DEAR CAROLYN: I’m in a relationship with a great guy. We’re talking marriage. Everything for the most part is wonderful, except for a communication issue that has become our “repeat fight.”
I am a planner, and he is not. I’m on the road for work a few times a month, and he works overnights and sometimes goes for two weeks without a day off. We’d never see each other if I didn’t size up our schedules and plan ahead.
He says this kind of weekly micromanaging is stressful for him. His job already demands enough, and having to chart out his few free days freaks him out. He promises we’re going to see each other without the constant planning because he misses me and will prioritize me.
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He HAS always put our relationship first, so I don’t doubt his best intentions. But I’d always be in limbo, still inclined to look at my schedule and keep a few days a week free to essentially be “on call.” It doesn’t seem fair.
In the end we both want the same thing: to see each other. Where is our middle ground? Do I need to give his way a try?
— Color-Coded Calendar
DEAR COLOR-CODED CALENDAR: Yes, if only because you apparently haven’t.
You have, meanwhile, been color-coding his free days for quite some time. You think you’d never see each other, but you both know tight scheduling stresses him out.
Another argument for backing off involves boundaries (doesn’t it always). In my perfect world, you’d manage your time, and he’d manage his — which includes any minor, non-grudging adjustments to allow the two ways to get along.
That might look like this: You calendar-box him in when it’s necessary to — say, when reservations need to be made, tickets need to be bought, others need to be included — and you leave the rest blank. Those blank days are yours to fill with friends, leave empty, allot to activities that allow flexibility, or some unforced combination of the three.
If he happens to be free the day you’ve made plans to see friends? Tell him so, ask him about “tomorrow or the next day,” then see your friends as planned.
In other words, don’t go halfway and act as if you’re scheduling your own time while you’re really just waiting for him, and don’t set it up as a gotcha-trap. Commit to treating your time as yours and his time as his, as the logical thing to do, and see what actually happens. Let the natural consequences of not planning kick in. It’s not a “communication issue,” it’s about compatibility, and this exercise will tell you how deep it goes. Before you marry.
DEAR CAROLYN: In the past week at work, I have gotten feedback that I am unapproachable, “too smart” and that people are intimidated by me. This has shaken up my self-perception, because I try to do my job really well and be friendly. It’s true that I move a little too fast, am decidedly at the deep end of the nerd pool, and take my work seriously.
So … any advice for how to assess this and work toward improving myself so I’m more approachable at work?
— The Deep Dark Truthful Mirror
DEAR DEEP DARK TRUTHFUL MIRROR: Being a little scary in your workplace — due to your skill at your job, not your skill at terrorizing people — isn’t the worst thing.
I’m not convinced your professional demeanor needs a major overhaul. There’s a good chance that whatever softening it does need is already in progress, and by the sensible means of being friendly and hardworking (congratulations on not getting defensive, by the way).