Am I expecting too much?
September 17, 2017 11:22 PM   Subscribe

If you developed a potentially worrisome medical issue, how much do you expect your partner to proactively follow up on it? By follow up, I mean actions such as generating their own questions or doing their own research?

I can't tell if I'm overrracting. This might be TMI, but this year, I got two abnormal pap smear results six months apart, each showing abnormality with the technical term being "atypical squamous cells." The second result showed less abnormality but abnormal nonetheless. I have to get another Pap smear in six months to keep an eye on it. I'm 29 yo woman and my partner is 27.

I kept my cool the first time but was very disappointed at the second result. It's not a dire medical issue and may well disappear on its own, but it is still disconcerting to have abnormality in my cervix. I texted this result to my partner. We text a lot because we are long distance.

Nothing really came of it and a few days later, I was with my mom who was showing a lot of concern. She made me see a different doctor and she read up on the issue. That made me realize that my partner never even asked for the technical term. I told him that I felt hurt. His response was basically that I should have just told him and that he trusts the doctor; that I'm a healthy young woman and shouldn't be so negative. He further said that he doesn't want a relationship where he has to "mother" me, that I just want him to replace my mom, and doesn't expect the same of me.

I brought up how I researched a slight chronic condition he takes medicine for every day as soon as he told me and knew more about the side effects of his medicine than he did. I also asked him a few weeks ago if he was still remembering to take his medicine. Again, he said that I didn't need to "mother" him.

I showed him articles where partners went to doctor appointments with their ill partners and actively asked questions about their conditions. I said it was normal where I come from to show care proactively in these ways. He said that he will work on it but thinks such behavior is "unusual."

I know my medical issue isn't huge and I should have been more upfront (I.e. Just said "I have atypical squamous cells and here's further research I've done on it") but I'm just so surprised that my partner might not have thought to do further research himself. It's true that I downplayed it as well, but I feel like if something similar happened to him, I would have at least asked some follow up questions. My partner thinks the onus was on me to tell him.

How should I think about this? Am I overreacting? I'm an only child and my mom does pay too much attention to me, so I often worry that I'm acting entitled when it comes to how others treat me.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There is a whole range of ways people deal with health issues, medical care and medical professionals. This ranges from only going to seek medical care when pain is unbearable to participating in all offered screening to having every mild unclear potential symptom checked out by a doctor. It also ranges from relying on the medical professional to do their job and not challenge them to doing all manner of research, demanding tests and seeking multiple opinions. So on the face of it it would seem that the two of you simply fall on different ends of the spectrum. Note that a lot of this is hugely driven by cultural and class differences and the local healthcare system. So if any of those differences are relevant for your relationship you both may be making a lot of assumptions about what is normal or not. If he's generally supportive and showing concern then yes, you may have just needed to spell out your needs and expectations here. If he still doesn't show more of an interest now that your have done that that's more problematic.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:36 PM on September 17, 2017 [7 favorites]

This is absolutely one of those things where there are many 'appropriate' responses, and not just one.
Personally, if I'd given that information to my partner, and they had independently researched it (without me asking them to), and came back to me suggesting that I was doing it wrong and should see another doctor, I would be incredibly offended at their paternalistic attitude. To me, that would not be a signal that they loved me and cared for me, but that they distrusted and infantilised me.

On the other hand, if my partner actually explicitly said 'this issue is scaring me and I'd like you to research it and have informed opinons to help me', I would be googling so hard.
So, yeah, this sounds more like a case of having to express your needs clearly, rather than that someone has done something 'wrong' or 'not normal'.
posted by AFII at 12:13 AM on September 18, 2017 [47 favorites]

I brought up how I researched a slight chronic condition he takes medicine for every day as soon as he told me and knew more about the side effects of his medicine than he did.

It doesn't sound like he's the type of person to be proactive about researching his own medical condition, so it's unlikely he would do that for you. He doesn't want you following up on his health (asking about his medication), so it's unlikely he would do that for you. I don't know where you are from but going to a partners medical appointments doesn't seem normal in America. Following up and managing a partners medical issues is normal (but not universal) *for women* in America - there are a ton of gender based differences in attitudes to healthcare and this is one of them. If you haven't heard the term, look up "emotional labor" - this is one example of that.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:14 AM on September 18, 2017 [18 favorites]

He has already told you multiple times what his expectations and needs are regarding shared medical info. He doesn't want to mother you, and he doesn't want you to mother him. Why are you ignoring that straightforward boundary setting on his part?
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:14 AM on September 18, 2017 [23 favorites]

Have you read the emotional labor thread? I think you were right to expect something more. I mean, my feeling is that he didn't need to study up on WebMD or have questions for your doctor or need to know technical terms or whatnot, but he does sort of need to anticipate that there's an emotional context for health-related issues just to be a thoughtful person and understand where you're at on things like this. The responses you describe seem like a miss on his part in terms of empathy and effort. Maybe it was an isolated matter--who knows, and certainly I don't really enjoy talking about health care myself--but brushing this stuff off as 'mothering' seems a bit immature.
posted by Wobbuffet at 12:17 AM on September 18, 2017 [18 favorites]

Seconding koahiatamadl - how does this sit in the wider context of your relationship?

I've noticed striking differences in how people deal with information around medical issues, even in my own family. While a sibling was in a very serious medical state, my mum and I both tended to read charts, research everything we were told, and (respectfully) ask questions. My dad, who's very capable of handling complex information and asking questions, didn't want to know anything more than what the doctors said. The two behaviours were really mutually antagonising, and both came from a place of trying to manage high stress, but with wildly different expectations and boundaries. My sibling tends towards my dad's side, despite being a super technical and resourceful person otherwise, and I've found my partner tends towards the middle ground.

In a sense, the above has been useful to me in future medical issues with my family, because I have a model for how each of them like to proceed, and how I can act to minimise stress for them in future. I think you and your partner should be taking the same from this conflict, if you can find a way to extract something positive.
posted by carbide at 12:26 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't find it unusual he didn't research your condition. I'd research it if the person I was dating got a diagnosis of a chronic or severe condition like MS, but probably wouldn't do so for some abnormal cells that are unlikely to cause problems. That said, I think if you want a relationship that is long term and committed in the "sickness and health" sense, you might be right to be concerned - his response about mothering indicates he could bail if any caretaking involved. There's probably a degree of defensiveness involved in his response, given that he didn't do anything expressly wrong and might have felt blindsided by being confronted on it, but it still tells you a bit about his inclinations.
posted by decathexis at 12:27 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm assuming that your partner is a guy. This is guy behaviour. Guys are not typically going to independantly focus on making you feel cared about in this way. Good or bad, right or wrong, don't expect it. You can demand/insist/try to explain why it is important to you but it is unlikely that he will ever genuinely "get it". Whether it's a temperment thing or a social conditioning thing guys typically do not seem to do this kind of caring well. (Including for themselves, which is why so many wives end up having to make their husband's doctor appointments and force them to go.)

I doubt if you'll ever be able to convince him that this is "normal"; if you can get him to change his behaviour it will be about appeasing you.

Imo your responses are on the more extreme/diligent end of "normal", especially for a woman, but ultimately it doesn't matter who is right and what is normal. It matters whether you are willing to live with things as they stand now, assuming he will never, ever change.
posted by windykites at 12:45 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

As a person with a chronic illness, the very last thing I want is for well-meaning family and friends, including my partner, to offer unsolicited information and advice that they learned from the internet. I also would be really angry if my mother pushed me to see a different doctor or created more anxiety for me by fretting.

What your partner said about trusting the doctor and expecting to receive information from you instead of having to become a medical sleuth seems completely reasonable. The notion that he would naturally want to take up doing research does seem to be an unusual expectation to me.

Whether he is sufficiently caring, attentive, and responsive to your concerns, is another matter. I don't know if some of the things he said in response to your bringing up the issue could be considered red flags. There's not really enough for me to go on.
posted by Vispa Teresa at 12:48 AM on September 18, 2017 [24 favorites]

I have ulcerative colitis. My dear bf told me that he had asked his best friends, followers of Kevin Trudeau, who have expensive access to medical information and answers "They" don't want you to know, or so goes the ad copy, for the latest and most revolutionary treatment options. I read the information provided , which contained last year's treatment plan, told him I was on a newer medication than they were recommending and thanks but please just leave this to me and my medical professionals. There are worse things than being respected for your own judgment.

With UC and with breast cancer, the worst interactions I've had are with people who have told me how to treat or cure them, rather than just saying, oh fuck I'm sorry
posted by janey47 at 1:45 AM on September 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

Your desired response would be way beyond my expectations for a condition like this. For context, my husband is a healthcare provider and checking up on heath stuff is one of the few ways that he displays affection, so I pay closer attention to responses to those kinds of things.

Rather than researching the abnormal cells, I would want my partner to check in on how I'm feeling about the situation. Like, ideally when the next six month appointment came up, I'd want him to ask how I was feeling about going to the appointment. I'd want him to be celebratory if normal test results came back and if not, to talk through the feelings stemming from that.
posted by emkelley at 1:57 AM on September 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

I'm an only child and my mom does pay too much attention to me, so I often worry that I'm acting entitled when it comes to how others treat me.

Coming from another only child...I don't want to say you're acting entitled, but I don't know if your expectations about his involvement are reasonable. As long as he's not treating you as though you're high-maintenance or a hypochondriac for even bothering to take care of your health, he's doing okay by a lot of people's standards.

The only thing here that seems a bit red-flaggy is how he told you to not be so negative - you're allowed to be freaked out about a series of abnormal pap smears. Then again, when you're long distance and your partner doesn't get to see all of your life all the time, sometimes their perception of you gets distorted.
posted by blerghamot at 2:29 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't think he necessarily needed to research the condition on his own, but I feel he should've been concerned enough upon hearing the words "atypical cells" to ask you what that lab result meant in terms of your health. Showing this bare minimum level of concern for one's partner's health is not "mothering". He's being an uncaring jerk, in my book.
posted by whitelily at 2:34 AM on September 18, 2017 [7 favorites]

I think this depends on whether you're hurt that he didn't really engage with this issue because you want him to mother you and fawn over you about it, or if it's just because you want him to care about you and important things that happen to you. If it's the latter, then no, you are not overreacting. If my partner had something like this happen to them, like you I would want to know more about it and would likely research it and ask how they're doing with it. This isn't because I want to control and mother them--they can certainly make their own medical decisions and I wouldn't barge in on that--but because I would be extremely concerned about them and want to know the details and support them because I love them. I would expect my partner to show some interest in my medical issues as well because those things affect your life in a major way.

When you said something to him he also brushed you off and told you that you were wrong to feel the way you do, rather than listening to you and trying to understand why it bothered you. From how you've described it, it looks to me like his focus was on removing any blame from himself. Even if he didn't do anything wrong, I think that's an uncaring response.
posted by Polychrome at 2:54 AM on September 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

His frequent use of the verb "mother" in a pejorative sense stands out to me.

But you also need to be clearer about your emotional needs. If you downplay your distress, you don't really have much of a leg to stand on when he acts like he didn't know you are distressed.

By that same token though, his reaction to your reaction sounds like a shirking of emotional labor. To me, the right response there is "I'm sorry, I didn't know this had frightened you so much, you were acting like everything was normal. But now that I know how you're feeling, how can I help you feel cared for and supported?" Not, "Ugh, I don't want to have to care for you."
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:55 AM on September 18, 2017 [34 favorites]

I don't think your expectations of him are entirely reasonable. He should definitely care how you feel about it, but research etc is not necessarily a standard response to this type of news.

When you asked, he said he would work on this even though he thinks the request is unusual. People show love and care in different ways. This is not one of his instinctive ways to show he cares, but you can see if he's as good as his word and at least tries now that he knows it matters to you. Look for the ways he does show love and try to appreciate them as the same thing in different packaging.

It's also very likely he didn't realise the potential for this to one day become a serious medical issue. Text message is not good for this conversation. You likely downplayed the result to avoid oversharing or seeming dramatic, and he couldn't see the nonverbal cues that you were scared and in need of being comforted.

(Also FWIW I had this condition. I was very freaked out at the time. I am fine. Totally resolved itself, years of clear tests since then.)
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 4:32 AM on September 18, 2017

Another vote for not being unreasonable not to do research. I work in healthcare and am naturally interested in it so I will often look up extra information. If it's a serious illness in someone I care a lot about then that research is part of how I cope with my worries. Sometimes I've found the sick person will ask me questions and find it helpful that I can give some extra insight or explain something that they didn't remember/have time to ask their team about, other times people don't ask and want to leave it in the hands of the team looking after them.

My husband just doesn't have the same level of desire to understand all the ins and outs. It's not at all that he doesn't care but he doesn't have a medical background so he doesn't anticipate any googling of his being likely to change the situation so he leaves it to the professionals looking after the patient to handle.

Similar to you I was diagnosed some years ago with a condition that causes no trouble now and if managed correctly will likely never cause trouble but has the capacity to develop into something very serious. At the time of the diagnosis I was pretty freaked out about it and had a couple of chats with close friends who work in my field. That worked better for me than talking to my husband because we were starting from similar wavelengths and could discuss the problem at a technical level that my husband wouldn't have managed. I don't think spouses (or romantic partners) have to fulfil every single one of each other's needs.

However what does really worry me is your partner telling you "not to be so negative". That's really dismissive of your totally legitimate feelings and worries. Because of the texting he may have underestimated how worried you were to start with, but it sounds like you then did a great job of articulating your feelings and he dismissed them.

I think its reasonable for him to state that the extra-research isn't his style and reasonable for you to think about if that is something you definitely need from a partner or are happy to have that need supplied by other people but you should think really carefully about whether he listens and hears your needs or generally dismisses you. That goes to the core of a relationship and IMHO is really important.
posted by *becca* at 5:46 AM on September 18, 2017

I texted this result to my partner. We text a lot because we are long distance.

I think you're expecting too much from text.
posted by flabdablet at 5:52 AM on September 18, 2017 [7 favorites]

Everyone is different. My husband is a doctor, and even then I loathe when he follows up on any medical issues I may have. I am a grown adult, I detest being "managed" (which is what it feels like) and if I want advice I will ask for it, so until then please butt out. So he does (mostly... he gets way more anxious about health stuff than me, so I cut him some slack).

That said, it's all about respecting my wishes. My husband usually does that, but it doesn't sound like your partner is respecting your wishes for them to be more proactive, and is shutting you down when you ask for it. Have a talk about that, bc that will repeat itself in other situations.
posted by gaspode at 6:14 AM on September 18, 2017

I don't think there's a right or wrong here - some people show love by researching the crap out of things, some people show love by respecting your autonomy and your ability to do your own research and make your own decisions.

But I suspect that what you really want is more engagement and connection from your partner, and I wonder if, in general, you feel loved and cared for by your partner.
posted by bunderful at 6:26 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Guy here. My viewpoint is that I let professionals handle jobs for which they are trained. I did not spend 5-10 years of my life learning about medicine and how to be a health care provider. What I would expect in this situation is for my partner to ask if I was comfortable with and confident in the doctor or the health care provider managing the situation. Is this the right expert to trust or do you want help finding a different expert?

If you had a complicated tax issue, would you want your spouse to Google it and give advice or would you want to find a competent accountant or tax lawyer?

It sounds to me like you are not looking for medical advice from your partner, but, rather, compassion. I think IF that is what you really want from your partner, explain that to them. If my partner told me they had received this test result and they were concerned about it, I would not rush to look up the condition, but, I would rush to ask how I could support them.
posted by AugustWest at 7:00 AM on September 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

Recently I was at risk of dying in a natural disaster (very very low risk, but a risk nonetheless). I commented to my partner how hard it would be for the baby to have to wean suddenly. Rather than express any fear or concern about me dying, he expressed reassurance that the baby is old enough that he could wean if he needs to. I wasn't very happy with his reaction, but he thought he was meeting my needs because I was expressing concern for the baby. I explained plainly what I needed and why this hurt me, and a few days later he commented more in alignment with the kind of "but I don't want you to die" message that I needed to feel from him.

Assume the best and make your needs clear and then wait and see how your partner behaves in the future. A loving partner will make an effort to meet your needs even if it isn't entirely natural for them.

This situation might be a sign that your partner will be dismissive of your emotional needs, which can suck hard if you're used to having them met, but it may also just be a misunderstanding. Especially if your partner is American as others have said, because mother's bear the lion's share of health related anxiety in many families. Watch and wait.
posted by crunchy potato at 7:04 AM on September 18, 2017

I am female and think it is not reasonable to expect your partner to be your "dr. google", especially without asking them. In fact I would be very, very annoyed if I told my partner that I had an abnormal pap smear and explained that it's almost certainly not a big deal (which in fact I have done) and he made me see a new doctor (!!) and/or tried to mansplain my own genitals to me based on his internet research (!!!). Luckily my partner at the time did neither, and it turned out to be nothing, as it usually does (and even if it's something, keeping an eye on it means it will most likely still not be a big deal).

It's one thing to expect love and support if you tell him you're worried etc. It's quite another to expect him to provide a "medical" opinion based on google. Maybe he's being caring in his own way, by avoiding feeding into your medical anxiety?
posted by randomnity at 7:24 AM on September 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

Chiming in with another vote on the side of "there's so much variation here that it needs to be worked out in the context of your specific relationship."

Personally, I would not expect nor want my partner doing any sort of "follow-up" on my medical care unless I were so sick that I could not advocate for myself effectively. In your situation, at most I would think my partner might ask what the next follow-up step is and how I'm feeling, and take me out for a cheer-up dinner or something.

But then, you mention your relationship with your mom too, and that made me think about how I personally would have to be be half-dead to want my mom involved in my medical life but my sister spent all of yesterday in Urgent Care with our mom and now our mom will be over at her apartment tonight continuing to look after her. That mother-daughter relationship works well for them; the one I have with Mom works well for me. (Possibly not as well for my mom, who would probably like to be more up in my medical business, but boundaries are a beautiful thing and she respects mine.) Neither of our mother-daughter relationships are wrong, and they coexist even in the same family, dependent on the personalities and histories we all have together. Context of individual relationships is everything.

I think probably you should both try to let this one go as simply mismatched communication expectations, But then when you're feeling calmer, have a more general conversation about how you each like to be supported through health stuff, both everyday and crisis stuff. Neither of you is wrong, and probably neither of you is ever going to come around 100% to the other's way of thinking, but maybe you can identify the most important things to each of you and find some compromises there.
posted by Stacey at 7:54 AM on September 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

What I appreciate from my partner if I tell him about a medical issue is that he will ask me later how I'm doing with it ("how's the knee?"). I receive this consideration about 90% of the time, so I don't worry about the other 10%.

To be honest I think if you are expecting something more than this -- if you want your partner to get real informed about your problem for instance -- you will need to explicitly ask for it.

You may even need to be explicit if all you want is for them to ask you how you're doing with your medical thing. Not everyone likes that. Some people hate being asked about their health problems. So yeah, if that's your love language, I think you're going to need to ask for it, and not be accusatory about it.

(Speaking of accusation though, is part of your anger a suspicion that you got HPV from him? I can totally understand how you'd expect extra care from him, quite reasonably, in that case.)

Text isn't the right medium for a conversation about anything serious, so next time if you have something important to talk about, call.

I hope your stuff clears up. It very often does but it's scary until that happens. Good luck.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:10 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

But then, you mention your relationship with your mom too, and that made me think about how I personally would have to be be half-dead to want my mom involved in my medical life but my sister spent all of yesterday in Urgent Care with our mom and now our mom will be over at her apartment tonight continuing to look after her.

Ha, yes. This reminded me that my mum actually doesn't know about the medical condition I mentioned in my first post. This was originally for Reasons which are no longer an issue but even so I'm more comfortable keeping it that way. I think if she did know she would worry but I can't imagine her googling and giving me advice and it probably wouldn't go over well with me if she did...
posted by *becca* at 8:35 AM on September 18, 2017

In my opinion, this is pretty fucked up. What does it even mean to "trust the doctor" here? "Oh, well, maybe you have some precancerous cells, and if that's the case I'm sure the doctor will just treat it and you'll be fine, it's just cancer, why are you so negative?" He doesn't want to "mother" you by expressing concern? I mean, this isn't surprising, it's the way 90% of men act, but that's because they have no idea how to take care of another person, not because you're crazy.

In general it always makes me queasy when a woman expresses a pretty mundane wish for her male partner to express more care and the consensus is that she's weird or spoiled for expecting it. Yes, it's ok to judge on a case by case basis, but "you need to suck it up and adapt to his complete lack of attention" is how we get stats saying women on average feel happy and liberated when divorcing after middle age. If I'm right, the bothersome part isn't that he's not looking at webMD enough or keeping track of your pills, it's that like most young men he doesn't understand a thing about women's health and doesn't really care, and furthermore he doesn't care particularly about your health, he sees it as "negativity."

I know as women we don't feel we can break up with every mediocrity that comes along because we'd quickly run out of options but if I were you I'd tell him in pretty clear terms that this is a concern for me and him not expressing anything but annoyance about it is not OK with you. You're perfectly within your rights to start looking for a guy who is not this selfish.

This isn't about text messaging, MeFites are incapable of wrapping their head around it but young people use text messaging quite fluently to express a variety of emotions.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:51 AM on September 18, 2017 [18 favorites]

I got two abnormal pap smear results six months apart, each showing abnormality with the technical term being "atypical squamous cells."

To me this feels a bit like saying "Hey I have an unusual looking mole and the doctor said I should keep an eye on it." To which my response would be "OK, are you keeping an eye on it?" and if you said yes, I'd consider we'd talk more about it if things went sideways. Or if I was worried, I'd expect a "Hey let's talk about your feelings if you are feeling weird" conversation.

So, again, all people are different. In my universe, with my long distance partner, the level of response you received would be normal and appreciated. At the point at which I had an actual diagnoseable "I need to do something about this" event, I would expect more attention though maybe not independent googling/learning. Otherwise, it's just needless work/anxiety over a thing that may well go away.

You seem to be concerned about normal in the world as opposed to normal in your relationship. Sure, some partners go to the doctor with them. Many don't. Some research medicines, others don't. I would find proactive care stifling. Clearly you wouldn't. But your partner seems like they're being clear about how they feel about these things and it's up to you to decide if that's ok with you.
posted by jessamyn at 9:17 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't think it's particularly abnormal for him not to rush to do independent research on a couple of anomalous test results. He probably doesn't perceive them as life-altering for either of you. And, as everyone has said, people do have different ways of expressing concern in medical crises that are all sincere.

But this worries me:

He further said that he doesn't want a relationship where he has to "mother" me, that I just want him to replace my mom, and doesn't expect the same of me.

He is telling you, up front, that he does not intend to take care of you. At some point, that life-altering test result is going to come along. Then you are going to need him to be supportive, not dismiss caregiving as something for older women to do.

This is something you should consider very carefully when contemplating whether the relationship has a future.
posted by praemunire at 9:58 AM on September 18, 2017 [10 favorites]

I think you are overreacting. An abnormal pap smear is most likely nothing. I've had like 7 or 8 abnormal pap smears and then colposcopies and it's never been anything other than once HPV was detected and cleared on its own, which it does, in most cases. That odds are in your favor. MAybe i'm insensitive, but i do a little eye roll everytime someone is freaking out over an abnormal pap smear. Sometimes it seems like they want something to be wrong just so they have a unique identifier or something. I also think having my partner go to routine appoitments is patronizing, as if i am unable to handle my own health. This is of course with the assumption that i don't have a serious ongoing condition with multiple meds to juggle and specialists to schedule with.

That said, I think it would be unreasonable for your partner to also freak out about such a potential nothing. My opinion would be different if you had cancer or some condition where you will need medicine forever or something along those lines. JEssamyn's comparison to having a mole is a good one for the gravity that your situation seems.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:31 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

He explicitly told you that he will not be around to help you manage medical issues in the future. Is that really a person you want to build a life with?
posted by fireandthud at 11:02 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sure, people have different levels of risk tolerance and desire to google when it comes to medical things, but what strikes me is that you told him that you felt hurt by his silence, and his response was "I don't want to mother you"?? The appropriate response would have been something along the lines of "I don't want to hurt you." It sounds like he's willing to work on it, though, which is a good sign.

Even if your medical issue isn't life-threatening, it's not the actual atypia that you are responding to, it's the uncertainty that accompanies it. That's a totally valid and not-overreacting concern. It may be worth framing it as such to your partner, maybe that will help him get it/not be so dismissive. You don't say how long you've been together, but his behavior strikes me as pretty casual -- though for what it's worth, I'd be a bit annoyed if a partner reminded me, a grown-ass adult, to take my medication.

And aside from all that stress with your partner, having to get three Paps in a year is no picnic either! Here's hoping #3 turns up normal and you can be done with this limbo.
posted by basalganglia at 4:40 PM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Whether he should have googled more, or asked more concerned questions, well that's something to learn and grow from as you go through things in your relationship. Here's a learning curve situation about relationship bids, and trying to meet them in the way your partner feels safe and supported when they express themselves intimately.

What stands out to me is that the issue of concern (your pathology results/ your fear about them) becomes sidelined in the meta-argument about oh, your incorrect delivery style in telling him about the issue, debate about whether theoretically caring about them is 'mother'-ish and therefore Bad, whether you've chosen the right ways to show concern for him, contesting whether having needs together should even be a Thing etc etc. Making partner levels of care a general philosophical debate point, rather than a simple intimate call to provide affection and attention. Do you care about me?

Where is your issue in all of this? It's been subsumed by the meta-dance. It escalated when it could have been a 'bid' being met in the moment. Like, 'tell me more about the test' might have been all you needed to feel your tentatively expressed bid ('downplayed') was acknowledged. Refusing bids is a turning away, and that hurts. 'Tell me about the test' allows the person with the issue to talk about or express themselves within a trusting conversation, where other bids will probably be made, to which the partner can respond with 'how can I help?' Or 'I'd like to do x, would that help?'

Partners who recognise each other's bids pretty quickly and turn towards their partner to provide attention and affection, are more likely to stay together. Your partner's case with his condition that prompted your research and involvement might not have met his 'bid' either, he got a long, involved process taking you to the internet, to posit solutions etc rather than I dunno, saying 'how can I help?' to him and waiting for an answer to which you listen carefully, putting aside yourself and providing what he says he needs. It's a learning curve to figure out how the Other responds to life events, and how that is different to your own, yet being in relationship with these differences is totally doable because you each care enough to meet bids as well as possible.

From personal experience, illness brings out some deep stuff in partnerships. I would pay attention to the fact that when you made a bid, you got into a meta-conversation. From his side, deflection onto how this feels Bad Mother-ish, yours onto Look What I Did For You That Time litigation. All of this took you a long way from just getting care in the moment for your life event.

I also agree that the turning away from the bid here feels partly Emotional Labour shirking too.
posted by honey-barbara at 4:58 PM on September 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

This question falls in the gray area where it's less about what's "normal" and more about "what do you want? What does he want? will those fit together?"
posted by salvia at 8:52 PM on September 18, 2017

Some folks have the "NBD" hindsight of a half-dozen abnormal paps. That's understandable.

A first one can still be alarming, especially if you:
(1) come from a family where "probably nothing" diagnostic screenings have repeatedly returned "oh shit" results;
(2) have had relatively few sex partners and/or been monogamous with your current one for a long time, like, longer than HPV would normally take to clear;
(3) like to research medical stuff and get familiar with it as soon as the possibility confronts you;
(4) grew up with a family where affectionate medical-worry-wart-style geeking-out was the norm, perhaps due to some combination of 1 and 3.

If any of this rings true for you, you're not overreacting in my book. A scare is a scare, and when it's something intimate like this, many of us want our partner to show a certain level of concern. Compounding that with being long-distance anyway, it's not unthinkable that you'd feel dismissed or disregarded or alone right now.

If this is part of a larger pattern, where you and he value different responses to this kind of news, it is OK to ask yourself if this relationship is meeting your needs (and his). It doesn't have to mean he's a soulless android, and it certainly doesn't mean you're hopelessly needy.

The thing with LDRs is, they take gobs of extra emotional labor under the best of circumstances, let alone when you can't agree on what that emotional labor should look like.

Be good to yourself. Really, you have every right to do that!
posted by armeowda at 1:05 AM on September 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have a kinda similar medical issue at the moment, which I have been dealing with for a few weeks, and am in a serious LDR, so this resonated with me. So, when I first went to the doctor and I told my partner about it, I know he looked into it, even if he didn't discuss it with me. While we were waiting for the test results, he asked after them, and worried with me. I haven't had to prompt him, he's been proactive about it. He makes me feel cared for-- not 'mothered'. In fact, when I got an abnormal result on my blood test, and queried it with the doctor because I couldn't understand what would cause it, my partner knew what it might be, because he'd already looked it up before. Without me asking. I'm not saying this is necessarily typical, and I didn't even need that kind of caring from him-- it didn't matter if he didn't research stuff or not. It wasn't about that for me. I just needed him to show some care, and act interested, and listen to me, and ask questions sometimes. And that's what he's been doing.

The onus was on both of you; you to not downplay something you're legitimately concerned about, (don't downplay things or pretend to feel fine if you don't-- even if feeling bad is psychological and not physical) and to give him more information if you had it-- him to ask follow up questions, but it's also his job to respond positively when you tell him you'd like him to show more care and concern, not give excuses as to why he just doesn't want to.

And, I'll be the first to admit that I'm biased here and I don't know the situation well just from your question. But personally, I think 'I just don't want to mother you,' is total bullshit excuse, and kinda a red flag. There's a difference between being mothering, which indicates a level of control-- and just being caring. Also, when you express your needs, and this is the response, then it's a response designed to make you feel bad for asking for what you want and need. I feel like it's an excuse some selfish partners use when they can't be effed making an effort to care, and need to make their lack of effort look legit. If my partner had said that to me about my issues, I would have been extremely hurt. It would be a dealbreaker for me. Adding that it's 'unusual,' to want this level of attention, further adds a notion that you're kinda being weird, but hey, how awesome is he-- he'll do it for you anyway. And cementing that is the statement, that 'A mothering relationship isn't the kind of relationship I want.' Ouch. Why mention this? Why thinly hint at a breakup? Over this? He is telling you who is is here, so believe him. I personally feel there's a difference between caring for someone and mothering someone. Caring is asking how you are, and how you feel, what your results say, what did the doctor say, etc-- because even if he's not anxious or worried about it, he can tell you're anxious about this etc. Instead, mothering is what, surprise-- your mother is doing-- 'she made me see a different doctor,' and mothering is what you did, actually-- asking him if he is taking his medication. Don't do this. He doesn't like it; he expressed his needs, and if you want him to make more of an effort, then you need to do the the same to compromise. So he has a point here. Some couples are okay with things like that, some aren't. He's not. It's his responsibility. If you want to show you care, saying; 'how are you feeling with condition lately, everything good?' and taking his inevitable, 'It's fine,' at face value and not pushing the issue. It's better than going straight to a assumptive statement like; 'are you taking your pills?' as if the default is that he wouldn't be, as if he can't be trusted to take them. As people up-thread said, though, it's very easy to slip into that, as a woman, we are taught to react this way.

(As an aside here, when I told my family and some friends my results, my brothers checked in with me occasionally, and asked how I was etc, and one of my best male friends has also been proactively asking me about it, 'What did doctor say/ whens your next Doctor appointment? Let me know how it goes,' etc in messenger. According to your guy, all my friends and family mother me by... asking how I am.)

But the other red flag for me is this. "You're a healthy young woman, trust the doctor, and don't be so negative" further reinforces, to me, that he is not putting forth a caring effort. That's a pretty dismissive, and kinda belittling statement-- as if your worries and concerns are stupid or negative, so you shouldn't worry your pretty little head. It doesn't sit well with me. Issues down there are kind of a big deal for a woman, and while doom and gloom isn't the appropriate response, neither is being laissez-faire about it is either. I've been to three different doctors and a gyno, had a battering of tests and such, and their skill levels vary, (they also can't agree on what it is, either) so 'trust the doctor,' isn't a great platitude in my opinion. There can totally be terrible doctors. It's great to get a second opinion. So It's normal to have a bit of worry or apprehension over it while you wait for results. The unknown is scary. I've cried over it at times. And then I went to my partner, and I cried over it, in a video, miles away, wondering if this may be it for me. He didn't tell me I was 'being negative,' -- or being silly. He validated my concerns, without adding to them. He still managed to reassure me, actually, and make me feel optimistic, but not in a way that belittled me for freaking having emotions and being scared. He didn't shame me for wanting that reassurance either. I feel safe telling him my fears.

And while I agree that mothering is bad, I feel like he's using that term as an excuse to not really put forth effort to be proactively caring. I don't know. Maybe he's just a bit thoughtless. But here's a good way to tell the difference: When you talk face to face about your tests, medical stuff, or your issues etc is he listening to you properly? Or is he tuning out, dismissive and wanting to change the subject immediately? If you started a video chat, and you started crying because you were scared, would he be reassuring, or do you think he'd be annoyed with you? Do you feel safe? Do you feel validated or dismissed? Because the vibe I'm getting is the latter, but maybe I'm wrong. If he is concerned, caring, interested etc-- then that's a great, though. Then it's a case of him maybe just being a bit clueless-- perhaps not ever having to deal with this before, perhaps the informality of text, perhaps because you yourself didn't seemed to concerned about it, or perhaps he isn't proactive with asking after people in general and not knowing how. In which case, if he works on it, and makes an effort to meet your needs more-- he did say he'd work on it-- then that's really great. Give him the benefit of the doubt, and see if things improve. Time will tell.

Lastly, if you have something like this you're concerned about, talk about it face to face, even if it's a video call. Texts have a way of being dismissed and put aside, and it's not necessarily intentional. They can be impersonal and easy to downplay, as they don't feel very 'real'. So anything you feel is slightly serious-- even if it's not a huge deal-- if it feels serious to you, don't text it, talk about it.

I hope this helps somewhat. I wish you the best.
posted by Dimes at 10:20 AM on September 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

We text a lot because we are long distance.

Lots of good things have been said above but please keep in mind that LDRs in general have a different set of expectations. It's often quite hard to be there for someone when you don't see them every day.
posted by Melismata at 2:59 PM on September 19, 2017

Maybe I'm unusual in this, but it personally really bothers me when people close to me don't do at least basic Googling about unfamiliar concepts, instead putting the burden on me to explain what everything is and why I care about it. They don't need to know everything, but a basic search would help us have a better conversation and show that they care at least that much. That level of expectation is not inappropriate in this day and age, I feel like.

I do this for everyone else—partly because I'm interested, partly because I'm an answerer of questions by nature, partly because I want to know how best to support those I love. I don't do it to usurp anyone's agency or butt in with unsolicited advice, but rather to be informed. (It really bothers me as well when people assume otherwise and dismiss info I've found; at this point, after years of caregiving and dealing with doctors and hospitals, I'm verifiably pretty good at it.)

But even if he wasn't willing to do the basic Googling or doesn't like doing that—I am close to some people who don't—it's disappointing that he didn't pick up on the bid for connection you were making, as others have noted. Other answers have already covered well what the issues are there and why it matters; I just wanted to throw in a data point for "You're not alone in wanting this from your partner."
posted by limeonaire at 7:36 PM on September 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

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