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Boyfriend loves me but lacks empathy for others

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Dear Guys,

I’ve been with my boyfriend for 2.5 years. Its been a wonderful time and I have been so much happier with him in my life. However, he has a difficult side to him that I have until now tried to overlook. Although he treats me very well, he is not good with the other people in my life. He has no friends of his own —he did have one friend but he dropped contact with him when we got together. I think their friendship was based on checking out girls. He has nothing to do with his brother but refuses to tell me why. He does have a good relationship with his parents – mostly based on him and his dad’s love of steam trains. However, although I have gradually introduced him to most of my family and friends he makes a huge deal out of getting together with them so much so, that it is an incredibly difficult and stressful experience all round. He refused to go to my two best friends’ weddings for which I was a bridesmaid at both. He also refused to go to my nan’s funeral. He also seems to lack empathy with them – e.g. Not being sympathetic towards my mum when my nan died or to my sister when she had two miscarriages. In these two cases he was not unkind to their faces but has said to me that they should just get over it. He also decides who of my friends and family he will like before he meets them. – mostly he decides he won’t like them but a couple he almost hero worships.  Now most recently he suggested meeting up with a friend of mine as we were passing her flat. This was a first for him to suggest doing something sociable – so I was really pleased. But then my friend was having a moan about her boyfriend – and he just came out with “well isn’t he into X.” (A fetish) My friend was mortified and of course angry and hurt that I had passed on this secret to him. He has not apologized to me or to her for saying this and doesn’t really seem to see what the problem was. (Luckily my friend has forgiven me for telling my boyfriend the secret but is still upset with him.) I feel that it was cruel of him and he admits that subconsciously it may well have been revenge for some comments that she had made about him in the past.

So having been very much in love this last two and a half years because he has been very loving to me, a great friend and a lot of fun, I am now feeling quite confused. How do I decide if his difficulty with people is just shyness or a more worrying lack of kindness, and whether it’s something I am willing to put up with or not!

Galatea

Dear Galatea,

Thanks for your question.

Your boyfriend sounds very nice in many ways–at least to you— so we can see how this unsettling characteristic of his would throw you for a loop. However, it doesn’t sound like this is something that is going away anytime soon. We’re going to address each of your concerns one by one.

Friends

Meeting a new person’s friends is an important step when evaluating the potential of a long term relationship. It’s always a relief when you realize your new love actually has friends, and even better, you kind of like them. It’s not necessarily a deal breaker if they don’t, but it sure feels reassuring when they do. This is how people determine whether or not they’re dating a stalker, or the man or woman they want to marry. Of course some people don’t need as many friends as other people, and your boyfriend could fall into that category.

Family

Another way of evaluating a person is interacting with their family. It’s nice to know your guy has a solid relationship with his parents—it doesn’t matter why really. But it would be useful to know why he’s not speaking to his brother. We think you should learn more about his family in general. What kinds of things did they do together? What are their beliefs? Religious or not? How was he raised? Political views? Education? All of those things will help fill in some of the blank canvas left from his lack of friends. And if he won’t talk to you about his family and his life, then you should be concerned. That is a serious red flag, especially since the two of you have been dating for a long time now, and we would think he would feel comfortable telling you his innermost thoughts and feelings.

Future

We’re not psychologists, psychiatrists, or therapists, but we do understand people fairly well. His lack of empathy is likely a coping mechanism he learned at an early age. We couldn’t begin to guess how it happened, but it might be something the two of you should talk about at some point, especially if you’re considering this man for your future spouse. And something to keep in mind: these types of behaviors only amplify as a person gets older.

You need to ask yourself some hard questions Galatea. (And we can see you are already doing this.) Am I okay with his behavior toward my family and friends? Will I be okay if I have to choose between my boyfriend/husband and my network of family and friends if it comes to that? How will this impact my children if we decide to have them? What kind of father do I think he’ll be? Will I feel isolated if we can’t work through some of these issues? Once the “new love” wears off, will his lack of empathy seep into our relationship as well, or his relationship with our kids? Is it possible for him to change? Does he want to change? And if he changes, is it just for me, or is it for his own growth?

We’d love to see this work out for you Galatea. We’re not here to tell you what to do, only to help you see the entire picture. It’s good that you’re wondering about all of this now, rather than after you’re already married. Keep gathering as much information as you can. Talk to your boyfriend about your concerns. Communication is very important. He should know that you’re worried about this. Talk to your friends and family. (Even though they don’t know him like you do, at least you’ll know where they stand and find out what they see that you might be missing.) And then once you have this information, it will be up to you to sift through it and figure out if this is going to work for you. We know it’s not easy, but it is necessary.

We wish you the best. Good luck. And keep us posted. Leave us a follow up comment.

THE GUYS

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