MeFi, Help Me Keep My Girlfriend!
February 22, 2006 10:47 PM   Subscribe

It's been recently brought to my attention that I have no clue how to be a boyfriend. The unfortunate part of this relevation is that it was brought to my attention by my girlfriend...

She and I fell in love via a long distance relationship. When I moved here, I had recently lost my job, was stressed out by moving across an entire country, and rather depressed. This was *not* the best way to start the conversion of a very intense long-distance courtship into a same-town courtship. I leaned on her more than I should've to help deal with my depression... which meant communication problems, an overuse of all of my defense mechanisms, and some other issues. I was very admittedly sucky for a few weeks, and on top of that, I screwed up valentine's day something awful by not keeping a promise I'd made.

The things she loves about me, and my strengths, are my writing ability, my ability to think deeply about an issue if I have the time to sit back and actually think about it, my focus on and passion for information systems and logic, how well we fit together in a variety of ways (including in bed), and my playfulness and sense of humor.

Bonus information: I'm an asperger's autistic with auditory and emotional/situational processing difficulties.

Unfortunately, her love for me is waning as she finds that her expectations don't quite meet the reality of what I've been the past few weeks. Metafilter, help me keep my girlfriend!

What I need is a crash course in how to date, because I never have. I've never had to plan dates and truly woo a woman ... I'd never found one where I really reached that stage. She's a rather traditional southern woman, and I come from the pacific northwest, where 'american-style' dating is much less common than group events and parties. How do I do this dating thing? How do I schedule things without taking her participation for granted? How do I court here, and what are the 'little things' that she keeps talking about but I'm completely obtuse to?
posted by SpecialK to Human Relations (64 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Things that are important to some, not all, but many chicks:

1. Remember things. Write then down if you have to. This includes important dates, stories she has told you, her favorite whatever, calling her when you say you will, and promises you make around which Valentine's Day revolves.

2. Little gestures make a lot of difference because it tells her you are thinking about her when she's not around. This can be as small as calling her during the day to bringing home flowers/ a book you saw that she might like/ a note, whatever. Be creative and be spontaneous. You can't, like, make it a habit to bring her flowers every Tuesday. It has to be spontaneous, because, like I said, it will let her know that you think about her occasionally throughout the day.

3. TALK. Men are sooo guilty of this, but you are in a relationship for a reason, and that reason is mutual emotional support. If something is bothering you, confide in her and allow her to confide in you. This does not include bitching or complaining every second of every day about everything though.

4. I know most people are pretty self-absorbed, but every once in a while make an attempt to put her needs/ wants/ requests first. Compromise is wonderful and neccessary in all relationships but there is something to be said about sacrifice too.

5. Accept that there will be rocky patches, especially in times of high stress, such as moving and losing a job.

Seriously, I'm so low-key I never understood why men have issues with this. Little things mean the whole world to me, and most of them are easy to do, and the payoff is huge. When my husband does something for me it makes me want to do something back for him.

Also important — these are not courtship rituals... these are things you should always do forever. Nothing sucks more than dating a charming guy for a few months who suddenly realizes he doesn't have to impress you anymore. It makes those first few months feel like a sham.

Lastly, consider the fact that maybe it's not meant to be. Maybe you are a good boyfriend, just not the type of boyfriend she wants or needs.
posted by Brittanie at 11:04 PM on February 22, 2006 [5 favorites]

"The things she loves about me, and my strengths, are my writing ability, my ability to think deeply about an issue if I have the time to sit back and actually think about it, my focus on and passion for information systems and logic"

Also, these are great skills, but they should not be the basis for a relationship. She loves you because you are a good writer? Does that mean she'll stop loving you if you decide to stop writing?

Not good.
posted by Brittanie at 11:06 PM on February 22, 2006

Response by poster: Brittanie - Thanks, that helps with the little things.

Obviously, there's many more reasons she loves me besides that. There is her comfort level with me, which is huge and is not common in her relationships with men, our ability to communicate and simply talk to one another without getting our backs up, the way we compromise and are capable of meeting each other in the middle ... a host of other things that I realize are pretty priceless. I was trying to think of things I could use in this situation to be spontaneous and creative.
posted by SpecialK at 11:24 PM on February 22, 2006

I see "me" "me" "me" so I bet she's not getting enough "her" "her" "her". It ain't about you.
posted by kcm at 11:26 PM on February 22, 2006

You say that you screwed up Valentine's Day "something awful." Why not start by trying to make up for that? Ask her if she wants to hang out next Saturday night, and then plan something romantic that involves red roses and some other trappings of Valentine's Day. When you pick her up that night, tell her that you want a "do-over", and that you two will be pretending that it's February 14th for a few hours.

That should get you out of the doghouse, and from there...well, you've got your work cut out for you. The transition from long-distance romance to real-life relationship negotiating is a big one that you can't expect to go smoothly. Maybe you two could talk about that and acknowledge that while you're both struggling with a turbulent mix of emotions right now, that's normal and appropriate to your situation. Tell her that she means a lot to you, and you're asking her to ride out this rocky adjustment period with you and be patient as you learn her better and figure out how to keep her happy. You can ask her to give it a few months in which neither of you see other people and you each give the relationship your best shot. Then when things start to settle down you can better evaluate how satisfied each of you are with how things are going.

If she agrees to that, take that time period to be as attentive as you can to her needs and wants. It's hard to tell you what those might be exactly. Her version of the "little things" may mean gifts or attention or a special look or just remembering how she takes her coffee.

I imagine that your processing difficulties could make this more challenging than it might be to the average man. Does she fully grasp that and understand your emotional makeup? Because you say that you're "completely obtuse," but it may be that your autism and other issues aren't allowing you to be as perceptive as you'd like to be. Don't beat yourself up about that. We ALL have certain limitations emotionally, and those are just yours. If she cares for you, she may just have to make adjustments in her communication style and ask more directly for the things she wants from you.

I say BRAVO for being brave enough to move across the country (was it just to be near her? you didn't say) and for putting so much thought and effort into making this work. Congratulations on all you've done thus far. Whether you can salvage this or not, it sounds like you're a good guy and you won't have any trouble finding yourself in a happy relationship with a woman who appreciates you. I really hope that this works out for you! Best of luck!
posted by wetpaint at 11:35 PM on February 22, 2006

How educated is she about Asperger's? If she could understand it better, she might understand your somewhat detached state better.

In compromise, you should try and learn more about her psychological makeup. What makes her happy, what makes her sad. I imagine this will be especially hard for you with asperger's... Have you considered talking to a doctor familiar with Asperger's about this? I imagine there are means of therapy, etc, to help you get better at understanding the emotions of other people.
posted by twiggy at 11:41 PM on February 22, 2006

As long as you're still feeling the chemistry, I reckon you can't go wrong with Brittanie's advice.
posted by chrissyboy at 11:55 PM on February 22, 2006

One thing I've noticed about southern women, even fiercly independant women, is that they LOVE chivalry... opening doors (I've been told that the quickest way to get laid on a first date with a southern woman is to open the car door for her... ), taking coats, pushing in chairs... that said, I haven't dated a southern woman myself, so all I have to go on is my discussions with girls from there, and guys who've dated the same girls....
posted by hatsix at 12:07 AM on February 23, 2006

Best answer: As a younger woman, I really got off on being desired. To have my back stroked in public while he discretely drooled, this made me feel wonderful, wanted and wanton.

I wear an older woman's clothes now, and I like to be listened to with full attention. To have my partner sit with me and listen to my story of my day, to discuss issues I think are important even if he's not interested, to laugh at my jokes, even when I'm not really funny - that makes me feel good.

Things I never was comfortable with: excessive ego (the me-stuff), desperation or neediness, macho-ness (look at me! I'm tough!), misogynism (yeah, chicks can't help it).

Oh and while I wouldn't put chivalry at the top of my list, simple plain courtesy and manners rate highly.

But in the very end of the matter, what I do with my partner, and what he does with me, when we have problems, is we talk them out. We use a model something like this:
When you do X(forget to call, yell, leave the toilet seat up), I feel Y (unimportant, scared, disrespected).
Sometimes when I feel a certain way, it's more to do with my family of origin than you, but it would really help me if you did W instead of A.
It seems to me you've been a lot quieter later. Do you want to share what's on your mind? (and then really listen, even if it's negative about you).

Ask her. Ask her what you can do to make the relationship better. Ask her how the Asperger's is affecting her, and whether there's anything you can use as a signal when things aren't going well. Oh and it doesn't really matter if you don't do the dating thing like it is on TV. You guys get to write your own story and have it be unique. Do what you both enjoy.
posted by b33j at 12:54 AM on February 23, 2006 [4 favorites]

Always ask her how her day went.
Small things do mean a lot.
Offer to make dinner or take her to a resturaunt that you choose for her. Basically anything that shows you spent time/effort/money with her interest in mind will be good.
posted by Packy_1962 at 1:00 AM on February 23, 2006

Whatever you do, make sure you overanalyze it. In fact, be sure to spend all of your time with her talking about your relationship with her. Asking her to list which of your qualities she likes the least, and then recalling specific occasions on which each has been displayed may also be helpful. Finally, when in doubt, look for an analagous situation in a Tom Hanks comedy for inspiration.
posted by gsteff at 1:57 AM on February 23, 2006

Sorry, didn't mean to snark. What I meant to say was, be happy, and she'll be (more likely to be) happy.
posted by gsteff at 1:58 AM on February 23, 2006

If you can ignore the cuteness and tendency towards stereotyping, I think John Gray's Book "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" is actually pretty good for this kind of thing. You should be able to get it from the library, it was a massive bestseller.
posted by teleskiving at 5:50 AM on February 23, 2006

You may want to consider checking out The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Ignore the Christian slant if you wish, but the book itself is pretty helpful in explaining how different types of people define love in different ways, and if your efforts aren't in sync with your girlfriend's needs, they'll be futile. For example, if you're trying to demonstrate how great a boyfriend you are by bringing her gifts, when what she really wants is a listening ear or more physical affection, she still won't feel your love for her effectively.

Evidently there's an edition of this book for singles (the original seemed more geared toward marriages/lifetime commitments), but I haven't read that one.
posted by justonegirl at 5:50 AM on February 23, 2006

Adding to my previous comment, with the caveat that these things won't be that meaningful if she defines love differently, here are some more specific examples of things I've appreciated from a boyfriend/my husband:

Surprises of any kind (not necessarily some big box of chocolates or a bouquet of flowers, but maybe something funny he saw in the convenience store that made him think of me)

Breakfast made for me before I'd even woken up

Heartfelt notes or letters letting me know he was thinking about me

Some unpleasant task (scraping ice off the windshield, lightbulbs changed, trash taken out) done for me, without my having asked

Something interesting planned for us to do: a museum trip, something adventurous, a meal at an unusual ethnic restaurant or someplace really cool

Willingness to accompany me to an activity he doesn't necessarily love (like skating or the mall)
posted by justonegirl at 5:56 AM on February 23, 2006

Two things to help in getting along better:

1. If you say you are going to do something, do it. And do it within the time frame you specified. I'm guilty of not living up to this myself sometimes, but everyone loves reliability.

2. "Talking" with your girlfriend is actually "Listening" to your girlfriend. If she tells you she is having a bad day, or is having a problem with somebody or something, she does NOT want you to tell her how to fix it. She does NOT want you to tell her not to worry about it, and that everything will be okay (usually). She does want you to listen to her, and empathise and say things like "I can see how that would really make you upset. What do you think you will do about it? Let me know if I can help you at all. I love you!"

It took me awhile to learn both of these points, but once I started doing these two things, life became a whole lot easier.
posted by Roger Dodger at 6:23 AM on February 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

For a romantic date with a conventional-dating lady:

1. Scope out a place to eat at least several days in advance. Good signs: cloth napkins, dim lights, a dessert menu, a wine list. Make sure the restaurant is open during your planned date, and ask if making a reservation would be a good idea.

2. Choose an after-dinner activity that she will enjoy. This could be just going to a second restaurant for dessert and coffee, walking through a nice park or public garden, going to a sporting event, seeing a movie, visiting a Chuckee Cheese and playing wack-a-mole. Important: don't choose an after-dinner activity that you would do anyways (like watching TV or playing online video games together at home).

3. Ask the woman to go out with you. After she accepts, casually outline your date ideas -- where you want to have dinner, what might be fun to do afterwards -- and ask if she thinks that would be fun. You've now done the planning, but you're giving her the freedom to veto any of your ideas and suggest alternatives.

4.Before the date, make sure your hair is cut to the right length, your face is shaved, you are showered. Wear something nice. Bonus points if it's something your date has complemented you for in the past. Double bonus points if you get her flowers before you show up.

5. Get to her place five or 10 minutes early, then wait. Knock on her door one or two minuts before the date. Be OK with waiting a few more minutes if she's not ready yet.

6. Be chivalrous: hold open the door for her, etc.

7. While you're at dinner, as her about herself. Then really listen to what she has to say. Ask her more about herself.

8. Offer to pay for dinner, even if you're broke. If she offers to help, don't accept until she's offered at least three times.

8. Complement little things about her several times during the night. "You really look nice today." "I like the way your hair reflects the moonlight." "That's a nice skirt." Whatever works for you.

9. Touch her gently a few times in not explicitly sexual ways -- maybe on the knee, on the small of her back. Hold her hand or link arms when you're walking.

10. At the end of the evening, tell her that you really enjoyed this time together. Give her a really big hug. Don't expect anything else to happen, but go in thinking that if you get away with a kiss at the end of the night you're a truly lucky man.


Repeat every three to six weeks -- more if you can afford it, less if you can't.

On really special occasions, like birthdays, holidays and Valentine's Day, look for an extra gift to augment the flowers. Just make sure it's not in a little bitty ring-sized box if you don't want her to crap her pants.

These gifts can be highly personalized, if you're comfortable shopping for her and trying to find something she'll like. I know guys who have a really hard time judging what a woman might like.

Some tips: pay attention to the colors she wears and the styles of jewelry she wears. A silk scarf for a necklace in a style she likes is a good gift. So is a box of Godiva chocolates.

On random not-that-special holidays (President's Day, May Day, etc.), you can sometimes surprize her with small unexpected presents too.

These little gifts can be a lot more mundane and a lot less traditional -- even weird, if that's something you're comfortable with. "I saw these socks and thought of you"; "I saw this keychain and thought of you"; "I saw this poster and thought you might like it"; etc.

And complement her, touch her subtely, listen to what she has to say even when you're not on dates.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:27 AM on February 23, 2006

I'm no Asperger's expert, so I don't know how big of an obstacle it is to be an "asperger's autistic with auditory and emotional/situational processing difficulties," but you brought it up, so:

If possible, try to fight whatever anti-girlfriend tendencies that may entail. Think about how it manifests itself in you and whether it might cause dating problems.

If, for example, you "have difficulties with transitions or changes and prefer sameness," as I just read on a web site, you might try, for example, to make yourself try novel things, assuming this isn't going to make your head explode. Take her to different restaurants, not the same one on the same night every week.

And another site said this: "They [Asperger's children? children and adults? I wasn't sure] usually have a circumscribed area of interest which usually leaves no space for more age appropriate, common interests. Some examples are cars, trains, French Literature, door knobs, hinges, cappucino, meteorology, astronomy or history." If this is you and if you can help yourself (I'm no Asperger's expert), for god's sake put away the door knobs or French literature once in a while. No, really. Maybe you have something you think of as your "little X hobby" but she thinks of as your "fucking round-the-clock obsession with X." How about that "focus on and passion for information systems and logic" you mentioned? Promise yourself that you will not mention X, not even think about X, for the entire evening. If you can help it. As I said before, I'm no Asperger's expert. Maybe you can't help it.
posted by pracowity at 7:00 AM on February 23, 2006

Step 1: Realize how you've wronged her, and don't do it again. Ask her advice and take notes if you have to, I guess.

Step 2: Fix the ways in which you've wronged her.

Step 3: Learn to see yourself and your interactions from a 3rd person view.
posted by mhuckaba at 7:09 AM on February 23, 2006

One thing I've noticed about southern women, even fiercly independant women, is that they LOVE chivalry...

I'd like to take this opportunity to remove the "Southern" from this. I don't think there's anything regional about appreciating these caring behaviors. And I'd hesistate to call it just 'chivalry'; it's courtesy, caring, and a daily effort to show attention and affection. It's behavior that says "You're important to me; I'm focusing on you."

I think most modern-day men underestimate the degree to which small attentions and courtesy can really win a woman's good opinion. I also don't think that reaction is exclusive to women; many women do small court-y caring behaviors all the time, but men might not be noticing or clicking on the fact that they're happing. Nevertheless, they're having an effect.

The appreciation might be more obvious with Southern women, and I'd wager that's because Southern men, as a broad generalization, still perform courtly attentions to a much greater extent than men in other regions. It's just part of the culture, and boys and men grow up expecting to learn these behaviors more often. My father, to this day, always opens the car door for my mother before walking around and getting in himself. He holds doors for her (and basically for everyone), and all that. It's absolutely lovely. When I've dated guys who do this sort of thing, I'm astonished as to how good it makes me feel. There's nothing really terribly attracytive about the standoffish, distant, awkward non-attention that so many men have adopted in the last 20 years. I've often said that if more men know how powerful the courtly behaviors are, they'd all get laid more often.
posted by Miko at 7:11 AM on February 23, 2006

Okay, wait a second. Not all women want to just be listened to and not have someone try to fix it. Me, I'm an solution oriented person--when I'm telling someone about a situation I'm in, it's very much with an ear toward collaboration--do they have any suggestions for how to solve the problem?

Just wanted to clear that stereotype up. Don't assume that all every woman wants is to whinge.
posted by gsh at 7:19 AM on February 23, 2006

I think you should ignore everything written above, and actually talk to your girlfriend about what she wants from you. All relationships are about communication, and asking mefi isn't a great way of communicating with her.

And also.. your needs are just important as hers. So she needs to be made aware of who you are. Talk to each other.
posted by ascullion at 7:39 AM on February 23, 2006

How do I do this dating thing?
Remember that a date is meant to be a pleasant experience for both of you. Make sure that you take her preferences into account. For example: if she doesn't particularly enjoy theatre but is going to see a play with you anyway make sure that you have dinner at a place that she really likes.

How do I schedule things without taking her participation for granted?
Ask her if she'll be available at the time in question. You don't necessarily have to tell her why. A simple "Can we get together Saturday night" will suffice. If you are planning something extravagant, ask her well ahead of time. If you are planning something exhaustive (like late night dancing), make sure she isn't busy the very next morning, too.

How do I court her, and what are the 'little things' that she keeps talking about but I'm completely obtuse to?
Since she is southern (and I live in the South) I think she is refererring to a certain lack of polite behaviours. (Which is not to say that you are rude, just a tad lacking in social grace.) Here are some tips:
- Open evey single door you come across. But, don't lunge for a door or nudge past her to get to the door. Plan ahead, as you approach a building speed up just a bit, about 10 yards from the door, so that when you get to the entrance (or car) you are about one step ahead of her. This lets you open the door with plenty of time for her to walk in without breaking stride. (You may notice that she'll sometimes slow down a bit to allow the manuever to go off smoothly. I love that.)
- Let her order first at restaurants. In general, you go first when there is a chance of getting dirty (you should lead her across rain puddles, and across the street) so that you will take the brunt of the beating, she goes first at all other times. (This is related to the door thing above, believe it or not.)
- Always, and I mean always, offer her a compliment upon first meeting her (this means that if you have lunch together, then seperate, then have dinner, you owe her two compiments). It doesn't have to be grandiose, a simple "you look lovely today" or "I like that blouse" will suffice. On special dates however simply saying "You look beautiful" is not enough. Open with "You look beautiful", then, no matter her response, stop her take her into you arms, look into her eyes and say "No really, you are absolutely beautiful."
- Make an unexpected gesture (a token of your feelings for her, if you will) once in a while: buy her flowers on a weekday, rent her favorite movie instead of going to yet another lame hollywood blockbuster (bonus points for preparing a dinner thematically related to the movie). Give her a massage without expecting sex afterwards (foot massages are great at the end of day (extra bonus points if you sit there listening to her tell you about her day as you massage her feet)). Every man is romantic on Valetine's Day, her birthday and anniversaries; the man she wants to marry is romantic on March 3 just because he felt like being romantic that day.

Unfortunately this list is too short and too specific to help with every situation. Just remember to think of her and her preferences when you are doing things. This is especially necessary when you aren't with her. Most men can be thoughtful when the woman they love is sitting in front of them. But if you remember to call her because you are at the store and you would like to know if she needs anything, that really shows you care. This in no way suggests that you should subjugate your needs to hers, (just that you give her needs more weight than just about anyone else's).

This romance thing is tricky I know, it's gets easier believe it or not. Pay attention to what works (i.e. makes her happy) and do it again, stop doing what doesn't work.

DieHipsterDie is kidding (or he is single) :) .
posted by oddman at 7:45 AM on February 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Forget the piece of crap that is Men are from Mars, etc., which I actually threw across the room, and get Deborah Tannen's You Just Don't Understand, a less man-o-centric look at the ways the genders communicate.

Also, let me state as a big-mouthed broad from the Deep South, I don't mind the occasional door-opening behaviors, but not when the guy makes a big show of it or looks visibly peeved when I manage to do these things myself. I don't need your fool self running to get ahead of me to get to the door first all the time.

Now that I've muddied the waters, let me add that I think that the poster's request is a sweet one, and just knowing that my man was concerned enough about the situation to put this kind of thought into it would go a long way to endear him to me.
posted by thebrokedown at 8:16 AM on February 23, 2006

The whole "be spontaneous" thing is really very childish. Real, adult relationships aren't built on spontanaeity. Being not-spontaneous is both a lot more sensible and a lot easier than trying to come up with a suite of whacky antics that inevitably imitate stupid romantic comedy cliches. Relationships are constituted by small, meaningless rituals that happen regularly and satisfy the expectations of all involved. The only question you've got to ask yourself is 'What are our shared rituals and are they satisfying?'

Stop worrying about planning for dates. Dates are not the solution and will only have a shallow, surface effect. One date--even if it's the most amazing date in the history of mankind--is not going to change anything and will be largely forgotten six months (or six years) down the road. I very much doubt your girlfriend wants you to overplan and execute a series of grand, expensive and ultimately empty gestures. She probably wants something much more difficult: changes in your day-to-day behavior that indicate you care not only about her, but also about your life together. Instead of dates, focus on developing those small habits and rituals that are the foundation of good relationships. So, yeah, it's the "little things" but really they're not little at all.

Specifically (1) Always kiss her goodnight. If you're not home for any reason, call her and kiss her over the phone (2) "Special" time, once a week at least. Sunday mornings are particularly good for brunch or breakfast in bed (3) Think about her routines, especially her morning routine, and come up with a way to make those routines easier (4) Think about your routines and how you can involve her in them to make your own life easier (5) Put your mark on the house somehow. Clean up, redecorate, or fix something (6) Her problems are your problems. When she's unhappy, you're unhappy. So figure out what her problems are and try to solve them together. Ask her about work, about her family. Know what's eating her. (7) Eat together whenever possible. (It irritates to me no end when people in love with each other eat together only very rarely.) (8) Have great sex regularly. (Hopefully you figured this one out on your own) ... and the list goes on.

This isn't rocket science. There's nothing particularly wrong with you. A lot of guys just don't seem to get this and that's ok. It's easy to learn and, like with most things, after a while it becomes second nature. But it does require you to make a conscious decision here to change your life together--it's no longer just your-as-in-just-you life, that's what it means to live together--for the better.
posted by nixerman at 8:17 AM on February 23, 2006

In general, avoid sweeping generalizations about "the South." I have dated many a woman, some from southern states, who found these outdated door-opening rituals to be a rather demeaning false gesture (and I agree with them). But you can never go wrong with the occassional genuine, spontaneous gestures that show you care and are thinking of her, as Brittanie suggests.

My suspicion is there's a lot more at play here. Your Asperger's syndrome, depression, making a cross country move for someone, turning a long-distance relationship which may largely have been in writing into a face-to-face relationship -- these are major obstacles. At the heart of Asperger's is the notion that you approach communication and intimacy in a way that may not be the norm, or that she is unaccustomed to. Have you read up on this stuff? May I recommend something like this book or this. And talk to her of course. The whole thing about communication in relationships may seem cliche, but it isn't, and especially in your case.
posted by drpynchon at 8:31 AM on February 23, 2006

You write well. May I suggest you add writing to your methods of communication with your sweetheart? I know I do a better job of expressing myself clearly and fully when I write, and that I generally muck things up or trip over my words when I try to speak. So when I need to communicate something important, notes, letters, email, etc. work best.

A side benefit is that, in general, people enjoy receiving something handwritten (or at least typed and printed.) Even if it's a sticky-note on the bathroom mirror saying, "good morning."
posted by shifafa at 8:38 AM on February 23, 2006

For whatever it's worth, I moved a few states over to be with my boyfriend after long-distance courting almost a year ago.

It was really rough, and the rockiest our relationship has ever been. I'm not sure if it was the job situation (I quit mine, but it'd been very long-term and secure), the stress of moving, setting up a new house, or just getting used to the person, but I remember when I first got here we spent days were I was so livid about one thing or another I didn't dare speak to him for fear what might come out of my mouth. I had thoughts that I'd made a mistake and now was just stuck with what I'd done.

But it wasn't a mistake, it was the best decision I've ever made... When things settled down, and perhaps when I stopped stressing so much, the things that made our relationship so wonderful that I was willing to drop everything to be with him returned. I've been here a year and we're recently engaged and happy as clams.

So follow all the good-boyfriend advice people give you, but also see if you can give it some more time, and get her to. I think that such stressful situations can be really rough on fledgling relationships, especially because both people in the relationsihp have the opportunity to think, "I don't reall know this person, I might have made an awful mistake being with them". Mine got way better once things had settled down.
posted by FortyT-wo at 8:50 AM on February 23, 2006

Best answer: While I agree with many of the specific recommendations above about listening to your girlfriend, keeping promises, and being considerate, etc. (all top-notch hints, by the way!), I think there are also deeper, more fundamental conditions that are part of being able to "be good" in a relationship in general. To quote a book I recommend all the time:
A person is a candidate for a relationship when he is able and willing to give and receive love, to handle feelings, to make a commitment, and to keep agreements. He can show the five A's [attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and "allowing"] in ways that are pleasing, satisfying, and noninvasive. He can forgive and let go of his ego long enough to work problems out amicably and fairly most of the time. He follows a reconciliation (not retaliation) model in his interactions. He loves you for yourself and not as the latest women to fill the slot in his life marked "female."
So it's not just about asking how her day is and bringing roses now and then (though those aren't bad things!). Beyond all that it's ultimately, I think, about the capacity to connect, empathize, share, and nurture.
posted by scody at 8:56 AM on February 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

This hits pretty close to the bone as I'm married to somone like you. The first five years were a nightmare and I can honestly say we only survived them because I'm from quite a traditional, non-quitting kind of background, where women are not bought up to value themselves highly. So I concentrated on his good points, of which there are many, and luckily learned my way through the bad.
There are some excellent ideas above and I would receommend your read the Deborah Tannen book mentioned becasue you'll have to do something very difficult, but achievable. You'll have to learn your script.
Your script is that spontaneous romantic gestures are almost a requirement these days and can detract from your other strengths. Aside from the above, on those days where you know you'll be in your "obsessed" mode (where you barely look up to eat because your special interest is so gripping) set your mobile phone alarm at varying times to ring her and say that you are thinking of her and the amazing whatever that you guys shared last night. When that alarm goes off, DO NOT think to yourself I'll ring in a couple of minutes, do it then.
Also do this anytime you have said you will do something or turn up somewhere. It will become your script or habit but you must work on it because your tendancy is to assume that you can do both your interest, study, task and be her loved one at the same time. You are Aspie, you do not multi-task so learn ways around that.
Spontaneity is difficult for you. If she dies her hair green (OK extreme), it may not be the first thing you notice, but it will be the first thing she will want you to comment on. Look at her very carefully the first time you see her, EACH TIME. No 1 Is there anything different? No 2 what do you really like tonight about her? SAY IT. If that lovely thought crosses your mind, do not waste it, use it.
Small, physical gestures at unexpected moments, a kiss on the neck while your are both washing the dishes, a caress in a public place. Most Asbergers focus so completely on each individual task that this is very difficult and the phrase I love you or a nice comment becomes something that is only related to those moments when your internal script requires it. That is not enough, so develop this as a habit.
You are likely to be honest to a fault. CONTROL THIS. When she says, I bought this new green top, what do you think....? Remember, if she bought it, she likes it. Try for an initial positive even if your true nature wants to say "well, it reminds me of the Borg Queen actually...."
Also, "do you find that other girl attractive? RUN from this question until you can lie convincingly or she is enough in love with you that she ahs the security to understand your answer.

Concentrate on the incredible positives of high functioning autists, it is likely you are hard-working, non-judgemental, interesting and that should the time come that she needs you in the way you clearly needed her, you will be there.
Make sure all this focus on your needs does not come across as egotistical, it is very easy for her to make that mistake at this early stage. Do something incredibly self-less and generous, like some DIY in her house, or find out what she least likes to do and do it!

This is a very hard phase in any relationship and even harder in your case. As the years went on I learned to value the strengths my partner bought to our relationship ( When I had to work huge hours in Uni, he more than once typed up my submission for an important paper or did leg-work research for others unasked), He genuinely wouldn't mind which of us took the back seat career wise to look after the kids, he will always have an open-mind for anything I suggest or need ONCE I EXPRESS THAT OPENLY TOO HIM, so your phrase about the physical side doesn't surprise me!
She needs to read "Men are from Mars" Type books and understand that this is you, just a little bit more. So she, too, needs to work if she values you in her life. She must say something is wrong when it is happening, not brood on it for days until it really becomes a problem. Tell her to treat you like a foreign language student, except life an social circumstances are the language you need to learn or you need translated for you.
Good luck, e-mail is in the profile
posted by Wilder at 9:56 AM on February 23, 2006

A lot of the advice above is excellent for How To Be A Better Boyfriend. But I think you also need to keep in mind that you are lovable just as you are, and value yourself. Try to be the best person you can be. Learn enough social niceties to be considerate, and make it clear that you love her, but also be clear that you deserve a Good Girlfriend. This advice is intended to be in addition to the above, not instead of.
posted by theora55 at 10:01 AM on February 23, 2006

BTW, I probably came out stronger against spontaneous gestures than I really am. I'm not against spontaneity and grand gestures, I just think it's really overrated in terms of how much they strengthen the relationship. I am against the "forced spontanaeity" that I see so many guys falling for in the hope that it'll revive or strengthen their relationship. It doesn't work like that. First come the little things: the developed habits and routines that demonstrate you really do care about her. After a while these little things you do to make her happy will actually give you a lot of pleasure and make you happy. It's this feedback loop that'll eventually inspire you to surprise her one day. It's a matter of focusing on the fundamentals and letting the rest come naturally.
posted by nixerman at 10:35 AM on February 23, 2006

She's telling you you are not being a good boyfriend. What she's really saying is 'let me tell you what I want from you'.

Ask her. Listen. Follow through.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:42 AM on February 23, 2006

I'm glad I came across this thread. I'm in the same boat... well, sort of, I'm also one of the Asperger's crowd, and up until I was in my early 20s I had almost no social skills (though I found they really improved when I got a job in a pub - go figure!).
No relationship, and single for an embarrassing number of years, but it occurred to me lately that I didn't have any idea how to be a boyfriend either. So... all these handy little hints have been filed away - now all I have to do is find the right woman to use them with.

Thanks, everyone - you really don't know how useful this stuff is to those of us who sometimes struggle to understand people.
posted by Incharitable Dog at 12:19 PM on February 23, 2006

Just as a riff on what b33j and Roger Dodger and others mentioned about talking. When engaged in the conversation about *whatever*, making eye contact and positive noises are good, and what I've always found that gives very positive reinforcement as to "Yes I'm aware of what you are saying." - ask questions. They don't even have to be big questions, just little ones that indicate that you're listening to an extent that you're processing what she's saying. You're interested and need clarification. This works on all conversations, with all people. It could be as simple as "Do you mean that they really didn't leave until....." to "Why wouldn't you rechrome the overhead cam-shifter flanges at that point, what? she's suicidal?!" You know... listening and interacting.
Even if you're really not interested, you can still support what she's saying. I'm sure my girlfriend isn't interested in everyting I say, but she still listens well, and it means something. Nothing will be known or solved without talking about it. In my opinion, it's the keystone of a good relationship.
posted by Zack_Replica at 1:25 PM on February 23, 2006

As a fiercely independent, liberal feminist from the South myself, I am still a sucker for chivalry. As a "traditional" southern women, she probably is too, so do your best to open doors for her and what not. But like thebrokedown said, don't make an obvious fool of yourself in the process. This will probably make her smile and she'll appreciate it.

However, scody pretty much nailed it. Romantic gestures are great but will not make a relationship work that is lacking the fundamentals.
posted by Meredith at 3:26 PM on February 23, 2006

Yeah, scody's got it.

Also, being southern, liberal, and feminist myself, the thing about chivalry from the men we're with is that, first of all, they are smart enough to understand that opening doors and all that other stuff is just nice (as in, I open doors for people, too) and that while it's traditionally considered "chivalry" to some people, it's just good manners. Make an effort to be polite, not just to her, but to other people. There are few things worse than being in public with someone who can't be polite.

All of the advice about romantic gestures is also very good. Given your particular situation, you may have to "learn" this, but as your relationship straightens itself out, these things may come naturally.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:18 PM on February 23, 2006

you may have to "learn" this

Yeah, this is true, and allow me to add: Don't beat yourself up for not already having relationship skills. Whatever syndrome people may or may not have, everyone has to learn relationship skills. We are not born with them.

For many of us, we learn them in our families. Guess what? That's not always the hottest place to learn them. In families, you may learn no skills, bad skills, mediocre ones, or, if you're lucky, great ones. I would wager maybe 10% of people are lucky enough to learn great relationship skills by the time they start getting seriously involved with people.

So you're not alone in needing to make a project of maintaining a good relationship. Heavens no. Why else would there be so many books about it on the market?
posted by Miko at 5:54 PM on February 23, 2006

Make sure that what you are hearing is really what your girlfriend is saying. When emotions get involved, it's very easy to misunderstand each other, and even more so when you have issues with auditory processing.

To do this, try reflective listening. She makes a point, you interpret it, and then repeat it back to her in your own words. Let her know why you are doing this. For example, "Let me make sure I understand what you mean. When we were in situation X, you were feeling Y. " Try to keep emotion out of it when you use this strategy--you are trying to clarify things and understand her, not judge what she is saying.
posted by Lossewen at 12:28 AM on February 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Everybody else has said much more serious emotional things. Me, I'm an OK boyfriend. Not winning any prizes or anything.

My simple bloke suggestion: cook for her.

This is going to relate to all the sensible people saying that listening is uber-important (which it is), because you're going to need to listen to work out what she likes in the way of food, but just about every girl I've been involved with has loved being cooked for.
posted by pompomtom at 4:33 AM on February 24, 2006

I agree with wilder. I thought that was well written by someone who's been there. Most of the ideas are excellant, especially the listening. And the not fixing. When I want to vent to my husband, I don't always want him to come up with a solution-just listen! Really listen, eyes on her, appropriate comments to show you are in the conversation. I hate trying to talk and feeling like I'm competing with the television, or the computer, or whatever. Little things go a long way, having coffee made in the morning, making the bed, cleaning up after dinner without being asked. And on the off-chance that you do all these things and she's still not happy? Then take what you've learned, and give it to a woman who will appreciate you for who you are.
posted by annieb at 5:19 PM on February 24, 2006

Whew! I'm glad *men* are not totally ruled by hormones and base sexual desires and shit, so we have somebody who can actually figure all this stuff out.
posted by idontlikewords at 7:24 PM on February 24, 2006

Wilder nailed it. You are much like a foreign language student who understands the structure and syntax of the language but is puzzed by the colliquialisms(?). Doesn't mean that you're a bad guy, just that the signifigance of other people's words and behavior doesn't easily add up for you. I'd suggest a book called, "Shadow Syndromes" for your girlfriend, it has a great chapter on Aspergers.

tranceformer is very likely referring to "get girls now!!" systems based on Neuro Linguistic Programming. It is interesting stuff but often gets misused as a easy way to manipulate people. As an Aspberger's person, I'd say that you might get some value out of NLP in that it helps you to learn how to listen to and communicate effectively with other people. Just stay away from the misogynistic, "get laid now!!" stuff.
posted by echolalia67 at 8:31 PM on February 24, 2006

Whew! I'm glad *men* are not totally ruled by hormones and base sexual desires and shit, so we have somebody who can actually figure all this stuff out.

No. men are ruled by hormones and sexual desires as much as women. That is why we have collectively devoted literally millions of man-hours to figuring this stuff out. Women have too, from a female perspective. read "the rules", or cosmo, watch sex and the city. they teach women how to get men. we are the male equivalent.

tranceformer is very likely referring to "get girls now!!" systems based on Neuro Linguistic Programming. It is interesting stuff but often gets misused as a easy way to manipulate people. As an Aspberger's person, I'd say that you might get some value out of NLP in that it helps you to learn how to listen to and communicate effectively with other people. Just stay away from the misogynistic, "get laid now!!" stuff.

No. systems based on Neurolinguistic programming are old models, they were replaced about 3 or 4 years ago with newer, more effective stuff. This week i got 7 phone numbers from women who i met on the street public transport bars etc. and I used to be REALLY bad with women. i ask every person who comments how many phone numbers you have got from women you met in a public place, i.e. not at college, not at a friends party, not through social circles. most men have not gotten that many phone numbers in their lives as i got this week. and i emphasise i used to really, really bad with women - im not good looking and im not rich. the stuff works guys. dont knock it till you try it. and draw a distinction between the commercial products and the non-commercial links i posted
posted by tranceformer at 8:54 PM on February 24, 2006

Phone numbers are not relationships.
posted by Miko at 8:03 AM on February 25, 2006

T.J. Mackey?
posted by EarBucket at 10:22 AM on February 25, 2006

Phone numbers are not relationships.

Since tranceformer's pretty much tipped his hand that he's probably never had a relationship, I guess it's not terribly surprising that he's confused the two.
posted by scody at 1:13 AM on February 26, 2006

You've read me like a book scody - or should i say watched me like an after-school special.
posted by tranceformer at 11:13 AM on February 26, 2006

seriously though its up to each individual guy and what they want. just because we meet a lot of different women doesnt necessarily mean we want to sleep with lots of women. some guys do of course. but others want long term relationships. we just get to be very selective. the stereotype of guys in the community sleeping with girls and not calling them again and stuff like that is attributed to the recent biased media coverage of the community. different people want different things.
posted by tranceformer at 11:47 AM on February 26, 2006

different people want different things.

Well...yes. Of course. (Also: the sky is blue.) Strangely, though, that observation (along with tips for harvesting phone numbers from girls at nightclubs) fails to answer SpecialK's question in the slightest.
posted by scody at 6:01 PM on February 26, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks to those I've marked, esp. Brit and Scody. Everything is OK now... we had a great weekend together visiting some relatives of mine, and we've both found our place in the relationship again and are talking and communicating as well as I like to be. And yes, I did choose this place to move to because of a variety of reasons, her being here being a large percentage of the reason ... but not totally.

Tranceformer gets a huge raspberry, and a -1 if I could give him one... that stuff is bullshite, and would backfire so horribly in this situation that it's not even funny. There's something to be said for being the kind of man who, when you're both feeling your oats and want a little romp while on an 8 hour drive back from the grandparents, pulls a car behind a barn and goes at it with ya for the heck of it ... (not saying we did that, nuh unh no way...) so the spontenaity and whatnot is good advice, but that's normal parts of being in a good relationship ... making things exciting and keeping them that way. Where I fell down was on the other half of the relationship, and this woman is in no way 'typical'. I don't care if you say it works for you, it doesn't work on every woman. Maybe you should try getting to know a woman before you need that particular brand of advice?
posted by SpecialK at 8:21 PM on February 26, 2006

"You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes"
posted by tranceformer at 6:11 AM on February 27, 2006

Scody wrote:

different people want different things.

Well...yes. Of course. (Also: the sky is blue.) Strangely, though, that observation (along with tips for harvesting phone numbers from girls at nightclubs) fails to answer SpecialK's question in the slightest.

Scody, if you think the the advice you gave above (the "5 A's") has anything to do with what makes females (like you) be attracted to a man then you are living in fantasy world. this is not unusual, because the true nature of the dynamic between men and women is too uncomfortable for most people to deal with honestly. which necessitates people like you making silly assumptions about who i am or what i do or what I suggest to special K, ad hominem style. Or create straw men such as "you obviously confuse relationships and numbers". Because doing that allows you to ignore what im actually talking about. Which is that women are attracted to powerful men, not wussy boys who read books on the "5 A's".

btw, specific and detailed advice on Special Ks question "how can i keep my girlfriend" is included in the links I posted. Notice, I didnt give him any "tips" whatsoever in my post.

I dont, however expect you, scody, to click on the links I posted, because the Matrix is a self protecting mechanism and people who are bought into it fight to protect it.

And Special K, even though you chose the blue pill, I wish you all the best.
posted by tranceformer at 3:34 PM on March 2, 2006

... tranceformer, you're linking a self-described Asperger's type autistic to "" and then comparing his relationships to the Matrix?


as if it needed to be said -- SpecialK, there's some good advice in this thread. i preferred the specific stuff to what scody said, but it's heartening that this worked for you. was the advice in the thread helpful at all? :)
posted by spiderwire at 8:12 PM on March 2, 2006

tranceformer is a semiautonomous text generation simulacrum, spiderwire, as a quick browse of his posting history will reveal. These things have been released all over the web by the NSA. They inject comments laden with conspiracy theories or oddball science into threads and then analyze responses to determine if any of the participants fit the profile of a terrorist.

It would have been funny, though, if the Matrix in the movie really had been a conspiracy by... girls? To fool men into... not... realizing that they want, um, manly men? I guess? Wait, who's behind the Dating Matrix again?
posted by nanojath at 10:00 PM on March 2, 2006

I'm guessing tranceformer gets 7 phone numbers a week and about 1 actual phone conversation. And uh, 0 girlfriends. zing.
posted by cellphone at 6:08 PM on March 7, 2006

You guys are cute. OK so for the people who havent yet understood what im saying I will say it once more, even more explicitly. No, every phone number does not equal a relationship. However if you want to start a relationship with that nice girl you met, you need a way to contact her. that is what a phone number is for. my point was that most relationships come from social circles, work or college - very few from public places, except in the movies, so i will now rephrase my question.. how many of you have met your girlfriends in public places rather than social circles, hobbies, work, or college? statistically very few of you.

This really isnt about me though - im not the best nor do i claim to be - in fact my friends are much, much better than me. And the guys I have learned from from are much much better than them. This is about how the advice given above doesnt work, whereas the advice in the links i posted does. This is empirically proven, guys. I have friends who have slept with hundreds of women. many of you may disagree with that on moral grounds but you cant dispute that this stuff works. Read the book "the game" by journalist Neil Strauss if you want to understand what the community is about.
posted by tranceformer at 2:04 PM on March 9, 2006

nanojath wrote:

Wait, who's behind the Dating Matrix again?

Good Question! To understand that you have to understand what the Matrix is. Of course I cant tell you directly but I will now present an exercize for you to find that out for yourself. Reading the exercize you will think you understand but you will NOT see the matrix until you do this exercise repeatedly.

Step 1: Find a guy who is naturally good with women, always has been, lots of attractive girlfriends always, lots of women wanting to be his girlfriend always etc.

Step 2: Ignore everything he says about why he is good with women, because he doesnt know. Instead introduce him to some attractive women he has not yet met. Watch how he acts around them. Pay careful attention to a) his bodylanguage, body posture, breathing patterns b) tone of voice, rhythms of his voice, when he laughs and how c) the sort of things he chooses to talk about d) how women respond to him - again ignore what they say and pay attention to a-c, above. Write down what you notice

Step 3: Watch the character "Ross" on the Sitcom "Friends". Pay careful attention to a) his bodylanguage, body posture, breathing patterns b) tone of voice, rhythms of his voice, when he laughs and how c) the sort of things he chooses to talk about d) how the actresses on the show respond to him (as directed by the script). Write down what you notice.

Now, repeat Steps 1-3 over, and over and over again.

Hint: The character "Rachel" who "Ross" goes out with is played by Jennifer Aniston, a woman many men would agree is unusually attractive. In "real life" she goes out with Brad Pitt, a man most women would agree is unusually attractive. Could the actor who plays "Ross" realistically have a "romantic" or sexual relationship with the actress who plays "Rachel" in real life? If this is unrealistic -- why have the characters been cast in this way?
posted by tranceformer at 2:48 PM on March 9, 2006

Hint 2: dont think of it as a "conspiracy" because its not, instead think of it in terms of human psychology and market forces.
posted by tranceformer at 2:50 PM on March 9, 2006

Scody, if you think the the advice you gave above (the "5 A's") has anything to do with what makes females (like you) be attracted to a man then you are living in fantasy world.

Apparently I am living in a fantasy world, because those are certainly among the qualities that make me attracted to my boyfriend -- not because he ever read a book about them, but because he manifests them as a strong, open, self-confident, self-aware man who is willing and able to connect with me (and others in his life) with affection and respect. If you think that makes him a wuss -- if you truly cannot conceive of how a strong man can also be an accepting, empathetic, and loving man -- then you are simply showing how very, very little you know. My guy is easily among the strongest people I've ever met, both emotionally and physically. The man has arms of Popeye and a heart of gold. I'm genuinely sorry for you and for the people (men and women alike) in your life that you are unable to think of manliness in anything other than such a childish, stunted binary.
posted by scody at 11:26 AM on March 14, 2006

Scody this paragraph is so loaded with assumptions and presuppositions I dont know where to begin.. how about here

If you think that makes him a wuss -- if you truly cannot conceive of how a strong man can also be an accepting, empathetic, and loving man -- then you are simply showing how very, very little you know

Scody, where did I say that? Where did I say or imply anything close to what you just wrote?

[boyfriend is a] strong, open, self-confident, self-aware man who is willing and able to connect with me (and others in his life) with affection and respect

So in other words he is strong, friendly, self-confident, social, he knows who he is and what he wants, and hes socially well calibrated. Uh, yes that makes sense as to why you would be attracted to him.

My guy is easily among the strongest people I've ever met, both emotionally and physically.

Um, so in other words you are saying that he is a strong man and you are attracted to him. Makes sense to me.
posted by tranceformer at 11:07 AM on March 15, 2006

Scody, where did I say that? Where did I say or imply anything close to what you just wrote?

When you said:

Which is that women are attracted to powerful men, not wussy boys who read books on the "5 A's".

You're the one making all the assumptions, fella. Good luck playing your little games. Over and out.
posted by scody at 12:48 PM on March 16, 2006

The Logic of Scody:

"Men who read books about the "5 A's" are wussy boys


"Any man who is capable of love is a Wuss"
posted by tranceformer at 6:08 AM on March 17, 2006

I'm very late, but your problem reminded me of a movie... I encourage you to hire "Mozart & the Whale"! It actually made me cry (I'm not much for crying). It's about two people who are falling in love, but they have Asperger's so it makes it really (both comically & touchingly) difficult. My sister has Asperger's, so I know how hard it can be for her to understand/get close to people sometimes. Watch the movie! Or better yet, get your girlfriend to watch it.
posted by mjao at 8:57 PM on September 30, 2006

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