DEAR SUGAR, The Rumpus Advice Column #79, Soul-Sucking Spirit Death

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Dear Sugar,

I’m seeing a woman I love and I believe she loves me, but she’s very insecure. This manifests in several ways, but the most disconcerting for me is that whenever we go anywhere in public, without fail, she accuses me of checking out some girl. It’s not a generalized accusation; she will hone in on one specific person wherever we are. I know I am not doing this, if I am looking at anyone it is certainly not consciously. A few times I’ve gotten her to show me who specifically I am apparently checking out, and almost without fail, I’ve never even laid eyes on the woman she points to.

I wish I could learn to let this roll off my back, but the fallout is that every time we enter any social setting, the evening ends with my girlfriend sad and withdrawn, and me feeling angry because I view this as a trust issue. I truly, really, from the bottom of my heart don’t feel I have a wandering eye or am doing anything to bring this on. I wish I was, because then I could do something to fix it. But now I feel trapped and helpless, and I am at the point where I don’t think I can handle social settings with my partner anymore. This is the person I want to spend my life with, literally every other facet of our relationship is wonderful, but I am out of ideas. Sugar, you name it and I’ll try it.

Signed,

Dead Ahead

Dear Dead Ahead,

This is one of those seems-like-a-small-thing-but-is-actually-a-huge-thing things, sweet pea. You say that “every other facet” of your relationship with your girlfriend is wonderful, but I’d say the inability to be in a social setting with her without it devolving into a psychodrama is a pretty key facet. You’re right that this is a trust issue, but it’s also a partner-who-can’t-take-responsibility-for-her-problems-so-she-makes-them-yours issue. And I’m guessing both things spill over into other parts of your relationship that may seem acceptable to you now, but won’t over time.

It might be a comfort for you to know you aren’t alone in having a lover who doubles as a jailer. Here’s a small sampling from my “He/she is perfect except for…” backlog:

He goes ballistic if certain male friends comment on my Facebook page, even though I have zero sexual interest in anyone but him. Yesterday, he said he wants me to “unfriend” a few particular men and when I said I didn’t want to he used this as “proof” that these male friends held some interest for me.

She’s become obsessively jealous of my so-called “hot” co-worker, even though I like this woman only as a colleague/friend. It’s impacting my job because I’m constantly trying to avoid situations at work that involve her (simple things, like declining offers to join groups for lunch if the “hot” co-worker is going) because it would provoke my girlfriend and we’d have a big fight.

My new girlfriend insists I have nothing but extremely minimal contact with my ex, even though she knew from the start that my ex and I have been like family for years (and our friendship is entirely non-romantic).

He suspects I’m cheating on him whenever I go out with my friends or want to do something by myself because his former lover was unfaithful. It’s like clockwork: I go out and when I return home we have a big fight about it. Sometimes I don’t go when friends invite me out just to keep the peace.

My husband can’t come to my high school reunion with me because of a commitment he can’t get out of, but he’s furious that I want to go alone because he thinks I’ll hook up with someone, which is absurd.

We are all jealous sometimes. It’s normal to occasionally worry that your partner is interested in someone other than you. The airing and sharing of those doubts and insecurities is both natural and good for a relationship. Such honesty allows a couple to make accommodations and agreements that nurture rather than deteriorate a romantic bond. But that’s not what’s going on with you, Dead Ahead, and that’s not what’s going on with any of these letter writers either. What you all have in common is that your partners have opted to use their jealousies and insecurities to punish and control you. I’ll be mad at you if you…maintain a meaningful friendship or go out with friends without me or have lunch with a co-worker who others find attractive or interact with certain people on Facebook or attend your high school reunion or glance around the room where other women might be.

This is called emotional blackmail. This is what your girlfriend is doing to you, darling. I’m sure she’s a lovely person. I’m sure she suffers miserably over her insecurities. I’m sure she has no intention of hurting you when she makes her accusations. And I’ll bet she feels crushed inside when she spots the woman she imagines you want more than you want her and even more crushed when she accuses you of such. But that doesn’t make it okay.

So let’s talk about how you can make it stop.

There are times when it’s reasonable to be jealous and suspicious of our lovers. When they’ve lied to us or are currently lying to us, when they’ve recently proven themselves to be untrustworthy, when a sexual or emotional betrayal has been revealed and trust has yet to be regained. Jealousy and suspicion in these cases are rational responses to real betrayals. They are not emotions that one hopes will define the relationship forevermore, but rather a temporary state of affairs to be grappled with until trust is re-established or the relationship ends.

There are times when it’s unreasonable to be jealous and suspicious of our lovers. When they have not lied to us, when they’ve proven themselves to be trustworthy or re-built a broken trust, when there is transparency regarding their relationships and intentions with friends, coworkers, exes, Facebook pals, and women who happen to be sitting on the other side of the room.

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As I’ve previously noted, it’s quite clear that your girlfriend falls in the unreasonable camp. This doesn’t make her a terrible person. It just makes her a difficult person to have a sustainable and healthy romantic relationship with right now, as is true of all the other partners in the letters I quoted above. Noticing the presence of other human beings when one is out and about with one’s lover is normal. So is conducting meaningful friendships, chatty Facebook interactions, and warm conversations at high school reunions with sexually viable people. None of those things is worthy of condemnation. Repeatedly doubting the intentions of those we trust is.

When people allow dark crazy thoughts to rule their actions and emotions they like to drag other people into that dark crazy space too. That’s the reason your girlfriend refuses to believe you when you say you don’t know what she’s talking about when she claims you’re looking at other women. She wants you to live in the dark crazy space with her, perhaps because having you there makes her feel safe. I don’t know what’s causing her to behave as she does, but it seems apparent that she has issues with self-esteem. Instead of owning up to that and confiding in you that for no reason whatsoever she feels like a jealous and insecure maniac whenever you’re together in the presence of a woman she finds sexually threatening, she’s opted to cast you as a lying, woman-leering cad.

Her decision to do this is her problem. Your willingness to go along with it is yours.

It’s time you stopped being willing. You do this by setting boundaries. I suggest you tell your girlfriend in the most lovingly direct terms that she has problems that you are neither responsible for nor capable of solving and that, while you are there for her if she should endeavor to honestly confront them herself, you will no longer appease her delusions by tolerating her disrespectful behavior regarding your nonexistent interest in other women. Tell her you love her and you believe you may want to spend your life with her but for this one thing and you really aren’t looking at other women with sexual interest and the fact that she won’t believe you is both hurtful and nuts and you won’t put up with it anymore.

And then don’t. Really don’t. Be as patient and understanding as you can be if your partner indeed chooses to confront the irrational jealousy demons in her head, but maintain your clarity regarding what you will not accept in your relationship. Doing so is the most loving thing you can possibly do—for both you and your girlfriend.

If you have been trustworthy, you deserve to be trusted. That’s your line, your boundary, the one you will not allow others to cross or drag you over. I hope your girlfriend finds the strength and clarity she needs to respect this in you and also in herself, but if she won’t or can’t, you need to cut her loose. I know that sounds tough, but spending the rest of your life having nonsensical arguments about which woman you’re allegedly ogling is tougher. A long-term relationship with an emotional blackmailer is a soul-sucking spirit death. And it’s a death you sign up for all on your own. Don’t.

Yours,
Sugar

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A Note From Sugar:

Hey sweet peas! Thanks for reading my column. I need to take a little summer hiatus over these next few weeks. I’ll be back on Thursday, August 4th with a new column. You can join my Google group if you’d like to keep getting a tiny bit of Sugar in your life every Thursday, as I do plan to post there each week during my break.

ox
Sugar

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