Hi Dr NerdLove
My girlfriend and I have been together for over six months. We met on Tinder.
This morning we were having some friendly banter about how some guys were sliding in her DMs over her latest Instagram story post. To cut a long story short she was telling me how guys would continue to do this sometimes for over a year before getting the message that they had no chance with her. At which point I recounted my own examples of getting zero responses from Tinder matches until months later, and how refreshing it was when I matched with my now girlfriend at how easily the conversation flowed instantly.
At which point my girlfriend re-downloaded Tinder to her phone to reminisce over our initial conversations. She’d always told me how she only downloaded Tinder initially to help her sister see if her then boyfriend was cheating on her (turns out he was). My girlfriend insists she matched with me by mistake (I super-liked her) because she’d never used the app before and didn’t know how it worked. But ultimately it didn’t matter, we exchanged details and the rest is history.
However she then asked me to re-download Tinder to my phone. I thought nothing of it and obliged. She grabbed the phone off me and straight away went to my messages. There was no conversations since I matched with her, but three matches in the weeks after we matched with each other, none of which I messaged. I matched with my now girlfriend in December and deleted the Tinder app some time in January.
My girlfriend has not reacted well. She’s accusing me of not taking things seriously during those first few weeks of dating and disrespecting her, questioning why I would be still swiping girls profiles. I don’t recall when I stopped swiping, in fact those subsequent matches may have occurred weeks after I initially swiped (as often used to happen). I have tried to reassure her that it means nothing, that there was no chatting or flirting with anyone else after the time we met each other. I never messaged or flirted with anyone, either on Tinder or any other dating app, any social online media or in real person.
But I am 37 years old and have been stung before by going “all into” relationships very early on, so if I am guilty of anything it would be having the fear that dating this girl might go nowhere and if I do things symbolically to show my long term commitment in those first few weeks of dating, that it would jinx the relationship.
My girlfriend is 24 and never really had a proper serious relationship before (she was a virgin when we met). She is from the Balkans in Eastern Europe and I am from the UK. We are generations and cultures apart and I don’t think she understands how the dating world works in my culture.
She wants to break up with me over this. I can’t convince her otherwise. I don’t feel culpable of anything, certainly to warrant ending the relationship now! Ultimately I think it’s a culture clash that I can’t get her to understand. In her culture she would expect us to have been at least engaged by now, and if it hadn’t been for covid-19 lockdown restrictions, I probably would have been engagement ring hunting. We have been through quite a bit in such a short space of time (including being locked down together because of coronavirus restrictions), but I have been in no doubt that she is the one for me and am fully committed and loyal to her and have been for months.
I’m at a loss at what to do as I thought this girl was really going to be the girl I would spend the rest of my life with. I really don’t feel like I’m in the wrong or deserved to be judged. Maybe I am wrong and if I am, I would appreciate the help into understanding and why and what I should do about it.
I realize that you’re asking me how to save this relationship TTU but frankly? I think breaking up with her might not be the worst idea.
There’s a lot going on here that’s worth digging into, but let’s start with something basic: you aren’t responsible for your girlfriend’s expectation that you were exclusive before you both agreed to it. If you’ll forgive an incredibly strained metaphor: a relationship is like Tinder. It’s double-opt-in; if you both don’t agree to it, then you’re not in one. The fact that your girlfriend made assumptions based on her expectations without apparently bothering to consult you is not your responsibility. Her assumption of how this relationship was going to work is on her, especially if she didn’t bother to actually discuss things with you beforehand. This is why it’s important that couples have a Defining The Relationship talk — or, better, series of talks — where you both lay out exactly what you expect and how you see this relationship going. You want to actually sit down and discuss, in great detail, exactly what “being in a relationship” means, from time spent together vs. apart, to expectations around monogamy, to what is or isn’t considered cheating, even things like sexual frequency, kink and your stances on birth control and abortion. The more the two of you talk it out, the more you can be assured that you’re both on the same page; not having these conversations is how someone gets surprised and hurt. Building a relationship on assumptions — as you and your girlfriend are discovering — is a profoundly bad idea.
And while I know there are plenty of people who will say that you should be able to assume some things because of cultural expectations… you really can’t. First, culture is highly granular and variable; what’s common in Seattle isn’t necessarily going to be norm in Twisp. When you branch out further — say, the UK and the Balkans — then the differences are going to be more profound. You can’t take the overlap of values and expectations for granted. But just as importantly… even if we lived in a monoculture, people are different. Some people are monogamous; some aren’t. Some people think cheating is strictly about penetration; some think (wrongly) that so much as having female friends counts as infidelity. Assuming that you know how this is supposed to work without talking to them is how you end up in a lot of fights.
However, there’s more to discuss here than the fact that you two should’ve had that DTR conversation. Let’s start with her grabbing your phone and going through your account. This is a pretty good indicator of a future problem: the lack of boundaries. Her not saying “hey, can I see”, not waiting for you to show her, just YOINK followed by “hey yo what the fuck”? The fact that she a) grabbed your phone and started to go through without asking or permission and b) immediately leaped to assuming the worst are all signs of what you could look forward to if the two of you stay together. The fact that she’s from another culture doesn’t justify her yelling at you like this. The fact that she’s threatening to blow up your relationship over having not immediately deleting the app after meeting her is a pretty good clue of any and all fights in the future — and you will fight in the future — will go.
And then there’s the fact that you two have only been dating for six months and you were already considering going ring shopping. That’s a not just no but HELL no. Look, my dude, I appreciate that you are (or were, anyway) excited by this relationship. She’s young, she’s hot, it’s clearly a passionate connection. But at six months, you’re not even out of the honeymoon stage, never mind in a place where you know enough about your partner to know that you would want to actually get married. You’re still very much at the point of your relationship where you’re both getting high from the dopamine and oxytocin that comes with the thrill of the new. And while you may have gone through a lot in a short amount of time, it’s pretty clear that there’s a lot you didn’t know about her — things that are kind of critical if you’re going to pursue a long-term relationship. And I don’t mean things like “where did she go to high-school” and “what are her long-term goals for her career”, I mean things like “how does she handle conflict” and “is she going to go from zero to HOW FUCKING DARE YOU at the drop of a hat”?
I mean shit dude, you two were barely together for three months before the world started going into lockdown. Being forced into close quarters like this is going to stress-test your relationship and you’ve just discovered that yours has some pretty significant cracks. Ones that you really shouldn’t be ignoring or writing off. Because you’re right: you didn’t do anything wrong. You don’t deserve to be treated like this. The fact that you’re questioning this is worrisome; you’re buying far more into the idea that you’ve fucked up somehow than recognizing that the way she’s acting is un-goddamn-acceptable.
So in a way, she’s right: this is worth ending the relationship over. Not because you did something wrong but because the way she is behaving and treating you is the equivalent of all of the computer screens giving giant flashing red warning signs while the red-alert siren blares.
I get that you like her. I get that you’re enthralled by her. But all of this? This is just the prelude to what’s going to happen further down the line. It may hurt now and it may feel awful but the fact of the matter is that you are goddamn lucky to find this out now and not later on when it’ll be much harder to leave the relationship quickly and cleanly.
Take the escape route you’ve been given and get the hell out of this relationship, TTU. The only way for things to go from here is down.
Good luck. And write back to let us know how you’re doing.
I’m a 30 year old cis woman, married to a 32 year cis man. I am of average size (not fat but not skinny), and my husband is pretty overweight. He has been this way for the entire time I have known him.
Recently, my husband has decided that he needs to get his health in order and get down to a healthy weight. He has asked me to diet and exercise along with him for moral support, which I’ve happily been doing. He’s already lost a few pounds.
The problem is I constantly worry that I will no longer find him attractive when he is thin. I know that’s horrible of me, and I certainly don’t want him to stay unhealthy. I also don’t consider myself a “chubby chaser” or anything. It’s just that this is how he looked when I fell in love with him, and I still find him incredibly sexy.
I haven’t said a word of this to him because I’m pretty sure it would hurt his feelings. I feel selfish and heartless for having these thoughts. Obviously he is doing a good thing, and it’s certainly possible that I will find him even more attractive when he is thin.
I just can’t stop feeling like he’s changing into a different person than the one I fell in love with. Am I wrong for feeling this way? How do I reconcile these feelings so I can put them behind me?
Skin and Bones
Y’know, it’s interesting. More often than not, when I get a letter like this, the letter-writer is in the opposite position; their partner is starting to put on weight and the writer is increasingly turned off by it. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a letter from someone worrying that their partner would be less attractive because they lost weight.
Let this be a reminder folks: people love all kinds of body types, shapes and sizes.
Now let’s talk about your situation, SAB. This is a classic case of borrowing trouble from the future; it’s not that you are finding that you’re less attracted to him, it’s that you’re worried you might be. That’s something that’s worth interrogating and really digging into.
One of the things I teach people about attraction is that attraction is a holistic feeling; it’s very rarely about any one feature or attribute a person has but the sum totality. Occasionally that attraction is triggered by a particular attribute — their build, their voice, the way they make you laugh and so on — but the more we get to know somebody, the more we become attracted to them because they’re them, specifically. And it’s understandable that we tend to have a mental image of who they are — the way you picture them when you think about them. Changes that affect that mental image, including weight loss, weight gain, hair color, style, etc., can be a little jarring at first. The larger the difference between the person and your mental idea of them, the more dissonant it can be; that can create a certain amount of incongruence as you try to reconcile your previous image of them with the version that you see in front of you.
(This, incidentally, is one of the ways that people get out of The Friend Zone1 — they functionally hit the reset button on how their partner sees them… often because they’ve been out of contact for long periods of time.)
At the same time, we are always changing; time is the force that makes fools of us all, and it inevitably changes the topology of our bodies and souls. Our skin wrinkles and sags, our hair changes… we all become someone different over time. But one of the benefits of the mental snapshot we carry in our heads is that it is part what enables us to see who they were in who they are now. We may know intellectually that our partner has smile lines and crows-feet where they had perfectly smooth skin before, that their hair has more gray in it than when we met… but when we look at them, we still see that person that we fell in love with so long ago.
I think part of what you’re worried about is that you’re anticipating a sudden and possibly extreme change; that your husband will go from someone who looks like a hug to someone entirely different. But the odds of that are unlikely at best. One of the truths about weight loss that we don’t like to talk about is that there’s ultimately only so much you can do without resorting to extreme measures… and the more extreme the change, the harder it is to maintain. The odds that your husband is going to go from big and lovably burly to shredded and skinny are minimal; what’s more likely is that he’s going to lose a certain amount of weight and plateau. He’ll look like himself, just a version that fits into smaller clothes. Depending on the way he’s working at losing weight, he may end up shifting the mass around — losing fat and putting on muscle instead — but he’ll still be pretty recognizably him.
And just as importantly is that, unless he turns to disordered eating or a crash diet, the change will be noticeable but gradual. The safest and most sustainable way to lose weight is to aim to lose approximately one to two pounds per week. While that adds up over time, it’s going to take a little time before it’s something you’ll see immediately. Your image of him is going to adjust and adapt because you’re there with him through it all. Just as you don’t notice the slow encroachment of time right away, so it’ll be with his weight loss. You’ll be able to tell that he’s lost some weight, but he’s not going to look night-and-day different until you compare before and after photos.
But like I said: it’s not just his weight that you love, it’s all of him — his smell, the timbre of his voice, the jokes he tells, the ways his eyes narrow when he concentrates. He may wear different sized clothes, but he’s still the same man. I think you’re going to find that your fears are just irrational anxieties, and the truth of the situation is that you’ll still love him just as much.
There’ll just be a little less of him, is all.
- standard disclaimer: there is no Friend Zone; there are only people who don’t want to sleep with you or date you [↩]