How do I approach my needs with a guy without seeming to nag?
September 23, 2013 10:51 AM   Subscribe

How do I discuss my needs with a guy that I care about without nagging?

I was dating this guy for about 4 months when he broke up with me unexpectedly. Well, I say unexpectedly, but in all truth, he had been withdrawing for about a month. I can't say that I wasn't surprised, but was still hurt and hoping for the best. I went complete "No Contact" after the breakup for 2 months, when he reached back out and told me it had been the worst mistake of his life. He missed me and wanted me back. Of course he made lots of efforts to woo me back, and I played it cautiously, despite still caring for him. For a month, everything seemed great.

We've now been exclusive for about a month and I still can't help but feel that he doesn't see me as his partner. Even in his thirties, he's never had a long-term relationship (2 years +). He says that I'm the most important person in his life and that he really cares about me... He lives with 3 other guys (owns his house); is always stressing about his job more than anything. I stay pretty busy as well with activities and whatnot, but it always seems like a burden for him to work me in his schedule.

I have no doubt that he cares about me a great deal and loves me in his life, but I guess I just need more, but don't know how to express that. I'm ready to settle down in the near future and share my life with someone. I just don't think he's on that same page. There is always something more important- his career, etc. I don't want to seem naggy, but I guess I just need advice how to approach the subject. We have only been seeing each other again for about a month. Should I just let it play out?
posted by Lillypad331 to Human Relations (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
...but I guess I just need more...

Pick a thing an ask for it. I assume the dude thinks he's Doing Fine, so you're not going to get more of what you want until you pick what you want, and make it clear that it is important to you. So, what is it? More attention despite his schedule? Physical affection? Gifts? Pick a concrete display of affection that you believe he's coming up short in, and ask him that you're particularly fond of that sort, and you'd like more. It can honest-to-god be as simple as saying "hey, get me flowers occasionally" or "I want a Just Us night with no distractions at least twice a week" or something.

I would advise against coming to him with a general sense of undecided unease because that is like saying "I need you to do better at being a partner, but I can't tell you what that entails." That won't do anyone any good at all.
posted by griphus at 10:59 AM on September 23, 2013 [12 favorites]

Should I just let it play out?

No. Why would you do this? You're restarting a relationship, so start off with good habits, not bad ones.

Come up with a list of things you need out of your relationship (and for God's sake, not a physical list). Have a sit down with him. Go through the items.

Yes, it's awkward, and yes, it's probably nagging. But if it fixes those things you need changed, great, fantastic. If it scares him off, you've saved the both of you a lot of time. But letting things go, hoping that he'll come around? Not an option.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:03 AM on September 23, 2013

The least pressured way to do this is to state your needs whilst giving him an easy out. You could say something like "At this point in my dating life, I really need to be with someone who makes being with me a priority and takes the initiative to make time even with schedule pressure and stuff. I will completely understand if that can't be you but maybe take a few days to think about if you think this is going to work for both of us."
posted by DarlingBri at 11:05 AM on September 23, 2013 [7 favorites]

Guys aren't (usually) great at picking up the hints that we like to throw out there. I concur with griphus and Capt. Renault: if there's something important to you, you have to let him know what it is. Spell it out in plain english. Give him a chance or two to embrace this.

If he's 'into you', he will want to make you happy and will do what he can to meet your needs.

If he doesn't care to make you happy, then move on. There's someone else out there that will want to make you happy.

In his 30s, and not with a long-term relationship? He either is really clueless about how to keep a girl, or he's not interested in a long-term relationship. You may need to figure out which it is. If it's the first, there's a chance, if you're willing to help him learn (and he's willing to learn). If it's the latter, I'd think about moving on.
posted by hydra77 at 11:10 AM on September 23, 2013

What you need is to get beyond the vagueness of feelings and guesses. Decide what you want in concrete terms - actual behaviors and commitments and ask for them or at least negotiate.

Misunderstandings are the root of all sitcom romantic comedy and should be avoided unless you want to live like the Ropers.
posted by srboisvert at 11:12 AM on September 23, 2013

"More" isn't a thing. If you tell a guy, "I want to be in a committed relationship where we live together and are planning on having children," that's a thing that a guy can think about and decide if it's what he wants or not. If you tell a guy you want "more" then he can't be expected to know what you mean.

In discussing moving in with my girlfriend, I specifically said, "I want to ask you to move in, but I want to discuss a couple things first. One - when and how many kids do we want to have in the future, and two - what are we going to do with our cats if we move in?"

Be explicit.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:18 AM on September 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Even in his thirties, he's never had a long-term relationship (2 years +). He says that I'm the most important person in his life and that he really cares about me...

Relationship-building is a learned skill. If he hasn't had a chance to practice it yet,* then he's going to have to learn it with you; if he truly feels this way about you, he will be happy to learn. But you will have to explain what that means for you, and this means you have to figure that out, concretely, for yourself. Knowing what you want in a relationship is ALSO a learned skill, and lots of relationships sort of drift along with neither person acquiring this knowledge.

*In his 30s, and not with a long-term relationship? He either is really clueless about how to keep a girl, or he's not interested in a long-term relationship. You may need to figure out which it is.

Not necessarily. Some people just don't meet compatible people in their 20s. And some people don't prioritize dating in their 20s for perfectly valid reasons, such as school, career, frequent relocation, etc.

FYI, long-term relationships aren't the same thing as GOOD relationships, or even educational ones. I spent my 20s in 2, 3, 4 year relationships, and all of them were wrong and I am not "better" at relationships because of them. In fact, I mostly developed a host of really toxic habits through them, which I now have to UN-learn.

I benefited more from one 6-month dating experience in my early 30s than from the previous 9 years of "serious dating" combined.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:24 AM on September 23, 2013 [23 favorites]

I came in here to add, similar to like_a_friend, that going from "me" to "we" takes a while, and I have been guilty of keeping a single mindset while several months into a serious relationship as well. He's had 30+ years to build his own life, he won't suddenly integrate you into his life after 1 month, emotionally or otherwise. But if he's as into you as he says, he will definitely integrate you... he just might need some help on what a truly interdependent relationship looks like.

There are many things you can do here
- tell him you're looking for something serious. Ask if that is what he wants too.
- talk about what you want - more time together, more contact in between, a heads up as to what his weekly plans are and where you both fit in, inclusion into his social scene, whatever
- tell him you wonder if it's burdensome to fit you into his life. Explain that his life will change with a serious relationship, it won't be identical to what it was before, and that unlike work, you're not a "thing" to schedule in.
- share with him your day, your feelings etc. Lean on him a little and let him support you. Hopefully he will see what it's like, and realize that he can do the same with you.

Stuff like that. Like I said, I had to learn how to consider another person in a serious way, and thankfully my partner could articulate the kind of closeness he wanted and could demonstrate the behaviours he needed from me.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:37 AM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Doing the math on this, it seems that you've known this guy for less than a year, and you've dated him for less than six months, which was bifurcated by a two-month breakup during which you didn't speak to one another at all. You've currently been dating for a couple of weeks. And for about a month of the time you've ever dated, he was unhappy, and for about a month of it, you've been unhappy. Do I have that right?

In my book, that's not a serious relationship. I'm not sure what "more" you're expecting at this point, or what "needs" you're expecting to have met by this person. And if I don't know, my guess is that he doesn't either. You need to be very specific about what your needs are and what exactly he needs to do if he wants to meet them. And you need to be prepared for the possibility that your boyfriend of less than a month is unable or unwilling to meet them, in which case, you should break up again and not get back together.
posted by decathecting at 12:01 PM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

It isn't naggy to be clear about what you want in your relationship. People aren't good mind readers, both men and women, and people can be pretty clueless about what their partner expects of them.

I suggest you do what my husband and I do, and that is a periodic (~every month or two) check in with each other. We talk about how we each feel in the relationship, are there any imbalances in terms of housework and chores, acknowledge any particularly good moments or actions, etc. We use that time to make sure we are both getting what we need from the relationship. Sometimes we say things like there aren't enough "I love you"s being said, or that one of us would like there to be more physical affection/hugs, or we talk about some of the really good moments we had lately and talk about what made that moment so good so that we can better understand each other. Sometimes the talks are only 10 minutes. Othertimes they span an entire evening. We use that time to feel comfortable mentioning any things that we maybe didn't like so much without fear of the other person getting upset. This also works to have things nipped in the bud so that they don't grow and fester in to a big pile of drama and resentment and upset. We address things when they are small easy to correct things, and it does a lot of avoid future fights.

The trick (as others have said) is to have SPECIFIC things that you would like him to do (or not do). Don't just say "try harder". Tell him what he can do to make you feel better about the relationship. And then ask him what YOU can do to make HIM feel better in the relationship as well. The specific things can be small or big. Just whatever has meaning and importance to each of you.

For example, my husband knows that I feel the most loved when he:
- makes me my tea in the morning
- snuggles with me every night before we fall asleep
- holds my hand in public
- clears the snow off my car in the winter
- buys me fancy jewelery (with the understanding that this is to be an occasional special moment thing, not a constant expectation or need)

For him, I know he feels most loved when I:
- tell him (he really likes to be told "I love you")
- acknowledge and appreciate the household tasks that he takes charge of (especially lawn mowing and snow removal)
- unexpectedly clean the kitchen (something he usually does)
- cuddle with him on the couch when we watch things on the TV
- style my hair nicely (he reeeeeeealllly loves my hair)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:05 PM on September 23, 2013 [13 favorites]

I think both -- you need to figure out what "more" is to you, and then, once you've articulated that, you need to let it play out.

"We" from "me" takes time, as mentioned above, and effort. It sounds like this newly restarted relationship is a continuation of the same pattern as before, and you are (understandably) afraid that he will again become distant and end it. For example: you want to know that he prioritizes your relationship appropriately. So, talk to him about specific ways that he can do that, and then see how it goes.
posted by sm1tten at 12:28 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

He's dumped you, begged your forgiveness, and in short order has already failed to meet your needs?

You are welcome to try talking to him, but in truth, this guy is not going to morph into a suitable partner.

If he doesn't put the work in to make it work, don't blame yourself. Likewise, don't stick around if he doesn't meet your needs.

Relationships shouldn't be this hard.
posted by jbenben at 12:38 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Slow down, don't name the babies yet.

So you've decided to continue to see him, and right now he needs to do 'more' to make you happy if you're going to progress from Dating to Relationship.

You need to be able to quantify 'more'.

1. More time with each other.

2. More dates

3. More sex

Whatever it is you need to articulate it. Also, it's not too early to let him know what YOU want from the relationship.

I tell this story frequently, and I admit, it takes balls, but when my cousin went on the first date with her now-husband she told him this, "I'm not interested in dating per se. I am interested in getting to know someone who has the same goals in mind. I want to be married and I want to have children, if you don't want these things, that's fine, but let's not waste our time." As I said, they've been married for 11 years and have two very cute kids.

It's not a bad thing to know that you want to be in a relationship that's heading to X, Y or Z and it's AWESOME if you can be confident enough to say this to folks you're dating.

If I were you, based upon what you've said, this is what I'd tell him, "I know that you enjoy my company, but it really feels like I'm secondary in your life. I want to be in a relationship with someone who wants me to be the primary focus in his life. I want to know that we're heading towards a permanant relationship, I'd like to be married, I want to have children. Are these things you want too?"

Substitute what it is you want, but if he runs, he wasn't ready to really be in a relationship and it's best you learn it now than spend months or years wondering when he will be ready.

I'll say it, a 30 year old guy still living in a group situation with his buddies, is about 3 months away from being pathetic. 2 months if there's a Nagel Print on the wall. Totally pathetic if there is a beer can pyramid somewhere. This is a man-child who has more issues than the National Geographic and frankly, who needs a second job?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:38 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

He sounds like a drag. And you don't feel great. Wouldn't you like to see if there's some guy out there who isn't a drag and makes you feel pretty great out there?
posted by discopolo at 2:27 PM on September 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

He's dumped you, begged your forgiveness, and in short order has already failed to meet your needs?
You are welcome to try talking to him, but in truth, this guy is not going to morph into a suitable partner.

Nobody is going to "morph into a suitable partner" who meets your needs if you are not explicit in making these needs known. In particular a person in their 30's who has not done this before will need time and feedback before they understand what is being expected of them and work that into their life. It isn't going to happen by magic.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:30 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sometimes that "fear of nagging" is really a "fear of hearing NO." You can have your needs met, or you can avoid him potentially seeing your needs as a deal breaker, but you can't have both. Personally, in these situations I usually don't last long before ripping the Band-Aid off.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:32 PM on September 23, 2013

I think the fear of nagging is a self esteem thing. Are you worried he's going to call you names/think mean things about you/be dismissive.

Because if he does do any of those things, it means he's a jerk. It doesn't mean you're a nag.
posted by discopolo at 2:04 AM on September 24, 2013

I'm conflicted. Part of me says, "You've been dating for a MONTH!" It seems sudden to be expecting to be a major part of his life. But I understand there's a strong feeling of the relationship's being longer, from having dated him previously.

So I'll go ahead and give you the advice I have on how to talk about things without feeling like a nag:
1. Own your requests. Make sure that you have requests that you think are reasonable. Do not allow one complaint or request to morph in to another - know what you are going to say before you sit down to say it, and feel confident that you can say it and he will listen. Have concrete suggestions or requests that you can feel OK asking for, not vague requests that he can easily brush off or that will confuse him and you both.

2. Approach him in a neutral fashion. Don't attack him or set him up to be defensive. Tell him what you want - more time together, more of a central role in his life, more involvement in decisions about X, more interest from him when you talk about issues (but then be ready to politely and firmly remind him of that later 'in the moment'). Or something specific, like wanting to get together this coming Wednesday for (special event at the bar).

3. Be flexible. Let him make a counter-proposal if he doesn't like some detail of what you've asked for. Make sure the core need gets met, but if e.g. he says he can't answer text messages at work, be willing to look for some other way he can say he's thinking of you - maybe a phone call in the evening.
posted by Lady Li at 3:13 AM on September 24, 2013

Yes, it's awkward, and yes, it's probably nagging. But if it fixes those things you need changed, great, fantastic. If it scares him off, you've saved the both of you a lot of time. But letting things go, hoping that he'll come around? Not an option.

I don't normally disagree with Capt. Renault, but I do not think that asking for what you want anywhere close to constitutes nagging. It is not nagging to say, "I understand your job is hectic, but once a week I would love it if we could get together for dinner at a normal hour." Or "Could you call or text me before you go to bed? I'd love to say good-night to you."
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 9:00 AM on September 24, 2013

I'll say it, a 30 year old guy still living in a group situation with his buddies, is about 3 months away from being pathetic.

I see this was part of the comment you marked as a best answer.

I don't think there's anything inherently pathetic about not living by yourself in your 30s or even past that, for either men or women.

He might just see renting out rooms in the house he owns and sharing utility costs on a four-bedroom house as a sound financial decision. Spending more money on housing isn't an inherent marker of maturity.

Also, while some people truly prefer to live by themselves, others prefer not to. There isn't anything wrong or pathetic about either of these choices. However, if you want to share your life with someone by living with them, someone who isn't adamant about preferring to live in solitude is more likely to be interested in that, so I wouldn't see his having housemates as a bad sign.

Talk to him, and let him know what you are looking for. If you'd want to move in and have him get rid of other roommates, say so -- but be prepared to discuss how much rent you can pay. If you want him to sell the house and rent a place with you, I think that's a lot to ask of such a new relationship myself, but there's nothing wrong with wanting that, if you want that say so.
posted by yohko at 12:23 PM on September 24, 2013

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