Long distance boyfriend is emotionally distant after an argument
September 20, 2016 12:04 AM   Subscribe

My long distance boyfriend of a year was seeing someone else when first started dating. This information came out recently and caused a rough period and a few arguments about trust. He’s been with me most of the last few weeks to work through it, but now he’s gone home. He’s become distant and I don’t know where the relationship stands. What should I do?

When the information about the other woman came out, I felt hurt and betrayed and my trust in him was shaken. In the past few weeks, he has spent a lot of time staying at my place to work through it. At times when we argued, I was irrational (demanding information about the other woman, sending multiple argumentative/emotional texts to him in a row). I was angry and I didn’t always make the best decisions to defuse the situation. He was generally calm during these arguments. By the end of his time here, I thought we’d got to a pretty good place. I am over whatever happened in the past and I trust him. I thought we left things on a happy note, with plans for me to go and visit him soon.

Until this issue came up, the relationship was great. I really love him and he clearly loves me too. I want this to work out. We’d just been on holidays together and were feeling closer than ever, and we’d been talking about him moving here for us to try living together.

During arguments while he was here, however, he mentioned a couple of times that he felt homesick, that he didn’t feel like himself and that he didn’t know what he wanted. It seemed that while I was over the trust issue, he wasn’t over the fight itself. He had said he was scared about moving and it became clear that the instability caused by the fight made this fear even worse. The night he got back home, he sent me a few messages to the effect that he needed space to reconnect with himself and that he didn’t know what he wanted.

He’s been home for three days now and I can just feel that something has changed. We used to send each other funny little texts throughout the day and have marathon phone conversations at night. Now if we do message each other, they’re short, polite texts about our day. The affection seems to be gone. We haven’t talked on the phone. I’ve told him I will respect his need for space and have been trying to do that by not contacting him unless he contacts me first. If I think of something funny I want to tell him, I stop myself because I don’t want to pester him.

This is really hard for me, as I have an anxious attachment style. I generally need a lot of reassurance that my partner loves me and wants to be with me. I also like to talk through problems and not have uncertainty hanging over us. I think communication is especially important in a long distance relationship.

My boyfriend has more of a tendency to be avoidant, needing space to sort through his feelings and figure out what he wants. He has spent a lot of time focusing on me and my feelings in the last few weeks, and being supportive and understanding. So I understand that now he might be drained and need to recharge, and have some time at home to reconnect with friends, family and hobbies. While I want to respect that need, it’s hurting me and making me anxious. I feel like the person I love doesn’t want to talk to me. I jump every time my phone goes off and it’s not him.

How long should I let this go on? Should I say anything to him or just let him come around in his own time? Or do you think this spells the beginning of the end?
posted by wreckofthehesperus to Human Relations (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You seem to be waiting for him to make a decision. This gives him control of your life, and by extension, your feelings. I think you need to figure out what you want. You say that communication and trust is important to you but you're with someone who essentially cheated and lied by omission to you and is withholding communication right now. He seems to be the opposite of everything you said you're looking for.

How is it that he is the one who destroyed your trust but you've somehow ended up being the one left waiting with bated breath to find out whether or not he wants to be with you? Seriously?

If I were you, (assuming you want to give this another shot) I would basically have a timeline in my head of how long I was prepared to wait. Everything about this guy screams that he's just not into you, the other woman, the long distance homesickness, the avoidance. It shouldn't be this hard. I would either make him work to earn your trust or draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough, you're either in or you're out, but either way don't be jerked around. Take back control because right now he has it all and he knows it.
posted by Jubey at 1:03 AM on September 20, 2016 [19 favorites]

I was irrational (demanding information about the other woman, sending multiple argumentative/emotional texts to him in a row). I was angry and I didn’t always make the best decisions to defuse the situation.

I have an anxious attachment style

Sorry to say but you've given him plenty of reasons to call it quits. When you started dating, he was not committed to you so there's no reason why he couldn't see other people as well. Presumably, he's made up his mind that he chose you over her (or them) and yet, months later, you find out about it and make an issue of it. Frankly, to me this is more than enough ground to put an end to the relationship.

Or do you think this spells the beginning of the end?

Yes. Absolutely..

And I suggest you leave him alone. Let him contact you first, then gauge from his reaction whether this is worth saving. The more you appear needy, the more likely he is to withdraw. Find something else to occupy your mind. And perhaps start working on being less anxious.
posted by Kwadeng at 1:04 AM on September 20, 2016 [10 favorites]

"He had said he was scared about moving and it became clear that the instability caused by the fight made this fear even worse."

Uhhh, this instability wasn't caused by the fight. It was caused by the fact he lied to you about having a girlfriend when you two first started dating. Don't let him change the narrative.

Unfortunately, I think it's over for both of you. Long-distance relationships are challenging anyway and DEPEND on communication in order to thrive, even more so than normal relationships. Right now hes shutting you out. How can you expect this relationship to thrive when he's not even communiticating with you?

That doesn't even take into account what appears to be a very unhealthy figthing style: avoidant meets irrational.
posted by Brittanie at 1:06 AM on September 20, 2016 [26 favorites]

If you haven't already done so, reread your post several times. Good on you for finding an outlet, venting on MeFi. You have a good beat on the situation. There was a past issue that brought everything you're both dealing with to the forefront and now wounds are fresh and as cliche as it is, it just takes time. I suspect if he really loves you and is able to let himself feel that love, you two will be sending silly texts once again.

I can relate to you on being a talker and someone who needs reassurance. Such a beautiful thing to receive open communication. It feels so safe emotionally. Do you think you can work to become okay with not receiving it as much? I have also been that kind, patient man who sits through irrational attacks in the name of making my partner feel safe emotionally and that takes a toll. Throw in lifestyle doubts and it can be hard to recover. You feel taxed and draw inward. I think he's there but that's okay. Keep giving him space to have his reality too.

I don't know if I have any good advice. You seem smart enough to know what's needed and you seem emotionally, intuitively tuned in so you're probably doing better than you think. I will say there is a deep, gut feeling that if we listen to it, tends to lead us to where we need to be. That universe driven intuition is the thing so however it's telling you to act, do so. Either way, I'm rooting for you both and I wish you well.
posted by AdjectivePanda at 1:08 AM on September 20, 2016

And to add to kwadeng's comment, you might consider therapy. I know it's AskMe's standard answer, but therapy doesn't mean there's something wrong with you that needs fixed. Therapy will help you learn to communicate your own needs more effectively, to ask for what you want instead of coming into relationships with insecurity and codependency as a prerequisite, and to know how and when to leave if your needs aren't being met. Because right not, they're not.
posted by Brittanie at 1:09 AM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Until exclusivity was explicitly stated, I always understood that anyone I was seeing might be seeing other people at the same time. I was seeing other people when I met my associate and until we agreed to exclusivity I went on dates with other people, even went on a trip with someone I was seeing.

I can understand why your boyfriend was hurt and perhaps put off about your reaction to there having been someone else he was seeing when you two first got together. It would have been a huge red flag to me if a potential partner were to be so upset about a previous relationship. Perhaps he'll get over it, perhaps he won't. It sounds like he's sending a pretty clear message that your reaction to the past freaked him out a bit and made him feel overwhelmed. Give him the space he's asking for and perhaps prepare yourself to move on with your life.

In the future, honest and open discussions about exclusivity should always happen early to avoid more hurt feelings. Some people want to be exclusive from the get-go and not date more than one person at any given time, but I think you'll find that the majority prefer not to limit things in the early stages of dating. You have to have these (often uncomfortable) discussions about relationship statuses and exclusivity in a frank and open way.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 1:33 AM on September 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Thanks so much for your insightful answers so far. I don't want to thread-sit, but left out two salient bits of information: 1. I'm receiving therapy for my anxiety and relationship skills (and have been for several years) and 2. the previous relationship was more of a problem for me because he had lied about matters related to sexual health/safety.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 1:43 AM on September 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

I was going to post agreeing with those who said that exclusivity is not an assumption you can make when you start dating people.

After reading your update, I'm left wondering exactly *what* the issue is that you are/were upset at him about. Specifically what did he do? And why in your OP did you focus on the fact that he was seeing someone else, rather than saying he lied or he exposed you to STI risk? Are you afraid if we knew the details we might side with him? Why be cagey about it?

In any case, your response wasn't helpful. If he did something heinous, it's within reason to dump him. Or to pull back your emotional investment a bit to see if he's really who you want to be with. But people don't respond favorably to being harangued, inundated with texts, etc. It sounds like you already know that that isn't the way to resolve anything, but frankly it also sounds like you are minimizing your role in what's transpired recently. It is quite possible you have pushed him away by your behavior, in which case all you can do is learn from the experience and be more deliberate next time you encounter trouble, about how you resolve it.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 2:47 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

You should apologize for your behavior, slow down the relationship and double down on therapy.
posted by SyraCarol at 5:17 AM on September 20, 2016

Dating is the time to learn about each other. He just learned about your argument style. You emerged from (a few weeks?!) of working through it refreshed and feeling like you two are in a good place. He seems to have emerged from it exhausted and questioning.

Maybe he is worrying about how much he will have to grovel when he really does something worth groveling for if it takes weeks of it for something that was not so much a betrayal of you, but of his prior girlfriend.
posted by cecic at 5:57 AM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

You got mad because he put your health at risk? That seems like an entirely appropriate response. His lies put your health at risk! Perhaps your anger made you act in a way that you'd prefer not to repeat. Cool. Work on changing that. But don't let this obscure the fact that he did something pretty egregious here.

From just reading your description, it's hard to tell if he's no longer interested in being in the relationship with you. I'd suggest you have a session with your therapist about ways that you can reframe this for yourself to take back control. Work with the therapist to decide if YOU want to continue the relationship and, if so, how long you will wait for him to end his pouting. This is all good practice in deciding exactly what you want in a relationship and how much compromise is healthy and comfortable for you.
posted by mcduff at 6:31 AM on September 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

definitely lied about his relationship status (not single!) and then under-reacted to the hurt he caused you, and now he's gone silent, further hurting "I was angry and I didn’t always make the best decisions to defuse the situation. He was generally calm during these arguments."

Sure he was calm! He deceived you and caused a lot of drama and got caught! He could afford not to get upset in the sense that his reaction to your justifiable upset just made you look and feel worse, didn't it?

He definitely lied about his relationship status in the beginning (not single!) and likely lied to the woman he was dating when he met you, then he under-reacted to the hurt he caused you when you found out, and now he's gone silent, further hurting you.

Sadly, I think you will be better off if you break up. He's not a good communicator, he plays games (see: not a good communicator) and he is deceptive (see: not a good communicator + plays games.)

You deserve better and he's just really really immature. I'm sure he loves you, but he's not emotionally old enough to be in any sort of relationship. You have reasonable expectations for honesty and communication that are actively not being met (but the honesty failure is the deal breaker IMHE) and you are better off quietly ending this relationship and moving on. I'm sorry.
posted by jbenben at 6:49 AM on September 20, 2016 [11 favorites]

Also, Nthing Brittanie so so hard.
posted by jbenben at 6:52 AM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Needing space doesn't mean you can't sometimes text him a funny thing. It seems like now you're reflecting back the polite thing and trying to give him space, which is cool. However, sending him a funny thing or two each day isn't demanding and might get you both to remember what you like about each other. In other words: keep being your cool self, even if you're feeling insecure.
posted by ldthomps at 7:03 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

When my boyfriend and I hit a rough patch and both realized that we were not communicating well with one another we did some couples therapy for a while. It was a tremendous help. We both became much more comfortable with each other about addressing difficult issues, conflict, annoyance, emotionally weighty topics. We were not even a full year into our relationship when we did this. It was a big conflict and it could have ended things. It took us many weeks to initially heal and we're still practicing and getting better at handling challenging conversations nearly two years later.

As cecic said, the early months of dating are when you learn a lot about people and you both learned a lot about how you communicate expectations and how you argue. Some rough stuff was uncovered. You are both left feeling shaken and unsure. This doesn't have to automatically lead to break-up if you take the time together to unpack the various feelings and behaviors and see if you can learn how to better handle future challenges in the relationship.

Three days is not that long (though it can seem like three years in dating time, especially when you're anxious). I think you can give him a two more days and then call him (no texting for serious conversations) and say something like..."I've been thinking a lot about how my feelings could have been expressed better and how we can do better in the future when it comes to talking about challenges in our relationship. I think we would benefit from some couples therapy, what do you think."

Don't rehash the past argument, there's nothing you can do to change the past. Simply acknowledge that things didn't go well in that argument; that the communication could have been better, but now you want to think about the future and learning from this experience.

There's no guarantee this will work, but it might help.
posted by brookeb at 7:25 AM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

He betrayed another woman and lied to you about it, and

At times when we argued, I was irrational (demanding information about the other woman, sending multiple argumentative/emotional texts to him in a row)

sorry, I think something got clipped out. What irrational thing did you do or say?

I am not sure if it is conducting arguments or having emotions that you think women, or girlfriends, are not permitted to do, but I assure you both are completely legal and morally acceptable.

p.s. he's awful
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:43 AM on September 20, 2016 [18 favorites]

"I feel like the person I love doesn’t want to talk to me."

It must be painful to see that and even though it is an understandable response to try make it into your 'thing' instead of his actions, it can help to formulate thoughts and report factual observations without downgrading them to feelings. You abandoned your right to talk to and text him at will because you decided it's only ok for you to respond and reply, not to initiate. The power has to be his, because of his feelings, right? But then the responsibility for his power has to be displaced onto you, because of your feelings? Somehow, no matter who has issues, no matter who has feelings, it's for you to figure out, you to manage, you to accommodate.

"he clearly loves me too."

Well. you feel that he clearly loves you. The "I feel" retreat can be pretty brutal if you apply it evenly. Your division of his behaviors into real facts versus your deprecated feelings is all apportioned in his favor: his intangible love is real, but his measurable treatment of you is just your feelings. For balance, somebody should be interpreting everything in your relationship that same way but in your favor, not his. And he's the one who would be doing that, if you were totally right.

This is the thing about bending over backwards to cherish and prop up someone you love and think about all his thoughts and feelings and find the most generous way to see everything hurtful he does: it's not wrong! It's a wonderful way to be. But it only works, it only ever works, if he does that for you too.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:59 AM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am confused. The first few posts make reference to this being non exclusive and a lot of folks have run with that which I was also going to do, but ... that's not in the original post. The follow up is also very vague but seems to contradict that idea.

To me the devil is in the details here.
If you were in a committed relationship and he was sleeping with someone else that's just cheating and time and his chill attitude don't change that.
If you were just casually dating and disclosure of other partners wasn't part of the deal and you are retroactively mad, that's a very different situation.

I understand how these can feel the same but they aren't. In a situation where tempers are lost and communication breaks down "who's right" actually does matter. This isn't about compatible attachment styles, it's about whether this dude cheated on you.
posted by French Fry at 11:36 AM on September 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

I have the same question as French Fry. This is sort of one those ask Vs tell culture things, and also something that's read different by different people and seems to sometimes depend on the gender(s) involved. Were you exclusively dating when this happened, or just "hanging out" and going on dates-dating?

2. the previous relationship was more of a problem for me because he had lied about matters related to sexual health/safety.

...Which may make the first thing a buried lede. Were you sexually exclusive, or not using protection, or something here?

I feel like critical information has not been provided, and that a lot of answers here are jumping off of what people feel, rather than what the actual story is.
posted by emptythought at 12:03 PM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

If the scenario was actually Option 3: You were just casually dating and he said he wasn't sleeping with anyone else so you should totally not need to use condoms and then it turned out he was lying? He's scum. Stop waiting for him to contact you and start working on moving on.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:06 PM on September 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yeah, it's not really clear to me that YOU are the one who's wrong here. I'd be mad as hell too if someone I was dating was sleeping with someone else while sleeping with me. And I wouldn't feel like I needed to be calm and rational when telling them why I was angry with them. Having big emotions about something doesn't make you irrational. I think maybe this relationship is on the rocks because he wasn't committed to it in the beginning and may not be committed to it now, not because of you.
posted by MsMolly at 12:49 PM on September 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Let's say there was some dishonesty on his part. (Otherwise it was just one of those transitions from non-exclusive to exclusive that can get a bit bumpy, but he seems to have bought into the idea he did something wrong by being willing to have this long hashing-out.) Anyway, there is conflict, the first serious conflict of your relationship, and it turns out you don't handle that in compatible ways. I am guessing the fact you are long distance has postponed a stage you usually reach after 2-3 months in a relationship, where you decide if you are going to move forward with it or not. It's starting to look like both of you have reasons not to want to move forward. And being long-distance also exacerbates the communication difficulties you are having. Is this how you want to live? A lot of people decide long-distance is not for them, with fewer problems than this.
posted by BibiRose at 1:25 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Even your follow-up is very vague and, like other posters, I'm having a difficult time parsing exactly what went down, and how. If you've been equally vague with him, small wonder that your boundaries may have been transgressed because he didn't even know what those boundaries were. I am confused by your question and your clarifying information alike.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 1:34 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

When you started dating, he was not committed to you so there's no reason that he couldn't see other people as well.

Why in the world is this assumption the basis of a pile on? It's emphatically not an objective truth. It's just some peoples' opinion, and it's no more or less valid than OP's wish to have been informed.

This isn't a clear situation where dude was dating casually, he may have been ending a previous relationship. Some people's relationship building preference is to keep the one you're ditching on hand until you're sure you've got something 'better'. Nobody deserves that.

Even if it wasn't the case, OP's preference for being informed is valid. He can see other people in either case, but it's not kind to lie to someone.

OP, dump this fucker. Find someone whose values are compatible with yours.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 1:48 PM on September 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

Regardless of who is wrong here, your attachment styles seem gravely incompatible.

When my ex and I would argue, my reaction used to be very much like yours - several emotional texts at a time, tantrums, demanding explanations - basically wanting him to feel as shitty as I did. It would take a couple days to blow over, and in the end I'd feel like we were in a good place, and he'd feel exhausted. Sometimes I was wrong, sometimes he was. His reaction was almost exactly like your dude's: creating distance and needing space. We weren't even long distance. I have since been in therapy, and while I have learned to curb my temper, there are reactions to things that my current (amazing!!!) boyfriend does not bring out in me.

Needless to say, that relationship turned toxic, and today he is my ex. In hindsight, although we loved each other dearly (we were the cliche close friends who lost our friendship because we dated), we were just not compatible as a couple. We had very different argument and attachment styles, and even though the relationship was amazing during the good times, the bad times sucked so bad it was draining. No relationship can sustain peaks so high and valleys so low.

This to me seems very unhealthy and foreboding. I would move on.
posted by Everydayville at 4:14 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thank you again for your answers so far, I'm gaining a lot from them. I'm sorry for the lack of clarity in my OP. I had skimmed over details to focus on the current situation rather than the initial fight, but it's clear more detail is required. It was not my intention to be misleading.

We were not exclusive when he was involved with the other person and I had no right to expect exclusivity, sexual or otherwise. However, we had a discussion that we were not having unprotected sex with anyone else, had been tested and it was safe to have unprotected sex together. This was not true.

My feelings of betrayal came partly from this lie and partly from (probably unreasonable) jealousy and hurt that we hadn't been exclusive even though we hadn't discussed it.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 6:39 PM on September 20, 2016

However, we had a discussion that we were not having unprotected sex with anyone else, had been tested and it was safe to have unprotected sex together. This was not true.

he clearly loves me too

This guy prioritized getting his rocks off in his preferred manner over your health. He certainly didn't love you then. Maybe he loves you now, I don't know.

I wouldn't bet on it, though. He's somehow made the argument about him hurting you (in a very serious way) into him being hurt about how you reacted. Screw that- if you're not allowed to be flaming, incredibly angry at your partner when he puts your health in danger, when can you be?

Dump him.
posted by BungaDunga at 7:26 PM on September 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

However, we had a discussion that we were not having unprotected sex with anyone else, had been tested and it was safe to have unprotected sex together. This was not true.

Ok yeah that's a violation of trust and terms of consent. Dump this motherfucker and move on with being awesome and not a lying creepier. You are not the party in the wrong. What a douche move to make you feel like what is wrong is how you responded to this. such bullshit.
posted by French Fry at 5:18 AM on September 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

Your update does not change the fact that he lied.

Nope right out of this. He's not on your side, he's not even in favor of an honest successful relationship with you.
posted by jbenben at 5:20 PM on September 21, 2016

Thank you all for your responses. The relationship has ended and I keep coming back to these comments to help me get through this tough time.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 5:56 PM on October 20, 2016

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