Dear Carolyn: I recently started dating “Mike.” We have been dating for a few months, and we get along well and have fun together. But …
Several times a day, Mike will text me how happy he is we are dating, then ask if I feel the same. If I don’t respond with enough enthusiasm, he is hurt and assumes I am losing interest.
When I ask what he wants to do, he’ll say, “I don’t care, as long as I get to be with you,” leaving me to make plans. And he always finds some way to be touching me – holding hands, arm around my waist, and so on. I am not very “touchy-feely.”
This is driving me crazy. I have tried to explain that I don’t need to be reassured every day. I have explained that I would rather show my affection in real life rather than through a text.
My friends seem to think he is just insecure and I should be grateful to have someone who is obviously so interested. While I am trying to be patient, I’m starting to have real doubts. I feel smothered, rightly or wrongly, and am about to “accidentally” break my phone. I am having a hard time drawing boundaries and tactfully explaining that I need more space. I am afraid of hurting his feelings.
A: When something irritates, oppresses or, especially, creeps you out in a relationship, never ignore that feeling. Never resolve to “be patient” for some larger cause, no matter how sparkly your friends make the cause seem. Your alarms are going off. It’s not just (past) time to heed them; it’s also time to look deeper into why you’re so uncomfortable with setting boundaries, and with telling a clingy man to step off.
Putting “just” before “insecure” is a good way to set an advice columnist to bursts of frenzied typing. We all have insecurities, yes – but we are not all controlled by them. Many people take care (and summon the necessary discipline) to counterbalance those doubting inner voices with more productive truths about themselves and others.
People who live in service of their insecurities ignore those productive truths – such as what others want and need, what their relationships need, and what is healthy for themselves.
You know exactly in which category Mike lives.
Meanwhile, you’re not even serving your “First hurt no feelings” goal. It’s impossible, for one. And, only three things can happen here:
(1) You can love the way Mike shows love.
(2) You can not love it, and tell him so.
(3) You can not love it, and try and try to be “nice,” all the while leading him to believe things are going great, until you finally go AAAUUGH! when you simply can’t abide being touched.
So here: “Mike, I feel smothered – I’m uncomfortable with this much text and touch and torch-carrying.”
Ouch, yes, but waiting indefinitely for a visit from the tact fairy is cruel. Tough break, Mike. If you respond to a hard truth by sulking, though, that’s on you.