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"He says he wants to talk to me, but being expected to keep in touch stresses him out..."
By Cait Robinson
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Dear Miss Information,
My boyfriend's four years older than me. We started dating when we were in college together, and dated for a little over six months before he graduated and moved to New York for his job. I'm finishing up college about four or five hours away from him.
We dated through the summer, but the distance was too stressful. He didn't seem to have enough time to keep in touch on a regular basis, at least not at the level I needed. I tried to change what I needed, but I just couldn't do it and wasn't happy. If I'm dating someone, I like to be in touch on a regular basis — it doesn't need to be constant, but I like to feel like we're a part of each other's lives. This was too much expectation for my boyfriend. He's not huge on compromise and gets stressed if he feels expected to do things.
So we broke up. We didn't see each other for almost four months, but then he weaseled his way back into my life, explaining that he realized he had made mistakes, still loved me, etc. The next few months were great; he was sending me a text every morning before work, saying sweet things to me, sending cards — all the things we used to argue about.
But now that he's getting more stable with his New York life, he's turning back into his old self. He says he wants to talk to me, but being expected to keep in touch stresses him out; he wants to be able to talk to me on his own time because he needs to be spontaneous. It's hard for me to understand that because I enjoy sharing my life with him. He says he does too, but he just handles it differently. He loves me, yet he might not be able to talk to me if he feels stressed or busy. That makes me feel like I'm being put on the backburner.
I understand that in relationships, people need their own space and activities, but it stresses me out not knowing if I'll hear from him or not. I'm finding it hard not to resent him, because I feel his unwillingness to compromise is selfish. He tells me he sees me as marriage potential; I know he is serious about us. Is there any way I can make this work?
— Tough Call
Dear Tough Call,
Not to miss the forest for the trees, but I'm interested in some of your wording here. First, you describe your boyfriend thusly: "He's not huge on compromise and gets stressed if expected to do things." Then, later, you say he "weaseled his way back into your life." Total number of times the word "stress" appears in your letter: five.
I'm not sure anyone gets a pass because they are "not big on compromise," or because "being expected to do things" stresses them out. Compromise is part of human existence. We all need to roll with each other's punches from time to time; opting out because it's "just not a thing you do" isn't really fair. So this leaves you with the question: is it worth it to you to spend (potentially) the rest of your life bending to avoid having to make him bend?
You say you already "tried to change what you needed," and that didn't work. If he's consistently shown that he won't meet you halfway — or, worse, that he leans on you when he's insecure, then drops back once he finds footing — that's not a fair relationship.
You only have 50% control in this relationship: he's the other half. You ask what you can do, but is he doing anything to make this work? Granted, distance is hard; distance between college and the "real world" is harder. But a good relationship should involve no "weaseling," and definitely should involve less "stress." He may have a different timetable and a different idea of closeness, but his preferences don't trump yours. If he isn't willing to meet you halfway on something as fundamental as communication, what hope do you have for any future disputes?