Drama queen

My boyfriend walked out because I didn't hug and kiss him when I came to bed. But I thought he was asleep!

By Cary Tennis
June 6, 2003 11:21PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

My name is Jeff. I'm a gay male and I'm having serious problems with my boyfriend of two and a half years. His name is "Arturo." We're both in our 40s, so we're not teenagers, but you wouldn't know it from what you are about to read.

My boyfriend is 46 and grew up in a large, loving and wealthy oil family in Venezuela. As for me, I'm 42 and grew up in a small, middle-class family in Ohio. Also, there weren't too many hugs being dispensed throughout my childhood. My parents didn't have a very good marriage, but they did the best that they could raising my brother and me.


We both live in D.C. now, and we have separate apartments in the same neighborhood, within walking distance of each other.

I am not the most affectionate person in the world, but I believe that my boyfriend and I have a pretty good love life. At least I thought we did. My boyfriend, on the other hand, is the most tender and affectionate man I have ever known. For example, when I go to his apartment, he'll open the door and proclaim, "Jeffrey, I'm so glad you're here," and then he'll grab my hands and within 15 seconds, he's kissed all ten of my fingers (at least once) right there standing in the doorway. It makes me a little uncomfortable sometimes, remembering my Midwestern roots.

We both have stressful jobs and we get together approximately two or three nights per week. At first, we'd have sex every time we got together, but after a year or so, my job got even more demanding and the sex dropped off a bit because I was always so tired. By that time, we were just having sex on the weekends. During the "sex on the decline" period, I sensed his hostility about it. He would say, "My job is just as stressful as yours, and I can still do it." But that's not really a valid argument on his part because whenever Arturo and I have sex, I'm the one who's doing all the work, if ya get my drift.


About one month ago, we went out together on a Friday night and had drinks with friends. We came back to my place around midnight and he went right to bed. About 30 minutes later, I joined him in bed and fell right to sleep. Around 4 in the morning, I woke up to go to the bathroom and he was gone! I looked all over the apartment, thinking maybe he switched to the couch because I was snoring or rolling around in bed too much. But Arturo was nowhere to be found. His clothes were gone, as well. I looked outside to see if I could see him on the street, but no Arturo. It was, however, pouring down rain (and this is important).

The next day, I called him at home and asked him why he left in the middle of the night. His answer astounded me. "I left because when you came to bed, you did not give me a hug or a kiss." "You've got to be kidding," I thought. So I said, "The reason I didn't hug you or kiss you is because I thought you were asleep!!" And then I said, "I can't believe you walked home in the pouring rain without an umbrella just because I did not give you a hug or a kiss."

He said, "I walked home in the rain because I wanted to catch pneumonia so I could blame you for it." I was stunned. We didn't see each other at all for the entire week because I was not the least bit interested in being with him. His behavior was making him very unattractive to me. And get this, the next time we spent the night together the following Friday, he did the exact same thing again!! This time, he claimed that he woke up in the middle of the night feeling sick, so he wanted to go home. I didn't buy it, though. My friends say he's acting like a child. And one friend said that the pneumonia comment was definitely a red flag.


So now, I'm feeling like the relationship is toxic. I don't want to be around him and I don't know if I can get past these episodes and put it behind us. The thing is, when things are going well between us, I think he's the sweetest, funniest guy in the world, and he makes me laugh like nobody else can. Are our personal differences so different that maybe we should just throw in the towel? I don't think I can meet his needs. I certainly can't give him anything more than I'm already giving him. Maybe I'd be better off with somebody who is more like myself and not so demanding on the affection front. On the other hand, maybe I'm being too hard on him. He admitted that he made a mistake and said that he does not want to break up. But what is going on in the brain of a person who will walk home in the rain in the middle of the night hoping to catch pneumonia?

Do straight people have to put up with this crap?


Don't Blame Me for the Pneumonia

Dear Don't Blame Me,

What do you mean, do straight people have to put up with this crap? Brother, we invented this crap. That walking home in the rain routine is straight hysterical broad stuff. It's the suicidal vamp approach: You obviously don't love me, so watch me take a whole bottle of barbiturates, crawl out on the ledge of our building in a rainstorm, and slit my wrists while holding a gun to my head -- in my underwear! And see if that doesn't make you think twice about ignoring my emotional needs!


But you were sleeping!

What? You think just because I'm sleeping I don't have emotional needs! You don't know me! You don't love me! Waa!

Whether you stay together or break up, I think you need to try to understand the emotional logic behind this behavior. It's not the straightforward Midwestern reasoning that you may be accustomed to, but it is a kind of logic. The logic is: What I feel is the truth. What I need is what's important. It's a logic based in emotion and desire. When those of us with northern European roots -- steeped in Enlightenment values, taught to revere analytical problem-solving and the scientific method, inculcated with the belief that there is an objective truth apart from ourselves and our point of view -- meet a person who kisses all 10 of our fingers in the doorway, we often don't realize just how fundamentally different this person is.


What he's saying is that your lack of attention is killing him. Something in him dies when you don't kiss him when you come to bed. You don't hear him when he says it, so he wants to act that out for you; words would not be enough; it's not about "talking it out" -- he has to show you what it feels like. If he could put it into words, what he'd be saying is: When you're distant, I feel like dying! I can't breathe! I want to shame you for your neglect and show you how you're killing me! I want you to suffer because of how you're killing me! I want you to know how much you hurt me! If I become sick and helpless, then you will have to bend over me and minister to me and then everything will be right again and I will feel secure.

Now, if he could just say that to you, you might be able to understand it. But he's never going to say it because interposing words between the emotion and the action distances him from what he feels is the core of his existence. His feelings can't be the subject of dispassionate inquiry because he believes that he himself is his feelings. To an emotional person like this guy, his emotions are his existence; there's no distance.

That leaves you at a disadvantage. The only language you know is a language he can't hear; so you're voiceless in the rain, shouting as he shivers. And it leaves him doing his act for an empty house.

It's up to you whether to stay with him or not. You sound like you don't want to go to the trouble. Which is a shame in a way, because all these histrionics aren't just the dross at the bottom of the cup; in many ways, this craziness is the gold. You might be drawn to it in some ways, the sweetness, the unreserved quality of his love. But you may not have consciously admitted: Yes, the craziness is what I like, except when it threatens me. He may have been a very indulged and pampered child whose impulsive nature was rewarded and understood. He may in fact be drawn to you because you are level-headed but undemanding; you neither compete with him nor try to hem him in. You may be playing the mother role, ministering to his needs and accepting his adoration but also bearing the brunt of his tantrums.


I think the key would be whether you can learn to negotiate with him in his emotional language. If his outbursts completely freak you out, paralyze you, leave you speechless and unable to respond, you'll grow apart. In fact, your response of waiting a day to call, or distancing yourself for a week, may be a sign that you are already drifting apart, that you are in the process of writing him off. I think, if you want this relationship to last, you're going to have to confront him during the time he's acting out. You will need to join him on his stage and see if you can improvise your way to a dramatically satisfying conclusion.

The problem is, he may also be dangerous to you. He may desperately need to win. He may need to be the only star. He may in fact need to be the only one onstage. His needs may be too great, he may be too self-involved, and if you try to play his game on his terms you may end up in a labyrinth of pain, confusion and hurt. If you truly are a stolid, Midwestern thinking type, you may be at a fatal disadvantage.

So good luck. His behavior does make sense in its own emotional language. But the rewards of his companionship may not be enough.

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Cary Tennis

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