Emotional support in hetero relationships
March 7, 2019 12:14 PM   Subscribe

How do you, as a woman who dates men, navigate your needs for emotional support?

I am a woman in my mid 30s who primarily dates men. Emotional support is perhaps the most important part of intimacy to me, but I find that many men I've dated seem to value it less.

This is nearly identical to my experience. I’ve been in many initially promising relationships with otherwise wonderful men who, when I share difficult things, default to (to varying degrees) advice-giving, disagreeing with my emotions about something, questioning my decisions that got me into the situation, changing the subject, or otherwise using emotional support strategies that feel unhelpful at best and hurtful at worst. As soon as I notice a pattern of this, I try to clearly explain my need and what would be more helpful in positive ways that don’t blame them for not knowing how to support me or expecting them to read my mind. In return, they (again, to varying degrees) become defensive and upset, fail to really hear my request, disagree with the value of emotional support, and ultimately don’t change. The relationship starts to be more negative after I bring it up and it spirals over time, with me feeling chronically unsupported, and them feeling frustrated with my feeling unsupported, until we break up.

I am a minimally sad or anxious person, and usually find that I can cope with most situations- my friends agree that this is true of me. I just like to know that my partner trusts my perspective, sees my feelings as valid, and has my back as I figure out how to solve things. Dating men makes me feel as if those expectations of a partner are unreasonable (sometimes men explicitly say this to me) and as if it is my articulation of my needs or having the needs in the first place that tanks the relationships. Meanwhile, when they’re dealing with something, they don’t want to talk about it, and instead take it out on others (like me) or act in self-destructive ways.

I find it hard to believe that I have greater needs for emotional support than others, but many of these men have had long-term relationships where this apparently didn’t come up, and I am chronically in short-term relationships for this reason. I’m assuming that many women who are in long term relationships with men either navigate this issue more effectively than I am currently, or somehow find men who are more skilled at this. Finding potential dating partners has been hard enough, let alone men who pass the high bar of being able to do this effectively. I would love insight into how other women navigate dating in light of this issue.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
If they're saying it didn't come up they're probably just not remembering because it didn't register as important deep inside their own ass where their head lives. It's just really hard to find a guy who knows how to do this. That's all there is to it.
posted by bleep at 12:23 PM on March 7, 2019 [43 favorites]

I think a lot of women put up with a heap of bullshit in hetero relationships. They go to friends for the support you're talking about. It's not ideal. Walking away at the beginning, "as soon as I notice a pattern of this," has been the best way for me to personally manage this nonsense. And I don't really date men anymore, because what you describe has been an ongoing pattern for me and I just won't put up with it anymore. Life is short. I'd rather be single than date someone who treats me this way, really and truly. There was a recent post on the blue about women who are navigating away from hetero relationships for the very reasons you describe. I navigate dating by being even more ruthless, and by not just dating straight dudes.

What you want is not a high bar. It's not unreasonable. No matter how many men or women say it is (I've heard this from so many people myself, so I get it). Solidarity.
posted by sockermom at 12:25 PM on March 7, 2019 [53 favorites]

I have absolutely no idea if this would help, so sorry for that, but have you tried talking about this before you need the support? If they get the feedback in the same moment that they are trying to address your needs, they might be more likely to be defensive to protect themselves from the feeling of helplessness and failure that come with seeing your partner in pain and need, and screwing up the attempt to help someone they care about.
posted by girlpublisher at 12:25 PM on March 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

I think the kind of defensiveness you describe is an instant dealbreaker, so ideally you would want to know about it early. I would suggest a trial balloon: sharing a low-level frustration about your day with someone you're seeing as early as the second or third date, and seeing how they react, if they default to advice-giving, and if they accept a gentle redirection without getting defensive or upset.
posted by capricorn at 12:28 PM on March 7, 2019 [32 favorites]

I’ve been married for 20+ years, so not dating but your description of the differences in emotional support ring true to my hetero-marriage. I have navigated the need for emotional support to varyin degrees in our marriage through discussing the issues, trying to emulate the behavior I’d like reciprocated, crying about it, ignoring it. I’m currently seeing a therapist and get some level of (paid) emotional support from that avenue. I’ve sadly adjusted my expectations that I will more than likely not have emotional support as you’ve described from this relationship and have instead been my own source for my own emotional support with the guidance of my therapist.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:40 PM on March 7, 2019 [10 favorites]

It’s unpleasant, but my experience is that often men who have never been in an equal and functional hetero relationship (or from a culture that tilts the balance) before still need and expect emotional support and then beg it off as women’s work when it’s their turn.

One thing that has helped has been turning off my usual empathy and taking on the other’s subpar behavior that I received when I needed help. It’s usually a pretty quick lesson—and it only takes 1-2 instances to sink in, in my experience.

The most graphic version of this probably comes in this form: I have a friend who would just walk through a door and not hold it open—even if I was carrying all our crap behind him. I by contrast always hold the door open for him.

At one point I was like, could you hold it open for me too? The response I got was ohhh I’m not like that, women expect so much blah blah. Next time that I went through a door first, I let it close on his face, like he did to me. And then when he said, why did you do that? I replied, do what? Oh whoops I just assumed you would get it because only women need that kind of support. He was pissed for a hot five minutes, but it only took one door to the face to teach that lesson. I open the door for him, and he opens it for me. And in those instances where the parity doesn’t stick, I stop offering support until he gets his shit together.
posted by executive_dysfuncti0n at 12:47 PM on March 7, 2019 [67 favorites]

I’m assuming that many women who are in long term relationships with men either navigate this issue more effectively than I am currently

Girlfriends. I have a small circle of close female friends and I lean on them for the emotional support and even emotional intimacy I cannot cultivate effectively on my own at home.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:56 PM on March 7, 2019 [13 favorites]

I try to clearly explain my need and what would be more helpful in positive ways that don’t blame them for not knowing how to support me or expecting them to read my mind.

I'm not sure I would explain anything at this juncture, more like

"Hey if you are trying to be supportive, that is reading less as supportive and more like 'let me tell you how to fix it' which is not what I am looking for"
"Hey that's fine if YOU wouldn't be upset at this but I am upset and I'd like you to take my emotions at face value"
"Hey I know things could have gone differently earlier on. However they didn't and what I am looking for now is some support on where things are now"

For me, 50 year old woman in a cis het relationship with a guy that occasionally does that, the issue I have is that he actively listen and learn from this. He may have some sort of biological imperative to try to fix, or to assign blame, but that doesn't at all mean that he can't switch over to empathy if it's outlined for him.

I make it clear that I AM NOT MAD (I don't know why he feels so shamed/judged during these interactions but that's a thing I can work on somewhat) and yet his response is lacking. We still occasionally argue but rarely about this sort of thing. I have a shorthand now that is more like "OK (to whatever you said) but I am looking for more of an empathetic response at this point." The big deal is we've got a general agreement to be supportive to one another and so if that's his stated goal, it's worth pointing out when that's not what's happening and his solution to THAT needs to rest with him and not me being a different me than the one he started dating.

I also get some emotional support from other people and do not expect him to be my entire emotional support network. I don't know if he sees all my feelings as valid per se, but he can see that they are mine and that they matter.
posted by jessamyn at 12:58 PM on March 7, 2019 [22 favorites]

I, a man who is attracted to women, did not learn to be considerate of anyone's emotions, my own or others, in an acceptable way until I went to therapy in my thirties. I do not think that cishet male socialization in America prepares us to meet your emotional needs in any way.

I think that evaluating attitudes of men towards therapy, (have they been, have they considered going, would they go) could be a good low-stakes way to weed us out early.
posted by Kwine at 1:09 PM on March 7, 2019 [56 favorites]

I am in a long term relationship with a man who is pretty good at this *now*. He was not when we first met (and I was also not good at expressing or advocating for my needs.). We’ve grown up together over a very long time, and gotten better at supporting each other, partly by fucking it up a lot. Also partly by both very consciously making decisions to ensure we were *not* the sole emotional support for each other but have cultivated other sources of rich emotional support in friendships, therapists, support groups, journaling, etc.

Having said that, by our mid thirties we were both well on our way to being good at this stuff, and I can not recommend starting from scratch at that age trying to cultivate this with someone who hasn’t already done a lot of that work on his own. I would recommend weeding out for this early and holding out for someone who agrees with this as a priority, even though you’ll still then have to figure out the best way for you as individuals to enact support in your relationship.
posted by Stacey at 1:21 PM on March 7, 2019 [13 favorites]

I wonder if some men get better at this as we get older? I'm in my mid-forties and have been married for 20+ years.

It's only been the past few years where my emotional intelligence has improved enough to be able to practice the behaviours you're seeking from your own partner (who is, presumably, much younger than me).

On the other hand, my assumption is that I've met some of my wife's emotional needs because we got married in the first place, and we have been able to more or less communicate our needs to each other over the years.
posted by JamesBay at 1:38 PM on March 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

(Or, what Stacey said)
posted by JamesBay at 1:38 PM on March 7, 2019

My husband is generally a very nice person, we talk a lot, and he does listen (unless he falls asleep while I'm talking, which happens sometimes, I must have a hypnotic voice).

Sometimes, however, he likes to play devil's advocate. So if I'm complaining about a person, he'll start taking their position. The last time this happened tho', he actually agreed with me.

I tend to get emotional support from one of my longtime girlfriends, who is my age, and instantly knows the right thing to say. And vice versa. We talk over messenger and see each other for shopping and lunch trips.

My husband has this thing where he'll say, "can I make a suggestion?" and I know it's going to be something I don't like. At least he asks now, instead of jumping in with a solution. But I'll listen. It could be me complaining about tangled hair, and he'd say, "why don't you just comb it in the shower?" and I'll explain that it's gross having a giant wet hairball to manage, I'll just put a little more conditioner on (post shower) and work my way up. He's not always wrong, but when I'm upset and wanting to talk things out, I am not inclined to listen to someone's instant solution, especially if I feel like they are not empathizing with me, just wanting to get me out of the way so they can go back to a TV show or video game.

What's interesting to me, is when I am talking to my female friend, she will relate to me and tell me a similar story, and then she'll say what she did, or just agree with me.

The thing he tends to be bad at is human relations issues. He doesn't care what people think of him, some things it's never occurred to him at all to be upset about. I'll tell him if I am just venting, and he leaves one earbud in and makes appropriate noises. If I am really mad, I will open a blank email and write a venting letter and then delete it later. He is happy to give hugs if I need them.

It's also helpful that we both have a sense of humor, and he does make me laugh. Sometimes he'll come out with a non-sequitur and I'll start laughing because it will be so off the wall. I was mildly griping about something the other day and he said something like, "I'd like to learn karate." I was like, wth? But it made me laugh.

I think it's important to try and distinguish between someone who is condescending or someone who is caring but hasn't delved into listening and empathizing skills. The situations you describe would not be cool with me, especially questioning everything I did to get to a situation, etc. I'd keep looking.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 1:42 PM on March 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

My husband is much better at this than most men and yet I still have to spell it out.

In the past I've said things like "I am having a hard time and I need your help" and "what I need to hear you say is [X]."

I wouldn't put in this level of coaching if he didn't bring an enormous amount to the table, and if he weren't happy to provide the support, once I've indicated to him exactly how.

And, it is true that it's crucial to have other sources of this support. One person can't do it all, however well intentioned.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:45 PM on March 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

You say: As soon as I notice a pattern of this, I try to clearly explain my need and what would be more helpful in positive ways that don’t blame them for not knowing how to support me or expecting them to read my mind. In return, they (again, to varying degrees) become defensive and upset, fail to really hear my request, disagree with the value of emotional support, and ultimately don’t change.

Honestly, I think you're doing everything right. You can't change people; you can only state your needs and stick to your boundaries when people refuse to listen. The problem here isn't gender per se but rather the fact that these guys are entitled jerks. Yes, I agree this is much more common for men than women due to societal expectations and the corresponding upbringing. However, I've known very many guys who are supportive and understanding or at least try very hard to be.

There's a big difference between someone not realizing what they're doing and, therefore, not being supportive versus someone who's refusing to even believe your needs and wants are valid. Keep dating people and look for these signs early on, as you have been doing. I know that's not very reassuring because it's not a quick fix or tip but it's so hard to find a good match!
posted by smorgasbord at 1:46 PM on March 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

The article you linked hits on a number of things that ring true to me as a male who is consciously trying to improve in this area:

1) Offering instrumental support was my default move, and I think that's the case for many men. (Upon preview: exactly what Kwine says!) I do care about my (cis, hetero) spouse, and "fixing things" is how I would show it. I wasn't maliciously trying to ignore her actual needs, I was just unaware of what she really needed from me.

2) My spouse and I did an online personality assessment and Social Intelligence ("Being aware of the motives/feelings of others and oneself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick.") was her number 1 strength and my number 1 weakness. Maybe a bit extreme, but also probably fairly representative of women vs. men. It did help both of us understand that our brains work in fundamentally different ways, so perhaps trying to glean some insight into how his brain works early on would be helpful (what type of job do they have, do they donate/volunteer regularly, etc.). (Upon preview: exactly what Marie Mon Dieu says!)

From the article, I especially like the idea of setting aside time at the end of the day to talk about issues you each dealt with during your day, making sure to discuss the emotions experienced. Make discussing emotions a regular and easy thing to do. That's a pretty easy thing to introduce early on in a relationship to test the waters a bit.

Then if there is an issue that you need some emotional support with, directly say so. Say that you aren't looking for a quick fix or a solution, but that you just want them to listen and understand how you are feeling, and that they are emphatic and/or sympathetic. Yeah, it's bullshit that you need to be so direct, but if they are respond positively and want to work on being supportive in the way you need, great, maybe there's something you can work with. If not, pull the rip cord and get out.

I don't think you have greater needs for emotional support or are setting the bar too high. I think it is just very common for men to be terrible at navigating emotions, especially if they haven't consciously tried to before. Try to find one that has, or is at least willing to work on it. (Upon preview: exactly what Stacey says!)

Upon preview: is there any reason to even post this? ;)
posted by hankscorpio83 at 1:47 PM on March 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

I have had relationships with emotionally supportive men but just due to luck. When I've tried to get other men to be more supportive, it failed. My solution was to completely reject both monogamy and the prioritization of romantic relationships above others. Message me if you'd like to subscribe to my newsletter. ;)

(To be fair, I have had friendships with women who were also not supportive emotionally. Without the expectation that they should be The One whom I rely on for that, I either accept that and take what they can give me, or I decide they're not great parts of my life and move on.)
posted by metasarah at 1:50 PM on March 7, 2019 [10 favorites]

On further thought, I think another way to flag this dealbreaker early is to try and get someone's general opinion on the gender disparities in expectations for emotional support, household labor, and relationship maintenance. It's not a guaranteed thing, but it's a good sign if someone agrees that gendered socialization is a thing, toxic masculinity is a problem, and men need to take an active role in fighting the patriarchy--and doesn't belabor the point of how much of a woke feminist he is.
posted by capricorn at 2:00 PM on March 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

I am a man in my late 30s, and agree with Kwine. (And Hankscorpio, on preview.)

And maybe I've sort of gone around the bend on this whole topic, but an even lower stakes way is to ask him read the EL thread (or even just the underlying Zimmerman article), see if he listens to your perspective on the relationship in that context and how he does in terms of discussing how he can change.

If he thinks that's too hard, or somehow not his job, or he immediately starts turning into a fight or a contest, whelp....

The best thing a partner ever did for me around these issues was confront me on them. And I had thought I was already doing better at the time, so it was jarring. But also eye-opening and significant progress was made before we wound up splitting up for more mundane reasons.

I am of the opinion that every man can improve in this area, but most assume they can't and would rather refuse on the grounds that they shouldn't have to.

I should note I probably have more domestic skills than your average dude, was in a lot of therapy growing up, and was taught as much to be empathetic by my Mom as I was to be an asshole by Dad. Plus, yanno, hanging around here for over a decade. And even so, here I am at 38 with what feels like a ways to go to be the kind of partner I want to be, at least reliably and despite whatever life throws at me and my partner.

posted by snuffleupagus at 2:04 PM on March 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

Married, not dating, so it's a bit different, but I have a good sense of what I can go to my husband for on emotional support and what I can't. For those I go to my friends (or my therapist). IMO women friends are invaluable and provide a level of support you will never get from a man in this society AND I think there's a lot of value in support provided by friendships that you can't get in a romantic relationship. You need friendships, no matter what, whereas romantic relationships can be nice but aren't required, you know? There are certain things I want support on that men cannot, in my experience, understand or provide. That said, my husband is great at providing support on, say, stuff about our kids, or if I'm very specific about my needs. But if I just want to noodle on something, I call my best friend. So maybe I have low expectations, but I don't know, I also don't have the energy to do a lot of training right now, so it's easier to me to just go to a friend.
posted by john_snow at 2:09 PM on March 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

Offering instrumental support was my default move, and I think that's the case for many men. (Upon preview: exactly what Kwine says!) I do care about my (cis, hetero) spouse, and "fixing things" is how I would show it. I wasn't maliciously trying to ignore her actual needs, I was just unaware of what she really needed from me.

This is not meant as hostile, just as trying to pin down the source of the disconnect, but I think people don't quite understand why the stereotypically male (although I know women who do it, and I do it some) style of offering practical solutions rather than emotional support comes across badly -- it's that when the practical solutions offered aren't actually useful, the interaction gets stressful, because then the person with the problem has three choices: (1) make a well-reasoned case that convinces the solution-offerer that the solution won't work; (2) react like an unreasonable person who doesn't want their problem solved; or (3) pretend that the practical solution offered fixes everything, even if it doesn't, and shut up about their problems. And all of those are a problem: the first one shouldn't be a problem if the solution-offerer is going to be reasonable about being told their solution isn't helpful, but often people aren't and the interaction gets difficult and unpleasant. (2) makes the person with the problem sound irrational, which is no fun. And (3) means that the person who originally needed help gets nothing out of the interaction except a chance to stroke the solution-offeror's ego, which is frustrating.

I mean, think about it -- actual solutions for problems are great, and waving away actual solutions in favor of emotional support that didn't change anything practical would be a weird thing to do if actual solutions were on offer. The thing that grates is ill-informed practical suggestions that don't actually help but that take a lot of emotional work to reject without offending the offerer. I think a lot of the male/female practical-help/emotional-support disconnect could be resolved if people offering practical help were sensitively aware of the possibility that their best ideas for fixing the problem were plausibly not going to be much use, and were transparently willing to accept that reaction and admit that they were out of useful ideas.
posted by LizardBreath at 2:38 PM on March 7, 2019 [80 favorites]

Early on, my husband and I had a conversation about how to deal with 'fixing.' Both of us are fixers, and it is a struggle to listen to someone have a problem and not be able to fix, but we also realize that sometimes you just need to vent.

So we agreed that we'd try really hard not to offer suggestions unless we were asked and when venting, we'd try to articulate that first.

It works for the most part. We still have miscommunications, but at the end of the day we are a team and he is the one person I can completely let my guard down with. I still struggle with it though. After decades of hiding my stress and unpleasant feelings to protect the feelings of men, I've had to work really hard at being honest with him. And he still struggles with listening and not fixing, because that's been his solution for most of his life. He's spent most of his life dealing with women who said one thing and meant another, and it still surprises him when I'm honest.

I met him in my late thirties and I was very upfront and honest with him about what I would accept in the relationship. He did the same with me and I really think it has helped that we were clear-eyed in the beginning. If things ever find myself single again, I guarantee you I will not tolerate the men who get angry because I articulate my needs. I will never again waste a second being talked over and told what I should do. I will not settle again because I've seen what it's like to have a partner that tries. He's not perfect and neither am I, but by god we make an effort. Which is far more than I can say for previous male partners.
posted by teleri025 at 2:44 PM on March 7, 2019 [13 favorites]

I am a cishet married woman. My husband and I come from two very opposite backgrounds, where he was taught in a very patriarchal fashion, and I was taught to use my voice. Early in our marriage, we were arguing about something that had happened in my past and how he would have handled it, and I said to him "hold up, do you actually think that I haven't thought about that option?" The look on his face clearly said that no, he didn't think I had thought about his fabulous pontification, white-male-centered-option and that I only thought about one thing and implemented the one option I thought about.

That proved a huge breakthrough in our communication, because he really thought he was providing me with brand new information that I hadn't thought about, on an issue that had already passed. Now, when we communication, I clearly state to him, I need support on this issue, I don't need devil's advocacy, I need you to listen with your head and your heart. When I need him to be a sounding board, I tell him, hey, I have this issue, can you please listen to everything before you jump in with ideas?

This can be on small issues, such as when he goes on a health food kick (yes, I know the benefits of not having a sweet pastry in the morning, but I enjoy having a sweet pastry in the morning, and I'll take a walk in the afternoon when the afternoon sleepies hit me. I know this, and I will take the consequences as a grown woman.) It also helps on larger issues, but what helps is when I call him out on "why are you engaging in that thought process? Is it to support me? Or is it because you think I don't know/didn't know that information?" He was raised to think that males knew all the answers, and that females couldn't possible think of all the different permutations of a solution, and therefore he was "helping" me, whereas I took it as condescension.

Trust me, it took several years of retraining both of us before we got to a point where we could have conversations without one of us either stonewalling the other, or one of us blowing up. But once we learned why we weren't listening empathetically, it helps us both be better partners. I hope this helped!
posted by alathia at 2:51 PM on March 7, 2019 [27 favorites]

Yeah it's really not that fixing is itself a problem it's that if your pat solution was actually helpful I would have already done it and not mentioned it. It more betrays a shallow, naive worldview that is just really unhelpful.
posted by bleep at 3:54 PM on March 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

Dating men makes me feel as if those expectations of a partner are unreasonable (sometimes men explicitly say this to me) and as if it is my articulation of my needs or having the needs in the first place that tanks the relationships.

I have no advice for you. I do want to say that you are not crazy, and that asking a partner to trust your perspective, see your feelings as valid, and have your back as you figure out how to solve things is a totally reasonable set of expectations. Having a need for relationship in a relationship is not too big of an ask.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:14 PM on March 7, 2019 [10 favorites]

Hi I have had the most success with accidentally dating men who were raised by single moms. For what that's worth. I am now married to one of those people, it worked out well for us.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 5:39 PM on March 7, 2019 [25 favorites]

I think the folks who said getting support from girlfriends is the way most women navigate this are probably correct.

If you're looking for other ways to try navigating this though, is it possible to ignore the content of your partner's response and hear instead the intent behind it? When he says "you should be more assertive and stand up for yourself," rather than thinking if it was that easy I would have done that by now, can you think he sees I'm in distress and he's trying to help me. The advice is dopey and shallow, but at least he cares about my problems and wants me to be happy because he loves and cares about me? Or when he says "it's not that big a deal and you can't stop it anyway, so why don't you just get over it," rather than thinking great now I feel completely dismissed by the one person who's supposed to have my back can you think he doesn't want me to be unhappy so he's sharing coping strategies that would have worked for him because he care about me in his dopey and entirely insensitive way?

I know this may not be practical since when you're feeling down you just want support and don't want to have to do extra work to parse the sub-par support you're getting from your partner, but if getting support from your girlfriends isn't practical, it may be something to try.
posted by willnot at 5:41 PM on March 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

You tell him what you need.

Literally, as in, "I need to know you trust my perspective. I need you to see my feelings as valid. I need you to have my back as I figure out how to solve things.". Or "I need you to listen, not solve" or "I need you to tell me what you hear in this story" or "I need to be blow off some steam". Or even "I need to come up with some options here".

It's actually not fair to expect someone to read your mind. My mother did that a lot, and I saw how much it frustrated her, and it didn't get her what she needed, either. And I saw how it much it frustrated my father. So I trained myself to say "here's what I want" or "I need ....". It works fairly well, when someone really does want to give you what you need but doesn't know specifically how.

And if your partner cannot or will not meet that need, better to have it out in the open.
posted by Dashy at 6:09 PM on March 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

+1 to everyone recommending explicit statements.

I've become more skeptical of the "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" stuff in many areas, but this remains a topic where I still there are two camps that mostly line up with gender.

When I complain to a male friend and he asks, "Why can't you just...?" I understand that as, he probably knows there's a reason I can't do that, but he doesn't know what, and he cares enough that he wants to help me out, so he's trying to learn more about my constraints. I find it kind of satisfying when he suggests things I already tried, because it reassures me that these were reasonable guesses and I'm not missing anything obvious. Also, this often leads to some commiseration about the difficulty or stupidity of the situation.

It honestly wasn't until I started reading questions like yours that I realized that, "Wow, that sounds frustrating," was not some sort of dismissive content-free non-response. I had a bunch of, in retrospect, non-conversations where I'd complain about something and someone would try to talk about my feelings and I'd be like, "It's not just my feelings. I've got a real problem. I'd feel better if I could solve the problem."
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 9:52 PM on March 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

So, when I met my now husband, we were both in our early 20s and he was in „enthusiastic fixer“ mode whenever I complained about anything. At the time, I still had a lot of internalised mysogyny, so forgive me for the following, but what I said was, „when women tell you about problems, mostly they don‘t want advice. They know what they need to do, they need your support!“
And this lightbulb went on in his head and he was all, „OMG nobody ever told me that! This is amazing! Is it really true??“ And he went out and, being the practical person he is, put the theory to the test with his female friends.
„This is incredible! I just nodded and said things like ‚wow, that sucks‘. And she stopped complaining. And before that, I would give her advice and she would keep telling me why my advice couldn‘t work and why her life really sucks. And today she actually looked happy when I said that! It worked!

From then on, I‘d just tell him in the moment what I needed and he was really great about switching gears. And these days he usually susses out on his own whether I want advice or a hug, so, you know.

But I‘ll never forget the way his face lit up. Like a freaking miracle!

That said, he was 20. It wouldn‘t be cute with a 30 year old who presumably has had people try to tell him about emotional support for a long time.
posted by Omnomnom at 6:20 AM on March 8, 2019 [12 favorites]

As a woman who used to be a chronic advice-giver, I tend to see this as two separate, but adjacent behaviors. Unhelpful advice-giving is a clueless behavior that is sometimes well-meant and that people can grow out of, although still doing it in one's thirties is not a great look. (Funnily enough, my last partner, a man, really didn't mind my advice giving and was touched but bemused by my attempts to correct my own behavior.)

For me, questioning your experiences and decisions crosses a line—it's so disrespectful and undermining. It sounds like you are already talking this out with partners and expressing your needs and they're not taking it seriously.

I don't really have advice, except to encourage you to keep advocating for yourself and your needs. I know it's frustrating, but more communication in a relationship is never a bad thing.
posted by toastedcheese at 7:10 AM on March 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

First, your expectations for emotional support and emotional maturity are totally valid. Due to cultural norms most men are able to avoid any negative consequences from this behavior, as Kwine mentions above so they are not motivated to change.

I am very fortunate that I found a man who is extremely emotionally supportive. Have to say that I agree with Lawn Beaver's comment above.

Not to sound too Dr. Drew, but people's experiences in childhood fundamentally and shape their subconscious views on gender roles and relationships. In my dating experience, men with strong female mothers have higher levels of emotional maturity and men with more submissive mothers have had underlying sexist and misogynistic views.

One technique that I used in dating was to have a zero tolerance policy for some of the behaviors that you mentioned above, such as questioning my decisions that got me into the situation, changing the subject. I also have a low tolerance for defensive people in my life, especially romantic partners and weeded out them early.
posted by seesom at 8:29 AM on March 8, 2019 [7 favorites]

I just completed this course on relationship building. I initiated taking this as I could see my wife and I were not operating on a good set of relationship principles underlying our communications. There's no operating manual after all for how to do this, especially long term. John Gottman has a bunch of research about how couple's interact successfully and unsuccessfully, which is really helpful to know about.
As a male, I have no where near the amounts of emotional support my wife routinely creates and interacts with in her social network. The only reason I mention this is that men in general do not get the kind of cultural training or have role models for how to do emotional support or create supportive social networks. So, they default to what they do know, unhelpful behavioral models that don't work all that well.
posted by diode at 9:11 AM on March 8, 2019

I stopped accepting any sort of bullshit "That's just how men are!" rationalizations when I realized that white people, regardless of gender, do the same "Why do you just..." superficial fix-it shit when people of color talk about racism. It's not a gender thing; it's a power thing. It's a cisheteropatriarchal white supremacist response that assumes that people marginalized along axes that the "fixer" is not are somehow less intelligent and less capable of navigating the world.

I dealt with it by giving up on dating men, for what it's worth. Which is unfortunate, because I seem to be attracted exclusively to men. Maybe that will change. But I'm too tired to fight for my right to be treated as an equal anymore.
posted by lazuli at 10:11 AM on March 9, 2019 [11 favorites]

Hetero guy, for context. This line stuck out:

"I try to clearly explain my need and what would be more helpful in positive ways that don't blame them for not knowing how to support me or expecting them to read my mind."

You probably know this, but saying it out-loud: that line feels crucial, and isn't anywhere near common; please don't give up on it.

What you're asking for isn't unreasonable, and feels like basic table stakes to me. It... reminds me a bit of conservative/rural America and less of more liberal areas/cities, FWIW, after time spent in both. Good luck. :-/
posted by talldean at 1:50 PM on March 11, 2019

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