“In Two Years, My Boyfriend and I Have Seen Each Other Just Twelve Times”

My boyfriend, “Carl,” (age 47) and I (age 32) have been together for nearly five years. We met at work, and for the first three years we had to keep our relationship private among our colleagues because I was in a position where I was not allowed to date co-workers. But our relationship has not been private to our families and close friends, and for the past two years I have worked somewhere new, so the privacy hasn’t been an issue. I only mention this because we barely see each other — maybe once a month — and I understood it more when we worked together while now I don’t as much.

We are both single parents. Carl has shared time with his child — every other day and weekend — while the father of my two kids is non-existent. Carl has a ranch three hours away that needs to be tended to every weekend, so he only wants to spend time with me when I can get a babysitter for the entire weekend and go with him, which is very hard to do without family nearby. Carl has two jobs and averages 60 hours of work between them. I also work full-time, and I manage all the kids’ activities, further limiting our time together.

We text everyday, all day, and talk on the phone at least once a day. We live twenty minutes apart and sometimes get the kids together, and we sometimes get our weekend together, just us two. I feel he is the love of my life and my best friend, and I know the feeling is mutual. But…I want to see and be with him more. In the past two years, we’ve probably only seen each other 12 times. We have discussed this several times, but we have no solutions. He feels spread thin and says he is doing the best he can, as am I. When we do see each other, it’s because I make it happen. He doesn’t want to live together until my kids are grown-ups, his words. And while I don’t necessarily disagree, I can’t help but feel that I’m the only one who wants to spend more time together. There’s always some excuse or reason why he can’t spend time with me, and I’m scared there always will be an excuse. I don’t know what to do, or if I’m just “wasting” my time on a future that will never be there. — Needing More Time Together

If you’ve been together five years, have zero plans for the future (and maybe living together one day when your kids are grown-ups is such a vague, far-off idea that it hardly counts as a plan), and see each other an average once every two months and only when YOU make it happen, it’s safe to say that Carl isn’t really interested in the kind of relationship with you that you seem to desire. He probably really enjoys having someone to text and chat with during the day, but that’s it. He can take or leave all the rest of it. Actually, it sounds like he can pretty much leave the rest of it.

Maybe you are too close to the situation that you can’t see it for what it is, so I’ll spell it out: Carl has ZERO interest in your children. Like, none. He’s not inviting them to his ranch, he only wants to spend time with you when they aren’t around, and despite having his own kids and only living twenty minutes from you, it sounds like he hardly ever cares to get your families together, which would be a convenient way for you two to actually spend some time together. You know what else would be a great way for you to spend time together? Each of you getting a babysitter and… going on a date. Is he not willing to do this? Well, then maybe your children aren’t the only people he’s not terribly interested in. Maybe he’s just not very interested in you either. If he were, he’d see you more than once every two months, period. There really isn’t an excuse to justify TWO YEARS of seeing you as minimally as he does. The truth is, it’s not a priority for him because you aren’t a priority for him. You are so much lower on his priority list than his ranch, which he makes time for all weekend, every weekend.

So, in answer to your question: Yes, you’re wasting your time. But more than that, you’re wasting your energy. There’s no future here. There’s no present either. This is just a texting friendship. If you want more than that — and why wouldn’t you?! — move on already.

My boyfriend and I have been together for nearly a year, and I love him so much. This is both his and my first relationship (though we’re both university graduates). One thing has been nagging at me for a long time now. He’s strongly anti-PDA, and he won’t hold my hand, hug me, kiss me, tell me he loves me, or anything of the sort in public. These things are really important to me.

He says he feels anxious expressing any affection in public and that he doesn’t want to boast about our relationship in this way. He wouldn’t even let people know we were dating at first, but he has come around on that matter. I’m quite certain that he’s not cheating on me. He’s simply very private. We’ve held hands in public before, but only in relatively people-free areas or at night, and he was horribly nervous while we did so. I don’t want him to do something that makes him uncomfortable just for my sake, though he claimed he enjoyed it. I don’t really believe he did though.

He did say that he really wants to change this and that we’ll work on slowly working our way up to holding hands and occasionally hugging and being able to tell each other “I love you” in public without any anxiety, but nothing has changed. (For months, he’s refused to try hugging in a deserted-ish area, claiming “he’s still not ready.”) I doubt it will ever change. He’s very affectionate in private, but I hate the distance we have in public. I don’t want to break up with him for this – I love him deeply. But this has been making me sad for the majority of the length of our relationship, which he’s aware of and feels bad about. I don’t want to be sad and I don’t want him to feel bad. What do I do? Can I get over this? — I Want to Hold His Hand

There isn’t anything for you to do, really. Your boyfriend’s behavior isn’t normal and he doesn’t seem interested in changing it to better meet your needs. He’s giving you lip service about wanting to change and about “working your way up to holding hands.” (Which, what? How are you ok with this?!) But he’s done literally nothing to actually get there. He’s just buying himself time and hoping you don’t notice that nothing is changing. And furthermore, what’s with: “we will work on holding hands”? You aren’t the one having a problem holding hands in public. This is HIS problem. And it’s one he isn’t interested in addressing.

There’s something going on with him in that he has wanted to keep your relationship private and continues to withhold any affection from you in public. There’s something going on and he needs to see a therapist about it. You need to tell him how important this is for you – how you cannot foresee continuing a relationship with someone who withholds all affection so much of the time.

You aren’t asking for much, and still: he is giving you nothing. You may love him deeply and may not want to break up over this, but this is much more than his not wanting to hug you or hold your hand in public. That’s just a symptom of bigger problems, which include his disregard for your needs, his debilitating anxiety, and his inability to communicate WHY he desires so much privacy to the point that he doesn’t feel comfortable with people even knowing you’re a couple a year into your relationship. Something just isn’t right here. And his saying he’ll work on hugging you eventually without feeling horribly nervous about it ain’t gonna cut it. When you’re dealing with pathological behavior like that — and that’s exactly what this is — you need professional help to change. If he won’t seek help, you need to move on because, without help, he will never be emotionally and physically available to you in the way a healthy relationship demands one to be.

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


  1. LW2 – “working our way up to holding hands”?! Is he in middle school? This sounds ridiculous and tedious and you deserve better. But only if you think you do and make it happen.

    LW1 – Wow. What Wendy says is true, this guy seems incredibly uninterested in your children in particular (which would be a no-go for me) but also in you. When I read that you have to get a babysitter to go spend an entire weekend with this dude I was like Why, a ranch is a perfect place for children! That’s a huge red flag to me and that alone says so much, in my opinion. Then you move on to saying you only live 20 MINUTES from each other? Are you sure he isn’t seeing someone else?
    Here’s a “trick” I’ve used with guys who want to spend so much time texting and nothing else: just be unavailable for all that texting! Surely – SURELY – you have other things you can do besides sitting around texting some dude. Make no mistake, just because someone is texting you doesn’t mean they’re into you in the least. It means they’re bored and sitting around with nothing to do so they want to waste your time. I think you should move on as well, or at least not be exclusive and start seeing other people.

    1. Reread – but LW1 makes me crazy. This guy is 15 years older than you??? He should be working even harder, aka making you a priority. My husband is 18 years older than me, we’ve been together for 20 years. There’s no reason to date a man that much older unless he’s treating you EXTRA right, you can get a young hottie if you’re just going to be having occasional sex with a bunch of texting!
      Also, when you say you text all day every day, do you know why? Control – he knows where you are, that he’s on your mind, that you’re pining for him and giving him all your time and mental space. You need to move on, woman. Its been 5 years so you were in your 20’s when he started grooming you for this BS. Which he probably did because you were (presumably) a single mom with 2 young children, also know as “not going anywhere”. Move on, its urgent.

      1. LW1, I agree with @Buttery – this dude is 15 years older than you are and stringing you along like a sexting buddy/FWB when it’s convenient. He also wants nothing at all to do with your kids after 5(!) years, which means he doesn’t really see a future.

        You’re 32. If all you really want is a sexting buddy/FWB, you can find someone much younger with no kids who would be happy to do that. And you’d probably see him more than 12 times in 2 years, damn. When I was on Tinder a couple years ago in my early 30s, I was aghast at these mid-40s men with kids who just wanted something super casual. Like no thanks, bro, I can get 25-30 year olds for that who would have way more time and availability than you do.

        LW2, I’ve experienced a guy who was super weird about PDA and it wrecked my self esteem. I know you don’t want to break up but it might be better for your mental health in the long run. No one deserves a partner who acts ashamed to be with them in front of other people.

      2. LW2: I will second what TheLadyE said–a guy who makes you feel like he’s ashamed to be with you will DESTROY your self-esteem. I know this firsthand. It doesn’t matter if he really is ashamed of you or has his own issues that he won’t deal with. You deserve better.

  2. A message to Any Human Who Is Interested In A Romantic Relationship: YOU CAN DO SO MUCH BETTER. WHY are you settling for such crappy little scraps?

  3. anonymousse says:

    LW1- the “love of your life” doesn’t WANT to spend any more time with you. Your letter makes me feel bad for you. Not bad that he doesn’t want to see you, bad that after five years you still stick around and believe he is the love of your life. Yes, I can tell that this is a waste of your time. Try an experiment, do not try to make any plans with him and see what happens. My guess- absolutely nothing.

    LW2- Yikes. “I’m quite certain he’s not cheating on me.” Not exactly the best endorsement for good boyfriend material.

  4. dirtorsoil says:

    LW1- Your relationship is pretty much virtual, which can feel seriously intimate but literally means nothing. Hes not going to budge b/c hes getting what he wants, occasional sex and no bother. I’d stop texting and stop planning visits and likely it will solve itself. Once you get his attention (if you get it) you can explain to him the changes that need to happen. Honestly, the sad thing is that anyone can convince themselves that someone is the “love of their life”. But has he _shown you that_? I would say no…

    LW2- He sounds like a reptile and is inflicting whatever his issue is on you. Think about it this way, either he has a major issue that only he can deal with, or he is ashamed of you. Either way, nope

    1. Yes, I would for sure start by NOT texting him ceaselessly. See how he likes YOU being unavailable.

  5. allathian says:

    LW1: MOA, there’s no future for you in this relationship. He wants a texting buddy (not even a sexting buddy, just texting) and you want something more. On the one hand, far too often single parents basically introduce new partners to their kids before they’re even dating exclusively, but this is going too far in the other direction. He’s not interested in knowing your kids and he’s not particularly interested in you, either. Read the writing on the wall and dump him. You’re not getting any of the benefits of a relationship, so why should you put up with the annoyances? You deserve a lot better.

    LW2: If you weren’t so inexperienced with guys, you would have realized long ago that this guy isn’t for you. You need PDA and he’s neither able nor apparently willing to give it to you, as he’s not willing to work on being able to give you what you need. Just saying that he’ll do it isn’t going to cut it here.

    My husband and I are very undemonstrative in public these days, at the most we’ll hold hands in a dark movie theater. When we were dating, though, we’d walk holding hands and kiss on street corners. He’s only said “I love you” to me once (his go-to phrase is “you’re very dear to me”), and at the time he was holding our newborn son in his arms, but he looked at me. This works for us, because neither of us is very demonstrative by nature, at least not now when we’re in a long-term, stable and happy relationship.

    The above just goes to show that undemonstrative doesn’t have to mean there’s something wrong, but you’re clearly not a good fit.

  6. Please google ‘emotionally unavailable’ men. This goes for LW1. I dated a guy like this for 6 months.

    Me: to therapist – how can I change this?
    Therapist: move on. Do you want to be here two? Five years from now?

  7. Kalindria says:

    LW2: since when is saying “I love you” PDA? Or maybe my definition is different. He sounds broken or damaged in a way that needs professional help to repair. And he doesn’t appear to be interested in fixing it. Aim higher and MOA, girlfriend.

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