Ask Wendy

How do I Learn to Hold My Boyfriend to a Realistic Standard?

Friday, June 22, 2018
Hey Wendy,

When I first got into my relationship, I was happy. I didn’t make a fuss about too much. He was late all the time and I dealt with it. There were other things that I put up with but as time went on I noticed I couldn’t keep ignoring the things that bothered me.

Eventually, those things made me angry. If he was late, I “nagged” as he called it. I don’t like being a nag but at the same time, I dislike when people don’t respect my time. I notice that when my friends are late it does bother me, but I won’t argue with them for it either. I’m not sure if his lateness is what really bothers me or his ability to act like it wasn’t a big deal that he’s late. I’m angry nearly all the time in this relationship, not just because of the late thing but because he downplays every situation and it feels like my feelings are invalidated. I don’t want to be angry. We’re two years in and I don’t know what to do.

Linda ~ Santa Rosa, California

Hey Linda,

There’s an old Pagan custom called handfasting. Like an engagement period, two people would declare a binding union between themselves for a year and a day. It’s like a trial marriage. It gives the couple the chance to see if they could actually survive marriage. After a year, the couple could either split as if they had never been married, or decide to stick together for the long term.

I think this is genius because a new love’s charm often has us running straight at our target with our eyes wide shut. Then when the newness wears off: damn it! Turns out there are things that just aren’t tolerable about the person you were so sure was the right one.

You two are caught up in a loop. You are angry, and he chooses to try and defuse your anger by downplaying every situation, which clearly only makes you angrier. It’s time for a time-out.

What do I mean by a time-out? Can you remember when you were a kid on the playground at recess and you were in the middle of playing a group game, and suddenly one kid (or a couple of kids, or the whole other team) started pulling some bullshit move(s) that seemed really unfair? You needed to call a time-out to sort out the problem since it was taking your game totally sideways! You had to re-establish ground rules, remember? Yeah, this is that, just the grownups’ version.

Now, unfortunately, on your playing field, the rules were never clear to begin with. For him, it was okay to be late because you were cool with it at the start—or, at least, you seemed to be. He’s “late guy.” That’s his thing. And you said nothing, even though this bugs the crap out of you. Somewhere midstream, this game went sideways because you changed the rules (or tried to change him) without getting the other team’s buy-in. But it’s not too late to change the score.

I know you’ve probably already mentioned this in your anger, but I’d like you to start fresh. And I’d like you to own your part of this problem. Here’s a sample of how this could go:

You: “Hey, I want to share something with you. I’m sorry I’m mad all the time. I’m going to knock that off, because I don’t want to be mad. So, can we start fresh?”

Wait. Listen. See if you get his buy-in.

Then say, “There’s something important that I neglected to mention to you when we first started dating. Lateness bugs me—a lot. I feel disrespected and unimportant when you are late. Would you be willing to be early or on time to meet up with me from now on?”

Wait. Listen. See if you get his buy-in.

Continue: “And if you are late, will you please own it and apologize instead of downplaying it? I think the downplaying it makes things worse for me—and for you, too.”

Wait. Listen. See if you get his buy-in.

Continue if he’s willing: “Do you need anything from me? Can I help you in any way so being on time isn’t all on you?”

Wait…what?! Am I asking you to ask him if you can help him be on time? Yes! I am. Why? Because being on time is not important to him. It’s important to you. So be a willing partner who’s able to help him give you what you need.

One thing he might need is a reminder. That’s a common answer. Can you do that? Would you be willing to remind him to be on time? Maybe that looks like texting him 30 minutes before he’s supposed to arrive. Maybe that looks like setting reminders for him on his iPhone.

And you know what? Ultimately, he may not be willing. He might think, “I was Late Guy when you met me, and you knew this about me. Take me or leave me.” And if that’s the case, you have a choice to make: Dump him and find On-Time Guy, or keep him and decide that lateness is acceptable after all and not worthy of your anger. But please, don’t do that thing that so many couples do, which is stay, not get what you need, be mad about it, blow up about it, and repeat. Ugh.

We should all take a page from the Pagans. Handfasting. We need that time and space to see each other for who we really are, work out the deals, and then re-commit for reals.

Good luck!

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