Hello hello! Welcome to the first of my new series, AMA (Ask Me Anything - couldn't think of a non-cheesey name ffs so any decent suggestions are welcome), a weekly feature which sees us sitting down and having a chat about one anonymously submitted question about work, love, life, and everything that comes in between. As this is the first post, I'll pop the boring but necessary disclaimer in here.
I am by no means qualified to tell anybody what to do with their life - I'm the kind of person who still refuses to answer No Caller ID phone calls - so all I can offer is my (hopefully well-balanced) opinion with the aim of 1), offering something interesting to read, and 2), sharing problems which I often get messages about anyway, in the hopes that it can not only offer some relief for the writer, but anybody who is experiencing the same issue(s) too. It's lighthearted and chill, intended to be like a couple of friends dissecting their lives over a bottle of wine. The comments are open for constructive and supportive discussion, but pls don't be a bellend.
If you want to take part, please email email@example.com with AMA in the subject line. All submissions are anonymous, but if you're concerned about being identified, then it's probably best to not send anything over. Just in case! Now, without further ado, onto the first post...
“I've been seeing a guy for 9 monthsish, we haven't explicitly had 'the talk' but neither of us are seeing other people and spend pretty much every weekend together. I'm 27 and he's 30.
He's had a lot of shit growing up with rejection from parents which I think has left deep scars and also had a very controlling ex. My mum says I'm always attracted to broken people who I want to try and fix.
He won't however, refer to me as his girlfriend EVER, wont hold my hand in public, hasn't met my family or friends, never tells me he loves me, doesn't make future plans with me etc (I know this makes him sound like a typical fuckboy but TRUST ME he couldn't be that even if he wanted to). I've accepted the fact that I love him and probably always will love him more than he loves me but am I just setting myself up for heartbreak and how the hell can I communicate this to him without him totally shutting down? I feel trapped in a situation that is of my own making.”
There is so much to unpack here, so pull up a chair and pour the rosé.
*le deep breath*
I think sometimes when we really want something to be true, or when we really want something to happen, we can fill in the gaps of what’s missing with assumptions or concessions or hope for what we believe might just happen if we sacrifice enough. It’s obvious how deeply you care for this guy from the way that you’ve written, but in the act of writing itself, you’ve already demonstrated that what he’s offering isn’t enough for you. Otherwise why would you be asking if you’re setting yourself up for heartbreak in the first place?
The first thing I’m drawn to saying is that situations like this are never as black and white as they seem when they’re condensed down into a couple of hundred words. My initial reaction - as I’m sure many other people’s will be - is to scream DUMP HIM MOVE ON LOVE YOURSELF GO GET IT. Whenever any of us hear whisper of a ‘fuckboy’, that’s our natural inclination, right? Bin him off and forget it. Dispose it. Trash it. But I think there’s so much more to the situation than just chalking it up as one for the burn book.
In my opinion, him not calling you his girlfriend is not necessarily the issue. Neither is him not introducing you to his family or engaging in public displays of affection. Those things are important - if someone respects and loves you, then naturally they should want to introduce you into their personal life and be proud and excited to do so - but I don’t think it’s as simple as saying ‘oh he’s messing you around, he clearly doesn’t care, get rid’.
Just as you’ve expressed history with 'fixing' partners and how that’s shaped you as a person, he too has some shit going on behind the scenes. I’m not necessarily defending his actions, I’m just trying to appreciate that two different people coming together with 27-30 years’ worth of independent ingrained history is a complex thing. And the reasons for why he isn’t solidifying that relationship and confirming it could be multitude: maybe he’s struggling with commitment; maybe he’s closed himself off from being emotionally vulnerable; maybe he is just a fuckboy, and your declaration that he isn’t comes from a place of worrying that he is; maybe he is prioritising other elements in his life like work or wider family; maybe he just doesn’t like you enough to commit, a shitty but possible truth (you obviously know him better than me!). From my end, sitting here trying to guess why isn’t really productive, however, because the end result is the same. It’s not what you want, it isn’t enough for you, and you aren’t happy. His motivation for the most part is irrelevant, if the outcome is still you feeling trapped or on the road to heartbreak.
You’ve made it clear that you want more from the relationship than he’s so far been willing to give, but I think that you need to make that clear to him too. You need to have that ‘talk’, and the PROPER talk, at that. Not just the pre-chat where you dip your toe and then quickly backtrack because fuuuuck that water is cold.
It doesn’t matter how awkward or uncomfortable or potentially shitty the conversation is, it needs to be had, otherwise you’re going to continue to exist in this limbo where you’re sort of connected but not really. Unless he’s some kind of TV magician then it’s unlikely that he’s a mind-reader, too, so you need to give him all of the information in order for him to make an informed decision (or an uninformed reaction, depending on how things go).
If you’re worried that in discussing this with him, you might scare him off, then that in itself is an indication of what you already know. His emotional (in)ability isn’t your responsibility or your burden to bear. Sure, you might be more able to express how you feel, but he has to be at least willing to try. You should be able to have honest and open conversations without fear of him receding into himself; your emotional capacity shouldn’t be limited by his, in other words.
I know it’s hard putting your heart on the line when the fear of being hurt becomes an increasingly likely possibility (especially when you’ve experienced that in the past), but try and draw some strength from the fact that you’re just doing your duty to look after yourself. There is no shame in offering love and not having it reciprocated. Being “rejected” isn’t shameful. What you’ve done is offer someone something which is really precious and really beautiful, and the other person hasn’t been in the place where they can accept that. Maybe of their own fault, maybe not - either way, that’s for them to deal with, not you. Offering love isn’t weakness, it’s strength.
Ultimately, you have to be your own cheerleader, and you have to set standards for the love you accept. Who you are and what you possess is a valuable and precious thing, and as hippie and new-age and ~ internet ~ as it sounds, you really have to big yourself up. And in my opinion, resigning yourself to accepting a ‘less than’ love does the opposite, because something will always be lacking.
If you had written in and said that it doesn’t particularly bother you that he doesn’t call you his girlfriend, then I would say 'go get it girl, do what you want'. The label itself doesn’t matter if you’re happy with what you feel he’s giving. But you want more, and if he can’t or won’t give that, then you might have to force yourself through a tunnel of shitty heartbreak in order to come out the other side. Obviously I’m not trying to tell you what to do - I’ve only heard a few hundred words of the entire situation - but value who you are and the love that you’re offering and hopefully that will help you to make the decision which is right for you. Something tells me you already know, though.
The truth is, it could obviously still work out. I’ve been chatting as if the relationship is doomed from the beginning, but there are so many possible outcomes. Maybe you have the ‘talk’ and he opens up and you’re able to build a really meaningful and fulfilling relationship together; maybe you have the ‘talk’ and he runs a country mile; maybe you decide to say nothing and he eventually changes his behaviour (I’ve known this to happen IRL!); maybe you decide to say nothing and you end up boarding the one way train to heartbreak city. I think the important thing is to make sure that you have the conversation, and force yourself to be as honest and vulnerable as needs be to properly communicate what you’re feeling. Again, offering love - even when it isn’t returned - isn’t weakness, and if you’re going to move forward together, it has to be on a level playing field, heading in the same direction.
Sending you lots of big squeezes and love. You got this girl. x