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What is the fine line between being too emotional and clingy versus being unavailable and coming off as if we don't care? My boyfriend seems to hate when I get "gushy," but also gets upset if I don't tell him enough how much I love him, or sometimes even when I don't seem to care where he is or what he's doing. So what is it that he wants? How much is too much — but how much is too little? — Stage 4 Clinger at Skidmore
Dear Stage 4 Clinger,
Sadly, there is no fine line, and guys vary in their tolerance of romantic expression. Some guys like to be touchy and adoring in public, while others freak out at anything even resembling PDA. There’s a spectrum for how much girly emotion guys find acceptable, and many, including yours truly, are deeply ambivalent about what they want in terms of expression from girlfriends.
Most importantly, realize that you are honestly doing nothing wrong. The fact you ponder this at all proves you are not a Stage 4 Clinger. Your boyfriend vacillates between a totally normal desire to be desired and an equally normal distaste for sentimentality, and you end up with mixed messages.
Guys feel as though they shouldn’t show emotion. I know I feel as though I shouldn’t. Often I fear seeming vulnerable because I may come off as needy. If your boyfriend tends to be more reserved, then it’s embarrassing for him to get gushy because he sees it as socially unbecoming. Guys just aren’t “supposed” to act like that. Besides this common masculine insecurity, he likely does not want to see you guys as being “that couple.” You know, that perpetually slobbering, cuddling, joined-at-the-hip pair that everyone fears becoming if they spend all their time talking about their relationship and just how much they love the other person. Anxiety over becoming “that couple” is far from just a guy thing. Both guys and girls feel reticent about being too relationshippy because everyone has rolled their eyes at sappy couples in the past. Your boyfriend wants to feel like his relationship is spontaneous and relaxed. Guys want to be part of a couple that is, for lack of a better word, chill.
But he still wants all the affection that usually comes with being in a relationship. He wants to know that you think about him all the time and want his company. He wants the reminders of your attraction and attachment to him. He can’t dole it out but he sure can take it. Now this is a guy thing. Guys generally like to show devotion in low-key ways and cringe at the thought of making sweepingly romantic discussions and gestures.
What he needs to understand is that sometimes you like to get sappy and ask, “Remember that moonlit night?” And sometimes you are too busy with your own activities to care what he’s up to. Talk to him about this while masking your frustration and keeping your good humor. Have him attempt to define what level of romantic expression he wants, both in public and when it’s just you two. I would guess what he wants are low-key reminders of your feelings without the emotional openness he finds cloying. Likely his rule will be that if it’s something you’d hear in a Katherine Heigl movie, don’t say it. Keep it casual; most relationships go through issues like this. And don’t sweat it too much. He’s just being a guy: uncomfortable with his own emotions.