Pint of ice cream, here I come!
April 11, 2007 3:21 PM   Subscribe

Relationship Filter: How do I stop myself from tallying stuff up then try to make myself dismiss it because I don't want to make our relationship into a scorecard but not being sucessful and end up feeling confused and emotional? And how do I talk about it with my boyfriend?

Please forgive the word/grammar vomit I am about to unleash. Run on sentences hoooooo!

I am in a long distance relationship. I live in New York and he lives in Chicago. It is also my first relationship (it is not his first) and we have been dating for about 11 months. We are both in our mid-20s.

What prompted me to post was a call from my father. He said he doesn't think I should go to Chicago as often as I do because I shouldn't spend so much on going over there and because I will (or would be) treated as having less dignity. On one hand, flying over to see him makes me happy. On the other hand, he has my best interest at heart. I know that he doesn't want me to be taken advantage of, also, I'm inferring that he sees me visiting him so frequently as unseemly.

The reckless teenage rebel in me wants to be dismissive, but looking back at all my parents' advice and talks, they more often than not DID know better and I'm not going to cast away an observation made out of love because I want to be all "but he's my booooyyyyfrrriiieeend."

I've flown to see my boyfriend at least a dozen times. He has come to NY 4 times. Two times with his friend (one time for a music festival, the other time to apartment search because they both plan on moving here and being roommates).

We did talk about this last November because I got really upset because I was jealous because his friend was there (this was his first visit to me). What I got out of our talk was that when we usually see each other, I'm so used to having all his attention and it really threw me when his friend (that he does sees rarely) was with us. And the reason why he hadn't come to NY was because he works as a freelance programmer and all his programs and work is on his home computer and his laptop, which at that point he had recently got, wasn't ready to be a reliable alternative for him to travel and be productive. Plus, one of his roommates is his business partner.

The talk made me feel a lot better and we do communicate well and openly.

Also, I tend to invest time and money in holiday/birthday gifts (see 2 of my past questions) and random presents (i.e. aveda shampoo/conditioner - he used mine during a vacation and he liked it, kiehl's shaving cream - I got him a sample when I was getting myself something and he liked it). I know I'm the type of person to get my friends random gifts because it makes me and them happy. But since he's my boyfriend, not only that, my FIRST boyfriend, I know I've been going b-a-n-a-n-a-s.

I feel that if I were a guy, I wouldn't have a problem with this, nor would my dad. I feel that I look desperate but then I think I shouldn't care about how I look, but how I feel. There's a part of me that wants to overanalyze everything and there's a part of me that wants to proceed balls out and, worst case scenario, if we break up, I get hurt, accept it, learn from it and appreciate the experience. I want to talk to him about this without crying because I'm not emotionally brave enough. I want to keep seeing him when I want to without hiding from my parents that I'll be flying over this or that weekend.

My mind is all jumbled and I don't know how to express myself to my parents or my boyfriend without sounding like a flaky, emotional basketcase that rambles on without a point (like I feel I am doing now).

Help :(
posted by spec80 to Human Relations (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
"And the reason why he hadn't come to NY was because he works as a freelance programmer and all his programs and work is on his home computer and his laptop, which at that point he had recently got, wasn't ready to be a reliable alternative for him to travel and be productive. Plus, one of his roommates is his business partner."

What? It sounds like this guy owns his own business and can work from a laptop. I can't even understand why he is in Chicago at all. He should be in New York with you and travel to see his business associates. I think I need more information about his situation, but it doesn't sound like he's trying very hard to make that laptop his work alternative.
posted by xammerboy at 3:39 PM on April 11, 2007

Nothing will get better if you can't communicate your worries to your boyfriend (assuming you want to keep him). Why are you afraid to cry?
posted by thirteenkiller at 3:43 PM on April 11, 2007

Best answer: There's a big difference, in a relationship, between keeping a scorecard and noticing what seems to be imbalances in the relationship. So, you don't have to engage your Dad on this issue since it's not technically his business, but it might be worth figuring out if he's trying to give you advice in this vein because he's noticing that you seem to feel that there is some sort of inequality here. *I* can notice it and all I've done is read what you've written here.

If you were my friend I would tell you that the people I've known who have been in relationships where one person did more of what I'd consider the "work" of the relationship often found that they were doing it because the other person just wasn't that into them. The reason this matters is not so much that a relationship where the two people take unequal roles sometimes can't work, it can. The reason this matters is because if your relationship goes on like this, and you have this nagging feeling that something is amiss, and it goes on like this and you have this feeling still and then it ends, you're going to feel bad/weird in a "See, I KNEW it!!" way.

This is my guess. In my last relationship I emotionally supported a long term partner through law school. It sucked, but it was a minor setback of time and energy in what was going to be a long term thing. Only it wasn't, we split up right around when he was graduating. Which was okay for both of us ultimately, but there was a big part of me that wished maybe I'd paid more attention to what I wanted in the short term as well as "our" plans for the long term, and I'm just a little bit annoyed even though, realistically I should have maybe known better. The pendulum of effort was supposed to swing back my way and it never did. So, when you say things like this
he works as a freelance programmer and all his programs and work is on his home computer and his laptop, which at that point he had recently got, wasn't ready to be a reliable alternative for him to travel and be productive. Plus, one of his roommates is his business partner.
I get a little wincy because you sound like me making excuses why my boyfriend couldn't come to a family funeral or why he had to spend my birthday doing homework. If it makes you feel bad or weird, he's the one you have to talk to. You don't have to lie to your parents -- you just need to tell them it's something that the two of you are working out -- and then think about ways to make the relationship balance more the way you want it to. If you're doing 3/4 of the visiting, after this amount of time, maybe he should pitch in for the tickets, for example. If you don't want to ask him to do this, ask yourself why.
posted by jessamyn at 3:44 PM on April 11, 2007 [8 favorites]

he doesn't think I should go to Chicago as often as I do because I shouldn't spend so much on going over there

If there is a legitimate reason why he cannot come to see you, he should pay for some of your trips to see him. (assuming parity between your abilities to pay for those trips)
posted by yohko at 3:45 PM on April 11, 2007

Best answer: Visits: is it possible to create a joint budget, say, each of you contribute $150 a month or whatever? That way it won't matter if you are flying to see him or he is flying to see you, you'll be sharing the expense of togetherness.

Gifts: What is he contributing? If isn't into gifts but sends a thoughtful card now and then or goes out of his way to let you know he cares (this does NOT need to be quantified in material terms), then it should be even. Neither of you should feel like you need to buy expensive gifts for each other to show you care. Personally, I like to assess the value of gifts by the amount of thought that went into them instead of the dollar amount.

I might be misreading between the lines but you seem to be dissatisfied with his level of effort/thoughtfulness. If this is the way you feel, then address it without comparing his actions to yours. Make him aware of your issues and what needs to happen to solve them. At the end of the day, if someone isn't treating you the way you want to be treated (provided your expectations are grounded in reality), you need to deal with the situation.

Before you speak to him, organize your thoughts. I find it is easiest to do this if I write them out first. Do what works for you, role play with a friend if necessary.

Finally, you are old enough to not need to justify your decisions to your parents. If you want to keep seeing him, keep seeing him. If they think you are being taken advantage of or treated with less dignity, they are free to think so. I know they care about you but they aren't in your relationship so what matters is how you feel. If they are right and you are being taken advantage of or treated with less dignity, well, speaking from experience, sometimes you have to come to that conclusion on your own to really learn the lesson.
posted by necessitas at 3:53 PM on April 11, 2007

jessamyn was able to say what I couldn't figure out to say.

I think you should go "balls out", but not in the presents/romance/weekend visits department. You need to figure out what this guy is not giving you that you need/want, and then you need to ask him for it. Stop giving, start getting. See what he says. You keeping quiet and pretending nothing is wrong will rot your relationship from the inside out. Maybe things will work out, and maybe it won't, but you'll need to learn how to communicate your needs either way, or you'll always feel taken advantage of. If your boyfriend can't deal with being with a live human being who has needs, ditch him.

If your boyfriend came down to look at apartments, is he moving to the city soon? NYC rentals generally go no more than 30 days in advance; was he really looking for an apartment to move into ASAP, or just seeing the sights? And, like everyone else said, I sure do hope Mr. Wonderful is chipping in on your airplane tickets, like any true gentleman would offer to do.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:57 PM on April 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When the two of you visit (in either direction) how long are the visits for? A weekend? And how much work does he do while you're visiting him? Does he really need to be that tied to his home base?

I suspect there's something else. Money would be an obvious issue. Perhaps he's gotten stuck in a comfortable rut, having you visit him, and needs to be dislodged from it. Perhaps he's a jerk, but I'll set that possibility aside.

Keeping score is crap like "I washed the dishes 17 times last month and you only washed them 13." What you are observing does not stoop to keeping score. Just call him up and say "It would make me happy if you would visit me in NYC more often." Be prepared to do a little digging if he says "it wouldn't be practical" or some such. Take slow steady breaths.
posted by adamrice at 4:03 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Visiting Chicago 12 times in 11 months is not pocket change; is he financially able to visit you as much as you are able to visit him? If he's from a different social class than you are, that could be another factor at play. Or even just that he's a freelancer -- it can be hard to have enough safeties in place to travel at whim.

That said, his efforts in other areas of the relationship should be evident enough that even if he can't afford a flight every two months, you still feel loved and valued.
posted by xo at 4:15 PM on April 11, 2007

Best answer: I think this all boils down to this: You are more invested in this relationship than he is.
posted by desuetude at 4:23 PM on April 11, 2007

Best answer: Personally, I think your parents should mind their own business. Mid-20s is old enough to have your life be your own. There's no avoiding making relationship mistakes and learning from them; you need the space to do this. However, you're probably as much responsible for their continued attempts at parenting you as they are. For example, if you're going to fly to see your boyfriend and you think they will worry about it, don't keep it a secret just because you're worried about their disapproval. Take responsibility for your own decisions and they will be forced to see you as responsible. Once you've cut those apron strings, you can keep things secret just to avoid conflict. Right now, though, it sounds like you're tempted to keep things secret for the same reasons a teenager keeps things secret.

As for your real question, it sounds like you're probably working on this relationship more than he is. In fact, it sounds like you're more into the relationship than he is. And no wonder: it's your first. You're head-over-heels.

Now, neither of you should be obligated to meet a standard arbitrarily set by the other. That is to say, just because you give him a gift every week that doesn't mean that becomes the standard by which his gift-giving should be judged. That's not fair. So to the degree to which you're excessively putting effort into the relationship, he shouldn't be judged for failing to reciprocate. You're the one choosing to go above-and-beyond.

Also, it's sadly the case that rarely are you going to find parity in everything in a relationship. And it's pretty common for one partner to shoulder more responsibility for the emotional upkeep of the relationship than the other. That's usually the female, but not always. In my marriage, I played that role, for example (I'm male). So you should probably be prepared to accept some inequality in these things just as a concession to the unfortunate realities of life.

All that said, your relationship as you've described it seems to me to be one that has a higher-than-usual chance of your being taken advantage of. So you may well be right to be upset and this is probably not your imagination.

If so, then what to do about it? I don't know. Experience and observation tells me that attempts at changing these dynamics in a relationship are rarely successful. So should you end it? I don't recommend that you do. Maybe what would be best is for you to temper your enthusiasm some, not try so hard, not be so frantic about it, try to relax and see what happens. If it's not a good and healthy relationship, that will become very apparent to you sooner or later. Meanwhile, you're clearly in love and enjoying yourself and it seems a shame to me for you to end this. Talk to him about your concerns so that you don't feel like a sap, stop discussing it with your parents, hold yourself back a little bit, and see what happens.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:32 PM on April 11, 2007

Setting aside the bigger issue of the trips to visit each other:

Also, I tend to invest time and money in holiday/birthday gifts [...] and random presents [...]. I know I'm the type of person to get my friends random gifts because it makes me and them happy.

Keep in mind that he may not be this type of person. If you need a sense of balance, of consistent (or, hell, even sporadic) reciprocation here, understand that your greater-than-average tendency to make these gestures of devotion may work against you. The "pendulum of effort" that jessamyn mentions isn't really a pendulum. It doesn't swing back unless someone pushes it.

(And deliberate dependence on a reflex for reciprocity in others doesn't lead to a healthy relationship dynamic, in any case. Relationships work best when people don't have to force themselves to fulfill each other's needs, against their own natural inclinations.)

And more generally, it sounds like you focus on him more than he focuses on you. If this is an issue for you, the first thing you need to do is come to terms with that fact -- it can be hard to say flat-out that you need more attention, but you're not going to be able to communicate with him well about this unless you've accepted it. And then you need to talk to him about it. It's possible that he will be able to do more for you than he does now. It's possible that he will not. And it's possible that he will try, or appear to try, but ultimately be unable to maintain it.

I agree with necessitas that you shouldn't focus on your parents' disapproval. You should focus on the parts of this need / discomfort that are actually coming from you.
posted by coined at 4:47 PM on April 11, 2007

Apparently Bligh sees it as OK for strangers to provide advice to spec80 but not for her loving, caring parents? Brilliant!

What you are describing is that the value you put into the relationship is out of balance (in his favor) with what you get from it. Anytime that happens people get unhappy and want things back in balance. If that can't be achieved, you need to find a different relationship where you can have a good return on your emotional investment.

Like what jessamyn said.
posted by trinity8-director at 4:56 PM on April 11, 2007

Seconding the question of how much of this might be financially related. Being able to afford to take off on a trip to chicago from NYC 12 times in a year is something would be insanely out of my abilities to do so. Perhaps a lot of this has to do with the fact that he has way less money/freedom than you do?

Although when I was on his end in a past relationship, a lot of my reluctance to be the one making the travel was more based on my not being as into the relationship as she was.
posted by teishu at 5:01 PM on April 11, 2007

"Apparently Bligh sees it as OK for strangers to provide advice to spec80 but not for her loving, caring parents? Brilliant!"

That's right. I wouldn't call it brilliant, I'd call it common sense. We're her peers, they're her parents who see her as a child and will always see her, to some degree, as a child. I don't see her as a child because she's not. Loving, caring parents don't always give the best advice. In fact, if I had to guess, I'd expect strangers to give better advice than loving, caring parents.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:04 PM on April 11, 2007

Mod note: a few comments removed, take the dad talk to MetaTalk or talk about Dads while answering the OPs question, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:48 PM on April 11, 2007

Don't second guess the part of you that wants more. He might feel the imbalance too and be wondering why you don't act like you deserve more. It's not that he's bad -- you may be giving more than he could give anyone now -- but as an act of respect to you, you both should at least acknowledge it. Then when he can give more he will, since he knows you expect it.

The alternative is he's just accepting all your loving attentions because you make it super-easy on him and will never match your contribution because he doesn't care as much as you do. You'll know that's the case if he gets evasive. But hopefully he'll say "I know, I really wish I had more spare money and time now but will make it up to you as soon as I can."

But that may never happen if you don't make clear your vision of a good relationship is one with balanced donations (not everyone's is -- some people expect to be constantly nurtured, and some people are happy being martyrs). Because of this, you should present your expectations honestly so they will be eventually met, or so you'll realize you need to find someone with a more compatible vision.
posted by salvia at 5:50 PM on April 11, 2007

Best answer: What I'm saying, in short: don't try to make yourself dismiss it. That's why you end up confused, because you're trying to talk yourself out of what you really want. (And if you're confused, he will be too, and you'll never get what you really want.)
posted by salvia at 5:54 PM on April 11, 2007

Best answer: There's a part of me that wants to overanalyze everything and there's a part of me that wants to proceed balls out

I don't think these are mutually exclusive choices. Why not be brave and open and overanalyze everything with your boyfriend? Why not ask him about his views on 'fairness' in relationships?

If you can't help becoming emotional when you are talking to him, it shouldn't be a big deal either - he's your booooyyyyfrrriiieeend, you can let him see you cry, no?
posted by of strange foe at 6:44 PM on April 11, 2007

Response by poster: I spoke to him and went like-a this.

Gift reciprocation
He thought I didn't want any because I have said "don't get me anything for my birthday" (and other such things). His friends say it too and they mean it, so he readily accepts it. He now knows that when I say stuff like that, I am doing it to look selfless and gracious even though I am lying and am selfish and I want something. He says he does like giving gifts (random ones, too) but he honestly thought I didn't want them because seemed anti-gift. And so now, he will reciprocate.

He will come to NY more often.
If I fly to Chicago, he will pay for food and groceries, etc. and vice versa. (I am not going to ask him for money on past travel even if you think it is a bad decision on my part.) And I know it may not come out to be 50/50, but I am comfortable with this. If my feelings change, I will tell him.

Thank you again for your thoughtful comments. I feel so much better now. I know that it's just talk now and I'll have to wait for the follow through, but I feel lighter knowing that I expressed what I felt and he's aware of how I feel.

And I didn't end up eating a pint of ice cream. Yay!
posted by spec80 at 7:51 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Aww. Yay. Glad to know your talk worked out =) Talking can be hard, but ultimately, it's worth it.
posted by Phire at 9:25 PM on April 11, 2007

I'm not saying that our situations are the same, because I don't know you/your boyfriend. But in my last relationship I definitely perpetuated an inbalance of generosity in the relationship. I would give him tons of expensive gifts, fly out to see him over breaks. (It wasn't long distance ordinarily, as we went to college together, but over the summer and during holidays it was.) He would reciprocate very little in return. I constantly wrote it off that I had more money than him, et cetera. I felt guilty being mad at him for not spending more money on me. So I would dismiss my concerns. He was great when we were together. It was just the rest of the time. It didn't seem like he thought about me or making me happy, as I did him. A long story short, (I'll spare you,) he cheated on me. In retrospect, I realized that I was the one making most of the effort. I didn't demand enough from him. I always gave and he always recieved. Even if he didn't have the money, he could have written me notes, picked me flowers, done other things to show me that I was special and on his mind.

Blah, blah too much personal info. Just make sure that your boyfriend is investing a similar level of effort as you are. Otherwise it's doomed. If he can't afford to show you he loves you financially, make sure he's doing it in other tangible ways. Unfortunately anyone can say 'I love you.' One person cannot maintain a relationship. I learned the hard way. Really hard. So I hope the same doesn't happen to you. Just assess whether you concern comes from a deeper neglect than him just not visiting you as often. I wish you the best!
posted by amileighs at 9:53 PM on April 11, 2007

I'm glad things worked out, but just a note for future communications: If you want gifts, don't say, "Oh, I don't want gifts." I don't care how nice you think it makes you sound. You officially lose any basis for complaining about not getting gifts if you've flat-out told someone not to give you gifts.

Seriously, especially when dealing with men, don't force people to read between the lines to prove their love to you. It takes courage to say what you want, but you need to do it, straight out, and not hide behind coy games. That's *exactly* where these sorts of problems start.
posted by occhiblu at 12:00 AM on April 12, 2007

Things are looking better for you, which is good! I was afraid that a big problem here was the desperation you were feeling. I think that in a relationship or not, you need to feel self-confident and satisfied most of the time. If your sense of satisfaction is too tied to what someone else does/doesn't do, it is very difficult to be happy. It's really hard when you need someone to change, because people change only when they really want to.

That being said, it was a happy surprise that your boyfriend was willing to find a way to make it work with you! Such a simple solution!
posted by irv4oh at 9:17 AM on April 12, 2007

occhiblu said what I was just about to. I'd repeat it and bold it, but I'm lazy.

Be forthright and honest. If you want something, say it. Don't expect people to guess that you're playing the Opposite Game today.

I know that it's just talk now and I'll have to wait for the follow through, but I feel lighter knowing that I expressed what I felt and he's aware of how I feel.

Remind yourself of this in a few months - see how things have changed. Or not. That will tell you everything you need to know about the future of your relationship with this guy. If you find yourself having the same talk about balance every few months, that's a big red flag that it's as "balanced" as it's ever going to get.
posted by canine epigram at 9:44 AM on April 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

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