May 28, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Relationships Must Involve Loving the ‘Whole’ Person

I’m dating a man named Josh, who I am very interested in. When we are together or even on the phone, he is wonderful. He is kind, interested in what I have to say, interesting and a perfect match for me. When we are out on a date, I never feel the urge to get home already and call it a day. I’m never bored. When we’re on the phone, I sometimes feel as though we can sit on the phone for hours and still not run out of things to say to one another. I’ve never had an experience like this before. It’s just great.

Here’s the problem. Josh is a very different person around other people. I couldn’t wait for my parents to get to know him in the way that I know him, so that they would understand what I’m so excited about. But when he comes around, it’s almost like I don’t recognize him. He’s very shy, almost uncommunicative. The same is true with my friends. I arranged a “double-date” with my best friend Caren, who is married. I couldn’t wait for Caren to meet him, since I was talking so much about him. On the date, it almost seemed like a veil came down, and he was, I hate to admit, almost like a total dud on the date. Caren is very sweet and I’m sure she didn’t want to tell me how she really felt about Josh, but I could tell that she seemed confused about what all the fuss was about.

I don’t understand what is going on with Josh. I’ve tried to gently bring this up with him and ask him why he presents so differently with my parents and other people than he does with me when we are alone. He really didn’t get into it too much, didn’t react as though my concern was any big deal, and just said that he gets shy in public.

I think we’re getting close to the point where it wouldn’t surprise me if Josh proposed. We do talk in generalities about the future. I can definitely see myself making a life with Josh. But I am a sociable person and know that we won’t be living in a bubble. I picture having an open home with lots of guests on Shabbos and all that jazz. I’m seriously worried that I won’t be able to live the full, social life I’ve always envisioned with Josh. It concerns me. Yet, I’m not sure that this should be a deal breaker for me and Josh.

Any thoughts about whether this is reason enough to break off with Josh or, even better, how I can help Josh sparkle in public the way that he sparkles with me?

The Navidaters respond:

Without meeting Josh, it is impossible and even unethical to say what exactly is going on. Solely based on what you’ve reported about Josh in your email, his behavior and shyness is making me think of social anxiety. You can Google “social anxiety” and you will find no shortage of information. You may or may not see whether Josh’s public behavior meets some of the criteria.

For the purpose of my response, let’s call it “public shyness.” It seems as though Josh is either personally unfazed by it or doesn’t have much insight or ability/desire to speak with you about it. Conversation about it seems to only scratch the surface of what is going on.

This is a confusing situation and I understand why you wrote in. On the one hand, you really like Josh and he is so wonderful. He fulfills you on so many levels. On the other hand, when you see Josh in more public settings, he is not the man you know. Additionally, there is a breakdown in communication around his different public persona. Whether consciously or subconsciously, knowingly or unknowingly, Josh puts up a bit of a wall when it comes to your feelings on the matter. So, there’s two issues here. The first is the “public shyness,” and the second is the breakdown in communication coming from Josh.

Some women move forward with a man who is quiet or shy and that is a fine choice for those women. One key ingredient, I believe, is a spouse who is open to talking about how it may impact his beloved, with his beloved. This conversation is necessary to keep you feeling happy and securely attached and connected to your husband. Without this, feelings of loneliness and rejection often take root. The other necessary ingredient in order to move forward in this relationship is complete acceptance of his shyness. We can’t go into any relationship with the expectation that our spouse will change. We go in with open arms and full acceptance. In other words, you’ve got to be into him, all of him: the Josh he is when alone with you, and the Josh he is in public.

My recommendation is for you to go into couple’s therapy (short-term) together to talk about this issue that has now come up between the two of you. The therapist will help the two of you talk about this and hear what each of you needs. He/she will help you open up the dialogue around Josh’s “public shyness” and keep the communication up and running in a positive, non-threatening way. If something is going on with Josh (and remember, I really can’t know what that is, secondhand, through an email), that will hopefully come to light in the couple’s therapy. Should Josh be interested and open, he can begin his own therapy. (If this is social anxiety, there are wonderful treatments found to be effective for many people.)

If you know in your heart of hearts that you can accept and love Josh exactly as he is, with no expectations that he will one day “sparkle” publicly as he does privately, then this sounds like a match made in heaven. But if you go into this thinking and praying and hoping that he will change because his shyness deeply disappoints you or leaves you feeling empty inside, then I think you owe it to yourself and to Josh to slow things down and think very deeply before getting engaged.

All the best,

Jennifer

By Jennifer Mann, LCSW

 Jennifer Mann, LCSW, is a licensed, clinical psychotherapist and dating and relationship coache working with individuals, couples and families in private practice in Hewlett, New York. To set up an appointment, please call 516.224.7779 and press 2 for Jennifer. To learn more about her services, please visit thenavidaters.com. If you would like to submit a dating or relationship question anonymously, please email [email protected]. You can follow The Navidaters on Facebook and Instagram for dating and relationship advice.

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