Friday, September 14, 2012

Happiness by Force

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.

Epilogue

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.

18 comments:

  1. My perspective.

    Dean sounds like a typical guy. Actually more like a typical bi or gay married guy that has learned to think one thing at a time. Or, as some put it, "compartmentalize". So, when he is into work, he is into work. When he is with his kids he is thinking about his kids. It's got nothing to do with you.

    The good news is that when he is with you, he is with you and enjoying the moment.

    If you like Dean and want to be with him, then accept him as he is. Relax and except this style of relationship: hot and focused when you are together and cool you are not. It may be frustrating to you, but don't be a whiny bitch. Just call him when you want to and let him know you are thinking of him. Do not expect the same in return, no matter how much he likes you. It's just not him.

    Maybe when he has more time, he will think of you more often. I suggest not pushing him. To me that just makes you like Gabby. As my daughter says to my wife - "just chill".

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    1. Hi WillBeBi,

      One of the big reasons I wrote this post was so that I could organize my thoughts and then redirect them in a positive direction. Redirection mostly means following your advice to chill. After two decades of being a doormat in my marriage, I'm trying to be more open and honest about my feelings. I think that means expressing my frustrations in a reasonable way. Striking a balance between being chill and not being a doormat is what I struggle with. The good news is that I feel like I'm making progress.

      Thanks for your advice and encouragement!

      Delete
  2. WillBeBi says it better than I was going to.

    You are way too early in this relationship for expectations beyond just getting to know each other. The old adage applies....date through four seasons before making any long term commitments....

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    1. I hadn't heard that adage before, thanks for sharing it.

      I had this funny thought: are you saying that if I wait a year, THEN I can start complaining?? Somehow I don't think so.

      As I said to WillBeBi, I'm working on finding balance in a new-ish relationship. I'm a little surprised by my neediness but you know what? I'm working through it. Being able to post here and reflect on the thoughts and experiences of others has been very helpful. Thanks for your advice!!

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  3. My partner ONLY knows when my birthday is because it's the day before his mothers. And even then sometimes he's not sure if it's the day before or the day after. He doesn't even know what month our anniversary is in. But I take it with a grain of salt and REMIND him. Hahaha. His brain just doesn't work that way and in the long run it's not that big of a deal.

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    1. Scott - You're so much more forgiving than me! Putting a date into an electronic calendar is so easy that I find it hard to give anyone who uses one a pass. That said, you're right, ultimately it's not that big of a deal.

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  4. Maybe Dean feels guilty about coming out and leaving his family. So he doesn't want to deprive them of anything, and therefore has no controls on spending. He is correct that if you start turning down jobs as an independent contractor, the work will dry up.

    I think that sometimes people don't realize that some of the things they do are a problem. Often they are perfectly willing to change those things. Problem solved. Other times you are trying to change who someone is, and that tends not to be successful.

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    1. Interestingly, Dean doesn't feel the least bit guilty about coming out and breaking up his family. Part of that is because his wife cheated on him. The other part is that he lived in shame for many years and once he accepted himself he vowed to leave the shame behind by being honest and open with others, especially his kids. He believes that being honest has allowed him to maintain very strong connections with his kids, even though he doesn't spend a lot of time with them.

      I'm working on communicating my occasional frustrations with Dean in a positive way. I'm very optimistic that we can strike a balance that works for both of us. Mostly that requires me to be more patient. I can easily do that, provided that Dean can show he's confident about our future together.

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  5. If someone in my life a few months, that I'd only told a couple of times when my birthday is, remembered it, I think I'd be a little nervous.

    If someone important in my life forgot my birthday it would not phase me. I'm very bad with dates, I forget everyone's birthdays. I was raised in a family that does a lot of gifts-for-no-reason, and just-because-I-was-thinking-about-you kinds of things. We're also spread out over two continents. So specific dates aren't so important since we celebrate our relationships more freely.

    I'm a private contractor too and I can never turn down a job or there will not be another opportunity with that company. RB is right about that. Also it's a good point about Dean's feelings perhaps involving guilt or obligation to his family and how that's manifesting.

    It sounds like you set up and tested Dean, anticipated his failure, and then let him fail. You mentioned that he said there was an agreement for good communication. It would be one thing if you communicated to him that your birthdate is very important to you and you want him to celebrate it with you. And it's entirely something else to just expect him after 3 1/2 months to behave in a certain way without talking about it. Also, there's a big difference between someone being busy, forgetful, new, or different than you are, with being "thoughtless."

    If you did agree to always communicate clearly, a clear communication is probably more along the lines of letting him know how you feel especially if it's bothering you. I don't think holding it in for 2 weeks and then being punishing about it when he brings it up, is good communication. It does sound like some good communication came about as a result of all this though. So that's a great thing. You can chalk this up to a solid learning experience and go forward feeling clearer and stronger with each other. Learning how to be a good boyfriend/partner to someone is a process. I'm glad you resisted the urge to delete this post. I think it was brave to share and that shows a lot of character

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    1. Victor - You make some excellent points. You've defended Dean quite well, which I appreciate. Whenever I'm tempted to be critical of him I'd like to be proven wrong.

      You summarized the resolution quite nicely when you said, "You can chalk this up to a solid learning experience and go forward feeling clearer and stronger with each other. Learning how to be a good boyfriend/partner to someone is a process." That is certainly how I feel. I'm not sure if I'm glad I published the post. Writing it was very helpful but publishing it revealed some of my weaknesses. After spending a lifetime in hiding, I'm really not comfortable exposing any of my imperfections. However, if you say that doing so shows character, I'll gladly take the compliment! Thanks for taking the time to read the post and share your thoughts.

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  6. I'm a regular reader of your blog. The above comments pretty summed up what I was going to say. Add to that, your willingness to to just be manipulated by the other party in your relationships, (which in this case is a GOOD thing) I think you and your new found friend Dean will be just fine.

    I'm just happy for you now that you're in the hands of someone who WANTS to be honest and upfront and has your interested in mind as well.

    I think an overly robust work ethic, and forgetting birthdays, can and should be overlooked. Aren't you happier than you were 6 months ago?

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    1. "Aren't you happier than you were 6 months ago?"

      Oh yes! Dean has definitely been a good influence on me, especially with respect to openness and honesty which have not been my strengths.

      Thanks for being a regular reader and for taking the time to comment!

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  7. Oh...this is so normal, heck, my husband forgets our marriage anniversary nearly every second year. I remind him - thoughtful wife that I am - so that he can at least bring flowers ;)
    For some people dates like Birthdays and anniversaries aren't that important. He sounds typical male to me ;) Don't work yourself crazy over things like that. And for a self-empoyed contractor...he needs to take over work when it presents itself.
    So - I'm in total agreement...don't hold the guys work against him. And if you want to talk to him, call him - it always works in two ways.

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    1. Birthdays, holidays and anniversaries have always been a big deal for my wife. After spending so many years with her it's hard to imagine having a partner who doesn't care that much. It's an adjustment!

      I don't begrudge Dean taking every job he's offered, I just don't want every job to affect me. Whine, whine, whine. Obviously I need to get over myself. I think I just need some time to do so.

      Thanks for reading and commenting Sunne!

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  8. BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT!

    Common respect is common respect. Gawd you are so much like me. Cmon bud, let go of the insecurities and let people know how you expect to be treated. You have to leaen to respect who he is at core BUT HE ALSO NEEDS TO LEARN THE SAME.

    Here is the secret for your personality type. Decide that you are NOT afraid to lose him and that after all of these years your happiness is paramount. Decide that if Dean is not the right one, you WILL find the right one.

    I say your personality type, because your type will do anything to make a realtionship work... even to the point to losing yourself. You have proven and practiced this in your life. Bud demand that you put yourself first now.

    As for Dean, this is not about who he is or you asking him to be something that he is not. This is about common courtesies and respect. You should not have to beg for common courtesy... but you may have to help him understand what you expect.

    PRIORITIES:

    You first
    Dean second
    Your relationship with him third place.

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    1. Rob - I hope you'll see this reply. Ever since you posted this comment I've been thinking about what you've said. You've hit the bull's eye.

      I need to expect (even demand) respect from the people in my life, including Dean. I've allowed myself to be bullied and trampled for so long that I thought I could only be a doormat.

      The combination of your comment and some recent, good conversations with Dean have made me realize how essential and powerful small displays of respect are. How can I expect him to be enraptured with me if I'm a pushover? Strength is attractive, much more so than being a patient people pleaser.

      Thanks a lot for your comment. It's made a big difference.

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  9. I have to agree with Bi Gentleman here. You need to have someone who you can count on and will be there for you. The birthday thing is just a small symptom of the larger issues.

    Don't call Dean for a while and see if he calls you.

    And start checking out other guys - there has to be someone out there just right for you. And it could be Dean; maybe he will come around.

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    1. I don't think Dean's been deliberately testing me, but I do think he's been subconsciously sending me signals that he needs a partner who is strong and demands respect. If I'm not able to step-up then he'll lose interest me; that's the path he's been on.

      All of this is to say that you and Rob are right. This is a small symptom of a larger problem and the burden is on me to prove my worthiness.

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