DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been with my girlfriend for 6 Years now, through a lot. But something changed recently and I can’t tell whether I should be worried or not.
A few weeks ago, she seemed to completely shut down on me. We went from daily cuddling and laughter and intimacy to…nothing. She wouldn’t talk to me, she just sat on the couch with her phone and her tablet. When I would ask if everything was ok, she would say she was just in a weird mood and needed some space. So I obliged.
Since then, things have moved slightly back toward normal. We started talking again, and while we still hadn’t had sex in over two weeks (not normal for us), I at least felt like things were moving forward. Something still felt off, but I was trying to just make sure she had everything she needed.
Last night we tried to fool around a little. I had asked her for help after a tremendously frustrating week, but what happened just re-opened a bunch of insecurities I was having during the time she shut me out. And I’m having a hard time processing them.
I had realized that the way she handled her phone had changed. She had turned off all notifications, which I noticed slowly. Her phone used to ding and vibrate all the time, but it has been silent for weeks. She leaves it face down everywhere now, which she normally doesn’t do because she was worried she’d scratch the screen. She was spending all her time on Snapchat, I would notice the interface if I glanced over. She started almost guarding it, where she used to leave it all over the house (I was constantly finding it for her), she never let it leave her side. Last night before we tried to fool around she was on it. She was constantly closing the app though, I could hear the double tapping of the home button. The sex did not go well, she looked upset and was not her usual responsive self. It felt almost like rape to me, so I stopped. We went to bed without a word. Or I tried to, because she immediately rolled over and grabbed her phone before covering both herself and the phone with the blanket. I could still hear the constant double tapping as she used and closed the app. Apparently, this deletes any messages.
We’ve been together for 6 years, I love her more than anyone I’ve ever loved in my life. She’s my best friend in the world and I don’t know what to do about this. There’s been only one time before in our relationship where I ever questioned her fidelity, and that was less than 6 months in. We hit a rough patch and she went home to New York to see her family. She ended up taking one of her exes with her. I knew she took him but didn’t say anything, I thought we were done. But she came back and told me about it and apologized, said nothing happened, and we’ve been going strong ever since. But this feels different, This doesn’t feel spiteful or cold, this feels like there’s just no love, it’s almost apathy, and it scares me.
She has a trip home planned in a few weeks. I was not invited. For only the second time in 6 years.
DEAR PARANOID (?) ANDROID: Alright PA, there’s no way to sugar coat this, so I’m going to give it to you straight: it doesn’t look good. I can’t say whether or not she’s cheating on you, but her behavior suggests that something is up. It may not be infidelity, but the other possibilities aren’t much better.
But before I get into the nitty gritty, I wanna point something out. The way you put things makes it sound like you’re kinda sorta in the habit of checking out what’s going on with her phone. I don’t know – and I’m not accusing you – whether it’s that you actively snoop, if you just see a happen to see a lot of notifications on the lockscreen and leave it alone, if you and your girlfriend have a no-problem-go-through-my-phone policy or what. But if you’re at the point of snooping to find out what’s going on… that ain’t good. Much of her behavior with her phone could well be that she’s gotten tired of you checking up on things and being all up in her business for no good reason. Just because people don’t have anything to hide doesn’t mean that they’re going to be cool with someone poking through their messages and photos.
And beyond that: there are risks inherent to snooping to the snooper besides “getting caught”. Snooping tends to mean finding out things you might otherwise wish you didn’t know, Sometimes they’re things that would only justify the snooping in retrospect. Other times they aren’t, but they’ll also be things that you can’t unknow. Sometimes the very thing that helps keep a relationship working – especially through the rough patches –is a certain amount of willful ignorance. After all, if you go through her phone and find out that no, she’s not cheating but she does think you’re seven shades of a
hole right now and she’s getting so fed up with having to put up with you… are you going to be happy knowing that?
Like I said: sometimes snooping can retroactively justify the activity. Sometimes it can’t. Keep all that in mind, the next time you’re curious about what’s up with her phone.
Now, with that out of the way, here’s my take on things:
There’re a lot of warning signs here that your relationship is in bad shape. The two biggest are the lack of sex and the lack of communication – when both talking and f
king go away, then things are dire.
She may NOT be cheating. Yes, her behavior is secretive and suspect – she clearly has stuff that’s going on that she doesn’t want you to know about – but infidelity isn’t the ONLY possibility on the list. It could well be that she’s needing to talk with someone about, well, you, and she doesn’t want you to read it. She may be needing to vent because of the state of your relationship. She may be being flirty online because she’s feeling neglected and wants some validation from someone she’s not dating. Or she may be slowly coming to the realization that things are coming to an end and she’s making arrangements to make the transition as smooth as possible. That may or may not include someone who’s become her motivation to leave. It’s impossible for me to say.
There’s really only one person who knows what’s going on, and that’s your girlfriend. And there’s only one way for you to find out and that’s to talk to her.
You and she need to have a seat and have a serious conversation before she leaves for her trip, because experience tells me that this trip is going to be the turning point. This is the sort of thing one tends to do when they need family support before making a hard decision… or support after having ALREADY made it.
There may be a lot of talking going on right now, but it’s pretty clear that nobody’s understanding each other, so it’s time to make things incredibly clear. You need to tell her how you’re feeling, how her behavior has been making you feel, that you want to know what’s happening and what you can do to help and make things better. And then… you need to listen. As hard as it may be, you’re going to need to listen without interjecting, without getting defensive and without falling to pieces if it’s bad news. And you do need to brace yourself because, to be perfectly blunt, this is the sort of behavior that you see at the end of a relationship.
And it may well be that your girlfriend won’t want to talk about things. Not a “I need some time to sort out how I’m feeling in my head so I can put it into words,” form of not wanting to talk but “I don’t want to engage with you about this”. And if that’s the case… well, then the best thing you can do is accept that she’s already out the door; she just hasn’t made it official yet. And in that case: the best thing you can do is make your break as clean and as quick as possible so that you can start the healing process.
I hope I’m wrong, PA. I hope that this is a rough patch and with some heart-felt, if difficult, conversations, the two of you will be able to pull through and have many more years together. But either way: you need to talk with her before it’s too late.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)