Is my girlfriend too needy, or is this normal for some people?
July 11, 2008 4:51 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend gets very sad whenever I leave for a day or two. We have been going out for many years. Is this normal? Does she need help? What can I do? Does she need friends?

I live with my girlfriend who is getting her PhD. She has her preliminary exam coming up which she must pass in order to get her PhD. My mom's birthday is close to her exam date and she insists that if I go visit my mom for a day (in another city), it will disrupt her studying and cause "instability" in her life. She is extremely emphatic about this subject of me being away for a day at a time. I am usually away for two days one night every week for work, and she says that every time it causes "instability" in her life and it affects her greatly.

She does not hang out with friends at all, aside from class/work, I am the only human being she interacts with. She feels like this is ok since I am so important to her, she revolves her life around me. Now, I'm not nearly as commitment adverse as the average guy, but this seems excessive and weird even for a girl. My theory was that it stemmed from her broken family, her parents had a divorce while she was in high school and her older sister just went through a divorce (she acted as a mother figure to her after their parents divorced).

We fought about this for a while. In a moment of weakness I promised her that I would not visit my mom for her birthday until after her exam. I told my mom and she said that was as ridiculous as I thought it was. Is this a known condition or is it just a type of girl or both?

I also get this feeling that her sister agrees with her and/or is like her. Same with her mom.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
there are girls like that, there are guys like that—being overly needy and controlling crosses gender barriers. it happens, but no, it's not normal healthy behavior, and yes, it's totally ridiculous. anyone who freaks out when you want to visit your mother for a) a single day that b) happens to be her birthday needs to be seeing a therapist, at the very least. i would immediately dump anyone who tried to pull this on me. if you were a girl instead of a guy, people would be falling over themselves to warn you that alienating you from friends and family is the first sign of an abuser.
posted by lia at 5:00 PM on July 11, 2008 [10 favorites]

I personally think it's a power play. But I might have some baggage, because my ex-husband was like that. She definitely needs to get her own social life - it's ok to "nest" and want to be with your beloved - but trust me, the joined at the hip stuff gets old really fast.

That being said, this is probably one of the biggest tests she's faced in her academic career - I can see why she might be a bit anxious right now. I'm wondering if you couldn't postpone the visit with mom until after the test - it would obviously be appreciated by your girlfriend, and it will give you an opportunity to point out that, while you understand that she's at loose ends when your away, you have already changed your schedule to accommodate her and now you need to see your mom.

If you stick to your guns, but don't turn it into a power play on your part as well, then it will become apparent to you whether or not this is just a game or a symptom of something more serious.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:01 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

She is extremely emphatic about this subject of me being away for a day at a time. I am usually away for two days one night every week for work, and she says that every time it causes "instability" in her life and it affects her greatly.

This is not normal. Situations like this can come to seem normal to a single person, though. I've been in a situation where I depended on a single person for all my social contact, and it's just a terrible, unhealthy situation for both parties. Of course, it's up to you if you want to tell your girlfriend that she's not normal. I would try to rearrange your guys' routine to include more hang time with friends, try to find someone she can hang out with maybe. Just my 2 cents.
posted by malapropist at 5:02 PM on July 11, 2008

She needs friends.

After college, all my friends moved to different cities. I had always spent most of my time with my fiance, whom I live with, so I didn't bother to make new friends where we lived. Like your girlfriend, I would say that my life revolves in large part around my fiance. The couple times my fiance had to go out of town I was lonely and fairly depressed. Not unbearably so, but it did suck. I would never dream of making him feel badly about it, though. I recognized that it was because I didn't have anyone else to hang out with, and that duh, that was going to happen. It wasn't his fault at all.

Now that we've moved where we know more people, things are more bearable when I can't be around him. It's natural to miss the one you love, especially when you're the kind of couple that spends all your time together, but she shouldn't be acting as... controlling about it, for lack of a better term, as she is. If she had friends, I think it might help. No matter how close a couple is, they should have some semblance of life that's independent of their partner. If she cannot be happy when you're not around, that is not healthy.
posted by Nattie at 5:02 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

You and your girlfriend can define your own normal, and this is not totally crazy.

That said, it's outside the range of what I would consider acceptable and sounds overly dependent to me. Doing a PhD is an awkward anxious time and I can see having a tense need for stability as something that manifests during that time, but if this continues (and if it seems weird to you as it seems like it does) you're well within your rights to redefine normal for the two of you a little closer to how YOU see normal.

In the meantime, since you and your gf already fought about this once, I'd stick around for your Mom's b'day but make it up to your Mom at some later time and assure her this is not going to be what your entire future with your gf is going to be like. Then, endeavor to make that statement true.
posted by jessamyn at 5:02 PM on July 11, 2008

is she scared of being alone? i am and that is mostly why my fiance's trips out of town, even for a night, are hard for me to get through.
posted by bluenausea at 5:09 PM on July 11, 2008

Would it be out of the question for her to join you on the trip? She can bring her textbooks with her and study in the other room, while you still get to spend time with your mom?
posted by polyester.lumberjack at 5:13 PM on July 11, 2008

While it is within the bounds of normal that you are the only human being that she interacts with, it is most definitely not acceptable (though unfortunately common enough) that she be so needy and demanding. It is, as your mom says, ridiculous.

Given that the exam is coming up, maybe you should give in, this time only, so as not to disrupt her before the exam. Be sure to get your mom an extra nice gift.

But you need to stop and think if this is how you want to live your life. And if you think her behavior is resaonable. Do you want to have a battle with her everytime you go out of town? Do you have friends and family out of town? Do you like to travel? If so, (or even if not) this seems like a very short leash.

If you decide that you can't live like this, wait until after the exam(s) and have a talk with her about it. Set down some ground rules and see how she reacts. It sounds like the two of you (more her than you) will need couples therapy to get through this. But if she is the love or your life, it is an option to try and work through this.
posted by cjets at 5:18 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

She is extremely emphatic about this subject of me being away for a day at a time.

that's abusive.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:23 PM on July 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Look, the girl (who is no idiot, she's working on her doctorate, fer cryin' out loud) is telling you that you can't visit your mother on her birthday. For a night. Because it will cause "instability" in her life. And you agreed? What are you, nuts?

This known condition is also called, "demanding crazy girl".

You didn't say how long you have been together, but you better look out for the nephews christening, your sisters wedding, your mothers death, your cousins graduation or, pretty much anything that might jeopardize "demanding crazy girls" stability. Forever.
posted by cedar at 5:26 PM on July 11, 2008 [5 favorites]

You know, I would feel sad and be needy if my sweetie were away. But no way would I try to stop him from going to visit his parents! Or have friends. It's not healthy, sane or smart. I can see if there was some recent trauma and she was terrified to be alone, maybe you would postpone a visit or three, but not just so she can maintain her ordinary stability. She needs to grow (up) a bit on this point.

And I am an *extremely* needy and clingy person (we both are) but this is just plain unreasonable. You're not comfortable with it. She is being controlling. Don't give in. You will come to resent being controlled by a weakling. Maybe you already do.

If you want to accommodate her weak point, you can make a point of being available by phone to reassure her or whatever as needed while you're away. That would be going the extra mile and should be appreciated by her if she is reasonable.
posted by Listener at 5:31 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

it's normal to miss your SO when they are away, but it's unhealthily needy when it's affecting her this much for absences of a only couple days at a time. hell, my fella is gone pretty much the entire work-week, nearly every week for work and i only see him on the weekends and i: just. have. to. deal. with. it. but then again, i have my work, my friends, and our dogs to keep me occupied. i can understand the fear of abandonment type thing due to family issues but…aye…well, i'm in therapy to help deal with it and i think it sounds like she needs to be as well.

i also don't think it's right that she has no friends other than you. it puts an unfair burden on you to be the only person to provide her with social entertainment. i personally don't believe my partner should be everything to me and vice versa; that we have other friends and people in our lives to meet other needs and balance things out because one person can not give us all that we need. my last boyfriend didn't have any other friends in town either and it made me uncomfortable that i was the only person with whom he hung out. if i was with someone who was exhibiting the kind of needy, clingy, and manipulative behaviour your gf is and didn't start to make changes about it after a discussion, he'd have been out.

if this was a one time deal based on her being anxious because of her PhD, i could understand but since you say that she often does this every time you go away, then i feel that if you capitulate, you will be setting a precedent for the future. she's being emotionally manipulative and if you agree to stay, then she is learning that it's okay for her to be manipulative and you can bet it will happen again and again.

if you want to stick around, you can tell her you will this one time but in the future, she should not a) expect you to tolerate this kind of manipulation, and b) expect you to capitulate to her demands again with respect to having to be away. you really need to broach the subject with her about dealing with this issue because i don't see it ending in anything positive for you with respect to the relationship. you will eventually grow to resent her and that will make her clutch even tighter to you.
posted by violetk at 5:35 PM on July 11, 2008

Cedar took the words right out of my mouth. Sure, you could give in this time and vow to make it the last time that you'll put her before your family (or whatever else you have going on in your life that would cause you to be away from her), but then there's always going to be the next time, and then the time after that.

Please don't make the mistake of neglecting the rest of your loved ones at the expense of satisfying your girlfriend's needs and demands, especially like this. If your constantly being away seems to result in some sort of "instability" in her life, then SHE'S the one who needs to make some changes, not you. Therapy really might be a good place to start.
posted by sabira at 5:39 PM on July 11, 2008

Now, I'm not nearly as commitment adverse as the average guy, but this seems excessive and weird even for a girl [...] Is this a known condition or is it just a type of girl or both?

The woman you're dating needs a therapist about her family of origin issues and her separation anxiety, sure. I'll grant that. That's a pretty rough situation she's got, and it sounds like she doesn't know how or doesn't want to develop a support network outside of you and her very chaotic family.

However, the phrasing of your question suggests that you might have some relationship stuff going on that could stand a bit of examination too. The idea that women are prone to some sort of mysterious hysterical frailty based on their gender, which isn't really mental illness because they're women and it's Just How They Are, is... a little 1920s, at best.

*This* woman may have a psychological issue, yes. Is it a gender-bound hothouse-flower thing? Probably not.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:42 PM on July 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

She sounds depressed. I'm a male and I feel this way about my wife when I'm off my meds. Talk therapy probably won't help . But she should still go to a psychiatrist and be open to at least giving a low-dose med a test run.
posted by muzzlecough at 6:14 PM on July 11, 2008

(What follows is the result of my own thinking about when my girlfriend did something similar to me, only in my case it involved jealousy at hanging out socially with groups of people when other women might be present [the horror!])...

As others have said, this is a power-play, and not healthy. She's trying to guilt you for wanting to do something totally reasonable, which is ridiculous, and you have three options:

1. Deal with it for the rest of your life because you love her. Here lies the road to becoming a spineless shell of a man. (I'm kidding, but half serious)

2. Decide that this can't be fixed and that you won't tolerate it; dump her.

3. Confront her about it in the nicest way possible, but hold your ground. Wait until after her big exam, but don't wait until the next time she does this. Be prepared for tantrums.

Also, as Jessamyn said, "normal" is defined by you and her. I'd encourage you not to use "it's not normal" as your supporting evidence, since it's kind of a cop-out. Just let her know clearly what your terms are.

(I chose 3... it hasn't completely fixed things, but it helped)
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:17 PM on July 11, 2008

I have to say that I feel like most of the comments so far are extremely negative without really knowing the girl. I can't help but take slight offense because in all honesty she sounds exactly like me. My parents split up when I was a senior in high school, but I was more like the older sister who took care of younger siblings. My sister and mother act similar to this description as well. Some people just think that putting all of their affection into one person is normal, as well as preferable to having many friends that you socialize with. That does not mean that the person is crazy or needs a psychiatrist. It just means that they acquired different social relationship skills.

That being said, I think this behavior is probably not permanent. My guess is that she just wants to feel stable and when she is stressed out like this at times, she may act a bit clingy. If you don't think you can handle this behavior sporadically throughout your relationship, you may want to be up front about it, because she needs someone who can. She may not even know that what she is doing is seen as "extreme". Also, I would not suggest that you tell her she needs friends or to lighten up. There is nothing "wrong" with her that needs to be "fixed", although she probably feels this way at times. She can't be something that she is not.

One word of caution: One thing I would not do is discuss with your mother your private disagreements you've had with your girlfriend. That would really hurt your girlfriend's feelings unnecessarily, not to mention make your mother harbor ill feelings toward her. I know you feel you need to explain your absence, but your mother should also respect your privacy and not ask why exactly you can't visit her. You are an adult now, after all. It will only create a barrier between the two of them, which will in turn only make things harder for you on both fronts.

What you need to do is weigh the pros and cons of the relationship, because she will probably not be able to alter her behavior to suit you completely. Are the really good times going to outweigh the inevitable bad times?
posted by Inside Out Girl at 6:25 PM on July 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

This is insane.

Go see your mother. And tell her she doesn't get to blame you for her studies getting disrupted-as a matter of fact she should be able to study better without you there.

If she argues, tell her you can be gone for a day with your mom, or you can just be gone, period. Because what she is asking of you is NOT REASONABLE.

Now if there are details you are not giving us that would change that please let us know. Because the problem as stated? She's nuts if she thinks that is remotely reasonable.
posted by konolia at 6:26 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm curious about how she handles your other over-night trips. If she hadn't told you during the birthday fight that they caused "instability", would you have known? In other words, does she always freak out when you leave overnight or does she usually feel uncomfortable but handles it herself? If it is the second case, then I would respect her judgement about this one time being too much for her handle. If she gives you a hard time each time you leave, then you both have a big problem and you need to take a close look at your relationship.

In any case, in the medium-term, she would probably benefit from seeing a therapist. If she's lucky, she might be able to get 3-10 free session from her university's counseling service.

In the short term, ask what part of you being gone is most upsetting and see if there are any options (she comes with you, someone in her family comes to stay with her, she goes to a local hotel (being a different place might make your absence less of a problem), you borrow a friend's dog so the house isn't empty, you hire a grandmotherly babysitter and pay her to spend the night, you consider going another time)
posted by metahawk at 6:44 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

You need to go. Do not give in to this behaviour, if you do she will become more dominating. She knows it's ridiculous behaviour, and is obviously using the exam as leverage in blackmail.

You too can use this, if you go it will let her know that you cannot be treated in such a manner.

I wouldn't stand for it- you can't build a relationship around lack of freedom.
posted by mattoxic at 6:54 PM on July 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

You know what? I'm pretty much in agreement with those who think her behaviour is over the top.... but...

perhaps this could be worked on AFTER she finishes the exam. That's some intellectual and emotional heavy lifting, and it seems a bad time to start a new "programme". The work on her PhD is rough stuff.

Not saying that it doesn't need to be addressed, but if you've waited this long, maybe it would be a good thing to wait just a bit longer.
posted by reflecked at 7:57 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some people just think that putting all of their affection into one person is normal, as well as preferable to having many friends that you socialize with. That does not mean that the person is crazy or needs a psychiatrist. It just means that they acquired different social relationship skills.

It doesn't matter whether they think it's normal to put all their affection on one person, it creates an undue burden on the relationship when it's coupled with demands like the one's she's made. It's controlling and unreasonable.
posted by canine epigram at 8:18 PM on July 11, 2008

As a grad student, I can say that any time I have finals or papers or big deadlines looming, I get much more sensitive about issues in my relationship than I do when I'm just at baseline. My threshold for what I can handle is just much lower. Is it possible that this is the case here, and that while normally she can handle your trips, it's just simply too much right now? Maybe you need to give her credit for being able to recognize that thought.

That being said, sometimes as a grad student you're so immersed in your work that your sig. other IS the only social contact you get outside of your colleagues. I know that I really depend on my boyfriend to be my touchstone to the outside world at times, and to keep me sane when school is so stressful. I don't consider this abnormal by a long shot. In fact, we have a wonderful relationship.

To me, having regular nights EVERY WEEK would drive me nuts. I couldn't handle being away on a regular basis like that, especially since I'm in my own little world for most of the day/week. A lot of times, it's not until we settle into bed that my boyfriend and I really get to see each other, and I really depend on that time. It's when we talk about our day and check in with each other. If I had to give that up on a regular basis, I think I'd feel like something is missing.

I agree with other posters who say that there seems to be an undercurrent of other relationship problems in your post. She loves you and wants to be with you...why is that hard? Do you need space?

nthing suggestions to wait until after her comps to discuss this further. You're only going to catch her on the stressed end of the stick until things are over, and nothing will go over well that way.
posted by messylissa at 8:22 PM on July 11, 2008

*having regular nights AWAY

posted by messylissa at 8:23 PM on July 11, 2008

You know, I think the issue here is that you are not okay with her 'instability'. I have a friend who's so into symbiosis mode that literally, it's rare that I get to see him without his partner, because his partner feels "left out" and "sad". But, he's totally okay with it - realizes it's unhealthy but thinks it's ' really, really sweet'.

Take on the other hand, my brother. His girlfriend, more of an introvert, also sort of thought of him as her rock, pillar,best friend, etc that she didn't really bother to find others. He was so *not* okay with that that he literally went out and *found* her some friends, by introducing her to people. Then he explained that he wanted her to love him like a man that she wanted, not a crutch that she needed....cause he felt trapped. And no man, in the history of the world, feels good about using the word 'trapped' when referring to someone he loves.

My point is some people are totally okay with this level of 'dependency'. My second point is you're not. You don't sound like you're having warm fuzzies about this. You sound like the type of person who imagines that a person is really responsible for themselves, and ought to be resilient enough not to get kicked out of orbit everytime you leave like you're the sun and she's a planet.

She sounds like she's telling the truth- that you being away feels unstable. But what she isn't sharing is that probably won't perish in your absence. What she isn't sharing is that she understands that this is her work, her path, her baggage, and you can't take it on for her.

I think what you can do is be true to yourself, live the life you want to live, with friends and family involved, and not allow any fellow adult, even someone you love, to deny you that life because of their fears. Even if you wanted to, I don't think you *can* be her security blanket, but it sounds like you're frustrated now, and might grow resentful over time. I think you can encourage her to live her own full life, rather than help her undermine herself by seriously considering not living your life. Tell her you understand what she's saying, that you are not seeing you mother or living your life just to harm her, that you realize that this instability feels awful and perhaps therapy can help.

Seriously - if you love her, encourage her to stand on her own two feet. Then, one day when you don't come back for whatever reason, she will be resilient enough to handle it.
posted by anitanita at 8:50 PM on July 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

i think your girlfriend has created a problem in her life (not having friends) and knows it but hates to acknowledge it. your absence creates this vacuum in which all those nagging lonely feelings come rushing in.

i don't think she's abusive, i think she's insecure and scared and needs therapy.
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:08 PM on July 11, 2008

Everybody's different; what is normal for her may not be normal for you to accept, and what is normal for her to need from you may not be normal for you to do.

Having said that, she's doing herself a disservice by forming such a strong bond with only one person, because (for reasons that are made obvious by your reaction to her behavior) she's setting herself up to be devastated when that person inevitably leaves. Not being a headshrink here and trying to figure out why she's behaving this way; the fact is that, regardless of reasons, people do leave, for an hour or a day or a week or a lifetime, and if they're the center of your universe you'll be devastated when that happens.

I'm kind of a tough-love person, so were I in your shoes I'd probably just say "look, I understand that you'll be destabilized by this, or at least that you fear you will, but you're going to have to learn to deal with that. Who knows, perhaps you'll get so good at dealing with it that you won't need me any more, and you'll leave me. If that happens, I'll be sad that you leave me, but happy knowing you're an independent, capable person who doesn't need other people around to function. Frankly, I'd rather have that be the end result than have you being like this for the rest of our time together, and then sooner or later I'm going to leave because of it."

But that's just me.
posted by davejay at 10:56 PM on July 11, 2008

I don't understand how your not being there while she is studying would cause instability in her life. That just doesn't make sense. She's not studying you, so you don't need to be there. What do you do while she's studying? You need to be with your Mom for her birthday. What's wrong with that? Why should that be a problem for your SO? It's a known condition all right. It's called "I will control you". I lived with someone who tried this BS with me and it never ends. If you give in this time, it will go on and on and on. Please, don't live this way. It sucks from the ass in. I've tried to look at it from your SO's point of view, but I just don't get it. My boyfriend is out of town during the week and I see him on weekends, most of the time. Yeah, I miss him, but it doesn't cause instability in my life. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. I wish I had some more valuable advice, but this is my sincere opinion from experience.
posted by wv kay in ga at 11:52 PM on July 11, 2008

I told my mom and she said that was as ridiculous as I thought it was

Maybe your girlfriend would be a bit less insecure if she knew she could count on you to be on her side even when she's not being entirely reasonable. It is quite possible to negotiate for solutions that satisfy your own needs without questioning her right to feel how she feels.
posted by tomcooke at 2:38 AM on July 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

I am usually away for two days one night every week for work, and she says that every time it causes "instability" in her life and it affects her greatly.

Sometimes I feel exactly like that, but I'd never feel OK actually telling my boyfriend that. So maybe that feeling isn't too abnormal, but her sense of justification in depending on you for "stability" is?

After I moved away for college I mostly lost touch with friends from home and didn't really bother to make any new ones. My boyfriend ended up being the only human being I really talked to - and we are in a LDR, so that "talking" occurred on video chat every night. I've had some issues with depression and dependence issues, and I do try to keep myself occupied, but on my bad days I just want to talk to him and I find myself feeling a little resentful if he isn't there to keep me company.

Almost all the time, though, I'm able to think about my feelings more or less objectively and remember that it isn't my boyfriend's responsibility to provide an anchor for my life. We are partners, not a single unit. I do let him know that I'm feeling lousy and I miss him, and he always sympathises, and we try to make time for each other, but I don't insist if he can't spend as much time with me as I would like.

I can't give you any advice on how to deal with your girlfriend because I don't know what your relationship is like, but I can let you know that she's not the only one feeling this way, and, judging from your question, you genuinely care about her and you should let her know that. Let her know that you love her, and don't hesitate to show affection in everyday ways, and at the same time encourage her to go out and do things on her own.

I realise that phD students at madly busy most of the time, but I'm sure she could spend an hour a week at some kind of social activity: book/movie club, dance/yoga/pilates/step class, whatever type of thing she enjoys. School is a great resource for social activities. :) If she just doesn't feel like doing that kind of thing alone, don't get exasperated, just go with her - but make sure you two mingle and don't just couple up the whole time! Once she has some other friends, she'll be more inclined to get out without you.
posted by Xianny at 3:57 AM on July 12, 2008

The girl I've been with now for 4 years USED to be like this. She USED to be like a lot of things, but I still really care about her. I don't believe that anyone should ever enter a relationship with the intention of changing anyone else, however I believe that these things only get worse over time. 2 stories:

1. My girlfriend did this. I didn't stay to discuss, I didn't argue. I said "Well sweetie, I hope you find something to do, I'm out!" and left. She'd sit there and cry and yell at me as I left, but each time it was less of a big deal. Then one night she called her friend. And they hung out! And since then it's been a non-issue. I make it clear that I expect her to do what she wants, and that I'll do as I please, and that those things needn't always coincide. Whoever says that you ALWAYS have to do EVERYTHING TOGETHER and/or LIKE IT is an idiot, that's not what being in a relationship is.

2. My best friend is married to a girl who does this to him. We can't ever do anything because she expects him home by 6 for dinner so they can be snuggled up on the couch by 7. He can't ever go fishing with me, or go hiking with me, or even just come over and play video games---anything that doesn't include her. It's getting worse over time, too. I don't know how they will possibly make it. Even he admits that it's ridiculous.

So, my point is that you HAVE to nip this in the bud. YOU HAVE TO. IT MUST END, or you'll be miserable---and so will she by proxy, possibly without even realizing it. Codependent girls will drag you down down down.
posted by TomMelee at 6:17 AM on July 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

First, YOU HAD PROMISED. In a moment of weakness or other circumstances, why would you think it would be OK to break the promise. Stick to it this time, and do not promise what you cannot carry through: ever. Do I suspect correctly: this promise was a repeat offence, and you had failed to bring other promises to realisation? And at the end of the day, you ridiculed your girlfriend in front of your mother instead of standing up for her. Was this also a repeat offence?
posted by Jurate at 6:37 AM on July 12, 2008

And at the end of the day, you ridiculed your girlfriend in front of your mother instead of standing up for her. Was this also a repeat offence?

Asking people (who you trust to be honest with you) if someone you are dating is behaving irrationally is not the same as ridiculing that person. It is a bad idea to stand up for the person you are dating without considering whether their behavior warrants defending. I don't see how the heck you can defend someone who coerces you into not seeing family members on their birthdays.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:35 AM on July 12, 2008

Seriously: she has a giant exam coming up shortly that has a giant impact on her future and which she has been working so hard to prepare for for how long now? She's probably extremely nervous. She's probably a little scared. I wouldn't want my SO going out of town when I had such an examination coming up -- it would be disruptive, and it would make me feel just a wee bit more alone with such a looming task.

Sports players notoriously refuse to change their socks or what-not before a game because they're so worried about doing poorly, but people in this thread can't imagine a person not wanting their SO to leave town before a giant exam? She wants support, and she asked for it.

Now, with that said...

I'm defending her actions, given the fact that she has a giant exam coming up. That, I can understand. However, you don't describe this behavior as a one-time thing. You seem dissatisfied with her clinginess beyond times of trial like this. It doesn't really matter if it's normal or abnormal -- what matters is that it seems to make you uncomfortable and discontent. You should talk to her about it, in those terms: this feature of your relationship makes you uncomfortable, and thus needs some work.
posted by Ms. Saint at 9:28 AM on July 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I am mortified to admit that I briefly did what your girlfriend's doing, at a time when I was feeling extremely insecure in myself and the relationship. I felt shitty about it every single time - I really wanted my partner at the time to be having fun and hanging out with friends, and I know that the dynamic changes when you add a girlfriend to an existing circle of people who aren't in relationships with one another - and yet I found it really hard to stop.

I think you'd be best seeing out the promise about this time, just because it's not worth the drama and with the promise and the high stress it sounds guaranteed messy, but you do, indeed, need to nip it in the bud or your relationship will go down in flames.

Mostly, what helped me was sorting myself out a bit, but also meeting the friends a few times, because I previously hadn't and (this is embarrassing) honestly felt like I was going to lose my partner because he would be out having mad fun and realise how boring I was by contrast - they weren't nearby and so it was an overnight and not people I'd have met by chance. There were other issues (and the relationship long outlasted this nonsense) but I just constantly felt like this was The End when he went away for fun.

Be kind and considerate, as it sounds like you are, but do it. Maybe call or text or something while you're away to let her know she's still on your mind, and stay on the kind side of firm rather than showing anger, even if you feel it. She should, of course, not be dependent on one person to the extent of limiting that person's freedom, but making the push gentle should help you both.
posted by carbide at 9:47 AM on July 12, 2008

My partner and I are pretty independent, but our weekday routine is set and it involves being with one another for dinner and bedtime. If he's not here, it disrupts the routine. That's fine occasionally, but I wouldn't like it if it were a regular thing, and neither would he. We actively avoid jobs that would require evening hours or traveling.

So, no, I don't think she's being ridiculous. Some people are more set in their ways then others. Some people like to do the same thing every day unless it's a special occasion. The fact that your mother's birthday and her exam coincide is bad luck on both your parts.

She needs some friends if it's at all possible but that's a separate issue.
posted by sondrialiac at 12:05 PM on July 12, 2008

People going through the PhD gauntlet often go through mood swings, depression, irrationality, weight loss and gain, etc. etc. It can be a really weird, stressful time. Sometimes the work takes so much time and energy that students just don't socialize much, even with other students. (I remember students I knew would hang out and discuss the lack of social life ad nauseum - in the computer lab, while working. And that was as social as we got much of the time. For months.) Unfortunately if she has some years to go in her program, you might never get a chance to judge how "normal" this behavior is. And that's really what's more important for you to figure out - is this the way she's always going to react or does this behavior have more to do with where she is currently?

Think back to other occasions - does this behavior seem typical? After this test is over - does she mellow out any? How much does it bother you? Is this something you can actually talk over with her? Is there enough give and take in the relationship - is she trying to tell you that she needs your support right now, or is she just always like this? She may not realize that what she really needs is someone to tell her that life will go on and people will be there for her no matter what the result of any test - give her a sense of perspective on what's important. Or she may always be this needy. You'll have to care a lot about each other to want to hang around to find out. And you'll have to talk to her more about this. Not during an argument - you should bring it up as "I'm concerned about you because I don't know if I should be worried about..." and then go on.

Oh and for a PhD student - no, she's not abnormal. Her lack of social life is typical of what students went through in my graduate studies at more than one university. And I'm NOT saying that this is a good thing!
posted by batgrlHG at 11:40 PM on July 12, 2008

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