DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been in a steady, loving and deeply fulfilling relationship with my girlfriend for 10 months. Initially, I had some minor trust issues stemming from…details in her background that didn’t quite match up (please keep in mind that I was raised as a man in a deeply chauvinistic and misogynistic Latin-American society, it doesn’t excuse me but it’s hard to shake off): she claimed (unprompted, over and over again) that she wasn’t really that much into sex (until I “cured her of that” after a month of dating) and that she had been with 2, 3 men at tops. However, many cliched “signs” that seemed to contradict this were pointed out to me by a specially sexist friend of mine; she smokes, she’s inked, she drinks like a sailor, smokes weed, I met her on Tinder, she’s extremely outgoing and has a ton of male friends in the art and music world, she’s had bisexual experiences, she’s a model, aaand she’s “made out with” or “had crushes or flings” with a not-insignifcant number of our mutual acquaintances, including two very close friends. Many of these things I actually really liked about her, as I like independent women, but like I said, misogynist friend (however he was the one to suggest that I should make her my serious GF). I honestly don’t think I’d have a problem if she were to outright tell me that she hasn’t had an exactly sexless past; after all, she’s with me now, right? However, the seeming contradiction between her words and my prejudices did irk me a bit for what I thought had been only a while…
I mentioned to her about how when I’m in a serious relationship I’m deeply committed and don’t tolerate infidelity, and she agreed saying that she’s the same. This was early on during our history when out of the blue she asked me what were my thoughts on open relationships (I told her that they don’t work 99% of the time). Things were really good, and after some very, very, VERY minor kerfuffles over my doubts at the start things were going swimmingly well. “We’re gonna have f
king babies” (literal quote) level well.
Fast forward 6 great months into the future. Ever since the start of our relationship I had been clear about my plans to study in a foreign country (I’m an MD looking to enter a medical residency); as time went on and I saw how well things were going, I pledged to her that I’d be taking her along with me, as I REALLY want to. Well, 6 months in, I had to start an intensive 4 month training course for my residency exam with an extremely heavy study load. I was clear to my GF that I wouldn’t be able to do much during that time period and that I’d be seeing a lot less of her; however she insisted on seeing me on a nearly daily basis, to the point that at one point she had practically moved in with me into my parent’s house. This did irk me a bit; like I said, I was practically isolated during this time period, I wanted her to have fun and go out with her friends so as to not strain the relationship and besides I did need my space for study matters. I told her we should dial it down a bit, but we still went on seeing each other in a slightly less regular basis. Needless to say, moods were occasionally ranked due to the situation.
During this stressful 4 month period, an opportunity for her to take a 2 month course in a college campus in India (a timezone 12 hours apart) suddenly came up at her work. I insisted she should take it as at the very least it’d be a great travel opportunity, I even helped her filling out some paper work. Her departure date was coincidentally the same as the date I’d be leaving to take my exam…things seemed to be going well, the day before we left we went on a date, exchanged hand crafted letters (hers, beautiful, mine crappy looking in comparison but not for lack of trying and yes we’re both 29) and we agreed on staying in touch via Skype or FaceTime or whatever as much as possible during our time apart.
Things were going alright for the first couple of weeks (when I was in the aforementioned foreign country); communication was hard because I had to use wi-fi hotspots to stay in touch and I spent my entire day running errands in a city, but there was effort on her part (lots of missed calls) and hence, we managed to stay in touch. This gradually tapered off, (and I was a bit vocal about my displeasure) but I chalked it down to the problems with internet access we were both dealing with and was sure things would pick up when I went back to my country and my GF got her hands on a SIM card as she told me she would.
As you’ve probably guessed, this didn’t exactly happen. It’s been little over a week, we both have round the clock internet and it’s just harder and harder to communicate. I’ve told her about this, to the point that I feel like a nag, but she doesn’t seem to care. We text sporadically, but forget about phone calls (which we only make at about 1-3 AM when she shows up at her dorm, and then I have to practically beg her to call me) and it’s just excuse after excuse for her not fielding said calls or cutting them abruptly short (her roommate is there, she’s too tired to talk at 12 AM even though she’s constantly going to sleep at 3-4 AM even during weekdays, etc.); forget about Skype or anything else.
To add to my paranoia, she constantly keeps mentioning a cool new foreign musician friend of hers, with whom she apparently goes everywhere with. I was fine with this, and I was fine when she posted an innocent looking picture of her and him on a certain social media platform, but then I saw him macking on her in the comments (one heart smiley laden one where he said she “was sssooo beatiful and soooo nice” and another one where the guy’s mother (!) and him posted a series of heart smileys) and I lost it. I asked her what was up with that and she said that the guys is probably gay and his being so complimentary is simply cultural…
Now, I’m not gonna lie and said that I’ve never felt tempted by another woman during my relationship, but even during my recent trip I didn’t act on it (even though I had my chances) because I care more about what we’re supposedly building with my GF. This is where those supposedly buried trust issues came bubbling back…
I realize the fact that I’m in a bit of a void right now (I spent my last 4 months pushing friends and family away pretty much, I’m broke due to travel expenses, I have no job currently and most of my friends are abroad anyway) and the additional fact that I didn’t do as well in the exam as I needed to might be making me really needy and vulnerable, but do you think my feelings of consternation are completely unfounded? Or am I simply a prude that’s just not fit for “modern relationships” where time apart seems to be a green pass for screwing around?
Long Distance Lost
DEAR LONG DISTANCE LOST: Hoo boy.
There’s a lot going on here LDL and it’s all kind of flowing into one another into one giant motherf
ker of a knot. So instead of just leaping straight into my conclusion about what I think’s going on, we’re going to pick this sucker apart, bit by bit.
Let’s start with your initial… caution, shall we say… regarding your girlfriend’s past, because this is your first problem. Your assumptions about why she has to be lying about being interested in sex are, to put it mildly, kind of monkey-s
tting bananas. It reads like a subreddit’s idea of signs that somebody’s a secret SJW. In reality, smoking, having tattoos, swearing and blazing up aren’t really indications of anything other than her being someone I’d probably love to party with.
You can be a complete and utter virgin who’s only goal is to marry the only person you ever sleep with and raise a litter of kids while baking amazing cookies and still have a mouth on you that would make sailors cry. Being inked is just a sign that somebody likes tattoos, especially as tattooing becomes increasingly mainstream around the world. Asexuals, demisexuals and people who’ve just had a string of lousy lovers are no more or no less likely to wake and bake than the rest of the population. Having lots of male friends and being bisexual only means that she has lots of male friends and is bisexual.
She may also not have been “much into sex” because her previous lovers sucked at it and you’re the first person she’s dated who’s known his way around a vagina.
However, if she were lying – and she may well might have been – about her sexual history or her interest in sex, it would hardly be unusual or inexplicable. After all: women get s
t all the time about how much sex they’ve had. This is doubly true if, say, they’re living in a chauvinistic, misogynist culture. I might point out that it’s your supremely misogynistic friend who’s giving telling you that these are all bad things and signs that she’s a whore.
All that right there is going to set the stage for some not-goodness down the line, because you’re already inclined not to trust her for no reason other than she’s been less than forthcoming – and not unreasonably – about her sexual interests early on.
But then we get to the next big issue: the signs that you’re not going to be sexually compatible. Her asking you about open relationships, f’rex, was likely a test balloon about where this relationship might go once the two of you established a deeper layer of trust and intimacy. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being sexually conservative, just as there’s nothing wrong with being sexually expansive; it’s how you roll and more power to you. However, someone who’s a die-hard monogamist isn’t going to do well with someone who may well want or need more variety.
However, some sexual incompatibilities can be overcome in time. The more conservative sometimes loosen up, the more expansive may find that they’re ok with monogamy. The problem however, is that you already have this little germ of mistrust based around your perception of her sexual history and proclivities.
And that’s our third issue. Mistrust, when unaddressed and resolved, is always going to doom relationships. This is especially true when you’re dealing with a long-distance relationship. You have to be willing to take more on faith and trust that your partner is being straight with you. If you don’t, the natural progression of an LDR will drive you crazy in short order.
In the early days of an LDR, even one where there’s a nearly 12-hour difference, it’s easier to keep in contact. You and your partner aren’t fully immersed in your new schedules and lifestyle. You’re both going to be missing each other intensely, the partner who’s gone long distance is going to be homesick and not quite in the groove of their new digs. So even when you’re playing Find The Unsecured Wifi, you’re going to be making more of a point to keep those regular calls going.
However, once they’re more established, making friends and getting their bearings, things are going to change. Yeah, they’ll miss you, but they’re also going to be devoting a not-inconsiderable amount of their mental and emotional bandwidth to their living situation. They’ve got a lot of things demanding their time and attention and s
t’s going to slip… and usually that’s staying in contact. It doesn’t mean that they think any less of you or that their feelings have changed, it just means that they have this side of their life to balance out and it’s going to demand a lot of time and attention until the new equilibrium sets in. There is, after all, a lot of call to give more of their attention to their immediate surroundings and living situation.
And then there’s going to be the thrill of the new. Humans are a species who desire novelty, and new experiences are going to hold our attention and captivate us. These new experiences and people are going to be a big, shiny, attention-grabbing object because they’re new and different and trigger renewed dopamine doses that light our brain up like a pinball machine.
That’s where the trust has to come in. Because those distractions taking their attention away can feel like your partner drifting away from you.
And – to be fair – sometimes that happens. Relationships do fall apart all the time and long distance has a way of blowing apart all but the strongest or most fervent of relationships. If you want it to survive, you have to be willing to trust your partner. After all, it takes two to cheat. The fact that pretty boy is flirting on your girlfriend – assuming he’s not gay and she’s telling you a lie to reassure/mislead you – doesn’t mean that she’s flirting back or intends to do anything about it. Dudes can hit on women, but that doesn’t mean that the women are going to respond to it. Getting het up that somebody else thinks your girlfriend’s cute when she’s not responding to it or cozying up to him is going to lead to a lot of pain and suffering… mostly for you.
Getting jealous can also have the opposite effect of what you want. Even when there’s nothing shady going on, constantly being accused of doing something untoward can sink a relationship. The accused may decide that they’ve had enough of your snide insinuations and kick you to the curb. Hell, enough jealous behavior can even cause someone to decide to throw caution to the wind and have that affair. It pisses the accused off, who turns to their supposed paramour for comfort and consolation… and they may well decide “f
k it, I’m already dealing with the consequences…”
There’s also the co-morbidity issue of your own s
t going down right now. Leaving your girlfriend out of it, it sounds like you’re not in the greatest of places right now. You’ve got a lot of things on your own plate that’s painting everything in your life a lovely shade of “f
k this noise” and that’s going to screw with your head. This would be the time when I suggest that you let your relationship – strained as it is – go on the back-burner for a little while as you get your own s
t together. Focus on fixing your own head. Deal with whatever it is that’s prompting you to push your friends and family away, finding a job, de-stressing from the (understandable) pressures of passing your residency exams and finding a job, even if it’s just something to keep you in rent and beer money while you’re establishing yourself. The more self-care – and I mean legit self-care, not just hanging out in a pillow fort with a cup of cocoa and 80s fantasy movies on Netflix – you can do, the better you will be prepared to handle the emotional difficulties in your dating life. You may have to accept being “on a break” for a while – with all that entails – as the cost of fixing yourself. Trust me: it’s better to let a relationship go, knowing that you can come back to it down the line, than to let your entire life fall apart as you try to do too many things at once.
Now, here’s the thing: you can’t prevent s
t from going down, if it’s going to go down. As much as it sucks, you can’t control or dictate everything that life throws your way. Part of being a grown-ass adult is realizing that occasionally some s
t’s going to be flung at you and the only thing you can do is learn to dodge so it gets your shoes instead of your face. If she feels that the two of you have drifted apart and drops the hammer… well, that was likely going to happen anyway, given that the two of you were having some compatibility issues early on. If she just gets twitterpated by all the new shiny out there… that was also likely to happen and can’t be prevented. The best thing you can do is trust her, try to follow the best LDR practices I outlined on here, hope for the best and roll with the worst.
So with all that having been picked apart, let’s get to the meat of your question. Is she cheating on you or are you being paranoid? And the answer… is yes.
The reason for that not terribly helpful answer is because your feelings are affecting your perception of her behavior. Right now, her behavior could be seen as being suspicious… or it could be someone who’s naturally outgoing having a nice time during her study abroad program. You’re predisposed to not trust her and so you’re going to assume the worst about what she’s doing. That’s going to make it difficult to get a serious read on what’s going on. Maybe she’s cheating. Maybe she’s not and it’s all in your head. Or maybe this is the beginning of the end of your relationship. You don’t know.
What you do need to do is focus less on her and more on you. You can’t control her behavior. You can only control your own wants and expectations. So ask yourself: what do you want? Is trying to maintain your relationship with her across the globe from you too stressful? Would it be easier for you to just put things on hold – recognizing that your break could turn into a break-up – until she’s back in the same country with you? Or can you be willing to just let go of your suspicions and trust her without going over everything like it’s the Zapruder film?
Because if you can’t bring yourself to trust her, then it’s better to break up now instead of later. Sticking in a relationship with someone you can’t bring yourself to trust isn’t healthy for anyone and it’s especially unfair to her.
So you need to decide which way you want to go with this.
When she does come back and if the two of you are still together… well, consider a don’t ask/don’t tell policy about whether there were any indiscretions. Sometimes a little willingness to lie to yourself can be what gets you through a rough patch and lets you fix a relationship that can still be saved. Is it easy? No, it isn’t. But if it means another six months, a year, three years or more of being happy in a relationship that you might otherwise toss aside? Then it can well be worth it.
But that’s all up to you.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)