Nurturing person signs
July 25, 2013 3:21 PM   Subscribe

What are some of the initial signs that you're dating a nurturing person who loves to take care of others?

I've been in two long-term relationships. I'm 24. The first one was awful in every way (3 years), but the second one was better (4.5 years). It's been a year since the last one ended. I generally thought the guy in it was decent and nice in a lot of ways (he fell under this ask metafilter categorization pretty well), but he definitely wasn't a self-motivated nurturer (he would agree with this statement). Case in point: he hasn't checked in on me once since our breakup, and we parted very amicably. He would do things for me when I asked him (change my oil, help me move, etc), but he wasn't the type to randomly give me small love letters/gifts, text me, make me breakfast in bed, take pictures of us together, or call me. He also wouldn't stand up for me to his friends/family if we got in a fight, and while I know some family dynamics are that way, I feel like I really need somebody nurturing who wants to protect me. After a year of thought & singleness, I'm pretty sure that's what I need to feel secure in a relationship. How can I make sure that the next person I end up with is a nurturer who lives to take care of me? I'm the kind of person who wants to give everything, and often feels guilt when somebody is giving me too much. I feel like my radar is really broken, and I don't want to end up in another multi-year relationship that doesn't make me feel excellent. What are some of the signs that you're dating a person who loves to take care of others?

On the flip side, what can I do to encourage this type of behavior? I'm not a very feminine woman--would that help?

And, a final note: he was very attentive and kind and took initiative during our courtship phase.
posted by puppetsock to Human Relations (17 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Case in point: he hasn't checked in on me once since our breakup, and we parted very amicably.

But you broke up. Check-ins are not required after this. It's actually better if he leaves you alone for a while, no matter how amicable the parting may have been. In fact, I would chuck this expectation right out the door from now on.

I don't want to end up in another multi-year relationship that doesn't make me feel excellent.

It shouldn't take multiple years for you to decide whether or not someone makes you feel excellent. If you're making excuses for behavior you find undesirable in your partner, then you should stop. You can't "encourage this type of behavior" in a grown man, either. They're either the person you want to be with or they aren't. And if they aren't, you say, "I'm sorry. This isn't working out."

The first step to finding someone nurturing who wants to stand up for you, take care of you, or whatever you want is to set some standards and not let those go for immediate gratification. You can't make sure your next relationship meets those needs until you meet people, and some of those people will be great. Some won't. That's just the way it goes.
posted by Gee, June! at 3:29 PM on July 25, 2013 [14 favorites]

Sorry, let me clarify: when we broke up, that was part of the deal. Also, many people have different expectations of how things will go post-breakup. Some people stay friends, others don't.

K, last posting. :)
posted by puppetsock at 3:34 PM on July 25, 2013

I've found it hard to gauge how someone will act at 2 years based on the courtship. But I found it useful to read The 5 Love Languages (disclaimer: I didn't read the whole thing. I got the gist of it after a chapter and a half) and think about how I express love and how I want love to be expressed to me.

Do you want to receive notes and gifts? Do you want to be kissed and held a lot? Do you want to be told you are loved? If you're not getting that in a relationship, ask your partner if that's something they can do. If they're not willing or not able, then they probably aren't the right partner for you.
posted by faethverity at 3:39 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm the kind of person who wants to give everything, and often feels guilt when somebody is giving me too much.

I think you might need practice in letting someone take care of you. It's hard, I know. And it doesn't get easier unless you practice it and really talk yourself through it.

Because of this, you might talk about your character and the issues you have with receiving help or nurturing fairly early in the relationship, like maybe around the time you have dated someone long enough that you feel like you're headed into a full on relationship with them.

Seems like you'd be able to gauge from their response, both in conversation and then in actions (after the conversation if not before), how nurturing they could be.

I think you also need to keep in the forefront of your mind when you are choosing someone to date and when you are first getting to know them, that you probably project an aura of someone who takes care of others but doesn't necessarily ask for or let others take care of her.

When I was on the verge of divorce and my ex-husband & I were in couples counseling, I said that I thought he was taking advantage of me, and he said he was and he knew it, but he didn't want to stop because he got so much out of it. There's a lot to be learned there. Let me make the mistakes so you don't have to.
posted by janey47 at 3:39 PM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

what can I do to encourage this type of behavior?

Golden rule, etc.

I'm not a very feminine woman--would that help?

Define feminine. Vulnerable? Possibly. Being the appointed person to do certain things while your boyfriend is the appointed person to do certain things? Maybe. Near-impossible to generalize to others' experiences from one's own on this point (and your "encourage[ment]" question).
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:42 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

On the flip side, what can I do to encourage this type of behavior?

You can't. What you have to do is notice whether someone is the sort of person you want to be with in less than three years. If it's six months in and it's not the type of relationship you, you say, "This is not the type of relationship I want. Can we fix it?"

If the answer to that is "No" you don't ride it out for 2.5-4 more years.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:54 PM on July 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Well, your radar isn't broken. Don't worry about that. In fact, after a year off, with the understanding that you "don't want to end up in another multi-year relationship that doesn't make me feel excellent" - I'd say your radar sounds like it has probably been re-calibrated more than you realize.

My advice is a bit strange. I was looking for a guy who was really logical and kind to date. So when I went on OKCupid, I looked for men who had profiles that indicated they were "More Logical" and "Kinder" than the average OKCupid user. There's a "Personality" tab on everyone's profile that aggregates the question results and compares them with the average on the site.

So, I ended up on a date with a supremely logical, intelligent, kind man - all things that his "Personality" section of his profile indicated. We've been a couple for three or four months now, and he really is extremely logical and kind.

Another way that I knew that he was kind and nurturing was the way he behaved when I had a weird incident early on in our relationship involving my abusive ex. He was kinder than I had imagined possible, even as I ranted about my evil ex-boyfriend doing horrible things and scaring me. So just keep your eyes and ears open as you date, and see what happens. People reveal their true colors fairly quickly, so I think you'll know within a few months of dating whether or not someone is nurturing enough for you.
posted by sockermom at 3:59 PM on July 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

So, a little math. You are 24; last relationship ended a year ago (23); lasted 4.5 years (18-19); previous lasted 3 years (15-16 or earlier, depending on gap). If these guys are your age, then of course they would be fairly immature. If these guys are older, then of course they would be exploiting the experience divide.

Sounds like you should work on willingness to let go of a relationship that is not working for you. There is a list of things you are wanting: "randomly give me small love letters/gifts, text me, make me breakfast in bed, take pictures of us together, or call me." If you do not feel satisfied, talk about it. If you still do not feel satisfied, break up, move on.
posted by jraenar at 4:04 PM on July 25, 2013 [10 favorites]

How can I make sure that the next person I end up with is a nurturer who lives to take care of me?

hmm, this, combined with the rest of your post, sounds like co-dependent thinking and like you are looking for someone to be co-dependent in return with you. i would recommend therapy or co-dependents anonymous. or, check out the book co-dependent no more by melody beattie. it's good food for thought.
posted by wildflower at 4:48 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

How to encourage the behavior you're looking for: ask for what you want, and then show pleasure and gratitude when he does something nice for you. You might be thinking that you shouldn't have to ask for the loving gestures, but it's okay to do so, and it's often necessary. Different people have different desires. Early on, my husband told me he'd love it if I brought him coffee in bed sometimes, because he liked the romance of it. I'd been thinking he liked coffee in bed because he didn't like to get up early. He used to buy or order flowers for me now and then; I told him that flowers are pretty but what I'd really like it if he'd cook something special for me.

I used to think that if I was specific about what I wanted, then it wouldn't "count" when I actually got that thing. That turns out not to be true for me. If I want to talk about a problem and have him just listen instead of giving advice, I might need to say that right out loud. The great thing about it is that he's then reminded of what I like in those circumstances, and he can get appreciation for doing this one small thing.

You get more of what you ask for, what you thank him for, and what you tolerate. If the guy doesn't do what you've asked for, don't keep wishing that he'll catch on. Give him opportunities to please you, and cut your losses when it's clear that he's not into what you're into.

You don't need a mind reader or an extreme people-pleaser in order for you to feel secure. You need someone who pays attention, listens to you, cares about making the sweet gestures... and who appreciates it when you do what he likes.

By the way, if you start dating a guy who just says "I don't know" or "nothing" when you ask if there's something he'd like, then don't ask him that way. Instead, give him multiple choice, with one of the choices being "other." If you do, you'll be showing that it's okay not to know instinctively what would go over well, and that it's okay to ask. And if he says he really wants socks and underwear for his birthday...that's what you should buy :-)
posted by wryly at 4:53 PM on July 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

@wildflower, perhaps my phrasing read a little extreme...but that's definitely not what I'm going for. hahaha. Thank you, though.
posted by puppetsock at 4:54 PM on July 25, 2013

this isn't like scientifically proven or anything. like I'm not a scientist. but I knew my current boyfriend would be nurturing and caring because of how he interacted with animals, specifically with his dog but also rando dogs on the street. also on our first date, even though my car was only 3 blocks away, he offered to drive me to it because it was late and he didn't want me to get raped or mugged or whatever.

so. dogs. or animals in general. it's not science but it worked for me.
posted by kerning at 7:20 PM on July 25, 2013

When you go on a date, pay special attention to how your date speaks to people like waitstaff, cab drivers, bartenders, ticket-takers, and cashiers.
posted by 4ster at 7:53 PM on July 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

I really need somebody nurturing who wants to protect me.

I'm not at all sure there's necessarily a connection between these two qualities. Case in point - me. I'm absolutely the worst at giving little gifts and random "thinking of you" texts and taking pictures & etc etc etc. But thanks to a variety of early adulthood experiences, I've developed into enough of a "Tough Guy" that I can be very protective and have no problem standing up for girlfriends in a variety of situations.

It could also be argued that "wouldn't stand up for me to his friends/family if we got in a fight" doesn't even count as protective so much as an even more basic "We are partners and I've got your back" situation - like he didn't even really think of the two of you as a couple, just two people who kinda happen to be dating. Sooooo . . . . . you might find it valuable to do some more thinking about how you define "nurture" and "protect."

And while I've not read the 5 Love Languages book linked by faethverity above, that book gets suggested a LOT in similar AskMes.

what can I do to encourage this type of behavior?

Ask for it, and fairly directly. I mean - "he was very attentive and kind and took initiative during our courtship phase" - yeah, there's a reason the "Honeymoon Phase" is a Thing. So I dunno if there's much of a way to tell if someone is gonna continue certain behaviors past that phase, but it's perfectly OK to ask for what you want in a relationship, and perfectly OK to move on if the person can't or won't give that to you.

I'm not a very feminine woman

Compared to who? Really, there's no "Ideal Of Femininity" that will attract a certain kind of man, or make men in general want to go above and beyond in nurturing/protecting you. How "feminine" a woman is may (or may not - heck if I know) have something to do with whether I'm attracted to them in the first place, but the nurturing and protecting happens because I like them and care about them. There's no direct correlation between how "feminine" they are and how much I want to nurture or protect them.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:00 PM on July 25, 2013

Others have said it better than me, but just re-iterating:

My friend, who is kind of thoughtless in ways and self-absorbed -- doesn't think to spontaneously text me or do a lot of things that you mention. He isn't all that attentive.

He is, however, extremely protective and would absolutely stand up for me in a fight or if someone badmouthed me. If I were sick, he would drop everything to take care of me. He is very loving in his way and fiercely loyal. I would absolutely describe him as a natural protector. He is also kind.

He just finds it difficult to be nurturing in day-to-day and express that nature. Sometimes it's difficult, but I've expressed my needs and he tries harder to tell me when he thinks of me or feels something. Because he cares.

My ex, on the other hand was kind as well, was great at making me feel wanted and special (most of the time) but it was punctuated with occasional thoughtlessness, AND he never would fight for me. At most he'd weakly protest if his family were bothering him about me. He also kind of disappeared, despite us remaining 'friends' after our breakup.

But you don't mention who broke up with who -- it could be he needs no-contact for whatever reason. I suspect that's secretly the case with my ex, even though he's apparently dating again. Don't assume he stays away because he doesn't care at all. He may just need to heal.

So my point is these two traits you mention are not mutually exclusive. Every one is different.

I don't feel your thinking is co-dependent necessarily, (that term is bandied about a lot, maybe too much I feel) but I am wondering why you want someone to 'take care of you.' Thing is, it's tempting to yearn for a nurturing selfless type because we may think they can love us in ways we ourselves don't. For me, at least, sometimes, the 'protection' I believe I want... is actually me craving the kind of unconditional love and support parental figure should give me that I lacked growing up. I am more aware of this now. It's unfair to want this in a partner -- he's not my Dad. He's my equal. Sometimes, I need to protect him too. Not saying this is true for you, but it's worth considering.

And it's also tempting to want something unconditional, especially now you've figured out what you prefer in a partner and you don't want to be hurt again. Sometimes it feels a lot safer to want something like this-- we think that someone like that wouldn't hurt us, but, no matter how nurturing or loyal someone is, they may leave, and it will never be 100% 'safe'. Life just isn't.

It's tough to 'encourage' that behavior in someone that doesn't have it. Wryly makes the best points -- you need to reward them when they do the right thing. But even so, I don't think there's any way to, beyond just expressing your needs. I think your problem is you just never felt loved, and you equated this with not being loved. This isn't necessarily what was happening. But you need to figure out what you needs are, clearly. As someone else suggested, the love language quiz is a good place to start off . Although I can't vouch for the books, not having read them, the results of the quiz have been accurate for me. I am naturally empathetic and I need words and touch to feel loved.

But instead of specifically nurturing, look for people who are good people, and then see if their qualities align with yours. Express your needs, and see how serviceable they are in meeting them. I am in agreement with looking out for the way he treats others, (especially others in service positions or anyone 'lesser' than him) and animals. All of these are positive signs.
posted by Dimes at 9:48 PM on July 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

This is a question I've grappled with many times. I've spent a lot of time observing people and trying to suss out the particular traits that go along with being nurturing and empathetic. I also work at a job where I get to know the people I work with very well and see them interact with many people so I constantly have the opportunity to compare my first impression of somebody with how they actually are.

This is just based on my own life experience so take it with a grain of salt but

-people who are extremely smooth, polished and polite from the getgo are actually unlikely to be nurturers. I've noticed this over and over and over. I can only think of a few of exceptions that I've met in my life. My theory is that their kindness arises more from a desire to be socially accepted than from genuine empathy for others. This is why I really think the how-they-treat-waitstaff is a bad way of judging character. Of course people who fail the test should be avoided (see below), but there are lots of people who are rigidly polite but lack the capacity to give in an intimate relationship.

-people who are rude and impatient from the start are obviously bad news as well.

-this isn't a perfect test because some people can fake it but notice if they ask you a lot of questions about yourself, especially relating to areas where they don't have an active interest and especially questions that show that they are really listening and trying to understand.

-notice if they remember things you've said in conversation. If you find yourself repeating anecdotes all the time this is a bad sign. I think the more important you are to a person, the more deep thought they will put into trying to figure you out...this means it will be easier for them to remember things you've told them because they will be thinking about what you've said even when you're not around.

-extreme compartmentalizers don't usually make good nurturers and they also find it easier to dispose of people.

-complaining a lot, especially about other people, is a giant red flag.

-most of the nurturers I've met seem "real" and down-to-earth (not impossibly nice, smooth or polite), agreeable, and they find it easy to relate to many different kinds of people. It's funny because these aren't traits that really attract me at first and I'm definitely not like this myself, but when I think about all of the nurturers I've met they seem to share those qualities in common.
posted by timsneezed at 3:59 AM on July 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

Having been in a relationship with a guy who was very thoughtful, romantic, and giving, I think I understand what you feel you are lacking. For 3 years he was constantly surprising me with flowers, little gifts, little love notes, amazingly sweet dates etc. You cannot "encourage" this type of behavior - a guy is like that or not. Honestly I feel like the best way to get this, is to just date people and if they continue this behavior after the initial ~3 months of excitement, you've probably hit the jackpot.

If you are in a committed relationship you can work together so that he provides the romantic gestures for you occasionally. After telling my boyfriend (nicely) that I really like getting flowers, he occasionally gets me flowers randomly. This is really nice but obviously nothing near the level of my ex in terms of thoughtfulness or spontaneity. However, I did know that my current boyfriend was very nurturing and protective after probably 2 months of dating. We had planned for my first entire weekend staying at his place, and I got really sick after the first day. Instead of him being annoyed that I was sick, he took care of me.

And I would ditto to reading the love languages (or just a long article about it for the basics).
posted by puertosurf at 5:32 PM on July 26, 2013

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