I am going through some personal conflicts and was researching on Google and came across your page. I have a somewhat tricky situation that I have never been in before and would like to know a professional’s opinion.
My boyfriend, whom I’ve been dating for 10 months now, is best friends with his ex and that bothers me a little. He has known her for 8+ years. They started as best friends, dated for some years and decided that they don’t work well as a couple and should go back to being best friends again. She is an important part of his life and they cherish their friendship which I find admirable honestly. They talk/chat daily. He doesn’t hide anything. He talks to her in front of me, hangs out with her once a month as she lives a bit far away now
He has been pretty clear about his past with me since the beginning. We used to live nearby so all 3 of us hung out together and I didn’t see any red flags. The ex is genuinely a precious human being and really good at heart. She is really nice to me too and always encourages/roots for my relationship with him. I like her too. I trust her as well. I have assumed things in the past when I was feeling jealous and have always been proven wrong.
He asked me how involved I want to be in that dynamic of theirs during our 1st month of dating, and I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal for me and I insisted that she can stay a part of his life however he wanted. When I felt jealous of them tickling each other or clicking pictures with hands on each other’s shoulders – I brought it up but he said that she’s like family and asked if I don’t tickle my family member? I completely am ok with such behavior with any other person but not her. Maybe because I cannot get over the fact that they used to be a couple. And sometimes when they are in a conversation with each other, I feel like I’m the side character and like they are the main characters.
I asked him if he loves her – he said no, he loves her only as a friend and that he loves me. Even though she is perfect – they are not good together. He reminds me how much it means to him that I am letting him be friends with his ex. His ex also idolizes me as I boost her up too and he is appreciative of that as well.
I am not sure why it still bothers me. Maybe it is something I never dealt with before or don’t know how to deal with. I don’t think that he’s going to cheat on me but whenever he tells me that he’s going to hang out with her or makes plans with her, it bothers me. I have Googled a lot regarding this and there are mixed views on this topic. I don’t want to end up like – “how could you not see the red flags”. I am scared to get hurt as I love him a lot and he loves me too and would like your perspective on this. Please advise me on ways to become less bothered by this.
Little Green-Eyed Monster
Before I get to your question, let’s talk a little bit about jealousy and envy, LGEM, because it’s important to know which you’re actually feeling. Jealousy and envy are two different emotions. Because people tend to use the two terms interchangeably, they tend to get conflated with one another… and this actually muddies the waters in ways that actually makes it harder to resolve those feelings. Jealousy is the fear that someone is taking something that’s yours; envy, on the other hand, is the desire for something that somebody else has.
So if, for example, your friend has an awesome job with great hours, social status and an obscene paycheck and you find yourself resenting them for it, you would be feeling envious of them. If that friend seemed like they were sucking up to your boss in a way that made you worry that they were trying to take your sweet job or upcoming promotion and it was making you angry, then you’d be feeling jealousy instead. You’re apprehensive that your friend is becoming your rival for that promotion.
I realize that this all seems like a semantic debate, but it’s actually core to your feelings about your boyfriend and his best friend. Understanding what you’re feeling here is key to unpacking just what the issue is and — importantly — how to resolve it. Are you feeling envious of her because you want the sort of ease and casual connection that she has with your boyfriend and the strength of their relationship? Or are you feeling jealous, because you’re worried that she’s going to interfere in your relationship and take your boyfriend away from you?
Now, one of the things that’s worth understanding about jealousy and envy is that they’re not automatically bad things. Like all feelings and emotions, jealousy and envy have a purpose and a use. They’re not just hallmarks of insecurity or selfishness; someone being jealous isn’t automatically a controlling asshole, nor is someone who’s envious automatically an insecure jerk. While envy and jealousy can cause problems in relationships and they can be the source of a lot of conflict, it’s all about what you’re feeling, why you’re feeling it and, importantly, what you’re going to do about it.
Here’s the thing: often times, these unpleasant emotions can serve as a check-engine light on a relationship; they’re a sign that something is off. Sometimes it’s a minor issue — the relationship equivalent of the gas cap not being tightened all the way. Often the issue is that there’s some need going unmet or somebody’s behavior is triggering an anxiety or sore spot. Other times, it’s your subconscious picking up on warnings; there’s something hinky going on, but you aren’t sure what. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but something is setting off your Spidey-sense and it’s going to bother you until you figure out what the cause is.
If you were to ask me — and you did — I would say that you’re feeling envious, rather than jealous. It doesn’t sound as though you’re worried that your boyfriend is going to leave you for her or that she’s trying to undermine your relationship with him. In fact, from what you’ve written, your boyfriend has been incredibly up front and considerate about his relationship with his friend. He’s asked you how involved you want to be with their dynamic and it certainly doesn’t seem like he’s been keeping secrets from you about her or up to any sketchy shit. Unless he’s been hiding things really well, it sounds like it’s exactly as it seems on the surface: they’re just friends. Close friends, granted, but friends none the less.
And to be fair: there’s a lot of cultural baggage about male/female friendships and the idea that sex is always — always — in the picture, especially on the men’s side. The idea that there’s some simmering sexual tension between cross-gender friendships is the sort of bullshit that devalues friendship in general, insults men as a group and makes it that much harder for men and women to relate to one another as people.
(It also never addresses just who bisexual and pansexual people can be friends with, but that’s another issue entirely.)
The things you point to — the ease of their relationship, the way they talk with each other, the casual physical affection — lead me to believe that you feel like you’re feeling a little left out. It’s less that you’re worried that you’re being pushed aside and more that you would like to have the same things or that you aren’t getting enough of it from him. So, as I said: it sounds to me like you’re envious, rather than jealous.
But I could be wrong; they’re your feelings, not mine; you’re the one who knows best. So you tell me.
With all that in mind, the answer here is to talk with your boyfriend. If, as I suspect, this is about your feeling a lack, rather than being pushed aside, then what you should do is work out exactly what you feel like you’re lacking or would like more of, and ask for that specifically. I’d recommend following the formula for an Awkward Conversation: set aside time so that the two of you won’t be interrupted and ask him to let you say your peace before he responds or asks questions so that you don’t get sidetracked or lose the thread. Next, lay out what’s bothering you and why. Make sure to frame this is how you feel — saying it as “I feel X when you do Y,” rather than “you’re doing Y and that’s bad”; this makes not only centers the conversation on how you’re feeling, but it also avoids an accusatory or confrontational tone that can make people shut down and stop listening. Then, after you’ve laid out how you’re feeling, tell him what you think he can do to help fix things and — importantly — why this would make things better.
For example, you might mention that you feel excluded or like a side-character when he and his friend get on a roll. Making sure to be mindful of not leaving you out and making more of an effort to include you would go a long way towards easing that sense of being left out. Similarly, he could tone down the physical playfulness around you or be more demonstrative and playful with you. The better you can articulate what’s bothering you and why to yourself, the better you can explain it to him and what would make things better. Don’t worry if you don’t have the exact solution or don’t have all the answers on how to resolve things; the point is more about airing how you’re feeling and why these need to be addressed. The two of you can work together to find a solution that works for the both of you.
After you’re done, let him have his turn to respond. Be sure to give him the same courtesy of waiting until he’s finished before you ask questions or respond, too.
One thing that can help while you’re having this conversation is for the both of you to try to summarize your understanding of what the other is saying — “If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying X, Y and Z, yes?” That not only shows that you’re giving what each other says your full attention and consideration, it helps you both make sure you’re on the same page. It also helps you zero in on miscommunications or places where you or he may have a misunderstanding that you can correct.
One other thing to keep in mind is that your relationship with your boyfriend is relatively recent, while he has nearly a decade of friendship with his bestie. This doesn’t mean that she has priority over you or that your relationship is lesser; it just means that there’s a lot of history there. The two of them have had more that eight years to develop their dynamic. That’s going to inform a lot of how they behave with one another and why it’s different from what he has with you right now. You and he are going to have your own dynamic — and that has to be built over time, just as theirs was. It’s not really something that can be forced; it’s going to be informed by your time and experiences together. So while you work on unpacking your feelings and figuring out how to resolve them, just remember to be patient as well. As you and he develop your relationship together, you’ll find your own unique groove together.
Greetings Dr. NerdLove,
Thanks for your constant quality advice. So here’s my question. As a way of determining a person’s desirability when it comes to relationships, is the Grimes test applicable to people who are already married / in otherwise committed relationships? Basically, imagine that Grimes wasn’t looking for a relationship but was trying to maintain one.
As I look at my current life, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t pass the test, at least in the way it’s probably meant to be thought of in the context of people looking for a relationship. I have a relatively well paying job, but my country’s taxation means I only take home about half of my salary. The job is also quite mentally demanding (I’m a doctor at a major hospital, no other options to practice my specialty in our region) and most days I’m left with little energy to do anything meaningful after work, and at my job I’ve grown deeply disillusioned towards the supposed common sense of my fellow man. I’ve got a small house of my own although nothing fancy and the mortgage payments are not amusing at all. So far, all Grimes level stuff, if not worse (you can forget about the cheery disposition).
My wife is currently on her maternity leave (she’s going back to her equally mentally taxing job in around six months) with our youngest , and our eldest manages to be equally delightful and infuriating with the tricks of a 4-year-old. After work I do my best to take care of my share of the chores and childcare, but that’s what Grimes would be capable of, isn’t it: bringing home the money and taking care of the offspring.
I did have interests and passions, once. I dreamed of being able to afford a garage and learn some wrenching while restoring a classic car – I don’t have the time or the money. I wanted to take up diving, but for a guy with kids doing something potentially dangerous would be irresponsible. I was fairly proficient at playing the violin, but the last time I touched my instrument was around two years ago, and it’s been even longer since the last LAN party I attended. Meeting friends has to be planned weeks or months ahead to make room in everyone’s schedules. Exercising isn’t something I truly enjoy, but during weekends I wake up early to find some time for it simply so that I remain healthy. Babysitters are unavailable due to COVID, and we wouldn’t be able to leave our youngest in their care anyway, so our last proper date night out was ages ago.
I love my wife and our kids dearly. Physically she’s bounced back fabulously from both pregnancies, and I find her just as attractive, witty and level headed as at the moment she said yes. I try to keep our communication as open as possible and remember to show my appreciation for all she is doing for our family with little gifts, extra time away from the kids and so on. I have zero sympathy for guys who act their best when wooing the girl and then get dumped immediately after they stop trying, but how is a guy supposed to rise above the level of Grimes with the soul crushing combination of a demanding job, financial responsibilities, household managing and trying to hammer some sense into the heads of his heirs? How am I supposed to remain interesting enough that my wife would think: “Splendid, I want fifty odd more years of that!” If I met myself at a bar I’d be looking for an excuse to leave after five minutes to avoid dying of boredom.
Or, must married folks judge each other by some completely different yardstick?
Grime-ily Ever After
I think you’re misunderstanding the point of the Grimes Test, GEA. The point of it is to get people to think about what they bring to the table beyond the baseline of being a nice guy (vs. a Nice GuyTM) and to cultivate things if they don’t have those other qualities yet.
It’s also not really relevant in your case. You, after all, are married and have been for years. That’s a very different situation than someone trying to figure out just what they need to do be more attractive to potential partners. I think you’re also missing a critical issue at hand: you’ve got young children. That changes the nature of your relationship rather significantly. When you’ve got kids, especially newborns and toddlers, of course they’re going to be the center of your universe for a while. Taking care of them and raising them is going to be primary focus of your energy and attention for a while for the both of you. It’s entirely understandable that things are going to change; the time and energy you had to apply to other things is going to be shifted to taking care of your children together. If you’re especially lucky and privileged, you can have help — whether family members and your community or hiring a babysitter or nanny — but they’re gonna be your primary focus for a long time.
That’s normal. It’s exhausting, frequently frustrating, and often rip-your-hair-out maddening… but normal. Part of making your relationship with your wife work at this moment is to focus on the “we’re a team and we’re in this together” aspect of your relationship. The two of you working together, not just for your kids but also for each other, will go a long way towards keeping and maintaining your marriage alive and vital. That means doing things like spelling each other with the kids, so that you both get a break, making sure that the effort between housework, child-raising and and other responsibilities remains relatively equitable. It also means snatching whatever moments you can with one another — even if it’s just a frenetic quickie while the kids are down for their nap — and reminding each other that even when you’re both exhausted, sweaty, tired and covered in fluids you’d rather not think about… there’s nobody else you’d rather be in this with.
It also means acknowledging that while yes, the two of you have had to put passions and personal development on hold… it’s just for now. Yes, there haven’t been any date nights… but that’s just for now. The two of you are going to resolve to grit your teeth and white-knuckle your way through these early years, with the mutual understanding that while things are rough right now, there’ll come a point where it’ll ease up. You’ll be able to get a babysitter or send the kids to their grandparents’ so you can have a night out again that’s just the two of you. You’ll have more time and energy to pursue things that aren’t all about your kids or basic survival. And there will be a time when the kids are able to take care of themselves and you’ll have even more freedom, energy and time to pursue the things you had to put on pause.
And they’re just on pause. They’re not gone for good, just in a holding pattern until you can get back to them.
But to do that, you and your wife have to remember that you’re on the same team, working through this together. You’re keeping each other healthy and sane so you can get to those times when things ease back up again. And then when you do, you’ll look back on all of the trials and tribulations that you went through and say “Yeah, that was rough, but we got through it together and it brought us closer than before.”
To answer your final question: yes, the Grimes Test is for single folks — specifically single people who are trying to improve their ability to meet and date amazing people. You’ve already accomplished that. At this point, your guide isn’t Grimes.