Dear Aunt Sue,
I’ve been with this guy Tyler for a while and I really like him a lot. At first we were just hooking up, and we never talked about the relationship or anything. But it became a regular thing, and I developed feelings for him. Then I found out he hooked up with someone else. I got really upset, and at that point we decided to be exclusive. Even though he’d hurt my feelings by hooking up with some random girl, I was really happy he was willing to commit to being exclusive at that point.
A few months went by, and everything seemed fine. We were basically dating without calling it that. I just felt like something was missing, though. If we were going to be a couple, I wanted to make it official. I wanted to be able to say he was my boyfriend. I finally told him how I felt. His response was that he really liked me, but just didn’t want to be in a relationship. I couldn’t understand that – it was just a question of the label at that point. So there was all this drama, but eventually we kind of settled into what we had been doing before. It really bugged me, though, and a couple of weeks ago I finally told him I couldn’t do it anymore. Either we would be in a serious relationship, or I wanted to end things. At first he said no, so we stopped seeing each other. Then he came back after a week and said OK. So now we are dating.
I know I should be happy, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I have everything I want -I have a boyfriend I am crazy about! He seems cool with it, but honestly he acts the same as before. It just feels crappy, it’s not the way I thought it would be. I got what I wanted, so why does it feel like something is missing?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. It feels like something is missing because it IS. You gave Tyler an ultimatum when you decided that what you wanted was for Tyler to be your boyfriend. But what you really wanted was for Tyler to love you, and to be as invested in the relationship as you are. You focused on the label because that is what he had been resisting. You are still unsure of Tyler’s love for you, and the real commitment that goes with it. You asked Tyler for one thing, and he agreed, but that wasn’t your real goal.
You forced Tyler to choose so that you could be reassured that you had something real with him. And he delivered. He made a decision to meet your demand for a relationship. Why would he do that? There are many possible reasons:
He may love you, but needed more time.
He likes the regular sex.
He enjoys hanging out with you, and doesn’t want to lose that.
There is no one else on the horizon right now.
All his friends are in relationships, and he doesn’t want to be the odd man out.
When you gave Tyler an ultimatum, he weighed the pros and cons. He chose to be with you, but you are not reassured. He is willing to call himself your boyfriend and have regular sex with you. That’s all you know. That’s all you have. Therefore, Tyler is not giving you what you want.
The word ultimatum comes from the Latin for “the last one.”
It is usually the final demand in a series of requests, and is only made once compromise is deemed impossible. It is a drastic step, because it clarifies where each party stands in a brutally honest way. When you are prepared to hear the truth and make choices accordingly, it is very useful and can save you a whole bunch of trouble and misery down the road.
Here’s how to make an ultimatum work:
Give an ultimatum before you are at your wits’ end. You don’t ever want to act in desperation, and giving an ultimatum when you are feeling very upset will appear rash and poorly thought out.
The best time to give an ultimatum is as soon as you realize what you want, and are encountering significant resistance from the other person. This usually indicates an imbalance in the degree of emotional investment, so it is very important for you to make things clear without further wasting time.
An ultimatum should only be given once, so you need to choose your moment wisely. Don’t start a cycle of fights, ultimatums and reconciliations.
Prepare for the conversation. Think it through. If the other person grants your request, will that make you happy?
Be clear about exactly what you want. If you ask for something and then find yourself still dissatisfied once your ultimatum has been accepted, that is not really fair to the other person.
Remain cool and calm throughout the conversation. You stand a much better chance of being heard, and of your request being interpreted as reasonable, if you behave like a sane person.
Rachel, if Tyler was enthusiastic about being in a relationship with you, I think you would be a very happy woman. Because you sense reluctance and a lack of commitment on his part, you really don’t feel any better off than you did before. I encourage you to sit down with Tyler and clarify exactly what each of you is feeling. And then you need to honestly assess if Tyler can give you what you want. If not, you deserve to find someone who will. There will be another guy. Don’t waste the pretty in a dead end relationship.