Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I Need My Boyfriend to Smother Me With Attention… and He Won’t”

Broken heart
I’m extremely sad over the recent death of a family member, and my boyfriend of five months isn’t doing enough to comfort me. As a more extroverted person, I like it when people “make a fuss” and interact with me, even if it is just to say they are sorry. My boyfriend tries to comfort me and has allowed me to stay at his place for a couple of days (he has roommates) but does not make too much of an extra effort otherwise. This is bringing to light some issues I have with him in terms of how much attention he gives me.

In general, he always treats me as if I need no tending to, which I can appreciate as a woman who values her independence, but I also want to feel taken care of. He is polite and affectionate but is unsure of how much attention I want. I told him I want a lot of attention, yet he doesn’t seem too good at it when it comes to us being apart. When we are spending time together, he is fine, but when it comes to interaction outside of that, he is majorly lacking. I have told him this, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. He texts me late in the day to see if I am “doing better today” but that’s it — nothing extra given even though I am dealing with a death. No offer to visit — he is currently healing from an injury, but he is not bedridden by any means and has been out for short amounts of time for his friends’ soccer game and for a short emergency shift at work. He also never offers to pick me up and never bothers to ask me for a text when I get home. (Whenever he works late at the bar, I always ask him to let me know he got home safely). I realize those are small things, but those things are present in my friendships and, when they are done, they show me my friends care.

Is this just a problem of me wanting more attention or is this something that I should consider a deal-breaker? I also have issues with trust, and the lack of attention isn’t helping. I want to be doted on, but I realize that this makes me seem like a brat! I want to be smothered with affection and attention, but so far he has shown me that he is not that kind of person — even in the ways he expects attention for himself. Whenever I get hurt because of the lack of attention, I act distant and then he ends up feeling hurt and I end up feeling terrible for hurting him. We are both 22 years old and I am his first real girlfriend. I want to be with him, but this is turning into an issue of insecurity and dissatisfaction. I have always thought that an attraction to someone would make another want to do these things, but that has not been demonstrated to me in my relationship, so I end up questioning whether or not he feels affection for me. What do I do? — Needs More Attention

First of all, I’m sorry for the death in your family and I hope you are getting support from other family members and your friend group if you feel like you aren’t getting enough from your boyfriend.

Only you can decide if your boyfriend’s level of attention-giving is a deal-breaker for you. But I will say that, for someone who considers herself independent, it’s interesting that you want to be “smothered by attention and affection,” “made a fuss over” and “doted upon.” It could be that your boyfriend is very much aware that you want these things and is… well, frankly, turned off by the neediness. Or, it could be that he is completely oblivious to your needs which may, in turn, make you ramp up the neediness in order to literally get your boyfriend’s attention. Whatever the case may be, you two don’t seem well-matched.

You’ve spoken to your boyfriend about this issue — several times it sounds like. You’ve made it clear that you need more from him and he hasn’t changed. I’d accept that he’s not going to. And YOU have to decide if that’s a deal-breaker for you. Can you handle not being doted upon and smothered with affection and attention? Can you deal with your boyfriend not texting you until the end of the day, even when he knows you’re grieving, and not asking you to text when you get home late at night? If you can’t, I’d end things with him and MOA.

I’d also consider whether your “trust issues” are in regards to him specifically or whether you generally don’t trust people or guys you’re dating. If it’s the former, then that’s even more affirmation that you and your boyfriend aren’t well-matched. If it’s the latter — if you have trust issues in relationships in general — it’s YOUR responsibility to fix those issues, not a boyfriend’s. Where do the trust issues stem from? Have you made bad choices in the past (in terms of whom you date and whom you trust)? Maybe talking to a therapist can help you address these trust issues. If you’re in college, your school may have a wellness center where you can find a counselor who can help you. It’s healthier and far more productive to address these issues yourself than rely on boyfriends to smother you with attention in order to calm your fears. That kind of attention is only a band-aid and won’t really fix the actual problem (your trust issues), and, until the actual problem is addressed, it will continue rearing its head in all future relationships.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

41 comments… add one
  • Jenny September 15, 2014, 8:56 am

    I agree with Wendy. I’d maybe talk with someone about WHY you need so much attention, because your expectations feel, to me, a little exhausting. Not horribly unreasonable, but still kind of a lot. Your relationship is still so new, so the fact that you’ve had this convo several times and done the you withdraw and he pursues routine a few times, it just seems to indicate that you’re not well suited for each other. As you get older, there’s gonna be less time for you and your friends (and significant others) to be constantly checking in with each other. I know I talk with my friends a lot less often now than I did at 22 – and I’m only 28. So I’d focus a bit more on the quality of your interactions and not so much the quantity.

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  • Firestar September 15, 2014, 8:59 am

    I was exhausted just reading about your neediness. If you want to find someone to smother you then go do that but that level of attention would be disturbing to most people. It really does sound like you have to address those trust issues. Trying to monopolize someone’s time by directing their attention solely on you is controlling. Because he has gone to work or a game while injured doesn’t give you the right to think he could have and should have spent that time with you. He is allowed a life beyond you. Trying to address those trust issues you have by attempting to control someone else will never lead to success.
    Nothing in what you’ve said speaks to you being remotely independent. How about you start being independent …from him? Find a way to satisfy the need for validation you keep looking for from him internally. You are not that young that you shouldn’t realize that you have to work on yourself. You need to achieve the confidence you require to go through life without constant attention and affirmation from others.

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    • zombeyonce September 15, 2014, 12:12 pm

      “Find a way to satisfy the need for validation you keep looking for from him internally.”
      I think that is the biggest takeaway. I think that some counseling would really help the LW. It sounds like her need for attention isn’t just about trust issues, but also insecurity. If someone needs constant attention, it’s likely because they need validation that they are wanted and appreciated by their partner/friend/anyone. But you only need this endless validation because you either:
      1. don’t believe people are telling you the truth about their feelings (trust issues)
      2. don’t believe you deserve to be wanted and appreciated (insecurity issues)
      Either way, I think LW needs to give this poor guy a break and realize this need for attention doesn’t have anything to do with him. This is reinforced by the LW saying that she expects the same treatment from friends. And yes, it sounds bratty, but that’s because the stereotypical “bratty” behavior often happens when a child is spoiled and ends up thinking that love can only be demonstrated in a shallow way with constant attention or gifts, instead of being able to trust in the feelings of others and the love they are given.

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  • lily in NYC September 15, 2014, 9:16 am

    OP, you seem to have self-awareness that your behavior is “too much”. Please be honest with yourself – is there even a tiny chance that you are milking this relative’s death for attention from your BF? I ask because I had a roommate who did stuff like this – she was incredible; she could even give herself a fever when she felt her BF wasn’t being doting enough. He got fed up with her neediness and dumped her after 9 months. I’m going to be blunt because there are things I wish people told me when I was 22 (I thought I was the “cool girlfriend” but I was a doormat): clinginess and a need for constant reassurance is a huge turn off. My guess is that you are more into him than vice versa and you sense it so you are getting desperate to keep him – which leads you to act clingy and reach for any excuse to get more attention. Which will just cause him to pull away more and the cycle continues…

    My advice – stop asking for attention. Stop asking to sleep over. Stop texting and calling so much. Stop with the silent treatment and games. Allow him to set the pace and if he doesn’t make an effort to hang out or only wants to hang out for sex, then MOA.

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  • coconot September 15, 2014, 9:27 am

    I don’t think that the LW is “too needy” and exhausting for wanting a text before late afternoon! My college bf and I spent hours a day together and I’m sure he would’ve taken amazing care of me if a loved one had died. Also, how rude to tell her she’s milking it! A loved one died cripes. We don’t even know how long it’s been!
    LW I think you should break up with this guy because 1) he’s not satisfying your (IMO reasonable) needs, and you can find someone who will I promise and 2) you barely said anything good about him in your letter.
    Wendy is right though, maybe try to work through your trust issues before dating again.

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    • Lily in NYC September 15, 2014, 9:50 am

      Coconot, I didn’t “tell” OP that she was milking the death – I asked gently because I have witnessed other women doing that very thing. The roommate I referenced in my post went so far as to pretend she got mugged because she wanted BF to feel sorry for her. I was asking OP to do some soul-searching; I wasn’t accusing her of anything.

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      • coconot September 15, 2014, 1:22 pm

        Wow that is a little crazy cakes, I can see why you might wonder after having witnessed that. I didn’t mean to call you out too harshly, I was just thinking you know what if my mother had died a week ago and people on the internet are accusing me if milking it? I would probably lose it…

      • Ika September 15, 2014, 1:39 pm

        Except LW said “family member” not even “close family member”. From the drama queen vibe Im getting I wouldnt be surprised if it was like a distant cousin or something.

  • Kate September 15, 2014, 9:31 am

    From experience and observation, I would say that the level of attention you think you need is “too much.” Sure, there are guys that will give you that level of attention, but you likely would not even be into them. And I can tell you, if that’s not a guy’s nature, you can’t make it happen. He can’t change his whole personality and approach to relationships. And truly, it’s just not a guy’s job to constantly smother you with attention to make you feel reassured and validated. Even if he did, WOULD that give you what you need? I doubt it, because it sounds like you have some issues you need to work out. Which is fine, we all do, our parents f’d us up somehow. But like people are saying, it’s your responsibility to figure out how you’re f’d up and how to help yourself. If you try and rely on a guy to meet all your emotional needs without figuring out the underlying problem, you’re going to be miserable and destroy your relationships. You’re young, get this figured out now.

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    • Kate September 15, 2014, 9:33 am

      For the record, I’m going on your statements that you need to be doted on and “smothered,” not so much your specific expectations around texting and such. Feeling like you need to be smothered doesn’t sound healthy to me.

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      • coconot September 15, 2014, 9:45 am

        Since there are no other concrete examples besides the texting we don’t know that she’s expecting too much. Maybe he’s gaslighting her into thinking she’s a spoiled brat for totally reasonable requests.

      • LadyinPurpleNotRed September 15, 2014, 9:46 am

        Or maybe she’s been alive long enough to know that was she wants would qualify under being smothered/being a brat.

      • jlyfsh September 15, 2014, 9:56 am

        Yeah I think anyway who asks to be ‘smothered’ tends to know they are walking a fine line of asking for too much.

      • Kate September 15, 2014, 9:56 am

        I don’t know, I read it over again and I don’t see gaslighting anywhere. She’s owning that she needs to be smothered with attention, not stating that it’s her boyfriend’s opinion.

        –I like it when people “make a fuss”
        –I told him I want a lot of attention
        — I want to be doted on, but I realize that this makes me seem like a brat! I want to be smothered with affection and attention

        Now, I don’t necessarily see specific examples of the kind of doting and smothering she says she needs, in her letter. But these general statements about herself sound high-maintenance and I think she’d be doing herself and her future boyfriends a favor to try and figure out what might be behind this and how to be less reliant on attention from others for her happiness.

      • Addie Pray September 15, 2014, 10:38 am

        I dunno, there are plenty of couples I know who seem to fit the bill. You know, the kind that do these grand gestures of love on FB – and in private. I’m sure the insane amount of “hi baby, just thinking of you, miss you”‘s on her FB on a random workday mornings is the same insane amount of waa waa i love you, i love you more, no i love you more waaa they do over breakfast. And I know just as many goofs who are dudes that do that as goofs who are women. (Sorry, didn’t mean to call you a goof, LW.) Oh as another example, there was this attorney I used to work with and she and her husband used to have these insane long passionate goodbyes outside the building – you’d think they were never going to see each other again but, nope, they had a lunch date almost every day. LW you need to focus on those guys.

      • muchachaenlaventana September 15, 2014, 10:55 am

        Yeah @LW–these guys exist–my best friend is dating one and she needs constant reassurance and loves being smothered and they work out perfectly because they probably never go more than an hour without talking. Even this weekend when he was at a bachelor party they texted nonstop and he called her like 5x. If I were dating him/someone like him I wouldn’t last one month and I am sure if my friend were dating someone like my boyfriend, she would be a complete mess and writing in to an advice column about needing more attention/smothering from her distant boyfriend. There is nothing wrong with you for needing that attention I just think no matter how much you like this guy–it has been 5 months and you two are not ever going to mesh on this–you can’t get him to change how he approaches relationship nor should you change what you feel you need. So just cut your losses and MOA and focus on the smothery codependent type of dude (I don’t mean this in a negative way–some people just have this attachment style and will only be happy in a relationship when it is reciprocated).

      • Portia September 15, 2014, 11:49 am

        Oh gosh, I’m getting flashbacks to my high school boyfriend! He needed so much reassurance and did so much public display stuff and I absolutely hated it! He was the reason I had to make a no jewelry rule because he’d get me this jewelry that I wouldn’t wear, then he’d get mad I didn’t, then I did and it felt forced or eventually I’d lose it and it’d turn into a fight… On and on, and all about jewelry! Needless to say I am much better matched now, and I’m pretty sure he is with his wife. So I think this LW would probably do well to find someone who can give her this level of attention.

    • Addie Pray September 15, 2014, 10:31 am

      I don’t know, it’s hard for me to say someone’s level of attention is too much. If that’s how much she wants, then that’s how much she wants. It’s definitely more than I have wanted, and if I were a guy it’s probably not the kind of girl I’d go for. But! But. But I keep thinking of this one friend I have that reminds me of the LW in terms of the attention from her boyfriend she craves. My friend’s current husband is the kind of guy who makes big grand gestures for all events, and sometimes non-events, and the two are just…. very well-matched. Think, couch-jumping declarer of love! Basically, if that’s what the LW wants, she should find her Tom Cruise. There are guys out there that want to smother their girl with that kind of attention. See, I on the other hand just want to be smothered.

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      • Addie Pray September 15, 2014, 10:32 am

        Ha her “current husband” – some sort of slip I guess.

  • Essie September 15, 2014, 9:34 am

    You say yourself that your behavior and neediness makes you seem like ‘kind of a brat’. Spend some time thinking about that. We all want to feel validated in our relationships, but when it’s an ever-escalating, nothing’s-ever-enough need for validation…..something’s wrong.

    To be frank, if I were dating someone who was telling me how I must show them affection…”you should offer to pick me up”, “you should ask me to send you a text when I get home”…I’d be saying goodbye, quickly. It’s not just being needy to treat someone that way, it’s condescending and rude.

    It sounds to me like you have a storybook image of how you should be treated in a relationship – like a princess. Which is OK, I guess, but you can’t force someone into fitting a role in your fantasy. And that’s what you’re trying to do here. You’re all but giving this guy a script, and punishing him when he forgets his lines, instead of seeing the support and affection in what he IS doing.

    If princess treatment is what you want, you need to let this guy go, and find someone who is willing to take on that role.

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  • jlyfsh September 15, 2014, 9:34 am

    You say that you want to be ‘smothered’ by attention and affection. I’m guessing this means in general and not just in reference to the death in the family. If he’s shown/told you that not only can’t he give that to you, but he also doesn’t appreciate it for himself. Then I’m going to agree with Wendy that you two are not a good match. I think it’s also important to figure out why you need that much attention and how connected they are to your trust issues. If you continue the pattern of wanting to be smothered in relationships, you will more than likely continue to push people away. Especially if instead of talking about the issue you just act distant.

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  • captainswife September 15, 2014, 9:56 am

    OP, your questions and comments had me reflecting on my parents. They in general need WAY more “smothering” than I do. In fact, when my husband travels, it’s not unusual for my DAD to email me telling me that the flight got in safely…meanwhile, I couldn’t have told you exactly which flight my husband was on!

    OP describes herself as an extrovert, and my parents are for sure, as well. I wonder…how many extroverts would describe themselves as relishing/wanting the text when their loved one gets home (or would want to be asked to send this type of text) vs. introverts? Is it as simple as that — extroverts want more attention and fuss made of them than introverts? This post makes me curious.

    I will say, though, from being on the other side of perceived smothering…I always felt that WHATEVER I did (Mother’s Day, birthday, whatever), it was NEVER enough. Also, frankly, having to make the dratted phone call when I arrived at my destination felt controlling and clingy. If I’m away, I’m not there to talk to the people I just left, for crying out loud!

    So — a mismatch in the attention department can stink. You feel increasingly unloved, the other party feels pushed all the time and like he or she can never be enough.

    This sounds like something that’s going to implode sooner or later. You’re not being unreasonable necessarily, and neither is he. However, it doesn’t sound as though you’ll be able to make each other contented, a word I use to describe long-term happiness.

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  • Amanda September 15, 2014, 10:04 am

    Everyone has different levels of need when it comes to attention/affection. That is okay. He’s not giving that to you – it’s okay to break up. There doesn’t always have to be a grand reason or a big blow out fight. Relationships can just…end. All that being said, if you truly do have trust issues this is something you need to look at. All the attention and affection in the world can’t make that better.

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  • Laura Hope September 15, 2014, 10:15 am

    I was the same way at 22. My mother had left when I was 17 and I looked to guys to give me what she didn’t. I had no problem finding guys who wanted to smother me with attention and affection but it’s a good thing I dealt with my issues before I chose a life partner. Because it turns out that the healthy me actually hates being smothered. LW, please know yourself before you make any permanent commitment.

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  • something random September 15, 2014, 10:20 am

    WWS. Lw, I’m so sorry for your loss.

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  • findingtheearth September 15, 2014, 10:31 am

    Have you taken the Love Language quiz? You can find it online. You and he should both take it and see what your love languages are and if they are compatible and if you are willing to work on them being compatible. Personally, I am not a big fan of smothering, but if I was going home late at night, I would expect a boyfriend to want a text I made it home safe. I would want one from him.
    I think it is also important you find out why you need so much attention. Some people have different levels of needs and wants in relationships. I think that is okay. You have to find someone that is willing to work on giving you what you want, but you may have to compromise a bit.

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  • Sue Jones September 15, 2014, 10:39 am

    LW, I am sorry for your loss. And I think you also need some sort of a grief support group, because I do not think that any partner would be able to fill your emotional needs at this point. One step in emotional maturity is understanding that one person cannot ever fill all of your needs so it is good to receive extra support therapeutically when you need it. It also helps to not strain a relationship with your extreme neediness. I hope I am not sounding too cold. When I was 22, I moved to a small town to be with a guy and I had no friends, no job, he was my world. It didn’t last because it was too much for him and less indicative of my partner’s inabilities as it was my lack of feeling secure in myself and in my life. I had no other support system. I moved to a large city and was much happier. So bolster your support system so you are not so emotionally dependent on your boyfriend. It will help you both. There are often lots of grief support groups that are free if you live in a well populated area. Check with hospice groups since they often offer support groups.

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  • Ika September 15, 2014, 10:49 am

    LW: QUIT PLAYING GAMES. You “act distant” when youre hurt you don´t get enough attention? TELL HIM YOU ARE HURT, DON´T EXPECT HIM TO READ YOUR MIND. You want him to want you to send him a text when you get home late? TELL HIM YOU WANT THAT.
    Guys aren´t mind readers. Maybe this guy isn´t right for you, but even wth the right guy you have to learn to communicate.

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  • ktfran September 15, 2014, 10:59 am

    Meh. I don’t think you two are compatible. I would cut my losses and end the relationship. Don’t try to make something work that clearly isn’t.
    I don’t think either of you are wrong for wanting what you want or being who you are. Break up before you resent and hate one another. Learn from it, evolve, make a better decision next time.

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  • Diablo September 15, 2014, 11:18 am

    LW, you run the risk of creating a very difficult to solve problem in this relationship and future ones. I’m guessing future ones because this doesn’t look much like lasting. Here’s the thing: asking for love (attention, smothering, whatever) is a dangerous game. Because even if you get it, it’s tainted because you felt you wren’t getting it and felt that strongly enough to ask for it. So then you either don’t get what you asked for (not satisfying) or you get some of what you asked for( but it feel like pulling teeth), or you get lots of it, but you wonder how genuine it is and if you’d have gotten it without asking for it. See the problem? Better to just be who you are and if you aren’t getting what you need, MOA. I’m not saying never talk about your needs, but avoid conversations that are about how your needs aren’t being met. If they’re not, they’re not, and it’s not likely to change.

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  • j2 September 15, 2014, 11:49 am

    Maybe this is cold or tough love, but somewhere in the middle of those three paragraphs, you said you value your independence.


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    • Addie Pray September 15, 2014, 12:00 pm

      haha that made me laugh.

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    • Firestar September 15, 2014, 1:11 pm

      I so needed that today! just perfect.

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  • csp September 15, 2014, 12:42 pm

    LW, I think you shouldn’t make any rash decisions while grieving. Go to a councilor and see about moving through this loss. This might be your first major loss and that is tough. Many times, you feel overwhelmed with a death and feel like you need to do something or change. Decisions made in that state of mind are usually not the best. Whether you are too needy or he is too distant doesn’t really matter. Just get through this then evaluate your relationship.

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  • MsMisery September 15, 2014, 12:51 pm

    Well aren’t you just a complicated little Rubik’s cube. I am sorry for your loss, but that doesn’t give you an excuse for acting like a needy princess, which it seems like you do anyway. It doesn’t sound like you two compatible, in any case.

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  • Eve September 15, 2014, 1:56 pm

    Since you’re his first girlfriend he may not know how to show his feelings? Or he may have some sort of problems with showing his feelings, I know people who just can’t and that’s it.
    Either way, you do seem very incompatible. I understand where you’re coming from because I also like getting attention and affection from whoever I’m dating, I don’t think I’m clingy or needy, this is just the way I am. If this is bothering you that much, you’ll be unhappy and this will show in other areas of your relationship.

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  • kali September 15, 2014, 1:56 pm

    LW, This statement, “Whenever I get hurt because of the lack of attention, I act distant and then he ends up feeling hurt and I end up feeling terrible for hurting him.” made me cringe.

    To me it shows your immaturity. I hope you seek therapy as Wendy suggested. I lived with someone who reacted like you do for nearly 22 years and it’s hell. I don’t recommend it. You need better coping and communication skills. Acting distant is juvenile and cruel.

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  • Bittergaymark September 15, 2014, 2:26 pm

    Eh… Good thing the boyfriend — who is recovering from a rather somewhat debilitating injury no less — doesn ‘t expect any smothering, compassion, or even, say, slack. Look, I get it. Deaths are hard. BUT Newsflash — People DIE all the time. So get used to it. Harsh? Maybe. But grief is a part of evryone’s life. But it is both sad and rather pathetic when one sees it as a rational reason to grab more ME! ME! ME! attention…

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    • Simonthegrey September 15, 2014, 6:12 pm

      Yeah, I was surprised I had to read this far down for anyone to MENTION the boyfriend’s injury. I mean, she lists him going out for what sound like short/emergency reasons. I don’t think the death of her great aunt Jane is an emergency. He might not have the reserves to deal with what she needs when he’s dealing with his own pain.

      Also, if a grandma/grandpa/parent dies, people generally name that relationship. “Family member” tends to be reserved for second cousins and maiden aunts.

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    • Sunshine Brite September 16, 2014, 8:56 am

      Yes, it doesn’t sound like he’s mobile yet! I’m sorry for your loss but just your description reminds me of my friend (almost wrote my husband’s friend because that’s how I know her). She exhausts me so. Most of the group says she has a heart of gold but she has ruined more than a few events with her tears and overarching ploys for attention from everyone. If your boyfriend is trying to have you over and is barely working and when he does work he works late at the bar it might be the only time he’s awake right now that he is texting you.

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  • Steph September 15, 2014, 3:27 pm

    First off, I’m sorry for your loss.
    Secondly – I’m not normally the girl who needs a lot of attention. However in my last relationship (we dated for a year and a half), I felt myself feeling like you do in this relationship right now. We lived together and shared bills and everything but I never quite felt comfortable with him. I was always seeking validation. I needed attention from him from him so I’d know he was thinking about me. It was a very unhealthy relationship and now that its over and I’ve moved on to a new relationship I do not have those feelings. When we’re both at work, I don’t need him to text me. I trust that he is busy at work. I’ll randomly get a text from him on some days and it makes me smile but it’s not a NEED in this relationship.
    Anyway, all of that to say that unless you feel this way in EVERY relationship there might just be something off with the two of you together and maybe it’s time to MOA. Especially if you’ve already voiced this to him multiple times in such a short relationship.

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