I Like Space. My Girlfriend Wants To Be Attached At The Hip. Suggestions
August 12, 2018 7:18 AM   Subscribe

I like to have some alone time as well as some physical space. My girlfriend is very (admittedly) clingy. How can we resolve this? Details inside....

I have been dating someone for over a year. She fell hard for me. I took a little longer. We both struggle with anxiety. I am in treatment. She is not. Not to "play therapist," but I definitely think that she has anxiety about being alone. Spending the night alone, etc. She also won't do anything without me (walks, etc). She has what I think is severe social anxiety.

I can't ever "relax" when we are together. I find myself looking forward to having alone time so that I can shut myself off and focus on things that aren't her. She wants to constantly be touched and paid attention to. We can't even sit on the couch without her spooning me or getting on me. Even when I tell her that I just want a little space, she gives it to me for a little bit, but then invariably scoots over to me.

I am a very affectionate person, I just need space too.

Thoughts? Suggestions?
posted by kbbbo to Human Relations (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There is nothing in this Ask about you having had a discussion with her about this. What does she say?

We can't even sit on the couch without her spooning me or getting on me.

This isn't really weird. he might not see spooning you as a "demand for attention", but just a way to be physically affectionate while you hang out.

Honestly, it sounds like you have anxieties going in opposite directions. She has anxieties about being apart, but you get anxious when people are in your space to the point that you can't focus on other things.

You're going to have to talk about it and come up with a compromise that works for both of you. A relationship will involve sacrifices on your part, in terms of your "alone time" - but it doesn't mean you need to be welded together 100% of the time. So, yeah. Suggestions: Talk to her?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:25 AM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I can't ever "relax" when we are together.

Break up. You're not compatible.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 7:41 AM on August 12, 2018 [28 favorites]

OP here....

I want to expound a bit. I DO like being affectionate and snuggling. Sometimes I just want to lay down on the couch and read and not have a conversation or spoon. She can be on the couch too. She just seems to always need to talk, spoon or have physical affection.
posted by kbbbo at 7:52 AM on August 12, 2018

It sounds like the more you try to dodge the clinging, the more she's going to feel the need to cling. The more she tries to cling, the more you're going to try to dodge it. I suspect this will build and escalate - unless you find a way to break that cycle - until both of you are profoundly unhappy.

Like Kutsuwamushi said, you need to talk about it and figure out how to balance both of your needs. If her climbing on you (for example) is just too much contact, can you sit beside each other and hold hands? Or put your feet on each other's ankles? Or lean on each other? (etc.) Could you arrange a specific time for an intense amount of snuggling-up (before watching TV, say) and then both maintain your own space during the show you're watching? Do you find it easier to be the one doing the snuggling instead of the one being climbed onto? If so, adjust that way.

It might be a tough conversation - one in which she may feel rejected (and hear "I don't like your physical affection" instead of your actual words) - but she's already feeling rejected to some extent by your dodging, I would guess. But you both deserve to find a way to make it work.
posted by VioletU at 7:54 AM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

This does sound like a compatibility issue. From your question, I’m getting the impression that she is more attached to you than you are to her. You’re mismatched there; you’re mismatched in terms of desire for physical contact; it sounds like your approaches to dealing with anxiety are also at odds.

Far be it from me to say that you don’t have lots of other things in common, but (anxiety diagnoses notwithstanding) you don’t mention it here. You also don’t say anything along the lines of “I really love her and I want to stay together” — you mention that you have an affectionate side, which would ostensibly still be true without her, or with anyone else.

If you aren’t in love with her, and you feel guilty about that, you have my permission to let the guilt, and her, go.
posted by armeowda at 7:59 AM on August 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

She might need treatment for anxiety, but her anxiety might be caused (or exacerbated) by being very into someone who's not that into her. If you're on the fence about the relationship, consider whether it's time to break it off.

If you love her and want to make it work, talk to her and come up with some compromises. Maybe you have "cave zone" where she knows you need to be with your thoughts for a while - this should include an understanding of what starts and ends "cave zone." You might also talk about what things make each of you feel loved and wanted.
posted by bunderful at 8:14 AM on August 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

I've been your girlfriend. Just break up with her already. I don't think you love her and think of how she's going to feel if you have this conversation with her.

When it was had with me, I felt shamed. I felt guilty. I wondered if I could EVER be with my boyfriend again or if I was always "too much" and I didn't know if I could ever initiate. Does it all have to be his initiation in order for him to feel better? Am I just a horrible person for wanting snuggles all the time I can't get from anyone else in my life? I was scared because I felt like anything I did to be happy in the relationship would drive him off, and guess what, it did.

(Though really, turned out he was a commitmentphobe and they do that shit on everyone after a while. I wasn't that horrible but it took me nearly 20 years to find that out.)

Anyway, just break up with her. That conversation can't be worked out. She will always be too much for you and you will always be too little for her.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:21 AM on August 12, 2018 [36 favorites]

You guys need to talk about how you both express affection. Sounds likes to express it & have it expressed to her through physical contact & you have some other way you like to show love & have it shown to you. My husband & I found the book The 5 love Languages super helpful in helping both of us figure out our different ways of showing affection. I am someone that finds acts of service expressive of love & my husband is a physical touch kind of a guy. Not sure where you are in your relationship, if this is something you would feel comfortable reading & talking about together. But even reading it yourself might help you see the contact as what it is, her wanting to show love not get "all up in your space" and annoy you. This might help you demonstrate affection to her in a way she "gets" more & so make her less "clinging" when you do want space as her needs have been met. Then you could both get what you want.

Having said that, everything about your question kind of just read, she annoys me all the time. That isn't a great basis for a relationship. Have a deep think about if your annoyance at her wanting to touch you isn't masking your annoyance at her in general.
posted by wwax at 8:25 AM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

My partner is much more physically affectionate than I am. We've discussed this - and when he comes to try and hug me while I'm doing something else sometimes I say no in various ways. "Hey, love you but could I have a little space right now please?" "This is pretty uncomfortable, can you move?" "Trying to read and you're in my way, can we do this later?" "Using a knife! Do not grab!"

And sometimes he gets a bit affection-starved and will say something (politely and respectfully, like "I'm really missing you lately, can we cuddle this evening?") and it reminds me that when I'm thinking "aww, I like him" his love language is touch and so I go give him a hug or a shoulder rub when I might not have otherwise.

The real issue is going to be what happens when you do try to say "not now" or have a conversation about touch (use "I" words and try to make clear that it's not a rejection of her, just that your threshold for "too much" is lower. Like a cat.). If her anxiety takes over or if she is always putting her feelings on you to solve/soothe, that's a bad dynamic for the relationship as a whole.
posted by Lady Li at 8:26 AM on August 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yeah I'm the standoffish one in my relationship and me and my partner just had to have a longish talk about "Don't touch me when I'm eating" which he moped through but I think he mostly gets now. He's a lovely, adorable man, but clumsy and so sometimes he'll go in for a hug when I'm raising a drink to my mouth (or cutting vegetables, the worst!) and knock it all over me. Suboptimal. But! He's amazing and I want to make this work, so we have frank discussions about

- my sensory issues
- his need for nearly-constant contact
- compromise

Compromise often takes the form of us being "in contact" a lot of the time when we're being still. I would not choose this since I'm a little hypervigilant and this takes focus for me and means I can't totally relax. That said, what else would be not totally relaxing? Losing this amazing relationship. But I won't lie, it's challenging sometimes.

And it's also challenging because of our genders (I am female and I have strong feelings about how it has to be okay for me to say "Don't touch me now" he's a guy and really feels like he is being "denied" something) and also because we're in a long distance relationship, which is otherwise mostly great, and so he's touch-starved a lot of the time.

So I think this sort of thing can work out, but you both need to really want to see it through. Me and my guy have been together ten years so this is totally a worthwhile investment in what we already had to make sure we are getting our needs met. Sounds like you first need to make sure this is the person you want to work things out with.
posted by jessamyn at 8:57 AM on August 12, 2018 [12 favorites]

First, it's entirely legitimate to require space, and there's a lot of good advice above.

Still, I hope you'll consider this.

I can't ever "relax" when we are together. I find myself looking forward to having alone time so that I can shut myself off and focus on things that aren't her.

Just last month you posted a question about your general inability to relax and your inability to focus. I'm not saying you don't need more space, but I challenge you to be cautious about letting yourself believe your girlfriend is the cause of various struggles in your life.

Truly examine the origins of your discomforts, because you risk turning your girlfriend into a scapegoat that you can resent, even though sometimes the discontentment and frustration already exists within you.

So sure, communicate your needs. Absolutely. Just, also be aware of whether your girlfriend even has a fair chance at meeting those needs (i.e., she can't make you able to relax and focus if you aren't able to do that anyway).

Good luck!
posted by whoiam at 9:16 AM on August 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

I am the person who needs space. This will not ever work, unless you give up. In my experience the person who needs constant togetherness can try to stifle it, but will end up being dramatically unhappy. Or you can stifle it and you will start withdrawing in other ways and be quietly unhappy.

When I see that our poles are too far apart, I break up with the person who needs more than I can give. Sure, I could try to force them into my mold, but it's kind of my duty as a human being to not be a dick, and to be the smarter person (because IME the clingy people think everything will work out if they cling harder--they never see why breaking up is the answer). I'm setting them free to find someone who will be the warm fuzzy blanket they need, and I'm setting myself free to go find love mixed with oxygen.

In over twenty-five years of dating, I have never seen this work out.
posted by liminal_shadows at 10:02 AM on August 12, 2018 [14 favorites]

It sounds like the more you try to dodge the clinging, the more she's going to feel the need to cling. The more she tries to cling, the more you're going to try to dodge it. I suspect this will build and escalate - unless you find a way to break that cycle - until both of you are profoundly unhappy.

This x 1000. It is a vicious cycle.
Space is healthy, I used to tell an ex "If you don't go away, how can I miss you?"
If you want this to work, it will take A LOT of work on both of your parts - hers to be less insecure about being alone, and yours to spend less time alone and more with her - both of you will have to adjust and change and that is a lot. You might not see this incompatibility as a dealbreaker, but I'm sorry to tell you that it kinda is.
posted by NoraCharles at 10:11 AM on August 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

You're analysing her; you're being analysed here. You say you need more space. Take more space. Mon chou, I need some quiet time. I'm going to stay home alone this evening. or I'm going out for drinks after work, I'll see you tomorrow. Reassure your sweetie that you love her, you'll see her tomorrow, but you need some alone time. Maybe she'd like to go to a movie with a pal or something. Cut off complaints after you've explained and reassured reasonably. Be calm and dull. Just start taking the time you need. Once in a while, sit in a chair, and tell her you need space, even though you often enjoy being physically close. If she genuinely can't tolerate being away from you for an evening, recommend therapy. But you have to actually act on your own needs. You don't have to dramatize, blame, over-explain, process it to death. Be very kind to her about it, remind her you're crazy about her, and spend time alone.

I used to be needy and want to always be with my sweetheart, and I learned to get over it.
posted by theora55 at 10:40 AM on August 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

There is not a single sentence in your ask that says you like or love this woman, and that you want find a mutually healthy agreement where both of your needs are met. Instead, you frame your needs as neutral and natural, and her needs as behavioral issues and problematic. Break up with her immediately, and let her find someone more team-oriented and respectful.
posted by missmary6 at 11:08 AM on August 12, 2018 [19 favorites]

There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be touched 24/7. If it was a question of any other kind of physical boundary your partner was ignoring and constantly violating, Ask would lose its collective shit on your behalf.

Your anxious attachment girlfriend needs to get her anxiety treated. Anxious attachment is very, very hard on both her and the relationship. She CAN learn to self-soothe.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:23 PM on August 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

I don't think there's anything wrong with your preferences. I tend to be kind of hands-off myself. I also don't think there's anything wrong with people who like more physical contact than I do. The warning sign I see here is:

Even when I tell her that I just want a little space, she gives it to me for a little bit, but then invariably scoots over to me.

Good relationships happen when partners respect each others' boundaries. I have had relationships with people who wanted different amounts of touch to me and they... okay, didn't work out, but I still respected them afterwards because they respected my boundaries. My most recent relationship, though, was with someone where I kept telling her that I needed to very slowly ease into physical contact, and she responded by briefly backing off... and then shortly thereafter trying again. It wasn't just that she wanted more contact, it was that she didn't respect that it was uncomfortable to me. I'd give this another attempt at having a conversation about this, mind, but if she doesn't care about your comfort after you tell her really directly that you need this, she is not going to grow to care about it over time.

So basically: Have you really told her how uncomfortable it makes you, or are you hinting about this? If you've really said it makes you uncomfortable and she's still doing it, this is a really core problem and probably not something you can fix. She'd have to want to fix it.
posted by Sequence at 12:59 PM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Agree that the kind of touching OP describes sounds like the girlfriend is anxious. OP is not being cruel or wrong in any way, and just because he isn't writing his entire nuanced relationship doesn't mean he feels nothing positive. This short and direct question is about the irritation and difficulty with their mismatched attachment styles, so he doesn't necessarily digress into all the good stuff for a full picture. It is not a sign that he's being harsh or rejecting.

When one partner starts to touch, spoon, climb on or hug the other, usually if things are really stable and secure, there is a quick calculation of the other's receptivity before the zooming in. As a woman I certainly demand this quick calculation of my receptivity in a male partner. When it happens constantly at times when I am enjoying my own boundaries, I feel it's as if the partner is trying to convince himself that of course I want him! Of course he didn't sense my distance! It's like someone talking all the time to fill the silence just to convince themself that the other person is listening. If you sense they are enjoying the quiet, and you're secure, you don't talk over it.
Anyway, if I were the OP I might even feel like the constant touching wasn't even about me, just about her needing reassurance, and that is difficult. In this position I would first try having a talk about needing some time to just be with boundaries. If it doesn't work, move on -- these kind of differences have so much symbolism coded into them that they often just don't work.
posted by nantucket at 2:07 PM on August 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

"Hey, I'm not up for cuddling right now, but in X minutes/hours I'll be up for it."

I used to be really clingy with the late Mr. Nerd, and things like the above helped. If I knew I would get time with him later, I could be patient with him when he needed space.
posted by luckynerd at 2:29 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

You need to have a frank conversation and come up with a compromise. Would it be enough for you to have some well-defined alone time to relax and recharge? She is probably not going to be less clingy in general without doing a lot of work either in therapy or otherwise (and this is going to have to be motivated by her own internal desire to be more self-secure, it's not something you make her want to do) but she may be able to be OK with you having some designated Alone Time during certain hours of the day or in certain situations.

As a fellow anxious introvert, I find that the concept of needing to "recharge" after social interactions is one that rings true to me. I can be sociable, but not all the time—and I need time alone to get back to my baseline. Outside of that though, I can be OK with being around people. Maybe something like that would work for you in your relationship?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:38 PM on August 12, 2018

I am you and my partners have always been your girlfriend and it has never, ever worked out. Granted, there were other compatibility issues at play too, but this was a big one, because I don't believe it's unreasonable or something you should have to suppress just so she feels comfortable. If having a gentle, honest conversation with her about this is going to send her spiraling into thinking she isn't enough for you and worrying about everything she does around you, it's better to know about that now. You're adults, and you should be able to discuss and negotiate these things. Have you talked to her about it? Not just a "not now" in the moment when she's doing it, but a separate conversation where you tell her how you feel and why and suggest compromises? If not, do that. If you have and she's still doing the same old things, consider that this might just be too big to overcome. Or, at the least, that it's too big to overcome unless she gets treatment for her anxiety. Is there a reason she's not getting it currently?

I've found that the scaled down contact works really well. As in, she wants to spoon and climb on you and you want space, so you compromise by holding her hand or letting her sit close beside you or put her feet in your lap or something along those lines. It's not ideal, but it allows her to still feel the contact she needs while not smothering you to death. I've also found that smaller physical touches throughout the day work better than trying to get in a giant snuggle session all at once. Ultimately, though, she deserves to feel wanted and you deserve to be able to relax, so if that's not going to happen, I'd seriously consider how much you're getting from the relationship vs. how much it's taking from you.
posted by Anne Shirley at 7:50 PM on August 12, 2018

« Older Cheap vanilla extract substitute for baking and...   |   Where did I see these cool planet sphere gifts? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.