Help me learn how to girlfriend
November 23, 2016 1:01 PM   Subscribe

My new boyfriend's not a big communicator in-between dates -- I want him to be. Is this normal? How do I fix this? Can I fix it?

I (female, late twenties) have been dating my boyfriend (mid-thirties) for three months now. We met on a dating app, and in the last two weeks we've exchanged I love you's, DTR'd, I met his parents, the whole shebang. For the most part, I feel pretty secure with everything.

We see each other about 3-4 times a week (which is fine/great with me) but when we're not together, we don't really talk -- maybe a couple of text messages here and there, but it's usually just to make plans for the next time we meet. (Same thing with the phone). I've tried initiating more conversation when we're not together (via text) but he'll usually respond once, I'll comment on his response, and then it's over. Sometimes, we'll go a day or more without speaking.

My problem is, I don't know if this is normal or not. I've been in some pretty codependent relationships where we both were texting, gchatting, emailing, and calling everyday. I don't necessarily want that again, but I would appreciate more frequent check-ins/phone calls in the vein of "How was your day?" However, it feels really weird asking someone who ostensibly wants to be in a relationship with me, and has said I love you (he said it first, if it matters) to do this; shouldn't he want to do it, without me prompting him to do so? If I have to ask, is the relationship really even meaningful to him? (This is my anxiety brain talking, but I can't figure out if it's reflecting reality or not.)

I'm growing increasingly insecure about this, but I really don't know how to bring it up without sounding like a nag. I know he's not big on text messaging -- I overheard him talking to a friend about it -- but phone calls or emails would be just fine with me. It's gotten to the point where I feel nervous about contacting him for any reason because I don't know if he'll be annoyed(?) or not? And on the other hand, it seems pointless to be in a relationship with someone who you can't call when you want to...

I should mention -- when we're together, it's rainbows and butterflies and sparkles, he tells me he loves me every time I see him, and he's generally just incredibly sweet and affectionate. When we're not together, though, I feel really disconnected.

What do, Metafilter? I'd especially love to hear from people with similarly noncommunicative boyfriends...thank you. (And FWIW, yes I'm in therapy).
posted by themaskedwonder to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Chill. You guys see each other 3-4 times a week and he's clearly crazy about you. That's more important than texting and calling which he admittedly isn't into. I would try and cool off on this issue before raising it with him.
posted by pintapicasso at 1:08 PM on November 23, 2016 [14 favorites]

Yeah, you can't really "fix" someone. They are who they are. You can let them know that you prefer certain things, and their willingness to adapt to your preferences might be an indication of their overall feelings for you, but not necessarily.

It's helpful to think of your differences as the quirks of two people being individuals and not a problem that has to be resolved.
posted by Fister Roboto at 1:15 PM on November 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

Everybody's individual communication style is different. He's not wrong for not being chatty, you're not wrong for wanting more chatting. There is no normal. Problems arise when there's a mismatch in communication style and it's left unaddressed so one or both parties start to harbor resentment about it.

So just tell him. Tell him with words (in person next time you see him) what your communication preference is, ask him what his is, and see if you guys can find a happy middle ground.

This isn't A Talk, this isn't a big deal, this is just simply stating your needs and preferences and learning more about each other.

Talk about your feelings early and often; it'll head off any opportunity for bigger problems to arise later.
posted by phunniemee at 1:19 PM on November 23, 2016 [18 favorites]

My problem is, I don't know if this is normal or not.

A bit of a cliche at this point, but there's no "normal." But, if it helps, having anxiety and dating a person who isn't on the higher end of "communicative" (which, IMO, is where you want to be but not necessarily where he wants to be) can be trying and difficult.

Anxiety also creates little goblins like "he's not calling me because he doesn't want to spend time with me" and "he'll be annoyed if I call" and so on, and then reinforces itself until you're in a loop where you're afraid to call a person who regularly tells you that he loves you. It's okay to ask for compromises in general and it's okay to ask for compromises because you get anxiety reliably over certain things. You're not going to be able to get along in any relationship without somehow compensating for it (either on your end, his end, or, preferably both.)

The thing to do at this juncture, in my opinion: pick a satisfying way that he could communicate with your more regularly than he does and ask him for it, and be prepared to compromise. If you say "I want you to call me every day I don't physically see you," be prepared to accept "how about every other day?" and seeing if you can deal with it. If you can't, take it from there.

If he makes a stink about it, or gets very clearly annoyed with you (you didn't actually mentioned whether his getting annoyed was a 'real' thing or not, and, with anxiety, it's super hard to tell when someone is actually annoyed at you, so I don't blame you) then that's a red flag and take it as such, because these sorts of negotiations and compromises are the foundation of a functional relationship.
posted by griphus at 1:25 PM on November 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

I come from a family where my parents, before they retired, phoned each other a good half dozen times a day. That's what I grew up with as the "normal" way a couple communicated.

When my husband and I got together, my mother was absolutely aghast that a whole workday could go by without us speaking (unless there was some immediate need to communicate a logistical fact, like he would be home early enough to pick up the kids, or me asking if we needed milk). Sometimes, if one was also working an evening, we might not speak to each other for 24 hours! For years she had me convinced that there was something very wrong with my marriage.

You know what? There really isn't. We have muddled through nearly 20 years now saving our actual chatter for when we're together. It's fine! It doesn't mean he doesn't love you. It might just mean that he prefers in-person communications.

All that said, I completely concur with the advice to Just Talk About It. You need a little more check-in than he does. It's OK to ask for it!
posted by gateau at 1:28 PM on November 23, 2016 [10 favorites]

Talk to him about it. If he refuses to communicate more often, it could be nothing, or maybe there's some less innocent reason.
In my experience, people want to be with you, talk with you, etc., or they don't.
Don't assume everything is fine. It might not be.
posted by signal at 1:30 PM on November 23, 2016

It's unclear to me whether you actually want to talk to him more in between dates, or you feel worried about what it means about how he feels about you that he's not providing that to you. I think it's important to figure out which it is, because you'd do different things to address them.

If it's the former and it's important to you, then yeah, just ask him, he can choose to do it or not, and you can use that information to decide whether this is a good fit for you.

If it's the latter, it might be more useful to identify it as a worried thought ("if he really liked me, he would text me X times a day") and address it on your own. My favorite strategy for this is identifying evidence for and against the thought, but limiting it to evidence that would stand up in court. You have a lot of evidence "for" the idea that people who REALLY are into someone text them daily because all of your past partners have shown their affection this way. You can use me as a piece of evidence "against"- I don't always send daily texts to people that I really like, and it doesn't mean I don't like them. You can also act like a lawyer about it...if he texted you once a day, would that mean he doesn't love you, whereas texting 3 times a day means he does? Exploring this might give you more information about what you're worried about and help you really reason out the thought.
posted by quiet coyote at 1:32 PM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

You just described my husband.

He has a one track mind. Not THAT way dirty mindeds! But whatever he is doing, that's what he's doing and it wouldn't strike him to do or think of anything different. So at work he's all "WORK" and will never call me unless 'something happened' (that has upset him or affected what time he's going to leave/be home). He will mostly answer if I call, and is happy to talk, but it wouldn't occur to him in the midst of his work thinking that he should call me. The reverse is true, when he's at home he's "HOME" and our kids never have to deal with Daddy leaving the dinner table in the middle of their story because he suddenly remembered something and had to call work.

When we were dating we only saw one another once a week, due to work schedules and family considerations (i have a child that isn't his and didn't want her hanging out with him until I was sure we were going to work out, so he only saw me when she was with her biological dad). In between we had one long phone call a week and a nightly back and forth "goodnight" text exchange. I almost always instigated the goodnight.

How did I fix it? I didn't. It's not broken. When he is with you is he 100% "with" you? Focussed and loved up and interested and present? That's how he does it. By being a single minded kind of guy. He is not ignoring you when you're apart, he's just directing that powerfully singular attention on other stuff. Boring stuff. Job, home, life stuff.

It has never bothered me. He always sent me a very sweet reply when I texted goodnight, he called me every other time, by arrangement, for our long phone call (as in when he was leaving on a Saturday afternoon I'd say "I'll call you on Monday" or "call me on monday?"). I tend not to count who texted whom or when or remember "who's turn it is" because I have a more chaotic and full on communication style. If I wanted to talk I called and if he didn't respond I called back later. I think if I want to talk it's on me to reach out and that to believe that someone's deep and resounding feelings about me are better revealed through how much they call or text rather than by how they treat me face to face is madness.

However your approach/needs aren't wrong. It might be that you have a mismatch in this area, and it might be that once you live together it will evaporate. I married mine and he talks to me every day. ;)
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 1:33 PM on November 23, 2016 [8 favorites]

Give it time. My husband was like that when we first started dating and after a while it grew into nightly phone calls. Sometimes we called just to say we had nothing to say!

So: if you feel like calling then call him. It's OK to call.

If you still find yourself feeling anxious, imagine a future where you're married to him and see him all. the. time. So much so that you don't panic about a single text message. In fact you wouldn't mind an evening to yourself once in a while. That time comes, if you relax and let it happen. You'll wonder what you were worried about.

Try to relax. it sounds like it's going great!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:35 PM on November 23, 2016

I'm a texter and I feel better in relationships with texters but some people just aren't. Use your words and talk to him about it and figure out what you need. I've had people where I'm like "sometimes I'm thinking of you and want to just make a little contact so just send an emoji back or something." You really just need to figure out what you actually need in this respect and talk to him about it.

I have a good friend who never responds to texts and it drives me crazy, and eventually I found out when he and his girlfriend started dating it was a big fight between them. So I've since stopped caring if he responds or not, since it's obviously just how he is, but the relevant part here to you and your relationship is that he makes an effort to respond to his partner because it's important to her. I know it took a long time to get there.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 1:39 PM on November 23, 2016

To me that sounds like a perfect relationship!
I would love to see my boyfriend 3/4 times a week, much better than constant texts while you are both busy.
posted by akita at 1:51 PM on November 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

However, it feels really weird asking someone who ostensibly wants to be in a relationship with me, and has said I love you (he said it first, if it matters) to do this; shouldn't he want to do it, without me prompting him to do so? If I have to ask, is the relationship really even meaningful to him?

When I am not with my husband, like if I am on a business trip or something, I do not randomly text him or email him. My husband. The person to whom I have pledged my undying love and devotion and endowed with all my worldly goods.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:54 PM on November 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sometimes my husband and I go a day without communicating too, and we live together. If I'm travelling we may go a couple days without actually speaking/texting/emailing.

99% of our electronic communication (including phone) is need to know stuff. We don't chitchat. If he texted me good morning every day I would divorce him in a heartbeat.

That works for us. We BOTH prefer it this way. You need to decide if this works for you because "fixing" him isn't a long-term solution.
posted by magnetsphere at 1:57 PM on November 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was like this. It's pretty normal. If you want him to respond more, text him stuff that requires a response. Like, a question or whatever. If it goes
You: What shall we do Saturday?
Him: See [film]?
You: Yeah sounds great!
Then there, to him (and me, at that point), the conversation is done. The goal was to organise Saturday - job done. If instead of "Yeah sounds great" you'd said, "Is that any good?" or "OK. Oh, I saw [other similar film] last week have you seen that?" then you would get a response. When you're new to a relationship it can be hard to know how to do the small talk stuff, especially on text - whereas a more specific question is easier to reply to.

"He has a one track mind. Not THAT way dirty mindeds! But whatever he is doing, that's what he's doing and it wouldn't strike him to do or think of anything different. So at work he's all "WORK" and will never call me unless 'something happened' (that has upset him or affected what time he's going to leave/be home). He will mostly answer if I call, and is happy to talk, but it wouldn't occur to him in the midst of his work thinking that he should call me."

This was similar to me.
Eventually the woman I was dating (who I'd also met via online dating) said she'd like to hear from me more between dates and I should initiate more messages. I eventually was able to get myself to do text small talk more, and initiate more conversations.

Anyway, 9 years later we're married with two kids. I text her way more nowadays than she texts me.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:58 PM on November 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

So, I find almost all of my anxiety (perhaps yours, too) is formed around some sort of externality that I cannot entirely control. Then I always fixate on my somehow being able to make it all better, even if I can't—making it more my problem than I need to.

I'm finding that I can go in three good directions from there, nowadays: I can actually do something about it, but let myself calm, before acting out of a peaceful mind; I accept that some things are simply out of my control to a certain extent; or, I ask myself what's got me so worked up about this worry in the first place, and if it's need, validation, etc., I can give some of that to myself.

Really, see if you can catch yourself in the act of getting worried! Be ready to disarm those feelings of needing or lacking with a reminder of your own life, and your wonderful relationship. Your trust in him will get better over time. Hold him in esteem first :)
posted by a good beginning at 1:59 PM on November 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm in a somewhat similar relationship and I completely understand your feelings. As others have said, there is no actual "normal" - just what feels normal for you and what feels normal for him. People have different communication styles and expectations.

So this part: shouldn't he want to do it, without me prompting him to do so?

I know what this feels like, and I do it too, but I have learned the hard way to stop thinking like this. Don't start ascribing motivations to his actions without talking to him. It could just be his style - he's not a phone person. It could be he has issues reaching out (my SO does - for valid reason - he dealt with a lot of rejection growing up). It could just be that he's very single-minded. It could be he has no idea how important daily communication is to you, and would be happy to change. Etc. You HAVE to talk about this.

Just ask him some questions: what does normal communication look like to you? How do you feel about having contact every day? How much is too much?

Here's an actual conversation I had with my SO:

Me: It would be nice to know you think of me when we're not together. You're awesome when we're together, but when we're not, I feel like I'm out of sight, out of mind.
Him: Huh. I think about you all the time! Sometimes I'll hear a certain song, or eat a certain food, or etc pop into my head all throughout the day.
Me: So could you message me or call me sometimes, when that happens? Just to say hey, thinking of you, miss you, whatever.
Him: Hmm. I never thought of that, but sure.

And now he does! It was a conscious effort for him at first but now it's become a lot easier and he does it enough that I no longer feel anxious. He was willing to make the effort because he knew it was important to me.

So: ask for what you want, listen to what he wants, and see if you can understand each other better to meet each other's needs. This stuff isn't particularly hard (your BF can put a nightly reminder on his phone, for example) so if you're both motivated, you can find ways to make it work. Good luck!
posted by yawper at 2:01 PM on November 23, 2016 [10 favorites]

I promise not to threadsit here, but just a quick comment -- I'm sorry about the "fixing" language, which I fear has become a point of contention in my Ask. I don't want or need to "fix" him -- I want to figure out how to either be less anxious about his lack of communication, or address my needs with him head-on. Thank you for all of your suggestions so far; they're really helping.
posted by themaskedwonder at 2:08 PM on November 23, 2016

It's totally normal for MY relationship.
My friends used to laugh when I would show them my phone and the wall of text messages I sent to my husband which were responded to with only the letter "K" as his response.

We're just not big texters and that's MORE than fine with me because we communicate well in other ways.

Sometimes he surprises me with a random text, and I have to say, that means a lot more to me than it would if he was texting me non-stop all day!

Don't worry about feeling disconnected when you're not with him if he's giving you everything you need when you ARE with him.... that's more important as far as I'm concerned.
posted by JenThePro at 2:13 PM on November 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I'm like your boyfriend, except that I DO text/call sometimes, mostly when I'm avoiding something and don't want to concentrate. If I'm in a good place mentally I tend to spend time with people when I'm with them and focus on other things when we're apart. I am incredibly bad at the expectation of attending to my work/school/errands and also keeping in touch with people around the planet unless I'm doing some pretty hardcore avoidance.

It's healthy! (I mean, it's healthy to do it another way if that's how your brain works, but it's not a bad sign that he lives in the moment.)
posted by stoneandstar at 2:28 PM on November 23, 2016

OP further to my "this is my husband" above - I just sent a four paragraph whatsapp to my dad updating him on an on going therapy/benefit situation with my youngest child, who is disabled, and detailing two failed approaches and a final huge success.

His response? "Good. x"

So I am giggling now, and you might want to look at how your other loved ones communicate as perhaps that is what set my very relaxed standards. Maybe that will help you understand and address the anxiety?
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 4:22 PM on November 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

My SO is not a big talker or texter and one thing I realized early on is that a lot of the time, he doesn't understand I'm trying to have a conversation as opposed to just communicating a fact or observation or something. I have the same issue with other people (I think it's just filler/small talk, they are actually trying to have a conversation) and I at least some of this comes down to the context of the communication.

Please don't conflate frequency with meaningfulness or connectedness, though. Those things are not related.
posted by sm1tten at 5:18 PM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

This amount of communication is normal to me, and personally I would be wary of getting too much into exploring it at 3 months. It would feel a bit intense to me, and tbh I'd feel as though it was an issue you needed to resolve (in therapy?) rather than an expectation you could reasonably make at 3 months. Not because it's bad or anything, just because I think at that stage I'd expect a bit more independence from both of us as it's still early days for working out where things are going.

Having said that, it's probably quite a bit about how you deliver it. I quite like yawper's script.
posted by jojobobo at 10:50 PM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older How contagious is shingles?   |   Is there an effective unscented hard water remover... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.