DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I (29F) have been dating my boyfriend (32M) for almost a year and I’m jealous of the relationship he has with his ex. He texts with his ex all day and he tells me they are just really good friends. They rarely hang out in person. This woman has been in his life for 6 years and they were engaged to be married. The engagement ended because they disagreed about the subject of children.
I feel like they have a connection that I’ll never have with him. He tells me that they are just friends and he loves me. I feel like I’m the backup and they will reconnect in the future thus leaving me. Am I crazy for feeling jealous?
– Ol’ Green Eyes
DEAR OL’ GREEN EYES: No I don’t think you’re crazy OGE. I think what you’re feeling would be better described as insecurity. The thing to realize is that many times, jealousy and envy are the Check Engine lights of relationships. Sometimes when it crops up it means that there’s something wrong and you need to address a problem that’s about to cause things to fall apart. But more often, the issue is that you forgot to do the relationship equivalent of screwing the gas cap on until it clicked.
Your boyfriend had this long, romantically intense relationship with his ex that ended on what likely feels like a minor conflict. They’re still in touch, talk all the time and he still thinks of her fondly. It’s understandable that you could see this as a potential threat to your relationship with him.
If, y’know. You squint. A lot.
But the fun – and I use the term very sarcastically – thing about insecurity is that it’s supremely irrational. Insecurity is the conspiracy theorist of emotions, taking anything as evidence that your worst nightmare is likely coming true and that anything that disproves your fears is likely just made up or irrelevant. It’s confirmation bias writ large, as your jerk brain runs around with string and pushpins, making random connections between unrelated events and trying to drag a narrative out of it regardless of how little sense it makes to literally anyone else. But if you can disconnect yourself from the nightmare scenario for just a moment, step back and give yourself a chance to get some perspective, you can see that many times you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.
So let’s take a step back and examine things dispassionately. First, here is a truth: you are correct in that you won’t have a connection with your boyfriend like he had with his ex. Not because theirs was magical and sacred or because he loved (and still loves) her more than he’ll ever love you but because you are two entirely different people. Your relationship with him is unique and special and unconnected to his relationship with her, just as his relationship with her is unconnected to his relationship with you. You’re never going to have the same kind of connection because your experiences together are going to be entirely different. That doesn’t make it better or worse, just different.
Second: the fact that he has a strong friendship with his ex is a good thing. This speaks a lot to his character and what kind of person he is. It means that even though their relationship didn’t work out, the two of them were able to maintain the respect and affection for one another that’s let them be good friends afterwards. This, in turn, means that he is emotionally mature, handles conflicts in his relationships with care and consideration and, incidentally, chooses his partners carefully. Which, I might point out, means that he chose you with all due consideration and mindfulness.
Third: They had a six year long relationship that ended on relatively good terms. That’s a lot of history and a lot of time to build their relationship together. It’s a little unreasonable to expect the exact same sort of connection without that shared history together. You two’ve only been together for a year. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a similar relationship, just that they take time. This is like comparing a career you’ve only just started to somebody who’s been on the job for the better part of a decade; you’re setting yourself up for unrealistic expectations and getting upset that over things that you haven’t had time to develop yet.
Fourth: unless you left things out of your letter, it doesn’t sound like your boyfriend’s given you any reason to doubt the sincerity of his feelings for you. Aside from possibly being a little inconsiderate about how often he texts or messages her, the biggest sin seems to be that he didn’t exile her to a damnatio memorae as soon as they broke up. Absent actual misbehavior, I think you need to let yourself fall on the side of taking “yes” for an answer here.
There’re two things you need to do here. The first is that you need to talk to your boyfriend and let him know that you could use his help in stepping back from the ledge. You’re feeling a little insecure and worried and you could use some extra love and reassurance so that you can get that vague sense of insecurity under control. Some of this may involve his being a little extra attentive to you when you’re feeling like an insecure bag of slop. Some of it may mean being a little more considerate with how much he’s messaging his ex, especially if he’s doing it in front of you.
But regardless of how he can help you, you’re going to have to help yourself by making sure that you let yourself believe him when he tells you that he cares for you and that he’s just friends with his ex. Because if you can’t bring yourself to trust him when he tells you how he feels, this relationship isn’t going to last long enough to have the kind of connection you want.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m currently having issues with my relationship.
I can’t understand or get past my girlfriend’s history. She was into masochism and being abused in ways that just makes me sick. She told me about it but also included that she is no longer into that.
Can she really just stop wanting that? Is it ok for me to ask her to take down the pictures online? Or is that not a right of mine as I wasn’t involved?
Not Feeling It
DEAR NOT FEELING IT: Alright NFI, I picked your letter because I wanted to compare and contrast it with Ol’ Green Eyes’. In both cases, the two of you are having a hard time dealing with the fact that your current partner has a history that you two aren’t necessarily comfortable with. But one significant difference is how this is manifesting. With Ol’ Green Eyes, she’s worried that her boyfriend’s just killing time until he goes back to his ex. In yours, you’re actively disgusted by a fundamental part of your ex’s past and are trying to force her to pretend that it never happened. And that ain’t cool.
This is generally where I introduce folks to my good friend The Chair Leg of Truth.
But you know what? You sound young, NFI and there’s a chance that you can realize just what you’re doing wrong and maybe not sabotage this relationship before it even has a chance to begin. First of all: your girlfriend has a past – a past that has absolutely nothing to do with you – like all people do. As with 99.9% of the relationships you will ever have in your life, your girlfriend had partners before you, had sex before she met you and did things that you may or may not approve of before she met you. And all of those experiences? They made her the woman she is today… the woman that you are into and want to date. So your interest and attraction to her are, ultimately, because of those past experiences, not despite them. Without her history, she wouldn’t be who she is and – in all likelihood – you two wouldn’t be dating.
Second of all: your girlfriend has a kink, as many people do. Her particular kink involves the boundaries of pleasure and pain. This isn’t terribly unusual; a lot of kinky people get similar enjoyment out of the release that comes from the co-mingling of the two. But, fun fact: the fact that she’s a masochist doesn’t mean she was being “abused”. It means that she was a willing participant in forms of sexual contact that – assuming everyone followed best BDSM practices – that she and her partners negotiated and planned out well in advance, with thought and care for her limits and her safety.
Now her kink is not your kink and that’s fine. There’re plenty of folks who get off to things that make me go “Really? Ok then…” But getting up in self-righteous judgement because you don’t dig the things that she enjoyed? That’s not cool, Chief.
Which brings us to your first question: can she really stop wanting that? Well, theoretically, yes. There are folks who’ll go through stages of sexual experimentation and get into kinks or lifestyles that they may not be into later on. It could be that she was trying masochism to please her partner or partners at the time. She might have been trying it out because she’s sexually adventurous and willing to try new things. Her tastes may have changed over time and now she’s not as into it as she used to be.
But you know what’s far more likely? She’s telling you that she’s no longer into it because you slut-shamed her for being into kinky sex. It’s not that she is no longer into the kind of sex she enjoyed previously but that she doesn’t want to deal with your judgmental bulls
t about what she did long before the two of you ever got together.
Similarly, can you ask her to take down the pictures of her? Well yes, technically you can ask. As in, you can flap your lips and make the words go. But do you have the right to ask and expect her to actually give your words consideration? Not so much. Not when it’s paired with your other questions.
There’re legitimate reasons to be concerned when somebody has sexually explicit photos online. We live in a profoundly sex-negative culture and people frequently use nude or sexual photos – taken consensually or otherwise – as levers to harm and harass folks. It’s not unreasonable to be worried that those pictures might, for example, might cost her a job in the future or used by somebody to try to humiliate her. But when your impetus is “this is a reminder that you had sex before me – and sex I don’t like – and I don’t want those out there”? That’s a big NOPE from me, chief.
So what do you do about all of this?
Well first of all, if you want this relationship to work, I suggest you go and do some reading about BDSM and masochism in particular. Get a copy of When Someone You Love is Kinky and familiarize yourself with the whys and wherefores of kink with books like Tristan Taormino’s The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge so you at least can understand your girlfriend’s interests. You don’t need to need to share her kink, but maybe having some understanding about various kinks means that you won’t give her crap about her sexual interests or make her feel like a slut for having an adventurous sex life.
Work on accepting the fact that somebody’s past isn’t a reflection on you and that it’s made her into the person you want to date now. Loving somebody means understanding and accepting them as an entire person, not as somebody that you can take piecemeal and just remove the bits you don’t like.
Failing that? You can accept that the two of you aren’t right for each other and let her find someone who isn’t going to judge her for her past.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)