Accepting myself while also being too sensitive about my relationship
March 13, 2019 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Coming into queerness, body positivity, social media insecurity, and figuring out where that all lands for my relationship.

It's taken a while and therapy, but I'm coming into accepting my queerness (mid 20s cis bi/queer woman) and my own body. I'm starting to enjoy looking at my body too! I'm also in a long term relationship with a wonderful (cishet man) partner whom I live with. I'm not going to wax poetic about all the reasons why he's great, because I already am aware of those things, and am here to ask for advice. So please trust me that there's many reasons why I am with him.

I've been open to him about my journey/struggle with my sexual identity and have mentioned that I'm not sure if I would want to explore that side, but if I did, I would understand if that wouldn't be sitting well with him since he's very much monogamous and not comfortable with open relationships. However, he has voiced multiple times that he would be comfortable and happy for me if I wanted to explore relationships with women (as this is what I have been primarily always curious about and have discussed at length with my therapist) within the confines of our relationship. I haven't taken up this offer because I haven't met any other women who I'm interested in casually dating. And of course, we check in if this would ever happen, but I don't really have a desire to seek out anyone else besides him right now. My therapist also assures me that even if I never have sex with another woman, I am still bi. I can still identify as that and it doesn't take away from that identity. I think for a while I was hung up on some notion that because I hadn't dated or had intimate relations with someone other than a het male, that I wasn't actually queer, despite my attractions.

Anyways. There are those who like to look into history and you might see that a year or so ago I had issues with my partners following explicit accounts on IG. We have since worked through that, he keeps his own private account, and I have thought about why I was so bothered. I also really confused the shit out of myself because I was both insecure, attracted to some of these women, and then felt confused because I was both attracted and comparing myself as "not good enough" to these women. My old therapist and I also worked through this and I drew boundaries for myself! And also realized that that's not super strange. Yay.

Fast forward to now, my partner is a graduate student and a teaching assistant. He often works with students and a lot of them are very attractive (I think so too myself, and feel comfortable saying that to myself where before I might have tried to push that thought away. I had a very religious upbringing.) Unfortunately, the social media insecurity creeps back in because again on IG, I randomly found (in the Explore page of "people your friends follow") that he is following many of his female students and liking pictures where they might be in less clothing. I want to say that I'm not wrong for being bothered by this because...well, these are people he interacts with nearly daily. And he's also in a position of authority over them. But I can't help but think maybe this is the same case where, as my therapist reminds me, we all are attracted to people outside our relationship! I am! (Have y'all seen Megan Thee Stallion? My goodness.) And I find myself finding some of his students attractive, although I would not follow them on social media. But that makes us not much different? I find myself confused because we probably are attracted to the same women, but I'm the one feeling insecure about it.

Another complicating factor is that I am now coming into being comfortable with myself and my body. I've started doing roller derby and suddenly I feel powerful! I love what my body can do. One thing I've always wanted to do is be able to show off my body, whether through clothing or through posting pictures on a private or anonymous social media account. One of my friends recently started her own private account for fun, another started a body positivity/fat acceptance account, and other is just big into fitness, so she often posts her post-workout pictures. Everyone seems to be proud of their body and aren't afraid to share it whether fully clothed or less clothed. I was inspired to try this myself (the latter. Again, religious upbringing meant shame when showing off just a little bit of cleavage.) I've never had issue with porn, and when I think about why I was bothered at the IG cam girl accounts my partner followed, I think it might have been a mix of envy and WHY would you do this on your public account that you use daily and your mama can see who you follow and like?? But I...have also wanted to try this myself.

When I brought it up to my partner, he was very against it. He said I can of course do what I want, but he would be very uncomfortable, even if I never showed my face. A few months ago, my friend and I joked about selling panties anonymously (we were strapped for extra cash at the time, but mostly not serious about it) and he was upset after that. Understandable. I guess I don't get why he's ok with seeing half naked pictures of people he personally knows (like his students) but not me. Well, actually no, I do get it in some senses, and I would want to respect his wishes and not make him uncomfortable. Is there any safe way to get this desire out for myself? Or just one of those things I should give up?

I feel like I'm all over the place. I'm still trying to figure myself out. I am also looking for a new therapist as I'm in a new area. I'll sum up my questions as:
-How do I work on my own insecurities about my partner's students?
-How do I wrestle with both feeling inferior (constantly comparing) but also very attracted to women? I don't have this issue with male-presenting people.
-Can I safely work out the desire to show off my body and respect my partner's wishes? I know my partner loves my body, now I love it too, and have this desire to just be proud and experiment with it. I would love to do one of those boudoir shoots and was contacted by a fellow queer woman who is a photographer. I could keep the photos just for me, but part of me really wants to share it with others. I would be happy to contribute to the world of more queer, POC, thicker women because I rarely saw that in my own social media feed growing up. But maybe this is an awful or stupid idea. If so, please talk me out of it.

Thanks in advance.
posted by socky bottoms to Human Relations (38 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
on IG, I randomly found (in the Explore page of "people your friends follow") that he is following many of his female students and liking pictures where they might be in less clothing. I want to say that I'm not wrong for being bothered by this because...well, these are people he interacts with nearly daily. And he's also in a position of authority over them.

I'm sorry, but your partner is a creep and the odds he will remain faithful to you long-term are virtually nil. This is not a matter of your insecurities. Well, your insecurities are probably playing a supporting role, but your ethical intuition is 100% correct. Best practice is not even to follow your students on social media. I doubt this is strongly enforced at the university level, but the rationale still applies.

You have the "right" to share boudoir shots with whomever (consenting) you like, but, in addition to the likely other consequences of putting any personal intimate material on line (which I think you should give more thought to!), it will almost certainly torch the relationship.

My advice would be to go find some nice queer ladies who will love your beautiful body for what it is.
posted by praemunire at 8:57 AM on March 13 [37 favorites]


Ah, a follow up question. I'm glad my intuition isn't wrong! Although I'm still really confused on how to feel about the following people he's attracted to (plus his students.) I get mixed messages from friends, poly folk, those older and wiser than me, and some of the messages are "Please get over yourself, you and your partner will be attracted to other people and interacting with them is not a sin!" vs my own I'm-bothered-by-this-feeling. Even searching questions on Metafilter, many of the answers skew to it being healthy to have a crush and as long as your partner is not cheating, this is normal behavior. How do I make this make sense?
posted by socky bottoms at 9:21 AM on March 13


I realize I come from a different perspective than most people because I think that monogamy is controlling and creepy in itself. But even within the confines of monogamy, it is SUPER controlling for a partner to expect you to limit how you present your body to the outside world. If he's uncomfortable with it, that's his job to work out, and he shouldn't be making his discomfort your problem.

Following students on social media is unprofessional; liking their scantily clad photos verges on sexual harassment. This particular dude is a creeper, and his general creepiness might be why you are uncomfortable with this. (Or maybe you would be anyway, because of toxic monogamy culture that teaches us to always feel inferior to any other women our partners notice, but I think it's even more common to feel insecure in relationships that aren't quite right to start with. His willingness to "let" you hook up with women but not men is another possible indication of this, to be honest.)
posted by metasarah at 9:29 AM on March 13 [22 favorites]


There are different schools of thought on that. Leaving out the teacher-student relationship, my opinion is that, if you are monogamously partnered and develop a crush on someone, you don't have to sever all relations, but you should be careful to avoid doing things or getting into situations that increase your intimacy (or can be reasonably read as bidding to do so). Liking the half-naked Instagram pics is pretty borderline in that situation; I wouldn't do it, but that's a risk assessment. Some people might call it harmless flirting.

However. There is no harmless flirting with your students. A TA who finds himself attracted to his students should be doubly cautious to avoid anything that is or looks like an invitation to impropriety. If he doesn't...he's a creep getting off on the power imbalance. There's a fundamental character issue that you won't be able to fix with your attitude or even with trying to set boundaries.
posted by praemunire at 9:33 AM on March 13 [26 favorites]


Everyone has different standards/comfort levels around social media use, and I don’t think either of you are wrong (although I wouldn’t be crazy about my boyfriend acting so thirsty online).

There’s a lot going on in your question, but for me the crux of the matter, and what I think you need to try to unpack with your partner, is:

Why is him following attractive women and liking sexy pictures fine and something you should feel comfortable with, but you can’t present yourself in the same way or recreate the pictures that are apparently harmless?

Because I can only think of 3 reasons, neither of them good:
- he doesn’t want other men to look at you in the same way he looks at pictures of other girls (implying he feels something stronger than a causal ‘she’s hot, nice’, scroll on)
- Related, you’re ‘his’, and other men lusting after you is disrespectful to him
- OR, while he enjoys pictures of these girls on IG, he wouldn’t want to date one, and expects his girlfriend to behave more modestly in public than the women he finds good enough to have sex with, but not to date. He would respect you less if you reflected his own desires. Meaning he’s got some misogynistic Madonna/whore stuff going on.

I think we can all pick up so much from the culture without realising it and I don’t necessarily think he’s a controlling misogynist who thinks you’re his property, but there is inconsistency and hypocrisy in his behaviour, and I think you need to talk about that with him.
posted by Dwardles at 9:51 AM on March 13 [10 favorites]


A couple of things:

Your partner likes looking at pictures of women in revealing clothes, but is against you posting the kinds of pictures he likes to look at. This does not sound like wonderful partner behavior. It sounds creepy and shitty, like he clearly knows he is not treating these other women with the respect he wants you treated with. The issue of him following his students' accounts is him being inappropriate because of the power relationship inherent to the situation.

You are absolutely bi, and lots of bi folks are monogamous. You are valid, you are enough, you are still bi no matter who you are with (unless you decide you are something else, which is up to you).

With regard to the possibility of exploring your sexuality with other women, please do not treat another woman in a way you would not want to be treated. Don't expect her to be your dirty little secret, or to be okay with you telling your partner all about what you two are doing together. Talk to her about what she needs from the situation rather than making assumptions. Your partner sounds like the kind of guy who will be okay with you hooking up with other women because it's not "real" enough to him for him to find it threatening, which is not a cool thing to expect a third party to be okay with.

I'm really glad that you're finding yourself and I wish you all the best.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:51 AM on March 13 [15 favorites]


“he is following many of his female students and liking pictures where they might be in less clothing.”

This is way not ok. It’s being muddied by a whole bunch of other (important!) stuff, but as you can see from the answers zeroing in on it - this really stands out and is not ok.

There are many many threads on the blue about how this kind of behavior ends up excluding and harming women academics. It contributes to a hostile learning and working environment. The cumulative effects lead to fewer women leaders and scientists and tenured professors. He is engaging in unacceptable behavior. He’s in a position of power and needs to be drawing a sharp line between his professional and personal lives, and he is not. Quick reality check - is he following and similarly engaging with male students? No? Yeah, that’s what I thought. He’s in a position where lots of younger women need to be nice and cater to him.

I want to come back to the Super Grossness of him having a “one penis” policy and how that means he doesn’t view women as comeptition or queer relationships as real. But look - he already doesn’t view women as equals or he wouldn’t be engaging with female students on IG like that. I believe you that there are good things about him. But he has a long way to come in terms of thinking women are people.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:51 AM on March 13 [31 favorites]


About posting pictures - you are the owner of your body and you deserve to get to revel in it! Your boyfriend does not own you. He can have feelings about how you choose to present yourself in public (or on the internet) but ultimately those are his feelings to work through and own. If he can’t abide other men looking at you, that’s kind of a him problem. Now, there are plenty of men who feel that way and plenty who feel like they get a controlling stake in what women do with their bodies. That doesn’t make it ok. Just because it’s common doesn’t mean that it’s healthy.

You are in a stage of your life where you are getting to explore what it means to be YOU. That’s a beautiful wonderful thing, and you deserve support and encouragement and love and kinship and community. Find out who you are in the context of yourself. It’s great if he can mature along with you and come along for that ride. But it also sounds like he’s happy for you to do that as long as it doesn’t impact his cis hetero privilege, and he wants to put borders around who you are allowed to be.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:03 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Are you married to this guy? Do you have kids together? Are you engaged, in a manner where the stakes are high, and breaking it off to have a little casual sex and take some boudoir photos (which may or may not ever become a major aspect of your life) would be a bad idea? Do you live together in an expensive city where breaking up would make you homeless with little prospect of finding a stable living situation?

No? He's just some guy you're dating? Dump him and go find yourself, girl!

Even if you adore him and he's the man you see yourself settling down with eventually, take a break from the relationship to try all these things you've been curious about, and then come back in 6 months -- or not -- when you've gotten your ya-yas out a little.

If your relationship cannot survive you coming out and being your authentic self, it wasn't worth salvaging.

Also, if the nature of this relationship is that he gets to look at porn (I'm assuming by "explicit IG accounts" you're talking about that and not, like, fitness or fat acceptance accounts) without input from you, but you can't pose for fitness/body positivity photos where you would otherwise be clothed but just not to his personal standards of propriety, that's a huge red flag that actually this guy is not actually that great.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 10:08 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


Him liking those students photos isn't a normal "oh everyone finds people hot outside of their relationship!" He's playing with serious fire and his behavior could (hopefully) one day get him in serious hot water. Jesus. I'm a college professor and if one of my TAs was doing this I would lobby to have them removed from my PhD program.

For that reason alone I encourage you to get out of this situation as quickly as possible, but since you say there are "all the[se] reasons he's great" I don't think you're ready to do that. But seriously, the way he is treating these women is ethically and morally wrong, it's a potential Title IX case waiting to happen, and he's putting his job in jeopardy for the cheap thrill of "liking" seeing his students in bikinis or low cut tops or whatever. You deserve a better partner.
posted by sockermom at 10:08 AM on March 13 [25 favorites]


Just wanted to add, in case this was something you were also seeking help with, you are bi. A persons sexuality doesn’t become valid/invalid depending on their sexual activity.

A hetro, teenage virgin does not have to have sex before they can identify as straight.

Conversely, if someone straight has non consensual sex with someone of the same gender, that doesn’t magically turn a switch and make them bi/gay.
posted by Dwardles at 10:09 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Oh, and sorry for the double post, but the idea that your cis hetero boyfriend thinks it's OK for you to pursue same-sex sex and relationships, but not OK to do any of the other things you're talking about here, is a massive red flag.

A lot of cis het guys have an extremely, shall we say, male-centric idea of what female same-sex attraction is about and who it is for. Additionally, there is often a bit of misogyny and heterosexism there about what counts as "real" sex (with lesbian sex not counting because there's no penis).

It's not actually that enlightened for him to be OK with you exploring your bisexuality in this way. In fact, in some men this is a very bad sign.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 10:12 AM on March 13 [18 favorites]


I'm bi, married 25 years to a man in a monogamish relationship.

Lots to unpack here. About your boyfriend: "he's very much monogamous and not comfortable with open relationships. However, he has voiced multiple times that he would be comfortable and happy for me if I wanted to explore relationships with women" - this does not compute AT ALL unless you consider a relationship with a woman not a real relationship.

"he is following many of his female students and liking pictures where they might be in less clothing. I want to say that I'm not wrong for being bothered by this because...well, these are people he interacts with nearly daily. And he's also in a position of authority over them."

This is 2019 and if doesn't know this is inappropriate, creepy behaviour, there is something seriously wrong with him and his perspective. When you add this to his statement above, this is a big red flag.

"I guess I don't get why he's ok with seeing half naked pictures of people he personally knows (like his students) but not me. Well, actually no, I do get it in some senses, and I would want to respect his wishes and not make him uncomfortable."

Ding ding ding ding ding! You're right that this is really inconsistent. Sometimes humans are inconsistent, but a mature person would say "you know, I know I'm a hypocrite but it makes me uncomfortable, so I am going to think about that while supporting you" (or change my behaviour.) Once again, all signs point to him having really twisted thinking about women here.

My advice is...tell him he is jeopardizing his career and your joint future through his creepy and inappropriate actions. If he doesn't stop, consider leaving him.

Meanwhile, if you want to have an online social media feed that's very sexualized then I would make sure you think that through enough to be rock solid in your reasons and your awareness of how it could go wrong, and then go for it.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:13 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


So there are two things that really stand out for me here.

First, his behavior with his students is unprofessional and gross. Why is that a problem? Because it’s demonstrating poor ethics and boundaries, both of which carry over to your relationship and the rest of your question. It’s a clear cut line that he is crossing.

Secondly - I feel like there is this thing where women in het relationships have been trained and taught to expect so.much.less. that when a guy comes along doing the bare minimum, we treat him like a gem. But he is not a gem, he is simply a guy doing the bare minimum we should accept.

I’m not going to say DTMFA because I am acutely aware of the lack of options out there for women pursuing relationships with men. He may in fact be the best guy you can get. But that doesn’t make him a prince, and doesn’t mean you have to stand for bad behavior.
posted by corb at 10:17 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


Hi, I'm a former grad student/TA. I was sometimes attracted to my students; you can't control who you're attracted to, and if you put together a room full of 19 and 20 year olds, odds are a few of them are going to be attractive. You know what I did about this attraction? Nothing! I certainly didn't friend them on social media and like their sexy pictures. His doing that is super not ok. Importantly, it's super not ok irrespective of its implications for your relationship . Like, this isn't something that you need to decide whether or not you feel threatened by - he's being creepy toward people over whom he has authority, and that says very negative things about what kind of person he is.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:17 AM on March 13 [11 favorites]


(Hey, two people here have equated penises with dudes, I'd love for people to be more careful about that.)
posted by ITheCosmos at 10:20 AM on March 13 [11 favorites]


01. I see a lot of women putting up with bad shit from men and blaming their own "insecurity" for any bad vibes. Your boyfriend is a creep who is breaching teacher-student ethics. This is not the equivalent of you having a celebrity crush.

02. I can understand feeling uncomfortable with your partner posting sexy pictures on social media, but I'm finding it hard to see your boyfriend's side because he's clearly such an asshole.

03. I think you should DTMFA, but if you choose to stay in this relationship and pursue hookups with women, please be honest and upfront with all of them and don't expect a lot of interested parties. W4W dating is inundated with women with boyfriends who are looking to hookup with a girl on the side, and the queer women I know find it pretty tiresome.
posted by noxperpetua at 10:38 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]


This may not be a popular or valid theory, but I'm of the mind that people (not just men) who otherwise identify as preferring monogamy but continue to flirt or use so social media to show their attraction to others, aka the "borderline cheat", do so as a means of keeping a semblance of their autonomy and dismissing any sort of control or obligation their monogamous relationship has on them without really having any damnable consequences. There is a reason why it makes you and so many other people feel insecure and uncomfortable. Sometimes this behavior is only early on in a relationship and fades and sometimes, when it becomes chronic, it's a reflection that someone doesn't want to be in their current relationship period. Dude is a creep with his students and also a control freak with you, so it wouldn't shock me if he has autonomy entitlement issues and need for feeling powerful or in control.
posted by Young Kullervo at 10:40 AM on March 13 [15 favorites]


because we probably are attracted to the same women, but I'm the one feeling insecure about it.

He's the one who is their TA and follows them on IG and "likes" their photos. That's a pretty huge difference.

Everyone's allowed to be attracted to people. It's what you do about it that matters! And what he's doing about it is objectively shitty. It's 2019, and if a teacher or TA doesn't realize that following their hot preferred-gender students online and interacting with their cute pictures is a weird and shitty thing to do, that doesn't reflect well on them at all.
posted by BungaDunga at 11:17 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


I’ve had three long-term relationships with hereto guys and NONE of them have followed sexy women on social media or continually liked sexy pics online. They’ve followed women (celebs, journalists, whatever) who they have a “crush” on out of respect for their work and (I assume) finding them attractive but none of the compulsion to find borderline porn online and worship whoever is creating it.

Just a reality check. Your friends who are saying it’s normal hopefully mean that in a relationship where you already feel safe and loved and free, it’s no big deal. But you don’t feel those things and that’s grounds to end it.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:22 AM on March 13 [9 favorites]


Sorry not really sorry, but your BF sounds SUPER hetero-normative and gender essentialist. Doesn't want other people ogling you because you're HIS girlfriend? Uses his position of power to leer at underlings? Is totes cool with you fooling around with women--but, lemme guess, wouldn't be cool with you fooling around with other guys? He clearly finds women inferior, non-threatening, and prefers they stay that way in his life.

Are you a possession or a person?

This is...not great for you. You're coming into yourself, realizing how powerful you are, learning to love yourself, and finding that (surprise!) you love women too. Being bi does not equal being poly, although some bisexual people are. It does mean, probably (I HOPE), respecting relationships (sexual or significant or otherwise) with all genders as on equal footing.

Therefore, I HAVE NO IDEA how you can be in a relationship with someone who fundamentally thinks relationships between women are less valuable and real than relationships between men and women.

^^^says I, the bisexual woman who has loved and had sexy times with men and women but who is currently in a monogamous relationship with a dude who recognizes if I have sex with a woman, it means the same as if he had sex with another woman, i.e. we're monogamous so we don't have sex with other PEOPLE, gender be damned, because OMG women and femmes and androglories and their bodies and their feelings and their boundaries with each other are just as real and valid as men's and mascs and jesus christ I want to go destroy something now.

#dontputupwithgrosspatriarchyjustbecauseitisfamiliar
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:27 AM on March 13 [19 favorites]


It’s kind of a stretch to believe that your posing for pictures on social media really has anything to do with him at all. He might feel it’s improper, or maybe he would feel embarrassed if his friends saw the pictures. But that’s really no reason why you should decide not to take and post the pics.

Given that you really want to do this, I think you should give him a chance to accept it. Go ahead and do it in the way that you want to, and see if he can handle it. There’s a good chance that he’ll find it has no effect on his life at all. You definitely won’t benefit if you give up what you enjoy to spare feelings of his that aren’t really relevant. Make it clear that you’re posing and posting because it fulfills you in some way, even if the fulfillment is just a bit of fun.
posted by wryly at 11:34 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I somehow missed the part about him being uncomfortable posting photos of your body.
1) Give him the middle finger forever
2) He’s “uncomfortable” because he’s an unremitting creep who treats women like commodities by interacting solely with photos of their bodies!! He can’t imagine someone seeing a photo of you and being impressed; inspired, even BENEVOLENTLY attracted because he uses these photos as a way of getting off by objectifying someone. The person behind the photo is grist for the sexual humiliation mill.
3) In a healthy relationship, a partner may mention they are uncomfortable with you posting certain types of photos online. That’s possibly a reasonable boundary. What makes this different is almost solely your partner’s lack of respect for you and lack of respect for most women. How can you trust him to have reasonable boundaries for you when he’s a misogynist, interacting in abusive ways with his female students? One of the most obvious, clear professional boundaries there is and his dick wins out.

He sucks at boundaries and trying to negotiate them with him in good faith is probably going to drive you crazy.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:54 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I’m not going to say DTMFA because I am acutely aware of the lack of options out there for women pursuing relationships with men. He may in fact be the best guy you can get. But that doesn’t make him a prince, and doesn’t mean you have to stand for bad behavior.

Holy fucking shit, no. 1) This is not the best guy you can get; 2) If it were, there are plenty of options, like dating women who you are conveniently also attracted to, or being single; 3) Your life is too short to spend it convincing men to treat you with respect, much less convincing men you're already in intimate relationships with to act in good faith and not apply their misogynist double-standards to everything you do, while preying on students they're in a position of power over. Dump the shit out of him. Dump him and be miserable for three or four months because that's what break-ups are like, and then re-emerge into the world with the glorious awareness that you're free to grow and change and explore without the constant burden of judgement coming from the very person who's supposed to support and encourage you. Listen, I was in relationships like this in my early twenties, and getting free of them and that type of men is one of the best things I've ever done for myself and my own sense of self-worth.
posted by tapir-whorf at 12:24 PM on March 13 [30 favorites]


"Accepting myself while also being too sensitive about my relationship"

I don't think you're being too sensitive about your relationship. I think you are twisting yourself into a pretzel to ignore red flags and find some way of being ok with the double standards. Women are socialized to believe that we're being "too sensitive" when we find ourselves understandably and rightly upset about holding the short end of the stick.

Accept yourself AND your sensitivity. It is beautiful and worth celebrating. Just like you. All of you. I want you to get to be loved in your fullness, in all of your facets. I want you to get to be deeply and totally secure. You not having those things isn't you being too sensitive. It's you wanting wholeness and love.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:10 PM on March 13 [9 favorites]


I hate to be that person, but having double-standards of jealousy regarding a bi person strikes me as a possible warning sign for intimate partner abuse, where bi women are at extremely high risk. Hopefully that's a false positive here.

Regardless, his defensiveness about these issues is a big sign that things are not going going to get better in this relationship, or that you two fundamentally need different things.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 2:32 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I get mixed messages from friends, poly folk, those older and wiser than me, and some of the messages are "Please get over yourself, you and your partner will be attracted to other people and interacting with them is not a sin!" vs my own I'm-bothered-by-this-feeling

Yeah, but YOU ARE NOT IN A POLY RELATIONSHIP. You are not even in an open relationship! Monogamy doesn’t mean youre not attracted, it means you mutually agree to not act on those feelings. And by act, I don’t just mean have sex with them. In this situation, I think his liking Instagram photos of students (!!!) is acting on attraction. Also it is super creepy. Your friends may mean well, but I think they are doing your head in on this situation.

Your feelings are valid. I promise you he is NOT “the best you can get”. Oh holy hell no. There are plenty of men who have far more enlightened attitudes towards women, who will support and celebrate your sexuality and your choices. He’s got some serious red flags going on, and I advise you to leave before they become wrapped inextricably around your life and self-esteem.
posted by ananci at 2:45 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


You likely won't be able to make a level headed decision about how you feel about sexy pics of you online/camming until you extricate yourself this a man who prioritises sexy pics too much.

Thinking of "offline" analogies might help you sort out your feelings about your boyfriend's behaviour. Say he was at a faculty and student event for work (let's say lunchtime weekday BBQ to celebrate someone beloved in the faculties retirement). Theres a heatwave and sprinklers are on in part of the quad, some students are cooling down. Theres students in baggy tops and shorts, theres students in jeans, theres students in bikini tops. Everyone notices that your boyfriend is paying more attention to women students in less clothes. He's hanging around the sprinkler even though he's not getting wet himself. The students have every right to cool off and to wear whatever they like. Judging your boyfriend isn't judging them, in fact it's respecting their right to be respected as humans not sex objects.

It feels like has doing a similar thing on IG.

Dump him, you will do better. Spend less time on the internet and particularly social media and meet kind people IRL.
posted by hotcoroner at 3:12 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Or even if he happens to be "the best you can get", you can choose to be single or otherwise not enter relationships with men.

Something to consider is that if you end your relationship, you can establish new norms for you while single, such as doing boudoir photos and dating both men and women. Then those things will be your lifestyle baseline for when/if you do start a new relationship, which is likely to change how your potential partners react to them.
posted by blerghamot at 3:21 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I get mixed messages from friends, poly folk, those older and wiser than me, and some of the messages are "Please get over yourself, you and your partner will be attracted to other people and interacting with them is not a sin!" vs my own I'm-bothered-by-this-feeling

Seconding that you are not in a poly relationship. It is true that folks are attracted to, often, more folks than just their partners. But it's equally true that you are allowed to have your own feelings. You are also allowed to have your own boundaries, to articulate, and to defend them. You are allowed to feel what you feel, to need what you need, and to have your rules be different from those of your poly friends, even if they're older and wiser than you.

I have long admired some of the politics and some of the ethics of polyamory. I feel like it's potentially more egalitarian than monogamous, partnered relationships. But it turns out I am so very not wired, or, if you will, that my psychology/emotional development is not well made, for poly relationships. It took me a lot of years (a couple of decades) to come around to the conclusion that even though I admired the philosophy, I simply am not able to carry out polyamory without being miserable. It's a shame, but I just can't do it.

Also, I had a partner of 15 years about whom I had some reservations (about her behavior, about things she said that seemed like lies, about her priorities, etc.), and I overcame those reservations and it was to my huge, great detriment when we finally broke up, because I was overly loyal even during the breakup and she treated me like crap and took advantage of that while we broke up.

I'm not saying your partner will do all that, but I do want to urge you to listen to and validate and respect your own reservations. I would recommend against solely overcoming those reservations and insecurities and doing nothing for yourself, to shore up your own self-respect. At the very least even if you decide your calibration is wholly off and you do find a workaround to those feelings of insecurity, do reserve energy and social time and networking and friends-making and -keeping to yourself. As long as it feels like your partner's not being totally respectful, reserve something for yourself, please.

As such, I think it may need to boil down to quid pro quo. I'd recommend going ahead with experimenting with what you want to experiment with (despite his feelings) until he respects your feelings. I realize this may destabilize what you see as a stable relationship, but I assure you that from the outside, it seems like your older, wiser, poly friends are complicit in enabling your partner to treat you disrespectfully, and to be honest, it seems like it would/should be intolerable in the long run.
posted by kalessin at 3:24 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


You describe him as wonderful, and I'm not going to tell you you're wrong, because you know the guy and I don't. But someone can be wonderful and just not right for you right now. You might consider that maybe this is true of your guy.

Also... just reading your question at face value, it sounds like you would have a much better time in your mid-twenties if you had a lot less boyfriend and a lot more roller derby and a lot more doing-whatever-the-fuck-you-want-with-your-body-and-social-media. I vote do that! It's clear there is so much "you" that wants to burst out. Embrace you.
posted by nicodine at 3:45 PM on March 13 [16 favorites]


I saw a major red flag even before I reached the part about your boyfriend following his female students on social media and "liking" the more scantily-clad pictures of them. I'm a woman who came out to herself/close friends as bisexual at 19, and then eventually came out to my family at 21. I've dated men who would have been equally "supportive and happy" about the idea of me hooking up with women while we were dating, but I quickly learned to recognize that that's... not a good thing. If your boyfriend is really so into monogamy, but he's perfectly chill with you engaging in homosexual flings, that's because he views women's attraction to other women as "not-serious" - at best. At worst, he probably would like to watch you two (or hear about it in detail after the fact), because, consciously or not, he views F/F relationships and sex as something bi women only engage in to please men. Trust me on this one.

This probably sounds eye-roll-y, but the male gaze really will harm your ability to know your own sexuality. It's very hard for you to figure out what you actually like and want if you stay attached to a man who fundamentally sees this as just a superficial, sexy little exploratory phase you're going through before further settling down into your "real" relationship with him. I have male friends who respect the fact that I seriously date both men and women, and would regard it as cheating if their girlfriend slept with another woman while they were together - in the same way they would if she'd slept with a man. This is how men who respect female (and male!) bisexuality act in relation to it.

Based on my own experiences, I also think it can be very hard to know the extent of your attraction to women until you separate yourself sexually from men for a bit (at least in a committed, monogamous way), so if you're serious about getting to know this part of yourself, you should seriously consider doing so. I used to think that I was only "sort of" attracted to women/couldn't see myself in a relationship with a woman even though I wanted to hook up with them... until about a year ago. I only discovered that I'm (or at least, I think I am) actually more of a Kinsey 4 than a Kinsey 2 once I broke up with my boyfriend and took two years off from relationships to be single and date whomever. Just food for thought.

Other folks have covered the Instagram issue at length so I won't get into that really... except to say that that part of your post alone would designate him as breakup-worthy in my eyes, irrespective of the rest. Not only is that kind of behavior wildly unprofessional (seriously, it could jeopardize his TA job or get him in trouble with his graduate studies supervisors, for starters), it's also predatory. Men in positions of power should not be behaving that way, no matter how innocent or subtle he feels he's being. There are likely already rumors going around the school about this, because women always talk to each other about which TAs/professors do things like stare a little too long or get a little too close. The onus isn't on the students to ask him to stop or block him on social media; the onus is on him as the ostensible professional to know better in the first place. Seriously this type of thing indicates that his judgment is wildly lacking, and that he doesn't really respect women all that much.

I'm sure all the responses you've received must be pretty overwhelming/not what you expected, so definitely take plenty of time in getting through them and letting the words sink in. You're probably not going to have absolute certainty about what to do right away, if ever. However. If you notice very quiet thoughts like "there's more out there for me than this" appearing in the back of your mind on occasion (as I did in my pre-coming-out relationships with men), then choosing to heed those words might be the best and most loving thing you could possibly do for yourself.

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
posted by second banana at 6:19 PM on March 13 [14 favorites]


It's been three hours since I posted my response and I'm still thinking about you, socky bottoms. I just read through all the responses more closely and I'm struck by how many women there are out there who've gone through/are currently going through similar struggles in their own romantic pursuits. It's hard, because once you get used to something (whether it's your idea of 'normal' in heterosexual relationships, the way you view yourself and your identity, or always being the one who compromises more) it can be near-impossible to visualize what an alternative might look like. If you're telling yourself that we're all judging him based on biased info (which I bring up since you mentioned to trust you when you say he's great) and if we just got the full picture we'd say otherwise, trust me that that's not the case. This man could have literally singlehandedly rescued you and every member of your family from a burning building and I'd still be telling you to run.

Having briefly looked over some of your past questions, let me tell you that a) you're endearing but somehow also seem super cool, and b) you're clearly a very thoughtful person who might struggle at times w/ trusting her gut, but regardless has good instincts and a lot of love/value to give. Don't waste your gifts on this man. Please.
posted by second banana at 9:26 PM on March 13 [9 favorites]


Hey babe,

I think you get by now that what you are going through is common. Hi from another queer woman married to a man who sees this post as a postcard from her 20s.

2c:

1. I got out of a six year relationship with a truly wonderful dude when I was your age so I could explore my sexuality, no regrets, should have done it sooner.
2. Turns out I am a deeply monogamous person and not AT ALL into sleeping with lots of people or even dating multiple people... and that's totally fine.
I think sometimes the coming-out process for queer women gets caught up in keeping a male partner and seriously women in the side, which is like jumping in to the poly deep end. You are still queer if you don't want to jump in the poly deep end. I didn't! And that's great! You can be cool and monogamous!
3. We have a professor in our department who is friends with students on social media and it does indeed effect his evaluation and relationship with his peers at work. The advice above is correct: what he is doing is neither normal nor ok.
4. Reading recs! Are you reading queer media? You might find that really self-affirming during this process. I read Zami by Audre Lorde when I was a baby queer 18 year old in a straight relationship and it helped me gain perspective. Or, you know, autostraddle.
posted by athirstforsalt at 10:08 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Wow! My husband is a graduate student and a tutor at a university, and this would be WAY out of line for him to do, not only personally but professionally.
I'm a teacher at a university, and I don't even allow my students on my social media, let alone like photos of them scantily clad. I would be cautious of even appearing to like something inappropriate - my job could be on the line!

This whole post reads to me like you have argued yourself into being ok with a whoooole lot of things that you aren't actually ok with, because you think that it is healthy to be ok with these things. It's not. It's healthy to have integrity and be true to your boundaries.

It is more than OK to want your partner to not be social media friends with these attractive female students. It is also OK to want your partner to not be following heaps of sexy women on instagram. Maybe I'm old fashioned but it creeps me out sooooo much that men use social media for this kind of thing.

Yeah, you have a dud there. Sorry.

Edited to add: the fact that he doesn't want you to show your body online is laughably hypocritical.
posted by thereader at 12:38 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


One more thing that I just thought of (while brushing my teeth, haha) - you might find this post from Captain Awkward to be thought-provoking.
posted by second banana at 8:22 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Hi! Thank you all so very much for thoughtful responses (and reading recs!) I can't do any best answers, it's hard to decide! It's given me a lot to think about. I can't say what I'm going to do right now, there are a lot of big decisions I have to make. (Also, moving out right now is not a financial option yet, and I don't think I'm ready to do a break up just yet. I really would like to find a therapist first.) I...showed this thread to my partner last night. And it opened up a lot of conversation and apologies on his end. Sorry I have no solid conclusions on this one, but I'm constantly re-evaluating. Thank you for helping me feel like being me is very OK. Love to you all x
posted by socky bottoms at 12:22 PM on March 14 [6 favorites]


>. We have since worked through that, he keeps his own private account, and I have thought about why I was so bothered.
>But I can't help but think maybe this is the same case where, as my therapist reminds me, we all are attracted to people outside our relationship!
> I guess I don't get why he's ok with seeing half naked pictures of people he personally knows (like his students) but not me. Well, actually no, I do get it in some senses, and I would want to respect his wishes and not make him uncomfortable.
> I get mixed messages from friends, poly folk, those older and wiser than me, and some of the messages are "Please get over yourself, you and your partner will be attracted to other people and interacting with them is not a sin!" vs my own I'm-bothered-by-this-feeling.

I really want to strongly second thereader's response.

>This whole post reads to me like you have argued yourself into being ok with a whoooole lot of things that you aren't actually ok with, because you think that it is healthy to be ok with these things. It's not. It's healthy to have integrity and be true to your boundaries.

you have spent so, so much energy on not listening to yourself, not trusting yourself, invalidating your own feelings. you "think about why you're bothered" as an analytical dissection to convince yourself you shouldn't be. you prioritize messages of "get over yourself", from people who aren't you, over your own discomfort.

It is possible your therapist is aiding and abetting this in which case please get a new one.

But: you may just have so strong a tendency to do this that you twist every message you receive through this lens, so that the only things you allow yourself to hear from others is "ignore yourself". That's why your takeaway from reading MeFi before posting this was "many of the answers skew to it being healthy to have a crush and as long as your partner is not cheating, this is normal behavior." Because that's the takeaway you were inclined to filter for, not because that's actually the main MeFi response to "my partner likes online sexy pictures of people he knows personally IRL".

Being you is OK. Having needs, boundaries, preferences is OK. Even when those needs are inconvenient or uncomfortable to someone else. Even when they aren't perfectly calculated to please the opinions of every person you value/respect so that you can justify them to everyone in a rational, mature manner, totally unassailable to any possible argument. Your desires do not need to withstand a barrage of scrutiny and dissection to be valid.

The icky feeling you get, the one you haven't been able to shake off? It is so important to respect that internal voice. Speaking as someone who undermined and questioned it in the past, who nitpicked it, who prioritized other people and loftier intellectual ideals over it. The quiet voice of your own discomfort is precious. It deserves to be heard and given space. It is not less important than anyone else. You are not less important. Don't get over yourself.
posted by Cozybee at 10:55 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


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