Why Do I Tremble From Anticipatory Jealousy?
May 6, 2011 9:22 AM   Subscribe

When I meet another woman, I sometimes find myself thinking "would (my boyfriend) like her? Is she his type? Oh god, will they meet each other? Would she like him?" To the point where I'm almost paralyzed with fear that he'll leave me for this person he hasn't even met. What can I do to calm down, learn to appreciate other women's qualities without comparing myself, and how can I prepare myself to deal with it if he DOES someday find himself attracted to someone else to the point where it impedes on our relationship? I want to be strong.

Background is, we've been together a couple years, friends for a few years, and we're very happy together. We're still in a 'dating' stage because I'm a single mom and we're both busy and want to see each other a lot more, but our time together is wonderful. We're still learning about each other, which is exciting, but in a way he already feels like family because we've been friends for so long and seen each other through a lot. We love each other and say so, and act as such.
I've struggled with insecurities and depression, but have also made great progress in self-esteem and other related areas.
In reality, when I calm down enough to think about it, I can imagine a scenario in which he tells me he has a crush on someone. We could probably get through that fine by talking about it. Usually the women I start freaking out about are younger - probably too young for him to have an actual relationship, in his eyes, and they very likely wouldn't give him a second glance. I forget that I think he's the cat's pyjamas but not every girl will.
I've done this in previous relationships, and when I was younger (in my 20's) it got quite annoying to the men because I was vocally jealous. Now I don't say a word about these fears. Should I?
posted by dorothyrose to Human Relations (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Just remember this - the more confident and secure with yourself you are, the LESS attracted he will be to those other women. Your mind is working against you here. Treat yourself as a prize, because you are one. Talk about feeling threatened by them to your girlfriends, and let them assuage your fears. I wouldn't bring it up with him.

"how can I prepare myself to deal with it if he DOES someday find himself attracted to someone else to the point where it impedes on our relationship?"

You still have some work to do on your confidence level, hearing you say that. No problem! Surround yourself with positive and uplifting female friends, pray more often (if you are religious - God can be wonderful source of inner strength and security with oneself), and squash those negative thoughts with self-affirming ones. He's been with you this long for a reason. :)
posted by sunnychef88 at 9:30 AM on May 6, 2011

Should I?

Not to him, but definitely to someone. I think that this almost the perfect sort of thing to speak to a therapist about -- it's very specific, and it's something that you've already recognized as destructive.

Anyhow I don't think you should involve him at this point, because he's not doing anything to inflame this problem, and it's an issue of yours from before you ever knew him. If you do get some real help in dealing with it, THAT would be a good time to talk to him about it, because by then you'd have a better idea of what you actually need from him (if anything) to combat the feeling.

In the meantime it sounds like you're able to talk yourself down afterward -- you know he loves you, that other women hold little appeal to him, and he holds none to them (because most of these have never met him!). Maybe write down all of these reassuring facts on a little card and hide it in your wallet? Or maybe a photo or a note from him? You can fish it out for affirmation whenever you're feeling anxious.
posted by hermitosis at 9:31 AM on May 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is exactly what I went through with my partner of four years, before we broke up earlier this year.

I worried constantly about each new, pretty, young friend he made. I drove myself crazy, looking them up online, asking him about them, examining my shortcomings in the face of their obvious superiority. All of them were platonic. Then he ended up falling for someone I would never have guessed was his type, who I hadn't given a second thought to, and we had a semi-messy split (the longer story is in one of my earlier Asks).

My point isn't to make you worry, but to help you realize that there is no *point* to worrying. You can't prevent the worst case scenario, and getting twisted into knots thinking about it is a waste of your time and energy. For all my fears (and, admittedly, snooping), the real threat came out of nowhere. I could have just enjoyed our time together and not spent that time stressed out.
posted by Pomo at 9:54 AM on May 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Until You value yourself as someone amazing and irreplaceable, those thought will continue to undermine your relationship with your boyfriend. Slay those thoughts! Improve your self-esteem - therapy helps a ton, but there are exercises on-line, etc.
posted by ldthomps at 10:12 AM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

how can I prepare myself to deal with it if he DOES someday find himself attracted to someone else to the point where it impedes on our relationship?

You can't. It's going to be a surprise, like an aneurysm. It's impossible to prepare for.

I think you just have run of the mill jealous rage. There's also the whole "women compete with each other for the attentions of men" thing.
posted by rhizome at 11:27 AM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Remember this: he chooses, every day, to be in a relationship with you.

People in relationships do get attracted to other people. It's part of life: unless you're the choosiest person ever, you're probably going to regularly encounter people who are "your type." A relationship, though, is based on more than attraction. It's based on shared history, mutual respect and support, friendship. You have that with him. That's not something that he suddenly forgets when he meets other women.
posted by kagredon at 2:27 PM on May 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

I completely understand where you're coming from - I used to do this too. I found it most helpful to think about things in the following way:

The idea of "the one" or "the soulmate" is that there is a perfect, pre-made, heaven-sent person for each of us, who fits us like a key fits a lock (excuse the analogy :-P). This idea isn't totally wrong - there is such a person who would fit each of us. However, most importantly, this person isn't pre-made or heaven-sent. Instead, he or she is made during the relationship.

This means that at the beginning of a relationship, the soulmate does not exist. This is important - there are many potentially good keys for a given lock. They all have their own distinct bumps and edges, and they're all different in some minor way. No one key fits the lock perfectly, but each key will fit the lock a little differently. At the beginning of any relationship, both the key and lock are a little jagged, a little bumpy in the wrong places. Too many incompatibilities are bad and should be avoided, but a few bumps are ok. The key still works, the lock still opens.

The crucial point is that over time, both the key and the lock are constantly growing new bumps and indentations. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with these changes - they just happen. A good key-lock pairing will grow together - one gets a bump here, the other gets an indentation to match. Often, you'll see that the lock and key are actively trying to keep up with each other - one acquires a bump, and the other looks to see how the bump can be accommodated. This is a give and take process. So to illustrate my illustration, let's say person A grows a new bump - a new obsession with cooking. Person B will figure out some way to accommodate and validate that bump - for example, listen to person A talk about cooking, watch the cooking channel with person A, ask questions about cooking, maybe even be brave enough to try some of person A's cooking. The great part is that during this process, both person A and person B become a better fit. Over many years of growth, the lock and key fit each other much better than they did at the beginning of the relationship, and better than they would fit with any other key or lock.The idea is that over a lifetime, person A and person B become each other's soulmates. Your soulmate is made during the relationship.

Sometimes during the growth process, a jagged edge keeps hitting the wrong way, or some new bump really cannot be accommodated. A few minor such events don't really matter - the lock and key still work together. If person B really cannot stand food or cooking, and cannot abide person A's new obsession, the relationship will still work. Person B can pursue his/her own hobbies when person A wants to obsess about cooking, and they can come together to do something they both enjoy. However, if there are too many unaccommodated changes, or changes too big to be accommodated, the lock and key will grow apart. If that happens, it just means that the lock and key won't work together, no matter how much they're jammed together. This person is not "the one".

So, this means that in a good relationship, both people should try to keep the fit good. Both people should be actively working towards being soulmates. If they're not actively choosing to be with each other, it's very hard to sustain a relationship.

Practically speaking, let's say that your boyfriend meets someone, whether or not you expect it. He likes that this person has x,y, and z traits and is attracted to them. Your soulmate - the one who is willing to accommodate you and work towards your relationship together - will not be willing to sabotage your fit for some new person. He has such a good fit with you, and you've grown together in so many ways. Why would he get rid of that, just to start up with someone else who fits him differently and less well than you do now? You guys are already so much closer to being soulmates than he and new girl would be.

And - absolute worst case scenario - let's say that he does. Let's say that he chooses this other person for some mystery trait they possess, and forgets about your entire relationship and the fit that you have together. The two of them would have to start over from scratch - start over to optimize their fits for each other, and he would completely lose any optimization he's gained with you. And if he's willing to do that, then he's not the one. He's not your soulmate, and you shouldn't waste time dealing with that kind of drama. He looked like he had potential, but by definition he isn't your key. Why waste your time worrying about that, when there are so many other keys waiting to be discovered?
posted by be11e at 7:01 PM on May 6, 2011 [14 favorites]

I experience the same - and I feel for you because those moments of anxiety and comparison can be unbearably painful. I want to thank you for asking the question and being so candid about your feelings. I hope that I have a little wisdom to impart since I am currently in the process of learning to accept that my partner loves me and doesn't want to leave me for another random pretty woman. Despite all evidence of his affection (he has been very vocal and explicit about how highly he thinks of me), I continue to experience doubt, but it has been changing for the better over time. Of course he will find other women attractive! My struggle has been realizing that it doesn't mean he will leave me because of it. The key is to practice changing your thoughts when you're in them. When you're in 'the scary place', stop yourself, and I mean literally tell yourself (silently or out loud - whatever works for you) to stop. Replace the scary obsessive thoughts with memories of times when you've felt loved by him, or when you've felt strong and beautiful and amazing on your very own. How about asking yourself this instead: What if he finds other women pretty and interesting, but never to the point where it impedes on your relationship? What if he's decided that you're so amazing that he wants to be in a relationship with YOU?

There are never any guarantees that someone will love us forever (contrary to what Disney and Hallmark would lead us to believe...). This is a hard truth to face, but it can be incredibly freeing when you can accept it and let go of some of the fear. I wish you courage!
posted by sassy mae at 3:52 PM on June 16, 2011

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