I'm Dating Jerry Seinfeld's Bitter, Bitter Twin
October 22, 2012 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Stressed, incredibly sarcastic and refuses to cuddle: Is this guy dateable?

I've been casually dating someone for 2 months now. We see each other once a week on average and his behaviour has morphed in the last couple of weeks from sarcastically funny to extremely wound up and bitter.

He's had a lot of work stress lately (almost quit) at his professional job and the last 2 times I saw him he's been very negative and wound up the entire night, bitching and complaining about everything imaginable, from the restaurant, to the people in the city we live in (he's not from here), to the people in his building, etc.

To be clear--he never picks on me, I'm just his sounding board.

He's generally outspoken, sarcastic, and "a ham" by self-admission. I've enjoyed these qualities in the time we've spent together, but the recent turn to negative venting has made him very un-fun to be around. He'll basically complain about everything he comes across, like an angry Jerry Seinfeld: "What the f*** is the deal with...??!!" I find some of his ranting amusing, but mostly, when we part ways I'm left thinking "Well, that was a chore."

Another side-effect of the stress seems to be that he won't cuddle me lately. Before, he would embrace me when we slept, etc but the other day I asked for a cuddle a couple of times and both times he got squirrely and basically refused. Could this be because of the stress?

Mind you, we do have some fun regardless. There are still laughs, good sex and interesting conversation sprinkled in amongst the venting, as well as fun texting between dates. I'm shy and don't find guys I want to date very often so I'll admit that part of the reason I'm still seeing him/walking on eggshells is that I'd rather be dating someone with some redeeming qualities than be single right now. I know that this clouds my judgment which is why I'm looking for advice.

I'm struggling with whether to just let this blow over as perhaps it's related to his work stress, or whether I should bring up how uncomfortable it is to be around him when he's in "vent" mode. I'm not sure how to put it to him without sounding unsupportive.
posted by oceanview to Human Relations (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
These are big issues to be experiencing two months into a relationship.
posted by blue t-shirt at 3:52 PM on October 22, 2012 [15 favorites]

I'd bring it up, but not like "you're getting annoying to be around"; make it more about him; "you've REALLY seemed out of character lately because [foo, baz, schmeh]. You've told me some of what's going on, but this seems like it's REALLY weighing on you, is there something more going on maybe?"

Maybe bring up how it's impacting you as well as a secondary thing, but bring it up as more of an "I'm worried about how you're holding up and is there any more stress than what you're telling me or is there anything you need from me to help you cope more" kind of thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:52 PM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

whether I should bring up how uncomfortable it is to be around him when he's in "vent" mode. I'm not sure how to put it to him without sounding unsupportive.

You don't to be unilaterally supportive 2 months in. This is a time for you to figure out if he is going to be a good long term partner, not a time for you to figure out how to walk on eggshells around someone i'm assuming you don't even love or date exclusively yet. He has to win you over too and it sounds like he isn't even trying. Why would he when you are so accommodating?
posted by cakebatter at 3:56 PM on October 22, 2012 [24 favorites]

(To clarify - this would be a conversation-opener. I don't mean for you to ask him "is there anything that I can do to help you cope" with the expectation that "of course you would then do it", this is just to get him talking and tell you what he needs; it is of course up to you to decide whether you can provide it.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:57 PM on October 22, 2012

I think I have "dated" this dude. He turned out to be severely narcissistic, insecure, and controlling. It started out interesting, and ended up borderline emotionally abusive, with me just having to deal with this negative hatred all the time. He felt he deserved way more in his job than he got, which made him crazy. But the thing is, he was a shitty person who couldn't handle stress like a normal human, which is one of the reasons I'm sure he didn't get his promotion. Him rejecting your cuddles is a major red flag! He IS taking it out on you. Beware!
posted by katypickle at 3:59 PM on October 22, 2012 [27 favorites]

I should bring up how uncomfortable it is to be around him when he's in "vent" mode. I'm not sure how to put it to him without sounding unsupportive.

This. At two months, it's not your job to fix his shit, it is his job to be pleasant company. Just say "The venting, it's really un-fun. Can we make a date that's specifically to have fun? I think you need it and I sure do."
posted by DarlingBri at 4:06 PM on October 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

I can't second katypickle's advice enough. If he's this exhausting two months in, when he's presumably on his best behavior, just imagine what it'll be like when he gets comfortable.
posted by mochapickle at 4:07 PM on October 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

is that I'd rather be dating someone with some redeeming qualities than be single right now. 

This is the problem - not the guy you currently are seeing. Fix this first, the rest will follow.
posted by Kruger5 at 4:09 PM on October 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

Mention that his negativity is bothering you, and maybe suggest something he (or the two of you) can do to alleviate it. Give it a few more dates. If he hasn't gotten better, break it off.

I wouldn't want to date someone who acts like this all the time, but two dates isn't "all the time" and you haven't known this guy very long and don't have much of a sample size to work with. A lot of people will probably tell you to DTMFA, and maybe you should (especially if you're not all that into him to begin with, which isn't really clear from the question), but I don't really see the downside of giving it a few weeks to see if it dies down.

Also, regarding the cuddling: I like to cuddle when awake, but usually dislike it when sleeping. Perhaps you have just learned this about him?
posted by breakin' the law at 4:11 PM on October 22, 2012

Negative nellies rarely change their tune. It may be that you are seeing his 'real' side after his first two months of best behaviour. Work and stress probably have nothing to do with it.

You are already on the back foot with this guy because you don't want to be single (nothing wrong with that) but it puts him in a position of control even if he doesn't consciously know that. That refusal to cuddle is a control tactic that i would take very seriously if it were me. I like to cuddle and i've learned that folk who don't, or who withhold cuddles, are a bad match for me.

Have a think about whether you could be happy in a relationship where cuddles are reguarly refused.
posted by the fish at 4:11 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Bring it up directly in a way that encourages him to recognize and take ownership of his bad behavior.

Next time he bitches about something that's over your line of acceptable grumpiness, say "Dude, why the raincloud?"

And continue with "I know you've been stressed and under a lot of pressure, but your negativity these past couple weeks have been a bit of a bummer for me."

And then, after listening to him for a bit, you can go on to say, "I usually have a lot of fun with you, and I want to keep hanging out. Can time with me be an escape from the crappy stuff?"

That kind of conversation may be a lightbulb moment for him that snaps him out of the toxic talk, or at least a wakeup call to improve his mood.

If it doesn't, the next time he suggests a date, you have my permission to say, "Well, I've been really worn out lately, and really need to stay in a mentally positive brainspace. Do you think you can have that kind of evening with me?"

If he promises you a good time but doesn't deliver, please stop seeing him.
posted by itesser at 4:17 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

If he's this comfortable being negative after only two months (when he should presumably still be on his best behavior and trying to woo you), imagine what he will be like 6 months or a year from now? I might be tempted to say "It really doesn't seem like you have the mental energy to be dating right now" and move on.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 4:17 PM on October 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Totally depends on how much you like him. Can you see him less while he's going through this stress? You could frame it as giving him more alone time to relax and see how he responds. I will say I've been stupid stressed out recently, levels I truly didn't know one could sustain for more than a day or two - it takes an actual force of will for me to be anything approaching pleasant company, I don't think there's much value in asking him to chill out or not vent regularly if he really is under a ton of stress.

To me the questions are:
1. is this a temporary amount of stress or does he seek out this kind of stress
2. is he aware of how he's behaving
3. Is he open to you taking a step back, would he be able to unwind 1 or 2 nights a week with you and not be a dark cloud
4. Do you like him enough to ride this out (assuming that the answer to 1 is that it is temporary)
5. Does he like you enough to let you back off a bit.

You can't fix other peoples stuff, but you also don't have to cut people off just because they're having a rough patch. There's a middle ground.
posted by dadici at 4:24 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

What is he doing to alleviate his own stress? This, to me, would be the main important thing to know. If the answer is Nothing, or nothing that works, you should move on, as this is probably more his set state than you could see at the start.

I definitely agree with others that it is not your job to alleviate stress for him.
posted by Riverine at 4:26 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is representative behavior, don't kid yourself.
posted by fleacircus at 4:27 PM on October 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

Two months is way too short a time to settle for anything. Being with someone who constantly brings you down with their anger is worse than being alone.

That said, I would maybe give it a little more time to see what happens with the work stress. Do you know how he plans to manage it? If stress is really at the root of how he's acting, he needs to have plans to improve his situation or you will both be miserable.
posted by houndsoflove at 4:29 PM on October 22, 2012

With this kind of behavior so early --- once-a-weekish dates for two months: that makes maybe 10 dates maximum, right? --- and he's already this comfortable (for lack of a better word), acting like a self-centered spoiled brat? This is a really bad sign for the future, and I'm afraid I've got to recommend ditching him.
posted by easily confused at 4:34 PM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

When I bitch usually people find it funny and join in. All of my family and friends are like this- we get together and bitch, be sarcastic and laugh. We are Bostonians and maybe that has something to do with it.

If it doesn't seem like comedy and he actually seems pissed - then he's probably stressed out. Bring it up. I've had exes bring it up to me- but it's hard to change. So this may be his personality.

Really all you can do is suffer in silence, bring it up or dump him.
posted by KogeLiz at 4:36 PM on October 22, 2012

Don't reinforce the ranting. It's not good for you, it's not good for him. But if he thinks you like it, or at least find it funny, he'll do it more.

Unless you've specifically talked to him about how he's down on everything, and definitely if you've ever suggested appreciation for this part of his personality, it's too soon to DTMFA. Not that it's your fault at all, but really if you express a warm opinion of a person's behavior early on in dating a sane person might increase their likelihood of doing that behavior.

So uhh, talk to him about it. If you can't or won't talk to him about it (or he declines), well then problem solved: break up.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 4:54 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

My gosh, I would thank my lucky stars his true colors came out this soon. It will not get better, it will just get worse. I have dated several and the first few months is when everyone is on their best behavior, so I would not look for an improvement. Sorry...
posted by just asking at 4:57 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's only a matter of time before that negativity gets pointed at you.

I'd back up.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:58 PM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Wow. This seems like a guy I am dating, but the negativity has gone down way more. I'm still with him because we have a lot the same views in life, and we do have fun together like you seem to. We get along great. But one week, he quit his job because he felt like his boss didn't appreciate him enough! He did this without finding a new job first. I tried to get him to find a new one before quitting but he stressed himself out so bad, his body freaked out and he was sent to the hospital.

My guy started this into two months too. Be positive about life around him. If he talks negatively tell him he is not the only one who is stressed out! Though one week, my boyfriend was so down on himself, the next day I thought I was worthless! Which I am not! No one is worthless, unless they are not alive. If he is alive, he has a purpose. I told my boyfriend that he can vent, but keep comments like "I feel useless and pathetic" and "My life isn't fair" to himself.

And it's been over 4 months without him saying anything along those lines. He's still looking for a job though..if your guy does the same thing I would run though. My boyfriend saved up enough money to be good until February without a job, but he still is looking.

But honestly, my boyfriend has never rejected cuddling with me. When he gets like that, if I were you I would just go home and let him be alone. That's bs. I would stay with it for another 2 weeks, but if he doesn't change I would leave him. That's too much crap to put up with and you aren't his mother.
posted by Autumn89 at 5:07 PM on October 22, 2012

You don't want to date someone when dating them feels like a chore. You're only casual, and it's only two months in. I think you should break up with him. But failing that, well, it's not like you're his wife, so you should just tell him that this is bringing you down and ask if he can take concrete steps to fix it.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:31 PM on October 22, 2012

If this is what it's like at two months, I'd say it's not going to be worth the effort. Sure, he's stressed, but people get stressed. "Is able to still be a person when stressed" should be a non-negotiable relationship dealbreaker.
posted by Ragged Richard at 5:44 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

When my SO did this not long after we started dating and I complained, he said,"But I'm not yelling at you. I'm yelling towards you." I explained that my stress levels and adrenaline reaction was the same either way. It was like a light bulb came on for him. Now if he starts, I can just say "adrenaline" and it diffuses the moment.
posted by tamitang at 5:53 PM on October 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

I have had this happen, and I actually left the restaurant in the middle of the meal. Just got the hell up. He was confused, I said "obviously you're too upset to be out with me, bye" and walked off. He apologized and crammed it from then on, making him more pleasant to be with. At the same time, it was an indicator of an underlying personality with a lot of negativity, frequent depression, and general downer-ness, so even though the surface was better the problem never really did get solved.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:36 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm struggling with whether to just let this blow over as perhaps it's related to his work stress

You should absolutely just let it blow over, without a doubt, if you are pretty certain this episode of work stress will be the last episode of stress he will ever have in his life.

You are looking at how the guy deals with stress, period. You are looking at what he is like when he is stressed. If I were you I would not proceed with him.

Also, people don't develop coping skills overnight. This is the behavior he has developed to cope with stress. So maybe you can say something about being put off by it and he can keep it under wraps. But I think if you imagine that means it is gone, and he has learned to cope differently, I don't think that would be very realistic or likely at all.

Last thing:

bitching and complaining about everything imaginable, from the restaurant, to the people in the city we live in (he's not from here), to the people in his building, etc.

To be clear--he never picks on me, I'm just his sounding board.

Every last time I have noticed this behavior, where someone has taken their frustration/anger out on others in a bad or unfair way, or treated others badly - they eventually end up doing it to me too in the end. Even when the person has been extremely sweet, kind, loving, or caring to me, before.

I once dated a guy who would get bizarrely critical and angry towards random things that women did. Like if another driver got mixed up leaving a parking lot and he had to wait for her to turn around, he would mutter "cunt" under his breath. I was so naive and I thought if I said something about it at the time, and we talked about it, and he acknowledged that was a bad thing to have said, and unfair, that we were making progress. Well, guess who ended up getting called a cunt years down the line for minor mistakes and other little things that annoyed him. It's not just with him, I have observed this in person after person.

I say cut your losses on this one, unless you decide you could live with the bitter Seinfeld act even if it never changed, and started being directed at you.
posted by cairdeas at 8:36 PM on October 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

My partner is a ranter. It's not really something you can change, it's just there... whether it's a feature or a bug is up to you. Don't dismiss it as stress, 'cause stress will continue at various times throughout life. This is not temporary. If it's a chore for you to listen, maybe this means it's time to say goodbye.

Also, the no cuddling thing? That sounds bad! One of the reasons I like my ranter is that I know I can cut in and receive excellent cuddles (probably after a rant about interrupting the rant, which is pretty cute). At the very least, ask him what's up with the cuddle thing, and don't settle for less on that... my experience is that if you are interested enough in a ranting, negative type person to want to pursue a relationship with them, you really need to be happy about their demonstrativeness and affectionateness. It's the difference between the relationship working and not working.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:36 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, I wouldn't want to date someone that wasn't making something huge of their lives now would I?

incredibly sarcastic
The superior form of humor! Still on board!

and refuses to cuddle:
Into the abyss, there can be no redemption after this.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 10:21 PM on October 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm going to go against the grain and say it would be worth giving this guy more of a chance. Probably refusing to cuddle is just a symptom of the stress he's feeling. I think it is ok for either side to refuse cuddles when one of you is just not feeling into it, and I would see that as a healthy relationship dynamic actually. After all, if you can accept him saying no, that sets the standard for him to accept you saying no later on.
Could you look into helping him reduce his stress levels or find better ways to cope with stress? How about sport, mediation or a comedy show as things to do instead of venting or cuddling?
I think you do need to talk to him though - it sounds like there is still enough in this relationship that you could regret it if you dump him now, and he gets through the stress and in a few weeks/months time is back to being awesome, but feels you dumped him when he needed you the most... Have you met his friends or work colleagues ? Can you subtly suss out how typical this level of stress is, and how long it might last?
posted by EatMyHat at 12:57 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to be like this, but I realized how badly it came across and I stopped.

I could not have expected anyone I hardly knew to hang around in a romantic situation to coach me out of this, because dating is not therapy and, while you're supposed to care, you're also not supposed to try to change people. "Betting on potential" is a truism for good reason. If you had known him for much longer and the crabbing were out of character, it might be different. But I think you know it's not really out of character.

This guy is supposed to be rolling out the red carpet of good behaviour so as to fool you into shacking up with him. It's just basic etiquette. He's not supposed to turn into an ill-tempered slob until you have signed a lease and can't get away. I agree with all assessments that this is likely to get worse.

I've known a lot of people like this, and they are usually dyed-in-the-wool foul-tempered bullies. Which is why, if you're not such a bully, you should at least be extremely concerned with not giving the impression that you could be one. At the very least, being in the presence of someone who can't control how he comes across is going to have negative consequences for you.

What else do we say around here? That what he does to others he will do to you? It's true.

But that's not really what you're asking. You're looking for Mr Preferable To Being Alone and you wonder if it's actually going to be preferable to being alone. I would say no, because I've spent major portions of my life trapped in the company of people like this and my biggest cause for celebration, now, is that I don't have to put up with it anymore. I think you may be underestimating just how extremely horrible it's going to be. That's if he doesn't start slapping you because you wanted ketchup instead of mayonnaise, as one of our comrades on the green has experienced. That is a point to which your current situation can escalate, not to be alarmist, but it is true.

In your position I would cut your losses and explain that you're unable to handle the negative way he talks and acts and that you hope his situation improves. I think that's the best you can do for him, because losing relationships due to crabbiness, and being told that that's the reason, may wake him up to himself, even though you won't benefit from it.
posted by tel3path at 10:50 AM on October 25, 2012

Those who advised me to run from this guy were right.

A couple of nights after I posted this question I invited him out for what I thought would be a fun night of post-work drinks. I was really hoping that he'd done enough bitching by now and was ready for a fun night out like we'd had when we first started going out.

Well, it soon devolved into his usual-as-of-late ranting and complaining, and then on to insulting me for the first time--out of the fucking blue! In crasser terms, he basically insinuated that I was not in the station of life I ought to be in--not in a supportive way, but in a way designed to make me feel like shit. (He's very successful in conventional terms while I'm getting back on my feet after major family upheaval that has turned my life upside down). I was visibly upset after his insult. Instead of being accommodating, I took a moment to feel the blow. He verbally acknowledged that I seemed "frustrated", however, he didn't apologize and he certainly didn't seem to feel any remorse. We parted ways minutes later.

Since then, I've been reading up about narcissists and it certainly seems that this guy is one. It all makes sense now--him thinking that everyone in his workplace was incompetent; him having no sympathy for sad news events; him always needing to be the centre of attention while my attempts to talk about myself fell on deaf ears.

I'm sad of course--I somehow thought we had potential. But now I feel a little lucky that I only invested 2 months and that I seem to have enough self-esteem to not accept his insults for the sake of continuing a relationship with him. I've done some crying about it but now I feel like a burden has been lifted. Now I can do all the things I was avoiding because he looked down on them! Like, going to the movies ("movies are for plebs"), listening to Bob Dylan ("He's an overrated hack,"), and so on.

Thanks everyone for your input. And if anyone comes across this question because it describes their current dating situation---yes, you are certainly dating a fucktard who does not have the capacity to give a shit about you. Therefore, you should feel no remorse in ruthlessly extricating yourself from them as a self-loving gesture.
posted by oceanview at 9:56 PM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

Lots of hugs. Happy that you're out of that situation.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:57 AM on October 26, 2012

Good grief..... I need to update my previous comment: the part where I said he was acting like a spoiled brat? Remove that 'acting' part --- he IS a spoiled brat. It's okay to not enjoy movies or Bob Dylan, but it's NOT okay to call everyone around you incompetent, a hack, or a 'pleb'. And "acknowledging that [you] seemed frustrated" is NOT in any way, shape or form an apology for insulting you to your face.

You're right, you're lucky to find out now what he's really like; I'm sorry that you wasted two months on him, but I'm GLAD that it was ONLY two months. Many, many hugs, but no cuddles: the only girls I cuddle are nieces young enough for laptime!
posted by easily confused at 2:08 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's very disappointing when people are like this. Just, in general, never mind when you were pinning even quite modest hopes on them.

You're so right not to let him infect you with his misery. His chief problem was that he was unable of recognising a good thing when it was right in front of him.
posted by tel3path at 2:26 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

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