Carolyn Hax: Fending off a boyfriend who wants to monopolize her time

Carolyn Hax
Columnist March 11

Dear Carolyn:

My boyfriend of three months constantly wants to be together. We’re still in high school, and see each other there every day. I appreciate that he likes hanging out with me so much, and I love hanging out with him. But he’s insistent on me being with him whenever it’s remotely possible. I sometimes feel that I need a break.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

When he’s asking me to procrastinate on schoolwork, or skimp on practice for an upcoming audition, I start to put my foot down, but it’s difficult. He argues and begs to squeeze a few minutes (hours, a whole day) out of my schedule. Last night, we spent almost an hour confirming that I in fact could not go on a day trip with him today.

Am I avoiding him, or giving him too little time? Should I drop a few activities to be with him more? And how can I say “no” without being made to feel guilty or suffer for it every time?

Harried Sally


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

No. 3, easy: Date someone who won’t pressure you.

Or, stop negotiating for an hour after you say no.

Nos. 1 and 2 are your call, but I can connect your letter’s dots for you: Yes, you’re avoiding him somewhat (understandably — he’s being a pest); and no, you shouldn’t “drop a few activities,” because if you really wanted to you’d be doing it, not asking me.

Hectoring someone for togetherness is not romantic. It’s needy, cloying, disrespectful. Granted, if romance novels adhered to this principle they’d be one page long (He: Run away with me! She: I do love you, but I also value my friends, family and activities. He: I’m disappointed, but understand. ~*The End*~.) But while it may initially be flattering to have someone apparently want you so so badly, the constant pressure to change your decisions tends to pry out some legitimate questions about the meaning of “you.” If he’s trying to take you away from everything else you care about — things you choose and work hard toward — then does he really like you? Or just your physical presence? Possessiveness, after all, is an abuse precursor.

It needn’t even be this high-concept. He wants A, you want Z, and he’s not even suggesting you meet at M; he’s pushing you to the point of discomfort toward A. Is that why you have a boyfriend — to argue? To be continually challenged or negated?

Time to learn the art of drawing and respecting lines: 1. Decide what you feel comfortable doing; 2. Say yes to things within your lines and no to things beyond them; 3. Trust that if you’re right for each other, then you’ll both be either comfortable with these limits or open to compromise without pressure or guilt.

4. Walk away from any insisting/arguing/begging/guilt-tripping, every time. You: “I can see you Friday, no sooner.” He: [Pressure.] You: “I like you. I have things to do. I won’t go eight rounds on this.” He: [Pressure.] You: “I’m going to hang up now.” Then do. Enforcement is the linchpin.

If he continues the pressure and disrespect, break up.

High-schoolers aren’t known for limit-setting mastery, so expect bumps — but stay with it. Entering adulthood, few things will serve you better than some skill at sticking up for yourself.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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