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On Ask Polly: How Do I Make My Boyfriend Listen?

AH yes! I totally *JUST* figured this out, like, a few months ago, when Polly's column about the tepid men made me go "Waiiiiit a sec..." (Specifically this line: "They don't happen to love you, is all. They don't think you're a math genius or a historian, and they're gonna call bullshit. They think that when you talk, you're wasting their time a little.")

I, too, am a sharp knife. I was in a relationship for 2 years with this dude who gave me this exact feeling--that any time I had some ideas I tried to share, he was humoring me, he was rolling his eyes inside. That he saw it as something he could *stand* to do because I'd probably go down on him later if I thought we'd had some good talks (I wasn't fooled, but he wasn't wrong that he could scrape by by pretending). He wasn't a bad guy! The reason it lasted as long as it did was because he was in fact a really sweet, thoughtful, gentle, funny dude whom I often had a lot of fun with, who made and gave the most thoughtful gifts, who gave great hugs and kisses, could tell when I was sad and asked me about it (...but then instantly regretted he had). When we were keeping conversation light, or to stuff he cared about, things were great. But gosh, I felt awful, and resentful, and part of the reason it lasted so long was that--no joke--I loved his family so much, I was worried they'd hate me if I ended things.

I realized that he wasn't even seeing the parts of me I thought were the best--that I'm quick, that I have lots of ideas that come out when I'm going on and on and on about something, that I AM A GOOD LISTENER (he never really needed a good listener. He was into keeping shit light! Or at least, he never shared his heavier stuff with me), that sometimes when I'm going on and on about something kind of heavy I'll suddenly spot some irony that is so hilarious I can't help but laugh. My good friends see this about me. They seek me out for it. But you should also be able to show this to your partner, because that person should bring out the sides of yourself you love best, instead of making you feel like they're a little bored by you.

I met someone else (nothing happened with this person until after I ended things with my ex, but the desires were strong. As it turned out, this again was not a dude who could handle a sharp knife, and that ended in a disastrously funny way, but I won't get into that), and I told this ex of mine, "Hey, I really think we should break up. I think we aren't really in love with each other? I think we're both really comfortable here but I think you aren't in love with me, I think you have a crush on that coworker you always talk about, and I think I'm starting to resent you, and I think I've met someone else, too, which may not work out [spoiler: it didn't!], but it means I'm not fulfilled here."

He was sad but, perhaps unsurprisingly, totally relieved! We see each other about once a month now and as a friend, he is GREAT at listening, at making me feel heard. And he's realizing i do the same for him, which he never capitalized on while we were dating. (My life is also a lot better now, in general, so we probably talk about less heavy stuff.)

LW, Polly's advice is perfect. You like to talk! Sometimes about serious stuff, sometimes about really interesting stuff, probably. Your boyfriend's ill-timed distractions are perhaps consciously accidental, but also may be indicative that he's just not that into All The Talking. It's possible to be compatible in a ton of other ways, but not having your partner really hear you, and WANT to really hear you, sucks, even if you have that outlet elsewhere in your life. I think people just need that for an intimate partnership. Good luck!

Posted on April 16, 2014 at 4:00 pm 2

On Ask Polly: I Moved To A New City To Be With An Emotional Vampire

@Sharilyn Neidhardt This is true, and as you mention, those normal, non-vampire are harder to find. They are especially harder to find, as Polly aptly points out, if you don't have a strong sense of who you are, what you're doing, what the value of that is, that you are the protagonist in your own life. These dudes who offer immediate, intense affirmation parading as love or even amorous feelings of any kind are a welcome distraction if you don't have all of those questions figured out or if you dislike who you are a little bit but too tired to do the work to change that.

Somewhat recently, actually, I met someone who instantly wanted to exchange a zillion texts a day and spend all his free time talking to me and told me how great I was and how intense the connection he'd felt when we met was. And he was smart and good looking, and we actually had a lot to say to each other, and I was mired in a several-months-long job hunt that left my self-esteem, my sense of purpose in life, and my sense that I was really writing my own story, totally ravaged. I had been in therapy before, and it had taken 2 years of solid work to build this sense of self (my issues before were pretty different), and then some weird stuff happened, and I fell into a vortex of questioning every positive conclusion I'd managed to come to about myself. Was I *really* that smart, or had I simply been fooling everyone and myself for a quarter century? Was I *actually* interesting, or were the people who loved me just humoring me and then secretly rolling their eyes when I left the room? Was my family *actually* supportive of my newfound career ambitions, or were they just smiling politely while desperately hoping I'd come around to something more 'respectable'--and, if the latter, were they right that my new aims and goals were stupid, even though I was passionate about them? Etc. I had a lot of work to do on myself, but I just hoped that I'd find work and it would magically fix everything.

And then I met this dude who was really gorgeous and interesting and chivalrous, and we spent hours one magical evening looking into each other's eyes and talking about I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT because I'd been drinking for hours, but man, that was INTENSE. And he seemed to think I was the bees knees, and since I wasn't entirely sure he was right, I got really invested in him because I felt that he probably saw something beautiful and worthy about me, and that if I stuck with him he could help me relocate what had been lost. So for several weeks we talked constantly (he did not live in my same city, but near enough so that visiting was easy), and then when I saw him again, the magic was gone. Because the person he'd felt so intensely about was entirely a projection: it wasn't me--even if I had been at my best, this ideal woman he'd imagined I was would STILL not have been me, because it turns out, blech, I have almost nothing in common with this man. And in addition to being my projection, the person I'd gotten so wrapped up in was sort of an affirmation of what I wanted to believe about myself but for which the realities of my life were no longer serving as evidence. This is actually humorous to me now because we were so completely incompatible in a way that would have been glaringly obvious if we had spent more than an evening talking in person.

So then he disappeared and I was confused and hurt, and since I was not thinking about myself as the person whose feelings and happiness and emotional safety should be my first priority at that time, I spent a while trying to get a hold of him and figure out what went wrong. He'd given me this artificial and temporary sense of stability and a feeling that, if he found me valuable, I must be, so then when that was gone, I felt worse than I had before I met him, because it seemed to confirm that, I'd been right before, I'm just not that great or valuable.

I don't think this dude was a vampire, but there were red flags. I do think he was lonely and hadn't had a relationship in a while. And it only hit me when, as we finally had a conversation (which, had I been more grounded and sure of myself I would not have needed so desperately to have with him before moving forward), he said that things had just stopped being "magical" and that he didn't feel a connection with me after all, that I realized, HM, maybe this man has some underdeveloped understandings about love and how you treat even someone you've decided you're no longer interested in (i.e., not by disappearing off the face of the planet and forgetting that that person is a person with feelings). So best of luck to him, but I've not spoken to him since and do not regret that for a second.

However, this experience was really a wakeup call in that it compelled me to address, somewhat painfully, how I got there. I started therapy again. I confronted the stuff in my life that was daunting to me that I had been procrastinating addressing, and that was making me feel horrible and dumb and worthless. And I took a good long break from dating, because who was I, even? Like, how would I present myself to the world, if I didn't even like myself that much? My friends didn't really seem to grasp this but I knew it was the right move. I 'relapsed' a couple of times, if you will, hooking up on a few occasions with a (different, local) dude who actually probably IS a vampire and makes me feel like shit and like I don't matter, and who still occasionally contacts me late at night (even though we haven't actually seen each other in several months) when presumably he feels lonely and is reaching out for anything, but preferably a warm body with nice boobs who put up with his shitty treatment. Eff that noise. A lady with a fragile, newfound sense of self doesn't need any of that shit in her life. She needs her friends, her cat, some lemon zinger, and some mind-expanding reading. I found exciting work, I moved, I leaned into my passion and applied to graduate school. But I'm still dating only lightly, because right now I'm busy doing me, and if I get invested in anyone I'll mess up the progress I've made.

TL;DR: Great advice Polly. Found myself in a comparable situation recently, sort of stumbled my way through the actions you recommend taking, and feel like I wish I'd had this column 9 months ago. Also even non-vampires can be vampiric. And some dudes are just vampires. And the ones who aren't are hard to spot if you're not emotionally healthy.

Posted on January 29, 2014 at 8:20 pm 4

On Ask Polly: Should I Give In And Be The Other Woman?

LW #1 sounds really, really young. I think Polly's advice was on-point, but I also think it's all some shit this chick will hopefully figure out with some more years and more dating experience under her belt. We've all been there. And we've all been tempted to throw caution to the wind and jump in. And sometimes we do and then we get burned and eventually we learn.

I hope Ms. Catnip figures it out!

It also bears saying: who's to say this lady would be THE Other Woman for all that long? In my experience, people cheating on their S/Os aren't necessarily doing so with only one person...

Posted on July 31, 2013 at 5:42 pm 0