Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Maybe boyfriend needs things spelled out, maybe he's a taker
Sick: I was sent home early from a work trip with the flu. I got home around 1 a.m. and texted my boyfriend to let him know. I didn't hear back from him till around noon the next day, when I chatted with him online. He asked if I needed anything, and I said I'd really love sherbet and tissues, but I can manage without.
Later, I find out that he's not going to come see me because I don't "need" anything.
I realize he's not my mom, but we've been dating two years and all I want is to feel like someone cares enough to take care of me. In his defense, he said he had a meeting that evening, but it turns out he got the day wrong and there was no meeting. And he said if I had really needed something, he would have made it happen.
Am I overreacting?
Carolyn: I want to say yes, and that if you wanted him to come take care of you then you shouldn't have tacked the "but I can manage without" onto your wish list, and that it's important to be clear about your needs — because making it about your choices makes the answer snap together faster.
Life includes setbacks, and going through it with someone who doesn't have the impulse to care for you when you're down can be a very lonely experience.
I don't necessarily think you should break up over sherbet, but do take this sickly downtime to think about how giving he is in general.
Specifically look for a habit of pushing things off. "You said you'd manage without," "Valentine's Day is a made-up holiday," "You like things cleaner than I do," "Those places are all touristy," "I'd rather be spontaneous." These are the trail of bread crumbs that lead to the eventual discovery that you've hitched your life to a taker, and that any generosity in your lives will be coming only from you.
Anonymous: I can see my husband doing something like that before I learned to articulate my needs. In your case, that would be, "I don't need anything specific, but I do need you to come over." It can also translate to lists of things to clean rather than "helping around the house," specific things you want him to plan, etc.
We're sort of taught that people who love us should be mind-readers, but they're not. Some people (like my husband) aren't afraid of asking for what they want, and don't always understand when you don't come out with what you want.
Now that I'm comfortable articulating my needs, I kind of like it this way better. And if I ask for something, he always comes through.
Carolyn: Great stuff and great context, thanks.
Still — you and your husband were able to meet in the middle, and you now articulate and he gives. For others, the idea that a sick person needs care doesn't rise to the level of "mind-reading," and having to spell it out wouldn't feel like meeting in the middle.
For someone with that legitimate belief, a mate who needs the spelling-out treatment is not an ideal choice.