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What is the best way to let your significant other know that you want some time alone?

by Dear Jon
January 25, 2002

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Sort 112_Dear Jon-What is the best way to let your significant other know that you want some time alone? ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon

What is the best way to let your significant other know that you want some time alone?

Needs a little space


Dear Needs,

As you can tell, I am not so politically sensitve as to be inclusive with the definition "significant other." I am going to talk about the needs for space in a relationship between male and female. If you mean anything else by it, write to someone else.

If you have been reading the last 111 Dear Jon columns, I am sure it would shock you to discover that, in fact, the answer is different when the woman is asking for space from when the man is asking for space.

I am reading this "need for time alone" at face value, not as a euphamism for "break up." In one of my earliest sorts I gave lots of advice about ways to break up with your significant other. This is a completely different issue. I am assuming that the goal is to keep the relationship intact.

In a world of healthy people, the best approach is always direct. "You know, I really would like to be by myself this evening. I just need to reflect on some things." The problem is that the ranks of healthy people continue to thin, leaving 6 billion neurotics to ponder what this means in the depths of our insecurity.

If a man is direct with the woman, the woman begins to wonder: "What is he going through that he doesn't feel he can talk to me about? Maybe he has doubts about our relationship. Maybe he is tired of me. Maybe he does not love me anymore. Should I call him tomorrow? Should I wait for him to call me? Which of my 42 totally confidential best-friends should I call first to discuss this for three hours?"

If the woman is direct with the man, the man begins to wonder: "Does this mean I won't get the goodies tonight? Is this one of those tests where if I am totally hip and sensitive to that then she's going to be angry for the next month? Since we're not going out, I wonder what's on t.v.? Did my scumbag of a roommate finish all the Twinkies? Has Brett Favre totally forgotten how to read the two-deep zone?"

Therefore, being direct with your neurotic significant other is not the best plan. The best plan is subterfuge and little half-truths.

When a woman wants some time to be alone, she has the all-time excuse. "I have a head-ache. I really just want to sleep it off. Why don't you go out with the guys tonight?" The caring and sensitive neurotic male will say, "Can I get you anything, or make you soup?" Since he has now passed the test, the woman is free to say, "No. I'll be all right. It's just one of those woman things." This works during courtship, engagement, and marriage, because men have no idea all the stuff that fits under the broad category of "woman things." You have set the man free for an evening without jeopardizing the relationship in any way. The added bonus is that, if your significant other is caring and sensitive, he will call you the next day to see how you are doing.

The man has no such convenience. There are no such mysteries in physical nature called "guy things." When a man needs time alone it is because he no longer has the energy to invest in being sensitive. He has spent all that energy at the office. After 10 hours of "the customer is always right" he wants to be right about something himself. The wrong place to feel right about anything is with his girl-friend, so he wants some time alone.

Of course, being a man, he can scarcely articulate any vulnerable feelings at all, so he will not be able to explain this need to his girl-friend. So he thinks that if all he needs is time alone, the solution is not to call his girl-friend that evening.

Big, big mistake. Do not ever not call your girl-friend. You will put yourself through a whole lot worse than your clients or your managers ever give you.

What a guy has to do is call his girl-friend before the evening begins, like at 3 in the afternoon. If you are lucky, you will get voice-mail. Memorize these words.

"Hi. I just wanted to say I miss you (or "love" you, depending on when the woman has moved from "that's weird" to "why doesn't he ever come out and say he loves me?") and that I was hoping we could get together this evening, but some stuff has come up at work I need to sort out, so I don't think I can make it."

She will call by 4:30 to ask what kind of problems you are having at work and whether she can help. Then you reply, "Oh, we have an unhappy vendor--" which is almost always true for businesses, especially ones that pay invoices after 60 days-- "and some sticky client relationships" -- again, this is almost always true-- "so my boss wants me to brainstorm ways to unclog the pipeline" -- this has been a standing assignment for every employee for six months, complete with a "We Value Your Suggestions" box that sits on the desk of the Assistant to the Vice-President -- "Why don't we get together tomorrow?"

She will be perfectly happy that a "date" has been made and will leave you alone the rest of the night, confident that you are a bonafide employee with a real job. You will go home and look for ideas to help your brainstorming by watching re-runs of Seinfeld followed by the prime-time line-up of police and hospital shows.

This gets a whole lot more complicated after you get married, of course. But that is a different column to write, and I won't do it until someone asks the question.

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