I have a good relationship with my boyfriend of a year except for how he ignores me when he's stressed. The first time this happened, he disappeared for a week and didn't respond to texts or voicemails. He later explained he'd been swamped with work and apologized repeatedly. Last weekend, he again disappeared for a week. After I texted and left voicemails, he finally texted, "Work is big right now." He has told me he likes me because I don't complain or try to get his attention when he's busy. Actually, I'm a wreck when he disappears. My ex would also ignore me for weeks and then text like nothing had happened. Stupid me for staying around for two years, as it ultimately ended when he texted me that he couldn't talk to me anymore because he'd gotten married. — Scared Of History Repeating Itself
When a guy you're dating ignores your texts and voicemails for weeks, you don't call him your boyfriend; you block his number so he can never call you again — and long before his excuses go from "I got a little busy" to "I got a little married."
Men do seem to have more of a "fight-or-flight" response to stress, but the impulse to drop out is just a tendency, not a biological mandate. If a man cares about you, he will somehow manage to overcome his teensy-weensy feelings of discomfort to stay in touch with you, even through tough times in his life. Sure, now that messages are no longer delivered by the Pony Express, letting you know that he still cares can sometimes take some effort — perhaps even tapping his finger eight times on a tiny wireless gadget and hitting "send." And yes, I did see your boyfriend's excuse above: "Work is big right now." Right. Besides being your "boyfriend," is he also known as "Barack Obama" and "The Leader of the Free World"?
History is repeating itself because you're repeating yourself. Like one of those robothings in The Terminator, no matter what indignity a guy blasts you with, you drag what's left of you upright and go back for more: "Hey, just call me when you have some free time — maybe between marriages." You probably even take it as a compliment when your boyfriend admires how you're all "I am victim, hear me roll over" when he ignores you.
Beverly Engel, in her terrific book The Nice Girl Syndrome, cautions that the motive for being "nice" in the face of cruel treatment is often guilt, shame, fear of confrontation, fear of rejection, and an intense fear of being alone.
Being so compliant is pretty counterproductive because men are into the thrill of the chase, not the thrill of a woman who's on them like a tick on a dog no matter what they do. To be treated with respect, you need to be the disappearing one; disappear from the dating scene until you develop the self-respect to express your needs like you have a right to have them. You'll be ready to date when you require only one person in your life to feel whole — and it isn't some guy who does with your dignity what other people do with Quilted Northern.
Between a walk and a hard place
I've had a seven-year crush on an acquaintance despite how, whenever I see him, he barely remembers he's met me before. I'm now eight months into a relationship with a wonderful man. While at a bar with him, I ran into my crush. He was all over me and e-mailed later to ask me on a hike. On one hand, it's just a hike. On the other hand, I'm terrified to risk losing what I have. — Conflicted
Sure he wants to go on a hike — a hike your skirt up over your head. It's tempting to have your shot at the one who got away. That one's usually more sparkly and exciting than the one who holds your hair back after a few-too-many at a party lands you on the roadside, giving what's left of the grapes back to nature.
The question is, who really wants to go on this hiking date, you or your ego? You determine that by laying out the qualities you find essential in a man and seeing whether your boyfriend has them. Also consider that a relationship takes more than finding somebody with a blast of bar charisma; it's a "culture" two people create by being together. If your relationship is really good, you're gambling a lot. Much as you want to believe your crush has finally "seen" you, maybe he has just seen that you're taken and wants to engage in a little poaching — the kind where the thing you bag in the woods gets to ride back in the truck cab instead of roped to the hood.
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (advicegoddess.com). Alkon is the author of I See Rude People: One Woman's Battle To Beat Some Manners Into Impolite Society.