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He stays out late; she stays up fuming

By Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 7, 2011;

Hi, Carolyn:

My boyfriend and I have lived together for two months, and have been dating for 21/2 years. We're both 26. About once a week, during the workweek, he stays out until midnight or 1 a.m. with his friends. Often he tells me he'll be home at x time, then x time comes and goes, and he ignores my phone calls and texts. The combination of his going incommunicado and my being a very light sleeper means that once a week I lie in bed anxiously, angrily waiting for him to come home.

This is just not what I want in living with my boyfriend. We talk, he says it will change, but it's the same. I don't want to impede upon his freedom too much, but I'm not happy. Really, I just want him to come home at a decent hour on weeknights but that seems to be impossible for him. What's the solution?

Just sleepless

There are two common reasons people say they'll be home at x, and then don't come home till y.

The first is bad character. There are certainly people who feel entitled to promise x just to shut someone up, and then do y as they had always intended.

The second reason is immaturity. A person cares about you, wants to make you happy, and will promise you x with the genuine intention to talk himself into doing exactly that. But then the clock starts inching toward y, and, ooh, it's tempting to stay, so much fun is being had, even though he promised you x, and hey what's an extra 15 minutes . . . and it's not like you're his mom or his boss, right?

If you've been getting (and ignoring) little signs that your boyfriend isn't as good a person as you thought, then your next step is, obviously, to arrange the signs into a clue and end the relationship.

If instead the signs point to your boyfriend as immature if well-intentioned, then there's a lot you can do.

You can choose to heed his actions and not his words. If history says he goes out once a week till 1, then expect that once a week.

You can make it easy for him to tell the truth. Instead of saying, "I'd like you home at x," say, "It's better just to say you'll be home at y, instead of promising x and doing y."

You can be as transparent about your thoughts as you'd like him to be with his: "I say this wishing you wouldn't stay out late - but I'm not your mom setting a curfew."

You can invite his transparency: "So, is there a better way to handle this?"

All four of these actions can be condensed into one: Don't complete the cycle of frustration by continuing to do something that hasn't once worked.

Too often, couples come together with an idea of the way things should be, then "anxiously, angrily" watch as reality trumps expectations. Then, they fight.

You can avoid this trap (or, in your case, free yourselves from it) by seeing reality for what it is, deciding what is and isn't a deal-breaker, and either building your shared life from there, or ending it.

Write to Tell Me About It, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com.

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