He's a great guy, I swear
October 29, 2013 6:58 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend is a wonderful person, but apparently a lot of people find him creepy and off-putting. To be honest, I've been around him enough that I don't entirely disagree with them. I'm wondering what, if anything, I can do to help.

I'm wondering if there's a solution because I do think this has caused some issues socially, and some strain within our own relationship.

My boyfriend (32) and I (30) have dated and lived together for the past 5 years. We love each other and generally get along well. Over the past two years, our relationship has been "monogamish," at my suggestion, though neither of us are actively seeing anyone else at the moment.

One-on-one, we're great, but I see him in public and he frequently does and says things that make me cringe. Some examples:

His worst offense is that he interrupts people constantly, myself included. He just doesn't seem to understand that when people take a break in their speech, it doesn't mean it's time for him to start talking. Though it's usually the typical "yeah, me too" interruption, more often than not he starts telling a new, completely unrelated anecdote. He and I have talked about this a lot but he still does it.

He talks, a lot, and he almost always talks about himself. I've told him that if he wants to feel close to people he should ask them questions about themselves, but he really struggles with it. Apparently there are people who think he's full of himself because of this, which breaks my heart because he really isn't that type of person.

I've seen him struggle with social cues. Earlier this year, we both fooled around with a woman who was, at best, a mild acquaintance. She told us she had fun but that it would be a one-time thing. My boyfriend decided he wanted to be friends with her, and invited her to couple of outings, both of which she declined. I suggested to him that he should probably just leave her alone, if she wanted to be friends she would reach out to him. Then he contacted her again, and her response implied, "please don't contact me anymore." He didn't understand what he did wrong--he was just trying to be friends--but I told him that I would actually find his behavior a little creepy, too.

We have some mutual friends and over the years I've become pretty close with them, moreso than my boyfriend has. He told me he feels like they don't invite him to things as often as me, which I don't really think is true. A lot of times, he won't show up to their events but I will. He texted three of them sort of demanding they invite him out more. All three told me they thought it was weird.

He once attended a political leadership workshop. Me, my parents and his family filled out a survey afterwards describing his strengths and weaknesses. Based on the results, his group leader suggested he attend Toastmasters meetings. He did, for a few weeks, but then he quit.

TL;DR: My boyfriend is a wonderful person, but his social awkwardness has caused some issues in our relationship, and kept him from forming closer friendships with others. He has expressed that he'd like to change this, but I don't know what, if anything, I can do to help him. Any advice is appreciated.
posted by girlmightlive to Human Relations (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You've done pretty much everything you can reasonably do in this situation: you've notified him (politely, I assume) about your own concerns and the concerns of others, and referred him to professional-type help for the situation (Toastmasters, etc). Chances are at this point that he's not going to change significantly no matter what you do, and you just need to decide whether that's a dealbreaker.

Honestly, from your question, it sounds like it might not be - your concern is more that your friends don't like him, not that you don't like him. Personally, I don't think it's that important that both partners in a relationship share all the same friends, but obviously, YMMV.
posted by UncleBoomee at 7:11 AM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

You know, I don't think he does want to change. If he did, he'd take your advice. Or he'd stick with Toastmasters. It sounds instead like he might, indeed, be a little self-centered and want everyone to just accept him as he is. Which, you know, fine. But not as many people are going to be willing to hang out with someone who only talks about himself and he needs to accept that too.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:32 AM on October 29, 2013 [13 favorites]

His worst offense is that he interrupts people constantly, myself included. He just doesn't seem to understand that when people take a break in their speech, it doesn't mean it's time for him to start talking. Though it's usually the typical "yeah, me too" interruption, more often than not he starts telling a new, completely unrelated anecdote. He and I have talked about this a lot but he still does it.

If he wants to change this, you can try "ding" training. Every time he interrupts you, you say "ding." Just as a way to indicate that that's what happened -- you're not shaming or scoring points, just making him aware of it. Give it a couple weeks. You might do it in public, or you might not, depending on what works for you and him.

If that works, give it time. Building new habits is hard. But then eventually you and he could read the Dale Carnegie book and come up with a plan for him to start consciously using that book's advice in his social interactions. Like, "we're going to meet Mike and Julie for drinks and you are going to ask each of them two questions and four follow-up questions about how they are doing. Afterwards we are going to talk about how you did." And you're going to be supportive and not shaming in your talk afterwards.

Then, when he has this stuff down, the listening and the paying attention and the not needing to interrupt, see if he still needs help on the boundaries stuff.

Basically what I think he needs is for his social faux pas to be brought to his attention. It might be a big job and it might put a strain on your relationship if you are the one to do this, but you're the one asking.
posted by gauche at 7:40 AM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

He doesn't want to change, and I think no matter how much you love him and no matter how much he says he loves you, he doesn't seem like he's going to be able to respect you or other people enough to curb his off putting habits. This is therefore the guy you're with. You cannot change him in the way you think you can. Are you willing to stay with someone who alienates the people around you to the degree that you've described?

Fwiw, my ex is a lot like your BF, and he got more and more self-centered as time went on. It's pretty horrible after a while, especially when my own parents didn't want to be around him anymore because it was always the Ex show whenever he was talking. YMMV.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:42 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

He has expressed that he'd like to change this

Yes, but does he want to change it because you want him to, or does he want to change it because he legitimately feels his life and social interactions would improve if he changed? That matters. I get the sense that he doesn't actually see why it is important that he improve upon these areas. YOU see why it is important. Hell, I do too. But he clearly doesn't, and unless he suddenly decides it matters, he isn't likely to change. Sorry. :(
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:56 AM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

He just sounds really insecure. All of those off-putting behaviors sound to me like pleas for validation. The tough-love practical advice could be explained as "it's not all about you," but really, it's about him trusting his own self-worth.

The easy-but-not-easy answer is that he has to calm down and believe that people will want to be friends with him of their own volition, without him pushing them into it. And he doesn't get to decide how they express that, they do. If he's busy trying to define the terms of how people should act to make him feel included, he's going to game himself right out any actual attempts to enjoy his company.
posted by desuetude at 8:19 AM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

The very good news is, he wants to change.
It sounds like you want to help him. I would not use this opportunity to indict him and thereby, exit this relationship by making this about you.

Changing him is the job of a specialist. Therapists are trained in exactly such behavior modification. Instead of both of you beating your heads against the proverbial wall, seek the assistance of therapist who will both meaningfully help him, and relieve this extra burden off your relationship.
posted by Kruger5 at 8:51 AM on October 29, 2013

You may not be the right person to help him change if he wants to change. It's kind of like teaching someone to drive - sometimes it's better if it's not the person closest to you.

There are therapists who specialize in social behavior, who have experience working with a broad range of socially less adept people. If he wants to be better at these things, he should find someone like that to work with.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:56 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

IF he wants to see concrete examples of when he's exhibiting non-optimal behavior, set up a signal with him. I'm not talking super-spy secret hand-signs here, this might be touching his arm, or just saying "dude!" in a chiding tone of voice, or whatever. Then when you're in the same conversational group with him when he does his interrupting thing, lay your hand on his arm to distract him, and ask the person a followup question about what they were saying.

On the other hand, he might be agreeing that he'd like to change how judgmental people are, more than he's agreeing he wants to change his behavior. He may or may not appreciate these instances of your pointing out that he is "wrong". But it's worth a try, or the conversation you have about whether or not he'd like to try this might be useful in itself.
posted by aimedwander at 9:28 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

My gut reaction is to agree with what others have said that despite him claiming he wants to change, he doesn't really want to. As one case in point, you explained to him what socially acceptable behavior would be regarding contacting that woman you fooled around with, and he ignored it. Did he think you were wrong? Can he not just help himself?

I would think that if he recognized his problem and saw that you had some of the answers and could serve as his social compass, he would follow, or at least engage with and consider, your advice. He's not doing that.

Another point is that he quit Toastmasters. Maybe it didn't click with him, but what else is he doing to change? What concrete steps is he taking? It doesn't seem as if there are any.

Therapy might be a good idea, but if he doesn't follow through on this or other possible steps towards improvement, the change won't come. You'll have to decide whether to accept him and stay with him as he is or be another person he drives off.
posted by Leontine at 9:33 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

he really isn't that type of person

With social interactions intent doesn't really matter. If he acts like a creepy self centered jerk, that's what he is to other people. You've made a decisions to forgive/ignore/deny his behavior, which is fine, but you can not expect others to do the same.

Like many many other relationship askmes, you are looking to change your partner when they are not looking/working to change themselves. You might be able to force him to change for the better, but is that a role you really want to be playing?
posted by French Fry at 9:47 AM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

The adult or child with ADD can barely restrain himself from interrupting others, finds it a torture awaiting his turn in all manner of activities, and will often act or speak impulsively as if aforethought had never been invented.

I have gotten slightly better at this since getting on medication, but to a certain degree by adulthood it's turned into a pernicious habit and it's very difficult to manage well. I prefer talking to people by text because it leads to a more ordered conversation, although I can quite happily chatter away at someone if they're comfortable interrupting in return as necessary. (My family habitually operates this way, but the whole thing definitely runs in the family.)

If the executive function just isn't there to give you the impulse control, wanting to change means nothing; you don't get the chance to think about it until after it's happened.

This is not necessarily worth medicating for by itself, though. If you like him well enough, is it really the end of the world if he's socially awkward sometimes? Will your family let him just be the awkward one and not treat him poorly for it? Sometimes it's easier to just try to make friends with other people who're also socially awkward than it is to change a lifetime's worth of habits and brain chemistry.
posted by Sequence at 9:55 AM on October 29, 2013 [8 favorites]

+1 on the ADD/ADHD suggestion. I realize that MeFi is positively lousy with people who have ADD who seem to see it everywhere... but it doesn't mean they're wrong.

A lot of the issues with social cues you're describing are textbook ADD, just right out of the first chapter, first example case you'd read in an ADD book kinda way. Treatment may help.

Medication helped me get just enough distance/perspective to see where I could do better. And the professional demands of my job helped, too.

(I also scorched a bunch of relationships being annoying before I learned to tighten my shit up, too.)
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:05 AM on October 29, 2013

Social cues and social intelligence are incredibly complex and subtle. I would not at all assume "he doesn't want to change" just because he has as yet not been able to "do" what you tell him. He is acting in a way that makes a lot of sense to him, changing behavior would necessitate that he experience the interactions very differently, not that he is able to follow a series of step by step simple commands (i.e. at this point ask questions about the other person), and that is actually not the way a person with good social intelligence is functioning either. They are having a different experience. Being able to learn how to be good at being social is mostly intuitive. You can't learn it from a book. They way he behaves has everything to do with the whole span of his life and how he experiences being with other people.
posted by Blitz at 10:07 AM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

Did you boyfriend say he wants you to help him change, or did he say he wants to change?

I'm not sure that this is your responsibility, or even if you should help him change. If he wants to change, he has to do the work.

His behavior as your described doesn't sound like it's creepy or socially awkward as much as rude. Constantly interrupting or talking over others is rude. Not respecting people's boundaries is rude.

When he interrupts you, do you call him out on it, or do you let him get away with it? You say you've talked about it, but do you talk about it as it's happening? If he interrupts you, do you say "hey, I was talking, can I finish what I was saying?"

We have some mutual friends and over the years I've become pretty close with them, moreso than my boyfriend has. He told me he feels like they don't invite him to things as often as me, which I don't really think is true. A lot of times, he won't show up to their events but I will. He texted three of them sort of demanding they invite him out more. All three told me they thought it was weird.

What strikes me as weird about this is that your boyfriend doesn't seem to place any blame with himself for his friends not inviting them out more. He won't show up to their events, doesn't ask them about themselves, behaves rudely, and then demands they invite him out more. That strikes me as a person who is not understanding how his behavior effects the people around him.
posted by inertia at 10:18 AM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Is he autistic?

It seems like there's something here that therapy (not you) might be able to help, whether it's autism spectrum, ADHD, insecurity, or something else.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:25 AM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

I dated this guy.

Therapy might be able to help, but it would probably need to be behavioral. Standard talk therapy did not help my person become less self involved, he just suddenly had a person to run talk to about all the weird personal social injustices he experienced at the hands of every single person he tried to interact with.

I was in the relationship for years. As a pair it was often great. I ended the relationship in large part because I lost patience with facilitating his interactions with my friends and especially my family.
posted by skrozidile at 10:45 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I talk too much. I also tend to jump in and monopolize and talk over. I know it and it is very hard to change even though I would like to.

Part of it is social anxiety. Part of it is that I work from home so rarely get people to talk to. Part of it is wanting to connect and contribute.

The funny thing is back when I was too shy to talk people they thought I was a snob.

My advice is for you to put him in more social situations with the same people until he calms down around them. Then work outward from there. Also develop a covert signal to let him know when he needs to reign it in but don't use it very often.
posted by srboisvert at 11:43 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is the kind of thing that group therapy is amazingly well suited for. He can get instant feedback on his behavior from the group leaders and others in the group.
posted by jasper411 at 11:58 AM on October 29, 2013

Another vote for possible ADD/ADHD, and/or possible auditory processing disorder. An adult family member of mine (who has some combo of ADHD/APD) does this-- it is extremely hard for her to understand/conform to the rules of conversation, etc., particularly outside of one-on-one, face-to-face interactions. She's aware -- sometimes painfully so -- that she does it, but it seems to be very hard for her to stop, to the point where it almost seems compulsive or manic.

In any case, do you think an assessment for ADHD or APD might be useful?
posted by scody at 1:14 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

He might be on the autism specturm.

You can completely divorce your social life from his so that you don't have to worry about his behavior. Honestly, this level of detachment is probably more healthy for both of you than trying to work on something this complicated.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:25 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the feedback. He and I had a long talk last night. He does take medication to help with some of these issues (focus, anxiety) but apparently had let his prescription lapse for awhile. He refilled it last night.

He is also going back to Toastmasters tomorrow.

We hashed out many things, hopefully this is the first step on the way to some progress.

Thanks again.
posted by girlmightlive at 6:40 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Look up information on Asperger's Syndrome, as well as ADD. I have a good friend who believes he may have Asperger's, and has put effort into learning how to be social. Even if he doesn't have Asperger's, the ways of learning to be social are still useful.
posted by theora55 at 8:15 PM on October 31, 2013

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