Please help me to see if I'm overreacting or not...
October 24, 2012 2:00 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I met with a female friend of his last night, and he started behaving very uncharacteristically distant with me while we were with her. Am I making a mountain out of a molehill or was something more going on?

I'm a 34-year old female. My boyfriend (Mr.B., 35 yrs old) is going through the final stages of divorce. We have been together for about 6 months now. He is a great guy and a wonderful friend. He is very attentive to my needs and feelings, and is overall a kind, gentle soul whom I have found to be compassionate and considerate. My family and friends all like him a lot. His family also loves me and can't wait for the day when they can call me family of their own. He has been completely transparent about the details of his divorce every step of the way, and we talk about the plans we have for out future together.

Mr. B. and I met up for dinner with his female friend (Miss V) last night. He met Miss V through his Ex-wife. His Ex always forbade him from seeing Miss V; I don't know why, but his Ex is a pretty insecure person, so I can only imagine. (And might I add, his Ex never forbade him from hanging out with me when they were still married.) Once Mr. B. and his Ex split, he reached out to Miss V, and they resumed their friendship. They both work in the same city, about a half an hour from where we all live, and they started meeting up together one-on-one for lunch once in a while. Mr. B. is usually very transparent about telling me everything that's going on in his life, and while he has told me about meeting up with Miss V, I tend to hear about it after the fact. I'm not an insecure person, so I just let it go, because Mr. B. is a nice person with lots of friends, both male and female, who want to hang out with him. Typically, Mr. B. includes me in these meetups. I understand that it's harder for us to meet up for lunch with anyone when he's in the city he works in, just because of the distance/time issue, so I haven't worried about it a bit. I also trust Mr. B.

Miss V and Mr. B.'s Ex have gone their separate ways as recently as a couple of weeks ago, which Miss V told us last night. Apparently Miss V told the Ex something she didn't want to hear, so now the Ex wants nothing to do with Miss V. The Ex has done the same thing with other mutual friends that she and Mr. B. had, and now they are his friends and not hers.

I guess I started feeling a bit weird last night when we had dinner with Miss V. For the first time since I've been with Mr. B., I felt something like the 3rd wheel. He was aloof and distant with me the entire time we were with her. For the first time, he referred to himself as "technically still married". Although this was in the context of describing his frustrations with the long and frustrating divorce process, it still took me a bit by surprise, as he hasn't described himself this way to anyone else we've met up with. He's always very touchy-feely, even when we meet with other friends of his, but he wasn't at all touchy-feely with me when Miss V was around. Naturally, my gut started wondering if there was a real reason why his Ex didn't want him to meet up with this woman. I hate that I was even thinking it. It was also so strange to see him behaving so differently.

I want to be clear- he was not "into" her outwardly. He was not flirtatious in any way whatsoever. But he was not his usual self with me while she was around, and that's a red flag to me. Or at least my gut says so.

I don't want to bring this up with him yet because I don't see any good coming of that.

Please help me understand why he was so aloof with me when we met with Miss V. Why did he behave so differently around her? Should I even worry about this? Should I talk to him about it? If so, what should I say (without looking like an insecure brat)?

As someone with some abandonment issues, it is entirely possible that I'm reading WAY too much into this, but I'd appreciate your perspective just the same. It's bothering me enough that I'm making a post about it.
posted by chatelaine to Human Relations (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have the philosophy that if something feels wrong, then something is wrong. It may be an innocent thing, or it may be bad. Either way, it is hidden. If you aren't ready to confront him about it, then just file it away and wait. These things tend to come out sooner or later.
posted by Monday at 2:07 PM on October 24, 2012 [28 favorites]

Don't make a mountain out of what might have been a one-off incident that could have a million factors that precipitated his odd affect...

With all the pluses you describe, this doesn't sound like something to pursue at this point...see what happens next time.
posted by HuronBob at 2:08 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why did he behave so differently around her? Should I even worry about this?

Gut instinct says he probably has a little crush on her or similar. There's every chance this is nothing to worry about. People get crushes. It can affect them but it doesn't mean they're going to act on them (it doesn't mean they're not, either).

If you hear about everything else in his life beforehand, but lunches with her after the fact, that's what jumps out at me. Also if he was married to someone who forbade him from hanging out with her, maybe he hasn't shaken his head out of the idea that it's something to downplay or keep sort of under his hat. But there's really no way to know until you ask him, so...

Should I talk to him about it?


If so, what should I say (without looking like an insecure brat)?

Don't overthink this. "Hey babe, you were kind of aloof and distant the other night at dinner. What's up?" Go from there. Be prepared for the possibility that it'll hit a nerve since this was apparently an issue of contention in his marriage, but really, just ask if anything's up and let him answer. Don't ask if, like, there's anything going on with her or if you should be insecure or whatever. Keep the question as open as possible.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:10 PM on October 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

My hunch is that if he wasn't at all flirty with her, and he often is with other female friends in your presence, that he's involved with her in some way. Couples who act like they're in litigation in public often turn out to be torrid in private.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:10 PM on October 24, 2012 [10 favorites]

If he was involved with her previously, it could make him act differently even if he isn't still involved now, or interested in being involved. I sometimes act differently around my guy when I'm around an ex, or even an old friend, who I want to impress, to know that I am awesome and cool and totally fine with EVERYTHING, FINE, OKAY?

So I guess don't leap to conclusions. A healthy spoonful of, oh, bless him, perhaps. And if it's still getting to you in a few days then yeah, talk to him, just keep it relaxed, and don't pre-empt anything.
posted by greenish at 2:22 PM on October 24, 2012 [9 favorites]

If you feel that you have a comfortable and honest relationship with your boyfriend, then feel free to say something.

Make it a 'no biggie' kind of thing. "Hey BF, you had a marked change in attitude when we were with Miss V. She seems really nice, and it's clear you all have some kind of history together. What was up?"

He'll say something, and either he'll confide a hideous secret, offer an excuse like: he was super-gassy and was trying not to blow the slipcovers off the divan, or he'll deny it and try to tell you that you're imagining the whole thing."

If he confides a secret, cool. If he offers an excuse (that seems plausible) cool. If he tries to gaslight you. Problem.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:32 PM on October 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

Either let it go and forget it (really!) or say something to him now. Seems that several people want you to put him on some kind of relationship probation then be vigilant in waiting for him to screw up somehow. The poor bastard wouldn't even be aware he was on probation at all. It would be the beginning of the end for the relationship to take that tack. And yes, you are definitely over thinking it.
posted by txmon at 2:36 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

This might just be "friend from another era in my life" thing. It's pretty accepted that most people act differently around their high school friends--I certainly do. And marriage is usually a significant era, where he might've acted differently than the person you know now. It's possible he just wasn't sure how to reconcile the two different personalities that are both him.

(I'm possibly over-communicative, so I'd just ask.)
posted by ethidda at 2:37 PM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

As someone with some abandonment issues

This jumped out at me.

If you have abandonment issues, it would seem to me that you're taking a significant risk by having a relationship with someone that hasn't completely disentangled themselves from their previous relationship.

It's been my observation and experience that people transitioning relationships are at their most flaky and are not the best candidates to pin LTR hopes.

If you're having fun and won't be crushed if things don't work out then full steam ahead, and shrug off this weirdness. On the other hand if you've become invested in this guy, and aren't completely sure of his commitment, then you may want to proceed with a bit of caution.
posted by forforf at 2:40 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Let me see if I've got this straight: Miss V used to be friends with Boyfriend and Ex, Ex forbade Boyfriend to see her when they were married, Boyfriend reached out to her once he broke up with Ex, and now Ex and Miss V are no longer friends.

I feel like there is way more to this story. (Ex, for one thing, is probably pissed that Miss V is back in cahoots with Boyfriend.) Why didn't you ask Boyfriend why Ex didn't want him to hang out with Miss V? If she thought it was because they were attracted to each other, that explains a lot. I don't mean that they ARE necessarily attracted to each other, but just that they're coming into dinner with you -- in the de facto "wife" position -- with a lot of weird baggage. They are in a really complicated friend situation -- with each other and with Ex -- and that will make people act squirrelly. Add into the fact your own abandonment issues and the fact that you're dating a guy whose divorce isn't final (and who you knew while he was married to the wife (which I assume Miss V is aware of)), and who you seem to feel pretty serious about, AND who has told you that his Ex considered your dining partner forbidden fruit...this dinner had all the ingredients for AWKWARDNESS for ALL of you, honestly. I would be surprised if it WASN'T a little weird, especially if this was the first time you met Miss V.

I'd talk to him about it. But casually. I don't think there's any reason for you to go in all, "J'ACCUSE!!!" about it.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 2:48 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't think you're overthinking it, and I also don't think Mr B is necessarily having a torrid affair with Miss V.

There may be no wrongdoing at all here, only awkwardness.

However, deviations from normal behaviour are noteworthy. I think you should make a mental note of this and pay attention to the way Mr B behaves.

What I find curious is the ex-wife "forbidding" Mr B from seeing Miss V. If you have a cheater on your hands, forbidding them from seeing suspected cheatees doesn't solve the problem - it only blocks the cheater from indulging his cheatin' ways.

Describing himself as "technically still married" sounds like a homeopathically veiled way of saying "technically still not available to you" though that did not need to be stated when you, his gf, were sitting right there. Of course it's unsurprising that he would make an allusion to his ex-wife, rather than pointing to you, since they have that history and she was an unspoken presence at the gathering. But that sounds like a "back off! you can't have me!" type of defense inserted into the conversation, and it's the kind of projecty thing that is nearly always said to manage the *speaker's* temptation.

You also say the ex-wife is an "insecure" person... if you start to feel more and more insecure, let your insecurity be your guide.

I realize all that sounded really alarmist and stuff. Like I said, there may be nothing going on here other than awkward feelings, which are nothing more than thoughts in people's heads. Don't force yourself to feel either suspicious or unsuspicious, and the truth will come to you.
posted by tel3path at 2:51 PM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

@ Countess Sandwich- yep, that pretty well sums it up! :)
posted by chatelaine at 3:21 PM on October 24, 2012

I act differently with different people and different combinations of people. I feel like there is maybe a baseline of some sort that all my closest friends know, but it gets modified as appropriate depending on situations and people. I think this is normal and adaptive. If you've never seen your husband and V interact before, maybe this is just how they are, or how he gets when you enter the room with them, and it messes with the dynamic somehow (note: that doesn't mean you did anything at all, its just about how your personalities combine)

Until you have more evidence, I don't think there is anything else going on here.
posted by slow graffiti at 3:22 PM on October 24, 2012

I've done this without intending to before, and it's because I was trying to save her (the friend's) feelings, not hide something from you (the partner).

I met with a female friend regularly and we'd have great fun, with an element of coy teasing and flirtyness that never crossed into hitting-on territory. When my (long distance) girlfriend came to town and the three of us were in a group, I realised afterwards that I was less affectionate and close with my girlfriend than I would have been normally. I realise now that it's because I didn't want to hurt my friend's feelings.

Perhaps over time we could have carried on our regular dynamic even when my girlfriend was present, but at that first meeting it all felt a little strange so being less affectionate with my girlfriend (without consciously deciding to) felt like it avoided snubbing my friend.

It's hard because we never really define these kinds of things, but if this is the case with your boyfriend then I wouldn't worry about her - he's only doing it to spare her feelings.

Of course, he's the one who could answer this best.
posted by twirlypen at 3:25 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

If the Ex forbade him to spend time with Miss V, Boyfriend may be in the habit of being formal with her when in the presence of his primary love interest because he developed that schtick as a means to reassure the Ex. Now it just bleeds over into his relationship with you.
posted by carmicha at 4:12 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

I was thinking something akin to what twirlypen said only my take is that perhaps he was denying her vicarious affection. I mean if he has some reason to feel the need to be formal with her, he might want to not let her see him being all huggy and kissy with someone else. It might enrage her to see it but also enflame her desire at the same time. An issue like that might not be a friendship dealbreaker for him, just a case of needing to tread lightly.

Though a lot of the other explanations make sense to me too. Nthing "talk to him about it", without going in with guns blazing. (If something is wrong, I would personally rather know sooner than later. It tends to hurt less.)
posted by Michele in California at 6:34 PM on October 24, 2012

His Ex always forbade him from seeing Miss V; I don't know why, but his Ex is a pretty insecure person, so I can only imagine. ... I'm not an insecure person, so I just let it go, ... Should I talk to him about it? If so, what should I say (without looking like an insecure brat)?

In situations like this I think it's always best to communicate. You used the word "insecure" three times in this post. Feeling insecure is not a bad thing. It's what you do when you feel insecure that matters. The fact is, if you are feeling shaky about something, the least secure response is to keep quiet about it so as not to rock the boat. If the boat needs to be rocked, rock it! The most secure thing you can do when you get a bad feeling about something is to address it knowing you risk losing it. Trust your judgment.

As someone with some abandonment issues, it is entirely possible that I'm reading WAY too much into this, but I'd appreciate your perspective just the same.

If you are reading too much into it and you say something to him, it could open up a very healthy line of communication between you, where he recognizes a behavior he wasn't aware of and you are reassured ... or it could also cause a ruckus and you break up. Either way you learn that trusting your instincts works.

If you are reading too much into it and you don't say anything, you won't know for sure that you were reading too much into it. You'll keep worrying about it. You'll worry about it even when he's not having lunch with her, just pretty much every time he goes quiet you'll wonder.
posted by headnsouth at 6:34 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I just wanted to ask... what do you think of Miss V? As an individual. Not as a friend of Mr. B's ex. Not as a friend of Mr. B.

I think people act differently around different people naturally. When mixing old friends with new, its sometimes more obvious. As the 'new' person, you are a bit 'on the outside' observing a relationship that started before you. (I'm not saying relationship in the datey-date sense, just as a matter of two people.) You don't quite have your own place yet thus feeling the aloofness.

So back to my initial question... If you think of her in a positive way, like someone you'd be friends with, someone you can trust, then I'd take the energy that you've spent in worrying and being insecure and spend it on creating a positive relationship.

It might take a few more dinners to make an accurate assessment of her personality.
posted by p1nkdaisy at 7:40 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do have a question about this: did he introduce you as his girlfriend?

More specifically, If I were to call Miss V up and say "hey! do you know chatelaine?" would she say "yeah, that's Mr. B's girlfriend" or would she say "yeah, that's Mr. B's friend/acquaintance"?

If he didn't introduce you as his girlfriend or let Miss V know that you two are in a relationship, either physically or verbally, then I would be concerned.

If say, Miss V is the kind of person that is uncomfortable with public displays of affection, and Mr. B is respecting that by keeping his hands off of you, that's one thing. But if he is effectively lying by omission (deceiving her by withholding the fact that he is in an exclusive relationship with you) then that is one hell of a Big Red Flag.

To fix this: Have you simply considered asking Mr. B if he would please reintroduce you as his girlfriend chatelaine next time the three of you are together? It's not an unreasonable thing to ask, and will let you know pretty quickly if something underhanded is afoot.
posted by Shouraku at 9:37 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

You also say the ex-wife is an "insecure" person... if you start to feel more and more insecure, let your insecurity be your guide.

Unfortunately I came to say something like this. I just saw a situation like this with a relative-- she started dating a guy who really demonized his ex, calling her insecure, jealous, &c. Later, when she started to notice the same things his ex had noticed, she absolutely would not say anything because she loathed the idea of being like the terrible ex. However, it seemed obvious to most others that the boyfriend was overly flirtatious with other women and perhaps cheating, so it really sucked.

It sounds like you knew the ex well before any of this though? In that case, you may already know that she is too insecure and controlling, and this does not apply. But I would bring it up casually, because letting these things fester to the point of resentment is never any good.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:03 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you want to talk to Mr B about how he was acting, but don't want to come across as being as insecure as his ex, be sure that you keep the conversation about his actions with regards to you, and not about Miss V or even his interactions with Miss V.

As Famous Monster suggested, "Hey babe, you were kind of aloof and distant the other night at dinner. What's up?" I think this is a better approach than "Hey Babe, you were kind of aloof and distant to me when Miss V was there. What's up with you and her?" Be open to wherever he wants to take that conversation. Maybe spending time with this friend-of-ex or ex-hot-topic reminded him of all the bad stuff of his ex and put him in a bad marriage-is-awful state of mind and he wasn't really wanting to be close and coupley with anybody. Maybe he was nervous if this was the first time you were meeting her, and this is just one of hte ways he sometimes acts when he's nervous.

Basically, you're not making a mountain out of a molehill, he was acting funny and it's worth talking about. However, this might be about Miss V, but it might not be. Given the history that the ex was a bit irrational about Miss V, it would probably be healthy for your relationship to avoid accusations and not bring up Miss V as the reason for his behavior unless he does.
posted by aimedwander at 6:43 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please help me understand why he was so aloof with me when we met with Miss V. Why did he behave so differently around her? Should I even worry about this? Should I talk to him about it?

If he's in the final stages of a divorce and meeting with an old friend he met while he was married, he's probably processing some feeling that has absolutely zero to do with you.

Ask him about it if it makes you feel better, but unless there was open flirtation, I'd write it off as an emotional twitch of a guy who may have feelings about his marriage (and those he encountered while married) that he's still working through.

Take this as a data point and nothing more.
posted by PsuDab93 at 7:44 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

It leaps out at me that he may have been sparing Miss V's feelings, or at least, thinking of it that way. A sincere desire to not rub her nose in the fact that he's seeing you, not her.
posted by Goofyy at 12:02 PM on October 25, 2012

I would not talk to him about it right away. Instead I would ask a trusted mutual friend or two what is up with that particular relationship. If they're weird about it, avoid the question, or blatantly say that there's something there then I would keep two eyes open and see how things play out, and I would definitely not be beating myself up over my "insecurity".

If the mutual friend(s) are confused by the question and obviously don't see any weirdness, then maybe I'd ask him about it, or maybe not.

The thing about dishonest people is that they don't actually come out and tell you they're dishonest. That is what makes them dishonest. So asking him directly will be helpful, but only if he tells you the truth. If he's lying to you, asking him will only help him learn to cover his tracks better. It's a bit of a catch-22.

The other option is just to trust him, but in that case you should recognize that asking him about it is more about reassurance and comfort than it is about actually finding out the truth of the situation.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:22 AM on October 26, 2012

I disagree that you should ask mutual friends. They will have as indirect a view of the situation as you do, and it could get back to your guy that you were talking about this to everyone except him.

I am not saying your guy is trying to manipulate or deceive you, but if I think someone is doing those things, I don't ask about it, I watch them. But if you're going to talk to anyone about this, talk to him. The way he answers will be revealing, except in the worst case scenario where he is a liar and a good one, and that also can only be handled by watching him.
posted by tel3path at 2:07 PM on October 27, 2012

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