Hey Carolyn: How do I help my newish boyfriend come to terms with the fact that when I say I need regular alone time, I do not mean “except for you”? When it comes to my wanting time away from my close-knit family and large group of friends, he totally gets it — he is also fairly introverted and takes plenty of time to charge his batteries.
But he seems to like his alone time better when I am around; I “don’t count” as a social obligation. I don’t want to offend him by implying that I feel otherwise; also, I’m worried that I SHOULD feel otherwise (is my significant other the one person I’m supposed to welcome into my space at all times?). What do you think?
Introvert in New Relationship
I think the best way to avoid offending a partner with your own needs and mannerisms is to be fundamentally compatible.
And the best way to find out whether you’re compatible is to communicate your needs clearly.
And the best way to communicate your needs clearly is to trust them, vs. spinning them in the most favorable way or second-guessing your own normalcy.
And the best way to show respect for normalcy as a range, vs. a fixed point, is to treat all (non-destructive) emotional styles and needs as equally valid, just different. Starting with your own: “I love our one-on-one time. I also need one-on-none time.” Don’t apologize for it, or wince as you say it, or in any other way treat it as bad or hurtful or insulting. Think of yourself as an engine specifying the type of oil you need.
If he takes it personally, then loop back to compatibility and recognize this not as your failing to do or feel what you’re “supposed to” do or feel, but instead as a matter of fitting together (or not). If you can give each other what each of you needs without taking a chunk out of who you are, then you’re compatible. If you can’t, then you aren’t. Getting this cold calculation right is the secret to warmth that endures.
Dear Carolyn: My mother-in-law keeps sending us stuff we don’t want, don’t have room for, and definitely don’t need doubles of — framed photos, stuffed dolls (yep, really), and so on. My husband has told her we don’t have room and asked her to please not send stuff, but she does it anyway, and then gets huffy and blames ME when none of it is on display.
How can I get it across that we don’t want her useless crap without saying, um, we don’t want your useless crap? And no, at this point, we don’t appreciate the thought. She seems to want us to decorate the way she does, which is stuff in every square inch of space, which we hate.
Don’t Want Gifts
People determined to upset themselves will find ways to do it, no matter how much thought you put into words meant to stop them. The important thing now is that your husband assumes her blame and redirects his mom. “I know you show love by giving — we could always use [inexpensive thing she could bring].” If he won’t defend you, then that’s the stuffed elephant in the room.