Just a Friend?

A MASSIVE SWEET ANGEL:

I wrote to you a couple of months back about a jealousy issue I was having with my boyfriend. He had become really close with a female colleague who started at the company recently enough and I didn't find out about for a while after it started, which was weird. 

Once I did know about it, I couldn't shake a weird feeling about it. We had dozens of talks about it and discussed how I have nothing to worry about and how they really are both just friends who enjoy the other's company. He also assured me he has no interest and loves me of course. Oh and also she had a boyfriend so no worries, right!? I didn't want to be controlling at all, so I never asked him to see her less or anything. I even met her once or twice but it was always weird and I never got amazing vibes from her. 

After months of feeling shit anytime I heard her name or heard about them hanging out (like my stomach would do flips for hours after hearing about something - I almost broke down crying one day when he told me about them going to get ice cream together - getting ice cream is one of my favourite things in the world), and talking about it for the 10000th time with him, he finally sort of admitted to realising that although he never had any intentions, that maybe their relationship at the start was a bit inappropriate and too intimate for colleagues.

Apparently he had talked to her about how she wasn't happy with her boyfriend (drunkenly) and had maybe gotten vibes that she might have been interested in him. Nothing happened of course but for some reason, hearing him say that he acknowledged that there was maybe not 100% innocence to the friendship made me feel sooo much better. We also agreed that he would try going back to just a more professional relationship with her, and maybe building their close relationship again with me in mind and making sure I was aware of it happening. 

So anyway for the last 2-3 months they haven't been hanging out too frequently outside or even inside of work I don't think, and I don't die inside anytime he talks about her or mentions them spending lunch together or whatever. 

UNTIL... He tells me today that they were alone in the office together today (on a holiday) because she broke up with her boyfriend and needed comfort. For whatever reason, this just sent me spiralling back down my tormented rabbit hole and I felt super weird again. I'm back to being unable to shake that there's something else I maybe don't know about. I feel like I'm usually rational and therefore I should be able to just get over it, unless there was some womanly instinct telling me otherwise?? 

He has plenty of other female colleagues who he's also pretty good friends with and hangs out with in a similar capacity  and I have absolutely no problem with them, I'm actually quite good friends with them. So pretty much ONLY this one girl is causing a jealous reaction. I would never have considered myself jealous at all, so I'm wondering if it's instinct, or is that a very dangerous thought to start believing?

I really don't want to control him and who he's friends with, but I find this particular one so hard to deal with and would adore some advice on how to feel better about it or whether I should be more concerned about them.

I should mention I trust him completely and know he would never cheat, he's a massive sweetie and we love each other very much. I just wish so bad he wasn't friends with this one girl. 

Nora Ephron looking miserable while some lady sits on (her husband) Carl Bernstein’s lap.

SOPHIA:

I don’t think either of you is being unreasonable, which is, frankly, one of the worst problems to have in a relationship: when two people are being perfectly reasonable from their perspectives, but their needs/desires/inclinations are at odds with one another.

I cannot tell you that without a doubt nothing is going on; there are certainly thousands of stories of cruel people who have said, “Don’t worry about this person,” when they are indeed boinking that person (or would like to be). Maybe there is something going on. But, I highly doubt it. You highly doubt it. Your boyfriend and she both deny it—not that they’d say otherwise— and ultimately, any partner can cheat on you regardless of whether you have a bad feeling about them or not. I don’t think that your problem is about the idea of the two of them smashing their naughty bits together. I think the problem is the attention they give each other, and their sometimes-shadiness about it. You feel left out, and it sucks to feel left out.

I’m going to do a bit of a detour and monologue about trust for a moment. People talk a lot about how their partner should “trust” them not to cheat, but in a healthy relationship with someone, you should be able to trust that they are not putting themselves into situations that might look or feel like cheating to you, their partner. Or at least not purposefully or repeatedly. Trust isn’t saying, “Go do whatever you want; I will never question it.” Trust is saying, “I trust that you care about the relationship and will treat it as if you do. I trust that when I tell you I don’t feel comfortable with something, you’ll listen, and we’ll talk about it.”

Not telling you about the friendship right off the bat, while not immoral or cruel, is certainly not a great start. Needing to have dozens of talks about a friendship that you feel is crossing a line—even if you didn’t do a perfect job of articulating what your concerns are—is also…not great. Her coming to talk to him about relationship problems, ESPECIALLY after he’d already had a conversation with her about re-establishing professional boundaries is shitty. Him not drawing a better boundary with her when she came to talk to him about her problems is hurtful. You not having issues with any of his other female friends or coworkers, and you having “dozens” of talks about the same person probably should have been a sign to him to take this seriously from the get-go.

I’m not saying he should have ended his friendship the very first time you felt an inkling of concern. For a whole lot of reasons, that would have been an overreaction!!!! But I do think he’s done a lot of selfish non-action. He’s let a lot of things happen because he feels like that abdicates himself from blame. “If she comes to talk to me alone, it’s not like I did anything.” He’s wrong!

To be a tiny bit fair to him (WE MUST BE!!!!) men are often— sorry for the generalization— dolts when it comes to social nuances. Your social interaction radar might just be a whole lot more sensitive than his. When a lingering hug might make you feel uncomfortable, it might take someone trying to sit on his lap for him to get that things are a little inappropriate. This, in some ways, is a good thing. It means that he isn’t doing any of this to hurt you. Some of his actions are hurting you (you’re allowed to be hurt!) but he is not, it seems to me, purposefully or maliciously trying to hang out with this person to hurt you or to fuck her. Once he saw how he’d pushed boundaries/hurt you, he seems to have taken some steps to put distance between them. I don’t think he thinks much of his friendship with this person, and I certainly don’t think he thinks it threatens his relationship (even if kind of does in a different way). This is all good news!!!!

But you still are going to have to talk to him because as much as I would like to teach you One Easy Trick for Never Being Jealous or Suspicious of Your Partner Ever Again, I don’t think that’s the whole problem, and I don’t think you can “solve” this coworker problem on your own anyway. (I will tell you some tricks below, too, though!)

I think the/a problem is you aren’t being totally heard or understood. He hasn’t seen how much this has hurt you or worried you, even if you know he isn’t going to fuck her. He’s just aware that you’re not happy and he wants that not to be the case.

Here are some things I would say to him, they’re a bit scattered, so bear with me:

I would say, “Sweet Gummy Bear (I don’t know his name), I know you’re probably sick of us talking about this, and I hope this is the last time I bring it up, but I need to talk about Alexis* again. I’m thankful that you were transparent about you and her meeting up in your office, but it brought up some old shit. I know she’s been a sticking point for us in our relationship** and I’ve had a hard time explaining my feelings about it. I get close, but I’m not sure I can explain all the nuance of what has felt so hurtful to me about this situation. I am so so so thankful that you’ve stepped back a bit from your relationship with her; I’m glad you heard me when we talked before and made the relationship more professional. I really have been feeling good about this problem for a while now, but when you told me that she came to you for comfort, I felt thrown back into the anxiety and insecurity I felt months ago. It bothers me that you are her comfort, that she comes to you. And the reason it bothers me is that I also come to you when I have problems. That is one of my favorite parts of dating you***. Maybe it shouldn’t bother me. I’d vastly prefer if it didn’t, to be honest. I’d love to not notice or care, but I do. Here’s what I’m asking for you to do: ____ , ____ , and ______.”

(I’ll explain more about the blanks below).
*I also don’t know her name, but Alexis seems like it fits. Idk why.
**Try to frame this as an “us” problem, not a you problem or a him problem. You two together have this issue. It is not your neurosis that he has to manage or his cruelty that you have to condone. It’s a you two problem!
***Idk if this is precisely true. Fill in your own words about what actually bothers you.

Some Very Hard Tricks for Never Being Jealous or Suspicious of Your Partner Ever Again (JK it will still happen):

  1. Ask to not hear about her anymore. I know this might seem harder but sometimes simply setting the problem down and saying to youself, “Self, either they are sleeping together/getting really close in ways that make my skin crawl, or they are not. If they are, I can’t stop them, if they aren’t, well great— I don’t want to hear about her. All I can do is influence my own life and draw my own boundaries and this is one that will make me happier.” Tell your boyfriend that you simply don’t want to hear about her. Don’t have him lie to you or anything. But just say, “Don’t bring home new info about her. That only feeds my anxiety and insecurity about this situation. If you hang out with her, great. If you talk to her, great. It’s not my business. From here out, please treat it like taking a smelly shit: I know it happens, I don’t need the details. I trust you will not do anything to harm our relationship.”

  2. Interrogate your insecurities, not your intuition. I don’t think your intuition is off at all here. I think they were very close, so you aren’t wrong about that. I also think we often conflate intuition and anxiety because we’re told so often to “trust our gut,” but sometimes our gut is a big liar!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! who loves to spiral!!!!!!!!!! Please take your intuition out of this. It’s not about being Sherlock Holmes and putting all the clues together; if— GOD FORBID, and this WILL NOT HAPPEN, I PROMISE— you were to ever find out that your partner were cheating on you, it would not hurt less simply because you had suspected it for months. You are not preventing pain with your insecurity about your relationship. And that insecurity is central here. Some of it is very very very founded (who doesn’t tell their partner about a friend who is coming to them with BF woes??!?). But I would strongly recommend you sit your little ass down and think long and hard about what about her makes you feel insecure. Does seem “more fun” than you? Or is she “better” at opening up to your boyfriend? Do they have “more” in common? (I’m putting this in quotes because this is all from your perception and may not be reality at all). Whatever your answers are, those are probably insecurities that you have about your relationship and possibly yourself, regardless of her at all. I’m not saying she didn’t cross boundaries. She did. But figuring out what you’re actually insecure about and addressing that both alone and with your partner will go a LOOOOONNGGG way.

  3. Ask for what you need, concretely. #2 brings me perfectly to #3! Once you figure out what your insecurities are, you can ask for what you need better. If you feel like you’d like more verbal reassurance from your partner. Or if you love when he takes you for ice cream, ask to do more of that. Put that in your speech to him above. THOSE ARE THE BLANKS. Say the words, “I feel like I need more reassurance from you, even if from your perspective you’re giving me a lot. I love you and I know you love me, but I’d be so happy if you’d rub my back more, go on walks with me, say I love you, etc. If you need more ideas of what makes me feel super-loved, ask me!”

  4. Remember that you don’t have to act on jealousy. This might seem obvious, but I was 23 when I learned it and it BLEW MY MIND. Just because you feel a certain way does not mean you need to always hash it out with a person or base your actions on that feeling. I’m sure you’ve done a lot of shoving your feelings down when it comes to this coworker in particular. I’m sure you’ve felt “crazy” (a word thrown at women who have reasonable boundaries quite frequently). I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk about things that are bothering you. I am suggesting that sometimes you can say to yourself, “Shit, I’m feeling really jealous right now and I don’t think it’s productive. I’m going to go on a walk so that I don’t feel like I have to act on these negative feelings.”

  5. Trust that this will end. I don’t know how or when, but at some point I guarantee that this whole quagmire will no longer be a problem. This is not to say that you and she will become best friends, or that your boyfriend will cut her out of his life, or that she’ll move to Monaco and you’ll never speak of her again. I think it’s much more likely that the feelings all three of you feel fade away in time because nothing is actually happening between them. Remind yourself that this is temporary, and not the largest part (and certainly not the most important part) of your relationship with your boyfriend.

Ultimately, you both have to do some work. He needs to grow the fuck up and make his friendship with her more professional and create better boundaries. You need to continue to be an angel and occasionally be the bigger person and overlook some things. NOT for his sake, but for your own. Ask yourself how big of a role you want her to play in your relationship. I would guess you don’t want her to be a large part. Relegate your worry proportionally whenever you can. Give yourself permission for it not to be your business. You don’t need to ferret out the “threats” to your relationship to keep it safe; it will not work and and it will drive you mad. You just have to have good boundaries and good talks.

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❤️❤️❤️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 YOUR LETTER, 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, tweets about everything else at @1followernodad, is 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 1followernodad@substack.com.