How to Let Go Of An Emotionally Repressed Man

December 22, 2015

Welcome to the last post of 2015! I wish all of you wonderful holidays and lots of love in the new year.

emotionally repressed manYou all know I receive a lot of emails. I can’t possibly answer all of them, and I usually zero in on the ones that contain all the information I need to make a reasoned judgment. This email from reader Abby lacked key details but I’ve never gotten one like it before, and I found myself wanting to know more. We wound up going back and forth a couple of times.

Abby’s in a relationship with an emotionally repressed man, and she’s having a hard time ending it. There’s a lot going on here, and I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts – I’m sure Abby will too!

Hi Susan,

I’ve been reading your blog for several years and have really appreciated the clarity it provides in a very unclear dating environment! From reading your blog I put together the clues that my long-time crush was ambivalent about me. So I worked on my “girl game”, went on a bunch of dates and started seeing a really great guy. After three dates I could tell he was serious about me. And by date four he was asking to see me exclusively.

UNFORTUNATELY my long-time crush finally asked me out just before. I see now that I acted too quickly and ended things with a very nice guy to see what could happen with my crush. We’ve been dating now over a year and many of the signs of ambivalence (or shyness, or cluelessness… I can’t tell!) are still there. Many times I have been deeply disappointed by his lack of communication and flakiness. While there are still lots of things I love about him, I think it may be time to break things off.

I also tried to follow some good advice to talk about my concerns with him often. I think he’s well aware (though maybe in denial) of the issues I’m facing.

Where I could use advice is in how to do it! I have tried to start that “last conversation” so many times.

Any words of wisdom?

Thanks so much! I recommend your blog to all my dating friends!

The first thing I wondered was why it’s so hard to end this relationship. Abby spells out in caps that she wishes she hadn’t ditched the promising guy for her current boyfriend.

I also wondered whether his original ambivalence was suppressed when he heard she was seeing someone else – that would be a red flag, because it’s more about the competition with another male than being attracted to Abby suddenly.

I figured that Abby felt that after crushing on the guy for so long, she had to explore that possibility – that’s very understandable.

I wrote back with these questions:

How have you begun those conversations? How do they get derailed?

I will usually begin the conversation by texting him to set up a time to talk. Generally I’ll tell him about a pattern of interactions we’ve had that leave me hurt or uncertain. Examples have been that he doesn’t respond to my texts, doesn’t plan dates, doesn’t initiate conversations about making our relationship better, doesn’t tell me I look beautiful.

Two things will usually happen that derail my intention to break up: one is that he will agree to all or some of what I’ve noticed. And /or two, he will give a reason that confuses me: “I thought that text was just information and didn’t need a response” or “I didn’t know affirmation was important to you” or “I’m not a thoughtful person.” He will say he can get better at this or that and sometimes I notice small improvements.

But overall I would say he doesn’t show those “proofs” that he’s interested, knows where he wants the relationship to go and has the skill and motivation to communicate that to me.

Abby’s boyfriend sounds extremely passive and even withholding. These sound like personality traits to me rather than a reflection of his feelings about this particular relationship. His communication style is very reticent, and he has no plan for the future, or even an awareness of what Abby’s needs are.

He doesn’t really demonstrate love and affection, but when she challenges him he is quick to reassure her that he is invested in the relationship and promises to do better so that she won’t leave him.

One thing I always tell women is that when a guy tells you something about himself or what he wants, always believe him. This guy says “I’m not a thoughtful person.” I find that very strange – he could do something about that. Why would Abby want to date a man who announces he is not thoughtful?

Does he talk about his feelings for you at all? I’m surprised that after a year you’re not sure whether he is ambivalent or clueless.

He talks about his feelings for me a little when I initiate conversations like this. He’ll say, “I am attracted to you,” “I’m excited about our relationship.” But I only hear these things when I’ve put the pressure on.

I think my confusion comes about because I sometimes think he lacks assertiveness or lacks social skills or was raised very differently than me so I will make concessions (he was raised internationally and is of Asian descent). 

Abby is indeed making concessions here. No woman is attracted to a man who lacks assertiveness or has poor social skills. Whether his upbringing explains these behaviors or not, what’s relevant is that this is clearly not a match for Abby’s desires in a relationship. They are not compatible in areas that are very important – Abby may empathize with him, but is unlikely to respect him.

What were the things that drew you to him in the first place to make you crush on him for so long? Have your perceptions turned out to be correct? And do you think he knew about your crush, and your getting involved with another guy inspired him to make a move?

What drew me to him in the first place was his volunteerism and service; he’s very hard-working on the job; he’s good looking; he can be quite funny, smart, quirky and affable.

I would say that all those positive qualities are correct but that within our relationship, not predictable: he is very service-oriented but will forget he agreed to drive me to the mechanic, for example, or visit me after an out-patient surgery I had.

When he asked me out, he had already contacted a friend of mine to see if I was available. She warned him to get a move on because I was seeing someone. So yes, I would say that the timing was in response to his hearing about the other guy but his initial interest was independent of my feelings.

OK, it sounds like this guy does have a lot going for him. But what’s MIA in this relationship is any degree of emotional intimacy. Abby doesn’t see signs of empathy, compassion, loyalty, or the desire to be there when she is counting on him. She doesn’t feel loved.

Finally, what age are you guys?

I am 29 and he is 30. I’m White and he is Taiwanese if that’s of importance.

I had assumed these two were in college! This changes everything. A 30 year-old man with these issues must surely be filed under Avoidant Attachment Style. And at 29 I assume Abby is looking for the real thing, not looking to waste time on Mr. Ambivalent! So in my opinion this needs to end yesterday. The only remaining question is why Abby is finding it hard to pull the plug.

Speaking for myself, I can see many reasons looking back why I was so hung up on a guy who was not that into me. “Reading between the lines” was just part of the game as far as I knew. Plus, when guys were more direct with me it actually scared me off in the past — I found their interest hard to believe — so this guy’s ambivalence was comfortable for me.

And is the case for many, his unpredictability, unreliability and ability to make it up to me with sweet moments here and there reflect the way I grew up with divorced parents. I was inoculated in many ways against ambivalence.

The fact that I’m fed up and dissatisfied enough to consider breaking up (while struggling to actually pull it off) is as sign of growth for me.

Abby’s right that many people who grow up with divorced parents have difficulty knowing what to expect from a relationship, and knowing how to meet the expectations of a partner.

I love the way she describes being inoculated against ambivalence – but it’s also heartbreaking. If we don’t feel like we can count on love, or that we even deserve it – we are unable to receive it. Even worse, we may unknowingly seek out romantic partners who replay and confirm our worst fears.

Abby says as much:

I can see now that he represented a sort of mysterious, aloof, social butterfly that I could have for a conversation from time to time. I wanted more of him and felt like it was my fault that I didn’t get it. So I maintained my feelings trying to wait it out.

I think we have two people here who are not well suited to one another. I cannot imagine Abby ever getting what she (and every woman) really wants from this relationship. He may be a good man, but he’s not right for her. He’s either unwilling or unable to change to make the relationship work better.

Abby needs two things in order to break this off for good.

Reassurance

The first is reassurance. It’s hard to let something go and be single again, even if we’re not entirely happy. But it’s clear that Abby is very self-aware – she’s focusing on self-growth and development. I have little doubt that more – and better – opportunities await her if she gets back out there.

About a quarter of men have trouble with emotional intimacy and connection. Now that she knows the signs, she should be able to avoid emotionally distant men in the future. This will be especially important if she dates men in their 30s, because Avoidant types are overrepresented in the dating pool. (Guys who never commit remain in the dating pool forever and ever.)

Resolve

The second thing I think Abby needs in order to end this relationship is resolve. It’s clear to me that she knows this relationship is not good for her. It’s important that she communicates that certainty to him. The time for “I can do better” is past, and Abby should be unwavering in her decision to end things now.

Getting into the specifics of what is not working is going over old territory and gives her boyfriend openings for argument. Instead, she should kindly but firmly tell him that after a year of dating, she feels certain they are not a good long-term match. She can communicate her respect and warm feelings towards him while wishing him the best. Even if Abby feels uncertain in the moment, or tempted to give in again, I urge her to create a short script before going in and rely on it. For example:

“I’ve given this a great deal of thought. I’m sorry to hurt you, but I know this is the right thing for both of us.”

“We’ve both tried very hard, but we weren’t able to make it work.”

“I’m a person who needs more emotional intimacy than you can give, and it’s not fair to either of us that we are constantly in conflict over that.”

etc.

Dear Readers, please weigh in and support Abby in any way you know how. I know it’s a very busy time for many of us, but this will be the only thread for a couple of weeks, so please let’s do it justice as time permits.