How much trust should be given in a new relationship?
December 9, 2011 3:15 PM   Subscribe

How much trust should be given in a new relationship?

I've been in a committed, monogamous relationship with a man for a few months now, and things are going relatively well. We (both in our early thirties) enjoy each other's company and respect each other. There are some problems that have surfaced, though. He has quite a few female friends and there is one with whom he seems particularly chummy. He tells me that they regularly get dinner and trade massages, and hearing about this makes me feel a little uncomfortable. I do realize that there is nothing explicitly indicting about massage, unlike a kiss or sexual activity-- but rather it treads a fine line between platonic and sexual, depending on context. Am I overreacting, or should I just trust him and let things be? The last time I brought up a similar topic, he became a little upset and implied that I didn't trust him.

He is a wonderful man by most measures, and I have a lot of reasons NOT to doubt his integrity based on my observations and interactions with him. However, I have been hurt and cheated on in the past by an ex, and in retrospect, I feel I could have prevented the cheating by being more aware and less trusting. With this new guy, I don't want the relationship to flounder just because I am being "paranoid." We are in the beginning stages of getting to know each other, and I want to ask: if there isn't any real cause for alarm, should I bring this topic up with him (potentially upsetting him and making him feel like I don't trust him), or should I just keep quiet? Should I just work on being the best girlfriend I can be, without trying to keep a vigilant eye?

Thanks for all your help!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Since the relationship is new, I would tend to give him the benefit of the doubt until I have reason not to. However, I personally see giving someone a massage as a fairly intimate thing and so this would make me uncomfortable. Professional massages are one thing, but trading massages with friends comes too close to crossing a line for me. I would ask him to stop (and maybe soften the blow by offering to become his new massage buddy).

You should talk to him about this, but don't put it in terms of trust vs lack of trust. Indicate that you trust that nothing untoward is going on (assuming that you do), but that you are still uncomfortable with it and prefer that he would no longer give massages to his friend (and no longer receive them from her). Since you haven't talked to him about it yet, he may not even realize that this upsets you and he may be willing to stop.
posted by asnider at 3:20 PM on December 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

I agree with asnider. Massages seem too intimate to me and I would tell him that. I think this one of those things that he can give up for your relationship. You aren't asking that he not be friends with her.
posted by shoesietart at 3:25 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

asnider has the right of it. I'm a guy with a lot of good female friends, many of whom I hang out with in ways that might read as date-like to many. If my new girlfriend approached this as a "I don't trust you" issue, I'd take that as a major red flag because, well, I'm not about to abandon longstanding friendships just because of the plumbing of the people involved. But if my new girlfriend said "I'm trust you, but it does make me uncomfortable that you and X give each other massages," I'd take that as a reasonable request, because while it may not be explicitly sexual, it's certainly pretty intimate, and - speaking for myself - the kind of behavior I specifically wouldn't engage in with my platonic female friends, for exactly that reason.

Also, by "a few months" into being committed and monogamous isn't too early to bring this kind of thing up. A few dates in, it might read as possessive paranoia; after a few months if he's not willing to talk about it like an adult, that's a bad sign.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:27 PM on December 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

(FWIW I'm in my late 20s.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:28 PM on December 9, 2011

I was in EXACTLY this same situation when I started my relationship- massages.

The woman in question no longer gets massages, but now, 1.5 years later, she is still a bone of contention in our relationship. Be diplomatic, discuss it honestly and openly and camly, but: do NOT let this fester.
posted by thrasher at 3:29 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Massage in a non-professional context is a really intimate thing. You are not out of line in asking him to not do it with women other than you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:29 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I should also mention, thank him profusely for being honest with you in the first place and not hiding the "dinner and massage" aspect of their relationship. He gets major points for that, and keep that in mind when you want to go all jealous whackjob on him - it'll make him stop wanting to be honest with you. Speaking from experience.
posted by thrasher at 3:31 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with the above. Is this stuff bothers you and you don't talk to him about it, he's going to pick up on it anyways and it's going to make him think you don't trust him.

Frame it as your problem, not his.

Also, don't listen to people saying platonic massages are bad. That is completely relationship-dependent. It may or may not be something you can live with in your relationship. I wouldn't blink twice if my SO told me she had been giving her guy friends massages.
posted by auto-correct at 3:32 PM on December 9, 2011

For these kinds of things, it is kind of short sighted to NOT give someone complete trust. (Although completely understandable.) If you aren't taking someone at their word, then you aren't ready to be in a relationship with that person.
posted by gjc at 4:00 PM on December 9, 2011

YOU: "I'm a little uncomfortable with X"
HIM: "Here are some reasons why I feel like it's okay and/or how I'm making sure that I'm not blurring any lines - as I can see someone might be worried about. But if it's really making you uncomfortable I will not do it/only do Y instead."

Not Good:
YOU: "I'm a little uncomfortable with X"
HIM: "You're bad!"

Massages aside, it's the above you need to decide whether or not to accept in your life.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:11 PM on December 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

It sounds like he expects to explicitly have your trust, which isn't something he gets simply by virtue of your being in a relationship together. Even if he hadn't done anything to earn your *distrust* (and I'd agree that the activity with Other Woman is treading a line of questionability), trust evolves differently for everyone, and it's a little presumptuous (at best, disrespectful at worst) for him to be assuming that you should automatically trust him just because you've been together for a bit.

This may be worthwhile to point out to him; ideally past experiences shouldn't be necessary for this to be an acceptable viewpoint but if he's showing resistance then explaining why you have some relationship trust issues could be a good way to ease him into seeing your POV. If he's not willing to accept that one of the facets of the person he claims to care about isn't behaving as expected, then that may be a warning sign to pay attention to.

Also explaining why his level of intimacy with Other Woman makes you uncomfortable needs to happen sooner or later -- preferably sooner. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with his behaviour, as different people have different value systems about what is intimate and what isn't, levels of comfort, &c. But if it bothers *you*, and he wants to remain in a relationship with you, then he needs to adapt his relationship with this woman to meet your needs. You may need to meet him partway in this, as in asking him to restrict his level of physical intimacy with her even if they remain friends and continue to spend time together, or include you in some of their activities.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 4:27 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you need to talk to him and let him know that you do trust him, but you're afraid of getting hurt because of past experiences. If you make it clear that you know he's not the guy that cheated on you and you don't mistrust him, but that because of being cheated on your gut reaction is to be uncomfortable, I think he will be understanding. If you approach it in a way where you prohibit him from contacting her or something, he's going to think you're a crazy lady and dump your ass.

You guys being able to talk about this and understand where each other is coming from would be a good sign that this relationship has a chance of working. If you can't talk about it -- that communication issue will be a major obstacle.

FWIW, I had a similar talk with the guy I'm dating (a couple months, not official) and basically let him know that I do have trust issues because of an ex. He was very cool about it and the conversation brought us closer together. I think if he had responded differently, it would have been a pretty bad sign.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:34 PM on December 9, 2011

The last time I brought up a similar topic, he became a little upset and implied that I didn't trust him.

This alone would make me not trust somebody. The proper response to you bringing up concerns is to talk them out and try to get to a place where you both feel good. Trying to just shut you down with guilt and making you feel mean/crazy when you bring up concerns is a really shady behavior to me.
posted by cairdeas at 4:34 PM on December 9, 2011 [15 favorites]

Have him give you more massages.

Sorry, I've had opposite-sex friends give me massages, and my (now-ex) boyfriend not trusting me over it just made things worse. I think some people just enjoy that kind of physical closeness with friends, and those people shouldn't be immediately deemed untrustworthy... of course, you don't need to trust the friends...

I'm sorry you've been hurt in the past by cheating exes, but they didn't cheat because you weren't "aware enough." They cheated because they're cheating assholes.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 4:39 PM on December 9, 2011

I would like to reiterate a story that I have mentioned in the past (quoting myself):

I have been your boyfriend's friend.

What we chose to do (that worked out exceptionally well I might add), was that I hung back for a while. I visited our other friends when he and his girlfriend were not present and left him alone for about four months. This gave him time to build a foundation with his girlfriend. Why? because you need foundation and context before you bring your attractive female friends around your attractive new girlfriend.

You see, part of the problem with him mentioning his friend/introducing/hanging out with/etc early on is that in the introductory stages of a relationship you don't know that he is a kind and devoted man who is not interested in his friend as a long term partner or lover. You don't know him well enough to know that this other woman is not a threat. You have no way of knowing that he is not playing hide the sausage on the side with his friend because you have not known him long enough to establish a pattern of honesty and integrity. Basically, he is throwing you a curve ball and asking you to take him, still a relative stranger, at his word. There is an easier way.

In the case of my friend and I, after a few months of mutual avoidance he explained the situation to his girlfriend and introduced us. By then she was confident enough in his integrity and their relationship to not be threatened by me, and we get along splendidly to this day.

In my opinion, if you want to keep a person around early in a relationship you need to begin to build a trust foundation, then you can introduce your hot friends. I cant see how saying "I have this friend, Sexy McHotpants, who I am going to go to dinner with and you just need to learn to trust me after a few months of dating" is going to help you feel secure in the relationship. Helping you feel secure in the relationship should be one of his goals, especially this early on.
posted by Shouraku at 5:02 PM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think the people saying this your problem, you should trust him 100% and if you don't then you're "not ready" for a relationship are mad. You've known this guy a few months, of course you don't trust him implicitly and of course you question his intentions towards you and others. This is a Good Thing and it shows that you Have Learned. Only an idiot would blithely ignore warning signs that their new beau might be shining them on because when it comes to people we find hot? Our judgement sucks.

I'm summary; yes its completely normal to wonder why the man you're in a new exclusive relationship with is spending a lot of one on one time with another woman. And touching her a lot. It's ok to ask him to clarify exactly eats going on and where he stands on having sex with/ being in a relationship with her should the opportunity arise and she wants to. These are things he needs to be crystal clear about if you ask him and he wants you to stick around. This us not "being jealous" its being perfectly reasonable.

Don't let anyone tell you to ignore your own needs.
posted by fshgrl at 5:05 PM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Either there's something sexual/romantic going on with his female friend or there isn't. If there is and you get him to stop doing it by having "the talk" with him, would you really ever trust him again? Who's to say that once you're feeling secure in the relationship and your guard is down, he won't start up again with the friend or, worse, with someone else? Just the worry alone would be enough to poison the relationship for me.

So stopping him from doing whatever he is or isn't doing with his friend really isn't the point here IMHO. Instead, you want to figure out if there is or is not something going on that you consider inappropriate. Only when you know the answer to that question will you know whether there's a basis for a good relationship or not.

For perspective, if it helps, I am a straight woman with far more men friends than women friends. I always have. When we first got involved, my now-husband was a bit skeptical that these friendships really were platonic. Especially since one or two were men I had previously dated, no relationship developed, but we remained friends. So he made offhand comments about these men and carefully gauged my reaction. (Did I mention that my husband is also a psychologist?) I knew what he was doing, I understood, and I didn't mind it a bit because I knew he would eventually become comfortable with it.
posted by DrGail at 5:28 PM on December 9, 2011

Why isn't he spending his time on dinner and massages with you?

That's why people get girlfriends in the first place.

It's fair if he grandfathers in his platonic female friends from before you were dating. However, spending alone time with her giving massages is bs unless his friend is some kind of holistic healer/reiki guru/shiatsu student.

Where do they do these massage sessions? At his or her apartment, in the evening? Are you kidding me?

I'd tell my boyfriend straight up to touch me and only me or else have fun putting his hands all over other women without me in the picture.
posted by devymetal at 5:56 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

So stopping him from doing whatever he is or isn't doing with his friend really isn't the point here IMHO. Instead, you want to figure out if there is or is not something going on that you consider inappropriate.

I don't think that's the point at all. For me, even if I trust you til the cows come home, it's that I don't want my boyfriend giving or getting massages to/from other women. THAT is what I think is inappropriate.
posted by shoesietart at 6:24 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Either there's something sexual/romantic going on with his female friend or there isn't.

Or he's trying to make something happen there while keeping the OP on a string.
posted by fshgrl at 6:33 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sometimes if I'm confused by the "oh, does this seem a bit intimate for a 'friendship' thing? Am I a jealous nag?" I ask myself what it would be like if this were his male friend with whom he went out to dinner [no big deal] and exchanged massages [kinda weird feeling] or, in my case along the relationship trail, other kinds of intimacies that aren't demonstrably sexual, but feel a bit wrong.

So, yeah, I guess I think it's a bit weirdly intimate thing to do amongst friends. I wonder if you asked your man if he shares massages with his male friends, whether he'd think this is a fairly normal friendship exchange in his overall ride through life. If it is, I guess that might help me understand where he's coming from.

And the onus isn't on you to trust people just because they tell you too. You have to feel trust because you feel they are trustworthy and they aren't triggering your betrayal antennae.
posted by honey-barbara at 7:20 PM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

The last time I brought up a similar topic, he became a little upset and implied that I didn't trust him.

I'm not keen on that.

Proceed with caution. His reaction there doesn't bode well. It may be "normal" for some relationships, but it demonstrates a lack of respect towards you on a pretty deep level. (not you personally, but you as anyone he is dating. As if their concerns are trivial or something. I dunno. It's just a rotten flavor for him to introduce into the mix.)

I agree you should be able to broach the subject without him getting defensive. Since he's chosen to be defensive... meh.

Proceed with caution. You'll know soon enough about this guy. Just trust your gut, because even if there is not something between him and this chick, he just might not be emotionally mature enough to hang with long-term in a drama free relationship. Plus, spending romantic time with someone should make you feel good, not hinky, suspicious and self-conscious.
posted by jbenben at 7:30 PM on December 9, 2011 [8 favorites]

Ok, I'll say it: or he could be sleeping with her, and he's just set up an ongoing alibi and framed it in such a way as to blame any consequences on your trust issues.

I agree with the others that his response to your concerns was the bad sign. I only wish you could've responded with "that's such a coincidence! I have the same arrangement with my friend Kevin! I'm glad to know it wont be an issue for you!"

It'd be nice if he would put those massages on hold for awhile and turn his attention to enjoying time with you.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:34 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

To me, it would depend on what is meant by "massage". Like, naked, oiled, full-body stuff, which would be A Serious Problem? Or just the occasional shoulder-massage, through clothing, which is totally nonsexual and not weird at all, at least to me? My friends do that unworried between the sexes in group contexts or alone, and no one much minds. But I would be *very* unhappy with anything much beyond that going on. And I would definitely ask my partner to stop it.

He may just have come from a more touch-friendly social situation than you, and if it really is something he considers innocent, he might not understand that you don't. However, he kinda needs to stop it no matter what once you explain. If he is in fact a good guy, he should be willing to do that.
posted by Because at 6:19 AM on December 10, 2011

I swear the only answers I ever give on here are, "No you're not too fat" and "no, you're not weird for not trusting someone." So as always: I find this inappropriate and wouldn't tolerate it in my relationship! I agree with everyone else who has said trust is to be earned, and this guy may not have enough trust credits saved up in the relationship bank to be getting massages from female friends. It's an unpopular opinion here, but one that has never served me wrong in my relationships, but I really think male-female friendships should exist only in group settings once one of the people is in an exclusive romantic relationship. If there's nothing hinky going on, then what difference does it make to include the other person? Next time he's going to hang out with her, ask if she'd mind doing your back as well. BAM.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 12:49 PM on December 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have had (at various times in my life) very close friendships with men. Supportive, warm, caring, hugging friendships, that went on for years. At no point did I ever offer or receive massages from any of them, as that would have been overstepping some invisible line (the one with "Warm, caring friendship here / Uncomfortable grey area here" written along it) (in invisible ink, obviously). I don't think we were particularly uptight around each other, but I just think it's an incredibly intimate thing to do, even between friends.

Unless he's a professional massage therapist and these are freebies intended to help alleviate a specific physical condition, say, I can't really think of any other reason why they would indulge in mutual massages after dinner except that there was a desire to be physically intimate. I agree that there isn't necessarily even an overtly sexual context (although it sounds very date-y to me) but there certainly seems to be a sensual one, in the purest sense of the word if you prefer. It's not something I would be at all comfortable with anyone I'd ever dated continuing to do after we'd got together.

As for the trust thing - trust is earned, like respect, and he doesn't really have the right to demand that so early on and especially if he knows you have had negative experiences in the past. It's show, not tell, at this stage.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 12:08 PM on December 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

The most important questions have not been asked:

- what part of the body? (A foot, shoulder, etc)?

- Is there nudity?

- What time of day / night do they take place?

Humans have a gut instinct for a reason - rely on it. Do not become "PC." For centuries, women have kept us men in line by simply stating the following sentence "You BETTER NOT go near that...." as soon as they heard from us something that threatened fidelity. There was no AskMefi then, don't cloud your own internal response.
posted by Kruger5 at 12:33 PM on December 14, 2011

« Older Help me find the best of YouTube   |   Is it a bad idea to start taking SSRIs right... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.