Life in the Fastened Lane
I’ve been with my boyfriend for a year, and I love him, but I also love my independence. I need alone time, meaning space from him and everybody. He wants to spend every minute together and seems to need constant closeness to feel okay. Is this a bad sign – on his part or mine? Should I want to spend every second with him?
The sort of relationship where the partners are never apart tends to be a good thing for only one of them: the tapeworm.
Chances are your boyfriend’s preference for a more, uh, conjoined style of romantic partnership is shaped by his “attachment style.” “Attachment” is British psychiatrist John Bowlby’s term for a person’s habitual way of relating in close relationships: for example, securely (feeling they can generally count on others to be there for them) or insecurely (suspecting others will bolt on them at any moment).
Our expectations for how we’ll be treated by romantic partners appear to be driven by how we, as infants and tots, were treated by our closest caregivers. For example, if infant us shrieked out of fear or hunger or because of a soggy diaper, did our primary caregiver (usually Mommy, but maybe Daddy) reliably come running to soothe us and fix the problem? If so, we’d be likely to develop the psychological orientation that psychologist Mary Ainsworth, building on Bowlby’s work, called a “secure base from which to explore.”
If, however, our shrieks were ignored or only sometimes met with comforting, we’d likely end up “insecurely attached,” and this would become a template for how we act in our adult relationships. (Hello, fear of abandonment and boyfriend whose romantic role model seems to be “court-ordered electronic ankle monitor”!)
Decide what independence means to you in practical terms, such as how much alone time you need and anything else that’s important for you, and tell him. Research suggests a person can change their attachment style – become more secure – but it takes a good bit of work on their part and their partner’s (through frequent reassuring attention and cuddly touch to challenge their expectation of abandonment). Are you and he willing to invest the effort? If not, you probably have to swap him out for a partner who’s more emotionally together: “I need you because I love you” (not “... because I feel like a gaping human void without you”).
This guy texts and FaceTimes me daily, and he finally asked me out. I was expecting a date, but it was a group dinner in his friend’s backyard, and he didn't make a move all evening. I was sure he was into me, and we’re both fully vaccinated. What's his deal?
Sexually, if your date is a total animal, you’d prefer it not be the sort that gets bungeed to the hood of a hunter’s station wagon.
The underlying problem here is “information asymmetry,” which Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz explains as “Different people know different things.” (Asymmetry is simply a lack of symmetry, sameness: disproportion between parts of something, including unequally available information.) Information asymmetry is an element of“signaling theory,” an area of economics that looks at the ways people behave – flowing from the decisions they make – because ofthe information they have (or lack).
In this situation, you know you want the guy to end the evening all mwah-mwah-makeout, but his mind might be filled with a bunch of bouncing question marks about whether you’re into him. It’s also possible he realized he’s just not that into you, he wants to take things slowly, or he’s generally timid about making moves on women (or especially so in hopes of avoiding #himtoo).
What ends the asymmetric information stalemate? Information! Send signals revealing the information you have that he does not: “I'm into you and want you to make a move!” Flirting is the ideal way to communicate this, as it gives each of you an ego cushion – the ability to pretend it doesn’t mean what it seems to mean – that putting it out there in plain words does not. Powerful forms of flirting include: looking into his eyes while you talk, touching him, playing with your hair, and playing with your clothes or his. Err on the side of flirting heavily – way more than seems reasonable – because men can be a bit hint-blind.
His getting this information is likely to push him into action – or tell you he’s gotta bow out. But maybe consider being a little bit patient. It was one date! My guess? Life mirrored art: those rom coms where the “nice guy” wants to kiss the girl at the door, but – whoa! There go his testicles, leaping out of his pants and going off to hide in the bushes, and he gives her a handshake goodnight.
Order Amy Alkon's book Unf---ology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts & Confidence (St. Martin's Griffin, 2018).