Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Is there a way to help someone else build his social circle? My partner and I are both in our 30s with no kids and a fair amount of free time. We do spend quite a bit of time together and go on regular dates, etc.
I am a “joiner” and am involved in things that occupy the rest of my free time. My partner does not, and has begun complaining that he feels lonely when I am away from home for a few hours in the evening.
I don’t think I can be happy in a relationship where I forgo my hobbies and time with other friends in order to keep him constant company. Where appropriate, I invite him to join me, but (1) I can’t always do that (ladies’ happy hour, for instance, and hobbies he’s not interested in), and (2) he often declines and counter-proposes doing something at home — often the same thing we have done a few other nights that week, like play board games and watch TV together.
He has a handful of people he calls close friends, but he does not make a meaningful effort to spend time with them and defaults to wanting me to do everything/go everywhere with him. I have suggested more than once that he call up a fellow board-game lover for nights when he wants to stay in and play, but he won’t do it.
What next? I don’t want to think this is a relationship killer.
— Active Partner, Lonely Partner
You don’t want to, but you may have to, because you can’t make a person social who isn’t — nor is it your job to.
But first, it sounds like it’s time for the “This is the way I am” conversation, where you spell out that:
You are a joiner, like being a joiner, and don’t intend to stop being a joiner;
You are happy to include him where appropriate but it won’t always be;
You don’t see such inclusion on its own as a solution for his loneliness, because it’s a patch, not a repair;
You understand he is lonely and will support him in his effort to find more companionship but you won’t agree to be the sole source of that companionship. Because you like having a mix of time with him and time on your own stuff.
Once you’ve spelled this out as a non-negotiable part of being with you, then he gets to decide whether he’s willing to accept you and your relationship on those terms, or if he wants something different.
If he wants something different, then it’ll need to be with someone else.
One caveat. Chances are he will bypass the either-or and still try to get both, to stay with you and have things on his terms — because that’s pretty much what everyone wants and wishful (re)thinking is powerful stuff. Accordingly, he might say he agrees to your terms but then keep on complaining about them.
If that happens, then you’ll need to decide if you want him and care about him enough to put up with that as your status quo. Wishful rethinking is a risk for you, too; for your own sake, please don’t succumb.
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