I am just emailing a quick question to try and help myself get over my insecurities. My girlfriend is close with quite a few guys and plans to meet up one-on-one with them over the coming months, which I am obviously fine with she knew them before me and I am not going to control who she is meeting up with. However I have an irrational fear that she is, on one of these occasions, going to develop a crush on one of those guys because, even though she is in a relationship. I still feel like catching feelings for someone else is a distinct possibility, especially considering she used to like two of them.
I don’t exactly know how to get over this fear, but it makes both of us really dislike my insecure parts of our relationship because even though I try to communicate, she isn’t too competent at the reassurance I need. She doesn’t understand my point of view as seh trusts me whenever I am alone with a girl, which I am very rarely because I treat her how in theory I would want to be (she doesn’t tell me to not hang out alone with girls, its my choice I just do it out of respect that I would want the same in return even though there’s no expectation to get that).
How can I get over this, because it has led to one-too-many arguments when I an inept at communicating, resulting in it all going bad for a half-hour.
Half the time I realise how stupid I am and am fine. However, some of the time I get set off by how these guys act around her and seem to act, one slightly too touchy and considering she would be wearing short skirts tops it all off.
I am not about to control any aspect of her life, so I want her to do what she wants. I want to know how to deal with the consequences on my brain.
Any help would be greatly appreciated,
OK, FW, there’s a lot going on here. But I want to start by saying that it’s a good thing that you recognize that this is a you problem, not your girlfriend’s problem, and you’re trying to get your jerkbrain to shut the hell up already with the anxieties. Because, honestly: this is mostly just anxiety and insecurity talking.
However, it’s anxiety and insecurity that is bleeding out of your brain and affecting your daily life and, in particular, your relationship with your girlfriend. And honestly: if you don’t get a handle on it, it’s going to end your relationship with your girlfriend.
Yes, I know that sounds particularly dire. This answer is going to be a lot of stuff you’re not gonna like hearing, so you may want to take a moment and get yourself into a more secure headspace. We’re gonna be talking about some truths you may find unpleasant.
Here’s the first truth: you can’t control feelings. There’s no way to prevent someone from developing a crush on someone else, being attracted to other people or catching feelings for them. No matter how hot you are, no matter how suave you are, how much sex you’re having or not having, how much of the responsibilities of the relationship you’re shouldering… feelings happen. This has nothing to do with the quality of your relationship, your worth as a person or any other metric you may think of; it’s just a case of being a higher primate with a sex drive. Regular readers of my column will have seen many, many people who’ve written in dealing with inconvenient crushes – ones that often leave them worrying that there’s something wrong with them, their partner or their relationship.
Feelings happen. Trying to stop feelings from happening in yourself is a bad idea. Trying to prevent them from happening in other people is quite literally impossible. Trying to prevent someone else from catching feelings, however, is a great way to catch a fight, because it’s almost always going to end up with trying to tell them what they can or can’t do. And I’m sure you can imagine how well that goes over.
But this leads us to a second truth: people can’t stop feelings from happening. What they can control, however, is how (or, for that matter, if) they act on those feelings. If, for example, your girlfriend were to catch feels for one of her guy friends, then she would have the choice of deciding what to do about it. Maybe she’d start to pull away and give herself time to let those feelings fade. Maybe she would try to pretend that those feelings didn’t exist and just continued to behave as normal and treat her crush as the platonic friend he’s always been. Or maybe she decides to act on those feelings and jumps the dude like a jaguar dropping out of a tree on a gazelle.
You, FW, already know how this works. I can guarantee that you’ve seen women you thought were the hottest thing since World War Three. If you’re like the vast majority of straight men on this planet, have had sweaty fantasies and dreams about other women and have jerked off to porn – including while in relationships. But, I presume, you haven’t actually tried to act on those feelings outside of a quick handshandie. So you already know that it’s possible to be attracted to someone, even to fantasize about them, but to not actually pursue something with them. You enjoy the thrill of novelty in the privacy of your own head, rub one out and then go about your day, same as it ever was.
So you know it’s possible to be attracted to somebody without it being a threat to your relationship. So you should extend that knowledge to encompass not just your actions, but your girlfriend’s. After all, presumably you trust her enough to not just jump a dude’s bones because she developed a crush. You also presumably trust her and the strength of your relationship enough to believe that she’s not so flighty or fickle as to just drop what’s presumably a good relationship just because she gets a momentary infatuation on someone. And let’s be honest: most crushes are momentary infatuations that don’t last terribly long, especially if one doesn’t actively feed it. Since she’s presumably not a complete asshole or someone who’s so shitty as to treat your feelings so cavalierly – and judging by your letter, that seems to be the case – even if she were to feel some attraction to one of these guys, I feel safe in saying that she’s not going to actually do something about it.
At least, until you give her reason to.
That leads us to our third truth: there’s asking for reassurance, and then there’s telling your girlfriend that you think she’s a liar. Here’s the thing: jealousy happens. As with crushes, sometimes we find ourselves feeling jealous over our partners’ relationships with other people. Everyone has moments when we can be insecure bags of slop and our anxieties get the best of us, leading us to worry – usually irrationally – that someone’s going to have just enough of that ol’ magic charm and suavitude to lead our beloved away. In those times, it’s entirely reasonable – good, even – to go to your partner and say “hey, I’m feeling like an insecure bag of slop right now, I could use a little extra TLC and reassurance to walk me back from the ledge.”
But when we’re constantly asking for that? When it seems like there’s no amount of reassurance or TLC that would satisfy us and we keep asking our partner “are you SURE you’re not gonna get feels for someone else and leave me”, then what we’re doing is telling them that we don’t believe them. That we can’t take “yes I’m happy, no I don’t want someone else, yes I want you” for an answer or that we don’t trust them to be telling us the truth. That is relationship poison. There’s only so many times you can ask someone to talk you down and then call them a liar before they wonder why they’re bothering and why you can’t just trust them.
Unfortunately, that’s why you keep having these fights, FW. It’s not necessarily about trying to express your concerns to your girlfriend or her “incompetence” at reassuring you. It’s about the fact that you keep asking because you don’t seem to be able to trust her answers and take her at her word. And whether that’s literally the case, or it works for a bit and then the feelings come right back, the message you’re sending to her is that you don’t trust her or believe her when she says everything’s fine.
If you can’t trust your girlfriend when she says that she’s fine, that she’s happy with you and that she’s not interested in her guy friends sexually or romantically… well, either there’s a big ol’ “check engine” light flashing in the relationship or you need to start addressing those anxieties directly. Possibly with a therapist.
And trust me, I’m entirely sympathetic to having your jerkbrain drip poison in your ear for no damn reason. One of the more surprising discoveries for me about having ADHD was learning that rejection-sensitive dysphoria – where the fear of rejection gets dialed up to 11 for no damn reason at all – was a common symptom or co-morbidity. I’d spent more time than I care to think about living with a constant low-grade fear that my friends and lovers were, if not actively avoiding me or about to drop me like 5th period French, in the process of slow-walking me out of the relationship. Getting diagnosed and treated was like having a particularly passive-aggressive cloud lifted off my soul and I was able to feel much more secure in my relationships – personal and professional, platonic and romantic.
But if you can’t be reassured by your girlfriend telling you that she loves you and cares for you and isn’t leaving you for one of her guy friends… well, again, either there’s a flaw in the relationship that needs to be addressed or you need to work on addressing the actual anxieties instead of making them her problem.
This, however, is exacerbated by the fourth truth: the call is, in fact, coming from inside the house. There were two things that didn’t leap out at me so much as dance around wearing novelty hats with big flashing police lights on top and yelling “AWOOOOOOGAH” at the top of their lungs.
The first was this: “she doesn’t tell me to not hang out alone with girls, its my choice I just do it out of respect that I would want the same in return even though there’s no expectation to get that“. My dude, unless you’re worried that your junk is going to assume direct control, hanging out alone with other women isn’t being disrespectful to your girlfriend. Since you don’t mention it, I’m working under the assumption that you don’t have a pattern of hitting on or hooking up with women while you’re dating someone else. If you’re capable of, y’know, not trying to fuck someone just because you’re alone with them and you’re capable of saying “no thanks, I choose life” if someone’s trying to fuck you, then this isn’t really helping things. It’s a theoretically noble gesture, I guess, but it’s decidedly not a necessary one and it’s not actually adding value to your relationship. And while I understand that you don’t expect the same from her… I can see your girlfriend hearing “well, I do this for you, so I don’t see why you can’t choose to do the same for me…”
While that may not be what you’re intending, it’s kind of hard not to look at the conflicts you’re having over this issue and not see how someone could interpret this as expecting reciprocity, even when you don’t ask for it.
The second thing that leapt out, however was: “I get set off by how these guys act around her and seem to act, one slightly too touchy and considering she would be wearing short skirts tops it all off.” (Emphasis added)
This comes right back to “do you trust your girlfriend, Y/N?”, and it kinda makes it sound like maybe you don’t. Now hey, maybe you phrased things inelegantly. Maybe you’re not used to seeing platonic touch between friends or you’re not used to the way that women tend to act with their platonic friends. Or maybe you have issues with your own sense of self-worth and self-esteem that lead you to feel like someone making physical contact with your girlfriend is the first step to her realizing that they’re better than you.
But the part about her wearing short skirts? That is the part where you sound like you’re accusing her of leading them on and giving them ideas… and quite honestly, that’s the part that you need to work on. Leaving aside that women don’t need to show any skin at all for shitty people to harass them, catcall them or try to hit on them, the fact that you’re implying that she’s provoking this is not a good look.
And yeah, I absolutely get that jealousy is a motherfucker and anxieties don’t care about logic, feminist theory or what-have-you and it can lead you to think stupid and insulting things. I absolutely get how your anxiety could take perfectly normal behavior and spin it into evidence that she’s got one foot out the door or that she’s looking to see if one of her guy friends wants to take things to the next level. But if you’ve actually let this thought out past the barrier of your teeth to her – instead of sharing it privately with everyone on the Internet by writing in, here – that’s gonna sound an awful lot like an accusation. And that’s going to really piss her off.
But if that’s not just the anxiety talking, but what you actually think or feel? That’s a problem, my dude and it’s going to end up being exhibit A in the inquest as to why you’re suddenly single.
Ok so: lots of truths here, lots of talk about the nature of feelings, of jealousy and why the way you seem to have been handling things hasn’t been working out for you. What do you do with all of this?
Well, first and foremost, you need to answer this question: do you trust your girlfriend? This isn’t an essay question, nor is it short-answer time; there are two answers here: yes, you do or no, you don’t. If you don’t… well, honestly, the relationship’s probably on it’s way out anyway. If you do trust her? Then that’s your first step: you remind yourself that you trust her. You trust her to be honest with you, to shoot down her guy friends if they’re trying to get into her pants and to not fuck with your heart for shits and giggles. When you have that anxiety spike, you remind yourself that you trust her.
As I said earlier: asking for a little reassurance every once in a while is one thing. But thus far, it seems like not only do you not know how to ask for that reassurance in a way that actually helps – such as asking specifically for what you need from her and telling her what would help reassure you – but you’ve been doing so so frequently that it’s just making the problem worse. This is why, at this stage, you want to focus on this as a “you” problem, not a “her” or “we” problem. You need to turn down the volume on your own brain here, since what you’re doing now just reinforces the idea that you don’t trust her.
This is why the next step is to learn to get your brain under control. Part of the problem when anxieties flare up are the intrusive thoughts or fantasies – your brain suddenly decides to treat you to Worst Case Disastervision in full Sensuround and Glorious Living Color. But while you can’t force yourself to not think, you can learn to change what you think about. One of the skills that comes with mindfulness meditation, for example, is learning to gently redirect your thoughts when something comes up. Much as when dealing with inconvenient crushes of your own, you note the feeling, give it a name – “anxiety”, in this case – and just gently return your mind to something else, whether it’s work, a game or just breathing exercises.
Keep in mind: this is something you need to do regularly in order to make it a habit. It’s difficult to do the redirection at first, because those thoughts will keep coming back. That’s fine; that’s part of the learning curve. Every time you notice that you’re having those thoughts, the moment you realize you’re having them, do that naming and gentle redirection exercise. Don’t tense up, don’t berate yourself or try to force it away; just acknowledge, name and redirect. Do it consciously for long enough and it becomes something you do automatically… and doing it this way also helps reduce the frequency of those thoughts.
It may also do you some good to try some cognitive behavioral therapy exercises, which have a strong track record for helping with intrusive thoughts. Mood Gym is a self-directed CBT exercise resource, so you can go at your own pace.
However, if these are especially obnoxious and persistent thoughts, talking to a therapist about your anxieties is going to be important going forward – not just because of this instance but for all the times in the future when your jealousy gets in the way of your relationships. And if the anxiety is particularly deep, sometimes medication can help in combination with therapy.
Please notice very carefully that I am not suggesting things like “having her check in with you” or other ways of asking her to monitor her behavior when she’s with them and you’re not around. Those are not only counterproductive, but they’re only going to reinforce the “I don’t trust my girlfriend” vibe, both to her and to your own subconscious.
But one of the biggest and best things you can do is to not treat your relationship like spun glass and change how you’re approaching “showing respect” for your girlfriend. Trying to avoid being alone with women isn’t being respectful to her or your relationship; its just creating a mental framework that says “temptation can get the best of me, therefore it can get the best of anyone.” You say that your girlfriend doesn’t ask you to avoid being alone with women, nor does she seem threatened by any friendships you might have with them. Well, think of it this way: you say you’re demonstrating consideration that you’d like to see given to you? That goes both ways. Your girlfriend is showing you that she trusts you implicitly… it’s only fair that you return the favor for her.