Help me figure out the reason for my boyfriend's lack of effort?
October 16, 2011 9:36 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend is not putting effort into our relationship to the same degree I am?

I've been dating my boyfriend for 7 months now and to be Frank, they've been some tough months. We both met in community college and live at home. He is 21, I am 19. Our first month he was enthusiastic about talking every night, took me out. Our dates were like once a week. The only thing I noticed was his lack of vocalizing emotion (had no idea if he was feeling anything for me before he asked me to be his girlfriend). He's always said "oh I'm just not a very open or vocal person." We did have a lot of fun on our dates and were compatible in a lot of ways. I could tell through his hesitancy to be physical he was very inexperienced with girls.

There were issues beneath the surface though. When I first met his father and step mom we got told to leave by 11. We would be out and by 9:30 he'd get a call saying where are you? Then he had a curfew three months in. He didn't really try to go against it either. A month later his gpa dropped so my phone number was blocked by his dad because we broke his rule of no texting after 10. When all this started happening his enthusiasm disappeared, we went from once a week to once every week and half seeing each other. He worked a lot and that was certainly part of it, but his dad didn't help. I still couldn't get him to talk much about it until probably the 6 month mark when I just had to confront him about some stuff.

When I was blocked, he'd call like every 2-3 days and that killed me with worry. He said he was just busy with schoolwork and I'm sure his dad didn't want him calling me. The reason I found out was because he had previously flunked out of a very exspensive college. His gpa dropped too low and he lost focus with the social atmosphere. He said he felt tremendously guilty about all of the money wasted. At the same time, he wasn't revealing any deeper feelings for me. So I asked him because I had hinted at loving him for a bit. He finally said he did. Yet I have literally heard it maybe 3 times since because he feels uncomfortable saying it. I guess that's ok, seeing as he told me he'd never told a girl first. I'm also his longest relationship. Although while this was happening he left his job because he hated it while I took on a job that worked me practically full time alongside school. His dad told him to stay with his mom temporarily. It was supposed to be a week because they just wanted to have his room for guests to sleep in. Then a week became 2, three and then his dad went on vacation without him. When they got back my bf had found a new job. He went over to see his dad. At first he said he could come back if he gave up his Xbox and computer. All he could have is a TV. During that time I was unblocked and we talked every night again. Things seemed to be okay until his phone was set to stop operating at 8, then extended to 9. His communication became sporadic again like when I was blocked. I struggled to try to keep up with him during the day through texts and he just seemed generally irritable because he'd be trying to do something when we talked during the day. It was hard because we were both busy when were still able to be in contact.

Eventually his dad told him he couldn't live with him ever, couldn't come over, etc. My boyfriend has made mistakes but nowhere near enough to be treated that way. I'll admit, it's so tough on me. I recognize I'm a tad codependent and practically torture myself over this when it is likely more a personal issue than him not wanting to be with me. Yet my own loneliness holds me back. I just moved here a year ago and have virtually no friends. If I had them, perhaps his issues would not effect me so deeply. I have been finding myself having to invite myself over to see him and although we have a good time always, the lack of initiation leaves me feeling like crap. He has been making much more of an initiative to talk every day but even though he knows I want him to invite me over, he's such a slug about it. If I say he's hurting me or he's not doing his part to keep me happy he says well I wish we had other things to do than sit on the couch. We've gone from real dates to the couch. Perhaps it's due to his guilt in having no money. Lately he spends his time at home studying or reading alone and I'm glad he's studying, just don't understand why he isn't desiring to see me. Although when I started working and he was alone and bored, by day 6 he's was saying wow I haven't seen you in awhile. He is a nerdy introvert and does appreciate his alone time, which does not bother me but once a week isn't cutting it for me. Said he couldn't wait to see me before his phone stopped working and he got kicked out. Now he's been weird. I told him I don't care if I am paying but you need to invite me over and see me or I will not continue to be happy with you. He tried for a week and sort of backpeddled. Every time we talk he says it's because I say can I come over before he does but then I say why so slow? I know I need to plan more fun dates probably but idk. Everyone tells me to go date someone else and that he's "relationship lazy" but I believe it is situational rather than intentional. We're both leaving the community college next year so I can see things being tough now but better later when we're independent. Is it a lost cause? Is he "just not that into me?" Thoughts? Sorry this is long...
posted by Chelsaroo650 to Human Relations (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You are 19. You aren't happy with your relationship. I agree with the other people in your life suggesting you date other people. I'm just not reading that you feel like this guy is worth the drama.
posted by Zophi at 9:41 AM on October 16, 2011 [20 favorites]


He sounds depressed; he also sounds like someone who can't handle a relationship right now.

I agree with Zophi - this drama is not worth it. DTMFA and move on. Someday, you'll find someone who makes more of an effort and who values the effort you make. I don't think it's him.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:45 AM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Too much drama. You are still a teenager. Move on. This will be one of the things you laugh about at 30.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:48 AM on October 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

You are very, very young. This is not a good nor bad thing, just a fact. Since you are young, though, this all feels very new and important and big. And while I am not saying it isnt OMG big, one relationship is not.... everything. My advice would be to step back, breathe a little, and look at this objectively. He has some issues with his family. He has some issues with school. I'm not entirely sure he has a place to live. He has issues communicating. He might not have the time to date. It sounds like he doesn't have the funds. Perhaps give him time and space to get his feet back under him before trying to date again?
posted by Jacen at 9:51 AM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

He's always said "oh I'm just not a very open or vocal person."

This is someone giving himself permission not to try. That's a huge red flag from someone so young age who's just beginning to figure out what being in adult relationships is really like.

He has basically told you where the bar is set for him. He'd be perfectly happy with the status quo. Sounds like you aren't, and I can't think of one single reason why you ought to contort yourself to try and meet his low standards.
posted by hermitosis at 10:03 AM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Agree with everyone above, especially Jacen. His head is elsewhere (from what you're saying, buried in academics and family problems), and he's certainly not in a place to give you what you need in a relationship.

Dating should be fun, not a headache. Let this one go.
posted by constellations at 10:03 AM on October 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

We're both leaving the community college next year so I can see things being tough now but better later when we're independent.

Also, how can you see this? All I see is that you'll have spent over a year proving that there is absolutely no reason for him to change his behavior, because you'll put up with anything.
posted by hermitosis at 10:05 AM on October 16, 2011 [8 favorites]

To put it very simply: great relationships don't take this much work.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:15 AM on October 16, 2011 [8 favorites]

It sounds to me like he's dealing with a lot, rather than not trying or not caring. But the result is the same: he's not in a position to give you what you want in a relationship right now.

Even if this is all because of his family, academic and financial problems, you're not in the headspace to be understanding of that and to give him time and space to work through his shit -- nor should you necessarily be, since there are no guarantees on when or if that will happen.

So, end it.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:42 AM on October 16, 2011 [9 favorites]

I think that, within reasonable limits, love should/does make you happy. Arguments, sorrows? Yes, of course; but day by day it's a state of happiness. If that isn't the case for you, then you might do better to either end the relationship completely, or allow yourself to go out on other dates.

A few people have mentioned that you're very young - well, William Pitt was only 24 when he became prime minister of England, so I don't personally think your age is relevant, though I would agree that you've got plenty of time to explore different relationships and maybe find some that make you happier. Good Luck.
posted by nickji at 10:42 AM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

He has much going on, mama. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink as the saying goes. Don't put up with this behavior. You may love him but there's a man I'm in love with, however, I mentally put his ass in the corner as I live my life happily. He's not ready for a relationship and guess what? I follow his lead. If he's not ready, I'm not ready with HIM. Maybe I'll meet someone else along the way but I refuse to waste any more time thinking about how I'm not in a relationship with him or anyone. Live your life. There are things much worse than not being someone's sweetheart.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 10:44 AM on October 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

TL;DR- I did see your ages- break up with him, you are too young to deal with that much drama.

posted by TheBones at 10:55 AM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Good grief, he's 21 and his daddy blocks calls on his phone and takes away his Xbox?!? I don't know if Bf is immature, his father is controlling, or some combo of both, but DTMFA.

You're young, yeah, but it sounds like you yourself have your shit together, and are working for your future. BF apparently does not: it sounds like he's just coasting along, expending the bare minimum amount of effort he can get away with, whether with his schoolwork or with you. Ditch him and move on.
posted by easily confused at 11:06 AM on October 16, 2011 [12 favorites]

Get out. NOW.

He might be a fun guy, but ohmygosh does he sound incapable and immature. He can't stand up to daddy? You need to realize that if he's behaving like this now, it's not going to change. Are you really prepared for a lifetime of heartbreak? Because I'm pretty sure that's what you'll get out of this relationship.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:56 AM on October 16, 2011

Don't break up with him because he's a bad person. Break up with him because it's the only way he'll grow up.
posted by auto-correct at 12:10 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd second easily confused's post. It sounds like you want to give this guy a break because of his dad's abnormal and controlling behavior.

"It's be great, except for this external factor."

But at the end of the day, it's a package deal. If you're not happy right now, don't stick around. And if you don't know whether or not you're happy, you're not.

Sticking around through adverse circumstances can be the right thing -- temporary long distance splits, family / work / medical emergencies, PhD dissertations -- but it only makes sense if both parties have said, up front, that they're fully engaged, that they both want to work to keep this thing going, and that they have a rough idea of how and when they'll resolve the situation.

This is not one of those situations.

posted by SemiSophos at 12:14 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is not about his effort. This is about how his family is seriously messed up. He's in this awful bind of not being able to please his near-abusively strict and capricious father but not yet having realized that and declared independence. That could take years or decades. In the meantime, he is bummed out or outright depressed about being treated this way. And it's not just that he has logistical difficulties seeing you; you have become a focus of punishment. Punishment targets keeping him apart from you, and he appears to get punished when he sees you. You are a pawn in his father's efforts to control him, it seems.

By blaming him and calling his behavior toward you a moral failing ("relationship lazy"), you recreate the blaming dynamics of his father. This is the last thing he needs. You should be sympathetic toward him. His life sucks right now because of his father. He needs someone to validate how unfair this is and much it hurts to be rejected by a parent, and he needs someone to tell him he is not an academic failure.

You can break up with him so that his father doesn't make your life suck too; that would probably be best all around. He has too much going on to make a partner his top priority. He's probably still trying to win his father's love and prove he is a good person, which are more critical struggles that make building a close partnership with someone seem like a luxury or afterthought.

In the time that you do stay with him, yes, it will have a fairly one-sided or even codependent flavor since he has such massive issues that he hasn't yet figured out how to deal with (which is natural at age 21). Be sympathetic and supportive about what he's going through. Really witness and feel his pain for how hard this situation is for him, and encourage him to get help and make choices that will let him feel better. And build an external support system for yourself so that your decision to stay or leave comes from a less dependent place.

...he's such a slug about it. If I say he's hurting me or he's not doing his part to keep me happy...

But remember, no matter how dependent on him you may feel, your options are to go, or to stay and voice your own needs and requests as needs and requests, but not to stay and criticize, guilt-trip, or insult him into doing what you want. If you are ready to join your friends in labeling him lazy, take your insults and leave before you add to the damage he's suffering. You sound like a considerate person who has reached the end of her rope, and I don't blame you. Again, breaking up is the fastest way to be free of this situation and move on to a better relationship. But if you stay, the best thing you can do is to help him become more aware of how much his father is hurting him and supportively encourage him to move toward more independence.
posted by salvia at 12:16 PM on October 16, 2011 [9 favorites]

Your boyfriend sounds like he is hurting, to me. I mean, just reading your post it seems pretty obvious that he cannot handle school and anything else at the same time. And he internalizes all of the pressure he is feeling, both to get good grades, and to be a good boyfriend to you, which is not healthy. He's one step away from a nervous breakdown--this may be what happened at his old school.

Physically, he may be 21, but emotionally he is much younger. Personally, I feel his parents are going about this the wrong way by putting up all these silly restrictions, which are just treating the symptoms and not the underlying cause of his problems. Seems to me that what your boyfriend needs most is therapy to help him learn how to cope with pressure on his own, and not let it cast a shadow over everything in his life.

I do feel you need to break up with him, though. I don't think he is a bad person, just a confused boy inside who desperately needs to grow up. His parents want him to focus on his school work, and you are pushing him to pay more attention to you, and he cannot handle the conflict. So you will not have your needs met with him, and he will not be able to cope as long as you need more from him than he can give.

But I don't feel this is just his issues, either. You said in your question you don't have any friends or other interests. When you make The Relationship your whole focus, any problems are going to grow out of proportion, too, and take on a huge significance. And that's where all the drama comes in.

In a healthy relationship, who initiates this or that really isn't important (why do you always end up on his couch, anyway? Why can't you make a decision on where to go or what to do?) because you can confidently communicate what you need from your partner and expect your needs to be respected. But your insecurity is making you feel like you are somehow lacking; whenever things go wrong, it MUST be because he doesn't really love you! You're putting pressure on yourself and him, expecting him to fill every void in your life.

Even if he didn't have all the issues with school, it's not healthy for you to be so dependent on one person for all your happiness. And this person in particular is already struggling with just his own baggage. When you are both out of community college, he is not going to suddenly handle life's new challenges any better, no matter how romantic you think the "Me and him against the world!" scenario is.

You have to live in the world as it is, not how you want it to be. I think you know this, and you're just afraid to be alone right now. But being happy on your own is a thousand times better than being miserable with someone else.
posted by misha at 1:21 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

The fact that his father controls/partially controls his behavior by manipulating his phone means that he is to young to be in a serious relationship.

Move on.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:24 PM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Why are you expecting this boy to be an adult in a relationship with you when absolutely everything in his life points to the plain simple truth that he is not a grown-up??

Move along. You can not fix him.

So sorry.

PS - I agree with a poster above who noted you are adopting the dynamic he has with his father, or rather, he is certainly unconsciously re-creating this dynamic with you because it is familiar territory for him. This is EXACTLY why I divorced the boy I was married to in my late 20's. I'm married to a man now, and much much happier.

Don't play this game because you can't win it. Ask me how I know!
posted by jbenben at 1:47 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yet my own loneliness holds me back. I just moved here a year ago and have virtually no friends.

I suggest joining a club, interest group, volunteering - something - to meet people. I really think that will help you with your co-dependency issue, and help you to feel more secure and confident.
posted by Jade_bug at 3:34 AM on February 20, 2012

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