Is 3 hours too long before calling my boyfriend back?
February 1, 2017 7:36 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend expects me to call/text more often, or at certain times. I get busy/distracted or, being a mildly anxious introvert, feel like not talking to anyone at the moment. His feelings get hurt in a bad way, because he feels I don’t have a longing to connect with him, so he feels neglected and unloved.

This has been happening pretty often in my current relationship.

I’ve tried explaining to him that this is my way, and doesn't mean I don't care. And even though I’ve made an effort to be more reachable over the phone, and text or call him more often (he agrees, there’s been a positive, even if not enough, change), there will still be times when I simply cannot have the same phone attachment intensity as he wants me to.

The latest episode, today – we talked at lunch for about 10 minutes, then he had to go back to work, so we agreed that he will call me when he gets home from work (4 PM). At that time I was cooking two complicated recipes at once, one of them being a cheesecake, all from scratch, because he was going to come over tomorrow, and I wanted to have these things for his visit (which probably makes me a bit more resentful than I should be – I’m slaving away for our common good, and you are giving me hard time about calling). Also, I had to feed and take care of animals outside and I don’t bring my phone with me when I do that (let’s say I live on and run a small farm).

Being caught up working outside, and also trying to time various steps of the recipes, I missed his call, and could not call him back until 7 PM, at which time he actually called me himself, as I was about to dial him. He was pissed. He said I don’t care to talk to him. That I should’ve at least took 5 minutes and sent him a text saying that I’m busy. I kind of thought about doing that, but then kept thinking, well, I’ll properly call him after I finish this, then it turned out to finish this I need to do that, etc., time went.

Throughout the call, I decided not to get angry/upset with him, like he already was, and was staying positive, saying things like, Honey, I just got caught up in my things (explained the things). I do want to talk to you. I enjoy talking to you. I just wanted to call you at a time when I really had time to talk and not when I’m scrambling for some ingredient addition or what not, or taking a 5 minute break. He wanted me to apologize, but I said that I don’t feel sorry for not calling him back for three hours, because I feel that this is quite normal for me to be distracted like this, and quite normal in general. As long as I can explain why this happened and not just thoughtlessly ignored his call. Ugh.

So he hung up on me saying that I should call him when I truly do want to talk to him. I actually don’t feel like calling him later this evening, because I don’t want to encourage this behavior, but then I feel that if I don’t, he will take it as proof that I don’t care about hurting his feelings, and heartlessly don’t want to talk to him.

This dynamic keeps happening despite my efforts. So I have two questions. Am I being insensitive and need to step up my phone action (will be hard for me to do, as it’s not typical for me to be tethered to my phone, but I can make more effort I suppose). And, what can I tell him, besides what I already have, to convince him that this is not abnormal, not to call back for 3 hours when one is busy?

I love him, and want to try and make this work.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (58 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Your boyfriend is 90% in the wrong here. Yes, you could shoot a quick text and say that you'll call later, but there was no reason for him to get mad about this.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:39 AM on February 1, 2017 [25 favorites]

He sounds very controlling. Do you think he is?
posted by cakelite at 7:43 AM on February 1, 2017 [23 favorites]

Ugh, this clingy and demanding behavior might work for some people, but it'd be a dealbreaker for me. Don't try to change your essential nature for anyone. It won't work and it's not fair. If he's not able to accept the accommodations you're able to offer, this isn't going to work out and you might as well move on.
posted by lakeroon at 7:44 AM on February 1, 2017 [25 favorites]

"he feels I don’t have a longing to connect with him, so he feels neglected and unloved."

"I actually don’t feel like calling him later this evening, because I don’t want to encourage this behavior, but then I feel that if I don’t, he will take it as proof that I don’t care about hurting his feelings, and heartlessly don’t want to talk to him."

Reads to me like his fears are pretty accurate, that you're actually not all that thrilled about staying in touch with him.

He's showing you his fear and vulnerability, his worry that he's not desired and valued, and his desire for connection with you, and you're getting angry at him in return. Doesn't bode well for a good outcome.
posted by Sublimity at 7:47 AM on February 1, 2017 [19 favorites]

Typically in relationships where two people have very different opinions on things where neither is objectively wrong or right, they compromise somewhere in the middle. Neither you or him are wrong in your preference on phone calls. People feel differently about it and that's how it is. It seems like you are expected to do all the compromising here. Why can't he change his expectations a little to meet you in the middle?
posted by monologish at 7:48 AM on February 1, 2017 [10 favorites]

You guys scheduled a call and then you missed it.
That's a bit rude actually.
I think that you and he need to talk about communications expectations. It seems as if you each have very different expectations and some compromise could be made to help you meet in the middle somewhere. You might want to wait until this episode has cooled a bit so you can talk about it in a matter of fact way.
posted by sciencegeek at 7:48 AM on February 1, 2017 [45 favorites]

If you both love each other and want it to work, you both have to find a way to make it work together. Compromise.
posted by mountainblue at 7:50 AM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sounds like he is acting a bit possessive. I can only imagine living with someone that behaves that way.
posted by JayRwv at 7:51 AM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

your dynamic being what it is, I am just going to touch upon the technology potentials that could - if you desire - consider as helpers towards communication. My SO walks around the apt with her headphones on as she talks to her mom or sister. She does this to keep her hands free and still be able to chat. Have you considered this? Also - although I do not know too much about android phones - I know that Siri (iphone) is particularly helpful to me as I can just say "send message to X person" then dictate the message and have it sent practically handsfree. This also works for "call X person".
posted by alchemist at 7:51 AM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would be miffed if my boyfriend didn't pick up when we had an arranged time to talk, and probably worried that he was ok (especially if living alone in a rural area). However, as soon as he answered and explained that he was fine and just busy and caught up in everything, that would be the end of it because he had a totally legitimate reason for blowing me off. I would still be a little upset, but at that point it would be on me to forgive and forget.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:51 AM on February 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

He does sound a bit controlling. But you did ageee to talk at 4pm. Some people feel that a phone call is a commitment, like an agreement to meet for coffee. If you were 3 hours late for that, it would be very disrespectful. If you want to keep the relationship, you could do better at understanding this and sending a text so he's not left wondering what happened. I think the real problem is that he's trying to pin you down for something as small as a phone call, when you are going to see one another the next day. It sounds like he is making some pretty aggressive demands of your time and you haven't had success negotiating this with him. Try to make your communication with him about this problem direct. Your 3 hour delay in getting on the phone with him was understandable, but passive aggressive, regardless of if you intended for it to be.
posted by pazazygeek at 7:55 AM on February 1, 2017 [10 favorites]

I do think that the fact it was a scheduled call is different than if you weren't expecting him to call at 4. You could have put off starting your complicated recipes until he called, maybe. Or texted him before you got started and said "hey babe, I know you're planning to call when you're home from work but I need to get going on this food for our dinner tomorrow and taking care of the animals. I'll call you later this evening instead." (Add some "I love you" or emojis or whatever.)

In other cases where you are not expecting a call, it definitely seems reasonable to not call back for a few hours if you are busy, and in that circumstance his behavior would feel needy and stifling.

I do understand there are some people who just aren't tethered to their phones at all times, and it sounds like you are one of them. I don't think you should be expected to be literally "on call" for him always, but a text here and there to let him know you're thinking of him would probably help. If you're already doing that and it's not enough, then it may be that you guys just can't meet in the middle on this.

I sympathize with you! I hate talking on the phone - it feels like a chore, even when it's with someone I love, and that makes me resent feeling obligated to do it, which makes me feel even less like doing it, and it's a vicious cycle. I'm lucky to have found a partner that feels the same way I do, although we do IM and text throughout the day a lot.
posted by misskaz at 7:57 AM on February 1, 2017 [38 favorites]

I'm much more at your end of the communication spectrum so I'm going to be biased in your favor. (Like, my best friend in the world and I regularly forget to text each other back for days at a time.)

I think that missing his call was a little rude. BUT, if this sort of thing is so important to him, he should have calmly and politely explained that it really matters to him and asked you to do better going forward. His reaction was WAY over-the-top. Why is it that you get ripped a new one for minor rudeness, but it's okay for him to treat you poorly in turn?
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:57 AM on February 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

so we agreed that he will call me when he gets home from work (4 PM).

This is the key line here. This question isn't really about clingyness or possessiveness, it's about OP not picking up at a mutually agreed time. OP, imagine if you had planned an in-person meeting at 4pm and he not shown up and not texted. Wouldn't you be a bit miffed? Phone calls are the same thing.

And then when the boyfriend said he was unhappy about it, OP shrugged it off. I'd be a little unhappy in the boyfriend's position, too.

If you agree to do something, anything, for anyone, and then don't do it and follow up, a small and sincere apology is in order.
posted by mochapickle at 8:00 AM on February 1, 2017 [61 favorites]

No-one who, in restrospect, truly cared about and respected me, has ever hung up the phone on me. It is a profoundly rude and controlling thing to do and, in my view, should only be deployed in extreme circumstances. Even if you feel the conversation/argument isn't going anywhere, a brisk "let's take a break and talk about this later, ok?" is still warranted.

I agree that you are at fault here too in terms of the original disagreement, but for him to hang up on you over it is a flag of some colour, in my view. Don't let him use behaviour like that to control your conversations, or you.
posted by greenish at 8:03 AM on February 1, 2017 [16 favorites]

There are two issues in your post.

1. Your partner seems to be a bit too needy with the contact thing.

2. You made an agreement to talk at a specific time and then blew it off for reasons.

I don't know what the answer is to #1, it would be a dealbreaker for me probably.

For #2, don't agree to talk at a time when you know you won't be able to (presumably you knew you'd be cooking and you knew you had to tend the animals). If you set a time to talk but something comes up that prevents it, then it's courteous and respectful to let the other person know, regardless of whether they have issues about communication or not.

I get really focused when I cook and I don't like getting food smears on my phone, but it takes literally seconds (not 5 minutes) to wipe your hands and send a text saying you're busy and you'll have to call later.

You wrote "This dynamic keeps happening despite my efforts." Being available to talk when you agree to, or letting the other person know that something came up, is the single most standard, easy-to-do solution to any of the problems you have around this issue you share with your bf.

Bottom line though, this sounds like a fundamental and possibly irreconcilable mismatch in communication styles to me.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 8:05 AM on February 1, 2017 [12 favorites]

I would be very worried and pretty pissed if I told my husband that I would call him around a specific time, and he didn't pick up or bother to call or text me for 3 hours. And if this happened repeatedly, I would get angrier and angrier each time. I can understand the feeling that I'm not a priority in this life if he couldn't even follow up on a basic agreement.

I don't think I am overly-controlling or demanding, I think I just have a different understanding of time and of commitments than you do. It sounds to me like you and your boyfriend have a disconnect there, where he puts a certain value on phone calls and pre-arranged conversations, and you don't. This does sound like a disconnect that is a big deal to your boyfriend. That doesn't make you a bad person.

I don't know, maybe this does go beyond a disconnect, but it's impossible to tell from one anecdote. Were you spending all this time cooking because he expects you to do that when he comes over?
posted by muddgirl at 8:06 AM on February 1, 2017 [15 favorites]

Yes, a scheduled call is a scheduled call. But as much as he seems to want to talk to you, your boyfriend is not listening to you. You prefer less phone time. You don't keep your phone on your person all the time. You want to get into whatever zen work-zone you're in, whether in the kitchen or the garden or presumably the office. All of these are valid.

My first suggestion to you is to respect your boyfriend's preference by being available when you say you will be available. My second suggestion is to dump this guy if he doesn't respect your preference for not being tethered to your phone all the damn time.

Keyword in both suggestions: respect.
posted by headnsouth at 8:07 AM on February 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

He wanted me to apologize, but I said that I don’t feel sorry for not calling him back for three hours, because I feel that this is quite normal for me to be distracted like this, and quite normal in general.

I think this is the problem. You stood him up for a phone call then refused to apologize, essentially saying, hey, it's fine for me to get distracted when we had an appointment? I think hearing this would have made me unhappy if I weren't already. If you had an appointment and you stood him up, even if it was completely understandable, you should apologize for standing him up, not say hey, it's normal to stand people up, I was busy. Your standing him up + lack of apology does seem to send a message about valuing him, even if you don't mean it to.

You two may be a mismatch. He may have unrealistic expectations about contact levels (and I'm not a fan of demanding apologies or hanging up on people), but you may be too unreliable for him.
posted by *s at 8:08 AM on February 1, 2017 [26 favorites]

Rereading my comment, I'm not arguing that you have to be at his beck and call and jump every time he says he wants to talk. But if he says, "I'm going to call you when I get home from work," then it is respectful to mention, "Babe, I'm going to be super-busy feeding the animals and cooking, can we talk closer to 7?" If he gets mad or controlling over your time and demands phone calls on his schedule, then that's certainly not a good sign.
posted by muddgirl at 8:15 AM on February 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

You made an agreement that your boyfriend would call you at 4 PM. Then you weren't available for three hours and then refused to apologize because you think this behavior is normal. This is not how you validate someone else's feelings. As it happens, you can validate someone's feelings without agreeing with them. That said, I'm going to agree with your boyfriend that you don't appear to care about his feelings. Only you do because you were busy cooking and baking for his visit. And you could see that part, but your boyfriend couldn't because he wasn't there and all he could really appreciate was the call. There's someone I adore whom I can't see anymore because when we're not in the same room together it's like I've disappeared from his memory. I somehow don't exist to him anymore. That's how it feels, anyway. And that's a terrible feeling for me because I never forget that he is in my world. I don't think that it is normal to agree to a call at one point and then blow it off. I do think it's normal that people have different communicating styles and sometimes they clash dramatically. That doesn't make either of you bad people but it may make you a bad match as others have observed.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:19 AM on February 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

I've known people who call a little too much, because they genuinely enjoy hearing your voice and talking to you and it's comforting and reassuring. But if it turns into a chore for one of the people and not desired communication, then you're going to start avoiding the calls or blowing them off and calling back when you feel like it.

If this is a one-off and you just delayed calling when there was a set time, it's on you. If it's part of a pattern where he pushes phone calls as necessary, multiple times per day, and won't take no for an answer, then that's on him. Figure out a mutually acceptable pattern -- just because 4pm is when he gets home from work doesn't make it a natural time for a call. And blowing off a scheduled time isn't great, either.
posted by mikeh at 8:21 AM on February 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think it's super rude and disrespectful to stand your romantic partner up when you specifically said you'd call him. You do owe him an apology for that.

On the other hand, you clearly didn't want to call him and saw no reason to do so since you'd just talked at noon, and I don't think that's strange or wrong. He apparently needs a lot more phone time than you do (or than I would! How much time does he want to spend on the phone?!) -- this is nobody's fault, just a mismatch that needs to be noted and can be compromised on.

Bottom line, when you give a specific time that you're going to call, you need to AT LEAST send a text to say "sorry babe caught up in pudding making, will try to call you later if I get a chance" if you really can't make the call. But also, be honest that phone time isn't your favorite way to express affection, and you'd like him to meet you halfway on the expectations here.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:21 AM on February 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

He feels you don't have a longing to connect with him. And it sounds like he's right. You clearly don't have a longing to connect over the phone, anyway.

I get busy/distracted or, being a mildly anxious introvert, feel like not talking to anyone at the moment.

at least took 5 minutes and sent him a text saying that I’m busy. I kind of thought about doing that, but then kept thinking, well, I’ll properly call him after I finish this, then it turned out to finish this I need to do that, etc., time went.

I don’t feel sorry for not calling him back for three hours, because I feel that this is quite normal for me to be distracted like this

I actually don’t feel like calling him later this evening, because I don’t want to encourage this behavior

Your tasks and chores distract you from calling him. All the time. That wouldn't happen if calling him was something you really wanted to do. You admit sometimes you just don't feel like talking to anyone - including him. He doesn't just want you to make an effort to "step up your phone action." He wants you to want to talk to him, enough that the idea doesn't given driven out of your mind by every minor task that comes along, enough that calling him doesn't feel like just another chore. That's probably not something you're going to be able to change. But if you really do long to connect with him, just not by phone, or not so frequently, maybe you can make an effort to talk about that. Were you thinking about him while you were cooking, wanting to make an extra special meal because he's so important to you? Do you daydream about him while you're feeding the animals? Did you have a really awesome time the last time you got together? Tell him about it. (And if you agree to have a phone conversation at a set time, don't blow it off.)
posted by Redstart at 8:28 AM on February 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

I said that I don’t feel sorry for not calling him back for three hours, because I feel that this is quite normal for me to be distracted like this, and quite normal in general. As long as I can explain why this happened and not just thoughtlessly ignored his call. Ugh.

You guys sound mismatched. To your boyfriend's mind, you made a plan and then did something else (at the planned time) and didn't have the courtesy to let him know what was up leaving him wondering. To your mind, you spend a lot of time together and are in touch generally and you were busy doing a thing that was all about him generally so the one specific call thing should be contextualized in this larger scenario.

Your boyfriend sounds anxious (I am also anxious) and managing his disappointment poorly. You sound like you're a little laissez faire about the relationship and about communicating with your SO. Nothing really wrong with either of these things, but they pair up poorly. You guys either need to find a way to meet about the "is this a plan or a general would-be-nice thing?" communications issue.

To my mind this is a consideration thing. You don't have to do what your boyfriend tells you, but the two of you appeared on the surface to have a mutually agreed upon plan and you actually, to your mind, didn't. That hurt his feelings. You seem to not be concerned about this because you disagree with how he viewed the interaction. That's something that will need working out going forward because this clearly doesn't work for your boyfriend or for you. You can feel sorry he feels bad even if you think he feels bad for the "wrong" reason and I'm not seeing that here.
posted by jessamyn at 8:29 AM on February 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

So he called at 4 and you didn't answer? There were several things you could have done here that would have shown greater respect:

1. answer, say "sorry I'm busy, I'll call you back at X time" (or "sorry but I don't feel like talking tonight, I will see you tomorrow")
2. text him back with the above
3. put him on speakerphone/earbud thingies and talk while you are doing other things

Since you did none of these things it shows a disrespect for him. It's not important whether he wants to talk 8 hours a day, if you aren't communicating like an adult that you do not want to do this, you are not respecting his feelings. You need to talk openly and directly about this. Apologize. "I'm sorry I was rude, I should have done X, next time let's plan on talking at X time instead (or "I don't like talking in the evenings, let's talk when we're together")." You're not wrong for having your own preferences. You just need to be able to compromise, or end the relationship because your priorities are too different.
posted by AFABulous at 8:30 AM on February 1, 2017 [19 favorites]

I could be completely projecting - but I grew up with a very controlling mother with terrible boundaries. And my reaction later in life, when I have people who need way more contact from me than I am able to give, or more frequent contact, or contact always on their terms and schedules, is to continually draw back a little bit at a time.

So I like them and want to be friends but am also resentful and feel trapped and then do things like not return calls even though I know they will be affronted, and I continually step backwards as they continue to run at me. It's frustrating for both of us and the relationship eventually deteriorates.

I wonder if you're not stuck in a similar pattern?
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:30 AM on February 1, 2017 [26 favorites]

It was a scheduled call. He may have structured his own plans around it. It would be very inconsiderate in my opinion not to at least indicate why you can't talk at the moment.

I have gotten annoyed at my (ADHD) partner about such things and she's learned that a text is the kind, loving option in these situations and has gotten much better about it. Texting really does only take a second. And I've learned that although it's extremely annoying, such behavior doesn't mean she doesn't care about me.
posted by mkuhnell at 9:00 AM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Very obviously, he wants to rely on you to be there; and more essentially, probably, to continue to connect with you after a day. You certainly enjoy a life filled with personal occupations, which is quite lovely, and demonstrably defensible. But. In order to make this work, like you say you really want to, it sounds like you both may ultimately have to admit some faults, to yourselves, and to each other, and really find acceptance in that failure, whatever it is, so you can actually do something, and grow about it.

It's okay to be upset. I'd say that he was in the wrong for letting reaction take over, not trying to speak calmly, and hanging up.
It's okay to be busy. I'd say that you were in the wrong for not valuing commitment, not communicating, not hearing his upset.
The challenge now becomes this: Can you both find a better way to openly communicate both of these unmet needs?

Note that in order to do so, you must understand where the other is coming from like you would your own position. Until you're meeting each other in the middle on conflict, you are relating at, but not truly relating to, one another. I agree that this sounds like it is exacerbated by his need to connect, and a slight avoidance from you. You're going to have to discover how to relate to him in ways that serve your sense of personal parity and equality. Make sure you're giving fifty-fifty with him. Maybe try Voxer to send little audio messages during the day, if that sounds like it could be an inspiring, relaxed thing.
posted by a good beginning at 9:06 AM on February 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Perhaps he's a bit needy and overly sensitive? Perhaps you're well-meaning, but sometimes a bit flaky/careless? Either way, it sounds like you both have fundamentally different ways of showing affection. You're more of a gift-giver (baking the cheesecake from scratch) and he's more of a communicator. That's okay. Differences like this can make or break a relationship, but honestly, if you want it to work out, it takes communication, a sense of humor, and lots of trust.

He might do well to give you the benefit of the doubt, perhaps call at 4:15 instead of stewing until 7, have a sense of humor about the whole thing, and listen to you when you say you're busy making something for him and showing your affection in another way besides calling. Maybe it just takes him time to trust, and you need to make the extra effort (i.e. communicate with him) to assuage his insecurities. He's pissed because you flaked out and didn't call for 3 hours (I'd be hurt too), in this instance. In other instances, he's probably getting triggered from past experiences where he was let down/abandoned/dumped.

You might do well by being proactive and responsible*, taking his needs and your own into consideration. Do you know the source of his anxiety? That would probably help you be more mindful of his feelings and insecurities.

his needs = call him! Maybe use a Bluetooth if you're busy.
your needs = "Hi, I'm busy but I wanted to let you know I'm thinking about you! 'Bye"

This is a good opportunity for you both to grow as people, mature a little, and realize that not everyone has the same "love language" as you. I agree with other posters that he's clingy but in this case, I think his anger/hurt feelings were justified. Either way, it sounds like you both need to give each other the benefit of the doubt and compromise.

Another thought on the "mildly anxious introvert" front: I am a highly anxious introvert, and texting is AMAZING for this reason. I can keep in touch without having to commit to talking. This may be all he needs throughout the day to let him know he's on your mind. Also, you can set some apps to send a text at a specific time. So if you know you'll be busy at X time and you'll forget to ping him, just set the text to send at that time. While this kind of neediness would personally drive me insane.... some people are just anxious and clingy. There's ways to meet those needs, if that's the kind of relationship you want to make work.

*by "responsible" I mean: "able to appropriately and effectively respond to the situation"
posted by onecircleaday at 9:24 AM on February 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yes. I say this as someone who also gets anxious when the person who cares about me doesn't make an effort to talk to me.

He's explained that regular, frequent contact is important. Scheduling a time to call is him trying to compromise and find a balance. You promised to be available for his call, and broke that promise. You should have called him as soon as you saw the missed call. You could have texted him. For someone who places a lot of importance on phone calls, calling back three hours later is a bit like showing up three hours late for a date.

because I don’t want to encourage this behavior

You can't train him out of needing what he needs. What he needs isn't wrong; what you need isn't wrong. It sounds like the two of you are in a Catch-22: the amount of contact you each want makes the other anxious, and y'all try to force the other into the right (for you) amount of contact, making everything worse.
posted by JawnBigboote at 9:33 AM on February 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have anxiety issues, and I've been that boyfriend. And frankly, I can understand a bit why he went off the deep end when you doubled down by refusing to apologize. I know for me, texting has been invaluable to keeping ties intact, even when you don't have time to talk. If you really love someone, even the briefest of text messages can keep you going and get the warm fuzzies that your SO cared enough to communicate.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 9:34 AM on February 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

A great many things are normal, and yet are not okay. Missing a scheduled phone call? Happens all the time! Not apologizing for missing the phone call because you were distracted, and distraction is normal? Not okay. Not apologizing for hurting his feelings? Also not okay.

He may be kind of needy, you may be kind of introverted; neither of you is likely a terrible person, but you don't sound to me like a good match.
posted by rtha at 9:41 AM on February 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you're really not that into him, and he's getting that message loud and clear. To skip a pre-arranged phone call without notice is pretty harsh. You mention "take 5 minutes to send a text saying you're busy" but it's not five minutes at all, it's a matter of seconds to send a "hi, in the middle of cooking yummy stuff for tomorrow, will call you soon". Tell Siri to do it. Making cheesecake is ten minutes of action action with lots of waiting for things to chill or cook, leaving plenty of time to send simple messages that show you care about someone.

So perhaps he shouldn't have called you angrily, but it sounds like this isn't the first time and won't be the last. He wants you to stay in regular contact, you don't. That's a fundamental incompatibility that the two of you are going to have to either compromise on or decide you're too different.

You say at the end of your message that "it's not abnormal, not to call back for three hours when one is busy". I'd say that it is if you care about them at all. I'd only ever do that to a supplier I didn't care much about. I'd never do it to a customer, or a colleague, or a friend. And certainly not a lover.
posted by tillsbury at 9:46 AM on February 1, 2017 [14 favorites]

I also think this snippet speaks volumes:

I wanted to have these things for his visit (which probably makes me a bit more resentful than I should be – I’m slaving away for our common good, and you are giving me hard time about calling)

You're doing something (cooking) that *he doesn't know you're doing and didn't ask you to do*, that you think should earn you appreciation for your efforts and leniency in his communications;

while he's trying to do something that you've both explicitly agreed to do, and you're blowing off;

and *you* are getting resentful of *him*?

Do you get to be the only one who decides what makes "the common good"? Are you trying to frame your good intentions, which your BF had no way to know, as an excuse for your lack of accountability? Frankly, it's immature and self-centered.

I don't think your BF is the problem here.
posted by Sublimity at 9:55 AM on February 1, 2017 [14 favorites]

I really don't like talking on the phone and I don't like surprise distractions like phone calls, so I have sort of inadvertently trained a lot of my friends not to expect me to be available for chatty phone conversations. I don't always have my phone on me, I respond to phone calls via text or even email, and things like that. They eventually figure out not to call me unless it's an emergency.

What I don't and wouldn't do is agree to a scheduled call and then blow it off for three hours. That's rude, it's thoughtless, and it's passive aggressive. I would be livid if someone casually blew me off for that long and then didn't even apologize. You don't like being disturbed when you're doing stuff, but you left him hanging for three hours waiting for your call? What if he'd had something he wanted to do without distraction? It is abnormal to blow someone off for hours like that, so you're not going to convince him otherwise.

Why are you handling it like this instead of just telling him directly what you want and what you'll agree to? Are you afraid of his reaction? Is he pushy and demanding and refusing to compromise? Then dump him, because that's not OK. If he's not and he just has different expectations and interests than you do, and you guys can't find a compromise, then you may just be incompatible. Don't try to train him like he's a dog.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:59 AM on February 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

I've ended relationships because I couldn't deal with the constant contact, so ordinarily I would agree with you. But like people have said here, the fact that it was a scheduled call makes things different - I would feel kind of stressed out about the other person's welfare, and insecure about myself, if I got stood up for a scheduled thing like that, especially when the other person knew it would be am issue for me. Finding out that it wasn't for any unavoidable reason would make me upset, frustrated or even angry. For what that's worth.

The one thing I wanted to add, though, was that beyond the question of how you both should have behaved and of whether you're just not well matched, it seems from your story that neither of you is paying enough attention to what the other actually wants and needs (as opposed to what you imagine).

For example, you were spending a lot of time and effort cooking food with the goal of making him happy, but what would really have made him happy was you answering the phone. Is food, or extensive preparation for a date, as important to him as availability for communication? (Maybe it is - you're the one who's in a place to know. But if he doesn't actually care as much about being cooked fancy dinners, then this is like you buying him the gift you'd love to get, instead of what he specifically asked for. And then not understanding why he feels like you don't care.)

And in the same way, as someone said above, he thinks that tons of contact throughout the day is really important in a relationship, and doesn't seem to understand that maybe that's not actually what you need from him.

So if this is a serious relationship it sounds like there's serious talking to do, and you need to understand who the other half in the relationship actually is.

(I also think that when there's some point of conflict that comes up so often it becomes a dynamic, that's a fair sign to stop and figure things out.)

On the other hand, as you can see from the beginning of this comment, I also think it's okay to break up when the effort or compromises that would be needed to resolve the conflict feel out of proportion to how much you value the relationship.
posted by trig at 9:59 AM on February 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

There's no objective right/wrong in relationships (absent abuse, etc). What works for each couple is right. What doesn't work is wrong. This isn't something you can think about, ask friends about, poll the internet about, and then go to bf and say, "Survey says: I don't have to call as often as you insist."

In this situation, you don't talk to other people about it. You ask yourself, can I do this? If you can, you do it. If you can't, you say to bf, I can't do this. If that's a deal breaker, well, you know, it is what it is.

If I were in your shoes, the first thing I would do is ask myself how long the relationship has been going on and what I base "I love him" on. If this is a new relationship, say, under 6 months, you don't know him well enough yet to know whether you love him, and he is reflecting needs you may not be able to meet, so for the sake of the sanity of both of you, I'd bow out. If the relationship has been going on longer than 6 months, I would examine when the amount and timing of contact became an issue and see whether this is driven by a different issue -- lack of trust? jealousy? some kind of horrible life event that makes bf feel suddenly and completely insecure? If there's no precipitating event and the relationship is more than 6 months old, what has worked in the past? If it's just arguing and apologizing and feeling hurt and guilty, what is it you love about bf and the relationship? I don't get it.

The point of dating is to determine whether you're compatible and right for each other. The point is not to find out what you need to change about or sublimate in yourself to accommodate the other person's whims that are basically completely counter to your personality.
posted by janey47 at 10:46 AM on February 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

People are pointing out the two distinct issues: you flaking on a scheduled phone call (rude) and your boyfriend being demanding and clingy.

I feel like maybe those two are connected? Like, was this a subconscious attempt to prove that "you're not the boss of me"? Or maybe his demands make phone calls such a loaded unpleasant issue that you accidentally-on purpose kept forgetting to call him that afternoon?
That's what it would be like for me.

I think that while you should apologize the missed call thing is really Only a symptom of the deeper issue. If it were simply a missed call in a moment of flakiness, he wouldn't be that upset and you wouldn't be digging in your heels the way you are.

FTR I sympathize with you, I'm similar tp you and demands like his would kill my love off completely.
posted by Omnomnom at 10:52 AM on February 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

I hate talking on the phone, and I would not agree to a scheduled call three hours after the last call when I'm going to see the person tomorrow. Try setting boundaries you're comfortable with as opposed to trying to go along with what he wants. Is your dude under unusual stress? Can you encourage him to get support from family/friends instead? Not wanting to talk on the phone as much as he does doesn't make you wrong or heartless, but it sounds like he's unwilling to accept anything less than as much attention as he wants, when he wants it (since you've talked about this before, you adjusted, and he keeps pushing), and that's a significant mismatch.
posted by momus_window at 10:54 AM on February 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

Am I being insensitive and need to step up my phone action (will be hard for me to do, as it’s not typical for me to be tethered to my phone, but I can make more effort I suppose).

If by step up you mean follow through with agreed upon plans*, then that seems like a reasonable ask for him to make. Maybe you take things too literally, and interpreted "agreed he will call..." as not entailing you actually answering the phone? That's not what most people would interpret the agreement to mean.

And if you agree to phone calls at certain times, you're only tethered to the phone at that specific time. If you can't do that, then don't agree to it (this is very reasonable). You don't get credit for agreeing to something and then bailing on it.

Without the agreement, my instincts would line up more closely to yours. Taking three hours to return a random phone call, especially at that time of day, doesn't seem to unreasonable to me. Having something come up and sending a text before or shortly after the time also seems completely understandable, on occasion (regularly bailing on plans sucks). Losing track of three hours when you agreed to something isn't great, but with an apology and infrequent occurrence very forgivable.

But three hours late for an agreed upon time, with no contact and when you actively realized you were late during that time? That is rude and thoughtless. What was the point in scheduling a time? Just stop making definitive plans and let him decide if that's a deal breaker.

* I'm assuming when you said you agreed that you both discussed and said it was a good time, vs him saying he was going to call and you just didn't push back because you didn't want a fight. If it's the latter, it's still not great (leaving him with the impression you'd answer), but he also can't unilaterally schedule things and then throw fits when you don't go along. That's a whole different set of problems.
posted by ghost phoneme at 11:00 AM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

There are a couple of issues here. First, you didn't do something you agreed to, and yes, you should apologize for making plans you bailed on. I would be angry in his position and I do think you owe him an apology for leaving him hanging for three hours.

However, it seems like you're responding passive aggressively to something you think is unreasonable but feel compelled to do. This indicates to me that either you don't know how to talk about your feelings and approaches to relationships, or that you've tried and you get a negative reaction when you've try. If it's the latter, I would break up with him, because that indicates that he doesn't respect how you are different. If it's the former, you might try telling him that the way you express your desire to connect, or your love for him, is by doing nice things for him, or by giving him gifts, and ask if those things make him feel cared for. If they don't, and only communication of some sort will work, ask if he can do one phone call a day and a few texts in between that (if that's a schedule you can stick to). Explain the sorts of things that make you feel cared for, and request that he do those things for you. If he can't agree to those things... well, you've got your answer right there. If he wants you to do things his way for him but won't make an effort to do things your way for you, he's not a good person to date.

For what it's worth, I would react badly to a partner demanding to talk on the phone multiple times a day. It feels excessive to me and it would make me feel resentful, not loving.
posted by Illuminated Clocks at 11:22 AM on February 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

I used to date a woman who expected me to always pick up the phone or respond immediately when she texted, and who would get increasingly upset if I didn't respond right away. It was to the point where she did not leave messages, she would just dial and then dial again and again. After a while I realized that this wasn't about her anxiety, but about a need to control me.

I now have an awesome girlfriend who doesn't freak out if I miss calls, nor do I freak out at her if she does, because sometimes life things happen and you can't answer the phone. I would be thrilled if my partner missed a call because she was in the middle of making me something, that's really awesome.

Ask yourself if your boyfriend is being controlling. I am biased by my own experiences as are we all, but a need to always know where you are and know that you'll respond immediately is a huge red flag.
posted by bile and syntax at 11:41 AM on February 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

I don't think there's a 100% right or wrong answer to the right level of contact between a couple. My husband and I are probably on the crazy-connected end of things in that we tend to message throughout the day while at work, although if one of us is travelling or otherwise busy we're ok with a lower level of contact than that too. But, over time we've workout out a pattern that seems to work well for both of us. It seems like the problem here is more than you guys are really mismatched in your desired level of contact than that either one of you is inherently "wrong."

In this specific case, it seems like you agreed to a scheduled phone call and then flaked, so I'd tend to side with your boyfriend on the specific example -- but, in the broader scheme of things, it also sounds like he may be pushing for more contact than you are really ok with. I think if you make agreements to something, you should stick to it, but also you should try not to agree with something that you're not willing to follow through on.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:44 AM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

This dynamic keeps happening despite my efforts.

What specific, concrete efforts have you made to change this? Are you looking for something to change in yourself or something to change in him?
posted by RainyJay at 11:59 AM on February 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

he feels I don’t have a longing to connect with him

You would both be better off if you admitted that he is right. You probably don't have a longing to connect with ANYONE; that's just your nature. And he wants someone who wants him, the same way he wants you. Neither of you is wrong*, but you're probably wrong for each other.

You might be able to bridge this gap with compromise, but not until you admit this fundamental difference in your personalities/needs.

* You ARE wrong, however, for making a commitment, blowing it off, and refusing to apologize. You don't respect his time and that's why he feels hurt.
posted by yawper at 12:19 PM on February 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

As others have noted, for specific commitments at pre-arranged times, you should honor the plan or communicate your unavailability in a timely fashion.

I will speak more to your ongoing efforts to be more communicative with him. I don't think you should force yourself to text or call someone at certain intervals if it feels like a chore or goes against your basic personal need for solitude. The fact that he seems to be defining the frequency of contact, and monitoring it for "improvement," puts you in a remedial position that I see as a potential red flag. You're not a child; you have your preferences and your ways of interacting with the world. You either (a) compromise in a way that works for both of you (not just him), or (b) break up and find someone who has fewer requirements around communication.
posted by delight at 12:35 PM on February 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Why don't you set up a regular call time every day, say 5-5:30pm or sometime where you are less likely to be in the middle of things, and stick to it, every day.
posted by greta simone at 2:04 PM on February 1, 2017

It seems to me that simply sending a text asking the lines of "something's come up, will call at 7pm" would have taken you five seconds and avoided this whole palaver...
posted by intensitymultiply at 2:08 PM on February 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

This has nothing to do with being an introvert and everything to do with wanting to dictate the dynamics of the relationship.

I don't think the boyfriend is the controlling one here. The one who cares less in a relationship is the one with the power, simply because you decide whether or not you answer his phone calls or call him back or turn up to a date.

You're passively aggressively deciding whether or not to give him your attention. So after you've already arranged to talk on the phone, you then ignore his call and then when he's frustrated over the lack of contact, take on the power role of soothing the overemotional partner and tell both of you the story that he's just so pathetic and just so needy - when you're the one who deliberately created the dynamic in the first place. (No cheesecake requires that much attention, are you kidding me?!)

I mean, yeah, you may get a bit of a kick out of being chased and caring less so you have all the control, but ultimately, you're with someone you just don't like that much so who is the real loser here?
posted by Jubey at 5:15 PM on February 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

I should specify, I mean you are the person who loses in this situation, not that I think you are a loser. I think everyone deserves to be with someone they love so much that when they phone, you put the stupid cheesecake down and talk to them, y'know?
posted by Jubey at 5:38 PM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree with the consensus here: it sounds like he has a high need for connection and you don't, so you both need to listen to each other and figure out a respectful compromise if you want to stay together. But, you also need to respect your own boundaries and not get pressured into making commitments you're not willing to keep. Your boyfriend is not unreasonable in being upset that you did not stick with the agreement you had made, especially when it would have been relatively easy to communicate with him early on in the evening. Refusing to apologize only makes it worse.

That said, it does sound like you're not that into him and maybe you are just not willing to do any work to keep him around and happy. As someone who is much more on your side of the contact spectrum, that seems perfectly reasonable to me. But, if that's the case for you, it's only fair to both of you to cut him loose. One person's neediness and clinginess is another's connectedness and attentiveness, and somebody's cold aloofness could be another's independent air of mystery. Neither of you are right or wrong, but you might not be right for each other.
posted by rpfields at 6:30 PM on February 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm not going to get into the flaking on the call thing, everyone else did.

"On the other hand, you clearly didn't want to call him and saw no reason to do so since you'd just talked at noon, and I don't think that's strange or wrong. He apparently needs a lot more phone time than you do (or than I would! How much time does he want to spend on the phone?!) -- this is nobody's fault, just a mismatch that needs to be noted and can be compromised on. "

Yeah, I think that's it. Look, I have this issue with my mother. Her soul requirement would be that she talks to me for an hour on the phone every single day. I tried this when my dad went into the hospital and was losing the will to live with all that much depressing conversation. I cannot do it. After many years of arguing and a few group therapy sessions, we're negotiated to a mandatory twice a week call, which will probably go for at least an hour. It's too much for me (seriously, most of the time I have nothing to goddamned SAY on Wednesdays, I went to work and who cares?!) and too little for her (and there will be spontaneous calls during the rest of the week or serial phone calls on the phone days), but this is the best compromise we can come up with. Heaven fucking help me if we talked on Tuesday and I don't call her on Wednesday (unless SHE's busy all night and then it's fine!), though.

I think the best you're going to get here is to negotiate a phone protocol. Mandatory phone call times/days that are too few for him and too many for you, but at least they're not constant. DO NOT flake out on calling on the promised times and make darned sure you have the phone on you and are answering it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:45 PM on February 1, 2017

The issue isn't the three hours. The issue is not getting pressured or agreeing to a time commitment that doesn't work for you, and then 1) refusing to honor it and 2) blowing it off , and 3) refusing to apologize.

That said, yes, every three hours would be too often for me. I would work on negotiating a timeframe that you both can live with. If you can't find an area of agreement, it might be better if you found partners who were more suited to your particular communication style.

The other thing you might want to discuss is "get out of jail free cards" for both of you. He's allowed to call/text you 2-3 times extra per week, without occasioning a conversation about how needy he is. You're allowed to be in your Zen moment for 2-3 times per week, without him automatically assuming ill intent. Merging two disparate types of communication and connection is difficult, and it might be helpful to have a built-in mechanism for giving each other the benefit of the doubt.

But it only works if you're both into it, and can agree to it without resentment.
posted by dancing_angel at 12:16 AM on February 2, 2017

The way you're acting in this situation reminds me a lot of the way I acted in a previous relationship that I wasn't really into, without being able to put my finger on why exactly. The way your boyfriend is acting is eerily similar to the way my girlfriend at the time was acting, which leads me to believe that our blase, take-it-or-leave-it attitude produced the clingy neediness in the other party.

When I broke things off, I was really relieved. I think you will be too.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:10 AM on February 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

[This is a followup from the asker.]
Yeah, as some have noted, when he said “I’ll call you when I get home from work, I’m off at 4 today,” in my mind it was something like “He will call me after he gets home from work. I may or may not be available to talk at that time. If I’m not, I will call him back when I can.” And I see now that in his mind (thank you everyone for putting this in perspective for me) it was more like “We are mutually agreeing to have a conversation at 4 PM or shortly after.”

With that in mind, I apologized; we are ok now, but I want to have a deeper discussion about this with him later, with all the insight in mind that I got here. And I will pay more attention in the future to things that might mean “scheduled” to him and try to honor them. And truthfully, I think some of this could come into play: “subconscious attempt to prove that "you're not the boss of me"?” Omnonmon thank you for pointing this out. Something that I need to examine within myself.

To clarify some, growing up my parents were the opposite of controlling, they were downright neglectful. My coping mechanism was, I guess, to just learn to be ok with being by myself. No one worried (or let me know they worried) if I was gone all day, or all night. I never had to call home because the parents are worried. (Strangely, they started to worry about me a few years after I moved away from home, and this worry is escalating, to a point that now they will call to check on me if they see on weather report that it will be windy where I live and such). My past relationships were with people either even more independent than me or people who were trusting in my best judgment and not at all demanding of my time. I would travel internationally independently from my ex-husband, and sometimes communication was not possible for days, and he was just calm and happy to hear from me when we finally talked, but never expressed much worry like OMG what happened, are you OK.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, grew up with a high tempered mother who often threatened to abandon the family. I understand that objectively this doesn’t make us a good match, but hey, he is awesome in many ways, and I think really loves me too.

I don’t have proper family and life experience to gauge when someone is being controlling, and when I’m being insensitive in such cases. So thank you everyone for generously sharing your various takes on this. This is tremendously helpful and will help us grow as a couple and individuals. I want to say that the depth of understanding and reading between the lines is downright scary here, in a good way.

What specific, concrete efforts have you made to change this? Are you looking for something to change in yourself or something to change in him?

I text him a couple of times a day, we talk on the phone about twice a day, I keep the phone with me a lot more now as I imagine it’s great for him when I pick up right away (for me too, so I get it) – this was all foreign to me. Also, I try to explain to him that even when we are not in contact, it doesn’t mean that I forgot about him, I’m just not much of a texter/phone person. He sends me these awesome lengthy texts, but there is no way I will ever be able to reciprocate. He knows this now, he did relax about it some, or at least is making an effort.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:04 PM on February 2, 2017 [7 favorites]

And I will pay more attention in the future to things that might mean “scheduled” to him and try to honor them.

Just a thought, but he can probably help with this by asking: is 4 pm a good time for you to talk? Since you're both coming from opposite ends of the communication spectrum, doing something that requires you to respond may help you guys be on the same page. It may also help avoid triggering the "you're not the boss of me" instinct. It may feel a bit forced to him, but you're taking steps to be more communicative so he can try a softer approach.
posted by ghost phoneme at 5:57 PM on February 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

I agree with some of the other commenters that it's rude to not be there when you had scheduled a call together. However, his reaction and controlling behavior is totally out of whack in proportion to "the crime". How he should have reacted: "It makes me feel like you don't respect my time and schedule when we set up a time for a phone call and you don't answer. We made a plan together, and it feels like you don't respect me when you blow me off without a single word."

Then you apologize for disrespecting his time, don't do it again when you set up a planned time for a phone call.

But his expectation for you to text him all the time? It's absurd, and shows his immaturity (I'm sure he's a nice guy outside of this). You both just have different styles with a phone (and arguably, yours is far more healthy). Why does he get to demand that you change your phone style to totally match up to his? Where is he willingness to accommodate you and your needs?
If he replies that he just gets insecure, then it shows that he's making *his* problems into your problems, and unhealthily expecting you to overstep the boundaries of what a healthy relationship should entail. He's responsible for his own insecurity, and he needs to take charge of that himself without expecting you to do it for him. That's *his* issue to deal with.
posted by anon7 at 2:29 PM on February 11, 2017

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