Whither the romance?
November 25, 2007 6:26 PM   Subscribe

Why was my boyfriend so extravagantly romantic with his ex but not with me?

I have a boyfriend of three months whom I'm crazy about in all the good ways. It was one of those things that I never thought would happen: where you meet someone and know right away that this is the person you want to spend your life with and everything just feels right. He's the most fantastic man I have ever met and pretty much everything I want. We both (tentatively) talked about our feelings early on and are on the same page. Yay for me!

He broke up with his last girlfriend a couple of months before he met me, after he moved to our city to be closer to his family. Their relationship had always been a bit tenuous: he had met her one night through a friend in his old town but was leaving the next day on a trip and she returned to her town (in another state) before he would return. However, she started emailing him and he reciprocated. He had always had reservations about becoming involved with her because they barely knew each other, the distance, she wasn't his usual type, and because she was about a decade younger than he was. They were "together" for about six months, during which time they had seen each other (when she visited) about three times. At the end of the academic year, she was accepted into a grad program in the city he was thinking about moving to and the plan was they would both move there—until he changed his mind and decided to move to my city. He said that he was also becoming uncomfortable with the relationship because she was "farther into it" than he was.

Anyway. I'm not jealous about the ex—I just wanted to give a little background to set up for my question. Obviously because they had a long distance relationship, their only modes of communication was either phone or email…and this is what I am wondering. They would write these incredibly romantic emails to each other and he would send flowers and gifts, and when she visited, he would make all these sweetly romantic plans for them…none of which he does for me although he's very affectionate, considerate, and thoughtful (and all that good stuff).

I know a lot of that has to do with the fact that he sees me every day thus obviating the need to email me. Even now that he's been away back east visiting friends the last couple of weeks, the fact that he is coming back is probably the reason he hasn't emailed me (as well as the fact that he either calls or texts every couple of days). Since we'd met, I had always written him love notes or love letters and he always tells me is incredibly lovely and sweet.

SO. Why would he be so lovey dovey with his ex but less effusive with his displays with me? Again, it's not that I think he isn't as crazy about me as I am about him, but why would he be so romantic with one girlfriend but not the next? DO men behave so differently in each relationship?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I can't answer for men, but I behave differently in each relationship. I suspect that many of us do.
posted by Evstar at 6:32 PM on November 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

One thought is, maybe she communicated to him that she wanted these romantic gestures, so he did them to keep her happy? Maybe he doesn't realize that you'd like the same sort-of attention? Have you tried telling him, maybe when you give him these love notes, "I sure would love to get one back?" or something along those lines? It feels a little embarrassing, I know, but I'm learning myself that in relationships, if we want something, a lot of times we have to be direct and just ask for it.
posted by polyester.lumberjack at 6:33 PM on November 25, 2007

As a male who has been in a long-distance relationship, and has since turned that long-distance relationship into a regular marriage, I might know a few things about this.

Despite what the movies like to tell you, florid romanticism is pretty much unsustainable long-term. And in the case of your boyfriend, I imagine the reason it existed in the first place was as a means of compensating for his not being around her very much. An unsustainable level of romance is the natural byproduct of an essentially unsustainable relationship. (of course, in my case, the long distance aspect caused us to get married and move in together instead of break up, but either way we couldn't keep doing that much longer.)

Also, having been previously in other relationships, I know for a fact that men have a way of burning out on that stuff. You dangle yourself out on a limb, reveal yourself at your most vulnerable, and make grand pronouncements of endless love, eternal bliss, and how you're two halves of the same soul and all that jive. Then the relationship implodes and you feel like a schmuck. So, in your subsequent relationships, you get a little wiser and you gain a little more self control.

Personally, I'm not the most overtly romantic person. I just try and be sweet, helpful, and fun to be around. All relationships must progress to a state of comfort and ease if they are to endure. But it doesn't mean I love my wife any less than I loved my exes. Quite the opposite.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 6:39 PM on November 25, 2007 [11 favorites]

I have done this. I used to date a girl who was way too lovey and dramatic, and our relationship was so romantic it was just smothering the hell out of me. After we broke up I vowed never to be serious about looking for that movie-type romance in my relationships. The next girl I dated said that she never understood why I was so 'aloof.' I couldn't really explain why at the time, but I had seen a lot of positive differences and I intended to keep it that way, although her mentioning it did prevent me from swinging too far the other way (it helped also that she didn't mind the aloofness).
I would say that your boyfriend probably thought his last relationship was too romantic, and that's why he's made the change. It might not hurt to say something to him about it, just be tender.
posted by Demogorgon at 6:43 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

"DO men behave so differently in each relationship?"

Sometimes. In this case he's on the rebound and his last girlfriend was high maintenance so he's looking for, and seems to be succeeding with, a low maintenance relationship.
posted by Mitheral at 6:45 PM on November 25, 2007

Also, having been previously in other relationships, I know for a fact that men have a way of burning out on that stuff.

Amen to that.
posted by YamwotIam at 6:45 PM on November 25, 2007

i think polyester.lumberjack has it. he had obviously fallen into "caretaker" mode with this girl and was writing these letters because it made her happy. guys often do this to compensate for their reservations about a relationship, especially in those vague situations where nobody does anything wrong, the attraction just fizzles or never gels in the first place.

i wouldn't worry too much. if he's not bombarding you with affection, it's probably because he's more secure in his feelings about you. as long as he's not cool to the point where alarm bells go off, which doesn't sound like the case here.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:46 PM on November 25, 2007

The last relationship ended, so the take-home-point for him is, romantic doesn't work.
posted by orthogonality at 6:46 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's only been 3 months. Maybe he associates all that lovey-dovey stuff with a failed relationship and he wants to try something different. I think your expectations are pretty high after only 3 months. Men in general (not all, a lot) do not like all that stuff women like, like texting, phone calls, emails, etc. Look at his actions and how he treats you otherwise and stop comparing yourself to that other chick or you'll derail that relationship before it can blossom. Every relationship is different and has its own speed. Let your relationship find its own story.
posted by 45moore45 at 6:54 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Maybe he feels that the romance was key to his last relationship? He might of felt this was needed in his last relationship to fill the holes (not his type, a younger woman, etc). In your relationship he may believe that it is stronger and does not need the romance to communicate how he feels.

Perhaps you can broach the subject but it may be tough to get your point across without sounding needy. You also run the risk of having him erronously understand that you are not happy. This is another point... judging from what you have written, you are extremely happy- you found the guy you were looking for. If this is the case then you had probably just enjoy what you have and save the romance for Valentine's Day.

And, yes, all relationships are different in my book and each caused me to act differently based on my perception of the person I was involved with.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:01 PM on November 25, 2007

I think there are a few things at play here:

1. His old relationship was long distance: I'm currently in a long distance relationship, and I do a lot of lovey dovey stuff. I sent my GF little notes in the mail, e-mail her everyday, and we talk on the phone every night. The distance makes us want each other more I think. She's also an amazing person.

2. His ex may have wanted these gestures: When I was going out with a girl in 2005, she wanted us to commemorate each month that we were together. So, sure as clockwork, on the 26th of every month, we would go out to eat. She was emotionally unstable, so I think I did it more out of fear than caring. She implicitly demanded that I be romantic, so I complied.

Either way you play it, the most important thing is not the lovey dovey stuff. It's your day to day relationship. I would worry more about actually having a decent foundation for a long term relationship than superficial flourishes like gifts and daily e-mails.

Of course, I'm no Dr. Phil, so take what I say with a grain of salt.
posted by reenum at 7:07 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Vehemently seconding 45more45's advice to let your relationship find its own story.

Sometimes it's easier to do lovey-dovey things and buy flowers and gifts, and harder to be consistently considerate and thoughtful.
posted by nihraguk at 7:21 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I personally think it's sad that he doesn't reciprocate in terms of the love notes and love letters that you write him.
Perhaps part of the romantic nature of his old relationship was due to it being tenuous and strained by circumstances (the age gap, distance, her not being his usual 'type', etc) - so he felt he had to try harder to make it 'work'?
Others in this thread have also said perhaps he burned out, that he's learnt that 'romance doesn't work' and thinks it would be safer and better to be non-romantic this time. So maybe he's over-compensating now. Or maybe, like someone else suggested, he wants a low-maintenance relationship now, and is on a rebound. Or maybe he's on some sort of subclinical rebound, in which he's just sort of tired out from his last relationship and has less of himself to give in a romantic way, but still wants to be with you in some way or other.
I personally think it's a bit hard to say what exactly is going on with him/your relationship, and that more information would be helpful...

Either way, if you are the sort of person who likes romantic gestures, I think it's sad that he isn't quite coming through for you on those. And if he isn't, it isn't because he is incapable of doing so or doesn't know how, because like you have noted, he did so for his ex. It could be either a conscious decision on his part (i.e. to not be as 'romantic' this time around), or it could be something he's unaware of. Have you discussed this with him?

It's good that you're giving him the benefit of the doubt and believing that

(take all of this with a pinch of salt though; i was recently in a similar position (although mine was the long-distance relationship and the old relationship was the seeing-on-a-daily-basis relationship... so somehow i've wound up thinking it's harder to be romantic in a long-distance relationship as compared to a relationship involving regular contact...) so i don't know how objective i'm being here...)
posted by aielen at 7:52 PM on November 25, 2007

How do you know about all these previous romantic gestures?If you are snooping through his stuff/email/etc. and finding this information, I urge you to stop, you are just going to make yourself miserable! If boyfriend is telling you about them, you need to tell him to put a lid on it, that you don't want to hear about his past in such detail. Tell him straight up that you don't want to hear about how how he used to romance his ex, when he's not so romantic with you. Communicate with him that you would like him to to reciprocate your romantic gestures. He can't read your mind.

I went through something similar with my husband when we first dated. I'm guilty on counts listed above. I snooped. Looked through his old photo albums and picked up his private journal and read intimate details about his life with the ex. Then, rather than being up front, I seethed jealously for awhile. When he would talk about going shopping for an ex at Victoria's Secret or doing something romantic or sexy with or for her, I'd just sulk silently, because he didn't do those things for me.

Finally, I spilled my guts and told my guy how all this made me feel. He responded very well to this. He boxed up the journal and photo albums and put them away. He quit talking about the ex's in such detail. He started to be more romantic in a new way that suited our relationship (ie. he brings me a potted plant or a book instead of flowers). I think part of the issue was that he saw me as being very practical and down to earth and not into stereotypical girly stuff like flowers or trashy lingerie.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:52 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

arghh sorry - should've been "It's good that you're giving him the benefit of the doubt and believing that he wants you, and wants your relationship to work."
posted by aielen at 7:53 PM on November 25, 2007

Yes, another vote for not comparing the relationship you have with his previous relationship.
This is way it's bad manners to mention too enthusiasitc details of previous relationships to your partner.
posted by jouke at 8:00 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

You said...
It was one of those things that I never thought would happen: where you meet someone and know right away that this is the person you want to spend your life with and everything just feels right.
He broke up with his last girlfriend a couple of months before he met me
...and incredibly...
DO men behave so differently in each relationship?
...thereby establishing that you think you can see years into the future having known someone for only a few months, that you equate 'everything feels right' with 'everything will work,' that you're in some ways a rebound girl for this guy, and that you assume that men (yet presumably not women) are automata when it comes to romanticism and displays of affection. Which is to say you're lacking some perspective here.

Are you young? Is this one of your first few relationships? If so, please please for your sake forget all the claptrap you've heard about True Love and how people are meant for each other and how everything in a relationship should be worried over and how it's all got to be So Damn Perfect because you only get one shot at this. Chances are this isn't The Guy; chances are he's being less affectionate with you because he feels differently about this situation, one way or another, than he felt about the last one. Chances are he can afford to take you for granted a little, and that's part of life. If you're not new to this, take off the rose-coloured glasses: it's gone wrong before, you know what you and men and women are capable of, and the fact that you're so in love doesn't change what people are. Which is, among other things: changeable.

Of course people act differently from situation to situation; that's because they're people and not, say, fruit flies or doorbells or Perl scripts. Of course men are in some ways people. Of course 'lovey dovey' is all in your head, and of course he owes you nothing as far as that sort of gesture goes, nor do you owe him, except to the extent that you both agree to agree. And you're not his ex. She's not a milepost for your relationship; if it's half as special and life-changing as you believe it is, then it can be judged on its own merits. Indeed that's what every relationship deserves. They had a thing, it's its own thing and not just a preamble to your relationship, and you should just accept that your boy has changed - as living things tend unfashionably to do.

Love isn't a force or an object; it's an outcome, a description. Being loving toward someone means showing them something that each of you calls 'love.' Is that what's going on? No? Do you feel slighted? If so, talk to him. Do you worry that his XGF issues are unresolved? If so, talk to him. Are your issues with affectionate displays unresolved? Sure looks like it. In which case go talk to the person you think you're gonna be with for the rest of your life; chances are he can tell you something about his feelings that AskMe can't quite help with.

thinkingwoman said this, interestingly:
if he's not bombarding you with affection, it's probably because he's more secure in his feelings about you.
This is a nice thought but it is probably nonsense. It might be true. Or he could be acting less affectionate because he feels, you might say, 'less affectionate.' But as much as it's a comment on you, it's moreso a comment on Right Now. Affection comes in weird ways for odd reasons at strange times, and watched pots never boil. Put yourself at ease as best you can - and do the same for him, and demand that he do so for the both of you too. What will happen will quite likely happen. Be what you can for him, ask what you will of him, trust the motherfucker, keep yourself occupied, find your personal method for making and preserving passion (instead of spending it on us), and don't worry about things. Like everyone else you have many educational failures ahead of you, and they will make this question and our prattle seem like the introductory classes they are.
posted by waxbanks at 8:07 PM on November 25, 2007 [8 favorites]

i think waxbanks's cynicism is the type of attitude that makes connecting with people so difficult…the putting up of walls and such, so i might take that with a grain of salt. the OP did say that her bf IS affectionate, etc with her—just not overly romantic. it also sounded like she WASN'T the type who believes in "the claptrap" of True Love and The One since she seems to be surprised that she's found someone she feels strongly about.

i would tend to agree with with those here who feel that maybe he was using the floridly romantic gestures as way to compensate for the apprehensions he had about the ex-relationship; like if he made it into this big movie romance it would cancel out his reservations about becoming involved in the first place. sort of like talking oneself into something.
posted by violetk at 8:24 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don't overthink it.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 8:34 PM on November 25, 2007

I think stretching three actual visits over 6 months can make the mind go a bit daffy. Imagine the sort of obsession that you have in the first 2 weeks of a relationship (about 3 dates.)
posted by Wood at 8:34 PM on November 25, 2007

An unsustainable level of romance is the natural byproduct of an essentially unsustainable relationship.

Spot fucking on. Repeat this like a mantra.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:54 PM on November 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

He was overcompensating in the previous relationship to make up for a lack of emotional commitment.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:55 PM on November 25, 2007

Just because romantic gestures are sometimes 'easier' to do than being considerate on a daily basis does not mean that one shouldn't make an effort to try doing them, especially if the other party appreciates and values them.
And just because one associates 'lovey-dovey' stuff with a failed relationship does not mean that one should refrain from doing it, especially if one's current SO values and appreciate 'lovey-dovey' stuff.
If this is about letting your relationship find its own story, -both- parties should not be affected by previous relationships. Maybe she shouldn't be comparing and feeling a little worried from the comparisons she's drawing but he should also be taking the time to observe and find out what she appreciates instead of making assumptions about his current relationship based on his past experience with his past relationship (if he is), and letting his past experience deter him from caring for his current SO in this aspect.

The thing is - even if people should let their relationships find their own story, it isn't wholly possible in reality. We tend to be affected by our own histories, whether we like it or not, and we bring baggage from the other 'stories' we built with ex-es to our current 'stories', whether consciously or unconsciously. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to appreciate and nurture current relationships in a way that seeks to let them breathe and develop by themselves at their own pace - but it would be prudent to recognise that other previous 'stories' and baggage existed, that they have a bearing on present 'stories', sometimes forming part of them and sometimes helping to shed light on present 'stories'.

All that stuff about letting your relationship find its own story and not comparing is a very pretty-sounding notion, but deceptively pretty. Seems more practical, and wiser, to view the current relationship in as much context as possible, which also includes thinking about (but yes, not over-scrutinizing...) the previous relationship...
posted by aielen at 11:32 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

He was overcompensating in the previous relationship to make up for a lack of emotional commitment.

I have been this man. I hated that I was unable to be 'as romantic' when I was 'close enough' to touch and to love. But it was a major change to be close, it didn't seem like the gifts and attention had the same meaning when I saw her every day. It took a long time to come back to who I was before. I never want to be away again.
posted by parmanparman at 12:16 AM on November 26, 2007

Was his past girlfriend his first serious girlfriend? My first serious girlfriend i went crazy with the romantic stuff, so maybe thats the case? After that though, like everyone above says, it is really easy for a guy to get burned out on the romantic stuff. Once he tries it and eventually gets shutdown, its a blow to the chest. I asked myself why should I be that romantic sap when the girls just go cheat with some @sshole jerk? Breakups, especially the bad ones, do a lot to kill the romantic instinct that a guy may have. On that note, your boyfriend may still have the romance in him but he just keeps it hidden.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 4:38 AM on November 26, 2007

Each relationship is different. You're too early into your own to spend so much time picking apart his past like this.

I've found that most people channel so much will into finding a relationship, drawing from vast stores of overanalysis and self-consciousness, that they have a hard time putting these instincts to rest once they actually bag their man. So instead of being able to relax into falling in love, they remain in a constant state of twitchy vigilant alertness.

You've gotten some good advice here, and I hope it makes you feel better. Now stop overthinking this particular plate of beans before it grows cold in your lap.
posted by hermitosis at 6:00 AM on November 26, 2007

Maybe you're in the process of realizing that gushy romance is something essential for you in a relationship. The realization is prompted by your boyfriends' exgf receiving all this special attention, and you feeling you deserve the same. But the realization is making you uncomfortable because it might imply you should leave your current boyfriend.

The focal point is: you need this in relationships. Not, how do you figure out how to make my boyfriend deliver this.
posted by philosophistry at 6:22 AM on November 26, 2007

To add, I can relate to this because I dated a girl who's personality was tough love and being sarcastic to you to your face but really supportive when you needed it. I accepted this at first, but then I noticed how friendly and polite she was to other friends and loose aquaintances. It really made me mad, but there was nothing I could do to change her behavior. I just took the opportunity to note to myself that I like people who take their love to mean being soothing and gentle. And now that's something I look for in relationships.
posted by philosophistry at 6:31 AM on November 26, 2007

I agree that his previous romantic ways could have been his attempts to mask or compensate for insecurity or uncertainty about that particular relationship. I also agree that people act differently in each of their relationships. Every combination of personalities creates different dynamics. If we were all automatons that acted the same way in every relationship, then we'd never grow and we'd never learn anything interesting about ourselves and the people we interact with.

If you want more romance, ask for it. If you're jealous, examine your thoughts and your feelings to figure out why this is important to you. If you're just curious about the differences, feel certain that yes, this is probably just one of those things that different from relationship to relationship.
posted by bassjump at 8:47 AM on November 26, 2007

Play "hard to get". If you make it so easy so that he doesn't have to expend any effort to get what he wants from you then he won't. Romance is the dance to get what he wants and to keep getting it.
posted by JJ86 at 9:42 AM on November 26, 2007

Maybe she had more control in that relationship than you have in yours. Maybe she made it clear it was a requirement. Maybe he learned that he hated it. Whatever.

Whenever he does anything romantic, let him know how much it means to you. Tell him you really like the occasional romantic gesture, flowers, lovenote, etc.

It's nice to get that romantic affirmation. But even nicer to be in a relationship that's not about balance of power, playing hard to get, keeping your partner off balance, playing games. You can give yourself flowers.
posted by theora55 at 10:43 AM on November 26, 2007

Some guys aren't natural romantics, but can play it well enough when they're not face to face. I'm one of them. I've been far more romantic in long distance relationships than I ever am when I'm dating someone local. When you don't see each other a lot, you feel the need to make your gestures count more.

On another note, you've been dating a guy for three months and he's telling you how romantic he was with his last girlfiend? Not buying it... please tell me you haven't been reading his emails behind his back. That would be a pretty stark indication of insecurity, which could also be affecting his behavior.
posted by chundo at 11:19 AM on November 26, 2007

i think waxbanks's cynicism is the type of attitude that makes connecting with people so difficult…the putting up of walls and such, so i might take that with a grain of salt.
You're hearing 'cynicism' where there's only bluntness - how cynical can someone be three years into a loving relationship, and newly engaged to be married? C'mon now. (I'm not being 'morose' or preemptively rejecting relationships, just giving advice.) It's stupid to hold on to fantasies about beautiful transcendent love if they make it impossible to enter into lasting pragmatic relationships with eyes open, and (setting aside this particular thread for a moment - these criticisms aren't really meant for this OP) lots of AskMe relationship threads are full of such fantasies. Ignorance is forgivable and indeed blissful; willful ignorance, pining after a better world while refusing to live in this one, is contemptible. AskMe posters might well want fantasy, but as Joss Whedon put it, our job isn't to give anyone what they want. They can get that shit anywhere.

Knowing more about relationships has nothing to do with caring less for them or trusting less in them. It just means knowing more - which is feeling more, of course.

Best of luck, all.
posted by waxbanks at 7:12 PM on November 27, 2007

Considering that she is the ex, then something wasn't right in their relationship or else he'd still be with her. It sounds like he put a lot of work into it and after all his effort things were quashed anyway, and not a mistake he'll make again. I can't say I blame him either.

It's not just men that are different in relationships, but women too. Humans do not come into relationships knowing exactly what to do, else we wouldn't have us asking questions about it to one another. It's a learned experience and it sometimes takes years to learn how to make relationships work. When one relationship ends, we learn from that and move on.

Good luck to you and your boyfriend though. :)
posted by magnoliasouth at 6:16 AM on November 30, 2007

waxbanks, i totally agree with you on your clarification but prior to that, i felt that you were applying that sort of delusion to the OP, which i didn't feel was the case.
posted by violetk at 10:26 AM on November 30, 2007

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