How can a planner and an impulse-traveler make it work better?
April 22, 2014 8:10 AM   Subscribe

I'm in a long-distance relationship: my S.O. is in California, I'm on the East Coast. We've been pretty lucky with getting to meet up regularly since his job often pays for him to come out here and I've had a number of opportunities to get out there. But I'm feeling a personality clash arising from his erratic scheduling. Question clusterbomb ahoy!

We're both fairly independent, so it hasn't been too trying being apart. The conflict is more often about how we get together. Since he's a very frequent flyer, he's gotten used to the perk of getting to change flights all the time with no penalty, which he does with abandon. (It's pretty rare for him to complete a trip without having rescheduled at least one of his flights, often at the last minute.) I love the time we spend together, but I also find it annoys me when we'll make plans and suddenly (a) he'll decide to show up a day early or stay two days longer at my place--I have a small apartment and he doesn't travel light, so when he comes to stay it feels very full in there--or (b) he'll suggest that instead of spending the weekend at his apartment in SF we should drive down to Monterey (requiring us to rent a car and book a hotel at the last minute) for a couple of days. In Myers-Briggs speak, I'm a classic J and he's a total P.

So: We've had a couple of conversations about this, but it remains a reality that we're different in this way. How do I make peace with the fact that he's more spontaneous than I'm accustomed to being? Can I learn to roll with it better? Is it reasonable of me to get exasperated at the uncertainty? If you're similarly free-spirited, has someone been able to convincingly explain this disconnect to you? And finally, I'm planning to move back to CA later this year (I've been away for longer than I originally expected; this desire predates our relationship)... anything I should watch out for when we're living in the same place (possibly but not necessarily cohabitating)?
posted by psoas to Human Relations (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Maybe establish some rules about what's flexible and what's not? For instance, when it comes to staying at your place, he needs to have a plan in place and stick to it. No changing dates (especially coming early)? And when things are in his control (he's making the plans) and you're coming along with him, that's the more freewheeling, flexible time?
posted by xingcat at 8:27 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it's absolutely reasonable for you to get exasperated at the uncertainty, but I do think it's possible to learn to live with it. I know it can be really difficult - I am more like you than I am like your SO - but it's possible.

My partner and I are in a long-distance relationship. He usually comes to visit with a day or two's notice and that used to make me really anxious. Yes, I love when he visits, but I am also the kind of person that likes to give the apartment a good cleaning, make sure I'm on top of stuff for work so I don't have to work much in the evenings when he's here, and have his favourite things in the fridge before he arrives. I used to fly into a frenzy when he'd tell me he'd be visiting tomorrow/on the weekend. Now, I don't really sweat it. Yes, I'd love to be more organized and have things planned out, but his job doesn't really allow us that luxury, so over time I've learned to just go with it and focus on enjoying our time together. He swore up and down he didn't care whether or not I had "prepared" for his visit by getting his favourite beer or putting all of the laundry away.

It can be difficult to feel like you are always flying by the seat of your pants or putting things on hold to be with your partner, but for me, it's worth it. I'd rather have him visit and feel a little bit frazzled than to go another week/month without seeing him.

Good luck! It's tough, but you can teach yourself to relax into it a little more. It takes time!
posted by gursky at 8:37 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think this is like any major personality conflict in a relationship - you both have to bend a little. I am more like your boyfriend and my husband is more like you, and I've learned over the years that he's just not the kind of guy who would take kindly to, say, a surprise trip to Paris. He has become more okay with me deciding we need to take a trip to a semi-random location, but I'm aware that he needs to have plenty of warning and lots of reminders about what's coming up, when we're leaving, etc. I've learned that he's a lot more pleasant when I don't force him out of his comfort zone, so this arrangement is the obvious solution for us.

In the situation you describe above, I really think your boyfriend just needs to cool it a little with expecting you to rearrange your life at the drop of a hat, and you need to be firm about what is and isn't okay with you. The structure of his life is different from most people's and it's perfectly okay for you to say, "No, I don't want to go to Monterey this weekend, I just want to hang out with you at home." Like most relationship issues, this is going to be all about open, non-angry communication and figuring out what works for the two of you specifically. Don't let yourself accept things that are not really okay with you because that will only lead to long-term resentments that will affect other areas of your relationship. Be honest about what you need. Your expectations are not unreasonable here.
posted by something something at 8:38 AM on April 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm the same way as your SO, and I perceive my wife to be quite similar to you.

It used to be a problem, but after some work is only a source of infrequent frustration in our relationship.

To cite some examples, I am totally a "play it by ear" guy. I don't usually mind making plans to go do something, but my preference is to leave the specifics of the activity or restaurant for the day, to see what we're in the mood for. (Unless it's an event or other scheduled thing, of course).

I usually don't know or really care about specifics like flight numbers and gate information until an hour before I am going to the airport. As long as I know the airport and time we should be there, I'm OK.

Sometimes on the way to dinner, I'll change my mind midway after seeing an advertisement or remembering a really good meal I had someplace else, even if it's 50 miles away.

I love doing things spur of the moment and going with the flow. Unless necessary, I don't like planning and outlines, and don't get me started on the dreaded LISTS. I find these things constraining and restrictive, and it detracts from a good time. I like rolling with the moment.

My wife, on the other hand, has color coded entries in her calendar for bills, life events, outings, sales, etc. etc. She makes lists for everything, and plans months in advance for anything important. Not knowing or having a clear destination is awkward and makes her feel anxious. Basically, My wife loves structure, having a plan and everyone knowing what the plan is.

The issue is that everything I find constricting about planning, she finds comfort in. What makes me feel obligated gives her relief, and what is neat and organized to her, I find a killjoy.

But I love her, and her happiness is paramount, as mine is to her.

So, she indulges in my carefree jaunts when she's feeling peppy and up for it, and through experience she is confident in my abilities to figure something out and not get lost or in trouble. Her anxiety has decreased over the spur of the moment adventures over time.

I too, have become aware of what is important to her, and try to use Apps, reminders, and clear communication to let her know details on long trips, important events, and when I need to be away.

It isn't perfect, there are rare times when this dichotomy creates some conflict... when she snaps at me for being too carefree with planning, or when I forget to add something to my calendar or clearly communicate. But with the small stuff, it'll blow over, and with the bigger stuff we sit down and communicate about what to do better next time.

Long story short, if any of the above sounds familiar to your guys' general tendencies (if this isn't just situational), just let him know that his carefree sensibilities make you feel just as uncomfortable as perhaps the constraints of planning make him. That there's nothing wrong with being either way, but it would really help you out if he could be more considerate of your desire for a concrete plan, and you'll try to help him by being a little more spontaneous.
posted by Debaser626 at 8:41 AM on April 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You frame this as travel habits but is it really about travel habits? To me it sounds a lot more about communication. What exactly do you find unsettling in each example?

When he visits and changes his travel arrangements: Is your place too small for two people or are you so used to living alone that even the planned visit time is pushing it for you? Has he got too much stuff and/or is untidy and his stuff is everywhere? Did you have other plans that you now have to cancel/rearrange, because your SO is in town longer? Does he expect you to rearrange your plans when he does this or do you just feel you have to? What happens if you tell him that it's great to seem him a day early but it's the second Thursday of the month and that means you go to basket weaving class followed by a meal with your weaving buddies, you'll be back at 11pm and the take out menu is on the fridge?

When you visit and he sugests a weekend away: Is it about the extra cost of hiring a car and booking a room? Would you have packed differently and now lack thing's you'd have liked to have in Monterrey? The physical act of arranging a car and room takes a total of 10 minutes so presumably that in itself doesn't constitute a problem, or does it? Did you envisage doing xyz in SF and now you won't be able to? Was he aware you had these plans and is just ignoring your wishes?

Exactly what is making you uneasy about these things? What would help you be happier with these changes? Have you actually spelled out that you'd rather not go away for the weekend but do xyz? Why not? Spend a bit of time working out exactly what you find unsettling about these things. Then explain that.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:42 AM on April 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think it's completely reasonable for you to be irritated about this, especially considering that you're hosting him when he visits, and that your examples involve multiple days' worth of changed plans in one go. Changing dinner plans on the fly is one thing, but staying at your place for two extra days is another. It may be spontaneous and free-spirited, but it's also disrespectful of your time and personal space. Personally, I wouldn't be able to tolerate this level of plan-changing in a committed relationship.

You'll have to meet somewhere in the middle on this one. Figure out what you can and can't tolerate, and talk to him about it. Sometimes you might need to go with the flow, sometimes he might need to decide on something and stick with it. But this is not one of those differences where you're being unreasonable and need to relax, it's a difference where both of you will need to compromise.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:51 AM on April 22, 2014

I'm guessing this will actually get easier to accommodate and negotiate when you're in the same place -- it's much easier to say no to last-minute plans when they don't involve airplane tickets.

As another very strong J, I've learned, as others have said, that my P friends and partners don't expect the level of preparation (in terms of the house being neat, all other distractions/interruptions pre-empted, etc.) that I do, so I figure I'm not going to make myself crazy trying to do a bunch of last-minute planning in order to make up for their (in my mind) lack of planning. If they want to go with the flow, then they've got to go with my flow, too, which might include dirty socks on the floor or a day that I have to spend at work or a phone call that I can't reschedule. Most of them have been 100% ok with this in ways that totally surprised me at first, and now have given me more appreciation for the flexibility of that aspect of their personalities.
posted by jaguar at 8:56 AM on April 22, 2014

Response by poster: When you visit and he sugests a weekend away: Is it about the extra cost of hiring a car and booking a room? Would you have packed differently and now lack thing's you'd have liked to have in Monterrey? The physical act of arranging a car and room takes a total of 10 minutes so presumably that in itself doesn't constitute a problem, or does it? Did you envisage doing xyz in SF and now you won't be able to? Was he aware you had these plans and is just ignoring your wishes?

Right, these are affiliated concerns: he's more generally spendthrift than I am (our earning is roughly on par, but I'm struggling to save money) and sometimes I want to hang out with my other friends in SF (whom I maybe see a couple times a year) ...which is tough if suddenly we're not actually going to be in town. We're generally on the same wavelength but I'm conscious these things could turn in to creeping resentments. I love Experiences and Adventure, but I like forewarning too.

Thanks for the great answers so far, everyone!
posted by psoas at 9:06 AM on April 22, 2014

"I love that you're spontaneous and so excited to see me, but the constant last minute thing makes my head spin. I don't want to go down to Monterrey, I just want to stay here with you and hang out and go out to brunch and snuggle. Can we have a boring just-according-to-plan weekend?"

It probably doesn't occur to your boyfriend that the whirlwind spur of the moment thing doesn't feel exciting and fun for you. You're going to have to tell him what you want.

Is your place too small for two people or are you so used to living alone that even the planned visit time is pushing it for you?

This pinged a lot of buttons for me, too. The plan changing I totally get, as a planner and someone who thrives on routine and knowing what's going to happen tomorrow. But I think you should examine why him extending his visits is such a problem. A lot of long distance relationships fizzle when the reality of seeing your SO every day, day in, day out, hits home.
posted by Sara C. at 9:27 AM on April 22, 2014

It's great that you want to bend a bit in his direction but is he also trying to bend a bit for you too? Why does his preference toward spontaneity trump your preference for planning? Neither is better/right/wrong than the other. If he's not listening to your concerns at all then I think that's the bigger issue that needs to be dealt with.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:37 AM on April 22, 2014

Best answer: I'm a J J J J J person in a long distance relationship with someone who is a little bit more spontaneous. Or, rather, he's sort of set up a life that is more spontaneous because he's a little disorganized but also because he's incredibly good natured and doesn't really mind if things don't go according "to plan" which is something that would make me nuts. At first in our relationship there was a lot of "Oh I'll get this bus but if I can't I'll get the next bus..." and for me who had to get him at the bus stop this sort of threw a wrench into my day which was more or less planned out. And I spent some time thinking (and talking to him) about whether this was just the way he was and was going to be, or whether there was flexibility there. And he could make plans with friends, and at work, he just saw time with me as more open-ended and relaxing time which meant, for him, no plans.

So we met somewhere in the middle. And I think if I were you I would not press too much of this stuff if you're eventually going to be near him. But I do think you can adjust. If he can make plans with friends/work, then he can make them with you, especially if things like saving money are important to you. That said, you probably need to give a little bit about what you can tolerate spontaneity in and what you can't. So like "Hey I am happy to see you, let's plan to spend this weekend in the city" should be an okay thing to ask or "Hey great that you can extend your trip but I have a lot of work to do on Tuesday so that's not convenient for me" I think sometimes people think that being in a relationship with someone means that you have to always want to be with them and prioritizing together time over other time and you don't have to do that, at all.

That said, it may just be a style difference that doesn't work for you. Do you always feel anxious when you are together because you're always feeling jerked around and rootless? Do you think he'd be willing to at least have some outlines of a plan for visits until you start living out there? Do you think when you'll be more nearby more often this problem will get better, or get exacerbated?
posted by jessamyn at 9:43 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

So, what happens if he says, "Let's go to Monterrey!" and you say, "Oh I'd really rather not... I was looking forward to just hanging out in SF and maybe catching up with $friend"? Is that not OK? Do you feel like you can't ask or does he shut you down if you do ask? I think it's entirely reasonable for you to say that and if he's so flexible and spontaneous I don't see why he'd mind.
posted by mskyle at 9:45 AM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm your beau. I travel for business all the time. Therefore, I'm ridiculously spoiled by hotels/airlines. Change a ticket? No problem. Hotel full? Not for me, they'll boot someone else so I get a room. Forgot a charger? The hotel will find me one in the lost and found bin. I'm super confident travel will work out fine. It may require a car service, a rental car and having a hotel procure/launder clothes, but it will work out.

Of course, my husband is much more inflexible about these things than I am. That's partly his more moderate nature and partly the fact that he's not on the road the way I am.

As a general rule, we let the domain expert make decisions and we don't second guess each other. Since I'm the expert on travel, I'm on point to make our travel smooth. Here's how we work it out.

He's responsible for: communicating what he wants to do. Visit an obscure vintage bike shop? Meet up with some friends? Rent bikes? He needs to say it or not complain about missing it.
I'm responsible for: All the travel planning/non-planning. I'm on point for travel arrangements, cars, navigation. Because he's confident that I'll work his desires into the trip, he doesn't worry and doesn't ask questions.

Our deal works because we are scrupulous about considering the other's needs when we are the decision maker. I don't question why my husband wants to visit that obscure bike shop. He doesn't question how I make it happen. Are you telling him what you need? It's perfectly acceptable to say, "I love spending time with you, but I can't have unannounced house guests. If you're going to stay here, I need X days notice."

If you're communicating specific needs and he's ignoring, then you have a whole different problem.
posted by 26.2 at 10:10 AM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is a tricky one. I know from personal experience because I'm very much like you in this situation.

One thing first: When you say that having his luggage in your small apartment when you don't anticipate it, that doesn't sound like a concern about space; it's a concern about annoyance. His luggage takes up exactly the same amount of space when he's making a planned trip to visit as with an unplanned trip, so it sounds to me as if you're bothered by the cascading effects of the trip's uncertainty.

And I get that 100%. I am exactly the same way. For me, it's about the uncertainty and its consequences.

In the end, I conquered some of my issues with unplanned visits, etc. by learning that much of my annoyance (and subsequent bad mood) came from my mental plan for what would happen. I'm not someone who imagines every single detail of a visit or event, but I am someone who has a template in mind for how things will evolve. And when that's derailed by major plan changes, it makes me upset.

So what I ultimately had to start doing is actively *not* making these mental maps of how visits, trips, events, etc. were going to play out. It's very hard to do, especially because any kind of thinking about the event involves some kind of anticipatory imagining. But I learned that too much of that anticipation makes me pretty inflexible, and that's not a good thing.

I'm not saying you're inflexible--I'm just saying that in situations like yours, *I* can pretty easily fall into an inflexible mode, and it has to do very much with my advance thinking about the situation. I think from your description, you might be the same way. So with visits from an SO (and I was in a long-distance relationship with my SO for a few years that yielded similar conflicts), I just put very loose mental contour lines around the visit and don't do anything more than that. Any plans or ideas for the time together is likely to make me annoyed, inflexible, and upset--and those are all bad things for two people who don't get to spend much time together.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:33 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to try to massage a little bit of "P into you. Because life is uncertain and its helpful to be able to roll with the punches in an authentic way. Because if you eventually make a life with this person, flexibility will be necessary or you will go nuts. And if you go nuts, the relationship will end. You can't change that much. But, don't you want to be a bit more relaxed? Don't you appreciate his approach to making decisions? Even just a little bit?

If you want things DECIDED, you might make a decision too quickly just so "it's decided." You may not fully check in with yourself about the decision either. You'll just get tunnel vision and want it decided regardless of whether a good option is available yet. You'll buy the ok-but-not-great flooring just because it's there, instead of relaxing seeing what comes.

Don't you want freedom to have life fit how you feel? What if you planned for an active weekend, but then Friday showed up and you just needed to relax. So wouldn't you just go to the beach & relax? Or would you force yourself through your pre-determined plans, miserable and exhausted? There has to be some room for how you're feeling in that moment.

As for him staying a few extra days, isn't that a good thing? Would you rather spontaneously find out that he can spend 2 extra days with you (yay!) instead of know solidly in advance that it is a shorter visit? Isn't that great that he wants to stay with you? Keep focused on the bigger picture.

Now where this will kill you two is long term plans: do we move in? get married? have kids? You will want An Answer and he will say "well let's see how we feel when the time comes." He won't be suffering. You will be suffering. You say you're moving closer to his area, but that this decision was made prior to meeting him. So it's not 'really' moving for him. Hmm. What did he say about that? This is where I would have the majority of our conversations. You might even come to enjoy the last-minute flight changes (how chic!) but you will want to know that he's as invested as you are and that you both envision a shared future.

My partner & I have different ways of making decisions, but the same priorities. The more we've come to think & act like a team, the easier the decision-making process has become. Before we'd bonded as a couple, there was a lot of struggle around this because we were prioritizing more our own personal concerns rather than a) thinking about the other person's needs b) thinking about 'us' as a whole.

Good luck!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:01 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

If talking doesn't work, then you have to engineer some way for him to face consequences. Like, schedule something else that you have to go to, and if he doesn't arrive on time, too bad, you can't see him.

If he doesn't find the prospect of not seeing you upsetting in any way, you have bigger problems.
posted by quincunx at 2:57 PM on April 22, 2014

I'm a J too and have struggled sometimes over this exact issue with partners and friends. The "meeting in the middle" thing hasn't worked very well for me: it's mostly led to both people feeling a little constrained and unhappy.

What *has* worked for me is two things. One is both people being self-aware and explicit. In my best relationships we've been able to talk and joke about it. "Hey you're triggering my J," "As the planning person, I would like to get the hotel booked," and that kind of thing. The second thing that's worked is taking turns. Before a holiday, for example, we'd put one person in charge. If it's me, I invisibly plan everything. I don't need my partner/friend to care or buy in or even know about the colour-coded binder and the backups for every contingency: I just do it, because I'm the one who wants it. If the other person's in charge, I let go. I have found that useful. I am bothered by lack of clarity: if I can tell myself that someone else is leading, I can relax and enjoy myself.
posted by Susan PG at 8:11 AM on April 23, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone... To the commenters who picked up on it being more of a communication issue, that's a good point. We've already instituted a few ways of getting more in sync, like a common Google calendar for trips and an agreement to ask before assuming the other's preferences.

He's learning to think through some of his more impulsive plans (partly forced by a change in his airline perks, partly due to discussion) and I'm making an effort to be more assertive about my wants (the Monterey trip was a perfect example: I was torn between the staying-in and going-out options because they appealed to me in different ways, but didn't really vocalize my regrets).
posted by psoas at 6:03 AM on May 9, 2014

« Older Adventure, but not too much adventure   |   An awesome modern range cooker? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.