A Reader Writes…
I was wondering if you could help me with something that has been playing on my mind recently…
It recently transpired that my boyfriend of 15 months has been looking at girls on a dating website that he used to use before he met me. I found this out after he started to write something in a search engine on his laptop when I was sitting next to him, which brought up his history in the search bar and I asked “do you still look at …(dating website)”.
At first, he replied that he has a couple of times, and then when I was unsure whether he was being honest, I asked again and he then said a couple of times a week. He said that he only looks at it to use the function where he can look through it and he can click on “yes” or “no” (i.e. as he says whether they’re “hot” or “not”). He says that he always clicks on “no” even if they’re good looking. He reassured me that he was not going on there to look for girls, but just to look at their pictures.
I told him that I found this a bit weird that he is going on a dating website to look at other girls, when supposedly he is in a relationship with me. He said that he didn’t see anything wrong in it and it meant nothing. I told him how it really upset me and how disrespectful I found it, especially as it was a dating website. He responded with saying that although he didn’t see anything wrong in it “it’s nothing”, he could see that it had upset me and so when I asked him to delete it, he went ahead and deleted his account. I also asked if anyone has contacted him on the website since he’s been going out with me and he said that a couple of girls have but he hasn’t replied to them (he also let me see the messages).
I know he is committed, as he tells me that he wants to be with me and although he looks at other girls, including girls on a dating site, he tells me has “chosen” to be with me. I feel really confused though, as he told me that he used to do this (“yes” or “no” thing on the dating website) before we started a relationship almost just to fill the time I guess. He also told me that the reason he’s started doing it again recently was because he’s bored whilst he’s staying in hotels.
The thing is that it’s now really niggling at me and I feel like he’s broken my trust. I feel like I’m in the “normal” (whatever that is) range of trusting partners, even though my last relationship of 9 years ended when he left me out of the blue for another girl (I know this is probably and subconsciously a fear of mine that this will happen again in a relationship, as it was such a shock). I feel really confused, as my current partner used to tell me that he only had eyes for me and he was (my name-)sexual/asexual, as he stopped looking at other girls in that way.
After this all came out about him looking at dating sites, he seemed to take this all back and reminded me that he is heterosexual. I understand that we’re all human and we notice the opposite sex, but I just have lots of questions running through my mind now like “was he being genuine at the beginning?”, “is he such a sexual being that when I’m not there, his eyes wander and therefore will he cheat on me?”, “what if he goes on other sites to look at women? I’ll never know if I’m not there”, “can I really trust him now?”, etc.
I have also wondered in the past whether we have different boundaries in terms of sex, as he has slept with more people than me (about 20), whereas I have only had 2 sexual partners (him and my ex). He has also slept with friends, which I find a bit strange, as it goes over that friends/lover/feelings boundary, and admittedly I have been hung up on this issue with him in the past, but kind of accepted our different histories now.
I’ve spoken to a male friend to try and get his perspective and he reassured me that it is typical male behaviour (including looking at porn, which my partner – to my unease – and male friend does). Is this typical male behaviour and I am just unable to see beyond my own female perspective? If it is, what things should I be asking myself or focus on to try and stop my mind from going over all this stuff in my head? Should I be feeling so insecure or do I just need to let it go? I know this has made me feel insecure and I hate it, I just want to enjoy being in the relationship again!
I have some of your books including “resolve your differences”, “are you right for me?”, “heal and move on” and “learn to love yourself enough”
I would really appreciate any advice you have or to point me in the right direction with your books, as I find your site a great resource for relationship issues and whenever I type it into google it comes up with all sorts of unhelpful forums.
This is a really tough one because where do you draw the line between normal and dangerous – especially as technology has made the line much more blurry. In the past, we might actually look at contact adverts in the back of newspapers for a bit of fun imagining what it might be like to meet these people. However, in the old days we would have to find a photo, write a letter, post it to a PO Box and wait for a reply. It wasn’t very likely we were going to do all that unless we were truly interested in meeting that person. Today, we can contact this person at the touch of a button and in an idle moment might send off a “Hi Sexy” message. As you can imagine this can lead to all sorts of problems.
The other big difference is that our homes are much more porous than before. What do I mean by this? In the past, there was one phone and we knew who had called. Now, your partner could be texting someone else in another room and you don’t know. Other people can come into your house – via emails and Facebook – 24 hours a day and you aren’t any the wiser. It’s not surprising that we are on alert more than ever before. Sometimes this can push over into being over-concerned and sometimes we are too trusting and don’t realise what is going on under our own noses. This is why I find it very difficult to draw the line between between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and whether your reaction is normal or over-the-top.
Moving on to your particular letter, if your ex boyfriend left you for another woman out of the blue, you’re going to be on guard and anxious. A little bit like a dog that barks when the postman delivers a letter two doors down. I’m concerned about your language; you’re moving on to very strong terms very quickly, so looking at a dating profile of somebody else is ‘disrespectful’. Emotive language and that is going to make you highly emotional and the whole situation becomes more charged.
Under these circumstances it’s going to be harder to have a rational discussion – about what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable. Your boyfriend will just close down the argument by agreeing, but secretly he may feel something different and you won’t discover know his true opinions. The other problem with such powerful language is it encourages over-thinking, because if he’s being disrespectful this is the highest level red alert. Your mind is going to go into overdrive and it’s not helpful.
When it comes to ‘looking’ at other people and the jealous feelings that prompts in us, there are three approaches. The first is say nothing and hope for the best (which is what most people favour). The second – that I think you favour – is what I call the “asexual road”. Here we turn ourselves and our partners into two maiden aunts who are not allowed to find anybody else attractive or get any visual or emotional stimulation from anybody else. The result is we start to switch ourselves off and that makes it much harder to become sexual. In effect, when you’re with our beloved, you have to tell yourself ‘it’s OK now’ and take your sex drive out of cold storage.
Finally, there’s a third option: Simmering. You’re allowed to find other people attractive – either on TV, billboards or even someone you meet at a party – but you feed that energy into your relationship. In this way, your engine is already running when you’re alone with your beloved. I suppose the best way to describe the difference between shutting yourself off and simmering is the 50 Shades of Grey phenomena. Lots of women have been reading this book and finding it such a great turn on and they have leapt on their partner. I explain more about simmering in Make Love like a Prairie Vole. I think you would find this book helpful.
The other way to deal with the more porous boundaries into our household is to make certain that you have a better relationship rather than take each other for granted. The vast majority of people have affairs or look around because they’re unhappy and dissatisfied. I explain more about this in How Can I Ever Trust You Again? So instead of taking your relationship for granted, you make certain that you can communicate properly and if your partner is unhappy about something he will talk to you about it.
So summing up, it’s difficult to tell whether you should be concerned or not. However, by worrying you are putting a big barrier between you and your partner. If you learn from the experience and take the advice of your friend and try to get into the mind-set of men and my advice and learn more about relationships, I think you can turn this temporary glitch into something that will strengthen your relationship.