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May 15, 2000   CONTINUED e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


Dear Breakup Girl,

I've been dating my boyfriend for five months. He's 32, an attorney, and I'm 27, a third-year law student. We see each other as frequently as our insanely busy schedules permit -- sometimes just once a week, sometimes three or four times a week. I usually spend the weekend nights at his house, and maybe we'll have dinner during the week. We share common interests, goals, values, and, in general, I'm quite happy.

The problem: I don't want to be a "high maintenance" girlfriend.

My last serious relationship (three years of living together) ended with great evilness on both our parts, and the lasting legacy I took from that relationship was a constant feeling that my complaints must be logical, rational, sensible, and expressed quietly and at a time convenient for "him" (whoever him is). My ex-boyfriend really trained me well!

Now, when I feel irritated or hurt by something my current boyfriend does (and so far they've been relatively minor, inadvertent things), I talk myself out of expressing myself about it -- maybe 75-90% of the time. I don't want to sound whiny, demanding, insecure, or any of those typically "girly" things. Am I crazy for even thinking of them as "typically girly"? But when I catch myself thinking, "I wish you'd compliment my eyes the way you used to when we started dating," or "I wish you wanted me to spend the night more often, even though we both have to work early in the morning," I seem to picture my boyfriend either responding, "Wow, you have pretty eyes" just because I asked him to (not because he felt that way inside) or worse, saying "No, I just don't want you to spend the night more often," or worst, thinking to himself while he says anything else, "Geez, all girls are alike; they want constant reassurance and attention, and I don't have time for this kind of neediness!"

So help me find a way to word my requests without being whiny or demanding or "high maintenance," and help me get over this idea that expressing my wants and needs is symptomatic of being insecure and high maintenance (unless it IS insecure and high maintenance, in which case just shoot me)!


Dear Georgia,

Well, since you're asking BG instead of him ("You would tell me if I were high-maintenance, right? I mean, you would let me know if it started to feel like I was badgering you, right? 'Cause I'd really hate to think that you're sitting there thinking I'm high-maintenance when all I really want is to make sure I'm not being annoying. So you would tell me, right? Right?..."), you're probably in pretty good shape to begin with.

But while we're here, let's try to amplify the "context," as discussed briefly above. You might worry that you sound naggy/girly, but arguably, you have no idea how he would hear such things. For example, well, look how "well" your last boyfriend "trained" you. What about this guy's GF-1? Maybe she was a prickly Porcupina who skewered any attempt at sweetness, so he "learned" to hold back. Maybe she was the girl in the first paragraph, in which case you are either (a) by comparison, a breath of low-maint air no matter what you do, or (b) in trouble, as he's primed to prick back at the slightest hint of "that again." Hmm! Don't know if that's reassuring or terrifying, but the point is, he's gonna react how he's gonna react all by himself.

That said, Georgia, humans are insecure and high-maintenance. We are. (Remember, BG was bone-crushingly jealous of her BF-2's crush on Benazir Bhutto. Fortunately it wasn't that hard to keep them apart.) Even the cold distant fishies among us are just the preemptive "Other humans can't breathe in water! I'll be safe here!" version of same. It's just that some of us are better than others at letting our superegos muffle our whiny ids. And telling the difference among (to partner) "Um, it's more important for you to rub my feet than it is for you watch that documentary about the leadership of India in the 20th century" and (to self) "Um, it's more important for you to rub my feet than it is for you watch that documentary about the leadership of India in the 20th century," and (to self) "I am actually not being treated like the The Bomb that I am." ("Or, at least, sometimes I don't feel like I am, so -- note to self -- let's get to the bottom of that.")

That parenthetical statement is actually not so parenthetical. Ask him questions about him, and about you, plural. Like -- this is going to sound a little dorky, but you'll know what I mean -- "Hey, are there ways we could bring back some of that giddiness from month M-5? What think?" Or "Let's figure out some ways for us to spend the night and get to work on time. What say?" That kind of thing. Not that anyone should walk on eggshells in that "Don't bother Daddy when he's in the den" sort of way, but hey, if you can't get something going this way in the first place, then, well ... see "The Bomb," above.

'Cause Georgia, well, it's not like you're on the Breakup List or anything. But BG can't help but observe that your description of your relationship -- though the elements you cite are key -- has all the romance of a Secured Transaction UCC Article 9 filing. I don't know, maybe I'm reading too much (little) in here. But heck, maybe you are being too careful. Maybe what you really want to say is, "Dammit, adore me or else!" And be willing to act on the "else." Not because he's been "bad," but maybe because "it's" not there? I mean, there's worth-it work, for sure sure sure. But it must grow from bottom-line commitment and passion and legit challenge (e.g. lawyers'/law school schedules), not float in indifference. (I'm honestly not sure which this is; forgive me if I'm way off. Just (all of you) remember that leaving when you know you need to is really low-maintenance.)

Breakup Girl

PS: CJanelleS, this is also a shoutout to you. I'm tired of your doing all the work.



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