DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I know you normally do dating advice, but I’ve seen you do marriage advice too.
I have been married to my husband for 9 years. We have three kids together.
Back when he and I were dating, I went to visit him out of town (same town where my parents lived) where he had an internship. He wanted to fool around and we really didn’t have a place to go (he was living with my parents for free during his internship) and so he wanted to fool around in the car. When we finally found an empty dark parking lot, he said he wanted to get in the backseat and I told him specifically that I didn’t want to. My ex had sexually assaulted me in a car, and although I didn’t understand that’s what happened at the time, I told my (then) boyfriend that my ex had been “gross” with me in a car and it made me gross out to mess around. This made my boyfriend snap and he started yelling at me “we better not have come out all this way for nothing!” For various reasons I complied. I was scared of losing him, I didn’t know anything about consent, so I just laid there looking at the ceiling while he helped himself to a hand job from me. I wanted to break up with him, but coming from a very abusive home, I quickly blocked what happened and moved on. And we got married. And our marriage sucked but I got pregnant right away.
Fast forward to 2016 during Trump’s election and I finally have the words for what he did to me and I confront him. We fight for weeks but he owns up to it and apologizes sincerely. On New Years Eve we have sex for probably one out of three times that year and I get pregnant. Things are still rough but my hope is that with everything in the open, a new baby on the way, we can turn over a new leaf. We don’t. Once, when we were going to go see a movie with a couple that he knew (he worked with the girl) we got into a fight and he asked what I wanted to do. Crying, I said, “Please, let’s just go home” Well, he pulls up to the movie theatre, gets out and tells me that the couple will drive him home.
Then I find out that the girl he is working with is moving away. He and I were always very comfortable with each other having opposite sex friends, and he goes to three different going away parties for this girl. I am exhausted and pregnant, plus I am also childcare for our other kids so I stay home. He tells me he’s a social person and when I come home from work and lie in bed, it’s hard on him. So he goes out. Once, while we were watching a movie on his phone, the girl who left his work is lighting up his phone and it’s almost 10pm. She’s sending text after text. I don’t know what they say. But the next day, I look at the texts. Husband and I have always felt fine with having the password for each other’s phones. Once or twice a week, we’d lose a phone and use the other’s phone to call the missing phone. I’d grab his phone if it was close to look stuff up etc.
I see texts that talk about them having lunch together. Daily. She’s talking about crying because she doesn’t want to leave. He tells her he hopes our daughters grow up to be like her. He talks about feminist theory with her. Etc. Nothing sexual. But he did lie. He told me they rarely spent time together. I pressed him on several details about the time they spent together. He lied. And after I asked a few questions about her (he didn’t know I looked through his phone) the next day, he changed his password of two years.
Once I saw that he changed his phone I told him I had seen their conversations. I told him that he had been lying about how much time they were spending together. I told him to stop texting her.
He didn’t. I caught him replying to a text she sent him about something innocuous. And then magically, she didn’t text him anymore. There were other text convos in his phone with other women. One where he told her he likes having deep conversations and low key flirting, but I can tell that she was trying to keep things friendly so I wasn’t as worried about that.
Here’s the thing. He says he didn’t sleep with the woman who he became glued to while I was pregnant. He says he didn’t have feelings for her but when I press, he doesn’t say she didn’t have feelings for him. But he lied and lied and lied to me about how much time they spent together until I told him I read his texts, and his face turned white. “Believe what you want but nothing happened.” And he was trying to making me feel like I was crazy until I had black and white proof. So I have no idea if he really took it too far with this girl.
There are very, very complicated reasons why I haven’t left, but I need to know, from a guy’s perspective, am I making this too much of a big deal?
DEAR DOUBTING: I realize that you’ve got complicated reasons why you haven’t left but… Jesus H. Zombie, you really need to leave this guy. Honestly, I think you would be infinitely happier if you’d dumped him when he freaked out at you for not wanting to fool around in a way that triggered memories of having been sexually assaulted. This relationship is profoundly toxic under the most generous interpretation and it’s clearly been getting worse over time.
But hey, that’s not what you’re asking me about. You’re asking me about your husband’s behavior and if you’re blowing things out of proportion.
And honestly? I don’t think you are. Leaving my opinions about whether you should stay married to this guy aside, this is some hinky crap under the most generous of readings. Now, I’m a big believer in the value of close, emotionally intimate friendships, even when they’re between opposite sex friends. If someone is socially inexperienced, this can occasionally cause issues. Because straight men are taught that emotional intimacy is a precursor to (or equivalent to) romantic attraction, and we’re taught that women are the only people we’re allowed to be emotionally intimate with, then this can blur lines. Straight guys will often round up their friendship with women to attraction because… well, we’re actually able to be close with them. It’s not a feeling that a lot of men experience.
There’s also a phenomena known as “work spouses” – people who from an intimate (but platonic) relationship at work. There’s a closeness that can echo a romantic relationship, even when there’s no actual sex or romance involved. But to an outside observer, it could very well seem like they’re an actual couple.
So, under other circumstances, I could see why a really close friendship between a man and a woman could be read as a potential affair or even an emotional affair, even when it’s nothing of the sort.
But these aren’t those circumstances.
First there’s the fact that this has been going on during your pregnancy, at a time when you’re doing all of the work around the house and managing the kids. He’s complaining that your exhaustion is a problem for him because he’s oh so social. That alone is some lousy behavior on his part. Marriage and parenthood are, amongst other things, a series of compromises. Some of those compromises include understanding that when you have kids – and another on the way – then things change. The sex is going to be more infrequent and less involved because nobody’s got the time or the energy. Similarly, socializing is going to take a back seat to child care and household responsibilities. And while it’s good to make time so that you both don’t lose your minds in the process… well, the fact that he’s laying the blame at your feet for not entertaining him after you’ve been working yourself to exhaustion is thoughtless and selfish at best. At worst, it’s contemptuous of you.
The fact that he’s prioritizing his relationship with this woman is telling because it’s coming at a period where he feels he’s not getting his emotional, social and (presumably) sexual needs met. So it seems fairly clear that he’s decided to get those needs met elsewhere.
Now under other circumstances, this could be seen as a smidge selfish but ultimately harmless. But your husband’s behavior isn’t that of someone having a harmless, even slightly flirty friendship with someone he works with. To start with, there’s the contempt he treats you with, including bailing out of the car and declaring that she and her partner would take them home. Then there’s the way he talks with her, sharing intimacy, jokes and the like. This wouldn’t be such a big deal, except for the fact that this is intimacy and closeness that he’s denying to you. He’s neglecting you in order to pursue this relationship with his coworker.
And then there’s the lying. While I’m a believer that even married people have their right to privacy and secrecy from their partners, the fact that he lied to you about the duration and nature of his relationship with her is a pretty big goddamn sign that he knows he’s crossing a line. There’s keeping a secret because you know it would cause unnecessary drama with one’s partner, and then there’s keeping secrets because you know that you’ve breaking someone’s trust. He may not be sleeping with her – and to be honest, I question that – but he knows that what he’s doing ain’t kosher.
This is, of course, compounded by the fact that he’s been texting with other women, including one where he was pretty clearly fishing for more than just conversation. Sure, one can have flirty friendships without compromising a monogamous commitment… but again, this is part of a continuous pattern of behavior on the part of your husband.
But most of all there’s the fact that he’s low-key gaslighting you over this. The insistences that you’re crazy, that you’re overreacting, making too big of a deal of something that’s clearly innocent and moving the goal posts on what “proof” is acceptable all compound his behavior into one giant, toxic sundae.
So, yes, Doubting. This is a big goddamn deal. He may never have put any part of himself into any part of her (and I’m willing to bet that he has), but this is behavior I would be willing to call an emotional affair. If we take his behavior in isolation, then at best, he’s been neglecting you in order to pursue an intimate relationship with someone else. At best. However, we can’t separate it from his history of behavior with you, the contempt he treats you with and the callous disregard for your feelings and the relationship that the two of you share.
So from this guy’s perspective, yeah, you have every right to be pissed about all of this. This is awful, toxic behavior that’s in line with awful, toxic behavior he’s been exhibiting for the duration of your relationship.
This isn’t going to get better. No amount of love, effort or children are going to fix a relationship when one partner has so contemptuously checked out. I’m really hoping that you’re asking for my opinion because you’re looking for a casus belli to finally pull the trigger and leave his ass, Doubting. I hope this is the motivation to de-complicate things because, bluntly, you need to DTMFA and GTFO.
Good luck. And write back to let us know how you’re doing.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a 13 year old, in 7th grade. Recently, I wrote an a note to my best friend anonymously in my 3rd period and stuck it in his locker. He read it, and because we’ve been best friends for 4 years, he knew my handwriting and told me he knew it was me…
Not only did I not think about my handwriting, but I’M THE ONLY ONE WHO KNOWS HIS LOCKER COMBO! So he immediately knew it was me. I told him is was a dare so he shrugged it off and we were still hanging out. Then he gave me his number, which is a huge step because he’s not allowed to have girl’s phone numbers, but his parents made an exception for me. So I don’t know whether to ask him out and risk my friendship or not ask him out. I really do like him and we have A LOT in common. I mean, heck, both of us have both of us have all 3 of our electives together. Band, Jazz Band, and Spanish. So IDK what to do…
You tell me…
DEAR CRUSHED OUT: Honestly, CO, I’m a believer in getting in the habit of owning your feelings for people and being up front about it. Now to be fair: when you’re 13, attraction can feel complicated and weird. Thirteen year olds don’t have a lot of experience on top of the social craziness of junior high and the swirling mass of hormones and your brains changing and maturing. It’s like trying to play chess while riding a rollercoaster at the same time. So you’re not entirely wrong in that confessing your feelings for him might risk your friendship; the teen years are frustrating that way.
But here’s the thing. First of all: you’ve been best friends for years. That’s a pretty solid bond, especially at your age. That makes me think the two of you could pull this off. Second: he gave you his number after he found your note. Something tells me that he didn’t buy your line about it just being a dare. I suspect that he’s low-key trying to tell you he’s kinda into you too. So that’s a positive sign too.
Most importantly though: I think that getting used to telling people you like them instead of hiding it like a deep dark secret will serve you well growing up. Getting in the habit of being willing to act on your feelings early on helps keep you from situations where you’ve had a crush on someone for months or years and now you’re afraid to do anything because you’ve felt this way for so long that it feels like it would destroy you to be turned down. Telling someone you’re interested in them early on or asking them out on a date helps keep you from getting stuck in the middle of wanting to say something but being afraid to. Plus: acting sooner rather than later means that you don’t run the risk of someone else asking them out first.
I’m just sayin’, a whole lotta drama could be avoided if people spoke up about their crushes a lot freaking sooner.
Anyway, I’d suggest telling him you’d like to go out with him and if he’s not interested, hey that’s cool too, nothing’s going to have to change. People will take their lead from how you act. If you don’t act like it’s a big deal, then he won’t treat it like a big deal. And if he says no… well, maybe things will be awkward for a bit, but the two of you can push through that awkwardness and come through as friends on the other side.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)