A woman shared her story on AskReddit and asked for advice about a particular problem: her boyfriend censors her in public. She asked:
My boyfriend Dan always tells me “Don’t talk about that when people can hear you” and I feel like most of the stuff he says that about is stuff that’s just normal conversation. I’ll give a couple examples so you get the idea.
We were at the supermarket and he asked me if I was going to my friend Jim’s party. I said I wasn’t sure yet. He asked why. I said “I told Jim that me and the girls wouldn’t go if Mark was gonna be there, cause Mark’s been a huge creep to us all.” Dan shushed me, and whispered “Don’t talk about that here”
Another time, we were on the bus, and I was talking about my old roommate, and how she was still dating a teacher she had in high school, who came onto her basically immediately after she graduated. And how sketchy that was. Dan basically told me off for saying that on the bus. Which felt kinda ridiculous because there’s worse stuff you hear on buses; there was some strung out druggie woman talking to herself just a few seats back.
Another time, we were in the pharmacy, and I said “What brand of lube did you like better? I forget” And held up two bottles. He got really irritated when we got back in the car.
And one more time, he got snippy with me for saying “Did I tell you what my therapist said this morning?” Because apparently seeing a therapist is another inappropriate topic.
In general, I feel like I have to put on some kinda picture perfect act every time we’re outside one of our apartments. Like I can’t tell the truth about conflicts in my friend group, weird shit I’ve seen in life, or ask even basic questions about lube and condoms, in the lube and condoms aisle of the pharmacy…
It’s not like he minds those topics in general. I think it’s more like an anxiety thing, that he’s worried about strangers overhearing and judging us. But it’s really stressing me out, because I never know what he’s going to tell me is a no-no topic for him. I feel like I’ve got to put on an act every time we’re outside, or else we’re going to argue.
But I don’t know if I’m in the wrong, and I really could do to tone it down a little. So I’m looking for a few second opinions. Is the kinda stuff I say stuff I should be embarrassed to say in a public place? If not, how can I talk to my boyfriend about how much this is stressing me out?
These are the responses she received.
“He sounds like he’s really self-conscious about what other people/strangers think of him. The examples you gave don’t sound like something you should be quieted for in my opinion. It’s not like you were loudly swearing in front of children at church. Maybe it’s an issue of compatibility. If you’re a more outgoing, carefree person, you shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed about that because your boyfriend is uncomfortable. It’s really frustrating to feel like you can’t be yourself around your significant other or feel like they’re embarrassed of you. Have you talked to him about it or how often it seems to happen? Did he have anything to say?”
2. Small town?
“Is your boyfriend from a small town?
Cause 100% of that absolutely would get to my mom by the time I got home where I grew up. Took a long time for the small town paranoia to fall away. Being chatty in public is definitely a perk I have come to enjoy living in a bigger city.”
3. It may become a mountain
“My husband used to be like your boyfriend. He’d give me a look to shoosh me, and I would stare back at him as if to say “silence me I dare you” and continue talking. We would later have discussions about it and found some compromises. He once told me he preferred long hair when I was itching to cut it and told him. I acknowledged his opinion and cut it off anyways. Then he realized he liked me still with short hair. As you can tell, I don’t take to feeling like someone is trying to control me well.
These little quirks make me who I am, and he fell in love with quirky me so he can put up with a wife who thinks tennis shoes are appropriate for church when my feet hurt.
He did back off after discussions where I said I felt like these were attempts to control me or change me. Why fall in love with a person and then attempt to change them? He also naturally chilled a lot over the years, but I asserted myself on these things while dating.
It may become a mountain if you don’t level the molehill.”
4. Might be repressed
“Ok the lube one is just hilarious…
But he sounds really uptight and… repressed? Like I’m from a super WASP-y family, and we just don’t talk about a lot of things, but thats usually money/income/mental health issues. We’re all over gossip about creeps and lecherous teachers…
Is he very image conscious? Like overly concerned what other people think of him?”
“I was thinking this was probably the result of a WASPy upbringing. And I mean sure, maybe not everyone wants to have a grand conversation about income or mental health issues or lube in the middle of the store. But shushing his girlfriend talking about someone else’s mental health in front of other randos?
That’s super ridiculous and potentially problematic because that would encourage people being harassed/abused/mentally tortured to not speak up. And that speaks to upper echelon royalty/megarich WASPyness. I hope he can come around and be more comfortable with this sort of stuff, otherwise their relationship might stall out for inability to communicate.”
6. I’d be bothered…
“Being shushed over the creeper or the therapist thing would really bother me.
Saying you want to avoid someone who is treating you badly says nothing bad. I’d be angry if he acted like I should be ashamed or hide it. Creeper dude is why I’m not sure I’m going to the party. He asked; I replied.”
“Literally the only thing I could see his point with was the lube, because some people are just shy about that sort of thing.
For everything else, he’s being ridiculous and controlling. If he’s so insecure that he’s constantly on alert about what other people might hear and think of him then he needs to get his crap together or see someone about it instead of expecting you to accommodate his foolishness all the time.
Next time he does it, wait until you’re out of immediate earshot of strangers and tell him bluntly “I’m getting tired of being shushed. I’m sorry if you’re that worried about what strangers think, but I’d like to talk to my partner and I’m pretty much done with being scolded when I try. If you want to talk about why it bothers you when we get home we can, but I’m not going to walk on eggshells anymore.” “
8. Not that important
“Exactly. He really over-estimates how interested everyone is in him if he thinks completely strangers have nothing better to do or nothing more important to think about then what he and his girlfriend are talking about. Most people probably don’t even notice they’re there, never mind trying to hang on their every word, especially when the girlfriend is talking in a normal tone to a person right next to her and not exactly bellowing across the room. He needs to get over himself. He’s not that important.”
9. Like a child
“He’s treating you like a child. That’s how a parent talks to you not your BF.
Those are not inappropriate topics. Maybe he means he is not comfortable talking about them, but that would require more clear communication from him. Could be how he was raised to not talk about certain things.”
10. Don’t need drama
“Honestly I usually refrain from saying “gossip” type things when I’m out. We live in a small city but it’s very much everyone knows everyone kind of place. I get worried about someone overhearing and spreading it or telling the person we were talking about. And it’s not like my husband and I never do a bit of gossip in public, we do.
However, my husband is a loud talker and I have to remind him to turn the volume down during certain topics. At least twice now I’ve had to stop my husband from complaining about a child when their parents are near by because he is oblivious and talks a little loud. (And yes it is a problem because these kids aren’t friends with my kids but they go to the same school and I don’t need that kind of drama.)”
11. His issue
“That’s a him issue that he’s projecting onto you, and if you stay this way it might warp your way of thinking about them. You’re right that absolutely nothing you mentioned was inappropriate both in terms of context or content. I’d personally just chalk this up to incompatibility and move on, but maybe you’ve been dating for longer and feel comfortable with helping him unpack these issues with a therapist.”
12. Might be worth a talk
“My sister is like this. She frequently shushes me, gets embarrassed, thinks a topic is inappropriate, or thinks other people can hear. It’s a social anxiety thing and I love my sister but it’s really frustrating because her anxiety-by-proxy ends up feeling like she’s controlling what I do/say out of her own embarrassment of me. I’m not sure if I would be able to handle that in a romantic partner because I’m extroverted and personable and it’s just incompatible with how I live my life and makes me feel like she’s ashamed of me or thinks I’m embarrassing.
Not sure if you feel a similar way, but it might be worth talking to him about how it makes you feel when he does this!”
13. It is what it is
“You’re just incompatible. I might think you’re the more normal one out of the pair of you, but I don’t think it’s right to tell him he has to change out of this prude/modest mindset. IDK if those are even the right words to use, but it is what it is.”
14. Similar experience
“I don’t want to blow things out of perspective, but I dated a guy like this for 2.5 years and it was actually him controlling me and making me feel ashamed about random things because of his insecurity. Examples like you talked about – something a tiny bit sexual he would freak out, if I said something ‘unladylike’ or vulgar… Honestly I’d take it as a red flag, but maybe that’s because of my personal experience.”
“I’m with him on the lube. LOL I’d be so embarrassed! Do you perhaps have a louder voice? Also, it seems the examples are always around very private topics or gossip. I think this is pure incompatibility. You have the right to want to talk about these topics, he has the right not to discuss them.”