Green eyed monster strikes again
January 28, 2011 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Practical advice for dealing with jealousy towards one particular person? Or, how does one move from love to friendship? Sorry, whole plate-o-beans inside.

My boyfriend and I (a woman) have been together for about 22 months. We are very compatible and affectionate and love each other deeply. Things are going really well and I plan to stay with him for a long time to come. It is probably relevant to say that we were trans-continental for 6 months, and have been long distance in the same country since September.

However, there's a catch. I am unbelievably jealous of his ex-girlfriend. They were together for about 5 months, but apparently it was quite serious. It's just the one ex who is a problem for me. We have run into his other exes when we were out & about, and I have been fine with them, even ones he was with longer than he was with her. I love his female friends, too. However, this one girl just gets under my skin like no one else. They don't see each other frequently any more (maybe 2-3 times a month), but were hanging out with a large circle of friends when they got together. It still makes sense that they would end up seeing each other every once in a while. This seriously makes my skin crawl. I have spent some time around her, and we have similar interests, but the idea of her hanging out with my boyfriend seriously upsets me so much that I sometimes cry. It's incredibly embarrassing. I think it's because she's a naturally bubbly, flirtatious girl, whereas I am the complete opposite. I take every bit of flirting as a sign that she still wants to be with my bf. I also feel like she seeks him out to spend time with him especially--e.g., last night they did a pub quiz (with her current bf and a mutual friend) at her suggestion. This pub quiz was in his hometown, 30 minutes from where she lives. I don't want to ask him not to see her--when they were together, she befriended some of his close friends, who have since become her neighbors. I feel like if he doesn't see her, he won't get to see them as often. Naturally, they make him happy.

I am asking this question now because she has recently gotten a boyfriend, and I think this may help me get over the major hurdle of feeling like she still wants to be with my bf. So if I can keep that in mind, what other things can I do to keep perspective when they see each other? I know my bf loves me, but I can't seem to help getting upset no matter how hard I try. I really want to get over this, as I feel like it is starting to strain our relationship, and it seems like such a ridiculous thing to lose a fantastic partner over. I am willing to befriend her, but I'm 3 hours away & working towards an MA, so visiting can be difficult.

Alternatively, how did you move from being friends with someone, to being SOs, back to being friends? I think that's something I've always struggled with, having never done it myself.

(FYI: Therapy's not an option right now.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have found that when I'm crazy jealous about one person, it usually means that there's something that person has (personality or looks) that I want. It doesn't really have anything to do with my boyfriend, or that he happened to have dated her in the past. You say that she's bubbly and flirtatious, perhaps there's a part of you that wants to be like that? If you get to the heart of why you're jealous, maybe that'll help it go away.

Alternately, it sounds like this girl is threatening you, not your relationship. She doesn't seem to be doing anything to indicate that she wants your boyfriend--she even has her own relationship! I think this girl somehow represents something that you want to be. You can recognize it, and maybe even learn something from her that will help you feel better about yourself.
posted by katypickle at 9:36 AM on January 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

You don't have to befriend her. You don't even have to trust her. You just have to trust your bf, and regardless of how you may consciously feel you do, your emotions are telling a different story.

Is part of this maybe because you feel insecure about the possibility of his friends liking her better? It seems like they are all hanging out together sometimes and there's a lot of history there and you feel like a fifth wheel.
posted by hermitosis at 9:40 AM on January 28, 2011

My new go-to relationship book suggestion, particularly for people dealing with distance issues, is Hold Me Tight; it talks about the attachment theory of romantic relationships. I think the fact that your relationship is long-distance makes the idea of his ex (and not just any ex, the ultra serious one) having regular contact with him hurt worse than it would if you lived in the same city. It makes sense to me- you're not feeling totally attached to him, so another woman in his life that he has a connection to would feel more threatening, somehow. I don't know if you've had a chance to talk to him about this yet, but I would suggest reading through this book and seeing if it makes sense to you. I think you will find that if you can work on discussing the underlying feelings with him and working on ways to keep feeling connected despite the distance, you will better be able to handle this. Good luck to you!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:48 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, you wanted anecdata about how others have transitioned from relationship to friendship. I have that for you.

Honestly? I was born with a "romantic feelings light switch," meaning that once it's done, it's done. If I have tried everything in a relationship that I can possibly do to make it work, and it's still no dice, I'll break it off (or get dumped). Then I'll mourn it for as long as I need, and then there goes the switch. Flipped.

Flipping the switch isn't a conscious effort. It just... happens.

I don't have to delete their numbers or screen names. They quite very suddenly just become "just another person I know." I'll ignore them for a while, because I'm sincerely disinterested in whatever they have going on.

At about six months or so after the switch was flipped, something might pop in my head, such as "Oh, so-and-so-who-happens-to-be-an-ex has a mutual friend's number. I'd like to have that number." So, I'll shoot a text, without even thinking about their ex-status, to ask for the info. I'll probably drop in a "hey, how you doing?" in there too. That's when a baby friendship is born.

This doesn't happen for all exes, just the ones who weren't complete assholes. I'd prefer to keep assholes away from me.

But, everybody's different, so YMMV.
posted by functionequalsform at 10:05 AM on January 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

Well, there's a couple of directions to take.

1) Talk to your boyfriend and tell him that she makes you uncomfortable, and could he be careful with his interactions with her for your sake. Don't be angry or make it a big deal or forbid him, just let him be aware that it bothers you, even if you rationally understand you have nothing to fear from her. See how he responds to this.

2) Get in contact with her and see about making friends. You may find out that she has her quirks, that she is completely in love with her current boyfriend, etc. Basically, get to know the real her as opposed to the construct in your head. She might be very kind about the whole thing.

There are good reasons why people break up, and generally those reasons don't magically go away. I tend to be a naturally flirtatious sort and I'm not sure my exes' SOs are okay with me when I have friendly infrequent contact. But it is completely, completely platonic on my end, and if I got signals that it was not platonic on their end, I would cut contact. I try to be non-threatening and make sure to acknowledge their SO, but I worry that my natural personality will be misinterpreted and cause problems.

You may also find consolation in that if your boyfriend and the ex got back together, it would probably end badly for similar reasons it ended the first time. Issues do not resolve themselves without work, and these two have already called it quits instead of working.

It doesn't matter if she's prettier, flirtier, whatever - it didn't work out. He's with you. You'd do well to relax in that knowledge and be gracious.
posted by griselda at 10:41 AM on January 28, 2011

I'm a big believer in "acting as if." When I'm irrationally uncomfortable with something (and it sounds like your discomfort with this girl isn't based on an actual threat to your relationship), I do my damndest to act as if it doesn't bother me. I do what my ideal self would do. In your case, I would pretend to think that this girl is very pretty and very interesting, but that I am a little bit prettier and a little more interesting, and my boyfriend likes me better than he ever liked her, poor thing. Be friendly and kind, but don't be deferential or go out of your way to be close to her. Pretend you're above it. Doing this helps me figure out how to actually be above it.

Since the ex doesn't represent an actual threat to your relationship, you should absolutely not talk to your boyfriend about it--he's going to want to act as if your feelings are reasonable, to avoid being dismissive of you, and that will only allow your fears to take root more deeply, when other people start treating them as real.
posted by milk white peacock at 10:59 AM on January 28, 2011 [9 favorites]

Congratulations on trying to get perspective.   As they say, the first step the first step is recognizing you have a problem.

First off, you've obviously done the math but that's what you really need to focus on -- long distance or not, you've been with this guy for 4 times longer than they were together.   No matter how serious they were, that's a huge deal.

But numbers aren't helping.  The problem isn't the length but where you joined in.  They were able to get together and break up and define their new relationship as friends.  But you can't see her that way because you weren't there for all of that.  You just have her in the "ex who he was once serious with."  But they look at each other as "people with whom I was once serious with and were important enough to me to remain friends with even after that ended."   

Since it's impossible for you to follow the same path (because you aren't them and you weren't there), instead you must isolate what it is that makes you feel jealous.

Their past? I understand that you may be jealous of their past, but there's nothing you can do about that. Further, his relationships prior to you helped him become the man you ended up with.  So though you may wish he'd come to you as a clean slate, that's not the version of him you fell in love with. Keep that in mind.

Their relationship now? There's obviously nothing to be jealous of between them now, unless you're the jealous type (which, despite everything you've said here, you don't seem like you are.) Exes with unresolved issues rarely, if ever, hang out with their new SOs -- or even if one of them has somebody new and the other doesn't (as they were doing before she started dating) It's been almost 2 years. It's polite of them to tell their current partners that they once dated (See this question) but they have been friends for much longer than that. They've moved on.

So that's what you have to keep in mind. I understand that this isn't something you have experience with, but even so, this is not something I can say often enough: Despite the potential jealousy that comes along with it, people who can end a serious relationship and remain good friends with their exes are the people you should want to date. It's a sign of emotional maturity which says "When I love someone, I don't stop loving them just because our romantic life is over."

Good luck.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:25 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm on the opposite side of this right now. My ex-BF and I are still friends, we went out for five years, and I broke it off several years ago. Now he has a serious long distance GF, and I have a serious live-in BF, but my ex and I are still good friends. However his new GF cannot handle the fact that he and I are still friends, which to me BOGGLES MY MIND since I was the one broke up with him (not vice versa,) and I have a new boyfriend, etc. But his new GF can't get over the idea that exes can be friends. Which, newsflash: they totally can be.

Anyway, I'm just saying this (from the perspective of the "EVIL EX GF") that your feelings of jealousy don't have anything to do with the girl, not really. They have to do with feeling insecure over the stability of your relationship with your boyfriend. If you felt like you could trust him, you wouldn't be worried about this ex girlfriend. If you felt 100% secure in your relationship with him, this friend of his whom he happened to date once upon a time wouldn't be an issue. So don't focus on her, focus on YOU, and what YOU need from your boyfriend regarding your own relationship, in order for you to feel non-threatened by whoever he decides to hang out with. Because in my experience, controlling, insecure GF's terrified of losing their boy to any perceived threat, tend to create self-fulfilling prophecies.
posted by egeanin at 12:53 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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