Monday, July 28 — Q: My girlfriend and I are mostly happy together, but we have this ongoing fight where she accuses me of wanting to cheat whenever I so much as glance at a woman she perceives to be my “type” (any woman roughly her age and ethnicity). Even flipping through a magazine that shows a woman in an ad is enough to set her off. She says I need to eliminate all contact with other women, or I'm being unfaithful. But I don't see how I can stop doing things like talking to the checker at the supermarket or looking at someone crossing the street.
A: It’s normal for a girlfriend to expect her boyfriend to “keep it in his pants.” Only yours wants your eyeballs in there, too, as she considers crossing the street with your eyes open a form of cheating.
When you love somebody, it isn’t exactly outrageous to fear losing them. And the suspicion that a partner is cheating can often be an instinctive response to subtle signs that they are. But such signs include flimsy excuses for working late or ducking into the hall closet to take phone calls — not merely daring to open a magazine that includes pictures of females who lack beaks, paws, and tails.
There’s a good chance your girlfriend behaves this way because she has a giant crater where her self-worth is supposed to be. As for her paranoia, to be human is to have a tendency toward ridiculous, overblown fears, but we also have the capacity — gone unused in your girlfriend — to follow them up with a chaser of reason. The sad thing is, you might have compelled her to work on changing if only you’d told her “enough is enough” instead of just wagging your tail while she tightened your choke collar.
Thanks to your enabling, there are now 300 of you in the relationship — you, your girlfriend, and her 298 fears. If you’d like to change that, wait for a moment when you aren’t being prosecuted for something and ask to talk about the relationship. Explain that you love her and want to be with her but that she’s increasingly pushing you away with her irrational (and, frankly, insulting) accusations and behavior. Tell her that she’ll need to see a therapist and show meaningful improvement if she wants to keep you around. (Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people use reason to solve emotional problems, is probably the best bet.)
Give yourself a deadline, and reassess — maybe at the three-month mark — so you don’t keep getting used to crazy little by little until crazy becomes the new normal. That’s how a guy ends up being the one apologizing when he comes home to a bonfire of his clothes, computer, and Xbox after his girlfriend catches him in the act — smiling and thanking the supermarket checkout lady instead of staring at his shoes and wordlessly extending his palm for his change.
Q: I’ve been casually seeing a woman for a year. Early on, I told her I wasn't looking for a girlfriend. I think she was disappointed, but we continued seeing each other nonexclusively. She never pressures me for more commitment, but I suspect she’s getting more attached. I’d like to keep seeing her, but is it on me to break this off? Maybe she should be trying to find a real relationship with another guy.
A: Maybe she hopes you’ll eventually come around -- at least to the point where you’re standing beside her at the altar, sliding her wedding ring on, and saying, “Hey, don’t read too much into this.” Still, even if she does want more from you, she might prefer having less to having nothing at all. Also, if she is looking for something “real,” this thing with you can help her avoid coming off hungry and desperate, much like snacking before grocery shopping can help you avoid waking up next to a bunch of empty doughnut boxes.
Let her know you’re still up for less, simply by saying you want to make sure she’s still okay with how you want to keep things casual. If it’s too painful or unrewarding for her to continue, it’s on her to break it off. The thing is, though “serious” relationships are supposedly the only “real” relationships, there are people out there -- women, too -- who are most comfortable with a less intense form of togetherness. This kind of slimmed-down relationship can end up lasting for years -- even decades. In other words, 50 years from now, when you’re reserving side-by-side burial plots, you could find yourself whispering to the cemetery guy, “Wouldja do me a favor and bury me a few extra feet from her? I don’t wanna give her the wrong idea.”
It’s Amy Alkon’s Advice Goddess Radio — “Nerd your way to a better life!” with the best brains in science solving your love, dating sex, and relationship problems. Listen live every Sunday — http://www.blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon/ — 7-8 p.m. PT, 10-11 p.m. ET, or listen or download at the link, at iTunes, or on Stitcher.