Dear Carolyn: I know this is going to sound SO DUMB.
My boyfriend participates in the Renaissance Faire. He enjoys this greatly, and doing so has greatly enhanced his self-esteem.
However, what this means for me is that from October to April, his life is pretty much that. It’s all he talks about. It’s all he cares about. He is gone every weekend from February to April.
At first I was very supportive. I said, “If our relationship is meant to last, then this will be but a drop in the bucket … .” Now that I’ve gone through the first year of it, I feel very differently.
I work a very stressful job, and weekends were pretty much when we were spending our quality time. Now it feels like we’ve been apart forever, and I feel as though our relationship has suffered.
I really want to talk to him about this, but I am also averse to being a controlling girlfriend. I thought about asking him to compromise and only work part time at the Faire next year, so no overnights, but I don’t know if that’s asking too much or if I’m being selfish.
I thought about joining myself, but I don’t want my life to be taken over the way his has.
A: The specter of control is so controlling.
You are entitled to have needs and desires. You are entitled to express needs and desires. You are simply not entitled to bully or manipulate someone into serving your needs and desires.
Saying, “I am torn – I see how much you love the Faire and I am happy for you, but I don’t like essentially losing you to the Faire from October to April,” does not make you a control freak, or a manipulator, or a nagging girlfriend. It makes you a SO NORMAL human being who has the capacity and sense to articulate your needs and desires.
Two people on equal footing in a relationship do this for each other: When their feelings are strong enough to be significant, they share those feelings and give the other person a chance to respond. The alternative is to be quietly unhappy and leave your partner to either divine your unhappiness or miss it entirely – at least, until it spills over as a much bigger, more consequential issue than it ever had to be.
As long as you recognize that what each of you does with the information is up to you, to share is to show respect.
Consider parents, first
Dear Carolyn: I need a reality check. Is it out of line to want a preliminary family meeting to discuss next steps for our aging parents to include just the adult siblings and the parents, i.e., not my sister’s husband and brother’s live-in partner of several years?
I am single and don’t think that’s why I’m asking to limit this first major conversation to our family of origin. I also don’t think I should have to explain why I have this preference. Does this sound out of touch?
A: Yes, but maybe not for the reason you think.
Your parents get to decide who has this conversation, not you.
If they don’t care, are incapacitated or are vulnerable to arm-twisting, then it’s worth explaining your preference. Whether you “should have to” explain is irrelevant and, worse for your interests, defensive.
It’s also important to acknowledge, as part of your explanation, that partners and spouses deserve their say. Any “next steps” will affect them significantly. It’s important – and nondefensive – for you to acknowledge that upfront.
Once you do that, then your sibs will likely be more receptive to your thoughts on what you prefer and why.
Unsolicited caution: Unless you feel you must protect your parents, consider being flexible on this. Chances are good that you have bigger battles ahead.