How Do I Stop Over-Analyzing How My Boyfriend Communicates?


Hi Evan – I’m a 35-year-old divorced professional that stumbled across your blog when searching for something, anything that would help me gain perspective on relationships. For all my confidence in the professional world, I’m lost when it comes to personal relationships! I’m unsure of what I want, or what would be good for me. I analyze everything (I’m an engineer) and have a hard time letting go and enjoying myself. That said, I have come a long way lately, and much of it is due to what I have learned through you (I loved “Why He Disappeared” and have read it twice!!)

I’m hoping you might be able to offer some guidance on my current situation. I met a man online who I’ve been dating for about 5 months. He’s divorced, has a good job, one child (I haven’t met yet, which is OK), we’re very compatible, have similar life goals and views on life in general. I have a great time when I’m with him and feel very comfortable and able to be myself. He didn’t rock my world when we first met, but I’ve learned that sometimes you have to give it a little time. But….(there had to be one) I get frustrated by his communication style (or lack thereof.)

We talk fairly regularly and, for the most part, he’s reliable and consistent. However, there have been more than a few instances of lapses that leave me feeling frustrated, confused, and disrespected. And that’s what I don’t know how to evaluate. Are these instances dealbreakers? Are they examples of a guy that really doesn’t care? I just don’t know. We had planned to do a day trip on a Saturday. He texted me on Friday to ask if we’re still on. I replied that, yes, we were, and then I never heard back from him. I called him at 8:30 that night and left a message. I woke up on Saturday and got myself ready and still hadn’t heard from him by 10:30 that morning. I texted him to ask if plans had changed, and he immediately called me back (from bed) and said that he was exhausted and just wanted to sleep in a bit. I calmly told him how it bothered me that he never communicated what the plan was. I told him I needed more communication than that. We still ended up going and had a great time.

Another example? He was 40 minutes late getting to my house the other day and never called to let me know he was going to be late. Sometimes I’ll text him a question and never hear back. I might take a picture of something (the beach I’m sitting on, my friends’ children) that I know he’d enjoy, and I never get an acknowledgement. They’re just little things, but I find them inconsiderate. I know that I can tend to make a big deal about little things, and I don’t want to do that now. I know that he’s really a great guy, that he’s not seeing anyone else, that he cares about me. He’s considerate, attentive and tries constantly to please me when we’re together. You have described over and over what a good guy does for a women he wants to be with. I honestly can’t tell if this guy is coming up short or not. I’ve lost my perspective! I’m 5 months in. Do I fish or cut bait? When do you say “when?”


Dear Beth,

If I were to talk with your boyfriend, what annoying qualities would he tell me that you had?

If I were to talk with your boyfriend, what annoying qualities would he tell me that you had?

My wife would tell you pretty much what you can already figure out on your own: I’m a know-it-all. I can be sarcastic and short-tempered. I don’t suffer fools gladly. I can’t fix a single thing around the house. I don’t always listen carefully. I can be overly critical.

There’s more, but a man’s gotta have a little mystery.

As for my wife, she has only two flaws:

She has never thrown out anything ever. We have shoes from 1989, dresses from 1995, and saltines from 2003. I kid you not.

She is perpetually 15 minutes late. I don’t understand people like this. Just start 15 minutes earlier! But her family warned me about “Bridget Time” when we first met. Shockingly, it hasn’t changed in the time we’ve known each other.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t bring up her 2 bad habits all the time (MY flaw – critical,)  but rather that asking her to change is like her asking me to stop being a know-it-all.

Not gonna happen.

We both have flaws. We both have to grin and bear it. And we both feel that the strengths of the relationship far outweigh the fact that I have to bring reading material wherever I go because of her slow pace, and she always has to listen to me rant about Republicans, customer service, and money. (I know: I’m a charmer!)

Anyway, I know I’ve hijacked your question to talk about myself once again, but I think it bears great relevance on your situation with your quality boyfriend.

I’m not going to defend the lapses in his behavior whatsoever. It IS inconsiderate to not call to confirm plans. It IS inconsiderate not to let you know he’s running late.

But unless you want to scrap your entire relationship for these occasionally frustrating incidents, all you can do is ask him to be more considerate with such matters in the future.

If you make something a dealbreaker, it’s a dealbreaker.

If you put up with it, it’s just a quirk.

If he loves you, he will do his best to honor your request.

And then he’ll forget, because that’s who he is.

And you’ll put up with it and make jokes about it and live a very happy life together.

Of course, you could “cut bait,” but your future boyfriend would have some intolerable characteristics as well.

If you make something a dealbreaker, it’s a dealbreaker.

If you put up with it, it’s a quirk.

Your call, my friend.

Join our conversation (130 Comments).
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  1. 41

    @Karl #38
    Beth, her ex-BF, myself and you are North Americans.

  2. 42

    When you are looking for a life partner, one of the main criteria is reliability. Your partner does what he says he’s going to do, He follows through. You can count on him. He doesn’t habitually leave you hanging. Another important consideration is his ability to listen. If you tell him that something he does creates problems for you, does he at least attempt to modify his behavior or does he ignore your concerns? I’ve changed my mind from my previous comment. While I don’t think Beth’s boyfriend was deliberately trying to hurt her, he does sound immature and inconsiderate. I can see why she made the decision she did.  

  3. 43

    I’ve known and loved a few habitually late people. I learned how to adjust to “their time” ; if they said they would be over around 7:00, I’d expect them between 7:30 and 8:00. I also learned to lie to them. If I wanted to meet them at 7:00, I’d tell them they needed to be there by 6:00. Saved some frustration, but I noticed something funny: the same people who were chronically late for social engagements were seldom late for work. They didn’t show up at airports 30 – 60 minutes after their plane left the gate. They managed to make it in time for   their weddings and births. So what does that say?

  4. 44
    Kat Wilder

    Well, I was going to cut the guy some slack because he’s a single dad, and that can throw a wrench in plans at the last minute.
    However, sounds like she did the right thing; someone can be late for a date or forget a date or accidentally fall asleep and wake up late for one, but if these sorts of things happen all the time with no apologies, I’d be sure I brought it up and gave him a chance but then I just might walk away if it didn’t get better.

  5. 45

    Beth, reading what you added in your comments: It seems that you two were in different stages of your life, and thus were incompatible, so you did the right thing by cutting him loose. He is in a transitional and busy stage: periods when he has to be the sole parent (parenting is extremely difficult, time-consuming work!), juggling duties with his ex-wife, starting a new job… You, on the other hand, seem to be in a relatively more stable position with fewer demands on your time. If you do not want to be with someone who has that many demands and hence is more unreliable when it comes to relationships, it’s something to keep in mind when you enter your next relationship.
    It sounds as though you want to be someone’s first priority, and he cannot, at this stage in life, make you his first priority. It doesn’t mean he’s a bad person. But his may not be the type you want.
    Karl R, that’s an interesting story about the migrant workers’ church service. There’s always a problem of political correctness when we attach values to areas where cultures differ considerably; hence the responses you received. I agree with Selena that the service wasn’t that important to them if they were arriving at the end of it – but they shouldn’t be judged for thinking it’s unimportant. Maybe what mattered more to them was socializing with friends who were still there. Most of us in North America would place more value on getting to meetings on time, but that’s because we value getting tasks accomplished and reliability (why else would we set times for meetings?) over the mere process of getting together eventually.

  6. 46
    Sara Malamud

    Beth, he is not going to change and you are going to lose him. ”if you cant change the problem change your attitude” You cannot tailor-make the situations in life, but you can tailor-make the attitudes to fit those situations. – Zig Ziglar

  7. 47
    Karl R

    Selena said: (#39)
    “So people were still arriving after the service had ended? I guess then they really didn’t care about missing the service. It wasn’t that important to them.”

    Think back over the last week to every time you hurried away from one engagement so you wouldn’t be late to another.

    You were willing to cut those engagements a little short to avoid being late … so those engagements that you cut short must not have been very important to you, right?

    Seriously, if you think back far enough, you’ll think of some situation when you left something that was important and enjoyable just so you wouldn’t be late to soething less important and less enjoyable. If an outside observer examined all of these incidents, they would come to one conclusion:
    Spending time with friends, family, dates and organizations is less important to you than meeting your societal obligation to be punctual.

    Our culture has a rather  twisted set of priorities, eh?

    This obligation is so widely accepted in our culture that it becomes a convenient excuse to leave situations that we don’t enjoy.

    In Latin American culture, the obligation is reversed. There’s no pressure to be punctual … but it’s rude to leave a situation early.

    So some people were two hours late to the service because they were meeting their cultural obligation to not leave another situation early. Others probably used that obligation as an excuse  to avoid something that wasn’t important to them.

    san said: (#40)
    “in this case he was an American. As an American adult he knew what was expected of him when it comes to time.”
    Steve said: (#41)
    “Beth, her ex-BF, myself and you are North Americans.”

    Do you conform to every  cultural  expectation for our society? I certainly don’t. My friends don’t. Every person that I find interesting regularly violates some cultural norm (not necessarily the same ones that I do).

    People don’t violate cultural norms out of malice; there’s no need to villify them for doing so. Not unless you think society is justified in villifying you when you violate cultural norms.

    If you don’t want to date someone who is always tardy (or who has 20 piercings, or who never shaves, etc.) don’t date him/her. It’s a lot more practical than trying to convince them that they are “wrong” and need to change.

    Similarly, if you consistently violate a cultural norm, it may cramp you dating options. People probably won’t change to accommodate your differences.

    However, to the extent that we can accept people who are different, just the way they are, we expand our dating options.

    Brief tangent:
    , there are 111 million Mexicans who are also North Americans. san, every single Latin American

    …  do I really need to finish that sentence?

    Blind ethno-centrism is one of the cultural norms for our society. I just wanted to mention that before anyone started preaching the “wisdom” of conforming to cultural norms.

  8. 48

    Beth made the right descion for her.

  9. 49

    Karl, personally I just don’t schedule myself the way you described so it’s N/A. Secondly, you rather made my point, the people who were late to the service were so because what they were doing beforehand was more important than the service. If a steak dinner was served at 7 limited to those who came before the food ran out, do you think the turnout would have been different?

    Time may be seen as more flexible in some cultures than others, but people are still motivated by self-interest nonetheless.

  10. 50

    I’m not sure how you can truly compare a casual church service with numbers of people showing up at various times (even if that is acceptable in their culture) with an intimate, romantic relationship. Who’s to know how these migrant workers might behave with their spouses or close family? If you tell me that Hispanic people are lax about accountability in their personal relationships, I might find this plausible, but my Hispanic friends are no less punctual or reliable than anyone else.  

  11. 51

    I think he’s the wrong guy for you.
    I know it’s hard to want to be in a good relationship and then be bummed to find out that the other person doesn’t communicate the way you do – but that will be a big problem later on down the line so I’d heed it now.
    The bottom line is that when two people are on the same page, they’re on the same page and when they aren’t, they aren’t.
    It sounds like you’re on different pages communication wise – and it really bothers you to the point where you are writing for advice online.
    I think you’re intuition is telling you it’s indicative of something greater. To, you a key facet of a good relationship is obviously lacking here and I personally don’t think you should stick around if it’s making you this unsettled.
    Being “good” isn’t going to make him magically communicate more or in the style that suits your needs – it will only make you have to continually “discipline” yourself – trust me, the feeling won’t go away.
    He’s surely not a bad guy, but he’s missing something you personally seem to need. There are guys out there who communicate constantly – look for one of them.

  12. 52
    Karl R

    Selena said: (#49)
    “personally I just don’t schedule myself the way you described so it’s N/A.”

    And you’ve never had a friend or family member  cut short a get together to meet something on their schedule? I suspect that it happens so often that it barely registers when it occurs.

    Selena said: (#49)
    “If a steak dinner was served at 7 limited to those who came before the food ran out, do you think the turnout would have been different?”

    Five times the number of people would have shown up …  and you still would have had people arriving  after 9pm.

    Some of them may sometimes  use it as an excuse to avoid something they don’t want to do. That doesn’t explain the entire population living that way all the time.

    Selena said: (#49)
    “the people who were late to the service were so because what they were doing beforehand was more important than the service.”

    By that standard of judgment, everyone’s job is more important to them than their children. They arrange their day around their jobs first, and their children second.

    But if you forced them to choose between permanently  losing their job or their child, the choice would be different.

    And getting back to the original point, how do you explain people like Beth’s boyfriend or Steve’s friend (#18) who are late for everything? Do you believe that nothing is important to them?

    When people have deeply ingrained habitual behaviors, they’re not going to suddenly change just because they care about someone/something. That’s why everyone says that you shouldn’t get into a relationship with someone expecting them to change. It’s not  because they don’t care about you. It’s becaue they won’t change, even though they do care.

    Ruby said: (#50)
    “my Hispanic friends are no less punctual or reliable than anyone else.”

    How many generations have they lived in the U.S.?

  13. 53

    @ #52

    I can’t remember friends or family members “cutting short” a meeting with me – but, I’ve certainly had some give the courtesy of telling me they had later plans before we proposed to meet.

    The entire population lives that way all the time? And how do you know this?

    And not wanting to lose a job is part of the example I gave in my post #43. Interesting how   “socially non-punctuality” does not translate to employment. A boss might not tolerate an employee showing up whenever they felt like it, therefore it becomes important to the otherwise unpunctual person to conform. Less important to conform to those with whom the consequences have less impact – financially or otherwise. Has nothing to do with the love for one’s children.

  14. 54

    Karl #52
    Either born and raised in their native country or first generation.

  15. 55
    Karl R

    Selena, (#53)
    I know these things because I tend to read and listen … and then remember what I learned years later.

    The article below discusses various attitudes toward time around the world and the mindsets that accompany them. I was particularly struck by the comment about Berlin.

  16. 56

    Interesting reading. And now I know if I were ever invited to a Persian dinner party to snack (and perhaps nap) before attending.

    From the article:

    “It is impossible to say which way of looking at time is correct. Both are appropriate–in their own environments.”

    And in the environment of meeting in the US,  punctuality would be considered appropriate in most situations.   Or face repercussions similar to Berlin. 🙂

  17. 57

    I don’t buy the cultural relativism argument.     When people go against the *basic* customs for respect and keeping things functioning in *their* culture those people are deciding that the rules only apply to other people, not them.   That isn’t the kind of person most people want to be in a relationship with.

    1. 57.1

      yes!   well said Steve


  18. 58

    Karl, if someone cuts a get together “short” to meet something else on their schedule they are not really cutting it short. Just because you might think someone wants to spend two hours with you and have them only spend one hour doesn’t mean they are cutting it short–they originally planned to only spend an hour with you, or they wouldn’t have scheduled something else.

  19. 59

    I having been dating for about 10 months and almost finished with my divorce. I am a serial dater and by the time the year is up in Jan. I will have dated about 50 men. The age range is 43 to 58 and all white collar, average to hot looking. Seventy-five percent were players, twenty percent were pathological, four percent were boring, and one percent were desirable but got away.
    Internet dating is bad for women who want to find a husband (particularly at midlife) and great for men. For men it is like buffet style dining- all you can eat.
    You can read all the gurus’ self-help books, won’t change a thing. Men get away with acting like jerks.

  20. 60
    Ronnie Ann Ryan - The Dating Coach

    Yes, everyone has annoying habits and to be in relationship requires putting up with them. But it helps to know what your deal breakers are. For some, not communicating is acceptable. For others, it’s a major assault. I always tell my dating coaching clients that if your date’s behavior impacts your self esteem, its a deal breaker. So now you’ll need to decide on a scale of 1-10, just how annoying and frequent his lack of communication and consideration are and if that is a deal breaker.   Wishing you love!

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