Cutting down on time together
June 1, 2021 8:33 PM   Subscribe

Someone I'm in a new relationship with expressed needing more time alone and asked if we could meet just twice a week. That combined with some previous patterns has me spiraling into doubt about their suitability as a partner. Hive perspectives much appreciated.

I've been dating this man for a little over four months now, and we've been 'officially' in a relationship for a month. We're both in our early thirties. I like him quite a bit, and after the traumatic relationship I was previously in, his honesty and integrity make me feel safe. He does meaningful things; he seems to want to put most of his energy into his work (in an animal sanctuary project) and into working on himself.

But he's shown a pattern of being hesitant to emotionally invest and be available for a relationship. I broke up with him twice during the casual dating period because of this. Each time he showed up with greater clarity and commitment, and I felt empowered in my decision to take space when it wasn't working for me. We've been going strong for a month now, in a sort of honeymoon period, and I've been feeling very happy. He was also very sweet and emotionally supportive the one time I needed it.

The last week he took more space and there was a bit of tension between us, and he just wrote me to say he's struggling to find a balance and has been feeling a bit stressed, and while our relationship is growing in importance for him, could we fix on twice a week to spend time together -- Saturday night, and a weekday lunch!! Note also that we live ten minutes away from each other, so meeting is super easy.

My brain is a bit of a muddle right now but these are the thoughts running through:
- To me that feels terribly terribly little! I feel pushed into a corner and made into a "cherry on the top of a full life" which was a phrase he once used in the early days. That's not what I want to be building: I want a *real* intimate relationship.
- I would have liked to meet 3-5 times in the week, and given how close we live, it's easy for us to do a half hour walk or drop in.
- When he's with me, he is wonderfully present and available.
- He almost never stays over, and this is something I've expressed a desire for.
- He doesn't seem to want to include me in any of his normal life, but maybe it's too early for that?
- Anytime I express a desire for something, he seems to see it as pressure and gets triggered.
- He seems to go through moods and has said he finds it hard to be affectionate when he's feeling low, and wants to be with me when he's feeling present and positive. This is a bit of a red flag for me because I really suffer with partners who are inconsistent with affection. I've matured emotionally and need less immediate reassurance than I did, but this still sounds less than ideal.
- Is it even possible to really get to know each other with any depth meeting twice a week?

I'm really not thinking straight right now, because this is triggering. So I hand it over to you!
posted by miaow to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
He never stays over and wants to downgrade you to one dinner and one lunch date a week? You are not looking for the same things, cut your losses and move on.
posted by cakelite at 8:36 PM on June 1, 2021 [38 favorites]

Best answer: Same feeling as cakelite. It's totally okay for you to both want what you each want, but the difference between one night a week (and one lunch) and hanging out 4-5 times a week is a huge gap and not one that is likely to be met just through compromise. Trust your guy, he seems like a nice guy but you guys want radically different things at this point in the relationship so I think it's right to move on.
posted by jessamyn at 8:45 PM on June 1, 2021 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Great AskMe.

Is he an introvert? If so, then even if gregarious, he needs time to recharge. Not suggesting it answers all the points, but it could be a factor (and I would think there'd be multiple factors, and approaches needed. Humaning is so complex)

I am glad you saw a red flag raised. There's something to look at there, both in him and in you. It's good you are seeing this and attending to it, esp. now, early. That, and other things you mentioned, success a significant chance for a fundamental mismatch in wants and needs.

This may seem strange and counterproductive, but in a small measured way: some time away from you might serve to motivate him a bit ; or give him time/space to sort out some uncertainty. 'You don't know what you've got til it's gone' and 'distance make the heart grow fonder'. If after some time/space away it's the same situation, AND if you raise this concern to him and it doesn't change, then you have some important information.

You seem like very good communicator. You may need to find someone who is the same. You don't want to go a long time without the experience of having effective communication with your partner. You want partnering and interaction to feel 'successful' more often than not. Does he have a set of preferences and capabilities that match you such that you can be effective and feel successful/rewarded?
posted by armoir from antproof case at 8:48 PM on June 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Some of us don't want to be around someone all the dang time. Even people we like. It's not about you. It's extremely difficult for some of us to perform affection and attention when we need space. It's not about you. The idea of someone "dropping in" gives me hives.

This is a bad match. You're not getting what you need, this person can't give it. He is telling you very clearly what his boundaries are, and these limits do not meet your needs. You're not well suited for each other. It's okay, it happens.
posted by phunniemee at 8:58 PM on June 1, 2021 [76 favorites]

Best answer: Before writing him off entirely, have you asked what an ideal long-term relationship would look like for him?

Is this a "will never be compatible" issue, or a temporary mismatch while y'all get to know each other better?
posted by Metasyntactic at 9:07 PM on June 1, 2021 [12 favorites]

Everyone else has pretty much covered my thinking on this (nothing wrong with him, but he's clearly not the guy for you) but I did want to address one thing:

Is it even possible to really get to know each other with any depth meeting twice a week?

I mean, yes? Maybe less so if your dates consist just of like, dinner and then sex and then going your separate ways, but if you're using the dates to have strong-connection type, yeah. It might take longer than it would if you saw each other constantly but it would still happen.

Regardless it sounds like you want to be around him constantly (which is fine! It's a fine way to be!) so the factual possibility of knowledge isn't necessarily going to change your outcome. But I just wanted to stand up for the other busy, tired, introverted sorts out in the world, lol. We can be known!
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:09 PM on June 1, 2021 [11 favorites]

Best answer: You don't want the same things and I agree with the other posters that there is quite a bit of daylight between your needs. That is probably leading you both to feel triggered by the other.

I want to answer your question about whether you can really get to know someone just meeting twice a week. At least for me, frequency does not necessarily build real intimacy. It drives up the limerance factor, for sure, but if I see you almost every day and don't have space away to think about and yearn for you I don't necessarily really... miss you or think about you or yearn for you in a deepening way. I think you have to find (and date) someone who really wants to and believes it's important to build relationships in the same way or make your way towards some compromise, not someone whose needs and boundaries are in opposition and hope they will reciprocate. Easier said than done, of course.
posted by sm1tten at 9:15 PM on June 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

You already broke up with him twice in three months. You are incompatible. Just let the dude go, neither of you sound very happy here.
posted by momus_window at 9:22 PM on June 1, 2021 [38 favorites]

Someone just mentioned in another thread. You should read it. He sounds like classic avoidant here. Also, when the guy starts wanting more space and to see less and less of you.... yeah, either he ends it or you do. Sorry :(
(I just start seething at the word "space" in relationship context after one of my exes pulled that stuff on me.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:42 PM on June 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

you halted things twice and are now contemplating a third time. he is slowly learning from this experience and attempting to set some kind of self-protective boundary - perhaps he is following your lead in becoming 'empowered in [his] decision to take space.'

in my experience, you cannot repeatedly break up with someone and ask them to give more of themselves every time you take them back, nobody safe and sensible will go along with that. traditionally, if you want someone back after breaking up with them, you are the one who has to change or prove something to make things feel equal and even again.

asking for a standing lunch date and every saturday night with you is a significant gesture and commitment if he means it, but you are fully within your rights to decline if it isn't what you want or don't trust it. basic incompatibility isn't anybody's fault. he sounds like he either doesn't want an intense relationship at all, or he doesn't want to pretend to have one until he knows you well enough for it to be real. if it makes you feel bad and insecure to try to figure him out, that's all you need to know.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:57 PM on June 1, 2021 [34 favorites]

Best answer: In addition to the advice above, which is wonderful if also sad to read, I want to mention this: he sounds like a nice person but not a good boyfriend for you. Even if you were an extrovert versus introvert, etc. it could be working if you were both making compromises but it seems like you’re the one having to settle for less. That’s unfair for you and no fun for him either.

I’m glad that you’re in a better relationship than your previous one but it’s still not good enough in that you deserve better. Someone being kind and respectful is just the first step and a basic necessity that we so easily forget after surviving a bad or even abusive relationship. Also being with someone who actually likes us and loves spending time with us is also something we can want and deserve. You are smart to listen to your gut here. There are lots of wonderful people out there, even if it can be hard and no fun to find them. You can and should be with someone who loves being with you as much as you with them, and with whom you can work on projects together or in parallel to improve yourselves and the world! And being single is pretty awesome and rather underrated too. I’m 37 and dating more than ever in my entire life, like a different date a night, and I would have never thought this was possible in my early 30s but here I am! It’s not perfect and sometimes I prefer to be home alone with my cats but it sure beats forcing something, which I did way too often before. <3
posted by smorgasbord at 9:57 PM on June 1, 2021 [6 favorites]

He wants to see less of you, you want to see more of him…there’s no future here. I’m sure he’s a nice guy but he’s not the guy for you. Time to move on.
posted by Jubey at 12:19 AM on June 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think he likes you, but feels pressure to perform when he is around you. Pressure to do meaningful things and to show affection at a level that makes you happy. This pressure can be internal (this is what he thinks relationships ought to look like) or external (you expressing your needs to him, and him trying to do what you need).

He's trying to keep his sanity here by seeing you only twice a week. Sadly, I think this is unsustainable long term, for both of you.

I don't know what you do on Saturday nights, but one thing to try here would be do have a couple of task or activity-oriented dates vs. romantic dates. I don't know... such as hey, I want to re-organize my basement today - would you help? Or go for a hike. Not a romantic hike, but hike-hike. So that he has an opportunity to be himself and relax around you vs. his brain spinning in a "am I being affectionate and romantic enough right now" pattern.

This might be totally not what you want to do with your time as you date someone, and that's cool. But I think this is the way forward with him, if you have it in you. Of course if all of this feels to you like romance and affection are lacking, you guys are just not a great match, even though you both are perfectly lovely and lovable people.
posted by LakeDream at 5:49 AM on June 2, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Yay for you expressing what you need, and yay for him expressing what he needs! But... they're not compatible. This is disappointing and not fixable. But it's really great that you've both been able to talk about it out loud - it's much less maddening for everyone.

(And for context on his boundaries, if I were working in an intense in-person job, seeing someone new-ish twice a week would be absolutely the limit of what I could stand. I'm a huge introvert and need a lot of alone time, and if I can't have it during the day, I need it in my off-hours. I tried to live with an extrovert friend once - not a lover, just a roommate! - and she wanted to interact all. the. time and it very nearly broke both my sanity and our friendship. This is just how I'm built! Other people have different needs, and that's fine! But I couldn't date them.)
posted by restless_nomad at 6:35 AM on June 2, 2021 [14 favorites]

Yeah, this seems like a bad match. Neither one of you is wrong, you're just not compatible.
posted by Ragged Richard at 6:58 AM on June 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Some questions to ask are, "if neither of us is going to change, is the trade-off worth it," and "would I be happier with or without this relationship?" I don't know the answer to either. The not including you in his normal life thing seems worth considering very carefully and strikes me as more important than time spent together.

FWIW, as someone who needs more hours to recover from any social interaction than the event itself and has rather happily lived on different continents from my spouse, this does seem pretty extreme. Going for a half hour walk with a romantic partner a few times a week isn't an unreasonable request. But, people are weird. Some really weird people are worth the frustration. Some aren't. Best wishes and sympathy.
posted by eotvos at 7:39 AM on June 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: he's struggling to find a balance and has been feeling a bit stressed

You've already got a lot of good advice upthread, and I agree this seems most likely to be a mismatch, but I want to strongly agree with Metasyntastic that before throwing in the towel it would be worth figuring out if this mismatch is potentially temporary. What's at the root of him feeling unbalanced/stressed? Is it his animal sanctuary job? Or is it related to the fact that you've already dumped him twice, and he's feeling a need to protect himself a bit (as queenofbithynia suggests)? Or is he simply an introvert who needs a fair bit of downtime to recharge, especially before going on a date with someone he wants to impress? All three of these reasons are reasons that could potentially resolve with a bit of time.

When my partner and I were dating, we were both very busy, and mostly saw each other twice a week until we moved in together. This had nothing to do with our sense of commitment though. It's possible to desire a future of co-habitation, but also have a schedule that makes 5 dates a week untenable/stressful.
posted by coffeecat at 8:09 AM on June 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

You've already gotten some great answers, so just chiming in that, although he may be a great person, he doesn't sound like the person for you. I think your instincts are telling you something if, within 4 months, you've broken up a few times already and are uncomfortable enough that you're writing here. Letting him go will make space in your life for someone who is a better fit, and/or for you to enjoy time with your friends and yourself without feeling an anxious undercurrent all the time. Give yourself the gift of that space (and give him the opportunity to meet someone who is a better fit).
posted by bighappyhairydog at 9:09 AM on June 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's fine for him to want whatever he wants, but you want something different. In this relationship, all relationships, life in general, be really cautious about giving up what you really want. Compromise is fine, but this is going pretty far. You deserve to be happy, to have what you want (within reason, and you are within reason here).
posted by theora55 at 12:09 PM on June 2, 2021

I could be completely wrong here, but… He doesn’t stay over very often, he wants to schedule specific times to be with you, he doesn’t want to include you in his regular life – are you sure he’s not seeing someone else as well?
posted by joycehealy at 1:47 PM on June 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Have you volunteered at the animal sanctuary? I have worked with many people who volunteered at an animal sanctuary as part of a volunteering day program. Most never go back, it's a completely different routine every single day. It can be incredibly emotional, enjoyable, depressing, and loving, all in one day. Then, there's the cost of food, roughage, medical care and more. The videos make it look easy, it is anything but easy.

You should either cut this guy off or cut him some slack. He is involved in what is clearly a passion project that is time-consuming and probably wonderful when it works out. But try being the person who has to tell someone you can't take their animal, or having to cold call businesses and people to ask for money only to be rejected again and again (and have to keep calling or be forced to dig into your own pocket), or discovering an animal near-death first thing in the morning. "A bit stressed" is probably your boyfriend's attempt at understatement to not disappoint you.

I'm going through your AskMe history and this stands out:

When I’m in relationships, I have a bunch of emotional needs, things that make me feel loved —and if these aren’t met, I’m absolutely miserable and the frustration builds up .

Did you tell your partner about this? I would be extremely wary about even entering a relationship until I learned to love myself unconditionally.

The National Domestic Violence Helpline is available to survivors of domestic abuse whether they are in a relationship or not. It can be incredibly valuable to be able to speak to an advocate anytime you feel the pain of post-traumatic stress. Their number is 1-800-799-SAFE. Healing is possible, you can move on from your pain and live a life of love and control.
posted by parmanparman at 2:19 PM on June 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

I am a person who doesn’t want to see PEOPLE IN GENERAL five times a week. Doing things with other people more than three times a week sounds like a lot to me. I love my friends but I need to do my laundry sometime, you know? I need to write and read and garden and watch trash tv and cook. It doesn’t mean I like those things more than my friends. But they are necessary for me to be happy and functional FOR my friends when we are together.

Like other comments have said, this doesn’t mean you’re wrong to want a lot of contact. But do not take it as a reflection on you specifically that this guy doesn’t want that. Two weekly standing dates, for someone like me, is a pretty serious commitment to continuing and growing the relationship.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:25 PM on June 2, 2021 [7 favorites]

I want a *real* intimate relationship.
- I would have liked to meet 3-5 times in the week, and given how close we live, it's easy for us to do a half hour walk or drop in.

It sounds like this relationship is not a good fit for you. I'm sorry.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:17 PM on June 2, 2021

he seems to want to put most of his energy into his work (in an animal sanctuary project)

I imagine animals have needs 24/7, and emergencies come up. Seems like it would make scheduling with someone 5 times a week pretty stressful, especially if sometimes he can't make it and needs to cancel (ESPECIALLY if you get upset that he needs to cancel). Meeting someone for a half hour walk takes more than half an hour, especially if someone isn't going to be home already.

Something about the way you describe his work makes it seem like he might be running/starting the animal sanctuary. Running or starting ANYTHING takes a huge amount of time.

I feel pushed into a corner and made into a "cherry on the top of a full life" which was a phrase he once used in the early days. That's not what I want to be building: I want a *real* intimate relationship.

Look, if someone already has "a full life", that means they don't have time to schedule something else 5 times a week! You might want to focus on dating people who are doing less "meaningful things" and have more times in their life when they are bored and would be delighted to spend time with you instead of watching TV or something. The basic truth of it is that there are only so many hours in the day.

while our relationship is growing in importance for him, could we fix on twice a week to spend time together -- Saturday night, and a weekday lunch

A caveat -- could he have meant that he would also be free for more spontaneous meetings during the week, in addition to holding these two times on his schedule for you? This could work well if you don't have a lot of other commitments. If you have your own big things you want to put a lot of energy into, it's probably going to be a lot more difficult.
posted by yohko at 12:48 PM on June 5, 2021

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