Q: My partner of five years gets upset because I don’t miss him when he is away or during any time we are not together (we don’t live together). I’ve tried to explain to him that I don’t miss anybody, not even my son or grandchildren. Yes, I love to be with them and when I see them or him I am happy, but when people go away I just keep myself busy and don’t really think about what is not there. I think I just live in the present. I never get lonely and have a few friends that I see on a weekly basis. I have several sisters and see them at least once a month.
I have always been considered a “loner.” My parents would wonder why I would be happy just sitting on the porch reading a book watching the neighborhood go about its business.
I really love my partner and all of my family and friends. But I don’t need to see or talk to them every day. Is this normal?
A: It’s your normal, which is pretty much all that counts.
It sounds like a gift, by the way. Consider the efforts and years and thousands many people expend trying not to live in their pasts or in some unattainable future.
But no life is ideal if you have to spend a big chunk of it explaining yourself, so it’s probably worth a good last try to walk your partner through it.
Points worth hitting on the way:
(1) He imagines your feelings, apparently, only as versions of his own. That’s particularly inapt for you, given your distinctive wiring, but it’s an unproductive strategy across the board. When any of us tries to understand the way another person feels, Step 1 ought to be this mantra: “This person is not me, and therefore may have a completely different way of seeing, feeling and responding to virtually everything we both encounter.” Would he be willing to try this with you for a while, to see if it changes his perspective? Fortunately this way of thinking does become habit, so if we commit to it, our minds don’t have to stay in this verbose and scoldy place for very long.
(2) Your way of seeing him is joyful. You love him and enjoy him and don’t feel the pain of absence in between. Can that be enough for him?
(3) If being missed by people is the only way he can feel loved, then you are sorry to disappoint him. You don’t want to cause him pain.
(4) You will support him in getting what he needs. If there is something concrete you can do for him that he thinks would help, like initiating plans more often, then he need only ask. What you can’t do is become someone else emotionally – not for your own son and grandchild, not for your sisters, not for your dearest friends, and not for him.
You can only choose not to engage further in this recurring argument or discussion or quest or yearning of his. That’s the option you unlock with the detailed discussion of what you can and can’t, and will and won’t, do: You can then say, “I’ve said my piece. May I change the subject, or do you need some time to yourself?” To disengage kindly and with patience is your last, most loving recourse.
Whether to accept you as you are is emotional work he has to do on his own – to understand that you can offer him only what you have, and he can only stay or break up on those terms.
Q: I received a Christmas gift from my boyfriend’s mother. (He and I have been dating for seven years.) It was a decorative plate that very obviously had been broken into many pieces and glued back together. The plate was also missing a piece. The family is affluent and the mother is an interior decorator. I am very confused by this gift. I showed it to my boyfriend and he was also confused.
A: The Christmas question sent to me in the spring gets a very different answer from the Christmas question sent on Dec. 26.
Contemporaneously, you can say to his mother: “Thank you for the beautiful plate. Unfortunately, it arrived broken and glued back together – I’m not upset but I’m guessing you’ll want a refund.” When in doubt, make the assumption that puts your loved one in the best possible light, then respond to it accordingly.
Now, though, that response would be strange; why would you take three months to blame the store?
So your best recourse now is no recourse. The gift was weird, but we can all live with a little weirdness in isolation. If you and your boyfriend notice his mother doing other bizarre or thoughtless things, then please do act – kindly, of course, and ideally on the spot.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com