DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have been in a long distance relationship with my girlfriend for close to two years now. And she has always had some male friends. In fact she has been hanging around these guys for years even before I met her. And she told they’re like brothers to her. I am aware that her mom knows them and is even friends with some of these guys parents. Before we met she use to hang out a lot with them but I told that I didn’t feel comfortable with that and she backed off. It would usually be every once in a while. Lately, especially because of the pandemic we’ve been talking on the phone a lot, close to all day sometimes (I don’t work everyday and she’s out of school at the moment).
These past few weeks they have starting hanging out more, I would say once or twice a week and it really bothers me. I’m currently in a different state for work and I know absolutely no one here and everything is closed to add to it. So phone conversations with my friends or her keep me busy. On the weekends I would try to hang out with some colleagues (that I would not usually go out with) to keep myself from thinking about her being with her friends. She’s a very direct type of girl and would tell you what she thinks right off the bat but I can’t seem to not think that she might be cheating or something especially when she goes home late even though she texts me whenever she’s out. I got so bad that I would get so angry when I come home from work and want to talk with her and she tells me she’s at their place, that I would not text her nor answer her calls until the next day.
I know there is an issue from my side and it starting to be poisonous for me but how should I address this situation?
Green Eyed Monster
DEAR GREEN EYED MONSTER: Y’know GEM, you’ve caught me at an interesting time. A lot of times, getting a letter like this would lead to my basically ripping you a new one about the hypocrisy of going out with your friends while telling her not to hang out with her, about the coercive and even unreasonable demands that she not spend time with her friends…
But I’m actually in a more mellow mood at the moment so instead of tearing into you, let’s talk about what’s actually underneath all of this and just why what you’re doing is inevitably going to backfire on you. We need to talk about exactly what’s going on and why you’re jealous of her friends. Because, let’s be clear: this is a you problem, not a her problem.
And it starts with a very simple question: what’s wrong with her spending time with her guy friends? Now obviously, you’re worried that she’s going to cheat on you with one of them. But why, exactly? What, exactly, do you think is happening now that wasn’t happening before? After all, she’s known them for years before she ever started dating you. Why should things change now? Is she telling you about how one of her friends has started horn-dogging around her or has been getting incredibly flirty? Is she gushing about how amazing Guy X, Guy Y or Guy Z are, in ways that she would have gushed over you in the early days?
I rather doubt it. If that were happening, I imagine you would’ve said so in your letter. So I think we can safely say that your anxiety around her and her friends is free-floating and irrational.
Instead, if you’re absolutely honest with yourself, I think we can both agree that there isn’t any actual, reasonable basis for your discomfort. After all, nothing has actually changed other than the fact that she’s dating you. Everything else seems to be exactly the same. But your presence isn’t going to make one of her bros and BFFs suddenly decide that now is the time to try to undermine your relationship and try to snap her up… and even if one of them was trying to Nice Guy his way into her pants, that doesn’t mean she’s going to go for it. After all, it takes two to tango; one dude’s pining away for someone or even trying to be a relationship Machiavelli about it doesn’t mean that she’s going to fall for his bulls
Unless, of course, you don’t actually trust your girlfriend.
However, if we’re being honest, then I think we both know that’s not the issue. The issue is less about trust and far more about your own self-esteem and the fact that you’re both in a long-distance relationship. It sounds to me like you’re dealing with some serious FOMO; after all, you’re in different cities, you can’t see each other in person and that curtails a lot of what makes a long-distance relationship work. Lots of folks have that sense of FOMO, the fear that their friends are off doing cool and amazing things without them. Almost every time, the fear isn’t about missing out on whatever cool activity their friends are doing. The fear is almost always “what if my friends are having a great time without me? What if they’re bonding and becoming closer with each other and, since I’m not there, they’re going to become tighter and closer and then there won’t be room for me any more?”
That, I suspect, is the cause of your jealousy. You don’t feel secure enough in yourself or your own value, and so you worry that your relationship with your girlfriend isn’t nearly as solid as it could be. When you don’t have faith in your own value, it’s very easy to feel like someone else — someone with higher “value” or a relationship of longer standing — would turn her head. And if she’s spending more time with other people, people she’s close with, people she clearly loves and feels strongly about and you’re not there… well, doesn’t that mean that you’re getting squeezed out?
And that’s the real fear, frankly. It’s not that you’re afraid of her cheating on you so much as that you’re worried that she’s going to leave you. That you’re going to get squeezed out by people who are physically there with her. And if we proceed from that angle — that your fear is that she’ll be getting closer with her guy friends than with you — then there’s a perverse logic where trying to get her to spend less time with her friends makes sense.
Notice very carefully that I said “makes sense”, not “is a good idea”. Or, for that matter, “won’t fail miserably” or “won’t blow up in your face.”
Here’s a truth about dating: you can’t break-up proof your relationships. There is no magic formula that’s going to keep people from leaving you — whether it’s being hyper-vigilant in an attempt to keep them from cheating, trying to occupy all of their time so they can’t meet other people or even just keeping tabs on them at all times. In fact, almost all of that will all but guarantee that they’ll leave you. You might keep them from cheating — assuming they were ever even thinking of cheating in the first place — but you will destroy the trust, affection and respect that is critical for relationships to survive.
And let’s be real here, my dude: that’s exactly where you’re heading. The fact that you’re getting angry and giving her the silent treatment to punish her when she sees her friends is going to be exactly the reason why she’s going to leave you. There’s nothing more poisonous to a relationship than to have someone not only constantly tell you that you’re a liar, but to punish you for doing things as simple, basic an inoffensive as spending time with her friends. Friends, I might add, who have been in her life for far longer than you have. There comes a point very quickly where she’s not going to be willing to put up with this s
t. You’re going to put her in the position where she needs to make a choice between her boyfriend or her platonic friends, and she’s going to choose them. Not because she’s banging one of them or all of them, not because she’s secretly in love with one of them or because they sabotaged your relationship with her. It’s going to be because you demanded that she make that choice and her friends didn’t. And trust me: she’s going to go with the people who know her well enough to not demand that she choose.
If you care for her and you want this relationship to work? You’re going to need to work on yourself. The problem isn’t the jealousy, in and of itself. The jealousy you’re feeling is a symptom, not the cause. So, for that matter, is your lack of trust in your girlfriend; again, that’s a symptom. Your problem is that you don’t believe in your own worth or your own value or the fact that people could value you for yourself. Having things to occupy your time — not being able to spend time with your friends or go out and do things — isn’t the answer either. That’s just a way of distracting yourself or keeping yourself occupied. You need to get to the root of the issue and find your own value, the internal validation that helps you feel secure in why people would care for you and want to stay in a relationship with you. If you were more secure in your own worth, you wouldn’t feel like the way to preserve your relationship is to cling to your girlfriend the way that you do. You’re demonstrating classic needy behavior in a way that’s turned toxic and corrosive, and if it’s left unchecked, it’s going to destroy every relationship you have moving forward.
And honestly, this sounds to me like something that would best be discussed with a counselor or therapist. They can help you break the patterns in your life that lead to these feelings and help you find ways to get those needs met in ways that are actually productive and useful, rather than destroying the relationships you currently have.
But the first step to any of this? It’s going to be accepting that your girlfriend cares for you and just trust her. You have to trust that she is honest with you when she says that she cares for you. You have to be willing to believe her when she tells you that there’s nothing untoward in her relationship with her friends. And here’s the thing: trusting her will give you the proof that you can trust her. Her hanging with her friends and coming back to you is proof that yes, she loves her friends but she also cares for you. As you see that your fears and anxieties are unfounded, it’ll be that much easier to shut that part of your brain up that drips poison in your ear. Just as confidence is fear + survival, trust in this case will be built out of fear + reassurance. Understanding that your anxiety is lying to you makes it that much easier to ignore it and to take refuge in what you and your partner have built together.
But if you don’t get it under control, it’s all going to come crashing down around you. And that will be your fault.
You have a choice to make here, GEM. Here’s to hoping you make the right one.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com