Help me get couple-y
December 16, 2011 10:16 PM   Subscribe

Starting a new relationship with someone very special. Help me learn to be couple-y!

I want to do sweet, girlfriend-y things. I want to learn "girlfriend skills". I've wanted this in nearly every relationship I've been in, and I don't know how to get started. And this guy is so fantastic.

He has a combination of traits I've been looking for for a long time: Dominant and confident, but good-hearted, not narcissistic, friendly, and sweet. Likes to talk about feelings. Admits fault. Gives unasked for massages. Communicates a lot.

Things I'm good at:

- Being lots of fun and having adventures
- Optimism and positivity
- The art of conversation
- Not whining or bothering other people with my issues
- Not creating drama
- Being encouraging and helpful of other people's goals and desires
- Emergencies
- Staying calm on the surface and getting things done

Things I want to learn:

- How to remember to do silly, romantic loving things when they don't come naturally to me (giving small gifts, planning surprises, love-y stuff)

Example: my friend is baking someone a birthday cake because "that's what she does for friends". It would never occur to me to bake him (or anyone, really) a cake.

- Nicknames, inside jokes, special times for the two of us. I've never done any of these things in relationships.

- How to more naturally share my life with others, expect them to meet my needs, rely on them

- How to be less self-critical when describing myself and my emotions. I put myself down a lot in relationships saying "I'm not good at this" and "I sound so negative", etc.

Overall note:

- I have an ambivalent relationship with intimacy and protect myself by shutting down emotionally.
- It doesn't occur to me that other people will help me with anything. I feel essentially very alone and have internalized this as a sort of existentialist philosophy.
- I am also forgiving to a fault sometimes because I don't expect very much of people.

What has helped you to be more "couple-y"? How do you introduce sweetness and closeness into your relationship if you've never done it before?
posted by 3491again to Human Relations (21 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
If you're not a naturally couple-y person, don't sweat it! He likes you for you, not you + some romantic comedy attribute quality!

If you're really worried, just tell him how great he is. Is there something he is shy about? Make sure he knows how much you adore that aspect. If you are set on a physical item, maybe something he has mentioned wistfully from his childhood? I am all set to blow my boyfriend's mind this xmas with the same type of super 8 camera he made movies with as a young'un. That may be much for a new relationship, but don't people talk about their backgrounds on early dates? Showing that you recall a small detail like a candy bar or local food he mentioned early on would be do pretty well as far as showing how much he means to you/introducing sweetness.
posted by troika at 10:38 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you're very introspective and self-aware. You know what you want to learn and what you can improve on. Sounds like you're off to a great start and you should tackle the items on your list.

May I add one more activity to your list?

- Lot's and lot's of reproductive activities
posted by 6spd at 10:39 PM on December 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Things I want to learn:

- How to remember to do silly, romantic loving things when they don't come naturally to me (giving small gifts, planning surprises, love-y stuff)

Hmm. It's strange, because I AM like this, and I have often thought it's too bad I'm not gay or a straight guy, because it seems like the girls I know generally appreciate this sort of thing so much more than the guys. (Receiving a cake, sappy love notes, etc.)

I think for your guy, one good skill is to really listen to him and observe him when it comes to what he wants. What HE wants -- not the stereotypical romantic ideal or the stereotype of what a guy would want or whatever. That's not only a good girlfriend skill but a good person skill.

So like, when you're hanging out together and he's browsing Amazon fantasizing about stuff he could buy, what is he looking at? When you guys go out to eat, what does he order? Things like that. And you can ask him too, just in the normal course of the relationship as you guys get to know each other better. Ask him what he fantasizes about (not sexually, just when you fantasize about things you'd like to have or do.) Ask him what makes him happy, big and small things. Ask him what makes him feel appreciated.
posted by cairdeas at 10:41 PM on December 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't have much to add here except that most of what your asking about are things that can't and shouldn't be forced in any way. Just let yourself be myopic for a little while - enjoying the new relationship to its fullest - and these things should come about on their own.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:42 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

As far as the little romantic things you have a smartphone? Put a recurring reminder into it telling you to think of something nice to do for him. This doesn't need to be a permanent resort, but until you get good at it, it can help you remember.

You're a hyper-independent person and get things done for yourself. This isn't a bad thing. And it's also good that you want to allow yourself to rely on him. Build up your trust in his abilities by asking him to do things for you, even if you don't really need him to do it. After a while this will become easier for you and you'll start to be appreciative of the help.
posted by erstwhile at 10:43 PM on December 16, 2011

Female here. In my experience random blow jobs by a loving, fun and giving girlfriend go a long way towards making a boy feel special. Otherwise, keep on being who you are and relax...
posted by Kerasia at 10:45 PM on December 16, 2011 [9 favorites]

Sorry misread the question a bit there/too many tabs open. But the first part still answers your question, I think. Keep being the fun, adventurous, encouraging sort! Don't trouble yourself with what you aren't. He is interested in you for YOU, not because he expects a cake at some point. You sound like a great person to be in a relationship with! Try not to sweat what you think you're lacking, every couple evolves/grows together in their own way. The sweetness you want will be unique to you two.
posted by troika at 10:49 PM on December 16, 2011

As a guy...

I read your question, and your list of "things you're good at".

Be yourself. You're bringing traits and skills into this relationship that are pretty amazing. If this guy doesn't see that, doesn't value those aspects of you, he's pretty clueless. Don't feel that you need to create/be some person that you're not.
posted by HuronBob at 10:51 PM on December 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Two things: listening, and observation.

When I started dating my boyfriend, I'd never had a proper boyfriend before. (Well, neither had he re: girlfriend, so at least we were on even keels.) So there was a lot of mental flailing and "OMG, what do I do?" Hell, I was going "WTF do I DO?!" when he freakin' kissed me, for crying out loud.

What I've learned is that people will tell (or show) you things about them, and when they do, believe them. (This gets brought up on RelationshipFilter a lot.) My boyfriend is communicative, but he won't really say "I REALLY like X in relationships!" unless I directly ask him, and even then he'd think about it a little.

Observation: I noticed my boyfriend likes touch a lot. If he's reading on his phone, or staring off into space, or whatever, he'd just consciously/unconsciously reach over and nudge me a little, and then go back to what he's doing. I learned to reciprocate. I noticed he has a bad memory while I have a good one; I learned he appreciated me reminding him of birthday parties and dentist appointments. I learned he doesn't really like overtly cute things (like a lot of men I know...) and I tease him with a silly nickname that makes him pout every time. I noticed he likes trying new flavours of food and especially spicy things that'd invent new ways of burning off one's tongue, so I think of him whenever I stumble upon a new variety of hot sauce.

Listening: seriously, gifts are about the listening. "Damn it, why do I never remember to bring a shopping list?! I forgot the toilet paper for the fifth time!!" *show up next time with a pack of TP* Gifts aren't really limited to the romantic chocolate and flowers. I'm a terrible romantic in terms of Romance, but I have a good memory and remember things he talks about, and those definitely qualify as "little gifts" and "surprises". "I've always wanted to try that cheese, maybe one day." "I gotta remember to get a new toilet brush." And then I'll show up at his door with them. Toilet brushes costs $2 at the dollar store so it's not like it's a Huge Thing, but he appreciates the gesture all the same.

Watch him, and listen to him, and he'll tell/show you the things he likes (or you'll discover them together!! That's awesome). There's really nothing more to it than that.

I get the self-criticism part, but I think it's a fairly common thing. For me, the self-criticism ceased when I stopped being so damn Anxious about being The Super Girlfriend(TM). I don't think there's a shortcut through that part, even though rationally, you know that every time you have a new partner it's the First Time with that partner. For me, once the anxiety ceased I was comfortable enough to start asking for stuff (I'm fiercely independent to a fault and don't like to ask for help even when I really really need it), but it came organically and no amount of logic and rationalizing did squat to that. I don't know of a shortcut to that one, sorry.
posted by Hakaisha at 10:56 PM on December 16, 2011 [9 favorites]

Be yourself.

Nothing turns me off more than a girl trying very hard to be something she's not. I always bailed on relationships like that pretty quickly. Don't force things - it's painfully easy to spot and often very awkward. Trying to be someone you're not puts you in a very poor position if the relationship turns out well in the long term - you're trying harder than you need to now, you're not giving him a chance to really get to know you, you'll never be able to sustain what's essentially an act and there's a really good shot that he likes you as you are already.

If you really want to change something for him, change together. Make it a habit that both of you develop a thing that's just yours - something neither of you have done with anyone else but that you enjoy. Doing that will give you something special to have and talk about.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:01 PM on December 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Jimmythefish brings up a good point - my points above should be, ah, organic, not forced. It should be a natural evolution of taking interest in each other, but don't force yourself to fit some mold that's entirely different from the person you are.

For example, my boyfriend enjoys the occasional smoke; I can't stand the things, and it'd probably be a cold day in hell before I buy him a cigar. It's not something I particularly like, and he'd find it strange if I buy him a fancy cigar anyway; it'd look forced (and I don't know a damn thing about cigars unless I do tons of research) and he has other friends to buy him nice smoke related things if he wants it. I'll take care of the vacuum cleaners and moldy cheeses, thanks.

Being open to trying out new things is great, but if he loves a girl dressed to the nines the minute you get out of bed, and you're the lazy pajamas on Sunday type and don't like being the former, dressing up to the nines all day would probably just make him happy at your expense, and any good guy worthy of a relationship wouldn't want that anyway.
posted by Hakaisha at 11:11 PM on December 16, 2011

Many of the things you seem to think are negative traits may actually be huge positives for the right person. Honestly, someone baking me a cake or being overly gift-giving would make me feel uncomfortable and awkward, doubly so if it was not coming naturally. Ambivalent about intimacy? No problem, less pressure. Not sharing every detail of your life? Fantastic, I have my own life too. I think for most guys that level of detail about every little thing about daily minutia is something they put up with, not crave. You don't need help with every little thing? Again, that sounds like a win to me.
posted by sophist at 11:16 PM on December 16, 2011

Do whatever comes naturally. That is all that should count.
posted by mleigh at 11:53 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

The girlfriend-y qualities you say you want to cultivate in yourself strike me as being essentially feminine ones. Maybe your dominant man is inspiring you to let go and embrace your femininity and vulnerability.

So when I read this traits you have:

- Optimism and positivity

- Not whining or bothering other people with my issues

- Staying calm on the surface and getting things done

my first thought was, "Hmm, I wonder if she's realize how liberating it is and what an emotional bond is created when one becomes vulnerable enough to cry in front of one's bf, ask him for help or let him in on sad moods, etc."

Essentially, since you say intimacy tends to shut you down, letting him see your softer side will be therapeutic for you and will also deepen your relationship with him.

This is an awesome girlfriend-y thing to do for your bf *and* yourself.
posted by devymetal at 12:08 AM on December 17, 2011 [7 favorites]

Guess what?

You are partnered up now in an intimate fashion! You are going to have Bad Days. They happen!!

- Stop worrying. You're great guy already likes you!

Be yourself. You could not EVER keep up a facade, even if you wanted to.

I've been married, divorced, and now very very happily married.

Learning to make even the hard times OK is really where it is at.

Here is the anecdote-learning-moment that came to mind, even though it came in between my divorce and happy re-marriage. Here we go...

I was pet-less for a number of years, despite visits to shelters and the whole nine. FINALLY, a kitten came into my life. She turned into Kitty - a Stone Cold Killer with A Heart Of Gold. But this is about her early years.

So I am rushing to make a business trip flight, and Kitty starts playing with my packing and laces on my shoes. And I start to admonish her, and instead I pull myself up short and say, "No! I'M WRONG. That's why you are here! To remind me to PLAY and not be so stressed out all the time!"


Fucking Kitty. She totally dialed it in for me.


When you find yourself totally caught up in negativity, look at your guy and remember how GREAT life really is!


This is the life hack you have been seeking. Open your eyes. Life is GOOD. Love life.

Your guy can not help but respond in kind:)
posted by jbenben at 12:48 AM on December 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

1. Don’t get too hung up on trying to mold your relationship into some cutesy thing that it isn’t. That’s a major relationship-killer, people becoming dissatisfied with a perfectly wonderful relationship because they think it doesn’t live up to some romantic hearts and flowers ideal.

A good first step to figuring out what your relationship has the potential to be is reading The Five Languages of Love to start figuring out the relationship-y things that are natural to you and your boyfriend. Not everybody is into little gifts and surprises, for example. You have to learn his love language(s) and you have to teach him yours.

Here is a link to a comment I wrote regarding the Five Love Languages (the first part is about fighting, the love languages stuff starts in the third paragraph.)

2. Inside jokes – you can’t really force these, it has to evolve naturally over time. Basically you just refer back to things you experienced together that were funny or absurd, and whatever makes both of you laugh whenever one of you brings it up will become your in-joke.

If you can learn to use humor as a way of dealing with life in general, even the aggravating stuff, you will find lots of fodder for in-jokes. (Just proceed cautiously until you are sure that your BF is also cool with that kind of humor… some people get really mad if they think you are making light of something they are upset about.)

3. -I have an ambivalent relationship with intimacy and protect myself by shutting down emotionally.
- It doesn't occur to me that other people will help me with anything. I feel essentially very alone and have internalized this as a sort of existentialist philosophy.
- I am also forgiving to a fault sometimes because I don't expect very much of people.

It might help to keep in mind that he may very much want to help you with stuff. Many people, men and women alike, love to be needed in some way, particularly in ways that play to their strengths. So if he’s a great listener and/or problem-solver, confide in him when you are having a problem in some area of your life. If he seems eager to do favors for you, then make it a point to ask him to run to the store for ice cream, or to bring you back a drink when he goes to the kitchen, or whatever he seems ready and willing to do for you.

People like to feel competent and needed, they like to feel like good and generous people, and you can make him feel great about himself just by letting him be the good boyfriend he wants to be. And not only will he feel great about himself, he'll feel great about you. I've read more than once that people don't fall in love with you because you're such a great person, they fall in love with you because they feel like a great person when they are with you.

Don’t forget to show appreciation—always say “thank you” and tell him how much you love “how supportive he is” or “it’s so sweet how you baby me when I’m sick” or whatever it is he’s proud of doing for you. And try to reciprocate in kind occasionally, even if his way of showing love is not your natural way. People often show love in the ways they’d like to have love shown to them.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:57 AM on December 17, 2011

If can can identify small gifts that he would appreciate (6 pack of his favorite beer, candy bar, grocery store flowers, whatever it is), why not put a monthly reminder on your calendar? "Buy boyfriend a treat." This helps if you identify things you want to do, but can't really remember to do them.
posted by teragram at 5:11 AM on December 17, 2011

I'm the kind of gal who does those little "girlfriend-y" things that you describe, and whenever I've dated someone who tried to reciprocate but who wasn't good at it, their little gestures have virtually always fallen flat and felt forced or contrived. For example, I had a guy once who would buy the same ugly flowers from Safeway nearly every week. I felt like he was trying, and that was sweet, but it was completely unnecessary and (hopefully) not a genuine expression of emotion. My point being if it doesn't come naturally, don't force it! Just feel and express as best you can. Sounds like the guy likes you, so no need to mess with it!
posted by gubenuj at 8:47 AM on December 17, 2011

Keep an eye out for things nice one time things you can do and then do them.

Ex. "I fixed up your bike while you were away"
posted by Winnemac at 2:45 PM on December 17, 2011

I once read a book called The 5 Love Languages and it talks about how different people appreciate others:

I can see in the responses people emphasizing certain things because that is their thing.

Anyways, one or more of these things may click with your bf.

1. Words of Affirmation
Some people love the right words to be said to them....that would be me lol.

2. Quality Time
Some people love spending quality time together....that would be me too lol.

3. Receiving Gifts
Some people get excited over gifts. I like small thoughtful gifts but not into someone getting my something huge like a new car - seems extreme.

4. Acts of Service
Vacuum the floors and do the dishes more often - some women would think that's the type of guy that is a great catch.

5. Physical Touch
Some people are touchy....Doesn't really have to be intimate.....

So your bf might care less about what you say and may prefer Acts of Service for example....

I would start learning more about what makes him tick...

I'm trying to do that with this one woman I'm really into... and its not always easy to say the least.
posted by simpleton at 3:45 PM on December 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nthing the "love languages" thing. Don't speak to your partner in a way that's meaningless to him.

(Though I personally don't see how anyone could really care about things other than the ones on the list that do it for me, I assume that's a hint that the authors are on to something.)
posted by ead at 3:17 PM on December 18, 2011

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