Dear 100 Hour Board,
Not to be that person, but...
A while back I started casually dating this guy. He's generally nice, but he has some tendencies that are REALLY off-putting; for example, he is constantly bombarding me with texts, but also can't seem to stop apologizing for it, saying things like "Sorry I'm being annoying," or "I hope I didn't ruin (fill in the blank)"and frankly, it's exhausting. He constantly asks me if I'm stressed out and starts profusely apologizing for adding to it before I can even respond. He immediately assumes he's done something to offend me if I take too long to answer his messages. As far as I'm aware I haven't done anything to him that merits him acting like this, which makes me think he's got some insecurity issues. Which I'm not condemning, I know everybody struggles with that kind of thing to one extent or another, but I'm not quite sure how to broach the subject with him without hurting his feelings. It's impossible to force someone to have confidence, you know? But I'm not interested in spending time with someone who's terrified of me. I guess what I'm asking is - do I bother trying to have this conversation with him? If so, how should I go about it without being condescending or hurtful?
Dear Question Marks,
It does sound like he has some insecurities, but it sounds like he's insecure about the relationship as opposed to insecure about himself. He's probably more into you than vice versa, therefore he's trying to compensate for that imbalance.
That being said, if you're interested in a relationship with this man then honesty and communication are going to be the best fixes. If you know you're going to have a really busy day and won't have much time to respond to texts, send him a text in the morning letting him know so he won't worry. Make it a habit of telling him when you feel stressed and suggest you go get ice cream together to help relieve it. If you continue to find his behavior off-putting but still want to make a relationship work, sit him down and look him in the eye and tell him you care about him and that he doesn't have to look for hidden signals. Promise you'll be honest with him if the relationship is no longer working for you.
Communication is the best antidote to insecurity.
I've been that guy. I can't tell you why he is acting this way, but I can tell you why I acted that way.
Did I have low self-esteem? Probably, but it wasn't as simple as Quixotic Kid says below. I wasn't self-hating. In school, I had high self-esteem because I knew I could perform well. In sports, I had high self-esteem because I felt like I could perform well. One area of my life that I wasn't confident in was, yep, DATING! Ask my family and you'll get them laughing at how few dates I went on.
With that being said, I felt confident in myself, but I didn't feel like the girls I liked would like me the same way I liked them. I think this is a fairly natural feeling. The girls I liked were (in my mind), funny, attractive, confident, athletic, and I thought they were out of my league. This is why when they didn't respond to my text messages (or my Facebook messages in the earlier days) immediately, I would start to think that I was annoying them or that I had said the wrong thing. I felt like their lack of response was signaling disinterest in me.
Obviously my reasoning was (probably) not correct. I'm sure I was annoying at times, but is was MUCH more likely that they were just doing something else and either hadn't seen my message or didn't have time to respond immediately. However, when it came to the girls that I liked, my rationale went out the window.
My advice to you: tell the guy how you feel about him romantically and why. In my personal situations, I never really knew where the girls stood in terms of how they felt about me romantically. I felt like they were friends but they didn't really have crushes on me. However, I later learned that in most cases they actually did have crushes on me. However, not knowing this made me want to always be in the front of their mind and constantly asking for affirmation (without explicitly asking for it). So do you really like this guy? If so, tell him that and tell him why so that he doesn't have to keep wondering what you see in him and why a girl like you would like a guy like him. If not, tell him so he can hopefully move on with his life.
I didn't end up marrying the girls that I had this problem with and perhaps that is a good thing. I love my wife and I can say that she was very good at telling me that she was romantically interested in me and she was also good at telling me why she liked me. I didn't have to keep wondering why a girl like her would like a guy like me. This knowledge does wonders for a guy's confidence in the dating world.
I hope that helps!
-Sunday Night Banter
In my opinion, you definitely need to talk to him about this. At best, he's got dangerously low self-esteem. At worst, he's manipulative now and may be abusive in the future. Either way, I really think he should go see a therapist.
If he's got self-esteem issues, a therapist can listen to him and help him work through those feelings. Being self-hating isn't good, I can tell you from experience. It can get super dark in our own brains, and it's really easy to hide these feelings behind a few self-deprecating jokes. Not to mention the fact that it seems like low self-worth is practically a requirement in our society nowadays. It's also really hard to believe that people actually like you and like you being around when you feel this badly about yourself. You just always feel like even your presence is a burden to the people around you. A therapist will help him change how he talks to himself and how he treats himself when no one else is around, which will improve literally every other aspect of his life.
Now, on the other hand, this could be a manipulation tactic. It's possible that he's trying to make you feel sorry for him, which may put you more fully under his control. This type of behavior can also be a red flag for future abuse. In this case, he definitely needs to see a therapist as well. Most abusers don't think of themselves as abusers, they just know that this type of relationship keeps the opposite party close and not likely to leave. A professional can help him to see any toxic habits or thought processes he posseses in relationships, and help him work on correcting them.
Ultimately, I think you need to talk to him and tell him what you told us. It's not your job to be his therapist or his ray of sunshine. He needs to take control of his own situation and get some help. If he refuses, I wouldn't continue seeing him if I were you.
First, I want to echo Quixotic Kid's answer: this could be low self-esteem or it could be emotional abuse. Either way, know that it is not your responsibility to solve his problems and that emotional abuse/unhealthy relationships can be harder to spot than we'd like to think. I have a lot of recent experience with this, so if you'd ever like to chat just shoot me an email. (Long story short: there's some unhealthy aspects to my relationship but we're working it out, but now I know a whooooole bunch about emotional abuse so woo.)
Should you have this conversation with him? YES. It may help your relationship. It may help him realize where he needs extra help. It may help you see he is emotionally abusive so that you can break up with him. Either way, this conversation is very important.
How do you go about starting this conversation? I'd suggest being direct. Tell him that while you enjoy talking with/texting you, sometimes he does it too often, especially when he apologizes prematurely and repeatedly. Let him know that you don't always/can't always respond right away, and there's so many more reasons why you're not responding than you being offended. If you want, you can ask why he feels he needs to apologize, or why he think you've been offended.
Okay now here's something that some people may find controversial but with my recent experiences I strongly support: you may want to text him this conversation. While I definitely support face-to-face conversations, especially with hard topics, if he is emotionally abusive, having his written responses to this will be very helpful. It will help you see how he's responding and having a written record will help you either share it with others (whether a friend or counselor) for their opinions or document it for future references if you keep dating. I may be overanxious about this in light of recent experiences, so feel free to disregard this. However, this advice may come in use someday, whether to yourself or a friend.
Obviously how he responds is very important. If he gaslights you by saying it isn't a problem, red flag. If he blames you for making him feel that way, red flag. If he says he has anxiety and you just need to support him through it (without referencing what he will do to help himself), red flag. Hopefully he doesn't say anything that sends off warning signals, and you're able to have a good conversation about what causes him to text/apologize so much. If you feel comfortable, you could even say something like, "I've heard great things about the BYU counseling center (or just counseling in general if you're not at BYU). It seems like you have a lot of anxiety, and I care about you and don't want you going through that much pain and anxiety all the time, and maybe counseling would help."
Finally, something my friend told me was that you don't need a reason to leave a dating relationship. You're not married, you're not eternally committed, so though you may feel somewhat required to stay in the relationship, if it doesn't feel right you don't have to stay.
Finally finally (sorry I thought I was done but then I remembered this)—listen to your instincts. One sign of an emotionally abusive relationship is you feel like you're going crazy. If your instincts are telling you something is wrong, then something is probably wrong. Trust your gut.
-guppy of doom