Sex & Relationships

“Is My Sweet Boyfriend Just Not All That Deep?”

Our wicked-smart sex and relationships columnist, Kate Carraway, to the rescue!

Katherine Heigl's E! correspondent wasn't sure of slacker Seth Rogan in Knocked Up (Photo: ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection)

Katherine Heigl’s E! correspondent wasn’t sure of slacker Seth Rogen in Knocked Up (Photo: ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection)

My boyfriend is a great partner. He’s sensitive and sweet and helpful. He even bakes. We’re going to be common-law partners soon, and that fact has me examining our relationship. I am finding myself wishing he wanted to talk more about serious topics. He’s a happy-go-lucky kind of person when it comes to almost everything. I’m staring to wonder if he’s even that deep of a person.” — D.K.

Everyone who has found themselves in the squishy middle part of a long-term relationship has realized, with whatever degree of existential, mind-melting horreur or comfy acceptance, that the person you love and are committed to is, in some intractable way, not everything. Even though you love, love, love your boyfriend-slash-common-law husband, you might also be finding out that “compromise” and “nobody’s perfect” and whatever is not (has never) been about minor cutie-cuteries of quirk. It is for real. If you’re just finding this out now, I mean, congrats?

It’s not like you’re being unreasonable: curiosity, depth, and big thinking are attractive qualities in a man. My favourite anecdote about a prev-relaysh is that I would get up in the morning and wait and wait and wait for my boyfriend to wake up so I could hear what he had to say, about anything at all. We were hysterically incompatible otherwise but the fact that he thought so much and so well convinced me literally hundreds of times to keep trying to make that relationship work.

But, why do you care about this, so much and so suddenly, now? Your situation reminds me—and maybe I’m wrong?—of this nugget, heard long ago, but dipped in bronzed and permanently stationed in my consciousness: the cartoony (BUT TRUE, I THINK???) idea that “women marry men expecting them to change, and men marry women expecting them to never change” or some variation on that. You and your boyfriend have been together for a long time, longer than it usually takes for people to reveal themselves as whatever they are, good and bad, capable of some things (many things, apparently, in your bf’s case) and incapable of others. It seems probable that your boyfriend’s lack of interest in tough emotional sledding (and “tough sledding,” by the way, is my favourite expression, to be used constantly until next spring) established itself earlier than this, right? I wonder, did you expect or want him to change, to this end in particular, this whole time? Or are you reconsidering the “buy” option on the lease, very grossly and figuratively speaking, and aren’t so sure, and are looking for problems? And/or are you all tucked in, mostly warm and cozy, but are still some combo of restless, dissatisfied and bored? If his possible lack of depth is sooo important to you, break up, but I suspect that it’s not?

I dunno. Maybe you dunno. But here is what you have to know:

Your boyfriend might be the happy-go-luckiest, but that doesn’t mean that he necessarily lacks depth; please remember that it is much, much harder for men to be communicative—about their depthy-ness, and vulnerabilities and insecurities, especially—than it is for women. Everything about our culture rewards girls, from birth, to get along and talk it out and express feelings with words in real time, while it punishes boys, both implicitly and explicitly, for doing the same. Consequently, most guys get little practice and encouragement as communicators, and many—not, um, all men—grow up without basic, basic skills of talking about their own and others’ desires and problems. (Also, “deep” guys are so often pretentious and the worst.) I get that he’s making you coconuts—if you need to go deep, you need it –but you can’t demand that your boyfriend talks to you about the stuff you want to talk about, or insist that he become a curious, deep, big thinker. You might want to talk to him about talking, though, and about effort and best selves and trying hard for each other. Just… you can’t change him.

My research (which is exteeeeensive) in this area of study suggests, however, that dating someone with similar values and goals and who is “supportive” and “sweet”—who acts right—is more important than dating someone who says what you want to hear. My research (it’s science!) also suggests that solid, long-term friendships with people who satisfy you in whatever way your boyfriend can’t—ooh la la! but I mean listening and talking, not sex, doy—will, actually, save you. Look at older ladies posted up with their friends at the coffee shop all day while their husbands do… who cares what, seriously. To quote Leslie Knope on the occasion of Amy Poehler’s book being published, “ovaries before brovaries.” That is where intellectual depth can and should be found when it’s not in your relationship, really. Maybe that seems like too much of a make-do, too much of a compromise, and it might be, for you. I can’t know that on your behalf, obvi. But, it also might free you up to love and appreciate your good-sounding boyfriend for who he is even more.

More great advice from Kate Carraway:
How Can I Make My Boyfriend Initiate Sex More?
We Had the Perfect Date and Then I Never Saw Him Again…
Help! My Boyfriend and I Are From Different Worlds
Help! My Friend Has Become a Selfie-Obsessed Monster
Help! My Girlfriend Is Always on a Diet
Help! My Boyfriend Is Better Looking Than Me
I’m So Tired of Hearing About My Friends’ Boring Babies.
I Have Proof My Friend’s BF Is Cheating. Do I Tell Her?
My Best Friend’s Life Is Perfect. Can I Tell Her to Stop Complaining Already? 
How Young Is Too Young?
Is Long Distance a Dealbreaker?
When Do I Need to Disclose My Dismal $$$ Sitch?
How Can I Curb My Tinder-Rejection Sads?
When Should My Guy & I Talk “Numbers”?
Can We Be FWB When He Wants More?
Is It Ever OK to Date a Friend’s Ex?
How Do I Get Over a Guy?
Why Aren’t I More Obsessed With My BF?
Should I Propose to My Guy?