Auntie SparkNotes: I Can't Stop Big-Brothering My Boyfriend
Your response to this letter made me feel kind of uncomfortable. Why? Because I am that person who freaks out about my boyfriend having a space online that I can't monitor. Do I think that's good? No. But I also know why I'm petrified: the reason is that when my boyfriend (of over a year) and I started dating, he was infatuated with this other girl, who I will call HorseFace. I did not know that going into the relationship or I would not have gone into it. I found out after innocently visiting his tumblr and reading his About Me: a multi-paragraph description of his unrequited love for HorseFace and how incredibly beautiful and "perfectly shaped" she was and her "electric blue eyes."
Well, I freaked out and almost dumped him, but didn't because he said he felt terrible and deleted the offending passage. But the next several months were very painful with him trying to keep his relationship with HorseFace alive (i.e. texting her when we went on dates, calling her when he couldn't sleep, etc.), and finally I couldn't handle it anymore. I told him, "If she's the love of your life, go get her. If not, get over her." And he said I was more important and ended all contact with HorseFace.
Fast forward to now: I love him, he's my best friend and I know he'd never cheat on me. But I can't make myself trust him. Whenever he gets a text message I freak out. Whenever he gets online I want to know who he is talking to. Whenever I see a girl with electric blue eyes I want to punch her face in. Am I being creepy and/or abusive? I know he feels terrible and guilty about the start of our relationship. But I honestly did not go into this relationship with the intention of having mini heart-attacks whenever his phone rings, so I don't think that part makes me a terrible person. Does the rest of it?
The good news, Sparkler, is that being clingy, jealous, controlling and paranoid does not make you a terrible person.
The bad news is that, alas, whether or not you are a terrible person is completely irrelevant if you're going around acting like one. Your effect on the world is determined by what you do, not who you are—and if what you're doing is terrible, nobody's going to give a damn about what a good heart you have. (I mean, for all we know, Adolf Hitler was just darling deep down inside... but that doesn't change his status as one of history's biggest hate-filled genocidal douchebags, y'know?)
That said, if we're going to talk about people behaving badly, then we should really begin by talking not about you, but about your boyfriend—because he's the one who started this avalanche of dysfunction by getting into a relationship with one girl when he was obsessively infatuated with another. (Seriously, if we were handing out awards for behaving badly, he'd be wearing the diamond tiara and the Miss Dumb Asshat sash.) And then, we should talk about the part where he spent months—months! ugh!—demonstrating, in myriad agonizing ways, exactly how little he valued you, until whatever confidence you might have had in the relationship was reduced to a pile of rubble.
At which point you became a raging ball of control issues, a fact which is not at all okay but also not surprising in the least. Even the most self-possessed person on earth would be a paranoid mess after that kind of ordeal.
Which is why, when you're in a relationship with someone who treats you like a consolation prize, you cannot hang in there trying to convince him that you're better than whatever his first choice was: because even in the best-case scenario, as you've discovered, what you end up with is a boyfriend who wouldn't treat you right until you gave him an ultimatum. Even if your guy has really and truly shaped up—and it sounds like he has—his change for the better only goes as far as your ability to trust that it's genuine.
An ability which, per your own admission, you just don't have anymore.
And when your relationship has turned you into a nightmare version of yourself who can't relax, can't let go, and can't see a blue-eyed stranger without experiencing the violent suspicion that OMG IT'S HER, then it's time to ask yourself why you're staying in a situation that brings out the absolute worst in you—and to consider giving yourself a break from being that awful person.
Because your boyfriend deserves a relationship where he's not being forever measured against prior bad acts for which he's genuinely sorry, and you deserve one where you're not tormented by the memory of having to beg him not to treat you like dirt. And here's the thing: it's still possible that you guys could have that relationship with each other... if you can both agree to torch the memory of your horrific first months together, and build your relationship on the more recent foundations of mutual affection and respect.
But since all your best efforts at a smooth transition from within the relationship have failed—and turned you into a paranoid lunatic in the bargain—then your next option is to see how you do when you're out of it for awhile. And if, after giving yourself the gift of a little distance and a little time apart, you two feel like you're still meant to be? Then you can reconnect, and start fresh in the knowledge that this time, you're doing it only because you're the other's number one choice.
Would you try to move past an awful beginning like this and make things work, or would you run screaming? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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