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I'm worried about my boyfriend's IG likes
Am I wrong to feel hurt by this? Does it just seem like this is coming from my insecurities? Is the moral here to not be snoopy on Instagram?
Here’s The Thing is an advice column/newsletter where I mostly beg people to either stop dating someone or to ask their crush out. Or I talk about weird things that came to my mind that no one is paying me to write about. I can never decide if I should capitalize the “the” in Here’s The Thing or not; apologies on lack of consistency.
A BIG SWEETIE:
I'm 29F, I've been dating my boyfriend (35M) for a year. Things are mostly good, he's honest and hardworking and makes lots of time for me, but yesterday I saw he had received a comment on an Instagram post from a girl I didn't know--which isn't itself odd, but I was feeling snoopy and checked out her profile and saw she had posted a nude pic a few months back that my boyfriend had liked. I asked him about it and he was candid and oblivious--just some girl he knows who modeled for him once years back (he's an artist), he has zero interest, he just saw the pic, liked it, scrolled on. He said he's liked pictures of attractive women before, it's a "sexuality" thing, it grabs your attention for a second and then you pass by, nothing out of the ordinary. He says he has no interest in anyone else and that he never comments flirty things or DMs with anyone like that.
I genuinely DO think he's honest (and oblivious) when he says all this but I still feel hurt by it. Am I being oversensitive? I'm so frustrated. He offered to unfollow her and I said that I didn't want that--although I do. But I know that's unrealistic to expect that we'll never see naked hot people or find anyone else desirable, and I know a LOT of my frustration is due to my major body image insecurities. I grew up extremely religious and was taught to be very possessive about men. Now I'm almost 30, I've been in therapy a few years, and I've been working on eradicating the unhealthy habits and ideas i ingrained in my youth. I watch porn, and my bf does too. I'm working on loving my body and developing healthy eating and exercise habits without being obsessive about them. And I know that friends post sexy pics sometimes, and it's not abnormal to like them in support! Nor is it abnormal to crush on a friend or find them attractive. And my bf being an artist with lots of art friends--sometimes nudity appears in their art and I don't want him not to engage with his friends' art (even tho the insecure part of me wants to).
But this woman, who he knows but not well, just posts a nude pic, and he likes it, signaling to her and to the public that he is attracted to her naked body--am I overreacting? That feels voyeuristic and flirty and hurtful. I asked him how he would feel and he said he didn't think it was flirty, but when I described how it bothered me because there is another person on the end of that "like," he said he hadn't thought of it that way and that he would be hurt. Moreover, he almost exclusively posts his art on his insta because he's mainly there for professionalism, which I get, but... he has never indicated that he's dating someone. His close friends/fam and our mutual friends know, which I guess is what's important, but nobody else knows. So he's just an apparently single guy, liking acquaintances' nude pics online. Am I wrong to feel hurt by this? Does it just seem like this is coming from my insecurities? Is the moral here to not be snoopy on Instagram? How many other women's nudes does he just casually like?
To add to this: he can say so candidly and in the most natural way possible that another woman is attractive--not like in a way to make me jealous, usually just in an offhanded way, like e.g. in a story--"and he was flirting with my friend because she's really attractive, and"--that sort of thing. He doesn't even seem to think about it. And it's refreshing, in a way, but also.... he rarely says anything to me about finding me attractive or desirable. We've talked about it (a lot) before, and he says he wants to be better at it but feels awkward and like he's bad at flirting/speaking, and I GET that, but I don't know how to not want him to tell me I'm attractive. I don't feel sexy most of the time with him. Or if I do, it's because *I* made myself feel sexy and it's wholly independent of him--he doesn't even seem to notice if I wear something different or make an effort.
He also has no space for me in his house. It's small, so I sort of get it, but it's so cluttered and he won't make space for me! And it's been a YEAR and there's nowhere for me to just BE there, so we spend the vast majority of the time at my apartment.
Add into the mix the fact that I've said "I love you" twice over the last year (the first time was 4 months in) and he won't say it back--which I get to an extent, I definitely don't want to force things, but I'm seriously questioning if we should be dating at this point. Am I pushing him too much? All these small things are just slowly boiling under my skin.
I’m just imagining a place like this because I’ve seen too many movies.
Ok, there’s a lot of stuff here, and a couple Big Themes that I think kind of encompass all of it. I don’t think the relationship is doomed by any means, but I do think you two are poised for some biiiig talks—talks that your boyfriend has to take seriously otherwise the relationship is doomed. I think (and hope!) that he will take them seriously, but I think before they happen, you have to do some work of your own to make sure you’re bringing the really, really important stuff to him. Ok. I’ll stop being vague and start addressing some things in the letter.
First of all, the Instagram situation. I’m going to be very frank with you—and please bear in mind that this is based on my values and beliefs and boundaries and not yours!! A distinction which might fundamentally negate what I am about to say. I do think you’re “overreacting.” First of all, I fucking hate hate hate that word with my life. The word “overreacting” has been weaponized against everyone who isn’t a cis straight white male for sooooooo long that it has lost much meaning. There’s no low-key way to tell someone, “Yeah, I do think you’re overreacting but it’s no big deal because we all overreact to things all the time. Honestly, probably something deeper is going on. Let’s try to figure out what it is.” BUT THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I’M GOING TO TELL TO YOU. In the kindest, gentlest way possible—and, if it is possible, without the heavy, heavy negative cultural connotations—I do think you’re blowing the Instagram thing out of proportion.
There is—as I’m sure you know logically—literally nothing to worry about about this woman or any other on Instagram. Your partner seems incredibly up front and open about what this meant to him. A naked body is a naked body. Like you said, he watches porn so it’s not like he isn’t seeing them. Additionally, I don't think anyone is going to see your boyfriend liking another woman’s public instagram photos and think, “Wow, this guy is a sick freak/Wow, this guy wants to cheat” simply because he liked the photo. It’s 2021; we’ve all got our bodies out everywhere. I do NOT say that because that needs to be your boundary. (I’ll get to this in a minute). I say that as assurance that this really is not something you need to worry about from your boyfriend. Let me figure out Blues Clue’s for you: Titties are very nice to look at. That’s the beginning middle and end of that.
That doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt you!!! It did!!! And your hurt can be outsized compared to the offense. That’s allowed. It happens to all of us all the time. (Ready for a word that has been entirely overused and perverted from its original meaning?) Almost everyone has emotional triggers. What they trigger within us varies wildly from person to person and from event to event. Take, for example, yelling. Because I grew up with a stepmom who screamed and yelled a lot, it makes me SHUT DOWN. It scares me. I cannot abide yelling. I had to explain to my boyfriend that when he yells at his video games (lmaooo) even though I logically know that I am not in danger, I tense up. I get nervous. It derails my brain. Another friend of mine’s trigger is that she is very worried that her partner won’t want to get married/have kids with her as much as she will want to, that they will feel forced by her and eventually start to resent her. That’s a huge trigger for her, and any whiff of her partner not being enthusiastic often leads to her feeling insecure and shitty. Now, how we both deal with our triggers is vastly different from one another.
One thing that is !!!REQUIRED!!! for good communication is to let your partner know about these triggers. (He has triggers too, remember! He has to let you know his, too!) And not just know that they exist, but the why behind them. For you—and this is incredibly common! I share a lot of this!—it seems like him giving other people validation, especially public validation about their bodies, is a trigger for you because you often feel insecure about your body. (Incredibly normal!!!! Although, as a note, I would like to ASSURE you that your boyfriend can enjoy an unlimited number of other people’s bodies and is still jazzed out of his fucking mind about yours). Try to figure out why certain things make you feel insecure. Maybe it’s that a past partner or family member made you feel bad about them before. Maybe it’s a traumatic experience in the past. After you two have this conversation about what makes you feel small and insecure, after you two are really excruciatingly honest SET BOUNDARIES THAT WORK FOR BOTH OF YOU!! Talk out what your expectations are about Instagram and other people. It’s perfectly ok for you to say out loud, “Hey, I don’t want to control your actions online at all, but X, Y and Z really make me feel shitty, how can we deal with that that seems fair to both of us?” Your boundaries do not have to be the same as mine or your best friends’ or whatever. They just have to work for both of you and not be controlling or cruel.
Ultimately, the reason you “overreacted” to the Instagram interaction is that you’re hurt. You’re smart enough to have made connections about what you’re feeling about the Instagram situation and the room in his house he doesn’t make / the compliments he doesn’t give you / the “I love you” he won’t say back. YOU made that connection, not me; you’re so close to The Big Issue. In fact, I think you know The Big Issue subconsciously, but you don’t have the right words for it yet, so all you have is this indirect evidence.
The Big Issue, as I see it, is that he’s not giving you validation in ways that would help you feel secure in this relationship. Ways that you believe you have communicated that you need from him. I am here to tell you that all of us are Big Dipshits when it comes to loving people and often, even if the other person believes they have made it clear what they need, we did not understand. You may think beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have made clear to your boyfriend how important having space in his house is to you; he may still be unaware, especially because he hasn’t been in a relationship for a while. (Also, MASSIVE GENERALIZATION here but: men are often really bad at picking up on “hints” / “patterns”). Spell it out again or— and I actually recommend this even more—work backward and find out what the trigger is behind him not making space in his house and talk about THAT.
Sit your boyfriend down for real. An uninterrupted talk where both of you are clothed and sober. Here is what I would say—adjust it for your boundaries/desires/voice: “Klaus, I’ve been thinking about the Instagram situation again and why it made me feel so bad, and I think the issue is that I’m feeling insecure about your attraction towards me and how into this relationship you are. I know we’ve talked about this before, and I know it doesn’t come naturally to you—which I understand—but I feel like you don’t find me sexy and compliments would really help me. Simple things like ‘you look hot today’ or ‘X compliment’ or ‘Y compliment’ would go a long way. I tend to feel insecure about my body and you liking that photo brought up my fear that you would prefer someone else’s body to mine, even if logically I know that you do like my body. I think this is really a part of something larger, though. I feel very sure about you and about wanting to be with you, and I feel like I prioritize you in my life. I don’t feel like I get that in return. I feel like I don’t have space in your life. I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but I feel like there’s a reason you’re dragging your feet on creating space in your house for me and I want to hear what that’s about.” (And then go from there because this isn’t a monologue of course!)
For the record, I do think it’s fair to feel… squidgy… about the fact that this project is getting pushed to the wayside while he spends money on other things. I do also see, however, that while unemployed it’s hard to want to spend any money that seems frivolous and sculpture to him might seem like money spent on work, not fun. (Remember, you two have different frames of reference! You’re different people!) Ultimately, I don't think it’s bad or wrong if you two only hang out at your place—hanging out in a studio sucks! Some apartments are NOT hangout spots! That’s ok!—IF he’s making you feel like you’re a part of his life. I also don’t think someone not saying “I love you” is an automatic deal breaker, but I do think that they owe it to you to explain why they’re hesitant / what the phrase means to them.
I say this as someone who is currently on year five of dating a person who took over a year and a half to say “I love you” when I said it after like four months. I also say this as someone who always went over to his house in the beginning because he lived alone and didn’t have a car (he used the metro and I didn’t live near metro stops). I was very, very, very grouchy about him always making me come over to his place until I finally was like, “Look, Sophia. Your place doesn’t make sense logistically. Your roommates can hear you breathe through the walls. Chill out. Something doesn’t have to be literally equal to be fair or to work.” The issue is the effort he’s putting in and how he’s making you feel. Right now, you feel his actions aren’t prioritizing you. Maybe he’s looking at it in an entirely different way. Maybe you’re overlooking what he’s doing that he feels like is affectionate or complimentary. Ask him how he is showing you that you matter! Listen to him! Maybe he thinks making you coffee every morning or filling up your gas tank is romance and you haven’t been thinking anything of it. I don’t know!
Lastly, and this is a note for you—A BIG NOTE!!!—you said this, “He offered to unfollow her and I said that I didn't want that--although I do.” I don’t think that he needs to unfollow her to make you feel loved; I think you two can work around the real issue. I’m sure you two can work that out. What bothers me about this quote is YOU ARE LYING. Your communication is dishonest. We all do it; it’s not the end of the world. Next time, though, I challenge you to be more honest with yourself first and then him. Ask yourself if you really want him to unfollow other people in order to make you feel more secure or if there’s something else that would feel even better. What is that something else? Come up with creative ideas that work for both of you. Talk to him about how following her is making you feel. You can say the words out loud, “It feels sooooo petty and insecure of me to say this and I don’t like that about myself, but I have been wanting you to unfollow her. I don’t need you to, I’m just trying to let you know how I’ve been feeling. I think I need to work on feeling more secure.”
Keep working with your therapist. Keep working on undoing the ideas that a religious upbringing and Shit Ass Society gave you about your value and your worth and your body. You are going to have to do a lot of the work to feel beautiful and sexy and worthy of love BUT he does also need to show you those things too and validate that. Talk to him. Keep talking to him. Talk to him about the talking to him. Write down a list of compliments that you’d like to hear, cut them up and put them in a jar. Who gives a shit if you have to ask him to express his love for you a little differently? We all need guidance!
You can submit your own question—or yell at me about how I’m wrong—by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org