Approximating spontaenity

Sorry that this ended up being so long.

For most of my “almost adult” years (I’m 30 now…) I have struggled to establish routines, make progress on my goals and adhering to a schedule in order to fulfill some wants, some needs, as well as some musts. I have succeeded sometimes and have found that increasingly in the last few years I have succeeded more than I have failed. I still fall of the waggon from time to time, but I’m pretty disciplined nowadays and I actually enjoy a life that runs like a well oiled machine, a life that is somewhat predictable but produces some emergence (= new, thus far unknown quality, whatever that may be) in a somewhat controlled setting. My life is not boring. I am trying to finish my masters degree right now and have already lined up an internship in a field I’d like to work in. I have to work hard, be disciplined, by sheer necessity, especially since I have some student debt which I will have to pay back starting in October of this year, so there is no time to just relax or let life flow completely free. However stressful my life might be: I’m actually not unhappy with the situation. I have developed a pretty good work ethic and a methodology to make working effective as well (beeminder has become a big part of this). I see these challenges not as problems but as opportunities, or at least I try to.

Here’s the actual problem, though: As brought up but earlier in this forum but then regrettably forgotten I’m in a long distance relationship. I love this woman very much (and she loves me), but we’re also different people with different needs, etc. which makes things sometimes complicated. Right now it’s crunch time for me: I have to write my thesis and have to wake up early, which I’m doing. But this has changed the freedom of us having daily skype calls more or less whenever we want. Those calls have to be earlier than we usually had them (between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. was the norm) and I had consciously decided that I will call her everyday at 9 p.m. at the latest, no matter what, because it’s much easier for me to hold a firm line when establishing a new habit (coincidentally it’s also easier to beemind). Yesterday she told me that she strongly dislikes my lack of spontaenity with this. It’s of course just one instance of a whole class of similar problems which I had kind of ignored in the past, maybe.

So what do you do when you’re trying to be more disciplined and more productive and are actually succeeding more and more (finally!) and have a partner who feels too constrained and “disciplined by proxy” through my behaviours and routines?

We have been together for almost two years now and truth be told shortly before this, we had our first small actual strain in our relationship when I visited her for a week, that still comes up at least in my mind, which had to do with kind of the same thing, I think: There were a bunch of very small, pretty different on the surface and in itself meaningless quarrels, but they were all connected to a situation at least emotionally. This situation was the following: We were invited to dinner at one of her parents apartment. My partner discussed something I won’t get into after dinner in a way that not only made herself but also the rest of the family (we were four adults there) uneasy and unhappy. Basically she was feeling very strongly about something and to my mind the dinner situation and the discussion of this subject would have benefitted from discussing it at another time or at least in a somewhat emotionally more distanced manner - from my perspective and own life experience in those situations, at least. The situation was somewhat tense already since that was the first family dinner I ever attended. This situation was eye opening for me also specifically, because we had talked over skype about similar situations and now having my own experience of what actually happens I could see that my girlfriend had at least part in creating the types of situations she later would complain to me about.

So I brought it up when we had a minute to ourselves and she couldn’t or wouldn’t understand it. There is of course this issue of cultural differences involved (I’m from Germany and she’s from Finland), which means that the conventional wisdom I have known to be true has to be taken with a grain of salt, I get that, but it seemed clear to me, that it was her individual behaviour more than her cultural background that led to this situation. So I said that she should have let it go and/or try to not let it get to her to the point that she can’t have a relaxed conversation or polite discussion about it. This has come up before, too. In her mind she always wants to bring everything up immediately so she doesn’t need to walk around with it. She wants to speak her mind, even if that means that she’s unhappy with it and chips away somewhat the nice atmosphere for example of a family dinner. In short: She wants to be spontaenous here too.

All the other smaller quarrels of our real life meeting can be seen in a similar vain: Me bringing up something later I didn’t like in her behaviour is bad, because I should’ve brought it up at that moment. Me wanting to know a time of day when we’re going to do something is bad, because it’s not spontaenous. Of course, I’m no angel either and me being annoyed by her indignation at wanting to respect or protect a nice atmosphere or situation, or trying to come up with ideas on how she could improve her interactions with her family (for example) that are interpreted by her as an attack on her are some examples. But then again I don’t want to bring that up every time it happens either, because that’s not how you preserve harmony in a situation… and that leads to further quarrels, tears on her end and so on.

And so I have been sitting here with that problem for the last 12 days or so and it really came into focus yesterday. It all seems to be connected to this fundamental difference in me and my partner: One wanting to be controlling his life and is okay with handing over some agency to technology and the other wanting to live life free of expectations and controlling agents of any kind.

I believe in this relationship. It feels weird to write so much about it and having to spell that out as well, just to make sure. I want this to work. My newest idea to make it a little bit easier on her but not abandon my goals is to “approximate spontaneity”. But I don’t know how, yet.

I assume that this problem is actually not that uncommon. And the solution will probably not be a pretty, consistent, “clean” one. It will probably take adjustments on both ends and me and my partner both have to learn to tolerate each other’s differences. But still: I’d love to hear some tips on how to dial my own controlling nature back in a way that lets my partner experience more freedom.

TL;DR: I like routines, she likes spontaneity. How to be routinely spontaneous?

P.S.: In some weird way this seems to be the opposite problem of tracy_reader: Feeling too scheduled.


My girlfriend (now fiancée) and I have been long distance for most of our relationship, between her living in London for a year (we’ve been together for 2) and her traveling for work 4 days a week. She expressed similar concerns when I said I was considering setting a reminder to send her a simple Hangouts message, like “<3”. I think the problem is that this wouldn’t demonstrate any actual concern for or thought about the other person; it would be easy to wire the reminder up to the message and take myself out of the loop entirely, in fact. She ended up being happy (I think) when I Beeminded sending her postcards while she was living in London, though.

My job has an oncall rotation. At any given time, one person on my team (plus a backup in case that person doesn’t respond; this almost never happens) has agreed to carry two phones, stay close enough to civilization that they can get online in 30 minutes if they get paged, etc. People who are not oncall are not expected to be available at all random times of the day; that’s part of the point of having an oncall, to shield people from the implicit “everyone’s oncall” that you get otherwise.

I guess my point is: you can’t be spontaneous (or even available for spontaneity) all the time. Sometimes you need to focus on something that blocks that out. But you can reserve time when you are open to spontaneity. And there’s even the (fraudulent? but if so, does it matter?) approach of using technology to generate random prompts. Would she feel like it was spontaneous if every month or so she gets a late call, but usually it’s before 9? What if she knew the reason was that a computer told you to do it? :smiley:

Good luck!


Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I have brought my thoughts up to her in an “underscheduled” skype call when I took a break from my thesis and I think she appreciated that I did not ask for a time, but simply called when it was convenient for me. Felt spontaneous to her, scheduled (enough) to me. She also said that I might’ve overanalyzed the situations a little bit. Nonetheless she does appreciate me taking her needs into account more. Let’s hope I’m not systematizing again too much too quickly (at least not for her part of the relationship)

Yeah. Something like that was on my mind as well. Maybe this underscheduling method works for both of us, but let’s see… I am a fan of randomness as long as it is in a controlled setting. So getting a computer to decide to call between 7 and 9 with the extra caveat of having n amount of calls a month between 9 and 11 a month is interesting to me. I’ll have to think about it more, though.


Is there a reason it needs to be you doing the calling? Can you set aside a couple-hour block during which she can call you, and at the end of which you’ll call her if she hasn’t yet?

Higher-level thoughts you didn’t really ask for:
I’ve found that one of the best ways for me to figure out important issues in my life is to pretend I’m writing an advice columnist, either on paper or just in my head. Then I try to give myself advice. You’ve summed your issue up pretty nicely: [quote=“openmedi, post:1, topic:3167”]
TL;DR: I like routines, she likes spontaneity.

Focusing on particular instances is unlikely to address an overarching theme like this. But combining her spontaneity (creativity) with your systematizing (planning), you could probably come up with some solutions together that would work for both of you.

A good starting point might be discussing what she particularly values about spontaneity - is it just knowing that you’re thinking of her, or being willing to shape your schedule around the sudden urge to talk to her? The former could be addressed by sending a quick IM or text when you think of her, with the understanding that it’s not going to be a conversation (because you need to get back to whatever you’re doing). The latter may or may not be feasible, depending on how flexible your schedule actually is and how much time you can actually make to interact with her.

Similarly, you could discuss what you value about routine: not interrupting flow states? Knowing that everything will get taken care of in its time and place? Not having to expend a lot of planning effort? Maybe there’s a way to schedule open time where something may or may not ‘spontaneously’ happen.

If you’re routine-oriented, you won’t be happy with no schedule or plan at all - you’ll likely end up feeling like things are out of control. Similarly, she’ll chafe at anything that feels too restrictive. The trick will be to find a balance that lets you both stay true to the kind of person you are and get what you each need.


This would already be too restrictive in her mind and I can understand that. It’s much easier if I call when I want to, which in my case means I can somewhat schedule it, if I don’t make it too dull. She will call if I don’t but this will almost always be too late for my liking, so there’s that problem too, but of course I need to be less strict about that as well.

All of your higher level thoughts are very interesting to me, too! Since I’m someone who thinks in writing, being my own advice columnist pretty much happens already, but I might try to frame it more in that way in the future in cases like this.

I think she values spontaneity because she has her own set of goals and problems she has to work through just as I have mine, but has chosen to deal with them in a different way than I. For me it has always been more about control and planning and organizing, because I enjoy these kinds of things. So when I have a problem, I work through it, using mental tools and real world technology. Everything very quickly becomes a connected system or a framework with me. My life and what happens in it, is always a holistic thing. She does what she needs to do, too, but it’s not a way of life for her. Work is work, and life is life. The work she would want to do is either unavailable in today’s job markets or it is unpaid anyways. She uses the tools she has to use for work and always dreams of getting away from it, she dreams of new experiences, traveling, getting away from it all, etc.

Another way to put it: After years of going to parties and clubs, etc. and having finally realized that I am much more happy if I don’t try to fit in with the party crowd, I don’t miss any of this party culture at all and would rather stay at home most of the time. But I can comprehend that a more outgoing way of life can be immensely exciting and stimulating to a person - I’m to an extent attracted to it too (but maybe I’m actually more attracted to people that enjoy it instead of enjoying it myself? I don’t know…).

From my perspective hers is a more reactive lifestyle: Life leads you, whereas my philosophy is to lead life (where possible). Hers is also a more extroverted lifestyle, you open yourself up to very many possibilities - “anything can happen”. I instead try to limit the avenues of emergence to a few specific and profitable (in a broad sense) ones. These abstract miniatures of life philosophies mean that she definitely values unexpected messages, gifts, calls, a nicely put sentence in chat, basically any positive stimuli that are unexpected that I can provide to her from afar. But not always at 9 p.m. Monday to Friday. I on the other hand write messages in a journal, a wiki-like notes system and very nerdy online-fora on how to engineer an experience that emulates what my girlfriend wishes for. And work, work, meta-work and work. And then I will call her at 9 p.m. or enjoy the slightly erratically incoming messages (as long as they are not too much) throughout the day that remind me that life is not only happening in my memory palace.

It’s easy to write a lot about it, but it’s hard to express this situation as simple as it is.


P.S.: Thinking out loud, especially in writing, has always been very rewarding to me and I’m very grateful of how deeply you and @kenoubi have engaged with my overly long posts. So this has helped already immensely. Thank you!