I’m a married gay woman. Whenever I ask my wife to discuss some problem in our relationship, she’ll say, “Can we talk about this tomorrow” (or “later”)? Of course, there’s never a “tomorrow.” I end up feeling resentful, and this makes even a minor issue turn into a big deal. Help.
Putting things off is a relief in the moment but usually costs you big-time in the long run — like when you procrastinate in going to the dermatologist until the mole on your neck has a girlfriend and a dog.
Procrastination — the “See ya later, alligator!” approach to problem-solving — is defined by psychologists as voluntarily delaying some action we need to take, despite our knowing that doing this will probably make the ultimate outcome much worse. Procrastinating seems seriously dumb, right? But consider the sort of tasks we put off. Chances are, nobody needs to nag you 45 times to eat cake or have what you’re pretty sure will be mind-blowing sex.
Research by social scientists Fuschia Sirois and Timothy Pychyl suggests that procrastination is a form of mood management, a knee-jerk emotional reaction to emotional stress that involves putting “short-term mood repair over long-term goal pursuit.”
I know — not exactly the stuff Valentine’s Day cards are made of. But focus on the “knee-jerk” aspect of the mood management response. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains that our brain has two systems: an instinctive, fast-responding emotional system that jumps right in and a slower rational system that we have to force to do its job.
That’s because reasoning — applying judgment to some dreaded problem — takes what Kahneman calls “mental work.” We have to make ourselves focus on the problem and then put cognitive energy into figuring things out. That’s a grim chore — the antithesis of a mood booster. And that’s probably why there’s a term “pay attention!” but there’s no “pay emotion!” Emotion is automatic. It just busts out, all “An issue to discuss? Oh, wouldja look at the time?! I believe I’m five minutes late for moving to Florida!”
Because personality traits tend to be consistent over time and across situations, chances are that your wife has a habit of ducking all sorts of emotionally uncomfortable stuff. Understanding this, as well as why we procrastinate, can help you see her ducking as a human flaw rather than a sign that a particular human doesn’t love her wife.
To keep resentment from poisoning your relationship, when she says “tomorrow…” say, “Awesome, babe. What time works for you?” Maybe even have a regular weekly wine ’n’ chat. Ideally, the conversations should mostly be lovey-dovey, not the sort she prefers to have on the third Tuesday in never: “Okay, I could have my toenails pulled out with rusty pliers or have this conversation. This isn’t to say I’m dreading it; I just want to give some thought to how attached I am to wearing open-toe shoes.”
Crime of Compassion
I’m a 33-year-old guy on the dating scene, looking for a relationship. I’m pretty picky, so most of my dating isn’t going past the three-week mark. My problem is that it seems mean to call a woman and tell her why I’m not interested, but it also seems mean to just ghost — disappear on her without telling her why. What’s a good and kind way to end things?
— Nice Dude
It’s disappointing when a prospective relationship isn’t working, but it’s much worse when it just disappears. Can you imagine coming home one day and your stove is just … gone?
“Ghosting” somebody you’ve been dating — vanishing forever, sans explanation — cues what psychologists call the “Zeigarnik effect,” which describes the mind’s habit of annoying us (over and over and over) to get “closure” when we have unfinished business.
Some people “ghost” because they have all the conscience of a deer tick; others believe (or tell themselves) that it’s kinder than laying out exactly why they’re done. But consider that when moving on, you only need to communicate one essential thing: There will be no more of you in their future.
Should a woman press you for further info, stick to vague explanations — “spark just wasn’t there” — instead of going into detail about, say, how her breath reminds you of a decomposing gerbil. Also to be avoided are explanations that give a woman hope that your vamoosage is temporary — for example, telling her you have to end it with her because you still aren’t over your ex. That can lead to a closure of sorts … of the zipper on the tent she’s pitched on the grassy area in the middle of your cul-de-sac. (Stalker? Um, she prefers “watchful urban camper.”)