Have you learned to really accept your partner? How?
February 1, 2015 7:47 AM   Subscribe

I am with a wonderful man. We love each other and see a future together, and have a good relationship. However, I am a perfectionist about relationships and a depressive (in therapy, on meds, regularly meditating), and sometimes I react absolutely terribly to his imperfections. Yes, I'm working on it in therapy with a great therapist, but please help?

30 F, he's 33 M. My partner is smart and curious, but he isn't the sort of pretentious intellectual I always imagined for myself. He parties more than I do, and has a few friends in his friend group that I find immature, intoxicated and obnoxious. Sometimes his sense of humor is less sophisticated than I would have loved, etc. But on the whole, I love him and want to be with him. He feels the same, but is increasingly feeling the need to protect his well being.

At times, and generally when my depression is better, I love and accept him as he is. Other times, I can get crabby, bitchy, and unpleasant. This happened about a month ago at a concert I agreed to and then felt tired. I just gave him shitty attitude and repositioned myself behind him for yelling too loudly in my ear rather than asking nicely, for example. It happened a few nights ago hanging out with a friend of his I find unsavory. I just behaved in a sort of cold, annoyed, and unappreciative manner, and it's starting to wear on him.

So we had a blowout Thursday and it's within a month of the concert blowout. Frankly, he behaved poorly and I reacted poorly, but the details don't really matter (I'll share through mod if anyone really wants them). He feels unloved and unappreciated and that I act this way in front of people, which embarrasses him.

I need to stop having these nights whenever we're doing something he wants to do and that I find uncompelling - help me by telling me how you personally grew to accept people as they are, please. And if it's 'I have always found my partner wonderful in every way so you should keep looking,' I assure you that's not the case for me, as I've been diagnosed with relational OCD and that's probably just never going to be the case. I'm in therapy, and we're working on emotional reactivity and my obsessions, which is very effective, so no therapy suggestions please. Also, don't tell me he's not right for me. He may or may not be, but this has been a problem recurrently with partners, and I need to address the problem, not the partner.

I feel shitty - I keep making my man feel unloved by acting like an asshole, and it doesn't even feel under my control. Help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (43 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Here's the thing...you can FEEL irritated and angry and that he's being a bore or a jerk or whatever, but you don't have to ACT on it. Those are two entirely different things. It seems that, when there's something you don't like about the way your partner is acting or the people he's hanging out with, you react by giving the cold shoulder or meeting this with a negative action.

Instead, learn to distance the feelings from the actions. You can talk about things that annoy you or that you think are disrespectful to you, but do so in a loving manner. This is key to any relationship, I think.

It's not about loving 100% of the person's friends, ways of having fun, being an interesting person, or whatever. It's about loving the person him/herself, flaws and all.

My partner is often moody and non-communicative in social situations, and will often take out his phone and play a game or read some mail when he's at a restaurant with a lot of people or (something that annoyed me at first) at a family gathering. However, I learned that it's his social anxiety that makes him retreat, and so instead of hissing, "Put away the PHONE," which I used to do, I just try to make him more comfortable, by bringing up subjects he has an interest in, introducing him to people he doesn't know very well, or just letting him do what's comfortable for him. It still annoys the ever-living crap out of me when we're at, say, Mom's birthday party and he's reading Facebook, but at that same party, I was resting in the living room, and he and Mom had a one-on-one conversation together for a half-hour, which I would have thought impossible two years ago. I don't think they'd have gotten to that point if he felt like he had to be "on" all the time when with my (our) family.

I've always felt that being good to people, even if your feelings for them are less than nice, leads to better things, and taking this tack with my partner has led to a much deeper relationship than I've ever had with anyone else.
posted by xingcat at 7:57 AM on February 1, 2015 [50 favorites]

Although you've specifically said this is something you don't want to hear, it may just be that this person isn't right for you. I understand this isn't what you wanted to hear, but it's something you should consider.

In my experience, I've been able to accept my partner's behaviors because when all was said and done, I just loved them. I loved them enough that when they did their annoying stuff, I just didn't feel super-pissed. It was just a part of them. Love is a feeling and an action, but if I don't feel very basic affection and love, I can't force the action of acceptance.

I've been in relationships where "stop texting during dinner already" was just part of the person I loved, and it didn't bug me. I've also been driven batshit insane with "put your fucking phone away," and I think it's just that deep down, I really wasn't all that crazy about the person. Trying to rationalize love didn't help. Deep down, I just didn't love them.
posted by kinetic at 8:15 AM on February 1, 2015 [9 favorites]

It happened a few nights ago hanging out with a friend of his I find unsavory. I just behaved in a sort of cold, annoyed, and unappreciative manner,

This is the sort of reaction I might have, despite my best efforts, to somebody indulging in e.g. scat or misogynist humour. I would also not like to hang around immature, obnoxious, intoxicated people, depressed or no, because I find it grating (and so would a lot of other people).

If you decide that you do want to stay with your partner, one idea might be to head off part of the problem by limiting your exposure to his friends. Let him have "guy's nights" or whatever, so that you don't even have to countenance the possibility of poo jokes. Spend more time doing things you want to do, on your own. That way you'll likely spend less time feeling oppressed by fratness. I think you may feel more charitable towards him if more of the time you do spend with him is quality time.

Firmer boundaries and more honest communication (and, I do think, sorry, leaving if you find that your overall feeling about him leans to "disgusted" most of the time).
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:17 AM on February 1, 2015 [7 favorites]

Yeah, sometimes you need to learn to count to 10, 100 or even 1,000 to put some distance between your thoughts, feelings and your impulsive, sometimes mean actions.

You don't want to act like an asshole?
Then don't act like an asshole.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 8:19 AM on February 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

There are two things: recognizing that my partner doesn't have to be with me and that a respectful relationship is a lasting one, and the second is to laugh about it as much as possible when he does something that is so outside of what I find acceptable (but is just an OCD preference for me - not a real issue).
posted by Toddles at 8:21 AM on February 1, 2015

He parties more than I do, and has a few friends in his friend group that I find immature, intoxicated and obnoxious.

Would it help to spend less time around his friends? My partner has some friends that I have issues with, and that has been my solution. If I need to spend time with these people for any reason, I watch myself for feelings that I am failing by not enjoying myself. But certain things, like spending a weekend at a sports event with these people, I will not do. And I don't let my partner criticize me for it. Nor do I criticize him for spending time with them. If the resulting time apart had destroyed the relationship, I would have been OK with that.

Overall I would say, if you are out doing things you really don't want to do a significant amount of the time, then work out how much you can gladly do. If you really can't go to these things without a good chance of it imploding, just stop altogether and see if things are better that way. Don't say yes to things unless you really can.
posted by BibiRose at 8:21 AM on February 1, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'd say the details of the blowout are a bit important. For instance, if one or both of you use really insulting language, or call each other really reprehensible names, I find that is not a good indicator of a happy relationship.

It does sound like you are aware of your issues and would like to work on them. But are you far enough along in your working on things that you can save this particular relationship? It doesn't sound so great right now, from the details you provided.

As xingcat says, you really get to decide how to react to those negative impulses you have. If you can just give yourself a moment to pause, instead of immediately exploding, that could help a great deal. Even if you can start to do that once in a while, eventually it may become a habit.

Also yes, don't hang out with his friends that you don't like. You are not required to like all the same people and things, and it's good to have your own time and let him have his. It is one thing to behave badly occasionally with your SO, but to behave badly with some regularity in public and/or in front of his friends is terrible. Don't do that.

Honestly, it sounds like you wish he were more intellectually compelling, and that you don't value him as much as he deserves. In which case, let him find someone who loves him completely.
posted by Glinn at 8:27 AM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have written here before about my terrible temper and how it affects my relationship. It isn't the same issue, but some of my strategies might work for you too.

1) Be aware of the problem and get outside help (therapy). Great, you're doing this.

2) Communicate with your SO about your progress. It's really important to do this at times that aren't fights. Make sure you give him space to talk about what is upsetting him, and that you take his concerns seriously (and watch to see that he does the same in return!)

3) DO ask for things you need - in my case, I have to eat sometimes. In yours, if you aren't up for a social outing, leave or don't go (but make sure he still goes). Learn to catch the first sign of trouble and escape before it's a blowup.

4). Be kind to yourself. You are allowed to not like certain people. You are allowed to not like certain activities. Don't force exposure to them too often.

Ok enough bullet points, but one more question- have you told your SO at a calm time that you don't get along with Person X or Activity Y? He might handle your grumpiness better if he knew its origin (including by not making you go or letting you take a breather).
posted by nat at 8:31 AM on February 1, 2015 [7 favorites]

When I feel that Hulk Want to Smash feeling, I ask myself why I feel the need to get control of the situation, and what I could do instead of yelling/nitpicking/attacking/fuming/being a general asshole. And I say that with love, because I spent many, many years as an asshole with good intentions.

Some of things I do instead of getting all up in my husband or toddler's situation:

1. Breathe and count to ten.

2. Take a break - go in the bathroom or bedroom. Take a walk around the block.

3. Get a glass of water

4. Sing at the top of my lungs

5. Drop down my spine - this sounds weird, but all it is is bending gently over from the waist and then slowly rolling back up. This is an acting/movement exercise that just helps realign your spine. It's relaxing and focusing.

6. Any and all of the above in combination.

Sometimes my toddler thinks this little pageant is funny. Sometimes he's weirded out by it but at least I haven't lost my temper or yelled or acted like a two year-old in response to my two year-old's normal toddler behavior. My husband appreciates that I don't use him as a punching bag and, actually, cares more to hear what's going on with me because he can see by the techniques I use to calm down how difficult it really is for me sometimes to get my shit together. And, because he doesn't feel like he's born the brunt of my frustration, he's more apt to listen and empathize with me.

I get it; you really don't understand why this is so hard for you and you want to change. But aside from using techniques to help you out of a moment of extreme jerkiness, you have to start reflecting on why it is that you feel that getting control of your boyfriend's personality, or partying, or sense of humor, or whatever it is that chafes you in a given moment will make you feel better. Because the reality is that he is who he is, and it's unfair of you to want to change him AND let him know it all the time by being overly critical or overreacting.

You need to do some work on yourself. Once you do that work - in therapy, with a professional - you'll be able to figure out what to put in the My Issues bucket, and what belongs in the Dealbreaker bucket.

Good luck.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 8:37 AM on February 1, 2015 [37 favorites]

It can be helpful to remember that you are not your partner and he is not you. You are allowed -- expected, really -- to like different things. You are allowed and expected to value different things. You are allowed and expected to like different people. You are allowed and expected to have different interests. He does not have to be exactly like you, and his being different from you is not a sign that he doesn't love you or that he's pulling away or that he values you less; it's just a sign that he's a human being with his own preferences.
posted by jaguar at 8:51 AM on February 1, 2015 [14 favorites]

I can't think of anything worse than being the source of vexation and embarrassment of my partner.

You don't have to be along when he's visiting friends you don't like. However if it's all of his friends you don't like, you just don't like him. A person is their circle of friends. These are the people they choose to have in their life. It says everything you need to know about him.

It's all about you in the narrative. How you feel, how you're upset, how you have issues that excuse your pretty terrible behavior. You recognize that it's you, but there's an inherent idea behind it that if only you could accept his flaws that everything will be fine.

These aren't flaws. They are who he is. If you perceive that you could accept these "flaws" that it would be perfect for you, then you don't understand people and how they work. You say you want to learn acceptance. The first thing you have to do is to understand that he is exactly as he is at this point in time. You don't like doing what he likes to do, you don't like his friends.

Flaws are singing loudly in the grocery store, not being drunk and obnoxious or hanging around people who are. That's behavior that tells you who he is.

You can love a person's flaws. I think it's cute when Husbunny sings along to Musak. I don't love that I have to ask him to do cleaning stuff around the house, but he's very pleasant about it when I do, so I'm willing to put up with it.

Do with this information what you will. Your ask is pretty much about how you can control things, and I understand that desire. But at the end of the day, you can't control other people, and you ability to control yourself is limited to your ability to truly accept your partner. There are no tricks for acceptance, you either do or you don't.

I don't love basketball and there's nothing I'm ever going to be able to do to change that. So when Husbunny wants to watch WNBA in the living room, I either go in the other room to read, or I play games on my phone. That's a livable compromise.

But as far as acting shitty once you've committed to doing something you don't enjoy with him. Just tell yourself that you're not a child. That as an adult you agreed to do X, and not every moment in your life is about pleasing yourself. Sometimes you make a sacrifice to do something nice for your partner. If you resent doing one or two nice things for him, that you don't like...what does that say about how much you value him?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:00 AM on February 1, 2015 [11 favorites]

In any relationship, whether it's a friendship or a romantic one, there will be things that the other person does that you wouldn't do or that you don't like. That's because they aren't you. They are fully formed people with their own likes and dislikes.

So, first, think about boundaries. Do you ever feel like your partner is doing this stuff AT you? A book like The Four Agreements might help here - especially, "Don't take anything personally" and "Don't make assumptions". Beware that you can't just read the book and then feel like you've got it. You have to do a lot of work on yourself to fully internalize and practice this stuff.

Then I think you need to reframe this question. I think rather than learning to accept things about something that you honestly don't like is the wrong approach. That's giving up who you are and it's also dishonest. The work that should be done here is working on your reaction like what TryTheTilapia said. I just picked up this tiny Pema Chodron book and it has some really good stuff about patience. Learning how to have patience with yourself when the anger comes is really hard and really important. Putting some distance between the trigger and your action will help you in every aspect of your life, not just with this current relationship.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:01 AM on February 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

Although you've specifically said this is something you don't want to hear, it may just be that this person isn't right for you. I understand this isn't what you wanted to hear, but it's something you should consider.

I'm going to have to say it too, I'm afraid. Not saying that it's true, but that it's something you should really look at.

I say this because I'm at the end of a seven-year relationship, and I was miserable for much of it. I was miserable because I was angry and disappointed with myself for being so frequently annoyed -- and showing it -- at my very kind, sweet, and loving partner. I spent many, many hours beating myself up, criticizing myself, excoriating myself for not being able to be the kind of person who doesn't react to petty and irritating things that other people just seem to be able to let go of. I spent the time we were together in a state of high tension, just waiting for the thing that was going to trigger it and put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day, unpleasant to be around and again acting unfairly to my partner. I saw two bad therapists and tried two ineffective antidepressants. I knew that the reason our relationship was so trying was because *I* was so trying. I tried and tried to change myself, but I couldn't, and we suffered.

Now that I have a *good* therapist, I see how wrong all of that was. My partner -- a wonderful person -- just wasn't the right person for me to share my life with on a spousal level. There were too many things I need in a partner (the intellectual thing you mention is one of them) that she isn't able to fulfill. That doesn't make her a bad person, or a dumb person -- it's just that she's not the right one.

This went on for seven years because I was unwilling and unable to consider the basic truth. It was too hard. It was easier just to try to fix everything -- meaning me and my problems -- even though nothing about any of it was "fixable," and there wasn't actually anything wrong with me. As time went on, my moods and my acting out in irritation at her got worse. It's not that *I* was getting worse; it's that the tension of being in an ill-fitting relationship built and built, and I was reacting to it. I just didn't know what I was reacting to, because I wasn't being very honest with myself.

Okay, so there you go -- you just got six months of my therapy for free. I hope it isn't true, but I also hope that you don't do what I did and assume that all of the problems in your relationship hinge on you "fixing" yourself. I can tell you from experience that what you end up doing is muting yourself and losing yourself. I picture it like trying to fit yourself into an oddly shaped box, and when you realize you don't fit into it, you lop off a piece of yourself here, shave off a bit there, and keep at it, trying to fit, until you've whittled yourself down to a nub.

That's what I did. I hope that you can open your eyes a little wider, ask yourself whether any of this is true, and go from there. I hope that it's all completely off-the-mark, but I sure hear you saying things I heard myself saying five or six years ago.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:08 AM on February 1, 2015 [35 favorites]

If you dont like his friends or his activities you dont have to do them with him. Develop your own interests and friend circle. Do those while hes doing his.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:14 AM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I need to stop having these nights whenever we're doing something he wants to do and that I find uncompelling - help me by telling me how you personally grew to accept people as they are, please.

Going to nth the general thrust of responses. It's not only OK to not enjoy or even dislike some things about your partner, it's normal.

The reason why I have quoted the section above is that you seem to be drawing a direct causal connection between you not accepting your partner and the practical problem of the arguments. As others have mentioned, that's not necessary; you can stop having the arguments without growing to accept your partner (look at all the people in peaceful miserable marriages!). That is a soluble problem, and if you like and love your partner enough, that may well be enough to give you the relationship you want. You may even come to accept and love the less than ideal stuff too.

One note of caution: You are aware that this is an issue you generally have in relationships. That being the case, it maybe worth thinking about why a lot of the post is framed in terms of your partner's less than ideal characteristics. I'm not suggesting that he's not right for you (I simply don't know), but it is possible that you are, more generally (outside of the fights), making your partner feel like you're "settling".
posted by howfar at 9:17 AM on February 1, 2015

If this is happening monthly, check yourself for PMS. There are quite a few askmes on how to cope and supplements to take etc.

Then accept YOUR flaws, like the flaw of getting bitchy/crabby and then taking it out on him. And recognize that he puts up with those very real flaws. He sees the flaw and he doesn't have to get in there and be all controlling about you. When he sees the flaw he just deals with it. So when the tables are turned and you see his very real flaws, learn to roll your eyes and let it slide. Yup he has that flaw, and who doesn't.

Now if letting a flaw slide triggers your anxiety, you can make some very real change in the moment. You can rewrite your brain for a new reaction. Let's say you see his flaw and feel annoyed. Rather than fixate on his flaw and mentally try to fix him, accept the flaw, accept it likely won't change much. Then mindfully feel all the awful feelings that will come up. (I'm willing to bet they are there in abundance.) What are those feelings hiding? Only you know. But I'm sure your mind will go bezerk "but but but this FLAW!" Tell it "yes and I've decided to accept this flaw" and keep riding out the feelings. I'm sure they will be horrible and you'll have to white-knuckle it a few times. Eventually whatever buried pain/fear you have will lessen and go away.

Fix this soon before he gets tired of it and does a DTMFA. And whenever the feelings get bad and biting your tongue feels impossible, say to yourself "I am holding back from this action because I wish to be a place of comfort and acceptance for my partner" and it will make it a lot easier to bear the discomfort. (That is a Buddhist lesson for turning adverse conditions into the path btw.) Soon you will build new mental pathways and have developed good habits.

PS. No relationship is perfect despite what you read here in askme, everyone has done this kind of trade off in their partnership and everyone lets things slide. It does not make a bad relationship or set yourself up for future pain, it's just the adult version of "pick your battles." If you put any relationship under scrutiny you will see the cracks and fissures so let go of the idea of perfection and you will have a happy relationship... Which would be pretty perfect!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:18 AM on February 1, 2015 [8 favorites]

After being married for over 30 years, I can tell you:

1. Your second paragraph describes just about every relationship on the planet. No one meshes perfectly, so just stop striving for that.

2. Doing some things you don't like to do is part of the deal, such as playing nice with his family. Concerts and most casual social events are not, necessarily.

3. Not only are you allowed to do things without each other, it's really better for a strong relationship if you do. His taste in music, movies, etc doesn't match yours? Why is that even a problem? He goes with his dorky friends and you do what you like to do.

Finding common ground is a building block of a relationship. Having interests outside the relationship is, also, and just as important. Have an honest heart-to-heart about what those things are and move forward in a positive manner.
posted by raisingsand at 9:25 AM on February 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

You write that he's neither as intellectual nor as sophisticated as you'd like or expect. You actually wrote those words.

Sadly, this doesn't get better. You don't pull out of that power dive. Oh, maybe you do for a little while. But you'll resent him the next time he's out with his buddies doing things you think are beneath you.

Clearly, you have some vision in your head about how life is supposed to be, and you're not getting it. I mean, it sounds like you don't even like him. So what do you hope to accomplish here, exactly?

You say, "Don't tell me he's not right for me." I say, you're not right for him.

It's time for you to back out of this before you hurt him and yourself further. You don't fix this inside a relationship. You fix this, and then have a relationship.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:31 AM on February 1, 2015 [19 favorites]

he's neither as intellectual nor as sophisticated as I'd like or expect

Does he know you feel this way, and if so, does it bother him at all? Because that's about who he is, not what he does. It strikes at the core of his identity.

I would not want to be with someone who felt this way about me. I couldn't be happy if I were looked down on in a relationship.

It seems like this is the whole core of the problem right here. I don't think it's your relationship OCD. I feel like from the tone of your question you are settling for him because you feel like if you could conquer your relationship OCD, anyone would do:

don't tell me he's not right for me. He may or may not be, but this has been a problem recurrently with partners, and I need to address the problem, not the partner.

You can address the problem as a single person with a lot more wisdom and hindsight. You admit right there that you don't know if he's right for you. If I were him, I would leave you. I feel like you're not being fair to him, nor to yourself, and I am sorry I can't offer advice on how to fix it instead. It's just that I have been in his position before, and it left me with a truly skewed and disheartened perception of my own intelligence. Do you think you can ever get over your disappointment that he's not a "pretentious intellectual?" Because even if you never tell him that, surely he's not so stupid that he can't tell.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 9:43 AM on February 1, 2015 [10 favorites]

There is something about your Ask that reads like there is some internalized sexism at play here, and I'd encourage you to explore that. You feel like shit because you are not allowed to be your authentic self in this relationship. I think what may be going on is you are not having your voice heard and your real wishes respected enough. I'm sure he's been raised to expect you to socially perform the role of hetero girlfriend in a more agreeable way that allows him to maintain the status quo, and maybe you wish you could, too, because that would please him and he would want to stay with you longer, and then you'd be sure you don't have a bad relationship pattern where you are the problem all the time. No.

You are afraid of losing this "wonderful" guy - so much so that you preemptively barred us from suggesting you two are completely wrong for each other. Your fear of losing this man is causing you to react in ways that are not fully authentic to you, including beating yourself up after the fact for expressing your honest opinions in understandably reactive ways. You must be pretty aware of your positionality in this relationship -- he's a few years older than you, he holds more of the power, you capitulate and do the things he likes to do, you hang out with his friends who you do not like at all, and resent the hell out of all of it. You feel you might be on the outs: he is getting tired of you, "he feels unloved and unappreciated and that I act this way in front of people, which embarrasses him." Ugh. And it is apparently your job to take care of his feelings, and acquiesce, and be "nice," and never act angry? I don't think so. Rather, I think this is both a communication problem and a sexist society problem, not a YOU problem.

Look, there are so many unspoken rules that our society has for how women are allowed to act in relationships, and your question touches on many of them. The truth is, you are ALLOWED to "get crabby, bitchy, and unpleasant" towards your male partner sometimes. You can act "cold, annoyed, and unappreciative" sometimes and still be a lovable, worthy woman. You are ALLOWED to agree to go to a concert then change your mind about that if you feel tired. Something to ponder: why didn't you feel like you had permission to excuse yourself from attending that concert if you weren't feeling up to it? You always have permission to decide not to go to events you don't suddenly feel like it.

I need to stop having these nights whenever we're doing something he wants to do and that I find uncompelling

Could be you are trying too hard to act like Cool Girl or something. You simply do not like to do the same things he enjoys. You can't stand his friends. You don't like his sense of humor. You embarrass him, and deep down I think he embarrasses you, too - he is not intellectual and sophisticated enough for you. This is a basic fit problem that is not going away - like if Tilda Swinton were suddenly dating Larry the Cable Guy - hell to the no, that partnership would just not work. I don't think you alone are the problem here, even though you are the woman and in a sexist society the women are supposed to do all of the emotional work in hetero relationships, apparently. I don't know, OP - it just feels like you are taking SO MUCH of this emotional work on, when there are actually two people involved. I think you need to be kinder with yourself.
posted by hush at 9:50 AM on February 1, 2015 [39 favorites]

I think it's not much about accepting him but accepting yourself and growing up.

I used to be critical of my spouse, because I was critical of myself. Do you notice the more evolved a person is, the more they rarely comment on the behavior of others?

The thirties can be a tumultuous time. After all this time we are still figuring out how relationships work. We are competing with our peers and trying to prove something. Some of us are insecure with our abilities. We are still learning to like and accept ourselves. When you near forty you'll realize it's almost too late to prove anything and wonder what you were trying to prove in the first place.

Regarding intellectuals: I am not an intellectual but find that the best kind of intellectual is a person who can still relate to the Average Joe. I hear it all of the time on the radio. An intellectual will be featured. A listener will call in with a semi-incoherent comment and the intellectual will respond respectfully and insightfully. When you're in your forties you will cringe at the fact that you ever looked down on people for their lack of intellectualism. I'm 42 and these are the things that really matter (to me anyway): Love, kindness, respect, fun. And, saying no when I don't want to do something instead of going and becoming resentful.


I used to be miserable at times in my younger years. Bullying with my my moods, even though I would never dream of bullying anyone, it was still bullying. You could call it pouting. It was immaturity.

Part of being a grown-up is putting your game face on if you choose to go out. Just like it's part of being an adult to behave professionally at work or kindly with the in-laws. You can choose to never pout in a social situation again. And being kind when you don't feel like it helps you to grow as a person. You always have a choice.

Choice 1. Be miserable, pout, take your moods out on others. Fail to look at the big picture and outside of your feelings.

Choice 2. Honesty. "I don't feel like going out tonight. I may need to skip the concert."

Choice 3. Go with the flow. Enjoy. Lower your expectations.

Choice 4. Go out with intellectual friends instead of hanging out with drunk guys.

Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 9:55 AM on February 1, 2015 [12 favorites]

Married 21 years on Thursday. There are things he does (not the way I would do them) that drive me nuts. Over time I have learned to let them go because fighting about them is horrible and makes us both feel bad. I have come to see them as his quirks and I smile about them now. He does the same for me.
posted by harrietthespy at 10:09 AM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm noticing that the stuff that brings about these blowouts is all about social interactions, friends, and outings.

I think it's important to remember that while you guys love each other and see a lot of each other, you're not the same person. You don't have to hang out with his friends that you don't like, or go to outings you don't feel like taking part in. You don't have to be connected at the hip, and in fact it's best for the relationship in general if you guys have your own lives that aren't 100% permanently intermingled.

It is absolutely fine for you to say, "Oh, Steve is coming to this thing? Look, Steve's a nice enough guy and I'm glad he's your friend, but to be honest he really grates on me. I think I'm going to stay in tonight." It's even OK for you to say, "So I know I was excited to go see Mouse Rat when we bought the tickets, but I've had a long week and I'm just not feeling up to it. Can you give my ticket to a friend?"

Make sure you're not automatically vetoing any socialization with his friends, and you're not saying no to every single activity he ever proposes -- and if you find yourself doing that, at that point it may be time to evaluate whether this is the guy for you -- but if it's an occasional thing, that's frankly a more mature and respectful way to have a relationship than the trope of the wet blanket girlfriend who always wants to go home.
posted by Sara C. at 11:19 AM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am trying to square this,

but he isn't the sort of pretentious intellectual I always imagined for myself. He parties more than I do, and has a few friends in his friend group that I find immature, intoxicated and obnoxious. Sometimes his sense of humor is less sophisticated than I would have loved, etc.

with this,

But on the whole, I love him and want to be with him.

That is not love. You may love the imaginary version of him that doesn't include the less sophisticated sense of humor, or circle of friends he has, or uncompelling activites; but that isn't the actual person he is. As Beethoven's said, these are things which are connected to the core that he is and he has every reason to feel threatened and protective of himself from you.

Also, be frank with yourself and stop hiding behind diagnoses. Your feelings about him and his life also come from the core of who you are. "He isn't the sort of ______ ______ that I always imagined for myself." This certainly sounds like something that has been long deliberated on and an output of lots of self reflection, and not a byproduct of depression or obsessive disorder. Sometimes, (but certainly not always) writing-off the most ugly parts of our thoughts and behavior to a factor or context we have deemed beyond our control (as evinced in: "I assure you that's not the case for me, as I've been diagnosed with relational OCD and that's probably just never going to be the case.") functions to hide the truth and gain power in a relationship. Because the flip side is, if your dislike for his life and personality isn't a mere result of your psychological issues, then you are just a judgmental, condescending partner that gets left because there is no pretense for him to let the behavior slide on.
posted by incolorinred at 11:58 AM on February 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

help me by telling me how you personally grew to accept people as they are, please

It helps me to see a person's negative character traits as part of the full package, just like their positive character traits are. Here are some examples. (I'm not a big dater, so my examples are non-romantic, but hopefully still helpful.)

1. My mom turns into the world's biggest bitch every holiday season (sorry, Momma). She wants everything to be just right - the perfect presents, the perfect holiday meals, etc. - and it stresses her out and makes her mean.

I reframe her holiday grouchiness in my head. It's not about her crabbiness, but about how much she loves us all and wants to make us happy. And, in exchange for some December bitchiness, I get a mom who always makes sure I know how much she loves me; who gives incredible advice; and who tolerates the fact that hunger makes me a bit of a monster.

2. My best friend in the world can be a bit of a one-upper - the type where if I mention that I worked a 10.5 hour day at work, he will respond by telling me about the 14-hour days he always works.

I haven't figured out a way to reframe this one - I'll admit that it does bug me. But in exchange for this annoying habit, I get to have a best friend who will happily grouse with me about anything under the sun (I am sort of complain-y, so this is important to me even though it probably sounds stupid) and with whom I'm content to just "be." We don't need plans or anything...just hanging out is the most fun for us.

3. A good friend at work can be a little condescending - she knows A LOT about a subject that interests me but in which I am still an amateur.

I remind myself that what I sometimes read as condescension is just me projecting my own insecurities...I am smart, and I don't like being less-than-knowledgable in an interesting subject! And, in exchange for dealing with this trait, I get a friend who is a blast to hang out with and who loves to have intellectual conversations about a range of topics.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:17 PM on February 1, 2015 [11 favorites]

As someone who has this same problem, I really appreciated TryTheTilapia's suggestions of ways to keep yourself from expressing inappropriate reactions. Being annoyed with how your partner does things is par for the course. I have a very hard time not being a -#&$% about those things, nitpicking and complaining, and those are the things I need to change, not my actual feelings/ beliefs.
posted by metasarah at 1:23 PM on February 1, 2015

this has been a problem recurrently with partners, and I need to address the problem, not the partner.

To address the macro part of your question, I'm sure you know intellectually that there are no "perfect" partners or "perfect" relationships so maybe you are sabotaging these relationships for some reason, using this lack of perfection as an excuse to do it.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:49 PM on February 1, 2015

My partner is smart and curious, but he isn't the sort of pretentious intellectual I always imagined for myself.

I think often what we imagine for ourselves, and what we truly like and need are two different things; and that a huge part of growing up and settling into ourselves is making peace with this.

I would work on separating what you think you want from what's actually working for you, and to divorce pretension from intellectual ability. As the Rolling Stones say:

Well, no, you can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need, baby
Rolling Stones - You Can't Always Get What You Want

Smart and curious is nothing to sneeze at. Einstein was smart and curious ...and irreverent and relate-able. Not particularly pretentious. Personally, pretension in my book is an insult and I find it insufferable; most people that I think are pretentious are insecure and overcompensating for some perceived lack. Conversely, I've known some very intelligent, intellectual, extremely accomplished people who were confident in and comfortable with themselves and sound a lot like your partner. They were curious, relaxed, silly, funny, had a raunchy sense of humor... I would bet the appeal of pretension and intellectualism is that you find it validates *you* as someone smart by proxy. As you like yourself more and relax and gain confidence, you might find you go easier on your partner too. Have you seen the recent documentary on Stephen Hawking? He was pretty goofy when he was young!

I agree - stay with him for now, and work through some of this and see what happens.
And yes, for heaven's sake - if he has friends you don't like or other hobbies, just don't go! I'm happily married for almost 8 years, and good lord some of my partners interests are uncompelling... Cricket, anybody? There is no way I'm going to 5 day Cricket, or 1 day Cricket, or even 1 hour Cricket! He's on his own with Marvel Comics and Lord of the Rings too, for the most part. Likewise, my interest in photography, crocheting, baking, and coding doesn't rivet him either. Naturally there's also a bunch of stuff we do together. There is no one right perfect partner... only lots and lots of work. If you have fun and you're both willing to work, then I say hang in there a bit longer! Kudos to you for acknowledging your own poor behavior and asking this Q!

I really enjoyed this article on The Medium on How to be Polite for handling your own behavior. I'm working on this too. Oh, and meditate.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:40 PM on February 1, 2015 [7 favorites]

I need to stop having these nights whenever we're doing something he wants to do and that I find uncompelling - help me by telling me how you personally grew to accept people as they are, please

In my opinion, you're framing this wrong. The question is not "how can I accept him how he is?" unless there's something not included in your question. The questions are:
- How can you both recognize and support your need not to do things you don't want to do?
- When you start to get annoyed, how can you keep it from escalating to the point where you do something semi-inappropriate?

I mean, you got up and sat behind him because he spoke in your ear too loudly? You couldn't just say "ouch, that hurt my ear," and he couldn't just say, "oops, sorry?" This isn't "accepting who he is," this is about not being at the end of your emotional rope so that you don't overreact.
posted by salvia at 4:37 PM on February 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

At times, and generally when my depression is better, I love and accept him as he is. Other times, I can get crabby, bitchy, and unpleasant. This happened about a month ago at a concert I agreed to and then felt tired. I just gave him shitty attitude and repositioned myself behind him for yelling too loudly in my ear rather than asking nicely, for example. It happened a few nights ago hanging out with a friend of his I find unsavory. I just behaved in a sort of cold, annoyed, and unappreciative manner, and it's starting to wear on him.
It's okay to be tired or bored or cranky. You're human. Humans sometimes have shifts in mood, and it's entirely fine that you agreed to go to this concert thing and then later weren't feeling it. As a fellow moody person, I totally get that. But consider why you felt the need to hang around if you were feeling like crawling into bed. Did you think he would be mad if you cancelled? Is there anything about his behavior that would lend this conclusion a rational basis? Have you talked to him about things like this before? Like, "Hey, boyfriend, I know I agreed to go to this concert with you and I really want you to enjoy it, but I feel crappy and I think I'd rather stay home. Is that okay?" If presented in neutral language, would he be receptive to you leaving him and his friend at the concert in this case? You don't have to come across as a big party pooper, just leave if you're not having fun. You can't control your moods, but you have %100,000 more control over your self-presentation than you are allowing here.

I get the OCD/anxiety angle too, more than you know, and maybe yours is worse than average, but everyone has some traffic cones to swerve around on the road of life, and it's your job as the driver to work that out ahead of time to ensure a mostly smooth ride for your passengers. I don't believe the dictum that nobody who is depressed/anxious/OCD/has any problem whatsoever should be allowed to date. I think if we all followed that rule, the world would be a lonely place. But you do have to do the work of figuring yourself out before you can be good to someone else, and it bothers me a little when you say in your final sentence that you don't feel like you have any control over your own behavior. I can't tell if you're being a bit dramatic or if you really truly feel like you're out of control. If the latter, please seek professional help. If the former, please stop the negative self-talk and realize how much control you really do have here.

Finally, about the friends: you really can't make someone give up their friends. This is a pretty common issue that comes up in relationships, unfortunately, and I've never known of a case where one partner actively discouraged the other partner from being friends with someone and the end result was not enmity and bitterness all around. You are not going to get what you want here.
posted by deathpanels at 4:55 PM on February 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

he's neither as intellectual nor as sophisticated as I'd like or expect

To echo beethoven's sith, i don't think it's fair to him that you date him with this level of resentment there. Regardless of you how you personally view those feelings and that statement, that is pure poisonous contempt.

You should not date someone you feel this way about, and in fact, go ahead and tell him you feel that way if you break up so that he can use it to get over you more quickly.

I'm rarely outright offended by the attitude someone takes towards their partner in posts on the green, but wow. That's so beginning of college early-20s pretentious that it hurts my brain that you're 30 and still slinging that jive.

I did actually engage with your post too. I wrote and erased a much longer post about how at times i feel like your guy, on the other side of this relationship... but i know my partner doesn't feel this way about me, even if she can act a bit like you(especially with the friends part) at times.

There is absolutely an event horizon of resentment. It's sort of a two pronged thing. You can pull out of the tailspin if there isn't that "ugh i'm the smart superior one why can't they just be smart and intellectual in the ways i deem highbrow like me?" and just the behavioral thing, and probably vice versa with the silly party behavior with their friends as well. But both? I, and this is my personal opinion obviously, do not think you can repair that. Your opinion of him and way of relating to him is so full of malice and contempt that it would take an amount of time to fix that ends up making it about you, and your ability and want to change, rather than being fair to him.

If my friend was dating you, and you confided in me that you felt this way, i would tell them so they could break up with you. I've kind of been in that position before, actually. The feelings you have towards him and the way you're acting is blatantly unfair to him, and if you want to work on not acting this way you should do it on your own time by yourself. I don't think you really like him, i just don't think you're willing to accept the idea that you don't, because you look at the relationship like a 20 point inspection from a repair shop and go "oh, well if it's only a couple hundred bucks to fix these two things why would i get a new one?"... except that's not how it works, and these things run a lot deeper than you seem to be taking them.
posted by emptythought at 8:00 PM on February 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

Two things I think are crucial here: gratitude at being in a relationship and a sense of personal freedom. They go hand-in-hand. It sounds like you have defined yourself as incompetent in the arena of intimate relationships, and that therefore, it doesn't really matter who you are with. I don't think you can accept your partner until you accept yourself. In my somewhat textbook understanding, in relationships we have an opportunity to reclaim parts of ourselves that we have tried to annihilate by loving these aspects in our partner.

So yeah, I agree that this is one of those questions that can't be answered, only unasked -- and I suggest that you research codependency, and begin to consider how much you are looking to another person to uphold your own sense of identity.
posted by macinchik at 9:55 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

From your post I'm wondering if you two are even right for each other. Some of the things you mention about him are very distinct personality traits that someone is either compatible with or not. And who someone's friends are does say alot about them. But it's hard to tell just from a post on the internet whether it's really a compatibility issue or not.

In any case I've heard Mindful Loving is a great resource for exactly the sort of thing you're looking for. I haven't read it yet, but I'm borrowing it from a friend next week.
posted by rancher at 10:27 PM on February 1, 2015

After reflecting on this some more, there's another thing to consider in this.

Lots of people have brought up that you don't need to go hang out with his friends you don't like, or go to concerts(or stay if you don't feel up to it), etc... but why did this feel mandatory in the first place?

Are you, or is he, working from some template of what may even be voiced in arguments as a "normal relationship" and think that if one of you goes out with friends then you have to bring/go with your partner or it would be "weird" or something? Because this seems to be a fairly common belief and thing a lot of people buy in to, and it's totally toxic.

It isn't weird if he goes out with his friends without you, nor if you don't want to stay and go home. It seems like a weird thing to state, but there are definitely quite a few people who think it's just intrinsically true and that their relationship is somehow moribund if they don't accompany on those outings, or leave early, or whatever.

If you or him has some kind of belief along the lines of "it's weird and abnormal if i don't come along on a group outing and will either feel excluded or be openly missed" you need to get away from that. It's a pretty toxic relationship poison in and of itself. And i bring it up because having been in a fairly similar situation myself, that was a big part of it.
posted by emptythought at 11:43 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think acceptance is the key idea here, but it has to be a broader kind of acceptance. Not just accepting a handful of characteristics about your partner, but accepting and being open to everything he is, including that he may not be for you. This is not advice to walk away, necessarily, but rather to think with an open mind about all the possibilities before deciding that you are in.
posted by BibiRose at 7:27 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't know if you really need help accepting him so much as you need to accept yourself and your preferences. You don't like his friends. Why would you want to be in denial about that or suppress that feeling? Your energy level seems like it was too low to go to that concert -- why don't you pay more attention to how your body feels and say no when you really don't want to tag along with him?

You don't like his sense of humor. What exactly do you think acceptance can do to change that? Do you think there's magic dust you can sprinkle that will make you start laughing hysterically at his stupid jokes? Either you find the man funny or you don't. You don't. Can you accept that? If you can accept not finding him funny, then you stay with him, obviously. Maybe you can get your humor needs met elsewhere: a friend with smarter/better jokes.. or regular trips to a comedy club.

To me it sounds like your "blow ups" are instances of you being passive aggressive about not enjoying yourself doing stuff you didn't want to do in the first place. Be more honest about what you want and how you feel so you can avoid getting yourself embroiled in situations you find unpleasant.

Sometimes my girlfriend asks me to tag along to stuff I don't want to go to and I go because I can still have a good time because I will be with her. But in other cases, I know I will NOT have a good time even if we go together for any of a dozen reasons: I'm too tired, there's something else I'd rather do, I'm in a bad mood, or I'm not wild about the group of people that will be there. And sometimes she says no to my "tag-along" invitations for the same reasons. The trick is to not take this personally and to allow each other to be separate people with different preferences and energy levels and interests that very often align but sometimes don't.

As for him not being as "sophisticated" or intelligent as you would prefer.. I don't know what to tell you. At the end of the day, you sort of have a sense as to whether you generally like someone or whether you don't. People are a bundle of different qualities and behaviors .. Quality X in Person A could be TOTALLY ANNOYING whereas in Person B, it just WORKS because.. well, the chemistry of that relationship is just better, or another quality compensates, or your in a different place in your life than when you thought Quality X really mattered, and now you just don't care about it nearly as much as you value Quality Y..


Person A is SUPER SMART, funny, but a psychotic asshole.

Person B is elegantly sophisticated, amazzzzzzzingly witty but a commitment phobe.

Person C is smart, occasionally witty.. and pretty intelligent and skilled in a lot of ways that you are not.. they also happen to be sexy and sweet and kind and stable and not psychotic or an asshole or a commitment phobe.. you both laugh your asses off together and have your own shared humor that no one else could possibly understand.

Let me tell you.. when I was your age I thought I wanted a SUPER SMART person, only to realize that my definition of "smart" was really stupid, actually, and after dating a lot of SUPER SMART people, I realized that many of them are not smart in the ways that matter to me.. so I realized that what I don't need SUPER SMART. Smart is perfectly fine for me.. I do well with people who are generally intelligent and have some deep/specialized knowledge of whatever their area is.. people who can understand the things I find interesting (without my talking down to them) and people who can also teach me things.. But what I don't need is to date Einstein. Einsteins are often very disturbed people.
posted by Gray Skies at 8:08 AM on February 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've had a similar dynamic before with my (absolutely wonderful, won-the-damn-lottery, how anyone can love me and treat me so well is beyond me) partner--I can only take some of his friends in small doses for similar reasons, and he is not the motivated or as you say pretentious intellectual type I thought I'd wind up with either. When I get upset and react poorly, it's almost always for reasons like you've identified--I've agreed to go along with something and act like it's fine with me, then when it's actually time I dislike it (which if I'd paid more careful attention when saying yes I would've realized I didn't want to do) and get crabby and resentful (like, doesn't he know by now I hate doing this thing?! But of course not, if I keep passive aggressively agreeing to it!).

I agree with the suggestions to tactfully but purposefully limit your time with his friends and do more "front loaded" thought out planning about how you want to spend your quality time together. Draw boundaries and be ruthlessly honest with yourself about what you actually want to do with him and what you don't.

His point about feeling humiliated in public is definitely valid, so try to cut that off at the pass too by formalizing in your mind a rule that if you do get upset with him, you have mechanisms in place to keep your cool in public until you can talk privately at home or whatever.

The other thing is...are you guys able to constructively and calmly communicate at times about conflicts like this? Or is it never approached head on in a comfortably safe manner, only comes up when fighting and angry? I think some of this depends on how he reacts when you broach your concerns when you aren't angry. I know that I would have a much harder time dealing with my partner if I didn't know that, when I am calm and talk to him about things that bug me that he does or doesn't do, he does his best to truly listen and work something out together. I've had exes who evaded tackling conflict (the classic ways, defensive shut-down, turning things back on me rhetorically, flat out refusal to engage, vague promises to make the conversation end and then nothing happens, no concrete steps taken) no matter what the situation or mood at the time, and feeling totally unable to be heard or discuss anything drove me batshit and well, yeah, they're exes. If your partner's committed to being together the way you sound like you both are, part of that's dealing with conflict and trying to work out plans to prevent blow ups later. Hopefully he's down with doing that work and hearing you? A good example would be, when you explain kindly but firmly you would like to spend less time with his friends (you, not him of course) and why, him getting that, getting past any kneejerk defensive "you don't care about meeeee" type stuff.
posted by ifjuly at 11:21 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Before I answer, I feel like it's necessary to tell you that I've shared parts of my relationship model on the Green, and it seems like it gets equal parts approval and disapproval. Some people think either it's too much work or too mechanical; I'm ok with that, because it works for us, and maybe some part of it will work for you as well.

My partner and I are both deeply flawed people. To make things work, we have a couple things that we try to keep in mind:

1) I tend to be hypercritical, so I remind myself that everyone has things their partner does that drives them nuts. I don't love the fact that he plays a ton of video games, but then I remind myself that it's his time to do with as he pleases, and that he could be out doing things I really don't like.

2) He's a huge introvert, to the point that if he could figure out how to order in everything he'd need to survive, he'd probably never leave the house again. It used to be that he would agree to do stuff with me, then cancel at the last minute, over and over and over again, which got to be really tiresome. I finally pointed out to him, that one of the benefits of having a partner is having someone with which to do things, and an escort for events like weddings. We finally came up with a system that works for us:

1) Non-negotiables: family and close friend weddings fall in this category. So do things that involve expensive tickets that he agreed to ahead of time. And close family funerals - he hates funerals, but if it's a one degree separation relative, he's going.
2) This is really important to me (RogueTech) events: certain parties, other family events.
3) I wouldn't mind the accompaniment, but you don't have to come with me: everything else.

Non-negotiables are pretty rare, and happen only a few times a year. I spend my "Important to Me" points on things that are really important to me, and let the rest slide. It does mean I do things more often than I originally expected with friends or by myself, but that has actually worked out well. I've strengthened friendships and gotten to enjoy doing things by myself, which is a good thing. And he has, without fail, gone to every single one of the non-negotiable and Important to Me events since we came up with this system five or so years ago. It helps me because I know that he'll be there when I really need him to be, and it helps him because he knows it's not going to be a huge number of things that I'm asking him to do. This also means that he can be "on" for people easily because he knows it will be awhile before he has to do it again, so overall it works out really well for us.

The other thing that really helped me? Realizing that I wasn't as awesome a catch as I thought I was. There's no way to say it beyond the truth, which makes me sound like a really self involved person (which I can be), but about 6 months ago, I realized that anyone wanting to date me would have to put up with a lot of crap, and I don't always make it worth his while to put up with that crap. So I basically needed to eat a whole big slice of humble pie and realize that I was just as flawed as he was.

And finally - reminding myself when I'm getting grumpy of all the good things, the good things that I only get with him, helps quite a bit when I need to talk to him about something that's bugging me. Remembering that I love his quirky sense of humor that fits so well with mine, for instance, and holding it in my mind can help me be a lot more pleasant when we need to talk about things that are bugging us. Basically, remembering that we're a team and he's not my enemy - that we're looking for a solution together instead of "winning".
posted by RogueTech at 11:38 AM on February 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

At first I didn't think I did, but the more I think it over I kind of agree with kinetic too. In that, I can and have been vibrating with anger about partner conflict with my husband...but even then, even then it's always possible, nay, probable one of us will say something silly and soft and kind in the midst of our angry conflict and it will break the tension and we'll laugh and even hug despite our discomfort and anger. Like. I always know we're both working towards coming together during our conflicts--we want to be on the same team even when angry, and our distress is partly from having that severed temporarily, and our efforts are towards coming back together. I did NOT feel that way with some of my exes. So there is...I don't know if I'd say "love" exactly, feels like a loaded term that can be different things to different people, but there's a connection that even anger and conflict can't break, and when that connection hasn't been there in the past with others things ultimately died because the conflicts felt insurmountable. So perhaps the sifting and soul-searching people have suggested is indeed important.
posted by ifjuly at 12:03 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

but he isn't the sort of pretentious intellectual I always imagined for myself. He parties more than I do, and has a few friends in his friend group that I find immature, intoxicated and obnoxious. Sometimes his sense of humor is less sophisticated than I would have loved, etc.

Is it possible that you're worried you're not the "pretentious intellectual" you've always imagined yourself to be? People, especially intelligent people, can enjoy a wide variety of experiences and contexts. Those who need to strictly police themselves and their intimates to match an ideal tend to have their ego tied up in projecting a certain image. They might be worried they don't make the cut.

You say he's smart and curious. You imply that he is not pretentious while you are. If true, that means you are not the sophisticated one, he is. You're striking a pose, he's just authentically able to be smart in his own skin. Maybe you can re-frame this as instead of you settling, it's a chance to learn a better way of living from a loving partner.
posted by spaltavian at 1:11 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking about your question all day, maybe because some of the answers made me bristle. Truthfully, I was bristling out of defensiveness because I relate to your question. I hope it's okay if I talk a little about my own experience, as I think we have some parallels. I don't think you're expressing resentment towards your boyfriend. I don't think you're not right for each other (I think you're a much better judge of that.) It sounds like you love him and want to access a deeper intimacy with him but your brain is holding you up. My brain holds me up too. I get very worried about whether or not I'm feeling the Right Feelings at the Right Times. I compare who I'm with to the idea I had of who I'd be with and when the two don't match I get pretty existentially freaked out. It doesn't mean my boyfriend isn't right for me or that yours isn't right for you. Maybe they are and maybe they aren't, but it's impossible to tell when you're wrapped up in your own expectations and analysis and judgements. For me, this has a lot to do with how available my boyfriend is to me (my therapist told me she thinks I'll be ambivalent about any man who's truly available to me, and I'm inclined to agree because she's much wiser than me.) I'm not constantly chasing my boyfriend so I have the room to really ask myself if I want him. That question brought up more than I thought it would, about who I think I am and what I expect my life to look like. I don't know if yours is the same situation but here's what helped me:

I sit with my doubt. It might sound counterintuitive and it's incredibly scary, but I let myself see and acknowledge my darkest most doubting thoughts. What thought scares you the most? "I don't love my boyfriend"? "I could never marry this person"? "Deep down I'm the one who's unlovable"? Think them. I found I was fighting my feelings because I thought acknowledging them would mean I had to break up with him or something. But I thought those thoughts and I told my therapist and nothing bad happened. In fact, it robbed those feelings of their power. They became a part of the complex feelings I have as a complex person - they're the shadow that my love casts, they're my brain trying to protect me. I try to be honest with myself and honest with my boyfriend. I tell him when I'm irritated and when I'm having trouble connecting. I do the work to figure out what I need from him and then I ask for it.

I suggest you take some time to examine your expectations for your partner and your life. I'd guess you are similar to me in thinking you could write a long list of what you wanted in a person and find someone who matched the list and then be happy. But what I've found is that I have to toss the list and face myself and the person in front of me. He's not what I expected, so he opens up parts of me I'd never expect. You can find someone who fits the plan or you can challenge the plan itself. I'm finding a happiness that includes imperfection and ambivalence and I think you can too, if that's what you want. Maybe down the line I'll realize my boyfriend isn't right for me, but I don't think I'll regret the work I did to make myself more open, more complex, more grounded in the reality of my life than in my expectations.

Please feel free to memail me if you'd like to talk about this more.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 5:36 PM on February 2, 2015 [12 favorites]

I am in the same camp as RogueTech---we have a standing rule about events involving printed invitations (he must come) and events for which I explicitly say it is really important to me. But the understanding goes both ways. I can make him come if it's important, but he trusts me not to play that card unless it really IS important, and I trust him to not complain he will miss me if I say it is NOT important he come, but that I want to go without him.

This was hard-won, and we needed help to get there :-) Both of us had baggage of different kinds. What has helped him mellow a lot was when I pointed out to him that the behaviours he most beats himself up for afterward are the ones he has criticized other people for doing to him. So if it is not okay for people to treat him that way, how can he justify doing it to someone else?

As for me, most of my annoying behaviours are insecurity-based, and he generally gets the best results by responding with humour. I get into a fear spiral where I can see myself becoming annoying, can't stop it from happening, and start to think wow, if even I am disgusted with Myself right, how can he stand to be around me? Which goes very quickly into 'well, of course he surely can't, so he will leave me, and this will confirm all my worst fears about myself' and so on. He can sometimes halt these by making a wisecrack about the village of Crazonia, oh my inauguration ball for my presidency of Crazytown.
posted by JoannaC at 7:58 PM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Are we sure that the phrase "pretentious intellectual" is not a slip of the fingers whilst typing, or a misuse of the word pretentious?

Because in my world, pretentious is a negative descriptor, and would be used to define a person I would quickly move away from at a get together, a person I would find it uncomfortable and undesirable to be around ... so I'm a little flummoxed by the discussion( s) about the OP's desire to have this quality in a partner.

Sorry, I'm just stuck on this character trait as a desirable one to be pining for.
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 6:21 PM on February 3, 2015

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