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It might be matter of upbringing, but it's also matter of control

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

It might be matter of upbringing, but it's also matter of control

Yesterday's column reminded me of something that's bothered me for a while.

Anywhere: My "boyfriend," for lack of a more adult term, is older than I am by a couple of decades.

When we go to parties or friendly get-togethers, he doesn't feel comfortable leaving me there alone. He says he was raised to see leaving one's girlfriend "unescorted" as rude or wrong behavior.

So, if he wants to leave the party, I go too; or he stays and I feel bad for "making" him stay; or if he doesn't want to go to the party in the first place, I don't go. Not formal dinner parties, either — I mean things like a barbecue.

He says it's a gesture of respect and a sign of his upbringing; I say it's a little too close to saying I can't be trusted on my own.

He says he is happy to stay later if I don't want to leave a party yet, but I think that's missing the point; I find it a little smothering. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Carolyn: It may be "a sign of his upbringing" (though I suspect the age gap is a red herring), but a sign of your upbringing is that you are perfectly comfortable without an escort.

You are also not comfortable having the dictates of your upbringing routinely overruled by his.

The "Oh, by the way . . . " tone of your question suggests it's not a huge source of conflict, but if he refuses to meet you halfway, it is a real problem.

Anywhere again: I haven't figured out how to meet in the middle, though.

If I insist on staying and tell him I will get my own ride home, then I'm ignoring his discomfort and doing what I want.

If he insists on always waiting around or on my leaving with him, then he's doing the same to me.

In this case I see my own view as objectively correct, but of course I would, because I was raised that way . . . I'm sure he sees his view as objectively correct, too.

I suppose technically I could ditch the guilt and say, "I'm doing X, and if you feel you have to wait around, then so be it" — but then I still feel just a tiny bit like I'm being kept on a leash. He asks why I mind him being there, and I guess the answer for me is that mandatory togetherness is too much.

Carolyn: The middle is where you both realize that each choice will leave one of you uncomfortable, and therefore the only fair approach would be to mix it up so the same person isn't always stuck feeling uncomfortable.

I'm actually proposing this against my strong impulse to take a harder line.

The truth is, this "discomfort" each of you feels is not equivalent. He is uncomfortable with your independence. The equivalent discomfort would be with, say, his dependence.

But that's not the case here.

You're asking for, effectively, less control over what he does, and he's insisting on having more control over what you do. That means you're the one with the standing to ask him to back off. Please ask yourself why you're loath to do so.

It might be matter of upbringing, but it's also matter of control 03/02/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 2, 2009 4:14pm]
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