The Incredible Sulk by Amy Alkon

Dear Amy: I hang with friends about twice weekly and also like my alone time. The guy I'm seeing not only wants to be together constantly but seems to need that. He's upset and anxious on nights I'm not with him. The first time I said I couldn't get together, he was annoyed. He now complains I'm "dependent on" my friends, meaning unhealthily. He claims a great relationship is two people who are always together (a la "you complete me"). I don't want to hurt him, but I won't give up my friends or myself for a relationship, and I don't know how to tell him --Conflicted

Dear Conflicted: Dating sites work very hard to be inclusive in the type-of-partner options they list -- "man seeking woman," "man seeking man," and even "man seeking genderbeige" -- yet they omit a checkbox for "man seeking hostage." 

That appears to be the model for your man's ideal relationship (as an adult who gets "upset and anxious" on nights his boo's away). Though he paints his longing for nonstop togetherness as the height of romance, his "You complete me!" is not so much a romantic declaration as an accidental disclosure of extreme neediness. It also makes him a poor match for any woman whose relationship goals are best summed up as: togetherness, yes; conjoined, no. 

As a woman, you're likely on the high end of the spectrum of a personality trait called "agreeableness." On a positive note, this plays out in being "kind, considerate, likable, cooperative, (and) helpful," reports psychologist William Graziano. On a less positive note, it often leads to prioritizing these lovely behaviors over one's own needs. 

A personality trait is not a behavioral mandate. You can shift out of auto-"pleaser" mode by pre-planning to assert yourself -- "Here's what I need!" -- and then doing it, no matter how uncomfortable it feels at first. The more you do it, the more natural (and even rewarding!) it'll feel -- till your default position becomes standing up for yourself instead of rolling over for everybody else. 

Guesstimate how much weekly togetherness and apartness works for you, and make it clear to men you date -- starting by informing your current guy that your social world will continue to extend beyond being his human binky. In short, the sort of relationship that works for you is one in which you're bonded but not zip-tied.


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