DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I was in a relationship with a woman that lasted for two years (including a year of living together until financial obstacles ended that arrangement) and then a further two years of on-again-off-again. Most of the time, I was the one who ended things, until recently. The most recent started when we had gone to meet some friends of mine at a women-only gay bar that was having an open night for guys. While I was in the bathroom, my girlfriend had kissed another woman. When I confronted her about it, gently letting her know that although we hadn’t discussed our situation properly, I considered that close to infidelity. She said she thought she might be lesbian, something I was aware had been a possibility before we got together all those years ago. I had even prided myself on “turning her”, dumb as that sounds (we had joked about it).
Now, to be honest, I felt relief, believing that what was obviously not a sustainable relationship could now be ended through circumstances beyond our control. I offered to remain friends. And we did, for a while, until I started feeling like our dynamic seemed unchanged except for the absence of intimacy. I told her that I wanted to scale back our friendship and that I could not be relied on to be her go-to source of comfort and validation. She made it clear that she wasn’t interested in meeting up once in a blue moon and hanging out superficially, so we agreed to keep our distance.
And then things got bad. Due to both missing her, family problems and some escalating drug and alcohol use, I got what I’m pretty sure in retrospect could be classified as depressed. So when we bumped into each other in a bar a few months later and started hooking up again, I foolishly told myself that it was on again and all my problems would be solved. She did give me plenty of signs and indications that she didn’t want to keep hooking up until I finally took the hint. At the time I felt like she was ghosting me as if I was a persistent Tinder-date, and I resented her for not having “had the guts” to say it explicitly. Now, I realize I should have understood the situation (or rather, admitted to myself what was going on), and that I had no right dumping mye mental issues on her. So I stayed clear, avoided gatherings with mutual friends and cut off contact.
Then she got a boyfriend. My lesbian ex-girlfriend found a handsome, adventurous, charismatic, man’s-man boyfriend who she started a long-distance relationship with. This caused a personal crisis in masculinity on my part. Even though I knew that sexuality is a fluid and difficult thing that’s rarely black-and-white, even though I knew we had slept together after her coming out, it made me feel incredibly emasculated. Hearing hints and tidbits of information from mutual friends (who on the whole tried to not mention either of us to the other), taught me more than I probably needed to know about her sexual experiences with women and her relationship with him.
When they broke up, circumstances had changed for me and life seemed a lot better. I had a new job and was hanging out with a larger group of really great people, including our mutual friends. I felt ready to start meeting her again and catching up like old friends. However, her break-up being very recent, those conversations revolved around him, for which she apologized several times.
So here’s the rub, Doc, if you’re still with me. Cognitively, I know that her sexuality is her own business, and her experiences both sexual, romantic and otherwise have nothing to do with me or my own insecurities. I know that the characteristics of my “successor” do not diminish my qualities or impact on her life. I know that passing judgment (on either myself or her) after the end of our relationship is toxic BS.
But even though I’m not really heartbroken anymore, I can’t shake this feeling of emasculation. Of being the Best Actor in a Supporting Role, rather than the romantic lead in the movie of her life. Meeting her again, I realize that we are incompatible, and that all I really have left is a sort of muted affection – but the jealousy and insecurities and the need to prove my manhood bubble up.
So what did I miss? How do you move on from knowing that you’re projecting, that there’s this black little cloud inside you making these Madonna-Whore intrusive thoughts burst through? How do you find long-term interest in someone else when there’s this constant voice telling you to “re-conquer” your ex so you can validate your identity as a man?
How do you turn that knowledge into practical change?
A Neutered Housecat
DEAR NEUTERED HOUSECAT: Here’s what you’re missing: your ex’s new squeeze – no matter their gender, no matter how stereotypical they are in their presentation or not – has nothing to do with you. Your reaction, on the other hand, totally does.
The reason that this is tripping you up is that you seem really hung up on her sexuality. Yeah, you may be joking with her about how you “turned” her, but let’s be real: you were doing the “joking-but-not-really” bit. Yeah. it’s something you chuckle about but it’s also something you’re quietly proud of.
Now allow me to disabuse you of this notion.
No, you didn’t turn her. You didn’t “turn” anyone. Sexuality is a spectrum and a sliding scale at that and when a person’s junk is involved, logic goes out the window. There are men and women at the far ends of the Kinsey scale who have found times that suddenly there’s this person who gives them sweaty thoughts and sticky dreams… and they’re absolutely not their preferred gender. Gay men suddenly realize they’re into a woman, straight men realize they can’t stop thinking about how soft another guy’s lips may be and lesbians realize that the person they’re fantasizing about is dude. Sometimes it’s a case of finding out that they’re more bisexual than they realized. Other times, it’s literally a single-target sexuality; that person is the exception to their sexual preference for whatever reason.
So the fact that you dated someone who was lesbian-identified or bi-curious didn’t “change” her sexuality or turn her, it just meant that there was something about you that she dug. Maybe you were an exception, maybe she was bi, who knows. But the issue is in how you made her sexual identity so front and center of things. That’s part of why Dirk Chestmeat is so challenging to you. If you were sleeping with a lesbian, it meant that you were special. But once Dirk Chestmeat was in the picture… well hell, then he must be even more special than you were. Your magic wand is clearly less potent than his blasting stick because your lesbian ex is with the butchest hunk of man-meat she could find.
This is why it’s bugging you so much. You’re wanting to plant your flag again – as it were – because you want to reaffirm that you were the one who “changed” her. It’s not her specifically, it’s what she represents. Until she banged out with another dude post-coming-out, you were ANH: The Lesbian Whisperer. And now that Crunch ButtSteak came on the scene, it diminishes you. Either you weren’t that special to begin with, or if you “turned” her, then he super-duper turned her.
But here’s the thing: you were never in the mix. I can all but guarantee you that when she started sleeping with Biff Hardcheese, you were the furthest thing from her mind. She wasn’t weighing his manliness against yours. She was with him because she wanted to be with him, specifically. Just as she wasn’t sleeping with you despite her sexuality because you’re just that manly, she was sleeping you because she liked you.
I say this with all sincerity and absolutely no sarcasm: it’s hard to process that you’re not the center of her universe, especially when she’s still the center of yours. You were a part of her life, but you weren’t her entire life. She wasn’t thinking about you when she decided to go date Slab Squatthrust, she’s thinking that there’s something about him that appeals to her. Maybe she dug his masculine energy. Perhaps he sings a beautiful tenor. Maybe he had hidden depths that you don’t see. Maybe he can lick his eyebrows and breathe through his ears. Here’s the thing: you don’t f
king know because you’re not there. Doesn’t even matter what your mutuals told you; they don’t know the full story either, and they weren’t getting the full story either.
So what do you do? You let this go. You stop digging into the wound that is her sleeping with other people, you stop paying attention to her sexploits and you just handle your shit. Quit treating getting up in her as “planting a flag” or otherwise validating anything about you. Make up your own closure and stop letting absurd ideas about sexuality define the strength of your masculinity. Her sexuality has nothing to do with yours and the sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll be.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a divorced father of 2 kids. I started dating my current girlfriend – call her R – about a year after my ex and I split. We’ve been together for about a year and a half now, and I’m wondering how to proceed…
When we first met and R learned I had kids, she expressed no interest whatsoever in having kids of her own, or really wanting anything to do with mine. She doesn’t hate kids, like some Disney villain, she’s just not interested.
Because we had started pretty casually, I was fine with that, and just implemented a very clear separation. I wasn’t planning for it to be long term, wasn’t looking to get remarried or find a “new mom” for them.
We agreed that any time I was with the kids – usually a couple times a week – she just wouldn’t be around. R was eventually introduced to them as a friend of mine in a very large social setting, and they like her fine, see her every once in a while, but it’s never been more than that.
That’s gone on successfully for over a year and a half now. When I had my boys, we’d do father/son stuff. When the kids were with their mom, R and I would get together and go out dancing, dinner dates, good sex, trips together, lazy days binge watching Netflix. She gets along well with my friends and the small family I have in the area…all in all we’ve been having a great if somewhat superficial time together.
I’m the kind of person who doesn’t mind alone time. In fact as something of an introvert, I need it to recharge. But R eventually started to resent the time we are apart – though she didn’t say anything at first. And because she never said anything about it, I just kind of assumed she was okay doing her own thing on the days or weekends I was with my kids.
Recently we had a big talk about The Future, and Where This is Going, and R said she was having trouble dealing with the time apart. She didn’t like not being allowed to come over when I had the kids, or having to plan our activities around them. She said it wasn’t fair that when we weren’t together, I had them and she had no one else.
So she asked to start getting more involved in their life and to slowly start coming over and being around us as a family more. And that’s where I’m stuck.
R’s fundamental position hasn’t really changed. It’s not as if she suddenly likes kids, or wants to help raise mine – she doesn’t. I suspect that she wouldn’t even really be around that much, and it’s more of a situation where she just wants the option.
I’m afraid of letting R get close to them and them getting attached and then her deciding it’s too much and bailing, or of the kids making requests that she’s not prepared to deliver on. I also don’t want to have to split my attention between her and the boys when we are all together.
And lastly, I LIKE the arrangement we have now, though I do recognize it’s not exactly equitable on both sides. I get the best of both worlds, while she’s being told she has to keep her distance when the kids are around.
My marriage fell apart in large part because I gave up a lot for my partner and ended up resenting it. I almost never got what I wanted and just went along with it because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do as a husband and it ultimately created a very toxic situation. So now my instinct is to say “What we have now is all I am prepared to offer. If it’s not good enough, I understand, and I wish you the best.”0
Should I stick to my guns, or try incorporating her into my kids’ life and see? Am I being over protective of the boys? Or am I just using them as an excuse to keep things casual with her even though she wants something more serious? Is she too needy? Or am I being selfish? All of these things at once?
DEAR SOMEWHAT STUCK: Here’s the thing about dating as a single parent, SS: your kids come first. They’re going to get the lion’s share of your time. The decisions about who you date and the way your relationship is going to progress basically has to go through the filter of “how will this affect my children?” This is why it’s generally not a good idea to introduce one’s current squeeze to the kids until things are getting serious. Like, long-term commitment serious.
This is doubly true if they’re old enough to form solid memories – around 5 or 6 years. You don’t mention how old your kids are, but the younger they are, the more likely it is that they’ll be hurt if they bond with her and then she suddenly leaves. That ain’t fair to them. So setting a fairly clear line between your relationship with someone and your relationship with your kids at first is pretty good parenting over all. It may not be fair to your girlfriend, but your kids come before everything else.
I have a certain amount of sympathy for the frustration of a partner having to give up time with her new squeeze for someone else but frankly, that’s part of the price of entry for dating a single parent. It comes with the territory and it’s something you have to accept is going to be a permanent part of the relationship.
This is why some of the things in your letter set my Spidey-sense tingling. It doesn’t seem as though she accepts that your kids are more than inconveniences. And when she says things like “It’s not fair because you have your kids and I don’t have anyone”… well, that’s when my Spidey-sense goes from tingling to car-alarm levels. That strikes me as being really unhealthy. Neither does the part of “well I don’t actually want to spend time with your children, I just like having the option.” That… doesn’t strike me as being terribly healthy for you, your kids or your relationship.
And I have a question for you: why are you dating someone who seemingly just tolerates you having kids? Children aren’t something you can compromise on. They’re a vital part of who you are. It’s not like she can reasonably say “ok, I tried being a parent, it didn’t work, time to send them back,” nor can she really just leave it all to you. Being neutral on your kids isn’t that much of a step up from “definitely doesn’t like them”; benign emotional neglect is still neglect. Kids are emotional creatures and when a parental figure doesn’t love them back, that can really hurt.
I get that you like her, but I’m going to be blunt here: I think R is the wrong person for a serious relationship. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting children, but that’s not something that can co-exist with a serious relationship with a single parent. A serious relationship with a single parent is a “love me, love my kids” situation… and your squeeze doesn’t. That’s pretty much the definition of a dealbreaker.
Plus, it doesn’t sound like you want something more serious. That may be selfish, but you aren’t obligated to get serious with someone just because they want it. It may mean having to end the relationship, but it’s better to end things and let everyone find a relationship that they do want then try to shove square pegs into round holes.
If I were you, I’d be asking myself some serious questions about the future of this relationship, SS. As it is: stick to your guns.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)