Are You Dating A Zombie?

Sick of your partner’s job, hobbies or other obligations taking a toll on your romance — not to mention your partner’s health? Here’s how to gently lead someone back into the land of the living again.

By Diane Mapes

ull, sunken eyes; shuffling gate; unintelligible grunts in lieu of crisp conversation… if this sounds like your current boyfriend or girlfriend, take note: you may just be dating a zombie. Not the brain-eating variety, of course, but someone who’s so
There were definitely times when he zoned out.
wrapped up in his/her job, gym workouts, or hobbies that this person’s starting to act like a member of the walking dead.

Zombie trait #1: Zoning out
“I started dating a guy who was in the MBA program, working for a consulting firm and training for an Iron Man triathlon,” says Kate D., a 34-year-old graphic designer from Seattle, WA. “He was nice, but I finally had to tell him it wasn’t working. Over the course of seven weeks, I saw him only three times — and he seemed out of it when we did get together. There were definitely times when he zoned out. I think he was on system overload.”

System overload — a common state for workaholics, type As and those of us who tend to obsess over one thing or another — can wreak havoc on a relationship, according to psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina. But it doesn’t have to mean the end of the world — or the romance.

“You have to understand what the situation is with the person you’re dating,” says Dr. Tessina, author of Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free and The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again. “You have to accept the reality and realize you can’t change it into your fantasy of what it should be. So you have to figure out whether it’s a temporary obsession, a long-term obsession, or a short-term obsession.”

Zombie trait #2: Feeling dead on your feet
Barbara N., a 56-year-old operations manager for a senior living company, says she’s often been the zombie-like partner in her relationships due to the demanding nature of her job. “I work in a business that doesn’t close,” she explains. “We’re open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You’re taking care of lives, and there’s always something going on.”

As a result, Barbara says she’s usually dead tired after work — a situation that has often caused friction with the men she’s dated. “One time, I was working from 7 in the morning until 8 at night for days and days on end, and when I got home, I was dead-dog tired,” says Barbara. “But my then-boyfriend was performing in a concert and wanted me to go. So, I went — and fell asleep on my feet, leaning against a pole.” Needless to say, Barbara’s boyfriend was not pleased. “He gave me grief about it, telling me things like, ‘I’m not important to you’ and ‘your job is more important than I am,’” she recalls.

Negotiating with your zombie-like date
Dr. Tessina says that if you’re dating an energy-zapped zombie, talking about the issue is a good start — but be careful; you don’t want to beat a dead horse. “You can try talking about it, but if that doesn’t work, don’t keep yammering on,” she advises. “Just say, ‘This is an issue for me. I need to know how much this happens.’ Obviously, you can’t do this on the second date. But it’s an important conversation to have before you start investing in the relationship. You need to see if it’s negotiable.”

Dr. Tessina says that many careers (think doctor or lawyer) require investing a huge amount of time upfront, but eventually, the demanding workload and long hours ease up. “There are just certain jobs where you’re expected to put 100 percent of yourself into the job and not have anything left over,” she explains. “But it can be temporary… although sometimes, it’s temporary with regard to a few years, not a few months.”

Sports fanatics, on the other hand, may only be in “zombie mode” for a few months out of each year. “If he’s obsessed with football during football season and not so much the rest of the year, you have to understand, that’s the time when he’s not available,” says Dr. Tessina. “Some partners make really good use of that time. Others can’t stand it, and they want a partner who spends more time together as a couple.”

Finding a healthy solution to your separation woes
If your sweetie’s job (or soul-sucking hobby) isn’t negotiable, Dr. Tessina says you then need to figure out whether it’s workable for your relationship. “Can you find a way to live with it?” she asks. “Or can
I love him and want him to be happy and healthy.
you find a workaround?” This could include you joining your partner in his/her obsession — i.e., grabbing your football jersey and buying a 44” flat-screen TV — or simply finding your own thing to stay occupied in the interim.

“If he or she is running a triathlon and you don’t have the ability (or the interest or the time) to devote to it, then you have to figure out if you can work around it somehow,” advises Dr. Tessina. “Use the time when he or she is absorbed elsewhere to spend time with your family or friends, write your novel, paint, travel… or whatever it is you love.”

Mary M., a 43-year-old project manager from Tampa Bay, FL, says that her fiancé — whom she met online through — works long hours and is often exhausted. “It’s hard to call him a zombie,” she says. “But he’s certainly wrecked by the time the end of his day comes around. He manages to get through dinner every night, but I can’t count on him to be conscious after that.”

Mary says that she’s tried talking to him and even yelling at him about his grueling schedule — not because it’s inconvenient for her, but because she’s worried about the toll it’s taking on his health. But yelling only makes Mary’s partner feel guiltier about a situation that he can’t change. “I know he’s hearing me and doing everything in his power to get through this time,” admits Mary. “But it’s a tough economy, and he just has to grin and bear it. He won’t always have to be there into the night.” So instead of venting, Mary says she’s now focusing on offering some positive support, like cooking her guy healthy meals “to make up for his bad eating habits at the office” and using her alone time more productively.

“Now when he’s working late, I’ll read a book or watch a movie or do whatever I did when I was a single girl,” Mary says. “I love him and want him to be happy and healthy. That’s what a partnership is all about.”

Keeping your relationship alive
Workaholics and other constantly weary types need to take some responsibility, too, says Dr. Tessina, who admits to burning a lot of midnight oil herself whenever she’s writing a book. “When I’m on deadline, there will be a number of weeks where I’m not very available,” she says. “My husband jokes that all he sees of me is the back of my head backlit by the computer screen. But I was writing books when we met, and we talked about it and worked it out.” Being honest with others (and yourself) about your life — and your limitations — is key, says Dr. Tessina.

You might even call it a no-brainer.

“You have to learn how to be reliable, straightforward and honest about your situation,” says Dr. Tessina. “Even in your online dating profile and when you’re talking to new prospects, tell them, ‘I want a relationship where we spend a lot of time together’ or ‘I have a really high-powered job and my relationship has to fit around it.’” But won’t that scare potential dates away? “It’s not going to automatically ruin your chances if you say it upfront,” asserts Dr. Tessina. “And if it does with one person, there’s another one around the corner who’s going to be OK with it. And that’s who you have to find.”

Diane Mapes is a freelance writer based in Seattle and the author of How to Date in a Post-Dating World. She can be reached via her Web site,
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