Two Sense: I Feel Like I'm Doing All the Work in the Relationship, Help!
I’ve been dating a guy for eight months, and we get along great. We see each other every weekend, play volleyball together once a week, and have a good mix of alone time and friend time. The only thing we struggle with is my need for more affection, attention, and initiation on his part, which makes me feel insecure. My gal pals say, "If you want to go over and cuddle, call him and tell him! If you want him to take you out, tell him!" And whenever I do, he always responds positively. So sometimes directly expressing my wants works really well. But sometimes I want him to initiate. It bothers me that I want more of his time than he wants of mine. It kills the desire if I constantly have to say, "I want to come over! I want you to text me more!" I've expressed this to him and he usually kicks it up for a week or two and then we get back into our comfortable routines and I start feeling anxious or needy again. I am a Type A proactive planner and he's the laidback don't-commit-till-Friday-night passive one. So I'm wondering: are my expectations unreasonable? Is this a big enough incompatibility to be deal-breaker? Or should I back off, stifle my personality somewhat, and be patient, letting him initiate in his own time? But I don't want to play games. Help me figure out how to feel empowered in this situation!
He Said: In one way, you describe exactly why you are a good match with your new BF. Two "Type A proactive planners" could spell disaster as your organizing prowess surely would collide, especially if your own tendencies ever veer into "controlling territory." It sounds like he's really comfortable allowing you to take the lead, perhaps even prefers it, which is a good sign for future compatibility. However, this situation is not entirely pleasing to you, causing obvious distress and self-doubt, so you'll need to discuss how he can step up his game and take a leadership role from time to time without needing a nudge from you. It sounds like this does not come naturally to him, so he'll really need to explore what is preventing him from doing what is just an ordinary human courtesy--the art of reciprocation. But that does not let you off the hook. You will need to explore how you can give him the room to be himself and express his own agenda for spending time together. It is not "stifling your own personality" to create a safe space for your BF to change and grow. It is, in fact, an act of generosity from which you will both benefit for years to come.
She Said: I’ve been on both ends of this dilemma: the one who wants more attention from my partner, and the one whose partner wants more of my attention. Both of them are turn-offs. Having to ask your partner to initiate is an oxymoron; by asking, you have initiated, and thus the feeling you want (of being sought after) doesn’t manifest. On the other hand, it’s no fun being in your boyfriend’s shoes either. Hearing your partner continually say, “Pay more attention to me!” makes a person start to feel more like a babysitter than a lover.
You asked how you can feel empowered. There are two failproof ways to feel empowered in any situation. First, act on your own needs and according to your own temperament. You say that when you take the lead and he responds positively, it sometimes works well. Great! Go with that. Get more comfortable doing it. I can assure you that as you age, this is a skill that will make you both happier and more attractive as a woman. You’re a Type A person anyway, and those traits don’t tend to change. Embrace your desire to plan things ahead of time and see him more often and simply make it happen. If you want to cuddle, jump on his lap. If you want to go to the movies, tell him to meet you there. There are worse things in life than having a boyfriend who responds well to your plans and desires.
The second secret to empowerment is a little more difficult: Accept your partner exactly as he is. His temperament is laid-back and non-initiating. The sooner you accept this, and decide whether you can live with it, the better. No matter how long this relationship continues, this too will be a skill that will serve you well over the years, with any partner (or coworker, boss, friend, or relative—bonus!).
You’ll notice, however, that if you do both these things, you’ll inevitably come up against that wall again: feeling insecure and anxious. When that happens, instead of immediately trying to get your partner to alleviate that feeling for you, just notice it. Sit with it a while. See if there’s something you can do to make yourself feel better without your partner’s involvement. You may even find that this feeling makes you withdraw a little from him. This isn’t a “game.” It’s a natural boundary and if you respect it, by focusing on yourself and not compulsively chasing him, you may be surprised to find that he takes a little more initiative… not because you hounded him about it, but because relationships are balanced systems, and when one partner pulls back, the other usually steps forward to maintain a baseline of connection. If this happens (and there’s no guarantee it will, hence the anxiety), you’ll not only feel more empowered by taking care of your own insecure feelings, but you’ll also get the relief of knowing that he can step forward, when you give him the room to do so.
Confused? Curious? Heartbroken? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org