Should bring up a lack of contact between dates with stressed boyfriend?
April 4, 2017 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Everything is going wonderfully between my boyfriend & I except he is pretty quiet between seeing each other/dates. Should I accept him as is or can I bring it up in a way that doesn't attack him while trying to meet my needs?

My boyfriend of around 6 months is wonderful. He plans nice dates, tells me he loves and appreciates me often. It's the best relationship I've been in in a long time hands down.

But...he can go multiple days without talking. This sometimes suits me too, as I am also quite independent and still value time with friends and family when we are apart. One example is last week we spent all weekend together then Monday morning he says 'well have a good week' & then there is no contact until Thursday night. Over the weekend, he took me to his best friend's wedding. After a few drinks he started asking what I thought about different types of rings & ceremonies which was quite surprising. His friends communicated how many nice things they had been hearing about me & his newly married friend and wife invited us to their place next month. So that all feels positive.

In a recent thread I asked about whether I should move abroad, leaving my boyfriend behind. I have decided to go abroad for 8/9 months and just this weekend boyfriend said that if he is not offered the job he has applied for, he will come with me for that period. He is hating work at the moment and there are times when he becomes very quiet and worried looking. Some mornings he says he just doesn't want to get out of bed, which breaks my heart as he has always been a willing hard worker while I've known him.

Lately I have had acute bronchitis and been feeling lousy. Whenever I send boyfriend a light-hearted message during the day, trying to connect, he will largely read it and ignore me for a day or more. Yet, when I go on Facebook messenger to reply to others I see he is online. To be ignored like this bothers me and makes me feel disconnected, especially as we are supposed to make plans for Thursday. I am actually feeling unexpectedly angry about it. But is it worth bringing up when he's feeling stressed about work?
posted by Kat_Dubs to Human Relations (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I would use feeling sick as an excuse -- "I know you're really busy/stressed, but being sick makes me feel Alone In The World and I could use an occasional head-pat, even if it's just a couple of words that remind me that you know i exist." See how that goes, and then consider using it as the basis for a broader conversation later. This might be easily bridged by suggestion (people can work up complicated mental pretzals about not appearing needy, for example) or might be a big barrier in communication styles -- eventually you'll need to find out.
posted by acm at 4:17 PM on April 4, 2017

But is it worth bringing up when he's feeling stressed about work?

Yes, I think so. There are always things going on in people's lives, but I don't think it should prevent you from speaking up about your needs in this relationship. Besides, if he is feeling worried or stressed, it might be nice if he'd talk to you about it -- shouldn't that be what a relationship is? You offer him support when he needs it, and he offers you support when you need it? If you guys can't do that, what kind of relationship do you really have, ya know? I wouldn't be ok with dating someone for six months but they don't talk to me in between dates. I mean, maybe he just isn't much of a texter -- I find some people are less communicative in writing than in person -- but you make it sound like he does speak to people over Facebook messenger and text. Maybe he is just feeling anxious and stressed about work lately, but you make it sound like this has always been an issue, not a new issue. So I do think you need to speak up, unless you are fine with things continuing as they are.

Personally, I also wouldn't play it off as being needy due to being sick -- I would be clear and direct about what you need out of a relationship. I'm not saying be confrontational -- I think you can bring this up in a lighthearted way -- but I do think you should be clear that this is an ongoing concern you have, not a one-time thing. If this is a new issue, then I think you approach it differently, but again, this doesn't sound like a new issue based on your question.
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:27 PM on April 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

I do think his behavior is strange. It's one thing to not need to talk on the phone every single day, but regularly not replying to a text for two days is, to me, a way to keep someone at arm's length. I'm glad you decided to move. That being said, you shouldn't feel weird about being direct and telling him how this makes you feel.
posted by cakelite at 4:31 PM on April 4, 2017 [10 favorites]

Some people don't tend to reply to things like jokes and wry comments. It's not that they are deliberately ignoring you -- it's just that it literally doesn't occur to them that you might be expecting a reply to a funny comment.

Try explaining that you would really appreciate it if he would either send you a joke in return, or a :-), or whatever it is that you would like to see. See if this changes his behavior.

He may well have no idea that you would like to get texts from him during the week. You'll need to ask for that. It doesn't have to be some sort of big argument where it would be at all relevant that he's stressed about work. Just say that you've been feeling down because you've been sick, and it lifts your spirits and helps you feel better to get a message from him, and you would really like it if he could send you a message saying hi (or whatever) each day. After you are feeling better you can talk with him about how much you liked that and you'd really like to make it a tradition between the two of you.

The important thing here is how he responds when you let him know what you want.

especially as we are supposed to make plans for Thursday

You can message him and ask about Thursday! You don't have to wait around for him to bring it up.
posted by yohko at 4:45 PM on April 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

No two people are ever perfectly aligned. A big part of a successful relationship is figuring out how to negotiate the stuff where you're not on the same wavelength.

Bringing up something that is bugging you is not inherently attacking--it's starting a conversation about one of those gaps, and trying to problem-solve about it. Together.

I suggest being matter-of-fact about it. You're not needy, he's not cold, it's just a difference you're seeing that you wish were different. Ask for what you want, don't be ashamed, and see how he reacts.

Hopefully he'll be just as cool about you raising the issue, and take it as a point of action to bump up the communication. What you're looking for is *his interest in taking the initiative* to solve the problem. By all means, talk about what level of exchange you'd like, but don't prescribe it--watch to see if he drives change on his end.

But if he gets defensive (where the message is "I'm not the problem, you're the problem"), or flat-out refuses, or says he'll do something but never does--well, those are red flags.

Relationships don't survive because of the super-great stuff between the partners--they survive only if people are skilled at navigating conflict gracefully. You gotta bring up stuff that bugs you and figure out how to navigate it.

Good luck.
posted by Sublimity at 5:01 PM on April 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm terrible about replying to emails and texts from my loved ones during the week. Part of it is my general tendency to procrastinate, but a big part is that I'm super stressed about work and deadlines, have no energy when I get home, and I don't feel up to writing back with the thoughtfulness that the recipients deserve. I also make it a point to not check personal messages during the working day. Weekends or work downtimes are when I catch up on communication.

Now I don't know if that's the same reason he is ignoring communication, or if he's just being aloof, but it's something to keep in mind.
posted by redlines at 8:19 PM on April 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also, being on FB and browsing it mindlessly out of habit is less effort than composing careful messages to an SO in a relatively new relationship, so I wouldn't read into that.
posted by redlines at 8:21 PM on April 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hmm, I have a different take on this. This is strikingly similar to my situation with my last boyfriend. The hating work, the was once very ambitious but it seemed to be dormant, the willingness to follow you for your job (any discussion from him of what, exactly, he'd do if he were to come with you)? Going multiple days without talking, despite interacting with other people. Me being very sick and him not really engaging with that on any level.

Things did not go well when we moved in together, for the summer. They seemed ok, if a bit difficult at the beginning, and he asked me about getting married. Awhile later he asked about moving in with me when his contract was up at work and being a "house husband" instead of working at a job, despite having always been ambitious and incredibly well-educated. All the while, we had ongoing disputes about the condition of the house where we were living, which ended up getting me sick due to mold spores. We eventually broke up and he was really unkind to me about it. Despite having been the nicest and most thoughtful boyfriend I thought I had ever had.

I think my ex was depressed; I think situations in his life came to a head where he realized "I am not happy and maybe marriage/moving in/quitting my job will fix it" and that thought was followed quickly by "I am not willing to give up my independence so I will go radio silent for days to maintain independence/control/etc."

It was vicious, it was painful, I couldn't express my needs (so in a healthy relationship you wouldn't have to ask this question because of course you would be able to bring up something that made you feel bad, but I am only learning this now for real, I have spent my entire adult romantic life tip-toeing around men's needs and desires and preferences and this silenced me, profoundly) - it was not good for me.

Him ignoring your texts is not the only communication problem you have. I have a sneaking suspicion that you feel like you can't bring up tough stuff with him because you have tried and it has not gone well. Maybe not. If not, you should definitely talk to him about it! Definitely. But if you have, and it has not gone well, I would take a good long think about this whole thing.

Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 9:16 PM on April 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

I agree with sockermom.

I also feel like you are doing a co-dependent-esque dance - functioning quite well for him by being available when he wishes, and independent when he wishes; consoling when he has a hard time getting out of bed and going to work, yet self-abdicating when he wants not to console you during illness; offering you stunt affections re engagement rings and weddings, yet not following through with real partner potential behaviour during the week, or in your day to day life.

[I dunno what it is about narcs, but they do love to dangle the promise of a good proposal or wedding in front of their lovers, early on, even when every other aspect of their life with you is ambiguous and always involves emotional-mystery-solving, and self-effacement. Do NOT get seduced by wedding talk. Nuh uh.]

I think when you're sick or vulnerable in the outset of a relationship, you should pay careful attention to how your potential partner cares for you. It tells you important things. You are angry because you've been accommodating so far of his needs, and this - not checking in on you when you are unwell - is an imbalance. And your gut knows that this is unsatisfactory and a limited way to have a meaningful, loving, reciprocal and generous relationship.

You could test this idea today. "Hi bf, hey I would like you to respond to my messages during the week when we are physically apart, especially as I am unwell this week and I would like to feel your care of me. Can you do that please?" or similar.

It doesn't matter really about the wording, except that you make the request for action explicit. And then watch for the kind of response. Is it self pity [I'm having a hard time at work! I'm doing my best! What about how I'm feeling!? Me me me] defensiveness [I didn't even know you were that sick! I do care about you, you should know that! I don't have time for all of that! I'm so busy]?

If any of these responses: 'it's a yes/no type answer situation, so with all you are saying now, is it no?'

Or is it reflection, interest, affection, a move to understand your need and agree to meet it. You shouldn't have a layer of protest and bullshit to get a simple need you have expressed met.

I think sockermom has a good point, I think you are not asking this simple question because you are already feeling cowed, vulnerable and imagine a bad answer, or have had bad answers in the past.

And really consider the dangers of transitioning this relationship to live-in, depressed, unemployed, displaced trail-mate status. You are barely dating, and there isn't much of his real behaviour that seems partner potential. Do not even think about making financial plans together. If he invites himself along, make it clear that since you are casually dating, it would make most sense for him to have his own house, his own funds and that doesn't just schlep into your life. Ask me how I know this.
posted by honey-barbara at 2:49 AM on April 5, 2017 [13 favorites]

"I am not willing to give up my independence so I will go radio silent for days to maintain independence/control/etc."

This is what you're dealing with.

I had written a longer response but come on -- your BF isn't checking in with you daily because this IS as interested as he will ever get. Sure, you should talk to him but consider this: the way he demonstrates love is to ignore you for days on end. It's really hard to make that feel okay and I can see where you're mentally balancing, "he does this" versus "he ignores me for days," and trying to make sense of things.

But the dude is basically ignoring you. For days at a stretch, and it's safe to assume if he moves in with you (don't do that), he'll ignore you within the same home.

He's SHOWING you this is as interested as he'll get. I wouldn't ignore this.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:53 AM on April 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

boyfriend said that if he is not offered the job he has applied for, he will come with me for that period.

Did you invite him? You're going abroad for work/life/potential adventure and this guy is just going to tag along if nothing better comes up? Please don't allow this. You have made amazing opportunities happen for yourself - anything can happen! But not if you're there with a guy who tagged along passively after a few months of weekending together.

then Monday morning he says 'well have a good week' & then there is no contact until Thursday night

If you don't want to be just weekend friends then you need to say so. Not with a hinting "lighthearted message" you hope will get him to reply, but with an honest conversation in which you say "I don't want to be just weekend friends - I want to [x] with you." (Where x is "talk more during the week" "integrate our lives" "get together for lunch" "have you bring me soup when I'm sick" etc.)

The weekends-only thing is at odds with him saying he'll go overseas with you. That's a good starting point for conversation about what both of you want out of this relationship.
posted by headnsouth at 6:01 AM on April 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm seeing someone who texts less than I would like BUT the first time he didn't respond to one of my texts (which was a bid for attention, not a direct question) for more than a day, and this was fairly very early dating I was like "hey is everything ok?" and he was like "yes, sorry I'm busy with blah" and then chatted with me for a bit. In three months that's happened twice, both times he's apologized and lets me know what's going on. And he is legitimitely busy (full-time job, young kid, dog, nearby family, he was still getting his divorce finalized when we met etc.). We don't often text each other during the day (both 9-5'ers) but if I needed to get his attention or make a request I feel comfortable doing so, and he's texted me to tell me something important too, we follow each other on instagram and he likes the photos I post of me, my friends, and my kid, same on facebook. I'd say we might go a day or two without texting sometimes unless I initiate it, especially if we are each doing our own thing with friends or out of town but if I text him he generally gets back to me fairly quickly, and we see each other once or twice a week.

I haven't been like "hey, text me more please" but I have expressed that it made me wonder if something was wrong when our communication drops off, and I've asked him what his texting style is and explained my approach, which is "if I want to tell you something I'm going to tell you something and I need to feel comfortable doing so but I don't want to outright annoy you or distract you from your stuff", while his is "I'm not bothered if you text me but I might not get back to you right away, your texts make me laugh even if I don't respond". Since that conversation he will check in with me more in between dates like "hey how was your day", and I appreciate it.

If he knows something big is happening at work or with my kid he'll text me to see how it's going, if I'm driving from a distance he'll text me to drive safe, so I know he's thinking about me. Sometimes we casually chat while doing our evening stuff (we are both with our kids), and I've actually started to appreciate having more time to just be at home, so it's working for me despite my insecurities cropping up in my mind. We occasionally have really funny text exchanges too, so our communication on the whole is good and feels good. I feel like he keeps me in the loop of his life and as we continue dating that is growing for both of us. Also he's a single-tasker in that when he's at work, he's busy working, when he's at home, he's at home doing all the house stuff, and when he's with me he's fully engaged. So again that combined with the trying to text me more and initiating dates/plans overall makes me feel safe and good and it's all good, you deserve to feel safe and good and cared for too based on actions too.

I think 6 months in your feelings warrant a talk, especially re: him moving with you, wedding talk. If it would make you happy for him to text you every other day like "hey hope you had a good day" that should be easy for him to do regardless of work stress, it's not asking much at all, and I agree you shouldn't ignore that this is a possible sign of intimacy or other issues.
posted by lafemma at 7:58 AM on April 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am very much a direct communicator, so if I'm your boyfriend, imagining you asked the internet a question like this would kind of drive me crazy, and here's why: nothing in your question suggests you've made your wants/needs known to your boyfriend. And I have a hard time understanding how the answer to your question -- "should I bring this up" -- could possibly be no. It's impossible to tell if your boyfriend has picked up on the fact that you want more contact and doesn't care, or if this is just how he communicates. I wouldn't jump to any conclusions about his feelings/intentions/etc. until you've said "hey boyfriend I would really like it if you responded to my texts sooner and if we had more communication in between dates." If he then changes his behavior or makes an obvious good-faith effort to change it, great! If he doesn't do either, that tells you something.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:17 AM on April 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thank you everyone, all the different perspectives have been helpful.

Following craven_morhead's last reply I decided to give bf the benefit of the doubt & not go in with guns blazing on the phone. I spoke to him about what how I've been feeling. His response: he's sorry, he's been feeling sadder than usual lately & sometimes finds it difficult to admit feeling badly to others. But he realises he has let things slip & will communicate more during the week. Secondly, he said he has worried about seeming clingy. Because a) a past gf said he was and b) an ex was the clingy one, driving him mad with constant messages each day. He also said that while he enjoys sharing his day with me, he's just got into the habit of being by himself. He has less relationship experience than I due to living a lot of his life in an isolated location + travelling/working his way around the world a bit.

In the end we talked for 90 mins! He is bringing me homemade food tomorrow. This thread has reminded me to MAKE WORDS COME OUT OF MY FACE when I need to - I think his distant behaviour was triggering an old pattern for me with an ex bf who ignored me like this and didn't respond well when I said he was distant. He said he will be more communicative & please let him know if the issue bothers me again - I'm hoping I won't have to but let's see.
posted by Kat_Dubs at 2:06 PM on April 5, 2017 [11 favorites]

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