Dean and I have been dating for about three and a half months. It's going well. We've had one minor scuffle, but other than that, he seems to be happy with me and I know I'm happy with him. Still, there are times when I have struggled. This week is one of them.
In his on-line dating profile Dean wrote about being self-employed, being busy with work, and taking projects while he could get them. Because he does short-term contract work, I understand how he feels.
Before we met in person we spent about four months trading emails and talking on the phone. During that time Dean frequently used the excuse of numerous deadlines to postpone meeting me. His obsession with work was a major red flag, but of course, I still wanted to meet him. When we did finally meet, he confessed that the reason he dragged his feet so long was because he wanted to lose a little weight. When he told me that, I assumed his work schedule wasn't as insane as he made it seem. That assumption was borne out over the month that followed, which was June. We met two or three times a week that month, which was as often as my schedule would allow. Then, everything changed in July. He was gone on various trips for nearly the entire month. Instead of seeing him three times in a week, I saw him three times in a month. "Don't worry," he said, "this month is especially bad. I won't have to travel again until October."
He didn't travel at all in August and yet he still seemed obsessed with work. He kept accepting more projects and I began to wonder if his goal was to work himself to death. When I asked him about it, he said he could never turn down a job. "If I say no, they'll find someone else and they'll never ask me again." Fair enough. I get it.
Well...it turns out there's more to his madness than just the fear of losing a client. His wife and kids live in a decent home, something typical for the area, and he lives in a one bedroom apartment, yet his monthly nut is huge. He's been embarrassed to tell me, but he finally admitted that he's never kept a budget and neither has his ex-wife. From what I can tell, Dean must maintain a gigantic workload just to stay afloat. I don't begrudge him that, it's the American Way. What does bother me is that between his obvious priorities of work, kids and other obligations, I feel like he doesn't have much time for me. When he was home in August we met once a week, for just a few hours each time. We talked on the phone daily and that did a lot to keep us connected, but the truth is, I'm frustrated by how little time we're able to spend together.
As much as I could fault Dean for putting himself in a situation where
he's forced to work far more than he says he wants to, I realize that's
his cross to bear. My problem is that I'm needy.
This week has been especially difficult because he's away on a job again. When he's away he seems to fall into a bubble where all he thinks about is work. It's Thursday and he hasn't called me once all week. Yes, we've exchanged a few three-sentence emails, but those don't fill the void.
The bubble that Dean enters when he's working really bugs me. Why is it so difficult to remember to call me when he gets a 15 minute break?
The more time that passes between our phone conversations, the more insecure I get. And the more insecure I get, the more I start to question Dean's interest in me.
I think the fundamental flaw between Gabbie and me was that she pushed me to behave in ways that weren't genuine. I can think of no fewer than six specific instances where I passively tried to break up with her but she steamrolled right over me. That dynamic has been a major life-lesson for me: people have a trajectory in life and they are who they are. Anyone can be manipulated in the short-term (by themselves or by others), but ultimately, the "truth" of who they are and what's important to them does not change. This means that any kind of manipulation, like guilt and complaining, is self-deceptive. I could bitch at Dean and force him to remember to call me, and his more regular calls would make me happy, but in time he'd become resentful of my bossy, needy attitude and that could kill our whole relationship.
Mostly I'm writing this post to vent my frustrations so that I don't take them out on Dean, but I also have a serious question for any readers who care to respond: could my hypothesis be wrong? Can you force people to behave in ways you want them to and still live happily ever after, til death you do part?
Before you answer that question, I have to tell you about the one scuffle Dean and I did have:
During the first week that we met, we got on the subject of birthdays. As soon as I knew his date of birth, I immediately burned it into my permanent memory. Why? Because I knew he would be very important to me so of course I'd want to always remember his birthday. Dean repeated mine back to me twice, I assume so that he wouldn't forget it.
Because my birthday was less than three months away, the burden of setting a precedent for how we'd handle our birthdays was on him. As my birthday approached, I thought about reminding him. Then I thought, no, that implies I expect something from him. It would be better to let him do whatever comes naturally, because that will truly and honestly reflect who he is and how he feels about me.
My birthday came and went and Dean made no mention of it. Forty-six is not a birthday worth celebrating (unless you're 47 or older), so I wasn't particularly sad. What bothered me was the idea that, if I was at all important to him, he would have made the effort to remember it; entering a date on his electronic calendar would not have been a major commitment. But, whatever. I saw him two days later, we had a great time, and I got to entertain myself with the fantasy that I was still 45, so far as he knew.
About two weeks after my birthday was Dean's ex-wife's birthday. Naturally, after knowing her for 20 years, that's a date he has memorized. Late in the afternoon of the day before he called me to say hello while he did some shopping for her. He ended up buying her some books and cds from Target. I don't happen to think that last minute gifts from Target are very personal or thoughtful, but hey, it's his ex. He knows the protocol.
The day after his ex's birthday, we were talking about what he and the kids did to celebrate. It was during that conversation that he realized he had forgotten my birthday. He said, "I know your birthday is about two weeks before or after my ex's, but I'm not sure of the date. When is it??" My answer was, "We already talked about this. I'm in denial about getting older so I don't celebrate birthdays. Besides, you knew the date at one time. I'm sure you memorized it, like I did yours." (Oops. Guess I can be a little passive aggressive sometimes...)
"I meant to write it down, really I did!" He begged me to give him the date and apologized if he had missed it. That, of course, annoyed me even more because it proved that he didn't even know what month it was in.
We ended the conversation with him asking for the date and me saying it's not a big deal. A short time later he sent me a visibly angry email where he said that I'd broken our agreement to be good communicators. He also said that it was hurtful of me NOT to remind him because look how awkward and awful our conversation had been.
We both ended up quickly apologizing for disappointing the other and that was pretty much that, except, I made one very important point to him. I said, "I believe actions are more telling than words. If remembering my birthday was as important to you as you say it is, then you would have made an effort to remember it."
He reluctantly agreed that my point was valid, but defended himself by saying his work is so detail -rientated that once he finishes a project he forgets 99% of what he did. That's just the way his memory works.
I didn't buy that excuse, but, not being a needy, whiny boyfriend required me to shut up and move on, so I did. I will say that he's going to KNOW his birthday is important to me. I can't wait until it's my turn to perform.
A forgotten birthday and living in a work bubble, in my eyes, imply that Dean just isn't that into me. But maybe I'm wrong to think that. Maybe I'm being unfair and I expect him to be more thoughtful than he's capable of being. I don't know.
I do know that either he needs to be trained to be more thoughtful, or I need to be less needy, or I need to make peace with the fact that I like him far more than he likes me. One of those outcomes, or some combination thereof, is the solution, I'm just not sure what the right answer is yet. If anyone has any constructive feedback, I'd be glad to hear it.
I held back from calling him as long as I could, hoping the jerk would think of me and want to say hello. But then decided I needed to stop being a baby and act like a mature adult, so I called him.
He was glad I did, he'd been wanting to call me.
We had a great conversation, etc, etc. He seems to be genuinely interested in me, etc, etc.
I feel much better now. I really do.
I have a strong desire to delete this post and assume that I wrote it in a moment of weakness and unwarranted insecurity. But the truth is, I know the issue of my neediness and his thoughtlessness remains. At this point, it's a very long way from being a relationship-killer, yet I'd like to find some peace with it before it turns into something significant.