Dating and Relationship Advice

Dear iris,

"I've been dating this new guy for 5 months. He's very sweet, caring, and by far the best guy I've ever dated. He recently opened up to me about some work stress he's having and how his relationship with his dad isn't good. Because of this, I felt like I could open up to him about my history with anxiety and depression. When I was having a particularly hard day, I messaged him saying that my anxiety was bad and I was having a hard time. He sorta responded but didn't even bother to call. We texted back and forth for a bit until the messages stopped. The next morning, he told me he fell asleep.

I felt betrayed. I'd opened up to him and he just fell asleep? How could he care so little? After I was there for him? He's normally such a nice guy but I don't know how to handle this. I want to talk about how his actions hurt me, but now I don't feel safe speaking up. Do you think I should anyway? What should I say?"

Signed, Feeling Betrayed

Dear Feeling Betrayed,

Let me start by saying this: it makes complete sense that you’re upset. You opened up to someone for the first time and received a reaction you didn’t expect. I know from my own experience that being vulnerable with someone new is hard enough. Having the other person go silent or show little interaction stings on a deep level. It feels like betrayal.

I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. At the same time, the situation happened, it’s in the past, and now there are two questions to answer: What does this guy's response mean when it comes to how much he cares, and how do you talk to him about how his actions hurt you?

Let’s cover the first question.

The famous relationship researcher, John Gottman, coined a term called “bids for connection,” which describes how couples form intimate bonds. You may think that grand gestures like fancy dates or taking vacations make for deep romance, but it’s the small moments that matter more. A bid for connection could be reaching for your partner’s hand while sitting on the couch. If your partner holds your hand back, they have accepted your bid. Thus, the couple’s bond is strengthened.

But if that bid for connection isn’t accepted, then you end up feeling distanced from your partner. That’s exactly how you’re feeling. You tried to be vulnerable with your boyfriend, but he didn’t meet you where you thought he would. And the fact that you were there for him when he was vulnerable (you accepted his bid for connection) only adds salt to the wound.

Now, that’s how I see things from your side. On his side, it’s more nuanced. The guy you’re dating could be a bad texter or not recognize emotional cues through messages. You could’ve caught him at a bad time, and his mind wasn’t prepared for a deep talk. I don't mean to make excuses for him, but to suggest that it doesn't mean he doesn't care.

Having a conversation in-person could clear the air on all of this. You say he’s the nicest guy you’ve ever dated. That alone insinuates that maybe this whole situation came from some bad-timing and misunderstanding. During your conversation, make sure that you don't blame or accuse him for not caring. Rather, focus on how his actions made you feel and explain why you wanted to share your anxious thoughts in the first place.

It might seem unfair to have to speak up when YOU'RE the one who got hurt. But this is a great exercise in learning to honor your emotions in a relationship and fight for your needs.

Sometimes our partners disappoint us, but that doesn’t mean they intend to hurt us. If this guy is an excellent match for you, he’ll be happy to clear the air and give this conversation a second try.

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