Q: My boyfriend lacks romantic ambition. In our two years together, we’ve never gone out to dinner someplace I can wear a dress and heels, and he never brings me flowers or does anything for our anniversary or Valentine’s Day. I´ve suggested he pick out lingerie he’d like to see me in and shown him how to set a romantic mood in our apartment. I’ve told him things like “Nothing makes me happier than fresh flowers, especially lilies,” and tried flat-out asking him why he never brings me flowers. He said, “I was thinking about doing it yesterday, but then I forgot! But now that you´ve asked me, I don´t want to because it will seem like I bought them just because you asked.” When I encourage him to take initiative in planning a night out, he’ll say that he’s worried he’ll choose wrong and that I complain about things I don’t like, so I always end up deciding what we do. I know he loves me (from his other actions); I just want some romance! It’s as important to me as good sex and intimacy. Should I just accept this as his flaw?
A: You two have a fairy-tale romance. Unfortunately, it’s the part of the fairy tale where two elves stand around scratching themselves in a mud hut.
You aren’t asking for much. It would just be nice if Valentine’s Day felt like something other than a Tuesday and if, on some random Tuesday, he’d stop at the grocery store and pick you up some flowers. Otherwise, even St. Paddy’s Day can be a downer. You’ll see him getting himself a green paper hat and drinking two-for-one green beers — which stands in stark contrast to how he celebrates your anniversary: by getting amnesia.
You’ve done everything but hand him a pictorial to-do list complete with store addresses and closing times. So what’s stopping him? Well, maybe because he doesn’t need this flowers and chocolates business, he thinks you shouldn’t, either. And if he starts doing sweet things for you, he’ll have to keep doing them. And we all know how buying flowers and making reservations at a restaurant with white tablecloths is like breaking rocks in a quarry.
The problem is, as I wrote in a recent column, women evolved to feel a need for commitment cues from men. They didn’t have cute cards back in the Stone Age, but a thoughtful giftie of fresh roadkill (some wildebeest that got trampled by elephants) probably made some ancestral lady’s heart go pitter-patter. And that’s the point here. Falling in love isn’t like falling in a big bottomless hole (one tumble and you’re done). There’s maintenance required. Your boyfriend should care about doing the little things that make you happy. If he doesn’t, maybe instead of going for “long walks on the beach” (planned by you), he should be making short trips out to his car to load up boxes of his stuff.
Explain that you need him to do these things so you feel loved, and explain that the only way he can really go wrong is by doing nothing. Even the smallest remembrances count — like scrawling a heart on a Post-it and anchoring it with a chocolate or drawing “You ’N’ Me Forever” on your dirty car window. You, in turn, need to be sure you show appreciation for whatever effort he does make — even as he’s seductively drinking Champagne out of your scuzzy old bedroom slipper.
Q: My boyfriend loves making fun of me, although he calls it “just ribbing.” I’m not humorless, just tired of hearing about how badly I drive or how long I take to order food. Yesterday I mispronounced “cumin” while reading a recipe, and he had a field day. What ultimately bugs me is that I’m most often made the brunt of a joke when others are around to witness his hilarity.
A: Just because a convenient subject for humor presents itself (or you happen to pick it up in your car and take it out to a restaurant) doesn’t mean you should seize the opportunity. If your current relationship were a movie, it would be “Eat Prey, Love.” Good-natured teasing can be a bonding thing, but publicly making fun of somebody sensitive is often an act of aggression. It’s possible that the behaviors your boyfriend “ribs” you about annoy him and his joking is scorn dressed up in clown shoes. Tell him that being the joke butt isn’t working for you and that he either needs to find another source of material or another girlfriend. If he loves you, he’ll take the mature, restrained approach to getting laughs and stand on a chair trying to light his farts on fire.