DEAR CAROLYN: My boyfriend of three months constantly wants to be together. We’re still in high school, and see each other there every day. I appreciate that he likes hanging out with me so much, and I love hanging out with him. But I sometimes feel that I need a break.
When he’s asking me to procrastinate on schoolwork, or skimp on practice for an upcoming audition, I start to put my foot down, but it’s difficult. He argues and begs to squeeze a few minutes (hours, a whole day) out of my schedule. Last night, we spent almost an hour confirming that I in fact could not go on a day trip with him today.
Am I avoiding him, or giving him too little time? Should I drop a few activities to be with him more?
And how can I say “no” without being made to feel guilty or suffer for it every time?
– Harried Sally
DEAR SALLY: No. 3: Date someone who won’t pressure you. Or, stop negotiating for an hour after you say no.
Nos. 1 and 2 are your call, but I can connect your letter’s dots for you: Yes, you’re avoiding him somewhat (understandably – he’s being a pest); and no, you shouldn’t “drop a few activities,” because if you really wanted to you’d be doing it, not asking me.
Hectoring someone for togetherness is not romantic. It’s needy, cloying, disrespectful. Granted, if romance novels adhered to this principle they’d be one page long.
But while it may initially be flattering to have someone apparently want you so, so badly, the constant pressure to change your decisions tends to pry out some legitimate questions about the meaning of “you.” If he’s trying to take you away from everything else you care about – things you choose and work hard toward – then does he really like you?
It needn’t even be this high-concept. He wants A, you want Z, and he’s not even suggesting you meet at M; he’s pushing you to the point of discomfort toward A. Is that why you have a boyfriend – to argue?
Time to learn the art of drawing and respecting lines: (1) Decide what you feel comfortable doing; (2) Say yes to things within your lines and no to things beyond them; (3) Trust that if you’re right for each other, then you’ll both be either comfortable with these limits or open to compromise without pressure or guilt.
(4) Walk away from any insisting/arguing/begging/guilt-tripping, every time.
If he continues the pressure and disrespect, break up.
High-schoolers aren’t known for limit-setting mastery, so expect bumps – but stay with it. Entering adulthood, few things will serve you better than some skill at sticking up for yourself.