In general I feel more like I have a man-shaped puppy than a boyfriend.
Dear Miss Information,
Help me, please, because I am in a dumb relationship. It’s maybe not that bad. But it’s definitely dumb. My boyfriend and I have been dating for six months, but we’ve known each other much longer. It’s kind of always been a distance thing, which we kind of always thought we were totally prepared for because what could be a better idea than dating someone on a different continent, right? Oh, I should mention that I’m in my mid-20s and live in a big, exciting college town in the US. My boyfriend is finishing up his Master’s in The Netherlands.
Our arrangement is this: because his work is location-nonspecific, he comes to stay with me for months on end, and functions basically as a non-paying roommate. I am invited any time I want to visit The Netherlands for sure, but my job doesn’t exactly welcome my taking months off to sit on foreign couches and drink superior Dutch espresso. So, he mostly stays with me.
After about a week, I hate having him here. I feel like I’m constantly tripping over him, and when we talk about it he promises to get out more often and do more field work. But surprise! He is always on the couch when I come home. He fits in my social circle maybe 65%, which is to say that everyone likes him well enough but I sometimes cringe at him trying to be funny or posturing to look cool (my friends are design types and my boyfriend is a career academic. You do the math). Increasingly, I feel like I’m dragging him around and then following him doing kind of damage-control, which I know is a jerk thing to say about your boyfriend. In general I feel more like I have a man-shaped puppy than a boyfriend.
I feel like such a jerk saying all of this, though. He is a genuinely good guy and treats me well. We used to have a great time on his visits, and we were friends for so long. Before him, I dated quasi-abusive assholes, so I don’t want to throw out a perfectly decent guy just because he doesn’t shop at Diesel, or whatever. So what do I do? Can this be solved with new rules and logistics and getting him some better jeans, or do I give up and move on?
–Bored in the USA
Dear Bored in the USA:
In my estimation, the opposite of love isn’t hate; the opposite of love is closer to “pity.” Nothing kills attraction quite like having to whisper to your friends while he’s in the bathroom: “He’s not really racist. He’s just really bad at appropriating Dave Chapelle bits. I’m sorry.”
Let’s play worst-case scenario. Let’s say you are being far too hard on the guy. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you and your friends are the snide “cool kids” who can barely contain your disgust at his stupid puns and reverse-fit corduroys. (I don’t think this is true, mind you—it’s a thought experiment.) So you’re being an unfair, judgmental dick, and your poor boyfriend is scrambling to keep up; the harder he tries, the weaker he looks, and the more judgmental you become; the more judgmental you become, the more he shrinks, and so on. Obviously, this dynamic is toxic to both of you. There would be no point in fighting for a relationship that turns you into a label-conscious monster, and turns him into a sniveling bookworm.
Of course, the reality of your relationship is almost definitely more gray area than this. But the point stands. Your description of your boyfriend and your overall relationship is full of pitying terms, and the highest praise you give him is that he is “perfectly decent.” Your approval seems to be a bar he is never going to reach.
Admittedly, the logistics don’t help: he is dependent on you for housing and a social outlet when he is in the states. To have a functional relationship, though, you and he need to be on equal footing, which means he needs to have his own identity separate from you. (Of course, he does have a life outside of you…it’s just in another country, where it does you zero good.) As long as he has to rely on you in any way, your relationship runs the risk of taking on a parental edge, and no good can come of that. Put another way: if you feel like you have to follow him around with a dustpan and mini-broom, you likely don’t want to bang him. That’s just science.
I say cut your losses and part as amicably as possible, Bored in the USA. You deserve to have a boyfriend you respect and admire, and he deserves never, ever to be referred to as “a man-shaped puppy.”