More.. a little more... a little m... no, too much. Too much! ACK!
July 21, 2008 8:12 AM   Subscribe

Long-distance-relationship with a boyfriend who is more clingy than me, while I need more personal space. We're crazy about each other, but his desires to spend more and more time talking are making us both rather miserable, and I have no idea how to handle this. In my previous relationship, I wasn't getting enough attention from my partner. Now I have a bit too much, and somehow this needs to work out.

Because we are continents apart right now, our time together is spent on messengers and webcams. Lately however I've been hit with more work that leaves me tired whenever I have free time to get on the net, and I'm also tiring of this rather monotonous work/talk-with-him/nothing-else routine.

When we're talking, it's almost a given that we do nothing else distracting on the side. So I can't load a movie at the same time, or play a game, as my love gets rather hurt if I'm not giving him all my attention. I definitely understand him - we have only a few hours in a day when our schedules coincide. But I just need to do other things now and then. I'm a huge gamer and work in the game industry itself, and I badly miss being able to lose myself in a good title for a couple of hours as well. I miss being able to relax with a good book, or take very long walks in the mountains where I live. Basically, I miss having "me" time. All the free time I do have is going into staring at a messenger window, and I'm ashamed to say that even his excited "My webcam is on! Go take a look!" invites are starting to feel like a chore.

If only he was into doing any of the fun activities I like with me online, this would almost be a nonissue. But he hates watching movies together (at the same time), as he feels almost forced to comment on them or can't concentrate on them fully, and he can't seem to like any online games. And I'm running out of things to talk about, which makes the hours we spend together sometimes seem a waste.

We brought some of this up today, although not in detail, and we just don't know how to handle this sort of situation. Should we compromise and stick to the weekends for lengthy interactions? How do I help him hurt less when he wants to have me more? Someone is going to have to sacrifice something, but I don't know how to make it as painless of a transition as possible.

Please throw some suggestions my way!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Ha.....I am soo familiar with your situation. Read this question i asked here about a month ago:
posted by The1andonly at 8:26 AM on July 21, 2008

Should we compromise and stick to the weekends for lengthy interactions?

Whew. I'm not sure what schedule would work for you, but why not just agree on a certain numer of "appointments" each week and then give those your full attention. It sounds like he needs a bit more of a life, but as long as you're always on the other end of the line to fill in his lonely times, he will have no incentive to develop one. If he knows as a certainty that you will not be available to chat on Monday nights (or whenever) he will be thrown upon his own resources and, I would hope, develop some other activities or outlets for his social needs. That will be healthier for the relationship as a whole, anyway. People can't remain very interesting to one another if they do everything together and are always talking to one another.

So I wholeheartedly support the idea of making a specific committment to a specific number of appointments and then knowing that when there is no appointment, you will both be doing something else.
posted by Miko at 8:34 AM on July 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

I had this same problem with my girlfriend when we did the long-distance thing. The solution to your problem is to talk less. All the talking you two are doing is cheapening the things you have to say. If you talk every other day, you'll never have a whole lot to talk about, and you'll also be taking up time when you could be doing things that you could then talk about. So, talk less.

The key to that though, is that it can't be one-sided. You both have to agree to talk less, or else it does feel like one person doesn't care as much as the other. Talk it out with him, and try to reach an agreement between the both of you. Get him to see why talking so often just isn't a good thing, and then set specific times to talk. Make sure that it doesn't come off as one-sided, this needs to be something you both want.

As a bonus, this may get him to stop being so clingy.

On Preview:
If he knows as a certainty that you will not be available to chat on Monday nights (or whenever) he will be thrown upon his own resources and, I would hope, develop some other activities or outlets for his social needs. That will be healthier for the relationship as a whole, anyway. People can't remain very interesting to one another if they do everything together and are always talking to one another.

posted by Axle at 8:39 AM on July 21, 2008

Long distance relationships suck.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Are you ever planning on living in the same zip code? I think they can work if there is a plan to be together in the near future.

But this is not a relationship. You really can't know each other when you are continents apart. I can't think of an instance where any long distance "relationship" like this has ever worked out. It sounds like you're more like penpals, or virtual friends.

Why don't you break it off until you can both live in the same location (not together, but in the same proximity.) This is going to break both of your hearts.

When you're ready, why don't you date someone you can see at least three times a week, and get to know each other in an organic way. Maybe there will be some commenters who have had a good experience with this, but I really don't see how you can call living continents apart a relationship.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 8:39 AM on July 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

I was in a long distance situation, and found that communication was the key. I've also been in the clingy boyfriend role. I loved my ex dearly, but she felt suffocated.

The thing is, you need to have a sit down with him. Talking every single day isn't necessary. But, he might be clingy because he feels like you have a more interesting life than him or that he will lose you.

You may need to provide him with some reinforcement that he's the one for you and that being apart won't change that.

MeMail me if you have more questions. I suspect I can think from your BF's point of view.
posted by reenum at 8:58 AM on July 21, 2008

What I'm about to say might sound mean/evil/etc., but I say it seriously and from experience.

Why not just not be available to talk to him every once in a while? I don't mean like being on IM and telling him you're busy, I mean like making it impossible for him to talk to you.

Axle is right in that talking more produces more quantity while compromising quality. But you've also conditioned him to expect you to be able to talk at this time. So try conditioning him on an intermittent reinforcement schedule rather than a continuous reinforcement schedule.

Now the experience part.

When I talk to my girlfriend online (a few hours away but we go to college together so this is a minority portion of the year) a lot the conversation quickly turned into a load of "I love you"s and "I miss you"s and stuff like that. We're not really saying anything, just putting in words to fill the silence [on a side note when we're actually together the silence isn't an issue]. Or one of us finds a game online and we both play it.

Sometimes I just won't feel like talking to her. I don't sign on to IM. I don't answer the phone or I leave it in my room and go somewhere else.

She asks what I was doing, I tell her. That's the end of it. And it usually gives us more to talk about anyway.

Inevitably there will be some fallout if you try this. He'll most likely whine/complain and you'll have to defend yourself. But I still say that's the way to go.

I'm also with Flying Squirrel in wondering if you two are planning to be in the same place in the future. If not, I would end things. I don't see a reason to stay in a relationship like this if there are no plans to be together. Especially if you're younger and don't have much control over this anyway.

If there are plans for being together (that are more concrete than "we will be together in the future") then you've got a judgment to make. Is this togetherness going to happen soon enough that staying together is worth it? Or was one of you a high school exchange student during your freshmen year last year and you've both got 3 more years before you can possibly be together? What I'm trying to say is that even if the plans are there it still might be better to end things.

Yes, relationships involve some sacrifice. But they should still enrich your life, not suffocate it.
posted by theichibun at 9:09 AM on July 21, 2008

You are not responsible for your partner's lonely feelings, and while ignoring him completely would be unreasonable, you are entitled to time to yourself. Healthy relationships, long distance through to living together in a one room yurt, respect that just because you can speak in terms of an Us does not mean the We must obliterate the Me.

Sometimes you just have to assert that you need to do other things, and beyond that, sometimes you just need to do them. My partner and I are also doing the long distance thing, and after getting out of an abusive relationship where my previous partner wanted me to spend pretty much every second I was awake stimulating him and would 'punish' me if I didn't.

So when I discovered I was walking on eggshells to avoid my current partner having hurt feelings, I realized that since -wasn't- an abusive shmuck, this meant it was okay for me to do other stuff. And I didn't have to say more than 'I'm going for a walk/gaming/spending some time reading a trashy novel and giggling', normally after the fact.

You can't make your partner feel anything, as his emotions are a combination between his choice and his natural biochemistry. Since, from what you've described, you're merely asking for breathing room, not abandoning him, this is something he'll have to figure out for himself.

However, for general emotional management: I find pictures of my sweety and planning surprises for him later help with the 'I miss yoooou!' So does knowing that you'll meet up at a preset time, indeed a planned meeting in person is a good thing to fixate on.
posted by Phalene at 9:17 AM on July 21, 2008

Haha, I can understand this very well. Currently I'm separated for the summer from my girlfriend who I live with at school. It's very hard on me, because I've been going through a lot and really would like to talk to her, but she can't (her dad is a control freak, doesn't want her to grow up, and doesn't know I exist). When she left for what was supposed to be a few days of non-communication (which turned out to be three weeks) I got pretty upset. I have a pretty active life here and not having her be part of it means it's harder and harder to think about going back to devoting all my free time to her (as it always seems to be, when we're together).

In a way I guess I'm half in your state of mind, half in your boyfriend's. And seriously? The solution is to find lives away from each other that you can share.

The whole point of being in a relationship (aside from sex or buying things or the other stupid reasons people have for holding on to each other) is to share your lives. If you aren't doing that, neither of you will be truly happy. So do fun things (especially take long solitary walks-- that seems like a very important part of your life), and talk when you can. Don't let the relationship force either of you to do something you wouldn't be doing normally (within reason).
posted by dmaterialized at 9:32 AM on July 21, 2008

Set up some appointed times to talk for a long time. A big block set aside on weekends or something, in exchange for a couple weekdays to yourself. Then stick to it - don't start flaking on conversations he's been looking forward to all week, and don't pick up the phone when he calls on "off" days anyhow. Consider sending him longish e-mails on the days you'd rather not be on the phone. Maybe the occasional naughty picture. Some sort of tangible proof that, while you're quite busy and haven't time to talk just now, you are thinking about him and miss him and love him. I'd warrant he's not starving for phone calls, but for contact.

It really, really hurts when it seems like the person you're in a long-distance relationship with always has something better to do than talk to you. And if you just start withdrawing without any sort of compromise for him, it's just gonna scare him into even more clinginess.

I understand your irritation, but think for a moment about what you're complaining about here. This fella loves you, is interested in you and cherishes contact with you. Do you have any idea how many lonely people would kill to have your problems? It's really unfortunate that you two are having this collision, but his impulses are coming from a positive place.

Keep trying to find an online game. There's gotta be something out there. Have you mined all the staple online genres? FPS, RTS, MMO, etc? What sort of games does he enjoy in single-player? Start from there. It might be possible to work him up to joint movie-watching by starting with longish youtube videos that include a mutual interest.

Please don't treat him like a chore. He's gonna pick up on it and it'll break his heart. Again, I'd say move your phone time into one or two big blocks, and try to let him be the one to end these conversations every now and again. Send a trickle of sweet e-mails his way throughout the week, and maybe even mail him an occasional paper letter. That'll mean the world to him.

He misses you. That's not a bad thing.
posted by EatTheWeak at 9:44 AM on July 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Try phone sex- then he'll be tired afterwards and want to go to sleep :)

More seriously, just be direct? "Hey, I love you, you're great, but I need to get some stuff done here- let's go for quality and not quantity, since you're suffocating me!".
posted by jenkinsEar at 9:44 AM on July 21, 2008

The growth of the Internet has spelled the death of the paper letter. This is not a good thing for romantic relationships, in my view.

There's a certain rhythm to relationships conducted by letter, that involves the writing and mailing of a physical object to someone, and the expectation of receiving something tangible from someone you care about, that the informality of an IM conversation completely fails to capture. Creating a letter focuses one's attention on the person to whom you are writing, in ways that having them a click away does not require. You are compelled to try to write with some care, when your letter is likely to be kept and re-read, time and again. Contrast this with the general tone of IM conversations and responses, that will shortly be lost in the stream of digital communications we all have, that we likely would have a lot less of, if having those communications really cost us stamps and time and the effort it takes to write a decent letter. Most people can't even be bothered to write real words in IM exchanges, much less coherent thoughts, or whole paragraphs that develop ideas.

So I suggest, that you ask him for paper letters, and that you write him some. Perhaps you could write some of yours, while hiking in your mountains.

On preview, jinxed by EatTheWeak, but second the letter suggestion.
posted by paulsc at 9:46 AM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

(on reread of your post, i notice there was no mention of phones, but IM/cam talking - as such, please substitute all my mentions of the "phone" w/ "IM")

posted by EatTheWeak at 9:57 AM on July 21, 2008

Your partner needs a life outside of the relationship. He's not getting out enough, making friends, or working/studying.

You can tell him as much - it's a perfectly appropriate conversation to have in a committed relationship. Tell him, "Look, I love you, you don't have to worry about that, you're always on my mind, but seriously, dog, you're killing me here. I'm busy as hell and this clingyness is getting in the way of my down time. For real, get a hobby, buy a puppy, make some new friends or something - and maybe then when we do talk we'll actually have something interesting to communicate. Okay? Peace out, yo."

Long distance is hard. Unless you have secure plans to reunite in the near future, I'd probably end the whole thing right now before you're really miserable and one or both of you begin cheating on the other.
posted by wfrgms at 10:20 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is pretty sad to read. He might be feeling like absolute last in your to do list. Even after movies and games. Would it be very difficult to turn that webcam on in the morning when you are having your breakfast, getting ready to go? Maybe abandon the IM (IM is kind of evil, because it somehow creates compulsive addictions and even stalking out of nothing), get twitter and post one or two tweets per day, that would tell him that you are OK, and not mad at him? How about a quick call right before you are off for lunch?

This natural order of things is so simple... You align your resources by what "counts" for you. You will run out of money before the turn comes to the not so important item in your shopping list, but your primary purchases and investments will be made by that time. You run out of time for people and things you deem comparatively less significant by the end of the day. Do you see what I mean? Is it time to inspect what you feel towards him and if indeed this is a relationship that you value?

I would go against the stream here with quality vs. quantity. The benchmark is not how many times and for how long each time LDR couples should talk. The benchmark are couples that are in the same zip code: they talk daily, face-to-face and on the phone (anything else is complimentary). In LDR, the spontaneous 1-2 minutes calls most days do so much. "I am so busy, can't talk much, just called to say hi, you are the sunshine of my day!". Then in other times, you can schedule longer conversations. In the situation where I was, the less emotionally available partner was pressing more on necessity for the other to get the act and move. And while love is a great motivator towards action, there is only so much of it when you face the visa/work permit struggles all alone, but the rest of that motivation is quickly killed by having only 3 convos per month.

In general in LDRs people are in fact saving time for your work, school, etc., by having the other that far (this makes me think that probably people involve themselves in LDRs for certain reasons and unresolved issues). You are sacrificing a chance to get to know him deeply if you cannot scratch up that time for him.

Good luck with it. Whatever you do, have compassion and do not play the games of making it impossible for him to talk to you. Cruelty should not have a place in a loving relationship.
posted by Jurate at 11:19 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have a disposition to be clingy, especially when long-distance. For me it is most about that it becomes so easy to start questioning "does she really love me?" and "does she want us or is she hoping for something new while there?". It is difficult to directly ask these questions and more so if I feel same questions rising again in a short time (embarassing) -- Since there are devices between us that lose all secondary signals, even direct 'I love you.'s become not necessarily convincing. Did she say that irritatedly? The more there are discussion, the more there is to interpret and it is often easier to continue the conversation endlessly because the uncertaintity is still not solved.

So even when you say "We're crazy about each other, " I suspect that this all happens because deep down he isn't sure that you are crazy about him and the doubt drives him to message more than he knows is good. You have to figure out how to convince him, but understand that many people feel basically unloveable and won't take a hint. It must be undisputable.
posted by Free word order! at 12:12 PM on July 21, 2008

seconding the talk less, but be very clear why--it isn't him, it just is that you run out of things to say and it just seems wrong to say nothing.

Increase random sendings of nice messages to make up for the difference.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:33 PM on July 21, 2008

I was the clingy one in my LDR. What I really wanted - but didn't know it - was little nuggets of contact here and there, not 5 hour phone marathons where we'd both run out of stuff to say. It was awkward for both of us and I actually had other things I wanted to do, but I didn't want to let him go. He was the gamer with the stressful job who felt suffocated. We got over it, moved in together and are now engaged, but in retrospect what would have really helped were intermittent text messages and "I'll call you before I go to sleep" emails. If you're ever going to live together or nearby, he needs to understand your need for time to yourself or it's going to be a very painful adjustment for him. I fully expected us to be joined at the hip when we moved in together because he'd given up so much time to me on the phone. We're really in a good space now but I wish I'd had a more gradual adjustment.
posted by desjardins at 9:55 PM on July 21, 2008

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