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Carolyn Hax: In a relationship standoff, does ‘I need less’ trump ‘I need more’?

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Adapted from a recent online discussion .

Dear Carolyn:

What do you do when you’re dating someone who wants to spend a great deal more time with you than you yet feel ready to give?

I feel like an inadequate girlfriend to this wonderful man I’ve been seeing for a few months and am afraid I will lose him. We have talked about it a lot, and we just seem to be on different tracks — he’s on the fast track toward full-time coupledom, I’m on the slow track. He’s not happy with this situation, and neither am I.

I went through the divorce from hell over the past couple of years, and I feel like that experience has clouded my ability to give him everything he really needs now. Help.

Bad Girlfriend

Wait a minute — why is this all about what he needs? Why his moping and pushing? Why isn’t this equally about what you need, which is clearly a slower pace, more patience, more room to breathe?

Everyone deserves this, but you’ve emerged from the divorce from hell — there’s added urgency for you to save your trust and affection for people who show respect for who you are. You’ve let this guy know you need to slow things down, and what is he giving you? Zero respect, with a “not happy” cherry on top.

Whenever a couple are dating and come to a standoff between “I need more” and “I need less,” the “I need less” wins — not because it’s fair, but because it’s awful to make people spend more time with you against their will. Please take a very hard look at this person who will not take your “no” for an answer.

Re: More/less standoff:

If “I need less” wins, “I need more” is free to move on to find someone whose time and space needs are more compatible, right? “Bad Girlfriend” says she doesn’t want to lose him and she’s not happy that she’s not in a place to give him more. Isn’t it equally disrespectful to put him in the situation of waiting until she will want more?

Anonymous

No. She hasn’t “put him in the situation of waiting.” She has merely said no to his request for more of her time and more of a commitment. He’s the one who responded to that “no”’ by waiting — and nagging — for more.

If he doesn’t want to wait, then, yes, he’s free to go.

If that’s not persuasive, then switch the object of his desire: Right now he wants more of her time, but let’s say instead that he wants to have sex, and she’s saying no, she’s not ready.

Are you really going to argue that her saying no is disrespectful to his needs?

It’s the pressuring for something that hasn’t been freely granted that’s the problem. A person can ask — the boyfriend in this case — and then see how the other person handles that request, then he can like it or lump it.

Unless you want to be miserable and recruit a mate to be miserable with you, in which case pressure is an excellent way to make that happen.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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