The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Repressed Boyfriend

Should I keep dating a guy who is emotionally closed?

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner: Deanna, you’re considering pursuing a guy?


Deanna: Hi, how are you?


Dr. Kenner: Good.


Deanna: Actually, I’m kind of in a relationship right now with him. He is just very, he’s not an emotional person. He basically, I always ask him how he feels and stuff like that, and he doesn’t have anything to say. I don’t know why he keeps everything bottled up inside. I try to do things that he wants to do and it’s just, I think I just need to not pursue him anymore.


Dr. Kenner: So what you’re learning is what, from that relationship?


Deanna: I’m basically learning that I think I’m giving too much. I’m giving maybe 80% and he’s only giving 20% and I don’t think I should see him anymore. I wanted to ask you about it and see what you said, but I don't think I should talk to him anymore.


Dr. Kenner: It sounds like you’ve already come to the conclusion, but it’s such an incredibly fascinating topic. When you’re with somebody who is emotionally closed or shut down, what you experience is just deadness. You’re with them – “Did you like that movie? What would you like to do today? Tell me, what are your thoughts? They were really arguing, your family was arguing. What are your thoughts about that?” “Oh, nothing.” It’s like there’s no inner life. No person there. You don’t get the richness and dimension of a person whose mind is active. 


Deanna: I understand.


Dr. Kenner: Does he have any hobbies? Anything he loves in life? Anything that makes him break through that repressive curtain?


Deanna: He’s a carpenter and he likes to do side jobs and he basically outside things like swimming and snowboarding and stuff like that. He went for winter, but other than that, he never really took me snowboarding or anything like that with him. It’s basically when he wants to do something. He’ll call me last minute or something like that. It’s never set plans. 


Dr. Kenner: So you don’t see anybody that has a long-range perspective? The reason I’m asking these questions is, you’re in the dating field right now. You want to find a partner, right?


Deanna: Right.


Dr. Kenner: So you want to be able to take away from this experience some pointers of what not to look for and what works. What I’m hearing is, you want somebody who does share their inner life with you. Obviously you don’t want them insecure, but you want to have a thinking person. You want to have a person who has personal values too. If they say, “I don’t care. I’ll do whatever,” and there’s never anything, you feel like you said, like you’re 80% and he’s 20% or you’re 90 and he’s 10, and it doesn’t work out. You feel like he’s just shadowing your life, but you don’t have a partner. You don’t have an equal. If you feel like you’re working too hard in a relationship, to make it work, that’s a big tip off that something is missing for you. If he doesn’t plan long-range, he likes swimming and snowboarding and oh well, he may invite you, but you don’t get a sense of, “I’m passionate about swimming, I would love to take you to this,” I don’t know, where would you go on a swimming vacation? To the Caribbean! Let’s make it fun. He might not have that money as a carpenter, but why not in fantasy go there. So you want someone more vibrant. What are you thinking of telling him?


Deanna: Well, basically I’m probably going to just be, “You know what?” The thing is, I hate to stay friends, because I’m not good at being friends with people after I’ve dated them.


Dr. Kenner: That’s common.


Deanna: I kind of just maybe want to cut it off, as far as not answering my phone or calling him. 


Dr. Kenner: Which leaves him completely in the dark. Does he have any heads up? Have you talked about any of this before?


Deanna: Yes. I’ve talked to hi about it numerous times. I know maybe you’ve been hurt in the past, and I’m not that person to hurt you and I’m just trying to hear you out and get past it, and he doesn’t really say much. It’s like he’s numb.


Dr. Kenner: That’s a good way to describe it. The image that came to my mind is, if you were in an intensive care unit and listening to a heart monitor, or looking at it, you want to see the beeps, the little chart go up and down so you can see the heart beating. You don’t want a flat line. And you don’t want a flat line emotionally with a partner either. Obviously you don’t want a guy who is so hot – I don’t mean hot in a sexy sense, but hot in a angry sense – that you’ve got too much emotion and it’s very irrational and splattering all over the place, but you want someone who can breathe emotionally. 


One of the things you can do, if you’re looking to break it off, one of the things you can do is to ask him, you can say, “I’m feeling like it’s not working out for both of us.” The first step, I put it on an equal playing field “for both of us.” Those are the key words. “My guess is that we might not be a good match because it must be frustrating for you. I’m asking you what’s going on and that’s not your style. It looks like you would want a woman who takes you as you are and would enjoy that. And I’m looking for something a little different and I think there are so many wonderful things about you,” assuming that’s true. If there are not, don’t say that, but something kept you in the relationship for a bit. So maybe you can name. Maybe there are not so many wonderful things, but, “I admire your carpentry work. I enjoy watching you swim and I enjoy seeing the photos of you snowboarding. We’ve had some good laughs together and sometimes it just doesn’t work out and I thought I’d give you a heads-up on that.” That might help.


Also, I wrote a book with a co-author, Dr. Ed Locke, and we have a whole section on how to find your soul mate. It’s got multiple chapters, how do you introspect when you get the feedback like you’re getting – what does this mean, that he doesn’t talk? Was he abused in the past? Would he open up and become a dynamite partner or should I just give up? We talk about the values, having interests and tastes that are similar and personality and habits and your attitude toward money. There’s so much. You could go to my website. The book is called The Selfish Path to Romance, but that means self-valuing, self-esteem. Thank you so much for your call.


Movie clip:

Male 1: Hello Dr. Crane, this is Chet in Whitby Island. I gave you a call last year? I was having problems with low self esteem?

Male 2: I see. And did my advice help you to become more assertive?

Male 1: Damn straight. Now people say I’m downright arrogant. But you know what I say? Screw ‘em!

Male 2: Well, perhaps you took my advice just a bit too far?

Male 1: Who the hell are you? Screw you too.


Dr. Kenner: That’s obviously from Frasier. Have you ever been with somebody who goes from being a wimp – I mean, they don’t express themselves, you try to draw them out or really, “Tell me what you’d like to eat today? What movie would you prefer? What do you feel like doing on vacation?” “Oh, whatever you want dear.” They’re a wimp. They can’t speak their own mind. They don’t let themselves. And then they decide to change and they come out gangbusters and are saying, “I’m going to do whatever I damn well please. This is the movie we’re going to. This is where we’re going to eat. And this is the vacation we’re going to take.” And you go, “Whoa. What happened here? This is not what I expected.” You want to be able to learn how to communicate well and what it means to own your own life. And to speak your own mind and speaking your own mind obviously doesn’t mean being aggressive, and it also doesn’t mean just becoming a doormat, becoming subservient and letting someone else call the shots. Obviously that wouldn’t be speaking your own mind.