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How do I stop worrying my bf is going to cheat?
Now that we are official, I am feeling old anxieties that I am worried will cloud my judgement and sabotage this relationship.
Here’s The Thing is an advice column/newsletter where I mostly yell at people to stop dating someone, ask their crush out, or I talk about weird things that came to my mind that no one is paying me to write about. (Mostly horniness). I can never decide if I should capitalize the “the” in Here’s The Thing or not.
AN IMPECCABLE GEM:
I am really worried that my issues from a past relationship are affecting the one I am currently in.
I recently got together with somebody after years of being single. I noticed that it was difficult for me to be vulnerable with men I met, but I assumed that when I met the right person I would be able to trust them and easing into a serious relationship would feel natural. I tended to gravitate toward casual relationships that didn't require a lot of commitment or risk. In this same vein, I casually dated a friend of mine over the summer and we fell for each other so hard that we decided to start dating officially this fall. When our relationship was casual, I felt like I was in my comfort zone and able to be happy and carefree while getting to know him. Now that we are official, I am feeling old anxieties that I am worried will cloud my judgement and sabotage this relationship.
For background - My first and only other boyfriend and I started dating when I was 16 years old. He was my first everything. I didn't have any other experience with boys, as I attended a girls only school and really only had girls as friends. For a long time he was the perfect boyfriend, almost a textbook example of a good communicator and a stable, loving partner. Even though we were young, I had no problem envisioning spending the rest of my life with him. He made me feel safe, comfortable, and loved, and it felt like we were undeniably compatible and meant to be. Fast forward five and a half years later and the relationship began to rapidly deteriorate, almost out of the blue. I noticed him becoming more inward and depressed, oftentimes ignoring me when I came over to hang out and treating me with indifference or mild irritation. I later found out that he had been cheating on me for an extended period of time, which left me blindsided and confused. While I noticed his behavior change, I never would have guessed that infidelity was baked in there too. I have gotten a lot of distance from this and have made peace with the fact that young love is hard and that you change a lot in six years. I also realize that it wasn't me or something I did, but his inability to handle our relationship falling apart. I thought I had put it all behind me until now.
I love the person I am dating now, and I trust that he is very different from my ex-boyfriend. When we were dating over the summer, it felt like he was someone special that stood out from any other man I dated before. Even with these rationalizations, I find it difficult to trust him and allow myself to feel the same comfort and optimism I did over the summer. I find myself getting anxious when he spends a lot of time on his phone, as it reminds me of realizing that my ex was cheating on me through text conversations regularly. I constantly feel paranoid that our relationship will deteriorate out of nowhere, similarly to the way my last one did. I overthink small things like him not texting me goodnight and conflate that with the idea that he is losing interest in me. Recently I have been freaking out over the fact that we text and call each other much less regularly, even though we see each other in person much more frequently than before. I know all of this is ridiculous and stemming from past issues, but I have no idea how to make it stop. I know I am putting unfair pressure on him by expecting everything to feel safe and perfect right off the bat, but what if there really is a compatibility issue that I can't figure out because I'm mistaking it for past relationship traumas? How do I untangle this complex knot of feelings?
Do you know how hard it is to not use the title of this newsletter in the newsletter? Hard! I SPECIFICALLY chose it because I say it so much. So I’m giving up! Burn in hell, decorum and good writing!
Ok, here’s the thing: Your boyfriend might cheat on you. He might! Sorry! I know that’s not the answer you’re looking for, but it’s the truth. You guys might be totally incompatible in ten years. Maybe in ten months. I don’t know!!!!!!! AND NEITHER DO YOU!!! You only get to make decisions based on what you know now. Obviously, that truth is fucking terrifying. I hear you. That’s especially terrifying because of your shitbag ex who is a real fucko.
The real question is how to cope with that fear. First, I recommend labeling unhealthy thoughts as they come in. Imagine thoughts as people ringing your brain’s doorbell. Do you invite everyone who rings your doorbell into your house? NO. You do not. If your brain says, “He’s calling you less because he wants to cheat.” Politely remind your brain, “Hey, that’s ridiculous. I know you’re feeling insecure, and you can talk to him about that, but what you’re doing is unhelpful.” Feel free to also try my tried and true method for responding to unwanted thoughts with the phrase, “That’s not my business.” [Example. Brain: “Wow that person is so much hotter/cooler/taller/more into anime than I am. He’s obviously in love with them.” You, back to your brain: “It is simply not my business if he’s in love with them, but thank you.”]
Talk to your partner about your insecurities to give him a window into what your past is and what you’re feeling, but DO NOT make them his baggage to carry. You can feel jealous and not act on it, just like you can feel angry and not punch a hole in the wall. Ok?
Your job is not to guess if a relationship is going to work out long term or not and then only stay in ones that will work. Your job is not to outsmart the system or to ferret out the fakes, cheaters, liars, and shit-ass partners before you two get Really Serious. I know it feels like that’s the point of the beginning of a relationship. But it’s not.
Imagine you’re trying to own a home in a few years. This is going to be a long extended metaphor about homebuying—something I’ve never done and may never do. Buckle your ass up because I’m going to murder this literary device in front of your very eyes. Right now, you’re treating the beginning of dating like going to an open house. Except, because of your past, you aren’t just walking around feeling out the floor plan, asking about when the appliances were installed, and checking if the water pressure is good. You’re trying to guess if the roof will ever need to be replaced, if the pipes in the basement are going to burst, if the tree in the front yard might need to be cut down in the next 20-30 years because of some obscure tree disease and cutting a tree down costs a lot of money, especially stump removal! You’re seeing a wood porch and thinking, “We could get termites one day.” You’re seeing a finished basement and thinking, “Ok, this could flood.” You’re seeing copper wiring and saying, “Someone could come in and strip the house of this because copper is very valuable.”
Which is all certainly possible. You’re technically not wrong that any of those things could happen. But if a person were to refrain from buying a house because a roof might leak or an air conditioning unit might need the filter replaced somewhere down the road, that would be nuts. (I mean, for money reasons, yes, factor in repairs when purchasing a home, but you get what I’m saying).
This is the same thing you’re doing with your boyfriend. You— or more accurately your trauma + anxiety— are trying to think up all the things that could go wrong so that you might be able to imagine them enough that you’re never blindsided again. So that you can handle them. What you’re saying, perhaps unwittingly, to yourself is this: I do not trust that I can handle [X scenario].
But the truth is, you have such wonderful, bountiful evidence to the contrary! More than most people, in fact because guess what? The shitty ass truth is that you’ve already done this. You’ve been through this before and it did not kill you. Obviously, Did Not Kill You is a low bar for mental health, and I am not trying to negate or dismiss the trauma of your last relationship falling apart seemingly out of nowhere.
That situation was fucked. It’s fucked to go through a breakup like that and it’s fucked that you ostensibly “did everything right” and someone still cheated on you. But they cheated on you for no other reason— NO OTHER REASON, YOU HEAR ME!!!!!— than that they are a cheater. They were stuck and took an easy, shitty, harmful way out. Imagine being in a car that is locked and you break a window instead of hitting the unlock button. That’s what your ex-boyfriend did. He’s a dipshit who could have talked to you thousands of times about his concerns and feelings and didn’t. By choice. He sucks and I hope he gets painful ear zits for the rest of his life. But the lesson is NOT “You now need to vet people even more carefully. You can’t trust your instincts. Your taste in partners is shit.”
The lesson is this: love is very hard and you did a wonderful job with it. Sadly, the other person you were with did not. That does not erase anything good between the two of you, it just means he harmed you and the relationship. I know you want the answer, the fault to lie within you because that would be very convenient and fixable. Perhaps if the fault is yours—if you could do a better job picking partners!!—then you’d have control over what happens next, but you don’t. Are you ready for another dumb metaphor? Imagine you got hit by a car while walking in a crosswalk when you had the right of way. You did nothing wrong. And now every time you cross the street, you’re more aware and you’re more cautious, certainly, but YOU DON’T STOP USING CROSSWALKS. The driver is at fault. Not you. The lesson isn’t, “Well, you shouldn’t have used a crosswalk.” The lesson is, “Sometimes people hurt me. How am I going to recover?”
Now, to go back to the dumb house metaphor, I want to add something. Being with a new partner is actually not like buying a house. I lied to you a little because it suited my earlier writing needs. CORNY ALERT!!!!!! Being in a relationship is much closer to building a house with someone else. You two together decide what you want to do and how you want it to go. You two have to put in the work to make it what you want it to be. Ok? You two make it the relationship that you want it to be, it doesn’t come that way. OK????
So: there is no compatibility issue with your current boyfriend. At least, there isn’t one yet. In the words of Alain de Botton,“Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.”
Stop trying to figure out if there will be in the future. YOU WILL KNOW!!!!! I swear to god, if things are bad for you you will know. If things are bad for him, he needs to communicate that to you. Talk to him about your fears and your past. Make it clear that you need him to tell you about any problems he has when they arise so you two can address them together. Tell him why that’s so important to you. Crack yourself open and ask him to do the same and give yourself some trust that if things go south, you will get out. You are not a fool, you were not a fool in your last relationship. You were and are loving. That’s wonderful; that’s the good shit. You get to wake up every day knowing you didn’t do harmful shit to another human being because you were too scared to talk about your feelings! That’s a lovely blessing. Don’t mess up your current relationship by changing that fact.
You can submit your own question—or yell at me about how I’m wrong—by emailing me at email@example.com