I am 24 and recently got into my very first relationship. I’m a late bloomer, I know, but this guy was worth the wait!! He’s hilarious, hot, considerate, and I know he cares for me a lot. The only problem is, I’m beginning to realize I’m a very jealous person.
He has been in several relationships before, and has been “dumped” by everyone he’s dated. The two he told me about were an 8-month relationship where they almost moved in together, and a 3-year long distance relationship. I think about these other people all the time. Was he happier with them? Would he want to be with them if they’d take him back? Did they do things he liked that I don’t do? Were they, with all the relationship experience they doubtlessly had, better at loving than I am?
I know that these thoughts are irrational. Every time my boyfriend looks at me, I can see that he cares for me. But anxiety isn’t rational, and I think a lot of my insecurity comes from not having any experience dealing with romantic relationships. How can I talk to him about this without coming across as jealous and controlling? How can I stop feeling like I’m competing with the ghosts of partners past?
First and foremost, what you’re feeling is entirely normal. I’m not saying it is healthy or productive, but it’s common and normal, so give yourself a break!!!! Part of what is ramping up your feelings is that every time you feel a twinge of jealousy, you start to beat yourself up about it, which makes you fixate on feeling that way, how to stop feeling that way, why you feel that way, and how you’re a bad person for feeling that way rather than giving yourself any space to actually process anything.
Instead of saying to yourself, “Oh, hey I’m feeling jealousy right now because I’m insecure about X and worried that that will make Hunky Boyfriend leave me.” You’re saying, “Oh fuck I’m feeling jealous right now like an insane person I know this isn’t rational, this is totally me just spiraling because I’m a late bloomer and I know nothing about relationships and what if he wants to be with someone who isn’t me or who isn’t jealous or who …” Or something like that. You’re getting very close to the right mindset—acknowledging the feelings, acknowledging that they’re irrational, acknowledging that they stem from insecurity—those are all great things!
The problem you’re having is putting it down and stepping away because you’re hovering over yourself screaming, “WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO PUT THIS DOWN AND STEP AWAY!?!?!?” Relax. There’s a way forward and it will be a little bumpy, but it won’t kill you and it won’t cost you your relationship.
First, realize that you do not need to act on insecurities or envy. You can feel jealous, you can worry about yourself, you can feel less than and then you can do nothing about it. You’re allowed to simply stew in your bad feelings and feel them. Do not act. Don’t try to change or control your boyfriend’s behavior (unless it’s purposefully hurtful, but it doesn’t sound like his actions are). You’re allowed to feel petty things and not base your relationship with others on those feelings. Ok? This is the most important part: do not treat your boyfriend (or yourself) poorly based on insecurities that you have that are based on nonsense.
That is truly the beginning and end of this problem: insecurities. There is something that you have decided that these exes have (which just COINCIDENTALLY!!!!! happens to be your biggest insecurity!!?!?!!?) and which you have decided your boyfriend wants. That’s fucking ridiculous. Sorry!! You aren’t insecure because they came first or because these people are better than you. You’re insecure about a thing you were most likely insecure about loooooong before you ever even met your dang boyfriend. I don’t know what it is! BUT YOU DO. You know (at least at some level) what your actual core insecurity is.
That, my sweet angel friend is the crux of the problem here: the insecurity that you have. It is not his actions. It’s not the actions of any of his exes. It’s internal. And until you address that insecurity and actually push back against it you will never rid yourself of jealousy. I would strongly encourage you to try therapy if that is at all feasible for you. Therapy can be extremely, extremely helpful in identifying what triggers insecurity, what causes it, where it stems from (spoiler: usually fears of being unlovable left over from weird or bad childhood experiences/trauma!). That said, no matter how much work you do all of us feel envious at times, feel jealous, feel petty, feel small, feel insecure. ALL OF US.
What I try to do when I feel that way is say things to myself like, “Sophia, it is simply none of your business how much you weigh. Please move about your day and get your work done.” Or I say, “Wow, that’s a very ridiculous thought, Sophia!!! Of course you’re loveable!!! Think of how cute you look in your new red jammies. You look like Santa Claus.” Those things are silly to say to myself, but it makes me feel less SERIOUS and BLEAK. You’re allowed to have a spot of fun when dealing with your irrational worries. You’re allowed to giggle at yourself and go, “Sweetie what on earth are you talking about??!?! He doesn’t want to be with his ex and if he does, well what on earth am I going to do about it?!?! Time to get on with our day and bake some banana bread.”
Here’s the next thing you must do, in my humble opinion: TALK TO HIM. I do not think you should lay bare every single insecurity you have and alert him every time you feel anxious about his love. That will… not feed your guys love. That will actively harm what you have going on because it will rope him into your anxieties and he will constantly be guessing how to change his behavior to assuage your irrational fears, which won’t work because they are IRRATIONAL. REMINDER BECAUSE IT IS IMPORTANT:
Irrational fears are fine and normal, but we mustn’t base our treatment of others on them.
(I love the word mustn’t. Delightful !!!! FUN!!!!)
Talk to him and say something similar to this but in your own brilliant, honest, painful words, “Hey Beautiful Hunk With a Gorgeous Ass, based on none of your actions, I’ve been feeling insecure recently about our relationship. I suspect that it is because I’m a late bloomer and new to this, and that what my real insecurity is is that I am ______ and ____ and therefore not lovable. I know that’s ridiculous! Ludicrous, even!! And you have done nothing to make me feel that way, I just want to give you a heads up because I don’t want my insecurity to get in the way of our great relationship. Again, I want to reiterate that this isn’t based off something that you’ve done, but is rather about me, but it would be really helpful if sometimes I could get extra reassurance of how much you like me/ love me by doing X, Y and also Z.”
IF YOUR PARTNER IS GOOD (he is) HE WILL JUMP AT THE OPPROTUNITY TO LOVE YOU WELL !!! YOU’VE GIVEN HIM A GODDAMN MAP TO THE STARS HOMES! (The stars home is making you happy). HE WILL BE THRILLED!!! HE WILL RESPOND WITH LOVE AND PATIENCE AND GO, “Oh my goodness, of course! I love you so much. I totally get you feeling insecure, but I agree that it’s ridiculous because I think you’re an angel on this earth who has never done anything wrong.” Or something more chill. But a good partner will be incredibly receptive and understanding of your bid for more affection and reassurance.
Before you talk to him, you should seriously think about things that make you feel loved and things that make you feel insecure. Make a written list!!! Maybe back massages or hugs make you feel great. Maybe it’s him cooking dinner with you once a week. Maybe it’s him saying he loves you more. I don’t know. Once again, YOU DO.
Ultimately, either you think he really wants to be with his ex (because he’s showing signs of that, talking about her, trying to contact her, reminiscing daily about her, etc), in which case you should RUN. Or he doesn’t and wants to be with you (He might express that desire by dating you, kissing you, having sex with you, being kind to you, remembering your birthday, planning a date, saying I love you), in which case, GREAT! YOU’VE GOT ALL THE INFO YOU NEED!!!!!! You will know if he doesn’t want to be there; you’re not a ignorant clown bopping along with no awareness. You will know. Trust yourself. Give yourself that small gift. Tell yourself: “Hey, Self. I trust you to know if or when he does not treat me well. I trust we will leave. Until then, I’m gonna trust him to be good.”
You will get over this. Time will help. Examining your feelings and where they come from will help. Label the feelings, acknowledge them, and then send them on their way. Don’t make a home out of jealousy. It will not protect you or prevent him from leaving if that’s what he really wants. BUT THAT ISN’T WHAT HE WANTS!!!!
Good luck! You’re a gem!!!
❤️❤️❤️NOTE: because so many sweetie pies have been asking questions, it can take up to a month or two to answer them. I’M SORRY. I try to answer “urgent” / timely letters ASAP and more general questions later. IF I HAVEN’T GOTTEN TO YOURS, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO RESEND!!! I DON’T MIND AT ALL!!!❤️❤️❤️
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter; she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tries to write about Fleetwood Mac for GQ, avoids writing by tweeting at @1followernodad, works full-time as a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. You can reach her or yell at her at firstname.lastname@example.org.