I cry every week and he doesn't understand why
November 5, 2012 6:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm in a long-distance cross-cultural relationship with the love of my life. Unfortunately we're having communication issues that are hurting us both. Please help.

We've been together over a year, long distance the whole time. We have a weekly call scheduled for Saturdays, as U.S. weekends are the only times we can talk, due to time differences and work schedules. Other communication (email, text, unscheduled phone calls) is limited to non-existent for a variety of reasons.

My main problem: he is routinely late for our weekly call, sometimes half an hour, sometimes an hour. About 30% of the time he doesn't show up at all, and doesn't tell me he won't be coming until I text to ask where he is. We typically reschedule for Sunday when this happens. In the last seven days he has stood me up four (consecutive) times. He often has a legitimate reason (meeting ran late, family emergency, Internet bill wasn't paid so he can't come online, etc.) but he never notifies me of what's happening until I have waited for him for hours. This hurts me and makes me feel disrespected, unloved, unwanted, and worthless.

His main problem: he doesn't understand why this is such a big deal. The cultural differences are such that standing someone up or being hours late is not a huge transgression to him. He, in turn, is offended that I get upset and demand explanations. I went so far as to call him an asshole this week and tell him that I deserve to be respected and if he won't do it I will find someone who will. He was extremely hurt by this and felt my reaction was disproportionate to the offense. In retrospect I regret threatening to end the relationship, but a pattern has developed over the last year such that he only takes me seriously if I indicate I am willing to leave. Otherwise he finds my anger "cute" and sweet talks me until I let it drop.

How you can help: If you have an understanding of the West, can you help me to explain how lateness and being stood up is perceived in Western culture, and why I feel worthless and unloved when he does not respect our one and only means of regular communication? If you have insight into a culture which has a more relaxed view of schedules and punctuality, can you help me to understand why he does not see the need to let me know when he is late or won't be coming online, and also why standing me up on a regular basis is not a sign of disrespect?

Thank you in advance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Uhhh, I'm from the US, and if somebody did that to me, I would be furious. If he's trying to claim this is "cultural," he's full of it. Habitual lateness and standing people up is pretty universally considered to be impolite. (I didn't misunderstand your question, right? He's from the US/Europe/former British colony?)

People who are late will always be late. If he has that little respect for you and your time, and he doesn't understand why you're upset, this is probably not going to change. It's difficult to see any movement with deep-seated personality traits like that. If you want to stay with him, this is probably just something about him that you're going to have to accept.
posted by baby beluga at 6:09 AM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's hard to know how to answer your first question about Western culture without knowing the specific culture. Even so, he knows it means something TO YOU, therefore it should mean something TO HIM. It's rude to have someone waiting for them when they know they're not coming in pretty much any Western culture I can think of. Standing someone up is never not rude.

I imagine the reason you feel worthless is that you see this call as some sort of weekly sunshine and you look forward to it all week and when he doesn't appear to value it as much as you do, you feel bad.

It is disrespect. You have to decide if this person who dismisses your feelings so easily as "cute" is someone who can sustain a relationship longer than an occasional Saturday.
posted by inturnaround at 6:13 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's nothing cultural about this. He doesn't respect your time, or you.
posted by headnsouth at 6:14 AM on November 5, 2012 [24 favorites]

Yeah, I love in the US and this guy would be gone. I was in an LDR with a guy who lives on the other side of the country from me, and it only worked because we talked/texted so much. When he started being "unavailable" it created a big rift between us, and ultimately I found out that the times I was waiting for his call was when he was off hitting on other women. Do yourself a favor and end the relationship now while you still have an ounce of self respect.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:22 AM on November 5, 2012

First, I just want to point out that from a close reading of the OP's question it appears that the OP is from the Western culture and wants a way of explaining to the boyfriend why unpunctuality and not showing up is so bothersome. The boyfriend appears to be from a different, non-Western culture, perhaps one in which being punctual is not seen as being that important. It seems that some of the answers are taking the opposite interpretation.

Speaking as someone from one of those non-Western cultures where punctuality is not necessarily seen as the most important virtue, I can assure you that this would still be more than enough to piss me off and rethink any involvement with this guy. Also, it's one thing to do long-distance with someone after you've been together for a while and know you're in it for the long haul -- it's quite another to be dating for just a year and have been long-distance the whole time. There's so much you don't know about this guy that you can only find out if you are at least living in the same town as him.
posted by peacheater at 6:22 AM on November 5, 2012 [11 favorites]

The OP is from the West, the partner is from a more chronologically challenged culture.

Yes, some cultures are much more relaxed about timeliness in which case you should relax your standards and sit down for a 1pm call around 1.20, or tell him to call at 12.30 but schedule your day as though he will call at one.

But to me that isn't as big a deal as the unexplained no-shows. That is disrespectful in all cultures I am aware of (especially repeatedly - four times in a row!). I think he just does not prioritise the time he wants to spend with you. I have a crazy busy life (two jobs, ft school, 3 kids, social life) but I am always immediately available for my partner because HE is my priority. Cut off Internet? Internet cafe. Meeting running too long? Gotta get to a more important meeting. Family obligations? Love ya mom. Time to call my Hun, bye!
posted by saucysault at 6:25 AM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

(My read on the question is that the OP is from a western culture and is looking for others from the same background to help articulate to the boyfriend, who is from a non-western culture, why being late for scheduled phone calls is hurtful.)

I'm not entirely sure you're asking the right question. Personally I'd be a lot more worried about being with a guy who finds your anger "cute". Cultural valuations of punctuality aside, that's...condescending, to say the least. It's good to try to work through cultural misunderstandings in a cross-cultural relationship, but it sounds to me like he's not interested in trying to understand what's upsetting you. That doesn't seem like a very good basis for a relationship.

I've done the long-distance-from-the-start thing, and I would say...hold off on calling someone the love of your life until you've lived in the same place as them and had a normal, non-distance relationship for a while. I know how frustrating this is to hear when you're in the middle of it, because I've been there. But you just don't know. It's not your fault you don't know, it's not his fault you don't know. It doesn't reflect on the likelihood that he is the true love of your life; it only reflects the circumstances. But you still don't know.
posted by ootandaboot at 6:29 AM on November 5, 2012 [19 favorites]

I read the question wrong at first, too, and thought your guy is the one from a Western culture. YOU are from the Western culture, right? I still stand behind this bit of the advice I was going to post:

I'm sorry. You say he's the love of your life. But, this sounds to me like another case (there are several examples in other AskMe's, particularly with regard to dating people that have mental health issues) where you'll want to establish your needs and boundaries and clearly express them to him. If he doesn't meet/respect your needs and boundaries --- Buh-bye.

There really, truly are plenty of other, lovable fish in the sea that will meet your NEEDS and treat you with respect.
posted by little_dog_laughing at 6:30 AM on November 5, 2012

I know how you can explain punctuality to him, and get him to knock off the condescending attitude towards you when you express a value for your own time: You stop waiting and rescheduling. If you two are supposed to talk once a week, and he's missed four times in the last seven days, then you are rescheduling way too much.

Let's say you two are scheduled for Saturdays at noon. You are there at noon. You wait five minutes, and then you are not available until the next Saturday at noon. Hold firm to this regardless of his excuses.

Bet you won't have to do this more than twice.

(He's not treating you with any respect at all, and that has nothing to do with culture.)
posted by Houstonian at 6:32 AM on November 5, 2012 [32 favorites]

Peacheater's point about LTRs makes me wonder how integrated you are in his family/social life. At the one year point you should be communicating with them regularly. If not, and he is consistently AWOL/late I would wonder if you have the same idea of exclusivity. If you were together IRL and he blew you off that often after a year together wouldn't you think he was married?
posted by saucysault at 6:36 AM on November 5, 2012

Yes, there are cultures where being 5 min late is disrespectful and there are cultures where being 50 min late is okay, and you will be expected to be okay with it too.

There are a couple of problems here:

1. Culture aside, the way you respond is encouraging the behaviour.

You don't do this-
but he never notifies me of what's happening until I have waited for him for hours

You wait for 10 min max (to be fair to the time-challenged culture) and then LEAVE. Do this consecutively and you will have *trained* the person on what is acceptable to you and hence set boundaries for yourself in the relationship.

2. You say you have been LDR the whole time and the guy is the love of your life. Given that you two can't agree on one of the most basic differences without it causing you so much grief and him still being totally oblivious, I would say that you are heading for a major train-wreck here, for your heart. Trust me, people who are on opposite sides of the planet and committed to keeping in touch are able to figure out the time differences and communicate without an ounce of so much grief.

There is a reason why LDRs are tough and when you start on a shaky foundation of differences in cultures and perspectives, lack of willingness to understand the other person's perspective or needs, lack of interest in taking the other person seriously, then frankly there isn't much there. And this-

but a pattern has developed over the last year such that he only takes me seriously if I indicate I am willing to leave. Otherwise he finds my anger "cute" and sweet talks me until I let it drop.

- is a bad indicator of all those things in the shaky foundation.

3. You don't mention how old you guys are or if you have met in person at all. If the latter is true, then please tread carefully. At some point, we have to give space to logic and reason with love as well- your gut feeling, your heart and your mind- all three have to be on the same page. If your mind was on the same page as your heart, I don't think you would have posted or have had the need to post this question here.

Be your own best friend here, and good luck.
posted by xm at 6:46 AM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

The problem is, ultimately, not that you have a cultural difference about the value of punctuality. The problem is this:

a pattern has developed over the last year such that he only takes me seriously if I indicate I am willing to leave. Otherwise he finds my anger "cute" and sweet talks me until I let it drop.

In other words, it's not so much that he doesn't respect your time or his commitment to call you, but that he doesn't respect your feelings and emotions. If he did respect your feelings and emotions, you'd be able to work out a reasonable compromise on respecting time. But without the former, you're not going to be able to get to any sort of compromise on the latter.

There are broadly speaking, many non-Western cultures where patriarchy remains a more powerful force in dating-and-mating, and even for "enlightened" individuals within those cultures, it is difficult to escape the sort of casual balance of power that is expected in a relationship. The feeling of being adored, revered, and put on a pedestal as an object of affection can be compelling, but the downside is that may not be viewed as an equally rational being.

I would lay it out to him that you need your feelings and concerns to be treated seriously and with respect, and that you need him to be able to compromise with you on points where there is a clash of cultures. Then give him only a very short while to demonstrate to you that he is willing and able to meet those needs.
posted by drlith at 7:00 AM on November 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Maybe he's the rude flake of your life rather than the love of your life.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:01 AM on November 5, 2012 [13 favorites]

If you have insight into a culture which has a more relaxed view of schedules and punctuality, can you help me to understand why he does not see the need to let me know when he is late or won't be coming online

If you have insight into a culture which has a more relaxed view of schedules and punctuality, can you help me to understand why he does not see the need to let me know when he is late or won't be coming online

I straddle both cultures (born in the east, raised in the west) and one thing I thought of here is this: when people from a similar culture deal with each other, they know and operate by the same rules. As in, if I’ve invited Indian friends over for 6pm, I fully expect them to show up closer to 7 or even 7:30. They in turn know that a 6pm invitation really means “around 7”. So your BF may feel that you’ve integrated enough into his culture that you’re now operating by the same rules. He probably views this as a positive thing -- he feels comfortable enough with you to treat you like one of his own. But it’s obvious that you aren’t there yet and really, it shouldn’t be your sole responsibility to adjust to his culture. There must be adjustments made on both sides. From your side though, I could advise you to change your expectations, like I illustrated above, i.e. if the call is set for 8pm, don’t even expect anything until 9pm. That is considered very normal in the east.

But the not showing up at all without any explanation is just plain disrespectful and I don’t have any cultural explanation for that.
posted by yawper at 7:03 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have insight into a culture which has a more relaxed view of schedules and punctuality, can you help me to understand why he does not see the need to let me know when he is late or won't be coming online, and also why standing me up on a regular basis is not a sign of disrespect?

In a culture where this is the norm, it is not taken as a sign of disrespect because it's expected that everyone will be doing it. So if you schedule a meeting for, say, eight o'clock, and everyone involved is a part of that culture, the meeting venue will just basically be empty for at least an hour, maybe an hour and a half.

Now -

In the last seven days he has stood me up four (consecutive) times. He often has a legitimate reason (meeting ran late, family emergency, Internet bill wasn't paid so he can't come online, etc.) but he never notifies me of what's happening until I have waited for him for hours.

This tells me that it's a pattern that is very unlikely to be broken. If you really want to make a go of this, the only suggestion I have is to ask him to meet you in the middle on this and just let you know if he's going to be late or stand you up entirely. Just tell him it's important to you. Cultural norms are one thing, but it's another to use them as ammunition in an argument.

In retrospect I regret threatening to end the relationship, but a pattern has developed over the last year such that he only takes me seriously if I indicate I am willing to leave. Otherwise he finds my anger "cute" and sweet talks me until I let it drop.

Yeah, he doesn't respect you. I honestly don't think his behavior is ever going to change, and I really think it might be time to start considering hitting the brakes on all this. The love of your life won't treat you like this, so maybe you should get out there and find that person.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:12 AM on November 5, 2012

I think the main problem here is communication, not cultural differences. You should be able to say to your boyfriend, "it's really important to me that we start promptly at X time, or you let me know if you are unable to." And he should respect that, even if it's different than his culture. Relationships work best with clear communication and compromise - you need to communicate your needs, he needs to listen, he needs to communicate what works and doesn't work for him, then you find a compromise.

As a compromise, perhaps you could set up a different framework, like he calls you in a certain window, and you do house cleaning, etc during the window so you're busy, but ready for when he calls.

Similar-ish to your situation, although both my fiancee and I are from and live in the US, she has historically taken "leave at 10am" to mean "be mostly ready at 10 am-ish, then get your bag together, put shoes on, etc." I see it as "walk out the door at 10am" -- and I get really anxious if we don't!

So we talked about it, and now I specifically tell her if I feel like we need to walk out the door at X time, or if I'm more relaxed about it for some reason. And if I say, "today I mean that we should walk out the door at 10am," she is ready to do that.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:21 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

For a while, I lived in a rural area in a third world country where communication methods were spotty and unexpected delays were common. If somebody outside of town said they were going to come visit you and then didn't show up, it was assumed that something unexpected happened and they'd show up the next day.

The difference between that situation and yours was that people weren't sitting around waiting for them to show up. You might be able to meet him in the middle here. If this is a phone call and not skype, you can just go about your day with this in mind. Do dishes or whatever until he calls.

If this is a situation where you are tied to the computer and don't have freedom to do something else, then you're going to have to take a stronger stance. Perhaps explaining that you can't do anything but wait for him because of X/Y/Z will help him understand.
posted by zug at 7:26 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been to places when punctuality isn't really a highly valued concept, but in most of those places, doing what you say you are going to do still is. There is a big difference between being late and not showing up at all.

And you know, being cognizant of cultural differences is important, but at some point, you have to stand up for yourself. Sometimes people are jerks, no matter what country they are from. Stop taking excuses.
posted by empath at 7:27 AM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

That said, I agree with others that there are a lot of red flags here that aren't cultural.
posted by zug at 7:28 AM on November 5, 2012

Yeah, I'm from a Western culture but am on a nonprofit board with several people from a culture where being hours late is the norm and cancelling on events is a regular thing.

When we're all coming online for a meeting from our respective locations around the world, we start our meetings 5 minutes after the scheduled time and whoever doesn't show up, doesn't show up, and if they don't show up to a number of consecutive meetings, they get a warning e-mail that they would not be welcome on the board anymore unless they keep up their side of the deal - showing up for the meetings. I think you should treat your relationship similarly. The board members from another culture generally do make an effort to show up and be on time because of this.

After all, since you say you don't communicate at all for the rest of the week, this is his one chance per week to show that he cares about you. You're not asking for a lot here. If he can't show he cares once a week, then what kind of relationship is that?

I will add that when I am in the other country myself (which is in Africa), to try to get around the cultural issue about meetings, generally we try to double and triple-confirm the meeting before it happens via text message/SMS. Everyone has cell phones over there and this seems to be practically a cultural norm there these days. If you were in the same village you'd probably just stop by the person's house and confirm with them. If there is no confirmation then it is assumed that the meeting is cancelled. Are you sure that texting with this guy is impossible? This situation sounds untenable to me without you setting to and sticking to some ground rules for the relationship that include a serious threat that the relationship is over if the rules are broken. Regarding what was said above about your anger being "cute"... I am also concerned - pretty much all the relationships I've seen between Westerners and men from this culture have ended poorly (not ALL but MOST) because of the power differential (the men, bluntly, want a white wife because this is seen as a trophy/sign of power and also of course it is their ticket to a fiancé visa) and sexist viewpoints (typically much more extreme than you see in Western culture). I don't know if this is the case for you but please, be careful of getting your heart broken.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:29 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

p.s. the fact that he's giving you "legitimate excuses" like family emergency, internet not working, several days in a row really makes me wonder if the excuses are as legitimate as they seem (did a meeting realllly run several hours late??). Is this turning into a "I can't turn in my homework because the dog ate it/my grandma died... again" situation? Guess only you can be the judge of this.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:33 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Internet bill wasn't paid so he can't come online

Wait, what? You really want to be with this guy? He's either incredibly irresponsible financially, or just making a very lame excuse (I'm thinking the latter).
posted by Melismata at 7:41 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and if you want to try to get across to him exactly what's so bad about being so late, you might try to convey what it's like for you when he does this. Make it vivid if you can.

It's like - you set aside x amount of time on a Saturday, you sit down and you take your phone out and you wait. And you wait. And you can't do anything else with that time because you're waiting for him to call. And the minutes pass like hours, and you're just sort of sitting there twiddling your thumbs. Distractedly looking things up online. Wondering what's taking him so long. Wondering what he's doing that's more important or more interesting.

If he thinks that punctuality is just sort of a cultural norm with no emotional value attached to it, you could try that to explain how it sort of does have meaning for you.

But just to clarify what I said earlier and to add to what others are saying: I think you're getting played, a little. To what end, I do not know. What I do know is that it is a very clear and obvious pattern when someone only ever seems to have valid reasons after the fact. This would be a good time to start asking yourself if you'd be okay with this behavior if it never changed.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:47 AM on November 5, 2012

We've been together over a year, long distance the whole time. We have a weekly call scheduled for Saturdays, as U.S. weekends are the only times we can talk, due to time differences and work schedules. Other communication (email, text, unscheduled phone calls) is limited to non-existent for a variety of reasons.

This honestly doesn't sound like much of a relationship to me at all. Most LDRs, regardless of cultural differences, only work because of regular and very frequent communication. I'd look elsewhere for the love of your life.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 7:58 AM on November 5, 2012 [9 favorites]

Let me take this down to the bare bones. He doesn't care about something he does to hurt you. It doesn't matter if he thinks it's okay; you are hurt by it and he knows it.

If he can't modify a hurtful behavior, then I'd question his maturity and readiness to be in a relationship.
posted by 26.2 at 7:59 AM on November 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm from India, where we have a... flexible idea of punctuality. IST, Indian Standard Time, is (half-) jokingly referred to as 'Indian Stretched Time'.

That said. If I were in your place, this guy would be gone in a hot second. I'm sorry, culture is not an excuse for the disrespect he's showing you, first by standing you up and then by dismissing your very legitimate upset/anger about it. He knows that punctuality is important to you, but you're apparently not important enough to this guy to merit a goddamn text saying he can't make it.

I'm also very troubled by the fact that you have to threaten to leave for this guy to take you seriously. Real, non-douchebag partners don't have to basically be forced to take your feelings into consideration, they do it because it's the decent thing to do, in general and specifically in a loving relationship.

In short: Tell this guy where to get off, and then go and find somebody who doesn't use his culture as an excuse to treat you like dirt.
posted by Tamanna at 8:01 AM on November 5, 2012 [10 favorites]

I've been there and to me it sounds very much like you don't mean to him what he means to you. Regardless of his sweet talk.

Guys from sexist cultures can be wonderful seducers, they treat the woman as a goddess and are completely sincere in the moment.

Except the rest of the time she is just a woman and any feelings of anger and hurt she may have are cute at best, annoying at worst.

Be fully aware of this and if you want your relationship to last be ready to sign up for it. Whatever you do, though, expect no improvement.
posted by Dragonness at 8:34 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of my really good friends growing up is from an Indian family and she was always late. If we scheduled something for 1pm, I'd show up at her place, and she'd be finishing lunch, and still need to change and get everything sorted and we'd often leave her place an hour later than I had planned.

This was annoying to me because I am extremely punctual and I would only miss an appointment if I thought it were unimportant; so I feel like she thought I was unimportant. Also, because I am punctual, I often have a lot less leeway when I schedule things, i.e. about 15 minutes of slack time. And if my friend was an hour late, I'm running behind the rest of the day, or I could spend only 1 hour with her, rather than the 2 I originally planned.

Eventually, I just got over it, and I would give her a call at the expected meeting time to tell her to get ready and I'm picking her up in 30 minutes. Then we were usually only 15 minutes late from the time I planned.

I think this kind of tolerance works better between friends though, and it would be extremely frustrating if my partner is like that. I hang out with my friends for fun, but I depend on my partner for some important and necessary errands.

FWIW, ten years later, my friend has actually learned to be much more punctual. She's usually only about 20 minutes late to meetings now. She also is punctual for classes and work; just not fun stuff that wouldn't cost her money (now or potential future income).
posted by ethidda at 9:29 AM on November 5, 2012

I read your whole question, just in case something would change my mind, but I had a sense of what I was going to say to you from just your post title, and it remains unchanged:
There is no reason, ever, to stay in a relationship that makes you cry every week.
There just isn't. If you break up with this guy, you'll be sad for a little while, but then you'll just be a regular single person, and you will no longer be crying every week. That sounds like a real step up to me.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:35 AM on November 5, 2012 [18 favorites]

Also here to say this isn't as much of a cultural issue as you think it is.

This is something that is really upsetting you, to the point of tears even. Yet this man is unmoved, shrugs it off, and even gets mad at you because... it hurts you? It's just not cool.

You have every right to be upset about this. Even if it weren't a cultural thing, just a quirk of your personality, the fact that he's indifferent to hurting you is a HUGE red flag. You deserve to be treated better than that and don't let anyone convince you otherwise.

And yes, I know people who are from places where punctuality is unheard of. As soon as they realize they their being late is genuinely offending, upsetting, or (God forbid) hurting someone, they figure out how to be punctual stat! And that's dealing with friends and coworkers, NOT someone they love.
posted by Neekee at 9:36 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I once dated someone who was from a culture where women are not treated as equals and smacking your wife around isn't considered a deal breaker. I excused a lot of his poor behaviour as "cultural differences" where I would never have done so if he had been from my culture.

My take from my experience is that if I would not accept it from the guy down the street, I'm not taking it from anyone. If in his culture something I find unacceptable is the norm, and he won't or can't adjust that, I walk.
posted by Dynex at 10:01 AM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

This isn't going to be the last cultural difference you have with this man. It's going to be the first in a long string of minor and not so minor cultural clashes and just plain old relationship problems. If he can't get his act together to phone you once a week, given the already limited nature of your relationship, and he disrespects you by calling your hurt and anger cute then this relationship is going to go downhill fast.

I'm sorry if that sounds harsh but thing of all the compromises a couple has to make, and all the special compromises a long distance and interculture couple has to make, this is a sign about how he is going to treat all of those. Good luck.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 10:06 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I once told my grandmother about a girl:

"I hate the way she makes me wait"

"Then don't wait for her"

Grandmother did not say DTMFA, because it was not about dumping. It is about placing a boundary that someone can cross or not.

By waiting you validate that being late is not in fact a big deal. I would not do that.
posted by French Fry at 11:18 AM on November 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

I agree with other posters that the main problem here is that he's blowing off your concerns. This would be a serious problem for me. But I also want to point out that miscommunication like this really is influenced by culture, and things like paying the internet bill are very different in other countries.

I'm in a relationship with someone from a non-punctual, promise-but-don't-always-deliver culture. I live in the same city in his "developing" country and I see him often, but we still had major communication issues. He'd say he was going to call at X time and he wouldn't call at all, or he called hours late. I'd send him a text or Facebook message and he wouldn't respond. I'd call and he wouldn't answer.

When I got fed up, I told him clearly and angrily that I felt like I was a very low priority and that he was actively avoiding me. It got his attention. Lots of subsequent discussion and my own observation of his daily life revealed this:

- He's uncomfortable online. His computer is ancient and buggy. He doesn't quite understand email, Facebook, or Skype and is uneasy with them. He much, much prefers speaking in person or on the old-fashioned, landline phone. He simply doesn't want to get online.

- He has a very basic cell phone. No Whatsapp, just calls, and he has some trouble using it. When he gets a text message or misses a call, he often doesn't realize it. This means texting would just lead to frustration.

- He doesn't plan ahead as much as I do. This is mostly cultural, because everything here seems to be decided at the last minute. This means that even if he commits to something with me, something urgent can come up at the last minute due to the lack of planning by others in his life. Time and commitments really are very fluid here, and everyone is expected to juggle multiple demands and possibly abandon responsibilities at the last minute.

- His family gets priority. One painful lesson that you might want to consider is that in the hierarchy here, at least, the family is more important than the girlfriend. If your partner is supposed to be calling you in 10 minutes but his mother needs him to run an errand, the mother wins. If he has agreed to visit you but his cousin needs the airfare for a medical procedure, the cousin wins. As long as he's close to his family, you might never feel like you're his number one priority. This has been a very big difference from my relationships in the US, where my boyfriends had small families who had little influence in their lives and the romantic relationship was primary. US culture expects us to get all our emotional needs from our romantic partner, while in at least some other cultures the family, friends, and community in general play greater roles and demand more attention.

My workarounds are this:

- If he says he's going to call at X time, I hear, "I have every intention of calling you" but I realize from experience that the chances are slim. He'll have forgotten his phone, he'll be distracted, he'll be deep in a real-life conversation and unwilling to interrupt it, which would be rude... If he doesn't call at the time he promised, I immediately call him. I don't wait around. He usually answers and is delighted to hear from me. If he doesn't answer because he forgot his phone again, I go off and live my life and he misses out.

- I rarely send him a text message, because then I'll naturally expect a response, and it might never come. Instead, I pick up the phone and call him.

- Very important: We spend high-quality time together several days each week. I build up my store of boyfriend-attention and can then coast during the days when we don't see each other and barely communicate. I don't think my boyfriend and I would work long distance at all, and I can see all sorts of trouble trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with anyone from his culture who has a family and other responsibilities.

Re paying the internet bill: Here, most people have to pay each bill with cash in person. Even if it's possible to pay online, often it doesn't work for whatever mysterious reason. So you have to gather the cash, go to the office of the internet provider or to a convenience store that accepts payments for them, and hand over the cash. If you don't do this by the due date, the company will without any further warning cut off your service. There is no grace period.

If transportation is a headache, if your partner is sick and can't leave the house, if something comes up at the last minute that demands a lot of cash, if the ATM machine isn't working again, then the internet bill won't be paid. I've had my cell phone and internet service both cut off due to the hassle of having to pay in person, and I'm living here on a healthy US wage. Having the internet cut off might have nothing to do with how much money you have or how you manage that money.

With all that said, if he wants to have a relationship with you, he needs to take your concerns seriously. My boyfriend listened when I said clearly that I felt I was a very low priority and that this caused me a lot of pain, and he changed his behavior as a result. However, he will still be pulled in other directions at the last minute by family members because that's how it works here, and I have to accept that or walk.
posted by ceiba at 11:22 AM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

External culture aside I think that relationships develop their own culture based on the needs and priorities of the people in them. In your case, you prioritize your time with him over other things. He does not (it's not even timeliness as it is priority). In any LDR, time together HAS to be a priority or the relationship will not work. So I think your couple culture is the problem. He simply has put you lower on his personal priority list than other things. Even if those other things are emergencies, there's no excuse for not alerting you to a change of plans and then laughing off your distress about them.
posted by marylynn at 2:28 PM on November 5, 2012

Like Ragged Richard, I read your whole question but really got hung up on your title. "I cry every week and he doesn't understand why" sounds very ... drama-y. Like you've already cast yourself in the role of helpless sufferer who has no real agency here and can only continue to endure the pain caused by your boyfriend's inability/unwillingness to consider your feelings.

Please don't think of yourself like that. You can't control others' behavior but you sure can control your own - and you have other options besides crying. Like others have said above, working on your boundaries should be your first priority. I love the suggestion to stop rescheduling - wait five or ten minutes (or hell, twenty if you're feeling extra generous) beyond your agreed-upon meeting time, then mentally cancel the appointment and go about your day. Do this again the next week. And then the next. Don't keep rescheduling or hunting him down when he blows you off - what possible reason does he have to change his behavior if there's no real consequence for him?

It's not your job to get him to "understand" why punctuality is important, and it's obviously not working anyway. What he should understand is that this is important to you - the person who is supposed to be his significant other. He should understand that there are consequences to disregarding your feelings.

If he genuinely values your contact time, he'll catch on quickly enough and either respect the times the two of you have set or else talk with you to work out a compromise (and if he doesn't genuinely value your time together, why is he worth all of this angst in the first place?). Either way you will make it clear that your feelings need to be taken seriously.
posted by DingoMutt at 2:54 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

This article from the NYT was posted elsewhere on Metafilter today and I feel like it's relevant to your scenario.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:25 PM on November 5, 2012

What I don't understand is why this date to call isn't important to him, too. If this is your only real contact and it's once a week, you'd think he would take care and guard that time. If internet is the only way to communicate, he would make sure it's working. And if "things" just keep happening to interfere with the call, he would take steps to make sure they don't. Once in a while stuff will happen to interfere with it, but not all the time like this. I just have the real impression here that this means way more to you than it does to him. I think he understands why you cry every week, he just doesn't care about it that much. I'm so sorry. None of this sounds good to me.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:16 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry you are going through this. Waiting all week to be able to talk to him, and then having him essentially blow you off, that must hurt.
I am sure you do not need us to tell you he's not treating you with love or respect, deep down you know this. It's just that it's hard to let go of someone once our lizard brain decided they are our ticket to happiness. Even though there is no happiness right now, it feels wrong to let the person go.
I was in a fairly similar situation a couple years ago. It helped to ask myself a simple question.
What is my best case scenario in this situation? What am I hoping for? What do I really want, long term? (short-term, I wanted them to call me)
This helped me realize that I really wanted something more than they'd ever realistically be able or willing to give me. That regardless of whether we talked that weekend, ultimately I wanted more, and they would never give it to me.
It took ages to make the decision to cut off contact but once I did I felt so much happier almost instantly. No more waiting around for their call, no more feeling blown off. Looking back, it's hard to understand why I'd ever put up with this.
I wish you happiness. Dare to want happiness, not crumbs.
posted by M. at 12:42 AM on November 6, 2012

OP, I think you describe two cultural clashes:
1. Concept of time
2. Male/female relationship norms (finding your anger cute can also stem from a different cultural background, e.g. See the response of some Chinese men to sa jiao - which I'm not saying you are doing at all, but this is just an example of men's responses to women tempered by cultural background)

These concepts, like many cultural concepts, can be hard to explain to those not steeped in the culture. This often means that it is hard to formulate why for these behaviors unless you have lived in them for some time - hence why you are each having trouble seeing the other's point of view, or why it's so difficult to explain your own. Remember, there is no right way or wrong way, and even explaining yourself may not be sufficient to make an outsider agree with you.

The thing is, at some point you have to stop asking each other "why do you think this way?" and take it as a given that you will. He's going to be late, or not show up, and not think it's disrespectful. Can you deal with that? Is there anything else he can do to show you that he does truly care about you? Does he already do anything to show you that he does truly care about you? Is that sufficient for you, or do you absolutely require that he be punctual each and every time?

The response to your anger thing - can you live with that? Personally, I couldn't - I'd be even more angry that we couldn't productively discuss something that clearly bothered me on so many levels. But that's the way he does it. Is there some other way you can seriously communicate your frustrations to him, and get your needs met?

This is why cross cultural relationships are so hard - not only do you have to accept a person, but you also have to accept their culture, even if it is incomprehensible. The question you need to ask yourself now is not "why does he do this?" but "can I get my needs met even though he does this?"
posted by be11e at 6:55 AM on November 6, 2012

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