WEDNESDAY, Jan. 6 — Q: I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on a relationship coach, who instructed me to cut off all sex and even all contact with the guy I was dating until he agreed to marry me. I knew he loved me and wanted to marry me; I just wanted him to do it faster. Sadly, my ultimatum to him blew up in my face; he is done with me. My roommate, who thought the coach’s advice was terrible, just moved in with her guy, despite his being kind of a commitmentphobe. Her approach was to just be loving and patient with him and give it some time (about a year). She said she realized that she had the option to bail if the waiting became too much. I’m confused. Men supposedly don’t get hints. Why doesn’t saying what you want work to get the guy?
—Direct And Dumped
A: Is your dating coach 8 years old? Because “I refuse to speak to you till you propose!” is a (slightly) more adult version of “I’m holding my breath till you buy me that Barbie!”
Welcome to Ultimatum Frisbee! A highly risky game. We tend to freak when our freedom is threatened — including our freedom of choice. In fact, social psychologist George A. Youngs finds that when a potential loss of freedom looms, it unleashes a “motivational state,” compelling us to try to preserve that freedom and fight off any attempts to yank other freedoms. In other words, the more you go all petty despot on somebody — overtly trying to force them into doing your bidding -- the more likely they are to rebel, and maybe even do the exact opposite of what you want.
“Overtly” is the key word here. Your roommate also wanted to wrangle a commitment from her boo. But note the difference in tactics: making it attractive for him to stick around, as opposed to leaving a note on his pillow, “Put a ring on it!” — along with the severed, bleeding head of My Little Pony.
This isn’t to say you should keep your mouth shut about what you want. But consider the difference in controllingness in making a statement versus giving an ultimatum. A statement tells him what you have to do: “I feel bad that you don’t seem to want to marry me, and I can’t continue in this much longer.” An ultimatum, on the other hand, tells him what he has to do: “Marry me or nothing, bucko!”
Also, consider that with “marry me or nothing,” you’re very distinctly putting “nothing” on the table. And maybe at a certain point, this is a trade-off you’re willing to make. But, again, stating it in those terms is probably a bad idea. Keep in mind that typically, a man commits to a woman because he loves her and is better with her than he is alone — much as he might admire her for her attempt to re-enact the Iran hostage crisis on a very small scale.
Q: I’m a 28-year-old girl, and I‘ve been with my boyfriend for several months. He never really apologizes. He’ll say “I’m sorry you feel that way” and never “I’m sorry that I did that.” When I confronted him, he said, “Well, I’m not sorry for my actions. I just don’t want to hurt you, so I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” Am I parsing this too much? Is there a difference between these two apologies?
A: “I’m sorry you feel that way” is the Dollar Tree version of an apology. Sure, it has the words “I’m sorry” and the package seems kind of familiar, but it ultimately goes down like expired SpaghettiOs from Czechoslovakia.
This kind of apology doesn’t make you want to forgive somebody; it makes you want to chase them with an ax. Basically, instead of taking responsibility for what they did or said, they’re using apology words to blame you for feeling bad about it. Which is like saying, “I’m so sorry your window was too lame to open itself when my golf ball was heading toward it.”
And sure, “Sorry you’re offended” is sometimes appropriate, but when it’s always somebody’s apology, it suggests they have no connection to the possibility that they’ve done something wrong. This is a trait common to narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths, reflecting a lack of empathy. (Their saying “I’m sorry you’re hurt” is just a sneaky way out, not an expression of care and concern.)
Consider whether the “I’m perfect; you’re oversensitive” model will work for you long term. If not, tell him what you need and see whether he can or will give it to you. If you don’t see a change, the best way to teach him may be by example: “I’m sorry, but the number you have called has been disconnected.”
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