication. You can help him by being as understanding and compassionate as you can be.
posted by thejrae at 7:35 PM on January 30, 2010

My boyfriend of two years abruptly told me I couldn't go to a work function with him, although most people were bringing spouses/SOs. He completely flipped when I was asking why I couldn't go, he stormed out of the house and slammed the door. I had absolutely no clue what the big deal was.

I found out later that he was cheating on me with a co-worker. Three years later, they are still together and I have custody of our son.

Just sayin'. In hindsight, I wish I'd just gone to the function without his approval/permission. It would have saved me months of embarrassment as news of their relationship spread, as did my expanding uterus.
posted by Lullen at 8:41 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

follow-up from the OP

We had a talk about this conference matter last night and essentially, he is very anxious many times over because of all the unknowns.

He was similarly reluctant, tried hiding behind a softer ultimatum (cold shoulder if I attended), but I told him that wasn't fair. Eventually he told me the reason I'd be distracting is not for anything negative. It's because I would be a real comfort to him that he doesn't want, because he's trying to learn to get out and do these things. Even if I stay elsewhere and attend separately, knowing I'm there is temptation to rely on me; even just to feed off my confidence and knowledge.

My S.O. has never flown alone, doesn't feel confident navigating himself around, hasn't stayed in a hotel alone, will be under pressure due to work, presenting/representing his company and needing to adapt/be on point, and not quite sure how he can produce work under very tight deadlines. Other factors.

He's never taken a business trip before (neither have I, but I know I'd be fine as I have traveled alone, have attended local industry events, and am generally much more adventurous -- this conference excites me, while it frightens him),

Also, once he gets through conference 'season' (this event is likely the only one where we'd directly cross), and gets his bearings he'd have no problems attending together next year.

He's a really good guy but yes, underconfident. I haven't made a final decision, but I am leaning toward sitting it out.

Thank you all for the thoughtful advice.
posted by jessamyn at 10:15 AM on January 31, 2010

Hades, sounds like the OP and her boyfriend are in their twenties. I know plenty of people that age (myself included) who haven't stayed in a hotel alone. It's expensive. his inexperience traveling doesn't warrent therapy.
posted by pintapicasso at 4:05 PM on January 31, 2010

I'm sorry, but this excuse sounds absolutely lame to me. This is the equivalent of: "its not you, it's me." I can't help feeling, especially after reading this, that he is lying to you. Draw up an agreement, on paper, that you will not interact with him or help him in any way, even if he begs you to. And then go to the conference. A boyfriend/SO should not be asking you to put your career on hold, while he furthers his, for any reasons whatsoever. In any case, the whole thing smells to high heaven.
posted by uans at 5:15 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

You should still go. His excuses are ridiculous and thin.
posted by Windigo at 6:37 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah... it sounds fishy. Kind of like "My god, you are TOO AWESOME and TOO INCREDIBLY HELPFUL so you'd better not come. Maybe next year! Don't show up this year, though...".

His underconfidence should not interfere in your career. Also, his underconfidence does not seem like it could ever be extreme enough to warrant an ultimatum.

And I don't mean to be a dick, but you should go to the conference anyway. Don't even make a big deal about it - bring it up a few days before and say something like "I've decided to go to that conference after all. Don't worry about me being a distraction - I'll be in my own sphere and won't be in contact at all if that's what you want". Then do it!
posted by amicamentis at 11:53 AM on February 1, 2010

Some of the follow-ups to the OP's update are slightly too powerful.

OP's follow-up suggests someone who is learning to manage his feelings properly, which is perfectly reasonable for someone in their 20s. This doesn't require therapy as much as something called "life experience." Believe me.

OP, you should still go but agree to make yourself scarce. He may have trouble managing his feelings on this, but it'll be a good learning experience for him if you go.
posted by achompas at 12:01 PM on February 1, 2010

I think it's okay for people to have insecurities that are silly, or weak, or naive, or even contradictory. Such failings do not necessarily make someone a lying controlling scumbag.

anonymous, if I were in your shoes, it would come down to how badly you really want to attend this conference, how important it really is to you professionally, and whether you think that this somewhat overblown emotional reaction by your SO is something that you think should be confronted, ignored, or worked-through.

At this point, maybe a good way to proceed is to take the issue of the conference off the table for the moment. It's not really about the conference, it's about how he reacted to his insecurities in a really not-cool way that was hurtful and puzzling to you. Maybe you two need a signal that he can throw out there when he's spiraling into under-confident panic so that you two can take a step back and figure out how to communicate about this stuff.
posted by desuetude at 12:12 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Even if his reasons are the god's honest truth, it's not fair to hold your own professional development hostage to his insecurities. I don't think it's healthy for him in terms of learning how to be a self-reliant adult, nor healthy for the two of you in terms of cultivating an adult relationship.
posted by scody at 2:55 PM on February 1, 2010 [5 favorites]

He was similarly reluctant, tried hiding behind a softer ultimatum (cold shoulder if I attended), but I told him that wasn't fair.

What does this mean? That you wouldn't interact while you were there? Didn't you already offer that in the first place? It sounds like a fair compromise to me (lets you benefit from the conference, lets him pretend you're not there), but maybe I'm misreading.

(And for the record, I think his story/perspective sounds reasonably believable and not-necessarily-fishy, even though it obviously certainly could be covering something up.)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 5:02 PM on February 1, 2010

Hi OP. Thank you for checking back in with this thread.

Unfortunately, I fear that is exactly the type of smooth explanation you get from someone who is lying. In my experience FWIW (see my 2nd answer, well above.)

The good news is you can choose to believe him this time, but down the road... we've all given you plenty of warning signs and watch words to look out for if some other weirdness crops up.

If this is a one time thing - great. I hope that's the way this plays out. Truly.

And if not, you're wiser thanks to having come here and posed your question.

Have fun at your conference.
posted by jbenben at 9:18 PM on February 1, 2010

Okay, good. You guys have talked it out. He has made his needs clear - he needs to feel he's on his own at the conference. Done. Now go to the conference. Make some connections before you go so you have an agenda and do your own thing. Relationships are about compromise and this is the only reasonable compromise. If he was truthful in his explanation, he'll accept this, perhaps grudgingly. If he was lying, he'll blow up. Hope that doesn't happen. Enjoy the event. This kind of conflict has the potential to make your relationship stronger but not if you stay home.
posted by amanda at 9:09 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

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