Can I get a jump?
October 15, 2011 9:46 PM   Subscribe

I feel like I'm stuck in that awkward phase of a relationship between dating and when things become serious. I'm ready for something more. I'm not sure my boyfriend is, and I'm concerned. Snowflakes abound.

We've been together for a year now. It's been about ten months since we had the "exclusive" conversation (though neither of us dated around in the early days of our relationship), and about eight months since we started saying "I love you." This is the first long term relationship (as in, lasting more than a couple of months) for both of us. He's 30 and I'm 28.

During the week, he will text me every morning before work, which is very sweet of him. We see each other almost every day -- usually for dinner and then something nice like a walk afterwards. We really enjoy cooking together, and I appreciate the time spent together, as does he. He does seem to make forward-thinking plans for us on occasion. We went on vacation together, which required about 2 months of forethought. For my birthday (in September) he bought us theater tickets for a show in late November. It's reassuring to know that he does sometimes make long-term plans involving us, together.

We have sex on average once a week, which honestly is not as much as I would like. That considered, I know he is very busy and stressed between his work and volunteering obligations (church councilmember), and he has a naturally slower drive than I do. This is something that I know he's actively working on, so I try not to get upset about it, though I do have moments of frustration.

He is very close with his parents, and in particular with his mother. He talks to her on the phone nightly for on average 30 minutes, and he sees her nearly every week (they live an hour away). He has not told his mother about our relationship. I have asked him why he keeps it from her, and he says that his mother is hard to please and would make our relationship challenging. While I trust his judgment to an extent, it makes me uncomfortable to know that he's the one making the decision for his mother, and I have half an inkling that he doesn't want to tell her about me because he's not ready to validate our relationship by telling his family members. This situation causes me a bit of anxiety, because I'm not fond of being kept a secret, especially considering the closeness of their relationship.

Another big issue for me is that, in a year, we have only slept (as in actually sleeping) together five times. Three of those times were while we were on vacation, and went without incident. The other two times were at his house, after we had been out drinking with friends, and essentially just consisted of us passing out and waking up hung over. I have pressed him a few times about spending the night together, because it's something that I really would like to work on to further establish our intimacy and closeness, but I'm always met with pretty quick refusal and almost no empathy. I can't get a straight answer out of him as to why he doesn't want me to stay over, he just tells me that we have to build up to that and take it slowly. This has been the line for about 6 months now, and it's starting to become a concern.

He smokes. He never volunteered to me that he was a smoker early in our relationship. I found out about two months in when I found cigarettes in one of his cupboards and asked him about them. I don't have an issue with it. He doesn't smoke around me, and really only does it in his garage where nobody can see him. I don't know how much he smokes (he won't tell me). It's fairly obvious some nights that he's ready for me to leave so that he can go haev a cigarette and decompresss. I can understand his need for a stress relief, but the way he goes about it makes me feel like a roadblock. And sometimes I wonder that if I hadn't found the cigarettes, that I still wouldn't know he was a smoker. Insignificant that he smokes, but concerning that he would keep it from me.

The last thing, and this may be slightly minor, but it's still a little confusing to me, is that he won't ever let me pay for anything and gets slightly upset if I buy him gifts. Whenever we go out, he pays. I'm certainly not complaining about this because it's very kind of him to pay for everything... but on the opposite side of the coin, I feel like at times, he does it because he does not want to feel indebted to me in any way, so that he always has an upper hand in our relationship.

Whenever I try to discuss relationship topics with him, he gets visibly agitated to the point where I can tell he's uncomfortable. Any questions I ask are usually met with indifference or "I don't know" answers. He's told me that in his family, they don't talk about stuff unless it's "very serious" and he usually processes his emotions internally. I'm the opposite and would like to be able to talk through our miscues, even if they aren't all that pressing. But these conversations really don't end with either of us happy, so I tend to avoid them at this point, but the result from that is that I end up having to come to conclusions on my own and, well, here I am asking for insight on the internet.

I really do love him, and would love for our relationship to grow up a bit to where he's comfortable having me around for more than a few hours at a time. Every day that I see him, it feels like just another date, but not quite like we're in a serious relationship yet. After a year, I'm starting to get concerned and a little uneasy. His walls are holding steady.

And just to be clear - I'm not asking for marriage or anything like it. I'm just ready for a little bit more intimacy and trust, which I think are the biggest validation to a strong relationship. I am happy for what we do have, don't get me wrong. But I'm just ready for a little more, and waiting is difficult, especially when it feels like my boyfriend is content to drag his feet.

So what do you folks think? I know it's already a big wall of text, but I can try to elaborate on any topic if needed. Oy, relationships are complicated.
posted by erstwhile to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think that he may be a person who needs a relatively unusual amount of space. This may or may not be for you. Personally, I wouldn't like it.
posted by mrs. sock at 9:50 PM on October 15, 2011

A bridge so close, yet so far.

Basically, either he needs lots of space like mrs. sock's says. Or you perhaps haven't scaled the walls of the castle as far as you think you have.

I'm not sure what your expectations are in terms of time ("at 2 years, we are doing this, this, this"), but it may be helpful if you asked him to frankly describe his timeline. I'm guessing you have tried this... If he feels agitated then perhaps dragging him to the garage and making him smoke to settle down would be helpful to get a better answer then before... You may wear a gas-mask to send subliminal messages.
posted by Bodrik at 9:59 PM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

He is very close with his parents, and in particular with his mother. He talks to her on the phone nightly for on average 30 minutes, and he sees her nearly every week (they live an hour away). He has not told his mother about our relationship. I have asked him why he keeps it from her, and he says that his mother is hard to please and would make our relationship challenging.

This made me cringe, I'm sorry. He's 30 years old and he talks to his mother everyday for 30 minutes? He won't tell her about you after a year? Danger lurks ahead for you.

It's been a YEAR and he's still building toward sleeping over in bed with you? You realize some people are married after a year, right? I'm not saying that you should compare yourself to others, but don't justify away your frustrations by saying to yourself that everyone moves at a difference pace. You love this guy, but how much do you love this guy? Are you willing to keep going through this agonizingly slow pace for months and months and months on end? You need to take him at face value and think about how happy you would be if he doesn't change.

The thing that I find most damning is that he doesn't WANT to change any of these things. He won't engage you in conversation about them. He has an answer for all of it and it doesn't seem up for discussion.

Honestly, I would cut my losses now and move on. Since it's your first long-term relationship, I'll tell you: Relationships can be so much better than this after a year together.
posted by unannihilated at 10:28 PM on October 15, 2011 [37 favorites]

So what do you folks think?

Here are the things that would give me pause about continuing in this relationship.

Whenever I try to discuss relationship topics with him, he gets visibly agitated to the point where I can tell he's uncomfortable.

1. He can't or won't communicate with you. This, more than anything else, is something that would make me feel like I should not continue in the relationship and doing so was wasting my time. IMO, the crucial thing in a relationship is not even so much whether or not problems come up, but how they're dealt with when they do come up. You have a certain set of problems now, but even if you decide to just keep putting up with these, you don't know what problems there will be in the future. That's why you have to know that your partner is someone you can work things out with.

I have pressed him a few times about spending the night together, because it's something that I really would like to work on to further establish our intimacy and closeness, but I'm always met with pretty quick refusal and almost no empathy. I can't get a straight answer out of him as to why he doesn't want me to stay over, he just tells me that we have to build up to that and take it slowly.

2. Similarly, I would be very, very, very strongly inclined to end a relationship, if I brought up something that was bothering me and said I would like to work on it, and the response was "a quick refusal and almost no empathy." A partner doesn't have to agree to everything you want, but they absolutely should care when something bothers you and take a serious look to see if there's any room for compromise there. A flat refusal to even discuss it at all just seems like a kind of selfish, "my way or the highway attitude." The "no straight answer" is just more refusal/inability to communicate.

he won't ever let me pay for anything and gets slightly upset if I buy him gifts.

3. He doesn't like gifts, fine. But if you meant that he literally doesn't let you pay for anything for yourself... like you express that you seriously want to and he prevents that either by arguing you down, getting upset or angry, guilting you, etc., I would find that controlling in a way that really gave me pause.

4. Everyone needs their own privacy. But between his hidden smoking and hiding his girlfriend of a year from his mother, he seems quite a bit more secretive than the average person. Another thing I wouldn't be interested in dealing with in a relationship. Say this did become more serious. Would he be secretive like this about shared money, or bills? Or, would he want you keeping secrets from your friends?

5. The mom thing. At the age of 30, he's hiding his girlfriend from his mother because "his mother is hard to please and would make our relationship challenging." If his way of dealing with this is just circumscribing his life as much as possible to please his mom, rather than showing an appropriate amount of backbone, that is another thing that would create a million problems if you ever *did* become more serious. I think raising children in that scenario would be a nightmare.

You asked for our thoughts, so here are mine. I think, in this situation, I would let him know (in nicer words than these) that I needed to see major, major improvements in the areas of communication and consideration for my desires in the relationship.

One thing that I've noticed here is that you seem to feel like you can't insist on anything or it would be too demanding, and instead you have to be super patient and go along gently on his timetable. It kind of jumps out at me that he doesn't do the same at all, that he's not shy whatsoever about insisting on his demands (paying when you go out), laying down his boundaries (not mentioning you to the mom), insisting on having his way when you two want different things (no sleeping over), insisting that aspects of the relationship follow his desired timetable.

I think you should move your willingness to do those things a LOT closer to his. That might end the relationship, but honestly, if you're not getting what you want, you're not appearing to get any closer to what you want, and things could go on this way for years, maybe that's actually a good thing. Otherwise, I fear, you might end up wasting a lot of your own time.
posted by cairdeas at 10:44 PM on October 15, 2011 [20 favorites]

Hi me! How did you get this message into the future from 8 years ago?

So many red flags. Frankly, this man sounds like he has a basketful of issues.

He's duplicitous - He spends 1/48th of his life talking to his mother on the phone and basically lies to her. I wonder what the hell they talk about. What does he get from the conversations? Furthermore his reluctance and excuse indicates he is not an independent adult but an emotionally dependent adult engaged in a manipulating dynamic.

His sex drive will not improve and your frustration will not diminish but you will probably end up feeling it's about you and your self esteem will decrease. Neither will the issue over sleeping together improve. Because he is duplicitous he may be hiding a behaviour pattern from you that he doesn't want to explain (such as the smoking, but maybe more).

You are not an equal partner in this relationship as shown by:
1. his reluctance to let you pay your way - it's an obvious manipulation
2. his rebuffing of your reasonable request to sleep together
3. his 'checking in' every morning which is more about him keeping you around
3. his determination to control your conversations about your relationship
4. and, of course, his denial of your relationship's existence to the people he's closest to.

Rough guess: he's a narcissist and so his mother. You will not change him, love will not change him, it will not improve. The only thing you can change is your own attitude, behaviour and expectations. If it were me, I'd be changing my relationship status and assessing ways to identify such people in the future.

You deserve the simple intimacy you want. You can and will do better. Drop him and let yourself discover someone much more loving. You know, someone normal.
posted by the fish at 11:32 PM on October 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

You are exclusive and you are saying "I love you" but you haven't been introduced to his family? This does not make sense.

I agree with the others--he is showing you his perspective of this relationship and it is not anywhere close to your hopes for this relationship.

Accept him at his word and go forward with this knowledge.

He's had a year and has decided not to meet any of your hopes or expectations--which you have been making pretty clear to him. This should tell you where he puts your relationship in his life's priorities.

This isn't working for you.
posted by calgirl at 1:16 AM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well. First, I'll begin by saying that the other responses have been absolutely excellent. My own response is coming from a place I know is outside the bounds of experiences with relatively normal, conscientious, empathetic people (I'm a straight woman, so in my particular case this means with men). However, the points you raise are exactly like those that existed in my last relationship. So.

First, listen to what the other commenters have said and remind yourself that you deserve to be listened to, taken seriously, and empathized with in a relationship.

Then take what I'm now going to say for what it's worth.
- He texts you every day. So did my recent ex. Does he ever phone you? To speak, I mean? (Mine didn't.)
- He volunteers a lot and is community-minded. So was mine. (Do you have solid proof that he's actually doing these things, btw?)
- You've been together for a year. Same with my ex (before I broke up with him two weeks ago, will get to the reasons soon).
- He never lets you pay for anything. Mine didn't either.
- Sex is rare and he claims to have a low sex drive (at age 30). Same with my ex, he was 36.
- He doesn't like getting gifts. Neither did mine.
- He speaks often with his mother but "in his family, they don't talk about stuff unless it's 'very serious' and he usually processes his emotions internally". I was about ready to ask if you're dating the same man as I was when I read this, but you're in Iowa and I'm in France. Mine said exactly the same thing. Made a lot of noises about how he had difficulty with emotions (which I accepted as true, because there are some really neat people who are indeed like that), never spoke with his parents about serious stuff, and yet... kept in touch with them daily, via phone and SMS.
- He doesn't want to sleep over with you. Neither did mine.
- He doesn't want to make your relationship public (with people who matter to him). Neither did mine.

Now, this is where the absolutely abnormal and please don't expect this truth came out. It turns out that my ex's "family" were in fact several other women he was seeing. He had a "low sex drive" because he was having sex several days a week with 3-4 different women (that we eventually discovered between us due to a slip on his part, which was when I broke up with him on the spot). He was "emotionally withdrawn" because he had a hard time keeping track of all of us. He texted every day because he wanted to be seen as a nice, caring guy... to keep us around. He controlled relationship issues and kept things foggy because it kept us wanting more; holding on. He never phoned, made us public, or slept over because that could have blown his cover. He didn't like gifts because another woman could ask where he'd gotten something. He volunteers a lot, takes care of his community... mine was a member on paper, but didn't actually do anything. It was another one of his covers. The kicker: he paid for everything because he could pass it off as business expenses or a volunteering thing ("helping someone out").

This is why things like denial, duplicitousness, not listening or taking you seriously, and not committing, are red flags. Not "just" because it means someone could be flaky (he really might "just" be completely flaky, which is still a bad sign for a serious relationship), but because it can signal something much worse.

If he continues to evade your genuine desire to discuss an increased commitment, if he claims he'll "work on it" again (mine did that too, and I trusted him, but he never actually followed through on it), you have every right to move on with your life to find someone who will treat you as an equal.
posted by fraula at 1:59 AM on October 16, 2011 [20 favorites]

It occurred to me while reading fraula's comment that a similar thing happened to me, and that yes, it sounds like your guy. The man wouldn't spend the night, wouldn't let me pay, was secretive about little things, and yet talked about future plans. Turned out he was seeing someone else and was trying to decide between her and me.

You've got to ask yourself why, even if you don't think he's seeing someone else, he himself doesn't want more intimacy. The answer is either a) he really doesn't and he won't change and therefore he's not for you, or b) he's intimately involved with someone--just not you.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:33 AM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Maybe he has intimacy issues. Maybe he has another girlfriend. Either way, you would like the type of boyfriend who wants to spend the night with you and introduce you to his family (which is entirely reasonable considering you've been dating for A YEAR), and he does not want to be this type of boyfriend. I see red flags all over the place, and think that if you stay with him, you're just setting yourself up for disappointment. No relationship is perfect, but it sounds like you spend a lot of time second-guessing yourself in this one, looking for signals that he actually does like you. It doesn't have to be like this- happy relationships tend to be ones where both parties feel secure and confident. I'd move on if I were you.
posted by emd3737 at 5:08 AM on October 16, 2011

Sounds like control issues stemming from his lack of independence from his mother. That relationship seems to dominate his life, therefore he seems to exact extreme control on the rest of his life -- which now includes you.

There are two themes:
1) Control. From the text message (one-way communication) to constantly paying for dinner and 'managing' everything from sleep-overs to vacations.

2) Shame. From hiding the cigarettes to the low sex drive to simultaneously engaging with his mother constantly yet not confiding in her. This man may be experiencing all kinds of shame.

Perhaps he feels powerless to architect a way out of the shame, thus a life spent controlling everything in order to keep the shame at bay. In an extreme example, maybe he's a bed-wetter. That's pretty shameful and would definitely indicate the behaviour you mention. I doubt that he is, but never underestimate the power of the control-shame axis when it comes to odd behaviour in one's life.

The conversations about the relationship may be difficult for him because he doesn't feel ownership over his own life, thus while 'his body may be saying yes', if he is that interwoven with his own mother, 'his mind is saying no,' thus inner turmoil, thus agitation.

If he is a Puer Matre, perhaps the mother had a distinctive trauma and elevated her son to the role of emotional companion early in his life. As he has matured into adulthood, he feels that he must both satisfy her needs (the phone calls and the visits) as well as his own. Yet these are distinctly separate. That separation is manageable when one is single I suppose. However now that you are in the picture, you are essential the mother's competitor. Poor chap has spent his entire life in subservience to his mother's emotional needs, and now that whole house of cards is threatened by his desire for you.

That's my story. Not as exciting as the one that says he is a nighttime player-lothario, wafting all over town, using the mother as a cover story. I wonder which story is true? I imagine you do as well.

If you want to test the Puer Matre theory, simply begin asking him to meet the mother. Push him a little bit and see how he responds.

Overall, whatever the reason, you may have a skittish cat on your hands. And if you've ever dealt with a skittish cat, you know that nothing you can do can sort that cat out. Once you take on a skittish cat, you basically feed it, play when it wants to play, and the rest of the time just accept that the skittish cat is thus. The only real choice is in deciding if you take the skittish cat home and commit to being its provider.

Good luck. If he is a Puer Matre, really think hard about it. If he were to divorce himself from the mother's influence, it's going to a period of several years for him to emotionally maturate beyond that influence. Therapy probably involved as well. Otherwise, if you choose to stay with him, welcome to The Way That Shit Is Now (and by That Shit, I mean your life).

Or maybe he is cheating on you. I say kill the sacred cow, chat about the mother, and take a decision when you find out whether or not he's a mama's boy.
posted by nickrussell at 5:20 AM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

You've been together for a year and he hasn't told his mother, who is clearly his most important relationship in life thus far based on their frequency of contact, that you guys are together??

You cannot fix this. This man is disrespecting you daily with his choices regarding you.


And I'll try and pop back in later with links to previos AskMe's featuring this Mother-Son-Girlfriend dynamic if I can. As in your question, the headline was buried.

I'm so sorry because I know other indicators make it seem like you are on track. But you are not. I hope other MetaFilter members with commiserate experience show up to share their stories.

You've spent important time almost every day for a year with this man, yet the person he is closest to in life does not know of your existence.

Let's say she does get to know you. Will you have to hide this year of your life from her? Do you think he will ever put your relationship first, before her? He hasn't put his relationship with you ahead in a year. You've accepted this as OK.

Doll, that's no way to live. You deserve MUCH more from life. Go out there and get it!
posted by jbenben at 6:38 AM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just to be clear: has he ever actually talked to his mother on the phone while in your presence, or has he always done this during his 'alone time'?
posted by matlock expressway at 7:14 AM on October 16, 2011

Truly appreciative of the suggestions. Some things:

You all may be a bit upset with me for this oversight on my part, but I did not include that we are both men. I know this can change a lot of the dynamics of your traditional relationship just because of societal perception and furthermore (in his case) familial pressure. His parents put him through religious therapy at age 18, after he came out to them. When it didn't work, they told him they never want to know about his personal relations. I can't even imagine how it is to have to deal with parents who are not supportive of your sexuality. But it was also 12 years ago. Please try not to harangue me too much for this omission -- I was tired last night when writing this post and I really did just overlook it.

I'm 99% positive that he's not cheating on me. This was an initial fear that I squashed very early in not my proudest moment of trust. I do know that he really does just spend his "alone time" at home, working on his house and his volunteer projects. I've been to his church (though not to service). It's literally right down the street from my house, and his car is there when he says he's there. This was another thing that I checked on very early in the relationship, because it was an adjustment to be in a relationship with someone with as busy of a schedule as he has.

He does talk to his mother in my presence. I know he's actually talking to her nightly. He's not uncomfortable with me using his cell phone and I've seen his call history. I know this stuff is all capable to be edited and altered if you're truly trying to cover something up, but I don't have any fears that he's cheating on me or covering up some other unwholesome activity -- if that were the case it would make my decision-making so much easier.

Thanks for the feedback everyone. I can't really choose a favorite because all the advice here has been sound and really has reaffirmed my concerns. I think that we are really going to need a come-to-Jesus conversation where I'm sure to have my needs and expectations addressed, and if he continues to be neglectful of them then I've got a decision to make.
posted by erstwhile at 7:46 AM on October 16, 2011

If he has a really tough time having relationship conversations, I would put it all in a letter and give it to him to read, and in a few days you can discuss it. Give him the option of writing a response letter if having the conversation is so hard. But you expect to get some kind of reply back from him nonetheless, within a week.
posted by lizbunny at 8:11 AM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I guess it's possible for people to change. But you shouldn't live your life waiting for other people to change so you can be happy. This relationship isn't working for you and your attempts to address the issues have been rebuffed. For you to be happy, he would need to make substantial changes to his personality and lifestyle. Don't waste more of your time waiting for this to happen, because it almost certainly won't. You don't have to vilify him, just recognize that you have a reasonable (indeed, modest) set of relationships needs that are incompatible with what he wants to offer. It's time to move on.
posted by ootandaboot at 8:25 AM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

The gay thing does ease my mind a little... Is he Italian? I see a ton of things that point to him being Italian (Or at least with a firm Catholic background. No stereotyping, just things my Italian ex did... especially the mother contacting thing. If a day went by with no mom/daughter calls, mom was 2/3rds ready to call the cops and report rape/kidnapping/murder/terrorism. Anyway.)

This one is sorta tricky to me... Individually, everything can be explained pretty easily. En masse, there is... a lot of stuff. Is he a little conflicted about his relationship? Probably. Does his past hurt yalls relationship? Probably. Is he a bad guy? Probably not, but possible. Is he, ultimately, unhealthy for you? Possibly. I can't decide that. Do you want to try to work it out? Well, that's your decision. You CAN NOT change other people though. If he chooses to stay distant, you either stick with the way things are, or leave.
posted by Jacen at 9:20 AM on October 16, 2011

Just wanted to say I was in a relationship with some similarities, very unhappily, several months ago. My boyfriend almost never wanted me to sleep over, he didn't want to meet my friends or introduce me to his, and he hated discussing the relationship. I drove myself crazy trying to make myself fit into his idea of a relationship and discounting what I actually wanted, and I was miserable the whole time.

I broke up with him, and I'm now dating a guy who loves sleeping in the same bed as me and cuddling, has met a ton of my friends and vice versa, and has absolutely no issues discussing our relationship. I look back and can't believe how unhappy I was and how much I put up with, all the while blaming myself.

I am approximately 1000 times happier with the current man, so my advice would be to acknowledge to yourself that your not getting something you want/need and that that does indeed matter, break up with him, and then go find it.
posted by queens86 at 9:32 AM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

My guess would be that he's not really at peace with himself, in relation to his sexuality and his family. It's not really going to be possible for him to create a peaceful relationship with you without having those things in place.

So I would look to see not only whether he's actively working on increasing his capacity for intimacy with you, but also whether he's working on creating healthier relationships with his family, his religious leanings, his community, and himself.

If he's really not working on any of that stuff, it's a sign that he has an ostrich approach to things and there's no reason to think he'll pull his head out of the sand for your sake if he won't for his own.

If he is working on stuff, you still need to weigh whether he has it in him energy-wise to work on the relationship stuff with you at the same time as all the other things, and whether it's healthy/nurturing for you to be the emotional nurse of the relationship, but at least it seems to me there's a chance.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:34 AM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

For whatever it's worth, erstwhile, the fact that you guys are both guys changes absolutely nothing about my answer.
posted by cairdeas at 11:07 AM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not an expert or anything, but from the outside it sounds like your boyfriend hates that he's gay. It sounds like he enjoys the attraction, and the sex, but when it comes down to really intimate relationship things like sleeping in the same bed and becoming "official" to others/family...he isn't happy with being gay.

This sucks, but it's a ton of drama. I think you should sit him down for a chat and let him know in no uncertain terms that you need the relationship to move forward, or you will leave. He can't stick you in limbo like this forever.
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:19 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

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