Focus Interruptus
May 24, 2013 9:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm in a new relationship, long distance. We skype almost daily. Often, mid-convo, I can tell his attention is on something else. Turns out he's flipping through Reddit. This makes me feel hurt, b/c he's not listening to me. When I suggest we end the convo and talk the next day, he says, "No, no! I'm done! I'm done!" Then I feel like a nagging mom, policing his behavior. What should I do?

A few salient details:

1. We usually talk after work, and he has a long, exhausting commute. The poor guy is tired and often wants to go to sleep right after we talk.

2. I think I've mentioned a few times that it makes me feel bad when he's not listening to me. I don't know if I've said it so explicitly.

3. After I realize he hasn't heard the last few things I've said, I sort of shut down emotionally. It's hard for me to re-engage after I feel someone has not been listening to me.

4. Is it unreasonable to assume that when we're skyping, we're talking to *each other* and not browsing the internet while having chat windows open?

5. In general, his attention span much shorter than mine-- he's been diagnosed as ADHD as a kid and medicated throughout this adolescence.

6. I'm really not interested in policing someone else's behavior, or constantly asking someone to not do something that hurts my feelings. It's exhausting.

Any input much appreciated. Thanks.
posted by enzymatic to Human Relations (46 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think you need to skype less often. Quality over quantity, and all that. If the guy is that exhausted after work, he probably just wants to zone out.

Skyping with someone in a new relationship requires more mental effort than browsing reddit.
posted by Salamander at 10:07 PM on May 24, 2013 [29 favorites]

I think this might have something more to do with the conversation medium than his particular interest in conversing with you. When I'm chatting with someone on the phone or via Skype I have a hard time not doing multiple things, because it's difficult to focus when the person isn't there in person. It has nothing to do with them, it's just hard to concentrate on the conversation when I'm just sitting there staring at the wall or in the case of Skype looking at the person through a computer screen.

That being said, you should explicitly let him know how it makes you feel and see if he makes an effort to change the behavior. If not, consider if this is something you can handle for the remainder of the time the relationship remains long-distance.
posted by Autumn at 10:11 PM on May 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

I "hang out" with long-distance friends over Skype all the time. We chat, catch up, discuss whatever is going on in each others' lives... and at the same time do other things (browse the internet [often for funny things to send to each other], work on craft projects, even do chores). Which is often how I hang out with my in-person friends. So I don't think what he's doing is odd, but maybe he just has a different interpretation of what Skype time means than you? Have you discussed this with him? (That for you, video chat means you're exclusively engaging in conversation with each other, and not doing other things? Which, personally, sounds a little intimidating for a new relationship even in person... which is why it's often suggested to go on dates where you're doing something.)

However, if you've made this all clear to him already, and he still isn't making an effort, then maybe you should rethink the relationship.

(On preview, what Autumn said!)
posted by hasna at 10:15 PM on May 24, 2013 [9 favorites]

This sounds like when I'm at someones home and we're sitting on the couch and the TV on and we're talking but they're at least halfway into the television. I can't stand it. I cut the conv short.

If someone decides they want to talk when watching a movie, I stop the movie. When they stop talking, I'll ask them if they're done talking, and then start the movie again.

It's one or the other, for me, no gray, it's black and white. But so many people just are not at all black and white about it. I can't stand it, and won't be around it, not for long anyways.

Does this guy text and drive at the same time? People think they can multi-task, and some tasks can be done with half a mind -- maybe listening to a ball game while you're building a cabinet -- but talking to your sweetie while you read stupid internet pages? No way.

I'd rather have a one minute conversation that is real than a twenty-four minute conv with someone who isn't there.

Just cut it off, say you'll talk to him later, but mean it, and follow through.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:15 PM on May 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Possibility You are talking too much and too often. People need down time especially if exhausted.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:17 PM on May 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

When my boyfriend and I were long distance and Skyping regularly we just made up a "no other browsers/windows open" policy unless we were looking into something we were talking about. Because we both had the tendency to get distracted by shiny news items or Facebook or whatever. This shouldn't be a huge deal if he wants to spend quality conversation time with you. Maybe cutting down Skype convos to every other day, so he has time to veg out and relax and doesn't feel like he's always got to be giving 100%. Quality over quantity indeed.

(For the record though I have a hard time jumping back in if I feel someone hasn't been paying attention/has been doing other stuff without mentioning, especially if I feel kind of dumb and naive, like I was excited to talk with them and they are less into me than they are into Reddit, or whatever. I mean, I think it's rude, and while a certain amount of comfort will eventually seep in in a relationship, that doesn't mean he can be rude to you-- you don't know each other all that well yet. I consider his behavior mildly disrespectful but you both might be expecting too much out of your relationship right now.)
posted by stoneandstar at 10:18 PM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm not really sure what your question is. Do you want to know if your expectations are reasonable? If his behavior is reasonable? Because we can't answer that for you, really. You have to decide if this is a dealbreaker for you--the internet can't make you feel ok about something you find upsetting, nor will presenting "Hey, these people on the internet say you're being rude" make him change his behaviour.

I think that both of you are behaving in normative ways. Different people have different feelings about what's ok or acceptable for something like this, and it seems that you guys are at odds with each other on it. That's probably a dealbreaker for many people, especially in a new relationship. I'm not saying that it has to be, just pointing out that negotiating this kind of thing is difficult even when you have an established relationship, and it's going to be even more difficult when you're just starting out.

It might also be worth considering what you (and he) are trying to get out of this. For example, while I'm talking to my sister, for example, we talk. That's it--it's a thirty or forty-five minute chat, all talk, and then we're done. We're catching up with each other and touching base, but we don't really spend time together. With my best friend, we'll both get on Skype and then leave it on all day, regardless of what we're doing--maybe one of us will be reading MeFi and one's reading tumblr, and sometimes we're talking but sometimes we're not, and we leave chat on because it gives us a feeling of togetherness that the many time zones between us make difficult to have in real life. Maybe he wants to feel like you're together, and you're committed to chatting--identifying that and carving out time for both things (which will also give him a little more time to decompress, which it sounds like he needs) might make this more satisfying for both of you.
posted by MeghanC at 10:18 PM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Probably just let it go. In the multi-media technology world we live in, the reality is that half of the people you talk to on the phone are doing something on some other media and half the people you're chatting with on whatever medium are browsing something else at the same time. Might be par for the course for as long as the long-distance lasts?

I don't know if I'd take it as a character flaw, unless it's manifesting in other ways when you guys are actually face-to-face.
posted by mermily at 10:19 PM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There are often two sides to this. When I'm talking to someone (especially one on one) and I notice they're zoning out, I try to look to myself first: am I dominating the conversation? Am I telling long stories involving other people they don't know? If I'm complaining about something, am I actually seeking their input or just using their presence as an excuse to vent?

That said, some people are just easily distracted and/or inconsiderate, and it's particularly prevalent with Skype, as people have said above. An awful lot of us, with or without an ADD diagnosis, have a low-grade internet addiction and would benefit from more people calling us on it.
posted by pete_22 at 10:21 PM on May 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

What Mochapickle (on preview: and lots of other folks) says is true. But it's also true that Skype is a less-dimensional medium than a face-to-face conversation, and I often run out of things to talk about with friends and partners on Skype, even if I never have this problem in person. Part of it is the nature of the conversation: much more unvaried than if you were at one of your houses, or walking down the street. Part of it is that on Skype you're usually sitting still, at a desk or with your laptop in your lap, not really gesticulating or moving around the room or otherwise being active somehow--plus the internet's right there! So totally call him on his distraction, yes, but also build in variety by watching movies together (it takes a couple tries to sync up perfectly) with skype running in the background, or cooking dinner "together"/at the same time whether or not you talk much while your'e doing it. It can be nice to spend time in each other's company even if it's ostensibly doing other things. Even if you don't get to talk much, you can still have a shared experience.
posted by tapir-whorf at 10:22 PM on May 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think dancestoblue has a good point though-- you can acknowledge it as your own thing (you don't like to have half-involved conversations) and say "hey I'll talk to you when you have more energy tomorrow, I'd rather have some quality time than talk while you're winding down on the internet" or something. I mean, this won't work if you're passive-aggressive about it, but own the fact that you want a certain type of relationship energy and if you're not getting it, you're not getting it. It's up to you how much you dislike this-- you can say "I am not feeling this relationship at all," or you can say "I'm taking ownership of the kind of partnership I want, and we'll see what happens." Or you can say, "I can't always get what I want, so I'll leave him be when he needs alone time and we'll get the quality time I like when he has the energy," and see how the balance works out. &c.

I am totally a one-thing-at-one-time person (don't text while I drive, don't talk while I watch movies-- that I care about, don't browse while Skyping), and I think it's a legit way to be. You can decide how important it is to you in your life... I've generally tried to be flexible with other people, and it's easy for me to tell when flexible means I feel totally neglected vs. when flexible feels like a positive give-and-take.

Also when I say he's being rude, I'm not like OMG what a jerk, I just mean that sometimes you have to realize that your plate is full and it's not allowing you to be the person/worker/boyfriend/parent that you want to be, and scale back in some area. In this case less frequent Skyping seems appropriate to me as a measure to restore quality.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:25 PM on May 24, 2013

Play an online game together.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:27 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also (seriously done after this comment) I think it's true that some people are much different on Skype than they are in real life, but if you're long distance this is the only kind of personal time you're going to get with each other for awhile, so you really really have to hash out what works for BOTH of you. At least until you're together again. In the end, a love affair is between two people at a certain point in time (quoting the New Yorker review of Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby!), and if you're not getting what you want out of it into the indefinite future... what's the point of being there? Just treading water until you see him again, when you barely know him, so this is a good time to exercise your communication/optimization skills.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:30 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Even though you two are, as you say, "talking to *each other* and not browsing the internet while having chat windows open," the setting in which you're talking is very conductive to easily being browsing the internet while having chat windows open. Computers are excellent avenues for dividing our attentions into multiple little things. For a lot of people, that's all that being at a computer entails, so it's an easy habit to break into if there's a computer in front of you, even if it's not an appropriate time. I'm not saying that's an excuse but I know if there's a computer in front of me and I'm having a conversation, I'm also going to be doing something else on that computer. It's not because the conversation bores me, it's because there's a computer in front of me! As such, if on my computer and my girlfriend and I get into a particularly engaging conversation, I'll usually get off the computer.

If that's your primary medium for communication, I'd suggest trying to find another one. The phone can have the same pitfalls, so I'm not really sure what's best. Maybe, as others suggest, Skype less frequently so it's more of a big deal when it does happen.


Also, I too have a long commute that can wear me out, and I need downtime when I get home. I don't think of myself as particularly antisocial but having a conversation feels like a lot of mental work, even if it's about nothing, if I've just driven 45 miles after working all day. On the other hand, browsing random crap on the Internet is the perfect post-commute downtime activity. I get home, walk the dog, dick around on the Internet for a bit, and then I'm usually ready to exist with other people again.

I'm not saying don't ever talk to him right when he gets home, but do give him that space sometimes. He might be less interested in Reddit despite being at a computer if he's already been able to browse it for a bit. (That said, he might just be at a computer so it doesn't matter, as I was saying in the first half of this comment.)
posted by DyRE at 10:35 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been your boyfriend. Part of it is that I need something to do with my hands and hey look, there's a keyboard right there! What worked for me was talking on the phone away from the computer. It also helped to play with a Rubik's cube or similar. Finally we agreed that playing minesweeper was ok, which meant that whenthe temptation to use the computer came up, I had something to do that was (for me) totally mindless but which stool scratched that itch.

Even with all that, there were some nights when I didn't have the mental energy for a conversation. Are you at the stage where if you lived closer you'd see each other daily? If not, maybe ramp down and find other ways to connect during the day, email maybe?
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 10:39 PM on May 24, 2013

I've had this conversation before, but I also am also the person doing other things while chatting. For me it depends on a variety of factors: the seriousness/importance of the topic being discussed, the seriousness/importance of the other things I'm paying attention to, how fast the other person is responding to me... so many subtleties. I do tend to be irritated when my SO is responding slowly BECAUSE he's reading or watching something else; he sometimes thinks this is a little overly demanding, and sees the conversation more like a casual chat between two people sitting in the living room watching TV or reading. Then again, I'm also the person who would pause or turn down the TV if I had something to say - so I think there's a lot of personality & cultural differences going on here.

I would do as suggested above, and tell him how you feel, but in the context of "this is my style," not necessarily "you're being rude." I've done the "you're being rude!" method before and, take it from me, that won't go over very well. Just tell him, hey, I'm the kind of person who enjoys undecided attention when I'm talking to you. It makes me happy, would you mind doing that at least for a few minutes? Then let me know when you want to go do something else and I'll do the same. (Then you have to actually try to be not offended when he says he's tired and is going to go do something else. I know, it's tough, I'm the same way.)
posted by celtalitha at 11:01 PM on May 24, 2013

My now-husband and I have been together for about 6 years, about 4 of which have been long-distance (including a horrible 9 months of our first year of marriage!) We probably Skyped two dozen times over that entire time. Skype is really hard for us, harder than talking on the phone, texting, or gchatting. It creates a lot of pressure, which I think derives from the false sense of closeness that comes with it. It's kind of halfway between being there and not.

Also, while neither of us has been diagnosed with ADHD, I would be totally unsurprised if we weren't on that spectrum, so to speak. Multi-tasking really helps me to concentrate, even on interpersonal stuff. A lot of our in-person talks happen when we're both futzing around on the internet.

I would suggest really limited your Skype conversations, since Skype doesn't seem like a medium of communication that's really working for either of you at the moment.
posted by charmcityblues at 11:08 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

The problem isn't the medium of communication, it's that you're trying to communicate.

By that, I mean, say you both had a boring day. You tell each other about it. 3 minutes. Now you're done. Now what? There's only so much to coo at each other about, then you guys would do best to veg in each other's company.

Only, rather than cuddling on a couch, you're on skype but have nothing left to talk about.

So ... if you play an online game together while skyping, of which there are hundreds if not thousands of them around these days, you'll have something to do together, and can rack up shared experiences and have fun.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:16 PM on May 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

Wait, you mean like text chat? Yeah, there is *zero* reason to expect someone's full attention over text chat unless you're sex chatting or making funeral arrangements or sending iceberg coordinates to the Titanic over wireless telegraph... The medium is the message. Text is a passive medium. Also, the fewer senses two people have engaged in a conversation, the more likely the possibility for misunderstanding or hurt feelings.

Nothing demanding should go over text. Get two webcams and do video Skype. You'll thank me later. If you want to have a conversation that is deeper than exchanging pleasantries, at least go to voice chat.
posted by Skwirl at 11:35 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Okay, so I am not just a fuddy duddy and Merriam-Webster confirms that "Skype" can mean using either the text, voice or video services of Skype. Maybe OP can clarify exactly whether we're talking about text, voice or two-way video here?
posted by Skwirl at 11:54 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

You kind of buried the lede about how long these conversations are lasting.

Does he get distracted after five minutes, fifty minutes, or five hours? Because I don't know how anyone can say anything without knowing this little piece of information.
posted by 99percentfake at 11:57 PM on May 24, 2013

Sitting there and looking at a screen without doing anything else is torture for me (with ADHD). It doesn't mean I'm not paying attention to the person I chat with if I read in 285 tabs, it just means I can't focus on one thing this long. I also do other things during other activities I enjoy - i.e. watching a movie I love. I'll stop to google what font was used for the opening credits, I get up to do laundry, whatever. If I couldn't do that, it would make the movie much less enjoyable because I'd feel trapped and restless.

1. We usually talk after work, and he has a long, exhausting commute. The poor guy is tired and often wants to go to sleep right after we talk.

Unless you are talking about really important and serious things, I would say your demand "don't do anything else while chatting" is not reasonable. If you chat every day from when he gets back from work to when he goes to sleep... when is he supposed to do something else? There is only so much you can talk about if you talk daily, especially if he has no time to do something he could tell you about.

Nthing: Chat less. Not daily. Not for hours.
posted by MinusCelsius at 2:13 AM on May 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: That post-work haze is tough even if you're physically together. I'm useless when I get home from work and decompress by noodling around the house or getting really distracted by the Internet. But I do like the quiet intimacy of sharing the post-work brain fog with my partner and kind of organically coming out of it.

A lot of people I know use Skype to re-create that kind of 'ambient' presence - they leave it open while they get on with other things. Maybe you could talk about the different ways you use Skype - making a distinction between a Skype 'date', where you really focus on each other and talk (I'm imagining a laptop across from you as you eat dinner) and an 'ambient Skype' where you leave the computer open as you unwind at the end of the day.

I am profoundly, deeply, horribly distractable, and it really helps me to have a start and an end time. Something like 'let's have a half hour Skype date where we eat dinner and talk, then we'll just leave the computer on to replicate a feeling of closeness.' I think it's reasonable to expect to have times when you're really focused on each other. It's also reasonable to have times when you're just sharing each other's space.

Good luck!
posted by nerdfish at 2:45 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

My SO and I video chat every day; on tuesdays and thursdays, twice. It fits in around her work (office hours) as I am self-employed and six time zones away.

We're laid back. We look at other stuff online, do some email admin, chat every now and then - sometimes while doing other things, sometimes not - have long periods where neither of us chats, send each other memes and clips of shows. If either of us says something genuinely important, than the other listens.

This all works out okay, and in a total of uh 1 year and 5 months (very rarely missed a day) of video chatting, when we've been apart, it's been cool. Online chats with SO shouldn't be a stressful, office meeting like situation (and, dear Cthulhu, we both strive to get away from that). You perhaps both need to chill a bit, and you do need to both talk a bit about this. And not wait until the "distracted" situation occurs again.
posted by Wordshore at 2:46 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is just the way people are now. My GF looks at Facebook and I browse metafilter, sometimes while we're even out at dinner. Why can't you talk about what he's looking at on reddit instead of being annoyed by it? It's an important part of his life, probably, and I bet he'd like to share it with you.
posted by empath at 2:57 AM on May 25, 2013

I'll chime in with the "Skype less" crowd,

and would suggest that skype in fact isn't the best medium for this kind of contact, counter-intuitive as this might seem. It chains you to your device, and the clinging component thus added to the exchange is the least anyone needs in a new relationship.

I've had great experiences with good old e-mails, and with just-before-bed telephone calls...
posted by Namlit at 3:16 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm really surprised by these responses. My SO and I used to Skype early in our relationship when I was gone on frequent business trips. We didn't use the phone because I was traveling internationally and phone was expensive while data was free. He would browse the internet and get distracted. It would drive me INSANE.

Like the OP, I expected him to pay attention. Like the kinds of conversations you have early in a relationship when you stay up all night and tell each other everything. Or at least 20 - 30 minutes of real conversation every day. Not just what we did that day, but current events, movies, memories of childhood... you know, bonding. This would not happen and I would get upset and doubt the relationship. I had no idea that this wasn't the norm in a new relationship.

It still seems really weird to me.
posted by 3491again at 3:40 AM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Please don't make a big deal about this. I have been your guy (though I'm a girl) and I can tell you, that kind of behavior will only make them want to talk to you less.

When I've been in relationships with people who Absolutely Could Not Stand Me Doing Anything Else, I would sometimes actively screen their calls if they called while I was already doing something, because I knew if I picked up and was somewhat distracted, they'd get pissy. So better not to talk to them at all than to talk to them and have them mad at you for not being focused enough.

It's really, really, really hard for me to focus on only one thing at a time. It doesn't mean I love these people less. It means that hours-long conversations are best when you're taking people along with you to what you're doing, rather than sitting in one place just talking about talking stuff.

Unless you want your partner to dread your calls, I'd make less of a deal about it.
posted by corb at 4:30 AM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

What worked for us when my now-husband and I were long-distancing was to do something while "hanging out" on the phone: watch a show together on TV, cook dinner, something that we could talk about, that took the pressure off having to come up with something to say all the time (we have been married ten years now and we still barely talk on the phone, even if one if us is away). I frankly cannot imagine Skyping every day with someone, no matter how much I loved them, and being expected to keep my attention 100% on them. So yes, joining the chorus of "ur doin it wrong", with the caveat that maybe plain old phone time while doing something sort of together might work better, as will email or texting, save the Skype for a couple of days a week. I don't know what kind of people you guys are, but sometimes it's a lot of pressure to have to be talking to someone about something that frequently, even if you love them very much.
posted by biscotti at 5:23 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ugh, I am you. My ex used to do this to me all the time, and it drove me crazy. He would say some things, and then tune me out as soon as I started talking. Five seconds of silence, and then, "hmmmm."

I sat him down several times and told him that he was not as good at multitasking as he thought he was, and that if he was finding it hard to pay attention to me, we should just talk less. He didn't want that. I think that some people just want to have someone on the other end of the line while they surf the internet or play their games. I think another problem is that he didn't understand the concept of doing less of something that he enjoyed. He liked chatting with me, ergo he should be on Skype with me as much as possible.

For any hope of salvaging that relationship, I should have been the one to take charge and limit the frequency of our conversations. I didn't do that, and related matters ended us.
posted by segfault at 5:52 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I do this. I recognize that it's not polite or kind, but I do it anyway sometimes. And the reason I do it is because I feel as though it's often the lesser of two evils, because no matter what I do, I'm going to end up fighting with someone I care about. There are people in my life who want to talk with me more often and for longer than I want to talk with them, because I just don't enjoy that particular mode of communication as much as they do. And so when they want to talk to me, I basically have to choose whether I'd rather have a fight over the fact that I don't want to talk with them or a fight about the fact that they sometimes notice that I'm multitasking. The former is a surefire fight over their belief that I don't love them enough or don't care about their feelings, while the latter is a maybe fight over my distraction. Given that choice, I'll take my chances on the latter fight.

If you want to have a real conversation about this, you need to make it clear that you're not going to turn it into a fight about how much he loves you. Because that's a no-win situation for him. You have to be willing to believe that he loves you even if he doesn't want to or can't talk every day for long periods of time, and you have to be okay with that. You have to be willing to choose between quality and quantity sometimes, and if you want quality, you have to be willing to let him get off the computer when he's tired or distracted or just doesn't feel like talking without turning it into a referendum on his love. Because if you "shut down emotionally" or get hurt feelings about the fact that he has different communications preferences than you do, he's not going to feel safe being honest with you, and you're never going to be able to have an open conversation about how best to communicate long-distance.
posted by decathecting at 6:43 AM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, I've been in LDRs and one of the great appeals of Skype to me has always been that you can kind of have the feeling of someone else hanging out with you while you're doing the ordinary puttering-on-the-internet stuff. Or in my case, since I have Skype on my phone, puttering-around-the-house stuff, too. It seems sorta like maybe what you need is to just start doing some of your own puttering around while you talk. And it can become part of the conversation from there: Hey, look at this funny picture I found. Oh, this is an interesting link. Oh my god how long has that dirty plate been sitting under my bed. Er, maybe that last is more just me--you get the idea.
posted by Sequence at 7:04 AM on May 25, 2013

By that, I mean, say you both had a boring day. You tell each other about it. 3 minutes. Now you're done. Now what? There's only so much to coo at each other about, then you guys would do best to veg in each other's company.

Only, rather than cuddling on a couch, you're on skype but have nothing left to talk about.

This. There are not always a ton of interesting new things to talk about with someone, especially when you talk to them everyday. In the beginning phase of a relationship though, you go a bit overboard trying to be close to/talk to this new person, so you can run out if conversation topics real fast, especially when you're relying totally on conversation to sustain the relationship and don't have the option of physical interaction.

Try to do something else besides just talk, even if it's just playing a board game or something.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 7:28 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it depends a lot on how often you're talking to him on Skype.

If you have brief 5-10 minute check-in calls daily, or periodic hour long phone calls, then he should probably be providing relatively undivided attention to those calls. But if you talk for half an hour or more every night as a regular part of your evening, then that's more like just hanging out together at home. And if you were both hanging out at home, reading, watching TV, grabbing a snack from the kitchen, etc, sometimes you'd talk, and sometimes you'd do other things and sometimes you'd talk while you did other things.

It may seem like the former is more desirable, because then he'd be focused on you, but the latter might actually be better and lower stress for both of you. A need to constantly be on and focused and entertaining your SO isn't all that natural to sustain for long periods of time, and it isn't how things would work if you weren't long distance.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:54 AM on May 25, 2013

I do video chats every week with family on the other side if the world. I find it mentally exhausting. I don't multi-task at all, I set the window to be full screen, but it's just really tiring and unnatural having to give full attention and eye contact for an extended period like that. I think about in person conversations, and typically people will do something else like talk while cooking, eating, fiddling with office supplies etc
posted by Joh at 8:31 AM on May 25, 2013

Response by poster: Wow, these are great. Truly a range of experiences and responses. Some cool ideas, too.
For the record, this is *video* Skype, and we're talking for anywhere between 10 mins and an hour.
posted by enzymatic at 8:46 AM on May 25, 2013

I was in a long distance relationship for two years to the guy I am now married to. We spoke on the phone for 5-10 minutes every evening, which was still probably a little too much for my husband. You're really demanding an unrealistic amount of attention.

Other alternatives: a chat window open while you both work to send each other funny links, texts throughout the day, a glassboard to post things here and there, brief phone conversations. I'd add more variety and cut the skype down to maybe once a week.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:17 AM on May 25, 2013

I talk to my parents every Sunday night on Facetime, often for a couple of hours. One thing we sometimes do when we've run out of things to actually say, but don't necessarily feel like ending the call is to play Ticket to Ride or another head-to-head game. If we're both playing, there's an expectation that we're both a little distracted, plus it gives us something obvious to be sort of mindlessly chatting about: "Damn you, you stole my route!" "Stop taking all the Reds!" "I swear to god, you cheat!"
posted by jacquilynne at 9:31 AM on May 25, 2013

I'm in an LDR with a guy and we only video Skype when one of us gets a haircut or some new piece of clothing. The rest of the time we text chat and its understood that we might be doing other things but that the main point of us being on chat at the same time together (which we do every single night even if we're exhausted and just say goonight to each other) is because we want to check in, talk about our day and stay in touch. So occasionally there's a period where there's a bit of a lull on his end and I'm like CLOSE THE BROWSER and he laughs and we get back to talking. And sometimes he'd just rather be goofing off and surfing the web and he says so and we say goodnight. For a lot of people, having goof off time is a necessary part of unwinding so we usually check in after we've both had that goof off time (i.e. not when one of us has just gotten off from work) so that we can spend that time "together" Other times we don't have much to say and we just play Scrabble.

I think the important part is that the amount and type of connectivity works for you guys (a lot of people are sort of surprised that I have had a long-term LDR but it works really well for both of us) and that's a thing you may need to negotiate. Skyping every day may be too much for him. Alongside this is boundaries. You clearly don't like being the "Shut down Reddit!" nag, and so you need to not have that be part of your interactions and it's okay to want that. Have that discussion with him "Hey I don't want to always be nagging you to shut down Reddit, how can we work this out?" and see if you can negotiate something that works. Everyone finds different ways to deal with synchronous-ish long distance communication but you may need to adjust this one a bit so it's working for both of you.
posted by jessamyn at 9:37 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Video Skype seems more like being in the same room than a phone call does. A phone call is more of a 100% attention thing. Skype is more like hanging out at home together.

I get accused of this sometimes, too. My circumstances were almost the exact same, with the time difference and the only convenient time to talk being right when I came home from work.

But it seems to me that it would be a compliment of sorts. After a full day of spending my attention on other people, I like to hang out with you.

Only, is there a comfortable, less intense, more casual ground? Hang out together, you do your thing, I do mine, occasional hey, look at this, whatever thought pops up, just as if we're in our living room back home? Skype is cheap or free. We don't have to efficiently pack in all our conversation.

I sometimes feel a little drained if someone needs 100% of my concentration for a long time, Skype, phone, or in person. It's as if I was talking to you in a restaurant and every time I tried to glance around, you grabbed my face and pointed it back at you and kept talking.

Don't get me wrong, I can have focused conversations, too. Just not all the time, and right after work? Probably not unless it's something serious.
posted by ctmf at 10:04 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have to nth the ADHD thing. I really zone the hell out if I have to sit still and do nothing but listen to someone talk for a long period of time. I NEED to be doing something else in order to pay attention that long. (I wish my work would understand that.)

I mean, if he totally lost track of the conversation, you can point that out or just tactfully let him get off the line already, but.... this is an LDR and his need to split his concentration enough to KEEP concentrating at all--or at the very least to get his fidget on--is not gonna go away any time soon. He doesn't mean to hurt your feelings, he just can't sustain that level of FOCUS ON ONE THING for all that long.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:51 AM on May 25, 2013

Best answer: I was wondering, if he has a long, boring commute, perhaps you could talk on the phone some during the commute? Then, instead of talking to you when he needs some wind-down time, you're making a boring part of his day more interesting.

I've also found that phone instead of video works a lot better -- I can't tell as well when someone is multitasking unless their attention really wanders, and then they can usually tell too. I also prefer chat if someone else is fairly involved in something else on their computer, because, again, I feel like I have their attention in the spurts that I want it, rather than staring at each other while attention wanders onto other parts of the screen. Or even emails. The main thing skype is best for, is showing someone something. Like, my daughter likes to read her dad books sometimes while he's away, and this way she can show him the pictures. So maybe save video skype for when you can come up with a specific reason why you want to see each other (new haircut, art you just made, sexytimes).
posted by Margalo Epps at 11:39 AM on May 25, 2013

Maybe skype is the wrong format of communication for you two! Skype conversations are generally drawn out and distracted whereas phone conversations tend to be shorter, but sweeter and more intimate.

Alternatively, if you really click on text, you could send each other funny texts throughout the day.

There might be logistical reasons why you are using skype, but if it is an option, maybe try talking on the phone instead, maybe when he is en-route from work while he is on the commute so that you are entertaining him on the way home, rather than interrupting his entertainment/relaxation time.
posted by dinosaurprincess at 4:19 PM on May 25, 2013

Best answer: Re-frame it for yourself so that you aren't coming from a powerless position. You need to feel heard, instead of he doesn't hear you. Now take steps to make sure your needs are met, and to make sure that you don't put yourself into situations where you will feel bad.

In other words, make it your job to make yourself feel better, not his job to make you feel better.

There are a lot of good suggestions in this thread on how to do that. Limit the video chats in frequency and duration. Explicitly state to him, clearly and calmly, your needs. Send him a box of fiddly things to play with during the video chats, to compensate for his ADHD tendencies (browsing reddit is not something that will help an ADHD person focus his concentration on better listening; playing with a Rubik's cube or stress ball might, though).

The key thing here, though, is that if you equate being heard with being loved (and that is absolutely ok to do), then you've really chosen a tough road to fulfillment in having a long-distance relationship with an ADHD partner. There are going to be all kinds of attention glitches for him in video or phone chats. Try to keep in mind that some of his divided attention will be out of his control, and don't take it personally, but be really careful not to just stay in a relationship that makes you feel unloved/unheard more often than not.
You need what you need, ADHD partner has what he has: you might just not be a good fit.
posted by Brody's chum at 5:22 PM on May 25, 2013

2. I think I've mentioned a few times that it makes me feel bad when he's not listening to me. I don't know if I've said it so explicitly.

Say something. Explicitly. I did a 8 mo LDR with my the hubby with nightly video Skypes. Sometimes he was the one surfing to another window, sometimes it was me. We talked about the distracted behavior, and we agreed that we wanted to spend our Skype time talking to each other. After that, if someone's attention wandered, the other person gently reminded them. It doesn't have to be a big nagging thing. Just, "Hey, what's so fascinating about that other window?" "Um, oh, yeah, sorry!" Sometimes we would then decide that, yeah, our attention was wandering because were done talking, so love ya, good night, talk to you tomorrow, etc. Other times we brought our attention back to the conversation and continued.

We talked somewhere between 15 minutes and over an hour each night. So that doesn't seem unreasonable to me.
posted by BrashTech at 5:57 PM on May 25, 2013

My husband and I were in an LDR for the first 6(ish) months of our relationship, and we spoke over Vent usually (so voice, no video, but attached to our computers). We had great conversations while still doing other things. I think this is just a personal preference really. You need to make it clearer to him that you want all his attention during these communications. If it's too much for him that night, cut it short or skip a day. Or try another channel of communication with IM/email/texting.
posted by asciident at 7:56 AM on May 26, 2013

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