I feel unable to participate in a normal, healthy dating relationship.
March 11, 2014 8:03 PM   Subscribe

I am 34 years old, and for the first time in my life, I am embarking on a 'normal' relationship. My insecurities are causing me extreme anxiety, and I'd like your stories and insight and tips on what I might be being realistic about, and what I'm not. Apologies for a long explanation inside.


1. I was married at 19 to a controlling man. He was kind, but very conservative in his values. He finally understood that we would not work, and while I basically just walked out on him one day, the divorce was amicable. We do not speak ill of each other, and he's since even apologized for not trying to rectify some of his actions: not prioritizing me over his immediate family, etc.

2. I come from a conservative South Asian culture that isolates and does not enable women to feel empowered or independent. After my divorce in 2007, I did not know how to emotionally be independent, and have spent the last few years trying to figure that out in the most difficult way possible...

3. ...a relationship with a man whose insecurities and ingrained bitterness and resentment ended up making me more co-dependent on him and feeling like if I was ever alone the world would end. This relationship ended when I also walked out on him (a month after we had moved in together). I could have handled that break-up better, so no excusing my behavior there. It was a three year relationship fraught with vengeful, ugly passive-aggression on both sides that left us both with deep regrets. We still care about each other's well-being but wouldn't touch each other with a ten-foot pole.

I spent a year after that dating casually and found myself most comfortable around men who my friends said were complete losers - when they were being kind. I'm good-looking, smart, very well-educated, well-spoken... quite the catch when my insane moments of insecurity-based jealousy aren't causing passive aggressive behavior. This was a repetitive occurrence in my relationship in #3. Granted, some of it was exacerbated by his own insecurities, but I do think that I'm self-aware enough to recognize my terrible flaws.

New guy (B) is well-adjusted, confident, smart, has lots of friends, very socially active. We've known each other for two months and got very comfortable very fast. He's naturally cautious, and while we are exclusive, we have no other labels.

I am insecure about the fact that I have close friends here, having recently moved to this city, and in the eight months I've been here have found that making friendships is very hard to do. I'm an introvert, and shy, and have often been mistaken for snotty when all it is is that I'm quiet. I do have friends that love me - they're just hundreds of miles away. B's extreme socialness makes me insecure that he'll see me as lacking - and a part of me is jealous that he seems to make friends so easily, and has so many. I've met some of them, and they all love me, and vice versa. This not-having-friends-and-why-is-it-so-hard-for-me-to-make-them issue is probably the biggest one tearing me apart right now. It means I have a lot of time on my hands, causes me to sit at home and overthink and worry about everything. I have signed up for various activities and meetups, but this new insecurity/ anxiety that I've developed has me paralyzed...

... and this is it. What has me almost in a panic is this sudden feeling that I am INCAPABLE of being in a normal relationship because I don't know how.

B was on vacation last week with his friends (a group of guys and girls, all of whom I know and trust). Yes, I was more than a little jealous that I couldn't go (it had been a trip organized before B and I met). On the first night there, B was super excited, missing me, and made the mistake of telling me that he was in some silly drinking game that involved him taking his pants off and putting some girl's bikini on, while touching noses with another girl. I KNOW I can trust him, and I know (and like) the girls involved. He even said he wished I was there because it was fun that he wanted to share with me - but I proceeded to be extremely passive-aggressive... for the REST OF THE WEEK. The scary part? It wasn't because I thought he'd do something stupid. Granted, part of me was a little concerned because I still don't know him well enough to know where his boundaries are with drinking games involving women, etc., and if I'd be comfortable with it. But really, it was because I was jealous and feeling left out because I wasn't there and he was having fun without me. He reached out to me a couple times, and when I responded in ultra-polite, dismissive tones, he shut down. He knew I was being passive-aggressive.

When he came back (he did bring me back a little present, took me to dinner his first night back) he told me how extremely annoyed I'd made him because he'd never been with someone so jealous/ sensitive/ passive-aggressive and he didn't like how it made him feel. I was slightly concerned that he didn't understand that part of my concern was because I didn't know what his boundaries are (he'd told me a girl did a body shot off him at a party while he was married - that, for example, is something that would make me flip out). It ended with him reiterating that nothing's changed, but this isn't behavior that he would be able to tolerate in a relationship. I know that he does really like me, because he's repeatedly said that he's never wanted to make time for someone in the two years since his divorce that he's been dating, and that I'm also the first girl in two years that has met his family (I have, they love me, and they are delightful). I'll also say that he dates a lot, but moves on very fast because he doesn't waste his time (or someone else's) if he sees what he calls 'red flags', so I'm surprised he hasn't already moved on.

I've finally met someone I enjoy being with. I want this to work out, and knowing that he's a well-adjusted individual makes me even more insecure about... my insecurities. A couple other things have happened in the span of two months that he brought up (his having female friends that he hangs out with one-on-one - which I am now more comfortable with after he made the effort to make me comfortable; and one occasion where he didn't want to show me a boat that he owns because it was dirty, and I got peeved about it because I know his other friends have seen it and been on it). It's too early for me to be doing this and for him to have to talk me off a ledge when it happens (his words). I'm terrified that he's going to walk away from me because I'm not cool enough, or I'm boring. And the crux of the problem is that my jealousy stems from me 'weighing' myself against others. Like, I don't want him to have fun without me. Or how come he went with a female friend to lunch and not me? Or how come he showed other people his boat but not me? It's irrational and stupid and I HATE myself for it.

Yes, I have begun therapy for this. But it would help me to know if there's ANY part of this that is legitimate early in dating someone. Has anyone else had such awful insecurities, and anxiety because of it, and has overcome this to build a successful relationship? Are there ways to deal with this panic I feel that I'm a self-fulfilling prophecy and that this relationship WILL fail because I can't keep my thoughts rational? I don't want to lose him, but if I do, I don't want the next guy to have to suffer the same consequences. I'm in a panic now because I feel like I'll be alone forever, that I drive people away because I'm too needy or clingy. Thank you for your insight, MeFites.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
He's making you feel like you need therapy for being pissed off that he's taking his pants off and hanging around with other women while they take off their bikinis. Which is a normal thing for a girlfriend to be pissed off about. He dates a lot, moves on very fast, does body shots while married, has other girlfriends, tells you he's not going to tolerate any jealousy... He sounds like a player and since you're so wound up already, he's doing a good job of it.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 8:20 PM on March 11, 2014 [23 favorites]

Suggested solution: continue to build your own, separate social life.

Some of your unease is just from your isolation because of the new city, not necessarily the result of some doomed pattern. Some of it s a difference in lifestyle preferences and sociability - but there s nothing wrong with your kind of quiet fun. And you know, he may be amazing, but he's also coming off a recent divorce and two years of casual, 'cautious' dating. He's got his own baggage. The body shots and boat thing would bother me too, and the limbo/testing ground of early labelless exclusivity is always a bit uncomfortable when you really like someone, because it's uncertain, but it sounds like he's set the terms.

On preview yup player.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:30 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your boyfriend should make you feel good about yourself, not bad. It doesn't sound like this is making you feel good, I'm sorry to say.

I would get out on the dating market and I think you'll find a lot more guys that you like that like you that won't take their pants off in social settings. I wouldn't love it if my boyfriend did that either, nor if he was touching noses with some girl in a bikini while he did it. So the guy I chose to date is just not that kind of guy. Choose another guy, one who shares more of your values.

Good luck. I'm sorry, I know and understand the feeling of not being able to be in a normal relationship. I was with an abuser for three years and it really changed me and now I am so much different in a romantic relationship - so much more cautious and afraid to be myself - that I really need to be careful about who I date and who I let in. I am not damaged goods but I am fragile - everybody is when they are vulnerable - and I deserve to be open only with those who value me and my fragility, despite and because of it.

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 8:43 PM on March 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

I was slightly concerned that he didn't understand that part of my concern was because I didn't know what his boundaries are

This is not weird or unhealthy of you at all!!!! Dude. It's outside the norm for a 35+ year old man to be playing drinking games involving face-to-face contact and swapping intimate garments with women. WAY outside the norm. When I say "the norm" I mean what's usual, common, and expected.

I feel like you're all turned around like you're not sure what's weird or not, so you feel like it's not okay for you to react to something weird as if it's weird and needs explanation.
posted by cairdeas at 8:51 PM on March 11, 2014 [16 favorites]

One part of your post makes me think immediately he isn't the catch you think he is.

When he came back (he did bring me back a little present, took me to dinner his first night back) he told me how extremely annoyed I'd made him because he'd never been with someone so jealous/ sensitive/ passive-aggressive and he didn't like how it made him feel.

Well, two aspects of this.

1. He took you to dinner to say this to you? What a manipulative mix of sweet-seeming and acrid.

2. If he were really well-adjusted, he would have said, "When you do , I feel ." This way of stating it describes your actions, not your character. Its language also forces him to be responsible for his own feelings and describe it as correlation, not (necessarily) causation. "

The way he said it is "You are and makes me ." No responsibility for self, and assaults your person.

For all we know, his 'red flags' are 'signs that she's not lurable into an abusive relationship.'

posted by batter_my_heart at 8:54 PM on March 11, 2014 [25 favorites]

You won't be alone forever, you're just dating an asshole. Stop dating that asshole, and you can be in a good relationship with someone who is not an asshole.
posted by xingcat at 9:01 PM on March 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

Hon, this guy baited you, and you fell for it.

The way he parties at his age? He's not at all normal or well adjusted! Sorry.

He's making you feel badly because I have suspicions about his "socialness" and the whole "you're the first girl since blah blah blah" thing.... Basically, that is EXACTLY the way controlling assholes start out with you. It's always your fault you're not "perfect" enough, isn't it?

Cut this loser out of your life. Learn to see the red flags he was throwing down so you don't get sucked in by similar shenanigans next time.

I mean, he put on a girl's bikini during a drinking game and was "nose to nose" with her and he thought you might find that funny?

No. Just, non, nyet, no, never, not, noooooo.

posted by jbenben at 9:02 PM on March 11, 2014 [14 favorites]

Yes also as cotton dress sock says it is imperative to get your own social life. Pick up some hobbies. Volunteer. Do things that will get you a busy calendar and social life.

I know that when I was with my controlling ex that I had pretty much no social life. I built my life around making sure that I knew what my ex's emotions were and thoughts were so that I could monitor whether or not he was going to start acting abusively. I paid so much attention to him... and that became a pattern for me. It's been unbelievably and incredibly difficult for me to break out of that pattern. I still do things sometimes, obsessive and excessive things, to try and monitor my new boyfriend, who has not a shred of abuse or control in his body. And when I do these things I feel bad, and so I try to be kind to myself about them and not beat myself up, but also recognize that the outcome of the behavior is not even pleasant. That can act in the future as an incentive, when I want to do the "crazy" thing - I remind myself that the last time I did it I felt bad.

I guess perhaps you might want to think about paying attention to how your behavior that you describe as passive-aggressive - how do those actions make you feel? Maybe some other things would feel better? Things like taking a walk or drinking tea or calling a friend or ...

And that is where having your own friends and your own support system comes in. I've often found myself too busy to worry or wonder what my boyfriend is up to at any given moment. It is a security that comes from being very solid and confident with myself and my life. I think that would do wonders for you too. Having your own activities and interests and your own life that is separate from a boyfriend gives you two things: you're too busy to be anxious when you're not together, and you'll be more confident and happy with yourself and the idea of ending up alone forever really won't sound all that horrible after all, because you'll like yourself - truly like yourself.
posted by sockermom at 9:03 PM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm not going to comment on the sea worthiness of this boat owning dude at all. Just point out that regardless of whether this works out in the long term, it's currently exposing (TO YOU, and ONLY YOU) the potential personality fault lines. This is the consequence of being in your first relationship with a relatively non-fucked up/not a loser type person. In those prior relationships, these flaws are often hidden, or relatively minor compared to the other's. But hey guess what? You will have to confront them sooner or later, and this seeming ideal dude is only the vessel for revealing all the rest of the work you have to do to put yourself together internally.
On the whole, I'd call it a positive that you can identify and see where you want to change. Now you can work on that, plus or minus this guy in your life.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:08 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh no, formatting mishap! To make my post legible:

One part of your post makes me think immediately he isn't the catch you think he is.

When he came back (he did bring me back a little present, took me to dinner his first night back) he told me how extremely annoyed I'd made him because he'd never been with someone so jealous/ sensitive/ passive-aggressive and he didn't like how it made him feel.

Well, two aspects of this.

1. He took you to dinner to say this to you? What a manipulative mix of sweet-seeming and acrid.

2. If he were really well-adjusted, he would have said, "When you do X-action , I feel Y-adjective." This way of stating it describes your actions, not your character. Its language also forces him to be responsible for his own feelings and describe it as correlation, not (necessarily) causation. "

The way he said it is "You are X-characteristic and makes me Y-adjective." No responsibility for self, and assaults your person.

For all we know, his 'red flags' are 'signs that she's not lurable into an abusive relationship.'
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:11 PM on March 11, 2014

"For all we know, his 'red flags' are 'signs that she's not lurable into an abusive relationship."

Repeated for truth.
posted by jbenben at 9:13 PM on March 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

It's irrational and stupid and I HATE myself for it.

Buddy! You don't ever need to feel this way. Let's unpack this for a moment.

It's irrational

Actually it's not. It's not irrational to ask a simple question like that. There may be a simple answer - but having the thought and wondering about it is completely rational, normal, and even necessary. Being mad and passive aggressive about it might not be rational, but you have some insecurities that are causing you to feel this way, and that's okay - you just need to work through them.

and stupid

Not stupid! Quite the opposite. It's normal to be curious about your boyfriend's behaviors, relationships and friendships. You don't have to be part of them, but I know who my boyfriend is friends with, and why he is friends with them, and what he likes to do. I don't have to go along for everything but I do think I am a better girlfriend because I understand what he likes to do when I'm not around, it helps me get him better gifts, help him to make suggestions for things to do to relax when he's stressed, etc. It's all part of being his friend.

and I HATE myself for it.

You deserve to work through this. Your feelings are real and valid and have absolutely no bearing on your worth or value as a person. You are in control of your actions, but the more you recognize and honor your feelings and your right to them, the less likely you are to act out in a way that makes you feel bad later.

Beyond that, any person who is going to make you feel ashamed of your feelings is NOT someone you should have in your life.

All that said, it doesn't necessarily sound to me like this man is an asshole, he just might not be the right one for you. You can and should examine that and be very honest with yourself. Is his footloose and fancy free attitude with the ladies going to constantly poke you in your insecurities? My money's on yes. Is he likely to turn the tables on you when he steps outside of your comfort zone and make you feel like you did something bad or wrong simply by feeling uncomfortable? My money is also on yes.

But that's my read on your post - not on the reality of the situation. I would advise you to look at your new relationship from that angle and really evaluate.

But above everything else, give yourself a great big mental hug and take yourself out for ice cream. Remember that you are a beautiful and valuable and lovable person and that your feelings are precious and to be protected. By your boyfriend, but also by you.
posted by pazazygeek at 9:17 PM on March 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

and made the mistake of telling me that he was in some silly drinking game that involved him taking his pants off and putting some girl's bikini on, while touching noses with another girl.

Um, this is just weird. It's not weird of you to be bothered by this, it was weird of him to do.... like, at all, whether he was in a relationship or not, frankly.

So, I mean, I think the only thing you did wrong here was doing whatever it was that you call being passive-aggressive, instead of just saying, "Wait, WTF? You did *what*, babe?"
posted by Asparagus at 9:25 PM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would focus on you, your social circle, your interests, etc. All positive selfish things. It is the first time in my life, at 34 also, that I am truly doing that. You have got to love you, be confident, before you can really have a strong relationship or help the ones you love through their tough times (for me my parents come to mind with regard to the latter). The romantic relationship I currently am in I plan to stay in and not make any decisions until I am ready, because I am making so many other life changes right now. It is just easier. for now. I will make some changes later maybe.... we will see.

I hear a lot of myself in what you wrote.

It is tough out there with guys. I am cautious and worried all the time. You might want to sit him down and tell him 'hey this is where I am at..here's everything about me, and talk about all that you wrote above. Honesty, to a point, does help.

My guy is controlling because he dreams or conceives of situations to be one way in his head, when in reality with people involved, things are very different. He doesn't do it maliciously, so maybe your guy isn't either. I think it is some blend of self-protection, fear, and trying to do what is comfortable for them. Who knows I could be very wrong?
posted by Jewel98 at 9:27 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

"We've known each other for two months and got very comfortable very fast. He's naturally cautious, and while we are exclusive, we have no other labels."

I would not call this comfortable. Well, it sounds very comfortable for him. From what little I understand about all this, I do not believe you are in a normal, healthy, dating relationship. If you were, it would feel different. Even if he has done nothing malicious toward you, it is not possible to make a relationship work by beating up on yourself. To me his actions toward you sound manipulative and pretty profoundly unloving. If you are like me, perhaps the problem is that you settle for this kind of treatment instead of believing that you deserve something better.
posted by macinchik at 9:29 PM on March 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

This guy may or may not be a player but what's important is your reaction. I think that's what's worrying you and yes, you are probably right to be concerned. This early in a relationship when you don't like the way the other person parties or acts around other women or whatever the right thing to do is bring it up. Calmly describe your concerns.And then listen to what they say. If you're happy enough with it, and think things will be better moving forward let it go for now. If you're not, say your goodbyes and take yourself on home and don't date them anymore.

Basically it's on you to be able to rationally assess the situation and make a decision to stay or not for your own happiness. Trying to manipulate the other person or getting overly attached to someome in a very new relationship and acting like they owe you more than they think they do? That way madness lies. Whether they are the nicest person ever or a huge player, doesn't matter.

You can't control other people but you can control you.
posted by fshgrl at 9:44 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you're definitely being influenced by your own shame at not having made new close friends yet. But to my perspective, the way you are being influenced is somewhat different from how you're seeing it.

You know you are feeling shame and insecurity about the friends thing and that may be true.

However, you believe that your negative feelings about this bikini episode are due to your insecurity about the friends thing.

I think because you know you have some insecurities, you may be chalking up ALL your negative feelings to your insecurities, and telling yourself that you are just the insecure one who isn't able to have a normal healthy relationship, while he is the normal and healthy one who is just being his normal and healthy self.

And that's not how it sounds to me at all. I think his behavior is weird and surprising and line-pushing for someone who has agreed to be in a sexually exclusive relationship. I think it would surprise and give negative feelings to most people who have started a new relationship in which they have agreed to monogamy, and monogamy is their preference.

It's okay for you to be surprised and caught off guard by surprising and weird behavior. So you got surprised and didn't react like the Dalai Lama. That's okay, and it doesn't make you broken or incapable of having a normal healthy relationship. Actually you recognized something bothered you, and tried to indicate that you were not okay with it. That's a healthy and good thing. You just didn't do it in the most optimal way because you don't have tons of practice in deliberately thinking about and figuring out what is the optimal way for you yet. But I think you will figure it out for yourself and pick it up fast enough, I don't think it's something that takes people like years to practice.

Maybe the next time you get surprised by weird and bad feelings, can you step out of the situation to collect yourself? Get off the phone, go to the bathroom for a minute, or whatever. That gives you some space to really think about how you're feeling, and what is giving you those feelings. It gives you a chance to think of how to respond, exactly what you want to say in order to communicate your feelings, and what to ask for, if anything.
posted by cairdeas at 12:05 AM on March 12, 2014 [7 favorites]

Sorry to spam. My last comment.

I was once in a relationship where I felt jealous like all of the time. Girls were throwing themselves at him and flirting with him all the time, sometimes in ways that were deeply disrespectful or even outrightly hostile to me, and he never stopped it, and said I was imagining things. This guy was also a partier and enjoyed getting wasted all night with a bunch of really young scene chicks, while I was just not interested at all, and I was treated like there was something wrong with me for that.

I was also told by a variety of people at the time that I just needed to stop being jealous and he wasn't doing anything wrong. That I just needed to trust him rein in my jealousy or I would drive him away, etc. Well I tried, and I tried, and I tried. By the end, I was miserable and upset like all of the time.

And it did get into my head, because I was thinking, maybe it is me. Maybe I won't ever be able to have a happy relationship because I am super jealous and maybe his behavior was normal behavior that I should expect from anyone.

And then after a while, I met someone and began dating them, and it was ... a normal relationship. An actual, real normal relationship. Where there were no girls throwing themselves at him. And there were no drunk 20 year olds hanging out all night. And there were no weird phone calls and texts always coming up. He did none of those things. Because he was normal! And I never felt jealous. Because, apparently, I was normal too. And - maybe this is the most important thing ... he never made me feel like there was something wrong with me or I wasn't good enough to him. Not by word, not by deed. And I didn't feel like there was anything wrong with him either, or anything off about the situation.

Being with someone who doesn't think there is anything wrong with you is like the greatest relief. It's like finally relaxing your shoulders when you hadn't even realized they were all tensed up to your ears.

It's just something to think about, whether or not it's worth it to stay in a relationship with someone who believes you don't measure up in some way. And whether or not you would necessarily have the same "issues" in any situation.

Sometimes, also, when you look at these people, and what their relationships before you were like, and what the relationships after you end up like, you can get more of an idea of whether it's you or not.
posted by cairdeas at 12:34 AM on March 12, 2014 [23 favorites]

On the first night there, B was super excited, missing me, and made the mistake of telling me that he was in some silly drinking game that involved him taking his pants off and putting some girl's bikini on, while touching noses with another girl.

Why's it a 'mistake'? Don't you think you have a right to know about your boyfriend playing underwear-swapping games with someone else, even (especially!) if it's something he's fine with in relationships and you're not?

Alternative interpretation: B threw this in to the conversation to see what your reaction would be, and had the follow-up dinner conversation to see if he could get you to blame your own insecurities for not liking it. See also: casual mention of doing body-shots with another girl while married. See also: arbitrary (and weird) refusal to let you see this boat when his friends had, then complaining about having to talk you down from a ledge(?!) when your reaction is anything other than 'but of course, sweetheart!'

He can have whatever boundaries he wants for what is/isn't okay in his relationships - some people would be fine with bikini-swapping games and body shots. Likewise, he is allowed to object to passive-aggressive behaviour from you. But it is not a great sign that instead of having a direct discussion with you himself about what you were/weren't okay with, he dropped this bikini thing casually into another conversation, then when you made it clear you weren't happy he made it all about your insecurities and what he was prepared to accept from you.

Just because someone's testing you, doesn't mean the test is one you should try to pass.
posted by Catseye at 1:35 AM on March 12, 2014 [16 favorites]

I can relate to some of the things you wrote about. Early on in my relationship, I felt like my SO had a much more vibrant and varied social life than I did. I struggled with jealousy and envy when I would hear about fun stuff he did without me, especially if there were other females present.

I think a huge difference between our experiences is that when I confessed to feeling insecure, jealous and envious, he made an effort to help me feel better by encouraging me to expand my own social circles, befriend his female friends, and include me in future fun stuff. He didn't try to make me feel bad about the way I felt, which is what it sounds like this guy did when you say "he told me how extremely annoyed I'd made him because he'd never been with someone so jealous/ sensitive/ passive-aggressive." Ouch.

I think people have their own ideas about what/if there's an age at which one must hang up their bikini and put the kabosh to body shots, but I think he's made it clear that regardless of what your opinion is on the topic, he's going to keep touching noses with somebody else's bikini on.
posted by gumtree at 3:04 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think this guy is both insecure and controlling; he's just figured out a way to mask it. But it seems pretty clear that he's comfortable being with a partner who is kept off balance by his behavior and he likes to make everything about how you respond to stuff, not about what he does. He's not accidentally telling you about the bikini thing, he's telling you on purpose. And I daresay that if you become OK with what he's doing now, he'll start doing things that are just that little bit worse.

If I were you, I would drop "passive-aggressive" from my vocabulary and see how that makes you frame things. I don't think you are being passive-aggressive; I think you are responding, not only naturally, but even in the way he is trying to get you to respod.
posted by BibiRose at 7:20 AM on March 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yes, plenty of people have overcome their issues to have successful relationships. If you were my sister, I would tell you to not date for a while, do the therapy, do the self-work, get healthier, get more self confidence and poise and self love.

There is a certain subset of people who will latch on to those with.. mm, less than good boundaries. They then run rampant over said people, and then they become the subjects of Lifetime movies. Not saying your guy is this way (but the other commenters do make a lot of points I agree with) A sometimes scary truth is, you attract people with the same amount of issues/baggage that you have. The good news is, the healthier and more self-loving you are, the healthier and more self-loving your dates will be.

Do you need to work on yourself? Absolutely. Do you need to do it while dating this guy (who I labeled fratbro-man child in my mind. I love MY group of wo/man-children, but I don't date them or get involved in their drama/shenanigans)
...well, you have to make that call.
posted by Jacen at 7:43 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

He shouldn't have compared you to his prior partners, that's not fair at all. I have a feeling his ex-wife wasn't too keen on him doing body shots with other women either. My negative interpretation is that he was testing to see if you'd be fine with him leaving you for a week while he parties, not good.

You are capable of being in a healthy relationship. Your ability to reflect on your feelings and behaviours, see a therapist, and leave unhealthy relationships means you are going to be fine. Keep working out how you feel about different boundaries in therapy and on your own, and then don't be afraid to ask for them from a partner (whether it's this one or a future one). It sounds like your current guy may want more freedom interacting with other women than you would like. This has nothing to do with your past relationships, or "terrible flaws". Don't be so hard on yourself, and don't let the men you date use your past against you, you didn't do anything wrong by being in those bad relationships. Don't be afraid of breaking up with this guy if your gut is telling you it's not a healthy relationship.

Moving past the current guy, I think you need to focus on building connections and friendships outside of his circle. It's not easy being introverted trying to make new friends but you can do it. Hopefully someone else will have more advice in that regard, I'm very extroverted in new situations so find it easy to smile at people and strike up conversations. My childhood/best friends are in another city and I only get to see them a few times a year, but I have made friendships in my present city that are really wonderful and good for me even though they will never feel like the relationships I've had for 20+ years now.

It's really hard being alone, and a quote I read recently that I liked was (paraphrasing) "people are terrified of the hole they sense inside them and will do anything to fill it, but with mindfulness they can realize that it's not a hole but a great spaciousness". Self work and therapy will help you with that.
posted by lafemma at 7:56 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

here are five things that i think would likely be useful to you:

1. leaving this guy and his player ways and giving yourself some emotional peace and quiet
2. your own social circle full of people you are not dating or considering dating, people who have a hobby or interest in common with you, or people who are in your proximity/line of work, basically friendships that continue to exist and can be maintained No Matter How Your Love Life Goes
3. therapy to build self esteem + unlearn passive aggression + learn how to state your needs in a direct way so you can sort through potential matches to find someone who is a good fit for you
4. taking some time to be purposefully single & reflect on what your ideal relationship looks like, what your boundaries are, etc., and to learn to listen to your instincts about things more (your instincts are right)
5. some practice spending time alone with yourself until it's less stressful and more of a relief (meditation, prayer, etc.)

to be clear i think this situation is stressful because of the guy's behavior not because you are incapable of having a "normal" relationship. you sound pretty self aware and intelligent and grown up and concerned about being a good person to me.
posted by zdravo at 10:07 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I used to be insanely jealous and insecure. My ex husband helped me deal with some of that. He knew where it came from and that it was not about him per se and he was supportive in some important ways. I remained jealous and possessive with him because of a lot of things that were not handled well in the relationship. A later relationship cured me of that tendency.

I have come to believe that, insecurity and baggage or not, jealousy in one person tends to indicate the other person is probably not doing right by them in some way.

I would not necessarily have been angry at not being shown the boat, but knowing that other people have seen it would have indicated to me that I was being rejected in some manner. I would have interpreted it pretty negatively.

Something that helped me during my divorce and still helps me: I am bluntly honest with people who seem romantically interested in me. I try to just be me and not try to frame things specifically to appeal to them. And then I let the chips fall where they may. That might be useful to you. If letting him know x behavior upsets you "drives him off" instead of resulting in more considerate behavior, I would view that as a good thing. I would not put up with what you have described and I don't know why you think this guy represents a "normal" relationship. It doesn't sound normal to me.
posted by Michele in California at 11:13 AM on March 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

[This is a followup from the asker.]
In my state of high emotion yesterday, I may not have made some things clear, and I feel bad that I have painted him in an unsavory light.

To clarify:

1. On the issue of other female friends, he doesn’t have many. Maybe 3-4, and they’ve been friends for a very long time. When he first told me about them, and I expressed concern about him hanging out one on one with them (my own friends told me I shouldn’t have done this, as I have similar friendships with guys and this is perfectly normal), his first question was, ‘What can I do to make you more comfortable with them?’. These female friends (and he obviously doesn’t differentiate between male/ female friends) helped him through his divorce, just like his male friends did. He values his friendships, wants me to meet ALL his friends (has already introduced me to many of them) and when he does hang out with a female friend alone, it’s always at lunch and never in an ‘intimate’ (for lack of a better word) setting.

2. On not showing me the boat, he immediately explained why it is that he didn’t when I said I was peeved. To his credit, I’d been ON the boat several times, just never the bow. He didn’t give me a ‘tour’ of the whole boat because his engines are being repaired and he hadn’t been able to take the boat out to get it cleaned. He was self-conscious about showing someone he’d just met his ‘dirty’ boat… he lives on it. The day after we had that conversation, he invited me over, did whatever he could to clean it up, and we had a lovely dinner on the boat. I’d been in his bedroom, and hung out with him most everywhere else on the boat.

3. We talked last night, again. The pants off/ bikini story turned out to be relatively innocent: no one was naked, and they’d worn each other’s clothes on top of the clothes they already had on. As I mentioned in the post, I know this group of people. We’re all a bunch of nerdy scientists, and many of the group that went on the trip are couples. The girl whose bikini top he put on is married, I went to school with her, and her husband was there as well (he wore my dude’s rugby shorts as part of the ‘rules’ of this drinking game).

4. B apologized for his reaction to my passive aggressiveness, and said when he told me that drinking game story, he was merely trying to be honest. He also apologized for being on edge at dinner when he returned, and said he understood why I was upset. He said the magnitude of his annoyance startled him, and he freaked out a little when he understood why that was. He’d finally met someone he wanted to spend a lot of the time with, and this feeling was new to him. When his marriage ended, it had felt like the end of the world, and it had taken him a long time to get to where he was and value his freedom, his independence and enjoy being alone. Now, having met me, he said he’s ready for relationship, ready to be vulnerable again… but that taking that first step towards it was admittedly difficult. He said talking things through with me helped, and that he was glad this misunderstanding happened because it meant that we were trying to understand each other, learning to communicate/ manage disagreements, and in general, figuring out if we were compatible together. I knew he’d been missing me when he sent me a picture of some monkeys he’d seen on a roof while on the trip and my passive-aggressive response had been ‘Neat.’ He had wanted me to be excited for him that he’d seen monkeys because I knew how excited he’d been about it before he left. And THIS is the kind of behavior I’ve displayed all my life that I regret.

5. The body shots while married – I was mistaken. He plays rugby, and oftentimes the parties the boys go to can get raucous. The wives and girlfriends I’ve met are cool women/ girls and they trust their men on these trips, for the most part. I like that he’s athletic, and he’s made an effort to take me to games (he also plays soccer and ice hockey) and introduce me to his rugby mates. The body shot incident was at a party when he’d been dating a girl and his friends had had some random girl do a body shot off him. He said he was embarrassed, he told his then-date about it, and nothing like that ever happened again.

He texts me every night that we’re not together (we see each other 3-5 times a week). He’s a perfect gentleman, makes every effort to make me feel wanted, to plan fun things, and to introduce me to the various people in his life that he spends the most time with. On the other hand, he definitely lets his guard down when he drinks (and yes, I worry about possible disrespect, but never infidelity), can be very impatient at times, is definitely easily annoyed and overbooks himself with various activities ALL the time – his flaws that I’ve identified and he’s acknowledged unequivocally, and is actively making an effort to change the latter.

Thank you, MeFites, for your input. I do understand that I need to work on building my own social circle in this new city of mine. Your comments also confirmed one major concern/ observation about B that I’ve had for a while – a lot of his current ‘sociability’ might just be baggage or escape. He was dirt poor all through college and had to work to put himself through school. He then got married, and worked to pay the bills for himself and his ex-wife, who was in grad school (this was what I heard from a mutual friend, not him). He probably feels like he missed out on much of the ‘college’ experience, and tends to hang out with friends quite a bit younger than himself. I do see his insecurities. Then again, I had a similar experience. Take-home message: he and I have a lot of learning to do about each other, our boundaries and our compatibility. On an individual level, I have to work on myself. Thanks again for helping me put my thoughts in perspective.
posted by cortex at 12:15 PM on March 12, 2014

From your explanation of his 'baggage' it sounds like you might be justifying his behavior because of his past. One lesson that took me a looooong time to learn is that even if someone has reasons for a type of jerky behavior (i.e. he has had a hard life, was divorced, etc) it is not a free pass to be a jerk.

After you hit a certain age - 18? 21? - it is no longer acceptable to poop on other people just because you were pooped on. There are lots of people who have wounds in their past who deal with them and still treat other people kindly. They're much more fun to date.

Work with a therapist on setting your own boundaries. I would feel uncomfortable dating someone who questioned my honest reaction to the scenario you described, blamed me for it, and then later blamed his actions on his past. If it becomes a pattern, protect yourself.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 12:27 PM on March 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

In light of your follow-up remarks: I will add that my ex husband was wonderful about dealing with my sexual jealousy, which was rooted in being molested and raped as a kid, and he helped me let some of that go (someone else helped me let the rest of it go). But he was truly terrible about making me feel insanely jealous of his many hobbies. Why? Because they very clearly mattered more to him than I did, got more of his time and attention, he was much more genuinely interested in them, etc.

I had zero worries that he would be unfaithful. When he called me in a panic while deployed to the Middle East to say "Don't believe the rumors! There's lots of talk and some men are doing that, but I am not!" I laughed at him and said "They would have to supply me photographic evidence. You are not the type." So when I say that if you are jealous, you are probably being mistreated in some way, I do not remotely mean sexual infidelity has to have anything to do with it. I was jealous of my ex's hobbies and his career, because I took a back seat to those things and he really wasn't doing right by me. They were far more important to him than I was.

It was soul sucking to be treated that way. I spent years trying to "spend time" with him, accommodate his interests, etc etc etc. It simply was not possible for me to get his attention. He always had some excuse. This was a factor in the decision to divorce. My jealousy of him had nothing at all to do with concerns of sexual infidelity. It had to do with him failing to meet my needs and shorting me in some important ways. I think that is the root of so called jealousy. It isn't about what he does with other people. It is about what he isn't giving you. If your needs were met, you very likely would not care what he did when you are apart.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 12:53 PM on March 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

"Normal" is such a relative term in relationships, and what is acceptable to one person (how much time to spend together, when to meet outside friends and family, and, yes, how much flirtation/touching/interaction with others is tolerated) may not be to someone else. What is normal and healthy, though, is for you to expect to be on the same page as your partner about these things.

It's okay for him to want to play dumb drinking games, and it's okay for you to want to be included. What you need to figure out is if those two things can be compatible. Can you be comfortable with his lifestyle, or are you going to be pushing down jealousy after every outing without you? If he gives some of that up, are you going to feel beholden to him, that he has made sacrifices for you? Are you going to be passive-agressive and provoke a fight because you assume he is holding a grudge?

Don't let your fear of chasing him away keep you from asking yourself (and him! communicate!) these questions. You need to feel secure in the foundations of the relationship before you can take things any further.
posted by assenav at 11:39 PM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

assenav: "Normal" is such a relative term in relationships, and what is acceptable to one person (how much time to spend together, when to meet outside friends and family, and, yes, how much flirtation/touching/interaction with others is tolerated) may not be to someone else. What is normal and healthy, though, is for you to expect to be on the same page as your partner about these things.

This is exactly right. There is nothing wrong with you for feeling jealous, and there is nothing wrong with him being annoyed at your level of sensitivity. If your relationship is going to continue, you will need to begin to come together on what you both feel comfortable with. It will probably involve some compromise on both your parts, and it may be a bit of a bumpy road as you try and find a happy medium, but you shouldn't be so down on yourself about your feelings, and you shouldn't be so despondent about the future of your relationship based on this one instance of incompatibility. It's not possible for two adults to be 100% compatible on sight, so cut both of you some slack.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:49 AM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

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