I opened up -- and she shut me down.
After the third girlfriend in a row gave me the identical critique of how I could improve my boyfriend skills, I decided that all three of these women were either:
A) meeting secretly with all my other former girlfriends to agree on which of my failings to rub in my face.
B) bringing up this same single trait that all guys lack, just to have something to critique because, after all, if we were perfect, they'd resent us.
C) absolutely correct and I needed to work on my failing at once.
After immediately ruling out choice C and spending a few days stewing about choices A and B, I decided to show some backbone, suck it up, reconsider choice C, and do some work on myself.
Amy's critique originated during a session of the ever-popular (at least among women) relationship exercise called "What Would You Change About Me?" -- a cute little game designed by women to be absolutely impossible for men to win. Say the wrong thing and it's Game Over, Relationship Over, and you're back on Match.com for another six months.
All of which explains the carefully considered and worded selection of my critique for Amy: "You're so cute that it's difficult for me to focus on the meaning of what you say, 'cause I'm too preoccupied by your beauty, so I would make you just slightly less stunning." Seemed safe enough, no? No.
That seemingly inoffensive, innocent and complimentary appraisal of Amy fed directly into her own critique of me -- the same one I'd heard from the two previous girlfriends: "You don't reveal enough of yourself emotionally. You don't open up. I don't know who you are. You need to try to communicate on a deeper level."
Let me just state, first of all, that most guys consider revealing more about themselves emotionally and communicating on a deeper level nearly as enjoyable as falling face-first onto an ice pick -- or spending the rest of eternity listening to Celine Dion music.
Still, I loved Amy, wanted the relationship to work and realized that if I could please her by becoming the emotionally deep communicator she craved, it would pay off in the long run for me and for us as a couple.
That was all well and good, but when it came time to selecting the things to reveal, I drew a blank. I couldn't believe it. Was there nothing from my life or experiences or feelings or relationships I could share that would deepen my communication with her? Was I so on-the-surface? In terms of my inner life, is that all there is?
I dug deeper. I started small, revealing to Amy how as a child, I'd spend sleepless nights genuinely worried about death. She responded, and shared things about her childhood. Which, in turn, sparked further revelations about my family, friends, upbringing and our relationship. Over the next few weeks, Amy and I did more emotional sharing and deep communicating than a hundred episodes of "Oprah."
The more I opened up, the easier it got. And not just with Amy. I found myself sharing feelings with my other friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances ... and the mailman, dry cleaner, masseuse and even the cop who pulled me over for making a left turn from the wrong lane. Within three months, I had shared every conceivable insight, feeling, thought and emotion.
One day, in the middle of a teary-eyed expression of regret over things I would have liked to have said to my father before he died, Amy surprised me:
"Stop," she said.
"Stop. Just stop. I know I was the one who asked you to become more emotionally communicative, and you responded wonderfully to my request, but you went way farther with it than I expected, or desired. It's too much. It's too frequent. And it's becoming annoying. I feel like I'm with one of my girlfriends. And I miss my boyfriend. I want the old you back. Please."
So I brought the old me back for Amy. She was happy again. And, in truth, so was I. It was kind of a relief, frankly. Oh, sure, there's something to be said for sharing. But there's also value in keeping your innermost feelings and memories private.
Maybe the key is finding the right balance. And not feeling superficial when your significant other asks what's on your mind and you answer, simply, "I could go for some good pizza."