Partner wants to logic his way through our relationship
February 7, 2019 8:34 AM   Subscribe

My partner has very high expectations of people and expects them to be consistent all of the time. Are you like this, or are you in a relationship like this? How do you successfully communicate and move past disagreements?

My partner has a highly logical mindset and approaches interpersonal issues like a logic puzzle. In a silly example, if he asks me, "Do you want Mexican for dinner?" and I reply "Ugh, no," this information goes into a matrix of what I do or do not like to eat, and he will hold me to it seemingly forever. This means that he gets confused and annoyed if I decide I want to eat tacos the very next day.

The other day we got into an argument over how I responded to a stressful situation several weeks ago. However, the situation has changed and my response is different now (I also expect this situation to continue to evolve over the coming months). I asked him to peridically check in with me to see how my response has changed since last time, and he basically said no. I think this is not necessarily because he doesn't want to, but because he wouldn't think to, since my intial response has now been programmed into the matrix of How I React to Things.

This issue is basically at the root of our major arguments and I want to know how we can work through this, and what is reasonable for both of us to expect from each other in terms of flexibility and communication.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (64 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I once had a boyfriend who wanted me to think he was "just being more logical" than me.

I have a graduate degree in math. He was actually just being a dick.

My solution was to dump him. ymmv
posted by MangoNews at 8:39 AM on February 7, 2019 [159 favorites]

Human beings have feelings and emotions that change. This is normal.

The fact that your partner seems unable to understand that it’s totally normal to be in the mood to eat Mexican food one day and not on another, or to be more stressed out by a situation on one occasion than on another, is his problem to overcome. It’s not on you to logic your feelings and personal preferences away so that he doesn’t have to think about them.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:39 AM on February 7, 2019 [45 favorites]

To be honest I’d give up looking at him as Mr. Logical. Dudes love to pretend that’s how they’re making their decisions but there’s nothing remotely “logical” about not grasping that someone wants different foods at different times. His expectations of consistency are definitely a weird, personal boundary he has established and it should be treated that way: an annoying idiosyncrasy that’s making your life together more difficult.
posted by griphus at 8:40 AM on February 7, 2019 [128 favorites]

In order for you guys to work through it, he would need to become capable of understanding that things he now considers rigid are in fact fluid. He would need to become able to observe changes as they occur and then predict future changes. Is it reasonable for you to expect that he will learn this basic competency? Possibly not, given past performance. Is it reasonable for him to expect that you will become consistent all of the time? Absolutely not, given observable reality.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:40 AM on February 7, 2019 [12 favorites]

Maybe not the most useful thing you could do but you could point out that HE is being inconsistent in his application of these "rules." Assuming, in your example, that you have ever before eaten tacos, in his view shouldn't you only eat mexican food (or at least wouldnt there be clear evidence against his idea that you will never eat them again)? theres nothing logical about extrapolating what is clearly a contextualized single moment into an absolute, if anything that requires a flattening that seems to be the opposite of logic.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:43 AM on February 7, 2019 [11 favorites]

It’s also not “logical” to try to assert that people are supposed to behave exactly the same way in the same situations. People are not computer programs who are limited to a single string of responses. That’s a fact. Trying to assert otherwise is just plain weird, to say nothing of arguing with one’s partner because they’re behaving like a human and not a computer program.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:44 AM on February 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

I am like this, and it took something like 20 years of relationship issues and then being an irritating, subpar parent to even begin beating it out of me. I still find myself doing it sometimes, especially under stress.

If your partner is anything like me, it may be rooted in a white-knuckle understanding that the world is actually a chaotic and regularly unpredictable place that doesn't give a shit how Anxious People With Control Issues feel. Unfortunately, people with that mindset (and again, I speak from tedious, grating experience here) tend to respond by doubling down on attempts at control and systematization, upsetting themselves and everyone around them with their failed view of human nature as a spreadsheet.

I wish I had a some constructive advice to offer - unfortunately, if it is anxiety-rooted, it may, as it did with me, take a lot of negative feedback over a long time to get him to realize that, no matter how *he'd* ideally like things to be, he had better accommodate himself to the way people actually behave.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:48 AM on February 7, 2019 [100 favorites]

I agree that men often claim they're being more logical, which makes them seem more "right" in a case like this. Is he the one claiming that he's logical and you're not? I would push back on that. It's not logical to think that human beings have to be consistent about all things at all times.
On preview, Exceptional–Hubris explains that well.

However, expecting him to periodically check in about how your feelings have changed may be a bit much. It seems more reasonable for you to be responsible for letting him know what you want him to know.

Since this is AskMe, you're probably going to get a lot of advice to just dump him (and to be fair, as a 60-year-old woman, men claiming their logic trumps your feelings is the kind of stuff I just don't have time or patience for anymore). If you want to try to make this work, he really needs to understand that people can change their minds about things from one day to the next. Did you tell him that you just didn't want Mexican food that day? How did he respond? I think you need to address this directly with him. If he tries to tell you he's right because he's more logical, then it's going to be hard to work this out.
posted by FencingGal at 8:51 AM on February 7, 2019 [13 favorites]

Double-favorite ryanshepard. This sounds to me like an issue of control (his feeling compelled to control, his not be able to control, etc.).

I want to know how we can work through this

Referencing ryanshepard's response, this may not be a "we" issue but a "he" issue.

The real question, unfortunately, may be, "How much longer will I put up with this?"
posted by John Borrowman at 8:53 AM on February 7, 2019 [17 favorites]

Nthing that this is not about your being illogical in any way.
If you really like him, though, and want him to really get it, I would sit down with him and explain in terms that work with his idea that these things even *should* be logical: even the most basic AI is programmed to respond to contingency and recalibrate when new information or data enters the picture. When you don't want Mexican food one day but you do the next, he might understand that new features have entered the picture: things like your hormones, what you already ate that day, what images you happened to see during your day, and what you smelled, what you dreamed, what you remembered, what the weather is like and whatever else goes into the complexity of our moods has literally changed the data set. Logically, our preferences are simply not static data.
Emerson said it best: a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
posted by nantucket at 9:01 AM on February 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

I'm like this and so is my [relative].

Both of us have a very deep seated need to have a consistent set of rules to play by, because then we can learn to play by these rules, and nothing will ever go wrong.
Both of us get really anxious when the world doesn't act according to our current mental model, or when we play by the "rules" and then things happen we didn't expect.

[relative] generally responds to this anxiety by getting angry at whoever or whatever is breaking the "rules" and deciding that those things are objectively/logically BAD AND WRONG. If this starts happening then [relative] is already pretty upset, and reasoning with about the nature of the rules when [relative] is upset is a complete non-starter. They would vehemently disagree that any of these things are subjective or that their emotional state played a part in the designation of the things as BAD AND WRONG.

Since I've had an up close and personal view of this I've been able to spot the same failure mode in myself, and refrain from berating other people about things that happen to make me feel anxious in any given moment, which seems like common courtesy.

I don't talk to that relative much any more.
posted by quacks like a duck at 9:01 AM on February 7, 2019 [13 favorites]

I have sometimes been this asshole, and I have dealt with one (and broke up for unrelated reasons).

In my case, I began to get a handle on my anxiety and related issues through therapy and a lot of individual soul-searching. I still backslide sometimes when I start to panic; it can, as mentioned above, be a way to exert control in a scary situation. But it's also unreasonable and annoying for other people, and needs to be owned up to and stopped BY the perpetrator.

OTOH my ex didn't seem to have anxiety, and just liked to control everyone and everything around him - he saw deviation from his own expectations as a personal slight and betrayal. Maybe he was anxious, not my problem now! Either way, that was his problem to solve.

(yes, together we were horrible, so glad it's over)
posted by cage and aquarium at 9:02 AM on February 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

Some people have problems handling changes & like things to be the same, my husband sounds very like your boyfriend. By having moods & changing what I fancied to eat, as in your example, I was simply confusing his expectations and he has almost no ability to change gears on the fly when new information arises. You can all but see his brain stutter & fart as he tries to reprocess everything.

It was not my problem to solve, it was his. I told him I don't work that way I work in a world with more grey in it, neither is right nor wrong per se. The logical mindset is only fine though as long as it's not simply being used as an excuse to override your choices or decisions because "you're not being logical" or if it's being used because he's too lazy/uninvested in the relationship to put in the energy and effort in to change when new information from you on your preferences presents itself.

Things I've found helps is to give plenty of warning of changes. Of reminding him I don't think like him & if he wants me to respect his way of doing things he has to respect mine and of being very firmly & clearly being able to hold my boundaries against the "but it's not logical" push. It took a few years but we laugh about it now. If he starts on me with it now I go "No robot only husband" to remind him he's trying to logic in a situation that doesn't need it. In return he's learned to trust my more emotional responses as ones that are also right & can also be effective.

None of this will work if he's not willing to try to meet you half way though.
posted by wwax at 9:02 AM on February 7, 2019 [27 favorites]

The whole thing with Vulcans in Star Trek is that they're actually like super emotional and they only achieve their stereotypically equanimous and coldly logical state through a lifetime of study and practice. I doubt this guy has put in that kind of work.

He's not a Vulcan, he's just an asshole.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:10 AM on February 7, 2019 [29 favorites]

The examples you gave don't make the dynamic 100% clear to me. With the food example, it doesn't seem unreasonable to interpret your "ugh" as a general dislike for Mexican. Would his response have been different if you'd said "I'm not in the mood for that today"? Not saying that you should have to check your language so carefully, but if he would have assumed you NEVER want Mexican in that case, that's a different degree of misunderstanding that demands different solutions. (He shouldn't be annoyed in any case when corrected, but confusion could be reasonable in the example provided.)

I don't fully understand your second example so may be missing something, but am unsure why he was supposed to remember to ask you if your feelings changed instead of you taking the initiative to tell him they changed.

Maybe this shows that I'm the same kind of jerk as him, but I don't see either of you as being wrong here unless he's bratty when you say, "I wasn't in the mood for Mexican yesterday but I do like it." It sounds more like he's working hard to learn about you and remember things about you, and isn't great at picking up the nuances of your communication. If that's true, then making it clear that an important thing to know about you is that your responses vary based on a lot of different factors might be all you need.
posted by metasarah at 9:10 AM on February 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

I used to be a lot like this. I am a bit less like this currently. Something that has greatly helped with me is self-introspection and realizing that I'm not always consistent. I'm not always perfectly rational. I do some things in a non-optimal way. And even continue to do (some) things non-optimally after realizing it.

Once I realized that I wasn't a perfectly rational nobeagle-bot (I now realize just how silly that idea was for me to hold, but I somehow did think of myself "mostly" like that and thinking that the odd "mood" was the exception rather than the rule), it's *way* easier to accept that in others. However, depending upon the amount of self introspection he's done before this might be difficult. It's real easy to think "I'm very consistent" and just "not see" one's moods. He has to want to see and look within himself for this.

Specifically something that can help for consistency, is when filing away some info about Ms. nobeagle, if she says "today/tonight" regarding a preference, I assume it's a non-permanent thing. If that's not specified, I'll ask, "is that a general thing, a recent thing, or a 'changes day to day' thing?" I suspect that from my occasional questioning, that Ms. nobeagle herself has adapted to adding qualifiers a bit more often for my benefit than she would normally (I.E. perhaps something you could use to help him as he's working).

I also realize that people change. I bit my fingernails for the first 38 years of my life, but no longer do. I used to hate to run, but I've been a runner for about 5 years now. My partner might love Roma pizza, but she might possibly stop sometime in the future. It's easy to want things to never change. But wanting something that can't be true is a fool's errand. I try not to be a fool :)

Possible exception: your partner, if given the choice, only eats/drinks one thing. Only wears one thing. Only has one colour choice, and doesn't "do" music. There are some people who really have beyond the norms level of consistency. However, if your partner does desire variation, they should with some work be able to realize that yes, their tastes, and moods vary. And once they realize and accept that they're not 100% consistent, it because much easier to handle and anticipate that others do too.
posted by nobeagle at 9:12 AM on February 7, 2019 [18 favorites]

Does he have any (undiagnosed?) disorders? Because this is a basic failure of understanding how humans work. Does he eat the same meals every day? Does he refuse to ever do a thing because he didn't want to once?

If you don't decide to dump him over this, and you've run out of kinder gentler things to try, I'd just turn this bullshit back on him, and if he calls you on it, tell him you came to the logical conclusion that he won't understand how weirdly and badly he is treating you unless he experiences it for himself.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:36 AM on February 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

I am "on a spectrum" and have some comorbid mental health issues.

When patterns of how I act are unfair to my partner and hurting them, eventually it's on me to go work on that with a therapist.

It would be highly unfair of me to expect my partner to be the one to solve the problem I'm creating, and if I refused to solve the problem and told my partner that in fact THEY are the problem, I would expect the relationship that I am actively sabotaging to fall apart, and for me to be alone forever until I work on my own shit.

+1 to griphus et al; this is not "logical" at all.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:39 AM on February 7, 2019 [33 favorites]

I asked him to peridically check in with me to see how my response has changed since last time, and he basically said no. I think this is not necessarily because he doesn't want to, but because he wouldn't think to

I don't understand - you asked him to check in periodically to see how your response has changed and he said no. Does that mean he has checked in with you and he can see your response hasn't changed, or that no, he will not heed your request and check in with you? Given your second sentence, it seems like no, he will not check in with you. So therefore, why would you think he doesn't think to - didn't he just say that he doesn't want to?

Anyway, sorry if this is too getting in the weeds; that just kind of jumped out at me.

To your overall question: I guess you have to ask yourself if you can put up with someone like this - i.e. someone who doesn't or refuses to understand that people can change their minds and that something like not wanting Mexican one day and wanting tacos the next day is something that's perfectly acceptable to you. I also hate it when men (it's pretty much always men) say they're sooo logical and need/want you to be logical - basically they're saying they're better than you because they're so logical and you need to be just like him. People like that just aren't able to comprehend that you are a human being with needs and preferences; the result is that you just can't be yourself around them. I don't know if that's what's happening here, so just keep that in mind.
posted by foxjacket at 9:39 AM on February 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

He’s using “logic” as an excuse to invalidate your feelings whenever they inconvenience him. Dump him.
posted by a strong female character at 9:50 AM on February 7, 2019 [18 favorites]

Both of us have a very deep seated need to have a consistent set of rules to play by, because then we can learn to play by these rules, and nothing will ever go wrong.

Yeah I can get like this when I am stressed out, I grew up with parents who were unpredictable and sometimes scary and so I would work really hard to understand what the rules were whereby they wouldn't be assholes. It wasn't any fun and I don't like that trait in myself but I can revert to it sometimes. It's basically an anxiety/control issue which is being masked (which happens with smart people) as something that "makes sense" which means that if you object to it, you're the one who is out of line. Its like a way of never being responsible for things that don't go right.

If you want to make this work, you both need to find ways to meet more in the middle. So like in your first example, i can see how "Ugh" might make me think you didn't like Mexican food. And so if you expressed a desire for tacos the next day I'd be surprised but I'd be more likely to be "Oh hey I thought you didn't like Mexican?" and then we'd have a conversation. If I just silently (or not so silently) get confused/annoyed, that's basically me being unable to deal with people and is rude/unpartnerlike.

Second example likewise, your feelings about a thing change. You can just express that "Hey I've re-evaluated this interaction I had..." and then everyone can go forward with more up-to-date information. Your partner has to accept that the world changes, sometimes in unpredictable ways and part of being a partner is working with this. You have to understand that your partner is somewhat rigid and prefers clear delineations of when things change (and I agree that they shouldn't have to ask, you can just indicate "Hey there's been a change") for their own comfort so it's a kindness to communicate this affirmatively, not presuming they'll just go with it.

If they are not working on their responses or are unwilling to, to me that says "I am unwilling to work on being a good partner in this relationship"
posted by jessamyn at 9:57 AM on February 7, 2019 [16 favorites]

As ryanshepard pointed out, this is due to discomfort with ambiguity. It's not "against" you except in so far as you are perceived as a threat. You could trade him in for a better functioning model if you like, but we are all insecure in one way or another and have developed ways of coping and your new partner may be worse in some other way.

How long have you been together? Chances are his logical rigidity also has some benefit to you. It may allow you to be the emotional superior person, or else it may make him more predictable in ways that make you feel safe. I suggest you (privately) explore your end of this bargain before making any changes. He won't be changing any time soon at any rate, even if you mange to argue him into logical submission. If anything, defeating his defense will make him less secure and who knows what he'll need to do with that. In practice, the safer and more comfortable you make him, the more he'll be capable of. What will that cost you?
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:01 AM on February 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

He may be an asshole. You first need to find out if his high expectations of people are because of fear/anxiety/etc. or just being a shitty human.

He may just need some help. Ask him if longer answers might help him get through this. If you say, “I don’t want Mexican tonight, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like Mexican, it’s because...,” so he can learn. Ask him if that will help, or what else might help him process information differently. (Along with stating your own needs in the conversation as well, of course.)
posted by MountainDaisy at 10:03 AM on February 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

My partner was like this. He really wanted to build a database of how to make me happy all the time! Just do the right thing and I will be happy! It took years of fights and me standing my ground that I wasn't being terrible for liking/needing different things at different times. I said "I'm an adult human who is allowed to change their mind" a lot.

I also had to come to grips with the fact that I wasn't allowed to be mad when he didn't know the "right" thing to do. Because the right thing changes over time or with the circumstances, and I have to communicate what I want. Otherwise, the only recourse is trying to build that database of likes and dislikes and relying on it. I needed to do more communication on my end. I was contributing to the dynamic without realizing it.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:11 AM on February 7, 2019 [21 favorites]

My partner has a highly logical mindset and approaches interpersonal issues like a logic puzzle. In a silly example, if he asks me, "Do you want Mexican for dinner?" and I reply "Ugh, no," this information goes into a matrix of what I do or do not like to eat, and he will hold me to it seemingly forever. This means that he gets confused and annoyed if I decide I want to eat tacos the very next day.

This seems like an aggressive and hostile mindset and if this dynamic is common you might want to take a critical inventory of the relationship i.e. is this relationship actually fun?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:15 AM on February 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

It doesn't really matter all that much whether he has a pathological discomfort with ambiguity, or is just a garden variety asshole -- you are not obligated to stay just because he's not intentionally being a jerk.

Ask yourself this: Are you having to twist yourself into pretzels or otherwise exhaust yourself trying to be more "correct"/"consistent"/"logical" in order to avoid conflict with him? That is not a healthy relationship dynamic. And this type of thing tends to manifest itself in a million tiny ways (like tacos) that seem inconsequential on their own but add up to a toxic, emotionally draining dynamic. It's insidious and corrosive and IT IS SO TOTALLY OKAY if that is not how you want to live your life. You should try to work on this with him for exactly as long as you want to and not a single second longer, regardless of whether he's been classified as an Asshole by the internet.

You asked what is reasonable... It is reasonable for you to tell him how you feel, and that you are having to do more than your fair share of emotional labor over tacos and other assorted micro-conflicts, and that you need this dynamic to change. It is reasonable for him to decide whether he is capable of doing his part to change that dynamic. If he can't, then it is reasonable for you to decide to nope TF out of this relationship. And honestly, even if he does decide to try, it is completely reasonable for you to decide that it's too little too late and that you're done.

I'd respectfully suggest that the logic aspect of this is kind of a red herring. I'm a super logical person (to a fault sometimes), and still managed to get "out-logicked" by a former partner in exactly the way you describe. Having logical counterarguments about why circumstances had changed didn't solve anything... it was just more emotional labor required from me with no measurable benefit. l

Good luck with this, sincerely.
posted by somanyamys at 10:18 AM on February 7, 2019 [15 favorites]

As ever, this frustrating behaviour may have been acquired honestly via anxiety or difficult parents - could he accept all of the following is true
A) Your preferences may change
B) how you feel about things may change
C) it’s reasonable to assume your feelings may not have changed ie boundaries, values, goals
D) he doesn’t have to know perfectly
E) it’s fine to ask

So it’s reasonable therefore to ask you if something is still true and you won’t mind?
posted by eyeofthetiger at 10:18 AM on February 7, 2019

I can be a lot like this, and so can some of my family members, some of which fall on the autistic spectrum. I can tell you with absolute certainty that at least in our case, it is not at all a control or anxiety issue, or indicative of any personal damages in need of rectifying.
Different people have different types of intelligence, so for someone who's logistical/reasoning intelligence is their strong point, then a lot of their operations will baseline out of that type of intelligence. (Meaning they're likely always going to think kind of like a computer no matter how much therapy they do.)
So, if your partner is anything like the people I've known to be this way, and it sounds like he may be, they will spend a lot of time organizing the input of data/feedback you provide them in order to better understand you, and it does actually mentally process very much like coding. I make a huge effort to learn my partners likes/dislikes, preferences, opinions, behaviours etc. so that I can anticipate how best to serve them, undertand them and make them happy. When I am able to correctly anticipate, or guess, then my partner responds favorably/ is made happy and therefore I am happy and feel useful and successful and good as a partner. When I incorrectly anticipate, or guess, my partner responds negatively, and I feel like I've failed them and my role as partner.
If my partner is inconsistent and changes often, without providing new information or feedback to map out, both parties will end up feeling misunderstood, and frustrations will amount. It can even feel like a game of changing goalposts. No one wants this.
One thing you can try to do is be as specific as possible. It seems illogical that more details would ease this process, but I'll give you an example:
"ugh no"
Input: [partner preference] [repulsed by] [Mexican food]
"I don't feel like Mexican right now."
This gives the information proper context. It is not stating a fixed preference, but a changeable one. It is not indicative of Always, it is applicable only Right Now.
In addition, providing any additional info like, "I really love Mexican on a hot day with a drink," etc. can even make someone so seemingly rigid, be able to achieve spontaneity/surprise you/pre-anticipate in the future.
It is fully unreasonable to ask a person who thinks in this manner to be constantly prompting you reassess your likes/dislikes to see how your response changes. That process with a person who is well known to me could literally take weeks.
He (or me) *might* be assholes, sure... Or it might be a resolveable communication issue.
posted by OnefortheLast at 10:24 AM on February 7, 2019 [18 favorites]

You shouldn't have to keep an arsenel of magic incantations at hand in order to communicate. You are not the problem. Women are constantly told to accommodate behavior like this rather than asking men to take on their own shit and work it out. He needs to work out his stuff in therapy because he is currently not able to be an equal partner.

Don't contort yourself and your language to accommodate his preference for building "perfect" matrices of human behavior (which, frankly, is a super emotional and totally illogical way to interact with the world).
posted by sockermom at 10:29 AM on February 7, 2019 [33 favorites]

In practice, the safer and more comfortable you make him, the more he'll be capable of. What will that cost you?

OP, it is not your responsibility to say and do exactly what your partner wants in the hopes that that’s the one correct answer he’s looking for to make him feel “safe”. Quite frankly, I think what he’s looking for is for you to never expression any emotion that he doesn’t want to deal with. That would cost you a whole hell of a lot of emotional labor.
posted by a strong female character at 10:41 AM on February 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

Even before reading into his history and motivations, I think he's telling you that he sees his own preferences as immutable, and so he is going to strongly resist any necessary changes on his part.
posted by rhizome at 10:51 AM on February 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

It probably would help to say something more specific, like, "No, I don't feel like that tonight" instead of a generic "ugh, no.'
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:53 AM on February 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

When you don't want Mexican food one day but you do the next, he might understand that new features have entered the picture: things like your hormones, what you already ate that day, what images you happened to see during your day, and what you smelled, what you dreamed, what you remembered, what the weather is like and whatever else goes into the complexity of our moods has literally changed the data set. Logically, our preferences are simply not static data.

I wanted to address this as well along with my previous explanations, seeing as how it's a repeated theme in the replies here.
It is likely that he's already assessing all of these factors to make up his mind "matrix," don't assume that he is not just because he is processing and applying the information very differently than you do. As in, even if you are specific to a T about your reply only ever being applicable to Right Now, he will likely never again suggest delivery of Mexican Food on a cold snowy Monday evening when you are in your pajamas, getting over the stomach flu and following an argument.

If it is reasonable for him to have to learn that people can be complex emotional creatures, then it is also reasonable for you to learn that people can be complex analytical creatures. Neither way is right or wrong. Whether or not this makes you ultimately incompatible with one another, is how much each of you are willing and able to accommodate the other's differences, instead of expecting a change in differences to match your own.
posted by OnefortheLast at 11:11 AM on February 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

I (female, btw) am like your partner. I genuinely do understand people as logical systems (not sure how else to understand them, actually), and seeming logical inconsistencies genuinely do terrify me, because it feels as though then all my math must just be wrong and I don't know this person at all,, they are a black box, aaaaaaah!!! It's a really disturbing and non-intimate feeling.

The difference is that I'm happy to accept dynamically changing views/states/preferences, IF I can understand the underlying rule or rationale that made them change-- because that way it's not that you're a black box of terrifying chaos, you're just a slightly more complex system than I expected. So if I suggest Mexican and you say "Yuck, no!", that reads does not like Mexican--> will continue to not like Mexican--> do not suggest Mexican in future, and yes, I'd probably feel aggrieved if you then turn around and accuse me of having maliciously omitted Mexican from my list of dinner options thereafter. But if you say "Eh, don't feel like it now" that reads as tired of Mexican--> maybe later, so I'll add it back into my model after the specified time. Or if I misread the reaction the first time, the person can go ahead and clarify the rule for me so I'll better be able to model how they'd feel about it moving forward.

(I try to be really diligent about explaining my own reasoning consistently, btw, probably because I assume my partner will be similarly trying to update their model of me. If your partner always overexplains the system of their feelings to you, that may be a mark that they're sincere in wanting the same level of transparency about your own inner workings.)

To me, "I have no idea how I'll feel about this at any given point, you just need to check in with me continually to see" kind of reads as though the person is not bothering to do any introspection at all to understand the underlying reasons for their emotional states-- or else that the person does understand the reasoning for their feelings, but is withholding it for some uncool/strategic motive. If coupled with an accusatory "how dare you expect to be able to predict my feelings," that would feel pretty unfair and unloving to me.
posted by Bardolph at 11:19 AM on February 7, 2019 [19 favorites]

There are two different possible situations here that I can see, and they have VERY different causes, and necessitate very different solutions.

It may be that he's a control freak like many of the above answers suggest. However, it really sounds to me like he may be somewhere on the spectrum. If that's the case, it's entirely reasonable that your changeability confuses the heck out of him, because his brain simply does not work that way. It's not necessarily that he's being an ass (though it could be that, too) but that you two have not learned to work together.

One of my sons naturally tends to be very, very logical. As in, real-life Spock. It's easy for people to forget that this sort of thing isn't always "that guy is just an asshole claiming to be logical and implying that women aren't", but a real thing. I somehow accomplished teaching my (now-adult) son how to logic his way through the understanding of other people's emotions and variations, but the thing is, I had to teach him that.

Not everyone with such a logic-based outlook has had the opportunity to expand their understanding as a child, and as an adult, there's a whole lot of variation in ability and willingness to adapt.

Like I said - it's entirely possible you're dealing with a "women are always illogical" jerk, but make sure you evaluate whether or not that is really the case. Even so, the work of learning to communicate effectively work may make it not worth the effort the two of you would need to put in - some pairings are simply easier or tougher than others, depending on the personalities involved.
posted by stormyteal at 11:23 AM on February 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Chiming back in to add:
However, the situation has changed and my response is different now (I also expect this situation to continue to evolve over the coming months). I asked him to periodically check in with me to see how my response has changed since last time,

Did you try explaining this to him the way you did here-- not as "I felt X, now I feel Y, deal with it" but "The situation was A, so I felt X, but I got extra data that now it's B, so now I feel Y [which makes sense, because now that it's B, blah blah blah]. In the future, it may change to C, and I think then I'll probably feel Z. But I'd love it if you could check in periodically to talk it through with me, in case I'm still figuring it out."

That might be a slightly more helpful framing for someone who wants to understand you instead of just reacting to you.
posted by Bardolph at 11:37 AM on February 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

I'm very, very familiar with this kind of mindset. I don't think it's logic. I think it's about rigidity, oversimplification, and entitlement.

It's not logical to assign a set of immutable values to a system as complex and dynamic as a human being. It's also not logical to assume that the systems with which that human being interacts, (e.g., what kinds of food they like, how they react to situations in their lives) would be simple, static, and unable to interreact.

By behaving this way, your partner is effectively requiring you to go on record, permanently, every time you voice an opinion, a need, a yes or a no, or have an emotional response. How does he react when you tell him about changes to your states or behaviors? Does he accuse of you waffling? Demand to know when you were "lying"--the first time you told him what you thought about Mexican food, or this time? Does he panic when anything changes--especially when those changes take the form of growth in your personal or professional life?

Does he cross-examine you, pinpoint every instance of inconsistency and interrogate you about it?

What does your partner feel entitled to do to you, (or with you, or toward you, or around you) as the result of his expectations not being met? What about when he's angry? Surprised? Confused?
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 11:39 AM on February 7, 2019 [11 favorites]

I think the comments about control issues are the best. If he's going through stress or finds you being emotional stressful then he might be even more prone to trying to hold you to his prior perspective on your responses.

I wanted to add in terms of what you can do, is tell him how you're feeling about an issue that's likely to surface so he has a bit more of a chance to adapt his expectations or thoughts about how you feel. Or just walk around quoting Whitman ("do I contradict myself?"). ;)
posted by lafemma at 11:45 AM on February 7, 2019

This guy may or may not be on the autism spectrum. But he's definitely an asshole. I've met people on the autism spectrum who are not assholes in this particular way, and frankly it's disgusting that people would excuse this blatantly abusive, manipulative behaviour by assigning an autism diagnosis to somebody who's clearly just a garden-variety asshole.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:46 AM on February 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

I am also female and my boyfriend could've written this question about me. Bardolph explained it perfectly. It's not that I don't accept change, but I need to know the reason for change, and I need the change to be acknowledged, otherwise it's too much chaos and makes me feel like I can't expect to know anything about my partner. I can't just check in with him all the time to see how he feels about things that we've established before, that is not a reasonable dynamic for a relationship. If he told me he doesn't like mexican food, I'm not going to ask him next week how he feels about mexican food. In your example though, it seems like he's either being intentionally obtuse or there's some misunderstanding, because saying you don't want mexican food right now doesn't mean you don't want mexican food tomorrow. That's not a logic thing.
posted by monologish at 11:49 AM on February 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

. I make a huge effort to learn my partners likes/dislikes, preferences, opinions, behaviours etc.

Here's the thing, though: if you (generically) are refusing to accept that your partner's preferences, etc., may change under various circumstances or even by whim, then, no, you are not, because you are refusing to accept a fundamental principle underlying the data just because it makes it harder for you to process. Your model is bad, your "scientific method" is a shambles, and you're blaming the data for your own failures in that regard. (If your predictive tools don't work, the problem is your predictive tools, not the universe.) It's entirely unfair to ask other people to live differently because you refuse to incorporate very basic, well-known facts about human nature (such as "preferences vary with circumstances or even arbitrarily") into your model of human behavior.

OP, this may be a cognitive error, rather than bad character, and he may be able to work on it. But since he's convinced himself he's being the "logical" one here, he may not take actual steps in that direction if you don't make a real point of it. I mean to the point of telling him that it's take this to therapy or you'll have to move on.
posted by praemunire at 11:57 AM on February 7, 2019 [13 favorites]

Also want to add that, possibly due to anxiety, I tend to remember a lot more little things than my partner. So when he says something that contradicts a past statement, I remember it, and I want to address it. Sometimes he gets upset and feels like I'm throwing things in his face in order to be right, but that's not it. Mostly what I need is, "oh yea, I did say that, but this situation's different because X, and that's why I feel Y."
posted by monologish at 12:00 PM on February 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

I find that my partner needs explanations and rationales behind things far, far more than I do, which sometimes comes across like this. And in his case, I think it comes from both anxiety about decisions and a desire to, as stated above:

build a database of how to make me happy all the time! Just do the right thing and I will be happy!

In addition, he is miles more skilled at identifying and expressing his OWN rationales than I am at expressing mine. So it's just how he works; all of the steps in any thought process or choice are immediately conscious and explicit to him. So when he requests an explanation for why I do not want nachos, but would want popcorn, he doesn't perceive this as a hostile demand for my REASONS. In his mind those reasons would be clear, simple, apparent, and immediately available, and moreover he would be thrilled to talk about them in detail! It's bewildering to him that I make decisions without that clear and readily explainable matrix.

If your partner is indeed just "like this," and heavily process-and-reasoning oriented, you should be able to figure that out just by asking him about this stuff, because odds are he's DYING to share all of this brain stuff with you. And it may help you perceive it less as a challenge or something you're being "held to," and more as his efforts to just understand understand understand to a point that maybe doesn't feel as dire for you.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:24 PM on February 7, 2019 [10 favorites]

(I will also add that learning how to more clearly identify my reasoning for things has been more rewarding than I expected, even if I still reserve the right to answer "it's a mystery that shall die with the universe" whenever I'd rather.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:25 PM on February 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm like this (I'm also female), and I feel more compatible and more at ease with people who are also like this.
And, like OnefortheLast, it's not based on anxiety/control for me. I try to be consistent within myself - thinking through and coming to some working conclusions re my own preferences/nature when I self-reflect - and I appreciate it when others do that work for themselves too in order to present consistent statements about their own preferences/tendencies. (I don't at all expect "100% consistent" statements about themselves but it's nice to have some working clarity, and some guidelines that do not change day-to-day.)

Of course, not everyone is like this - and I am outwardly easygoing/adaptable to the point that most people don't realize I really value this mode of behavior (even though I've often explicitly told them so before).

To those who say it's not your problem to solve but his: put it this way... it's nice to feel that the person you are closest to (i.e. your relationship partner) is also the person with whom you can communicate most comfortably - and communication runs two-ways. It can be frustrating to be partnered with someone whose answers/statements/reactions seem to change constantly - it gives the impression that they can't make up their mind, that they don't think things through before giving you an answer - especially if you are putting in the work to make a note of their preferences. To someone who loves by trying to remember their partner in detail - it can also feel like their partner is taking their love for granted by giving seemingly flippant answers about their likes/dislikes. (E.g. (super simple example) someone remembers that his partner has stated a preference for Indian food, and treats them to an Indian dinner for Valentine's only to have his partner say something like "why are you taking me here? I didn't mean I always like Indian food / didn't mean I like Indian food THAT much / etc etc".)

Maybe you could try the following:

1) When responding to your partner's questions, try not to give short/abrupt/kneejerk responses. Think for a while, and then try to formulate your answer with a little more detail (and even some qualifiers, if you have the time/mental energy).
"E.g. "Do you want Mexican tonight?" "I don't feel like Mexican tonight because I ate a heavy meal earlier today - so I would prefer something with less dairy/fat tonight. But I might want Mexican for dinner later this week... etc"

2) Spend some (or some more) time self-reflecting on your own tendencies and moods. It doesn't really help much to be told point-blank to keep checking in with someone's moods over months - and it seems like you're trying to offload some emotional self-reflection/work (that maybe you could be doing for yourself) on him.
In other words, at least give him a defined subset of possibilities to work with - not just a seeming infinite array of possibilities.
How I would react (when faced with a stressful situation in which I anticipate my moods fluctuating) is to think about the possible ways my moods might change and the factors involved in causing these changes - and then to lay out that narrative / working theory for the partner. E.g. "In X situation, if Y happens, I think I will feel very Z and may react in W manner. But if there is XX, then I might want to YY instead, which would make me feel GG - and this would make me react in WW manner.... etc"

(I know not everyone appreciates this level of detail, but it seems like your partner might. Some people think/communicate with this amount of detail naturally - it might not feel that natural to you at first, but at least trying to build these habits when interacting with your partner might improve communication and the general dynamics within your relationship.)
posted by aielen at 12:53 PM on February 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

In a silly example, if he asks me, "Do you want Mexican for dinner?" and I reply "Ugh, no," this information goes into a matrix of what I do or do not like to eat, and he will hold me to it seemingly forever.

As a possible re-interpretation:

Partner, craving Mexican food but not saying so: "Do you want Mexican for dinner?"
Poster, feeling bloated from lunch but not saying: "Ugh, no."
Partner, feeling rejected, now thinks but does not say, "Must remember partner dislikes Mexican food even when I want it so much! Must not ask again."
Poster, the next day: "Let's get Mexican!"
Partner, confused because he was really craving Mexican last night and you rejected it outright.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:06 PM on February 7, 2019

Based on your update, I think that this will only be resolved if he begins to understand it's him and not you (and the rest of the world.) I could see him making great progress toward being more comfortable in the world and less antagonizing to those around him if he learns some techniques for communication and minimizing his anxiety. This all hinges on him realizing that this is his issue, whether it's because he's got poorly managed anxiety or is on the spectrum or some other combination of personal issues.

This is not a 50/50 situation where you both come to the table with an equal set of issues that are harmful to the relationship. This is his issue and it's creating distress for you (and him) and is at the root of your argument cycle. You can certainly choose to stay in the relationship and be a partner who helps him work through this with compassion and understanding, but I would not do so if my partner didn't understand that this "logical" approach was neither logical nor a kind way to treat people in his life. It's not kind to build unyielding structures of control and predictability around another human being in order to make oneself more comfortable in the world. Don't make yourself small and cemented just so that he can be more comfortable instead of dealing with this.
posted by quince at 1:09 PM on February 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

(also, to those people who think this is a very gendered mode of behavior/thought - many women think/operate this way too (most of the females I knew growing up were/are like this), and for us the labels/hostile reactions tend to be "why are you nitpicking" "women are always fixated on the small stuff that doesn't matter" "such a nag, relax" "lol you are overthinking" "why do girls always care about this" "if i change my mind i change my mind, just accept it", etc etc.)

basically I'm saying - there's a difference between patriarchal behavior/thinking and "logical" behavior/thinking. yes, they can overlap, but it is also completely possible for a female to naturally operate this way while also being gaslit by accusations/labels rooted in patriarchal thinking.
posted by aielen at 1:13 PM on February 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

Clearly you love him. All the post you favorited show confidence you and he can fix this. Therefore, you and he will fix this.
posted by mono blanco at 1:16 PM on February 7, 2019 [15 favorites]

In another food-related example, I have seen his eyes glaze over with panic when he is told that the item he planned to order is currently unavailable. In the moment, he is incapable of saying "I'm going to step out of the line for a moment to re-assess my options."

A guy who has this problem is married to a friend of mine. I can only observe from the outside, but it really looks like a burden and difficulty for him; this is a person I truly like and I genuinely feel bad for him in the situation. (It also makes it somewhat challenging to travel with him, where often you have to change plans with limited information.) You will be doing him a favor if you encourage him to work on loosening up this rigidity to the extent he's capable of it.
posted by praemunire at 1:32 PM on February 7, 2019

In another food-related example, I have seen his eyes glaze over with panic when he is told that the item he planned to order is currently unavailable. In the moment, he is incapable of saying "I'm going to step out of the line for a moment to re-assess my options."

This is definitely a tick mark in the "possible anxiety" column. I used to do stuff like that all the time when I was younger. I was semi-recently diagnosed with anxiety and at first I didn't actually believe it, because I didn't usually have the feelings I thought had to come along with anxiety. But the need to Know All The Information and Be Fully Prepared, then short-circuiting if that information/preparation is suddenly no longer valid - that's me all over. Not generally in interpersonal relationships, but in a lot of other things.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:34 PM on February 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have seen his eyes glaze over with panic when he is told that the item he planned to order is currently unavailable. In the moment, he is incapable of saying "I'm going to step out of the line for a moment to re-assess my options."

Yeah, I do this. It's said that people with anxiety are always trying to live/anticipate in the future (and depressed people are reliving bad things from the past - this is oversimple but it helps me sometimes) and so yeah this can be a thing.

Getting out of line is an anxiety-provoking thing, not being able to think quickly "OK what is second favorite food?" is anxiety provoking. You being like "Hey...." can add to it (even if you mean it in the nicest way, being with you and not wanting to melt down over this can actually make it worse) and then it's a perfect storm. I sometimes just... clam up when I am stuck between two different options both of which I very much don't want to do for anxiety reasons. Which can lead to negative outcomes when what I want to say to (for example) creepy guy is "Hey shut up that was inappropriate" but I also feel very conflicted about being rude (even in this situation) and so I basically just stare and do nothing. He may have some stuff to unlearn. Best of luck the two of you.
posted by jessamyn at 3:06 PM on February 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is fine unless you want to have kids with him and/ or rely on him to meet needs (vs wants). Example: I liked an apartment until we realized it was smoky and infested with mice. He refused to move and I had no choice but to stay there because he was too rigid and anxious to deal with the change.

He might be a great guy. I actually think my ex is (that’s why we were together). But when his rigidity affected my life it was really harmful and stressful.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:38 PM on February 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think that you having faith that you will fix this is a bad sign. You should have faith that you can work around it and/or tolerate it. This sounds simplistic, but pathologically rigid people are actually really, really difficult to change.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:40 PM on February 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

This behavior sounds...very similar to certain symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD).

In a relationship with such a person, I find the easiest thing is to state plainly, regularly, that my preferences (be specific) are the result of context, rather than rules, and while it is true that some things I like never (be specific), many things I like sometimes (be specific).

It might also help to point out that you appreciate that your partner pays such close attention to what you say, but that sometimes it feels like they are responding to an algorithm of 'you' in their head, rather than reacting to YOU, the person standing in front of them and telling them what you want. Best of luck. It ain't easy.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 5:14 PM on February 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

what bluedaisy wrote above interested me - maybe or maybe not relevant to your situation - but do we know for sure that no part of the reaction to you sometimes wanting and sometimes not wanting mexican was related to how much *he* wanted mexican on that particular night? or some other way he was (secretly) frustrated by this restaurant choosing situation (eg past related incidents.) is he good at speaking up for himself in general? or is he the sort to stifle misgivings and only maybe later will you see a small tip of the misgiving iceberg slip out of the water for a second and then realize.. "ohhh.. ah ha... it *was* actually a big deal for you.. you were craving mexican and felt like i'd been picking the restaurant for a long time, and you were annoyed.. but you didn't say so" or some such. I hope that that is not relevant to your situation... but?
posted by elgee at 6:48 PM on February 7, 2019

Honestly, expressed like this he’s either on the spectrum or just a bit of a dickhead.

He sounds like a bully regardless.
posted by Middlemarch at 7:36 PM on February 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Expecting you to not act like a 'normal' person who has moods and whims and who can change their mind does seem a bit ... illogical.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:13 PM on February 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think it's also useful in any relationship to remind yourself that the qualities in your partner that you find most irritating and intolerable in times of stress, those times presumably(and hopefully) aren't making up the bulk of your time together, and these qualities are very likely the same ones which you appreciate about your partner during the good times. A partner who does these things during an argument is also a partner who remembers every little detail about you and your lives together, and one who you can count upon to say what they mean and mean what they say; you won't ever be questioning whether they stated their feelings or intentions about you and the relationship on a fleeting mood or whimsy.
posted by OnefortheLast at 6:28 AM on February 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think I'm like this? It's all very vague so I'm not really sure I'm understanding what you mean but yes, I find it very frustrating when people behave inconsistently for no apparent reason and I would 100% interpret "Ugh, no" to mean "I do not like Mexican" because if you meant that you just didn't feel like it that night why wouldn't you just say that?

And yeah, if my partner gets mad and they say it's because they wanted me to do XYZ and so I do XYZ next time but then they're like "No, I changed my mind/this scenario is very slightly different so now I don't want XYZ after all", then yeah...I would be really confused and annoyed. How are you supposed to be a good partner and accommodate your partner's needs if they keep changing and they won't even tell you when they change, so you're supposed to keep asking every 5 minutes if they changed their mind yet?

I am kinda baffled that this apparently is not how most people would react, and even more baffled that people think this reaction makes someone a horrible person. Maybe I am misunderstanding the scenario.

I hesitated to weigh in on this thread because it seems like a lot of people think that expecting straightforward communication makes you an asshole. I don't think so, but I guess they're entitled to their opinion.
posted by randomnity at 10:58 AM on February 8, 2019 [6 favorites]

Sorry, I didn't really give advice on working through it. I guess if your partner is like a male version of me, I would suggest being more clear about when your behaviour is based on feelings of the moment vs. disliking something in general, so you aren't corrupting his little internal database of your preferences. Yes, he has one and no, you can't really stop him from having it, it just forms on its own.

And definitely also be more clear about exactly what scenarios you would like him to do XYZ in, if you're getting mad at him for not doing XYZ and then (seemingly) getting mad again in the future when he does XYZ but the scenario is not similar enough to the previous time so XYZ was actually wrong this time (?). Or tell him that you wish he had done XYZ that time but you understand he's not a mindreader so you'll either ask for XYZ up front or not get mad in the future if he doesn't do it.
posted by randomnity at 11:08 AM on February 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

The issue is what happens after you communicate the changed preference. I doubt they would be having fights if the conversation went like this:

“Hey, let’s get Mexican tonight”
“Whaaaa? I thought you hated Mexican”
“Naw, I was just in a mood last night”
“Oh, okay, huh. Cool, yeah, Mexican sounds good”

Like... I’m struggling to figure out why there’s anything to fight about unless the more rigid partner is getting angry or upset about the change itself. Requiring your partner to constantly walk on eggshells lest you start a fight with them over a random statement made months ago is, in fact, an asshole move.

It’s okay to not like change. It’s okay to be stressed when people are inconsistent. It’s not okay to act like they’re flawed because they don’t match your rigid understanding of them/their preferences.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:54 AM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I doubt they would be having fights if the conversation went like this:

“Hey, let’s get Mexican tonight”
“Whaaaa? I thought you hated Mexican”
“Naw, I was just in a mood last night”
“Oh, okay, huh. Cool, yeah, Mexican sounds good”

Let me relate a real conversation I had, substituting "Mexican" for something else.

"Let's get Mexican tonight."
"But you said you hated Mexican."
"What? I have never said I hated Mexican. Why would you make up something like that?"
"I'm not making it up. You said it two months ago, the night we watched the Star Trek marathon."
"Oh my God! What kind of person hangs onto every little thing like that to use against someone!"
"I'm not using it against you; I'm just surprised because I didn't know you meant..."
"Why do you have to sit and pick apart everything I say and analyze what I mean?"
"I'm just going by what you said because I can't read your mind. If you like Mexican food now that's great."
"No, now you've ruined it."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:13 PM on February 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

I am much more like you, and this question is making me realize that my ex was much more like your partner. I would sometimes interpret their questions about my motivations as being hostile - it seemed that I was being asked to justify myself, rather than just explain myself. I don’t know if that situation arises for you, but it’s something to keep in mind in a relationship with this difference.
randomnity’s answer actually gave me a stressed-out flashback to that relationship: “How are you supposed to be a good partner and accommodate your partner's needs if they keep changing and they won't even tell you when they change, so you're supposed to keep asking every 5 minutes if they changed their mind yet?” Well, asking generally works: I don’t want to be anticipated, I want to be included in the decision making process. Conversation is important, even if you’re just verifying your assumptions: saying, “hey, I wanted Mexican tonight, but I don’t think you like that place nearby, so I was going to get tamales for me and pick up some Pad Thai for you, does that sound good?” gives me the chance to say, “no, I like tamales, I was just cranky and hangry and didn’t like anything when you suggested going there last week.” The thought of a partner relating to their mental model of me—instead of the real-life me that’s right in front of them—makes me feel so excluded and helpless.
posted by Edna Million at 11:08 AM on February 11, 2019 [6 favorites]

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