How can I be a good boyfriend?
December 27, 2006 2:58 PM   Subscribe

How can I be a good boyfriend?

Or girlfriend, for you ladies out there finding this question in search of advice.

I ask partly because I find myself in a new relationship and am inexperienced in such things, and partly because I'm curious to see what some of the answers are going to be.

I'm looking for everything from general advice for healthy relationships to anecdotes about that one thing your significant other did that you still remember as amazing even though you've broken up with them long ago. Really just the first thing that pops into your head.

Thanks everyone in advance - I hope you all have a little fun with this as well!
posted by awesomebrad to Human Relations (38 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
When she gets furious, don't argue. Just leave until she calms down a few hours later.
posted by four panels at 3:01 PM on December 27, 2006

As ol' Robert Heinlein wrote, "Rub her feet."
(I know he wasn't Mr. Nurturing when it came to many of his female characters, but I think this one bears repeating...)
posted by Dizzy at 3:04 PM on December 27, 2006

Cook for her. Clean the house/apartment/car/whatever (I could use some help in this area). Do nice things for her without her asking. Tell her that she is beautiful. Do whatever you can to make her smile.
posted by rossination at 3:07 PM on December 27, 2006

Previously: "MeFi, Help Me Keep my Girlfriend!"

Heinlein was pretty nurturing towards many of his female characters, Dizzy. Read "Time Enough for Love" again. ;)
posted by SpecialK at 3:09 PM on December 27, 2006

The one thing my husband has always done that makes him not only the love of my life but my best friend in the world is that he never stops making me laugh.

So, be really funny. 8-)

Also, don't assume she knows what you think of her. Tell her you love her as often as you can. Tell her when she looks particularly beautiful. Tell her when you feel lucky to be with her.
posted by tastybrains at 3:09 PM on December 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Upon further review, it's worthwhile to note that I'm gay...extra points for gender-neutral advice. And thanks everyone for what you've put up so far.
posted by awesomebrad at 3:11 PM on December 27, 2006

Pay attention to what she says, even if you think it's inane (it's not really, as you will learn), and then later do and say things that demonstrate you were paying attention. This shows her that she is important to you, and teaches you that by definition nothing she says is inane.
posted by kindall at 3:12 PM on December 27, 2006 [3 favorites]

Don't try to fix everything. When s/he's ranting about a problem at work/school/with his/her parents, s/he just wants someone to listen and agree with him/her, not provide a solution or a suggested course of action. If s/he's worth dating, s/he'll fix it herself, in the way that makes sense. Just reassure him/her that she's not crazy/unreasonable (unless of course, s/he is being crazy or unreasonable).

Oh, and it's the little things that count. Show up a few minutes early for a date, bring flowers when it's unexpected.
posted by universal_qlc at 3:16 PM on December 27, 2006 [5 favorites]

How do you give gender-neutral advice on being a good partner? Gender heavily factors into it.
posted by xmutex at 3:17 PM on December 27, 2006

I don't know if there is gender neutral advice here. I'd tell the dude how hot he is all of the time. Because that's what I want to hear from my girlfriends.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:18 PM on December 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've said this in another thread, but I'll repeat myself here:

There are three rules that will help any relationship last:

1.) Don't lie to me
2.) Don't cheat on me
3.) If I ever do something wrong, you have to tell me what it is, otherwise you are not allowed to get angry about it.

If both sides embrace these as being inviolate from the start, life will be much, much easier for both of you.
posted by quin at 3:19 PM on December 27, 2006 [110 favorites]

Things she does that I'm really impressed with:

-Amazing gift-giver. This means she is paying attention.
-Helps me out with stuff even though she really doesn't want to.
-Isn't clingy, is confident about our relationship.
-Says nice things about me when I'm not around.

Things I do or try to do:

-The cooking (not really a sacrifice for me, I like to cook).
-Get out of the way when she's mad.
-Similarly, let her vent when that's what she wants to do (generally speaking, we men will look at complaints as a problem to be solved, even when that's not really what a woman wants).
-Do nice things without being asked. It's hard to figure out what the right nice thing might be, but you should get points for trying.

I'm no expert, but it seems to be working out.
posted by lackutrol at 3:20 PM on December 27, 2006 [2 favorites]

When she tells you about a problem, don't offer suggestions and solutions (unless she asks). Instead, draw her out about how she's feeling. People who call it active listening sound like they're full of it, but it works for anyone who's frustrated, angry, or sad. My husband sarcatically calls it "listening with anything but your ears." Make eye contact, nod your head, say "mm hmm," "tell me how it went," "that sounds irritating/infuriating/like not a lot of fun, and so on. (Google "active listening" for more pointers.) She'll not only get to vent, but you'll have helped her feel better. Venting goes on and on only when the venter feels like you're not paying attention.
posted by wryly at 3:21 PM on December 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Upon further review, it's worthwhile to note that I'm gay...extra points for gender-neutral advice. And thanks everyone for what you've put up so far.

I still stand by what I said, just replace "she" with "he" where applicable.

And as a side note, trying to be a good boyfriend already makes you better than a lot of guys out there who don't give any thought to putting effort into a relationship. You'll do great.
posted by tastybrains at 3:22 PM on December 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Too much for MetaFilter! :) Here are my first few thoughts:

** Pay attention. There are so many things you can learn about someone by being observant. It also makes shopping for gifts easier, since you'll have a good idea what they would want, even if they didn't come out and say it.
** If they ask you for your feelings/opinion on something (in or outside the relationship), don't be afraid to reveal them. There is nothing more frustrating than my boyfriend not telling me how he feels. He says he doesn't do it because he's not good at it. I say he needs practice to get better. He also says his feelings aren't important, and I say that if I didn't care I wouldn't ask.
** Be honest, but use discresion. Honesty is really the best place to start, but that does not mean you have to tell them everything about every part of your life at the same time. Some things are best left unsaid.

I adore so many things about my boyfriend, it's hard to pick one anecdote to share. He always makes me laugh. Whether it's because of a stupid joke or because he's picking on me for being a clutz, he makes me laugh all the time. The laughing makes me more comfortable around him and then I can be silly too. It's certainly ok to be silly.
posted by youngergirl44 at 3:24 PM on December 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

do for him what you would like him to do for you

and don't do to him what you would not like done to yourself.

Good relationships come down to respect and consideration...
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:26 PM on December 27, 2006

No games. Be nice, and think before you speak in anger, and don't lie, but say what you need to say without bottling things up or manufacturing drama and martyrdom. Don't wait for the other person to do the hard work or say the scary things.

If you have to keep a relationship ledger, it's not worth it.

My Ask.Mefi rule: any relationship that takes more paragraphs than years together to describe is more trouble than it's worth.

Be quick to express gratitude, even for small kindnesses. Never keep score. Never need to keep score.

I don't understand the Tom & Jerry/sitcom-adversarial model of relationships. Don't pick on your partner for fun, don't stereotype him/her. You should be each other's biggest cheerleaders. Foot rubs are also good.

The seal on the deal, for my husband and I, was fairly early in when I admitted that my last few whirls through relationships had been just stupid dramatic and I was so over that, and he agreed he was too. When we deal with bad shit, it's external, not something one of us stirred up for excitement. We have plenty of fun (it was in our vows), but nobody needs to get hurt for us to be entertained.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:27 PM on December 27, 2006 [10 favorites]

When she gets furious, don't argue. Just leave until she calms down a few hours later.

Uh, no. There are healthy and productive ways of dealing with conflict in a relationship, and (barring being in a relationship with someone with serious anger management issues) automatically walking away every time she's upset to wait till "she calms down" ain't it. Why? Because it sends the message that her feelings are not important to you, and that if she's angry, it's her damn problem. (That's certainly not to say that sometimes you two might reach a point in a fight where it's best to go into neutral corners and calm down -- sometimes that's obviously the best thing. But defaulting to walking away her when she's upset as a rule is a recipe for disaster because it allows resentments to fester while undercutting each of your ability to accept each other even in your most difficult and unflattering moments.

On the contrary, if each of you can stay present with each other when you're angry, upset, or hurt -- to sincerely try to hear each other out, to try to soothe when necessary, to apologize if you're in the wrong, to state your own position respectfully when you feel you're not in the wrong -- then you can start to build the communication skills between you to weather conflict in a positive way. Because conflict is, in fact, inevitable -- you'll get angry sometimes, too, and you'll deserve to have your feelings treated with respect every bit as much as she will.

In short, you can either use anger and conflict as a (potential) stepping stone to becoming closer, or a stepping stone away from each other. But you can't opt out of it entirely.
posted by scody at 3:29 PM on December 27, 2006 [8 favorites]

Unconditional love (and respect). My partner obviously loves me even when I'm depressed, or fat, or frumpy, or bad tempered, or silly.

Don't do for your partner what you'd like to have done for you. Find out what they like and do that. (There's a big difference between what my partner and I like).

Listen really really well. When one person is yelling, it's because they don't feel listened to. Shut up and concentrate on hearing them, and understanding them. Then and only then, should you explain what your problem is. (Take turns at this.)

Leave them alone sometimes. Everyone needs this.

But mostly, talk to them and listen to them and find out what they like and prefer and provided it doesn't impact on your personal beliefs, facilitate these preferences.

But perhaps I missed some nuances in the question. Is boyfriend/girlfriend the same thing as life-partner?
posted by b33j at 3:35 PM on December 27, 2006 [5 favorites]

Don't view everything your partner tells you when they're venting as a problem to be solved. Sometimes, they just need a sympathetic ear. Be that ear, and let your partner know that if there is a problem, you can help, but don't always assume that a solution is needed.

Apologize when you're wrong.

Understand that you don't always have to be right.

Understand that you don't always have to have the last word.

Don't do for your partner what you'd like to have done for you. Find out what they like and do that.

Can't second this strongly enough.
posted by pdb at 3:45 PM on December 27, 2006 [2 favorites]

How can I be a good boyfriend?

Ask your girlfriend this question.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:48 PM on December 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Don't argue - you can settle a diagreement or problem without
a) having a screaming match
b) becoming entirely submissive and refusing to talk

Being willing to listen and change if it's reasonable (okay, I WILL start picking up my mess when I've been cooking) Admit it if you're wrong. My partner tells me I've forgotten to do something which I said I would do, I don't start arguing about how I've been busy, I admit that I forgot it and make a point of doing it.

Be punctual. I used to drive my partner crazy, I was perpetually late and she HATED it. I've managed to get myself more organised, mostly through planning to leave 20 minutes before I need to and overestimating the travel time. Turning up on time is good for friends / family / anyone really, it shows more respect.

Don't keep score, don't remember little things to bring up in arguments ("Oh yeah, well back in mid march of 2003 you said that..." etc).

I think that a major part of a good relationship is compromise. You like one thing, he or she doesn't, work out a middle ground and be content. You aren't going to see eye to eye with everything, work out how you will deal with it.
posted by tomble at 3:51 PM on December 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Pay attention to little things that your boyfriend says he likes or liked in his past, so you can surprise him later with gifts that he really likes and that show you've been paying attention to him.

Early in our relationship my wife mentioned to me that in the small town where she grew up there was a chocolate store that had three foot chocolate santas every christmas and that every year she asked her mother for one but her month always gave her the 5 inch santa. A couple years later when we were still together I conspired with her mom, found the store, and gave her a 3 foot chocolate santa for Christmas. Needless to say, I got major points for that, and it was way way fun. She'd only mentioned it to me once, but I was paying attention and filed it away for future reference.
posted by alms at 4:28 PM on December 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Just to reiterate some of the things I read, and FOR EMPHASIS since I see this frequently -

know yourself and share it, because when something is important (or unimportant, like what movie we should rent) we really do want your opinion. Its nice to go along with us sometimes, but lord allmighty not all the time. If you are unsure, tell us. Dont just agree to simplify things, it never works in the end. a) its boring, and b) you cant just keep agreeing with us forever. You eventually will freak out, and rightfully so.

This all applies unless you happen to have some sort of crazy control freak girlfriend, but that's another post entirely.
posted by fillsthepews at 4:54 PM on December 27, 2006 [3 favorites]

Ditto Scody--just walking away any time your partner is angry will not improve your relationship. Your partner may need support in the form of someone to vent to or to talk to about what's making her (or him) angry, may need to get something worked out between you (and walking away will make the partner feel that you're dismissive of both her and the issue), or if the anger is something that's not worth the anger, may just be hormonal, upset, or having a bad day and just need a hug and to know someone cares about making her feel better. If I'm angry, someone walking away will make me boil over. If my husband is angry, he'll let us know if he needs the space. Sometimes what he needs is someone to rub his feet and lay her head on his knee.
posted by Cricket at 5:20 PM on December 27, 2006

Do the dishes.

Clean your toilet.
posted by geekhorde at 7:04 PM on December 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

It's been said in a million different ways here already, but it strikes me as a good rule to state on its own:

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

If you're still early in your relationship experience, you can't learn this soon enough.

Establish a pattern of open communication as early as you can in the relationship. Make the talking as natural as the attraction that brought you together in the first place. You may even tell him explicitly that you want to keep the channels as open as possible.

Own your feelings. Use "I" statements when talking about things. This is true of positive as well as negative conversations. He'll appreciate the distinction between your reality and his. It may also prevent him from going on the defensive if a touchy topic arises.

Don't expect that he can read your mind.

Don't let negative feelings fester. A good boyfriend will listen to the complicated stuff, even if it takes some practice, and will ultimately help you forge it into something better.

And, of course, all the good stuff. Be kind. Reinforce each other even over small things. Be thankful, and be vocal about it. Make each other laugh. If and when the time comes, tell him you love him.
posted by mykescipark at 7:33 PM on December 27, 2006 [2 favorites]

- Don't ever ignore her (this includes the "walking away" upthread) and don't be apathetic.
- Be an involved, interested partner.
- Small everyday gestures are more valuable than sweeping declarations.
- Massages are straight from heaven (for bonus points give them randomly, like while waiting in line at the bank, or while watching television but also during romantic opportunities and the like)
- Your relationship is yours. Not your parents' or your friends' or your fellow Mefites'.
- Seconding rossination: "Do whatever you can to make her smile."
- As cliched as this might sound, flowers are nice. Make an effort to buy nicer flowers that will last. They may cost more but are well worth it.
- Compliment her (also, say thank you when she does something nice for you).
posted by ml98tu at 7:49 PM on December 27, 2006 [4 favorites]

Never — I mean never, refer to your boyfriend as s/he.
posted by rob511 at 8:01 PM on December 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Do not expect to be appreciated for doing any particular thing you do for her, unless that thing is something for which she has already let you know she will appreciate your doing.
posted by little miss manners at 8:22 PM on December 27, 2006

"Upon further review, it's worthwhile to note that I'm gay...extra points for gender-neutral advice. And thanks everyone for what you've put up so far."
posted by awesomebrad at 6:11 PM EST on December 27

awesomebrad, I'm an older straight guy, but I do have a few gay male acquaintances, and from what I gather from them and the larger world, gay relationships generally proceed a bit differently than straight ones do. Obviously, the subject of pregnancy/progeny/reproduction/child rearing is usually different, and the handling of inlaws can be tremendously different, depending on the "out to family" status of both partners. Since a number of posters up thread are still giving specific advice to you, as if you were trying to be a good boyfriend to a girl, I'm guessing they missed your declaration of sexual oreintation.

I think you've got a lot of negotiating to do. More than straight couples, perhaps, you're going to have to explore and discuss the ground which you'll decide to call "common" with your partner. Gay men perhaps have as many or more ideas of relationship roles as men and women do, but they definitely still have more challenges than hetero folks do in expressing their feelings for their partner. Being a great partner in a homosexual relationship probably, as far as I can see, involves even more intuition, trust, patience, honor, and love than being a good boyfriend or girlfriend in a straight relationship, just because of the attendant social hassle that frankly still surrounds most gay relationships.

I'd be charmed if the world saw you and your partner on equal footing with men and women who love one another, and dealt with you as such. Maybe, as society changes, it will, and you'll both live to enjoy that future together. But until that comes to pass in legislation and public comment, you'd be foolish to think that it does. So, I'm not sure that "gender neutral" advice is warranted, or wise. But I do think that if you and your guy can, together, come up with what it takes to stay together, long term, you'll have something far stronger than the majority of heterorsexual unions I know, simply for having faced and negotiated adversity together.

Good luck, and strength in forging your lives together.
posted by paulsc at 8:25 PM on December 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

I meta cool old fellow in the streets of dakar who was admiring my pretty girlfriend... who elected to tell me "mon... you don't need to tell her every day you love her - just show her respect everyday and she'll know" he pretty much summed things up.

don't smother her, be respectful, play it cool and just a little dangerous
posted by specialk420 at 8:26 PM on December 27, 2006 [2 favorites]

Be on time and call when you are supposed to. Sounds simple, but proves to be hard in practice.
posted by rmless at 9:18 PM on December 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Don't blame her for the little things. You might not think she doesn't notice when you hold your tongue instead of lash out at her, but she does, and she appreciates it.

Also, just try and remember that you, not her, are responsible for your own happiness.
posted by np312 at 12:10 AM on December 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

When its cold outside I make her a hot water bottle for her to climb into bed with.
Whoever is the first one up generally will turn on the shower to get it hot so the other can just jump right in from bed.
One that I haven't gotten to do lately because our dryer is far from the shower -- when your love is in the shower or bath, put their towel in the dryer to heat it up and bring it to them right before they get out. Hot towel = yum!
posted by iurodivii at 4:43 AM on December 28, 2006 [3 favorites]

I don't know if I have gender neutral advice, or how applicable this will be to other people, but some of what has worked for me (in addition to the good stuff others have said):

- be a good influence - try to bring out the best in me, rather than responding to me selfishly (e.g. the "best" in me involves me being a good friend, but sometimes that conflicts with his own interests - he's being a good bf when he helps me be a good friend)

-don't try to come between him/her and his/her family or friends

- but also let me breathe - every once in a while, I want to be bad, and I want to not get crap about it (e.g., me: "hi honey, I'm out drinking tonight." him: "great, have fun!")

-don't be so lazy you force your s.o. to nag you excessively

-don't overanalyze everything and drive your s.o. crazy

-learn how to read your s.o. so that you can defuse fights before they escalate - work this out as a couple so that you can quickly laugh about your problems rather than fighting about them

-don't be passive aggressive

- Anecdote: Once, early in our relationship, we were having a growing pains kind of fight, sitting in a car on vacation. He threatened to leave the vacation early and so I started crying, and there were no kleenex, so instead he gave me the sleeve of his sweatshirt to blow my nose on. Gross, but it showed me that even though he was mad at me, he still loved me.
posted by Amizu at 8:05 AM on December 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

Be surprising and spontaneous. Grandiose gestures are unnecessary (and will backfire over time), but random little things totally out of the blue keep your significant other guessing and looking forward to your next move.

Some random examples:

Celebrate their unbirthday.

Make a mix tape and cheese it up. We're talking high-school grade artwork.

Get home early (if you live together) and have munchies/booze waiting. Avoid walking in on them cheating on you if possible.

Everything you choose should have some amount of connection to the person (just buying a random knick-knack at the store doesn't count). You need to be able to relate the item or gesture to who they are, even if it's a stretch. And sometimes the stretches are best as they're the most out-of-left-field.
posted by mjbraun at 8:10 AM on December 28, 2006

Perhaps too late to be helpful, but I wanted to chime in for anyone still reading: it all stems from respect. It's gender-neutral advice that can carry over into your other relationships too.

Generally, I would say this takes the form of communication. Be open with your partner about your needs and desires, and be open to listening to his or hers.

I think if you ask yourself, "is this something I would do to/for someone I respect?" you can prevent yourself from messing up in any major way. And if you find yourself not caring about the answer to the question, it's probably time to set your partner free.

If you're with the right person, this will more or less come naturally (although we could all use some fine-tuning from time to time).

Interesting thread.
posted by AV at 9:57 AM on December 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

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