How can I keep the peace with my boyfriend and still maintain a friendship with my (male) coworker?
January 27, 2007 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Tips on dealing with suspicion and jealous responses from significant others to opposite sex friendship(s)? New friendship, steady relationship, and of course I'll give you the details inside.

Please bear with my saga; I attempted to keep it concise but... well.

SO and I have been dating for over a year now; he has had his share of relationship experiences already, but this is my first relationship of any kind, serious or otherwise. We are both in our early 20's. Things are generally good - we enjoy each other's company and were formerly champion phone conversationalists... that has died down as we got to know each other so well, but we still talk at least every day and keep each other updated on our lives, and look forward to spending time together when we can.

Related to this post are some apparent self-esteem issues he has, manifested by

1: initially breaking off the first round of our relationship because he was convinced I still harbored feelings for another dude, and
2: frequently suggesting to me that I should look for another relationship because I haven't had enough experience and maybe he's not really what I want.

I have dealt with these things by telling him I still want to be with him for him, and I'm not going to look for anyone else unless something internal to our relationship convinces me (or him) that it shouldn't continue. I unquestionably love him, and the thought of ending my relationship with him for anything short of truly serious flaws that have no hope of resolution is abominable.

Enter a coworker of mine. About a month ago I was invited to attend his (enormous) dinner party hosted at his house, which is how he obtained my gmail address. As we both have gmail this eventually evolved into frequent gmail chats on interesting topics, and talking at work (where previously I was stoic and uncommunicative to everyone, as is my wont), and some other hangouts outside of work. A few days ago I was very worried that I was going to have to deal with severe attraction to my coworker, and in fact spent an entire night talking with him on gmail and going without sleep for the next day, but my feelings have resolved themselves into an appreciation for his conversation and general personality, but a definite disinterest in him relationship-wise. At this point I can safely say he is just a friend, and I want to be able to spend time with him as a friend, but I fear that the somewhat sudden appearance of him on the scene, and the escalated nature of our communication (hours of gmail chat can't be good, right?) point to DANGER!! signs for my SO -- permanently darkening his perspective for any future discussion on this topic.

I have made a point of informing my SO about the development of this friendship in the interest of honesty and being able to talk about things that are potentially upsetting. He is highly uncomfortable about this, as is predictable from past experience, yet (also predictable from past experience) seems to take a defeatist perspective, i.e. "I can see where this is going..." I am willing to curb my interactions with my friend in order to keep things smooth and happy with the SO, but I'd like some insight about my general situation.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
2: frequently suggesting to me that I should look for another relationship...

This seems like the most worrying part. Until that's resolved, it'd be difficult (for me, anyway) to justify putting so much time and effort into the relationship. Even if the thought of ending things because of petty reasons is abominable to you, is it to him?
posted by danb at 8:54 AM on January 27, 2007

First off, good luck. It's hard to sort out your feelings and also act in a way that you feel good about. Big props to you for thinking hard about this; it shows maturity for someone in her first relationship. (I'm in my 30s, been around the block a few times.)

It sounds to me like you are feeling guilty all on your own, and trying to cast your boyfriend as the instigator of the guilty feelings. Or, at least, you're making this about his attitude, when really, it's about your behavior.

Despite the fact that he frequently suggests that you find other people to date and takes a defeatist attitude, he makes it clear that he wants to stay together, right? And you claim that you want to be with him, right? Don't make this about him pushing you away with his jealousy or having a bad attitude about your friendship with the man-at-work. Right now, he has a very legitimate reason to be super-jealous, as evidenced by your post. If my bf was in your bf's situation, he would totally call me on it, and tell me to stop hanging out with this guy. He might even call this guy and tell him to stop moving in on his woman.

If you honestly want to stay with your boyfriend, you will have a VERY hard time being friends with a man that you are attracted to and spend hours alone with. You may end up cheating on your boyfriend and then you would both hurt him and feel like a bad person. Don't go there. I'm speaking from experience. If there's a possiblity that you're going to even touch this guy in a romantic way, you can't be still dating your current bf and maintain your dignity.

Your choice (as I see it): Honestly focus on your current relationship with your bf and make your friendship with your work chum more of a group thing. Invite your boyfriend to a group function where they can meet. If you bf is still uncomfortable, he has the right to ask you not to be friends with this guy outside of work. It's just being respectful of his feelings, IMO.

Or, admit that your boyfriend is right, and that you still need to play the field, and let him go in a respectful way. This is OK; it doesn't make you a bad person to break up with someone and move on. It's the right thing to do if you heart isn't in it anymore, regardless of whether or not you pursue the work thing. If you've never been in a LTR before, you've never had to break up. It's OK; people (you) can do it in a respectful and kind way if that's the way this needs to go.
posted by tk at 9:09 AM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Take it from someone who just got slammed by someone he thought was gonna marry (she even took the ring!): If your SO says you guys should be seeing other people, it's worth considering couples therapy. If you can convince him to go, you could save yourselves a WORLD of hurt.

It's really hard for me to talk about what happened, but if you're curious, most of it (except a few spots that I don't want to make public because I want to get back with her if she's ever interested, and I don't want to spread too much around about her) is on my blog (

Of course, maybe I'm just overreacting too. I just don't want someone else to go through what I went through if it can be helped.
posted by TrueVox at 9:39 AM on January 27, 2007

2: frequently suggesting to me that I should look for another relationship because I haven't had enough experience and maybe he's not really what I want.

He's going to find some way to end this relationship, sooner or later, either by breaking up with you because he keeps believing that you don't really want to be with him, or by harping on this so much that one day months or years down the road you look at his lack of self-confidence and decide, "Hell, he was right. He's not really what I want."
posted by MsMolly at 9:44 AM on January 27, 2007

Yeah, I like that last paragraph of TK's advice. Maybe consider taking a break from the relationship or breaking up and just enjoying being yourself -- freedom to see who you want to see and do what you want to do. You sound very lukewarm on the boyfriend. Follow your gut. Think about being free of another person's expectations for awhile and you might find that very appealing. It really doesn't matter about this other, new person. Something may be there or it may not but it sounds to me like you need the freedom to let that play out... or not.
posted by amanda at 9:49 AM on January 27, 2007

Recognize that he had issues and seems to want to sabotoge the relationship. Love him and enjoy him as best you can. Reassure him with that time and love.

And then let his problems be HIS problems. Help if you can (such as The next time he gets all defeatist like, grab him and kiss him, then tell him that you love him. Feel free to repeat several time.), but this is something he has to resolve in his own way. In short, don't get dragged into his drama/problems.

Also, don't deny yourself any healthy friendships because of any SO's issues. Reassure them as best you can, but don't cut off your own mental/emotional health for anyone.

Good luck.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:02 AM on January 27, 2007

If I were your boyfriend (and I'm a girl, so take this with a grain of salt), what would make me uncomfortable is the possibility that you are getting something from Work Guy -- companionship, 'deep' conversation -- that you formerly got from your boyfriend. In other words, that he's being replaced in certain aspects of your life. The line between just friends and emotional affair can be a fine one, so you'll have to be honest with yourself about what form this friendship is taking. To that end, in my experience (again, this might not necessarily be yours) the "hey, do I like this guy? uh oh, maybe I do! Wait, no I don't" process takes a little longer than a couple of days to work out of your system, so make sure you're not just rationalizing to yourself or telling yourself what you want to hear when you say you're over him. I'm not trying to ascribe ill motive to you -- it's only human to be attracted to someone else every once in a while, and it doesn't even have to be a problem for your relationship -- but you seem to understand that your boyfriend's past issues require you to be very upfront, and as relationships evolve sometimes those waters get murky and you need to make sure you're being open with yourself, too.

Your question makes it sounds like you've been devoting a bit more time to Work Guy than you would to your other friends, so you might want to bump him down to normal-friend level. You might find that you can have the same engaging conversations with your boyfriend, but that you just forgot how (it happens); or you might find that Work Guy's absence is leaving a hole that can't be filled by other people in your life. In the latter case, you'll have to decide whether it's worth staying with your boyfriend -- and if it is, then it would be wise to seriously limit your interaction with Work Guy. If not, there's nothing wrong with realizing that you just aren't right for each other.

All this is sort of beside the point, though. You say that you're happy in your relationship, and that your boyfriend is the higher priority. It seems to me, then, that you should give him the benefit of the doubt and essentially say, "I see that our friendship makes you uncomfortable, and since your happiness is important to me I'll limit my contact with Work Guy."

There's a difference between being sensitive to your boyfriend's past (okay) and capitulating to a controlling partner (not okay). You sound self-aware enough to determine which one you'd be doing by cutting down on the time with Work Guy. Figure that out and act accordingly.
posted by AV at 10:02 AM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here's a secret from someone who's been with the same someone over ten years and married for almost five years. As life goes on, you can still find yourself having a crush on someone else. You'll continue to meet people in life and some of those people will be people you are compatible with. There is no "The One." There are plenty who can offer a lifetime of happiness, but it's probably best to keep it to one at a time.

What really matters is how you handle these crushes. You've been honest with your partner and you haven't crossed any lines. Good job. Seriously. It takes maturity to be able to talk to your partner about things you know will cause them discomfort.

It sounds like the bigger issue is your partner's lack of self esteem. You can try to build him up in all kinds of ways, but it won't matter until he starts seeing himself as worthy. All the praise in the world from my wife doesn't mean as much as a compliment from someone else. She's "supposed" to love me. But when someone else says something flattering to me, that makes me feel like it's genuine and impartial.

I was thinking I was getting off-topic but maybe I'm coming full circle here. That honest, impartial flattery is exciting and ego boosting and what makes these new friendships like yours so delicious.

I think it's fair to limit interaction with the work friend to work things and group outings, but I don't think it's fair for your partner to keep you from making friends at work that happen to be of the gender you find attractive.

I've always had more friends that are girls and I would never have found myself happy with someone who would limit me to being friends with guys. (Thanks honey!) Every day at work I have lunch with at least one of two friends who are girls.

In short, it's not you, it's him, and how he deals with it will tell you a lot about your long term prospects with him.
posted by advicepig at 10:08 AM on January 27, 2007 [4 favorites]

Brandon Blatcher nailed it.

His self-worth problems are not your problems.
posted by tkolar at 10:11 AM on January 27, 2007

Based on your description of the problem, I personally agree with your boyfriend's #2 issue.

I've made the mistake of dating a couple girls who hadn't really had any previous relatinoship experience while I had, and it went badly.

You really do need to see what else is out there before you can determine who's 'The One'-- you need a frame of reference. It seems like youre subconciously trying to develop this frame of reference while you're INSIDE the relationship, and thats just going to wind up hurting your boyfriend.

I completely disagree with MsMolly because I think that your BF doesnt sound like he's trying to end things-- he sounds like he's being incredibly self-aware. Now, If you cut out the all-night-chats-with-other-guys and the other behaviors that would make almost any bf anxious, and he's STILL giving you shit about other guys, then MsMolly is dead on. But it sounds more like your bf is just reacting to your behavior.

Anyways, unless you're 100% committed to making things work with BF, I'd say take this new almost-relationship as a sign you need to experience a little more of the world before you can be sure who you want be with.

PS-- I've also got the 'forget it, lets just end this now while I storm out of the room' issue. Doesn't mean I don't care about the girl-- instead its more about not wanting to get hurt again. It's a dumb way to behave but hopefully its not too damning that you can't forgive and forget about it.
posted by ZackTM at 10:14 AM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Did you consider that he wants to breakup with you, but is afraid of hurting you? And so is trying to make you leave him, so he is not the guilty party?
posted by markesh at 10:21 AM on January 27, 2007

Oooooooh boy, I've been in your SO's shoes. That friend of his ended up ending our engagement (and relationship obviously). So I have this immediate sympathy for him. However, I didn't have the self-esteem issues your SO does. I agree with the rest that if you want things to calm down you're gonna have to back off with your new friend. If you find it difficult to do that, time to re-evaluate your relationship with your SO and with this friend.
posted by CwgrlUp at 10:25 AM on January 27, 2007

Waitaminute, a few important bits seem to be missing: Did the boyfriend go with you to the "(enormous) dinner party"? Does the work-guy know about your boyfriend?

I suspect a bit of duplicity going on here.

posted by rhizome at 10:37 AM on January 27, 2007

I have to agree, for the most part, with what Brandon Blatcher said. Your bf has self-esteem and co-dependency issues that will eventually lead to the dissolution of this relationship, b/c he is not a whole person right now, and that makes it impossible to truly share his life with another. I say this as someone who once said the exact same things as your bf. Until I was able to become comfortable with myself alone I was not able to maintain a functional relationship. I also had an experience on the other side of the coin, being the person with a jealous/possessive bf. Sorry, but it's not his place to decide who you can be friends with. My husband and I (together for 12.5 years, married for 8) respect and trust each other, and he would never dictate what gender my friends could be (and nor would I). If your coworker is more than a friend, then you owe your bf the truth, but if the relationship is platonic, then it's not for your bf to say.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:58 AM on January 27, 2007

It seems to me, then, that you should give him the benefit of the doubt and essentially say, "I see that our friendship makes you uncomfortable, and since your happiness is important to me I'll limit my contact with Work Guy."

I dunno. Yes, this Work Guy thing does sound a little intense and under other circumstances I'd agree, but the boyfriend sounds like he has serious jealousy problems, and that's not a good sign. I know (or knew) a woman with whom I was very good friends for a long time, but she got involved with a guy who was protective (which she liked) but also insanely jealous of any other man in her life (which she finally decided she could put up with for the sake of security). Result: I've had no contact with her for years, and I presume the same is true of all her other male friends. You probably don't want to end up like that.

I can't speak to the first-relationship lack-of-experience thing; you'll have to decide for yourself how serious a factor that is.
posted by languagehat at 11:14 AM on January 27, 2007

If your boyfriend is being a controlling weirdo, and forbids you from having male friends, and sees betrayal in any conversation you have with another man, I think you have a real problem. Same with passive-aggressive behaviour where he pushes you away, then stops you from leaving, then pushes you away, etc. If this is the case, run, don't walk, to the nearest exit.

However, I also think that your described behaviour is not what I would consider ok in a relationship. Intense and private conversations that go on all night? Not usually part of purely platonic friendship (post-adolescence, at least). If my partner was doing this, I would feel emotionally betrayed, even if she and the guy never even held hands. My partner has mostly male friends, and they hang out, and they do fun things together, but there are very clear emotional boundaries that everyone involved is careful to never cross. I do the same with my friends, male and female.

People have all kinds of relationships, though, and you might have (and be happy with) one of those in which emotional closeness is found outside of a relationship. But just be aware that not everyone is ok with that, and if you are feeling guilty (and would be horrified if your boyfriend were to read the gmail chats with your work friend, say), you might want to reassess your actions.
posted by Forktine at 11:35 AM on January 27, 2007

A few days ago I was very worried that I was going to have to deal with severe attraction to my coworker, and in fact spent an entire night talking with him on gmail and going without sleep for the next day...

In other words, it's not entirely about your boyfriend's self-esteem issues, is it?
posted by cribcage at 12:16 PM on January 27, 2007

Yeah, okay, maybe the bf does have self-esteem issues but turn the situation around hypothetically. How would you feel if he were so engaged in a "friendship" with another woman where it would be consuming hours upon hours of his life away from you? And then in the name of "honesty" he told you about it even though he might expect that you would not find the information comforting.

I think it's perfectly reasonable for you both to have friendships with the opposite gender outside of the relationship if that's all it is. But you might consider the possibility that you find your bf lacking in a way that your work pal isn't and you aren't really wanting to leave the work thing platonic. You may be trying to find a way to break up with the bf by provoking him with the specter of this other man standing in the wings.

Be honest with yourself and him about your true wants and needs. Stop with the drama and trying to create a crisis that will likely send your relationship up in flames and then leave you to pursue what quite possibly is what you really want. If you really care for your bf, don't turn him into your victim.
posted by fuse theorem at 12:17 PM on January 27, 2007

So let me restate the kind of life you are setting up....

One boy. Forever. No other male friends, platonic or otherwise. Shutting down your fantasy life... policing your thoughts. All so that the boy can feel good.

See how lousy that sounds? That's because it IS!

Any SO who wants you to act like he owns you isn't a bargain. Anyone who wants to be owned isn't much of a bargain in my book, either.

I'm married (twice, widowed the first time) and I belong with my wife, not to her. If she falls in love with someone else someday, we'll just have to deal with that. Life is full of risk. We're committed to each other, but if she wants to fly to Spain with her work buddy next week, I'll drive them both to the airport.

As far as I am concerned, the only infidelity is dishonesty.

Tell the boy you have a male friend. If he is too insecure in himself to accept that, introduce him to someone else and wish him well in what promises to be a miserable life.
posted by FauxScot at 12:17 PM on January 27, 2007

How do you feel about hanging out with your SO and Work Guy at the same time? If it seems like that would be an intolerably awkward situation, you need to re-think your relationship with work guy.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:43 PM on January 27, 2007

I vote for "dump him"
posted by matteo at 12:47 PM on January 27, 2007

Well my first impression is that your boyfriend is a sniveling, manipulative passive-aggressive asshole who's done a good job of training his young, inexperienced girlfriend to internalize his own insecurities to the point where she's willing to get rid of new friendships "for him." But I could be totally wrong. Who knows these things? Whatever happens, do try and relax. Your young and there are plenty of bright things in your future. Don't let yourself be unhappy and stressed out and anxious over something as trivial as a boyfriend. There's plenty, plenty, plenty more where he came from. I hope you have other friends you can talk about this with or, if not, your parents. Somebody who can do your thinking for you. After all in the end all that matters is that you are happy.
posted by nixerman at 2:28 PM on January 27, 2007

In general, if your SO can't deal with you having friends of both sexes, or having friends he/she doesn't like, or otherwise tries to control your relationships with others, I think you should dump him/her.
posted by putril at 2:44 PM on January 27, 2007

putril: "In general, if your SO can't deal with you having friends of both sexes, or having friends he/she doesn't like, or otherwise tries to control your relationships with others, I think you should dump him/her."

I agree. Being controlled by someone's insecurities is no way to live.
posted by loiseau at 3:34 PM on January 27, 2007

Two separate issues here: (1) it sounds like your relationship with Work Guy really is more intense than platonic relationships generally are, and your BF may actually have reason to be jealous of that, but (2) he was already making these noises before Work Guy showed up, and unless that's the result of other intense friendships-that-skate-the-line you're not telling us about, that's not okay.
posted by joannemerriam at 3:49 PM on January 27, 2007

Your boyfriend sounds insecure but that doesn't mean your actions are completely innocent. Pulling an all-nighter talking to someone (even online) is not generally a "just friends" activity. Every time I've spent a sleepless night talking with a "friend" like that, there has been significant attraction on one or both sides. Even if you're honestly not attracted to your coworker anymore, you may still be doing things that communicate a strong attraction. Your boyfriend, sensitive as he is, is not likely to miss it.

Speaking of which, what does your coworker think of your friendship? Is it possible he thinks it's heading somewhere? Be very careful - not only do you run the risk of hurting this guy, you could be endangering your job if things fall apart and it spills into work.
posted by rhiannon at 4:26 PM on January 27, 2007

Um, those are actual danger signs for your S.O. He does have something to worry about. If you want to continue with him, you will have to remove the danger and back off the new "friend." I mean seriously back off, like no hanging out.

You are most likely attracted to this other guy.

I would be worried if my girlfriend spent a whole night chatting on Gmail with some dude.

I was your S.O. once, without the jealousy or insecurity. Still turned out bad for my ex and me, with her having tremendous regrets.

Your S.O. is a guy. He knows damn well what a guy who chats with a girl all night on Gmail wants. Your "friend" at work wants in your pants, plain and simple. Although I have several very close female friends, we do not connect in this way.

This does not mean anything is necessarily seriously wrong. It is normal to be attracted to others during a relationship. It is what you do with it that counts. If you let this continue, it will most likely mean the end of your relationship with your S.O., one way or the other.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:40 PM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I am willing to curb my interactions with my friend in order to keep things smooth and happy with the SO, but I'd like some insight about my general situation.

You read like you have no real feeling for what are the norms of interaction with other people in the context of a [non polyamorous] relationship. Your boyfriend is correct, but he had no reason to say that more than twice, if he did so. My feeling is that you will break up because of this reason, directly or indirectly—if you feel as strongly for him as you describe, and he feels as strongly for you (which you say nothing about), I hope I’m wrong.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 1:36 AM on January 28, 2007

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