Monday, October 23, 2006

Dismaying Story # 72: The Kitten Substitute

Dear Andrew,

I'm in a long distance relationship. However, my boyfriend and I talk every day (MSN, SMS, calls) and we see each other every two months. He is my best friend and the best boyfriend I could ever imagine. Yet I didn't imagine how hard it would be to be so far away from him. I simply underestimated how important a hug can be, a kiss, to take somebody's hand when I'm feeling down, just the company while watching TV. We will be together again after a year, settling into a relationship that is made for life.

Still, I am worried. I have many guy friends. One in particular is my ex boyfriend. The relationship hurt me in so many ways and yet I decided I could be friends with him. We live in the same apartment complex and we spend a lot of time together. This would be okay if this ex was completely over his feelings for me, but this is not the case.

I enjoy being with him, though. He is finally the person I wanted him to be in the relationship although he still lies about certain issues, which was a huge problem in the actual relationship.

I don't ever want to be with him again. He even leaves the country in three months. I'd like us to enjoy the friendship because I went through a lot with him and I feel like I deserve him being there for me after he tortured me for so long. My benefit is I get a hug or two when I'm sad. He never knows why I'm sad because, although he knows I'm with my boyfriend, I wouldn't want to hurt my ex by talking about my boyfriend all the time.

It would probably be better for me and my relationship if I'd never see my ex again. Yet, I can't tell why it's so hard to tell him No when he asks me to come over to have dinner together, watch TV, go to parties together. I miss my boyfriend a great deal because I love him so much. I need to be given a hug though every once in a while and I'm afraid that I'll search (am already searching) for this closeness in my ex boyfriend who is simply available. I don't know when the lines of friendship might fade away and when it's actually considered cheating. Is it when I let him take me into his arms for 5 seconds too long, when I let him put his arms around my shoulders, when I lean on him, when maybe one day I'll fall asleep on his couch while watching TV? I know that I'd go absolutely crazy if the same thing happened to my boyfriend and a friend of his. The problem is that I don't have family in this town, nor my best (girl)friend to be there for me. The only person that seems really close is this ex of mine.

What can I do?

Signed, Needs a Hug

Dear Needs a Hug,

Let me get this straight. You love your boyfriend and plan to spend the rest of your life with him. At the same time you hug your ex-boyfriend and snuggle on his couch to watch TV, knowing he still has feelings for you ... and you're not sure if you have exceeded the bounds of simple friendship?

Of course you know.

Here are a couple of simple ways to tell if you are crossing the line. After you've spent some time with your ex, would you then call your boyfriend and tell him everything that happened? I bet not. Similarly, would you act differently with the ex if your boyfriend was standing behind you the whole time, looking over your shoulder? If you wouldn't do it with your boyfriend watching, then you shouldn't do it at all.

Several of your statements fail to hold water for me. For instance, you say your ex is now the person you always wanted him to be, but he still lies to you. Lying seems like it should be a deal-breaker. Why hang around someone who treats you like that, regardless of your circumstances?

Secondly, why are you worried about hurting your ex by talking about your boyfriend? If your ex is just a friend, then he should be perfectly comfortable hearing about your boyfriend and should be supportive of your need to talk about him. This is another clear indication that your relationship with your ex is more than just being friends. If you are truly committed to your boyfriend, then you should be more concerned about hurting him by being with the ex.

Finally, let's call a spade a spade; you are dating your ex-boyfriend. Where I come from, that's what we call it when he phones you up to go to parties and to come over to his place and the two of you end up snuggling. This relationship has progressed to the point where you are uncomfortable enough to write to me. You know there is an issue, but you seem to be trying to convince yourself this is okay because you have to be apart from your boyfriend for a time and you feel all alone.

I understand loneliness is no fun but let's look ahead a bit. How are you going to feel when you are back together with your boyfriend and you have to think back on how you acted when he was out of town? Will you feel proud of your actions or will you feel guilty? I suspect it's the latter, and let me tell you, that one is no fun either. Then the two of you get married and he has to go away on a business trip for a few weeks. You'll be lonely then too. Would that make it okay to look up another guy for the physical contact you miss while your husband is away? Of course not, and it's not okay now, either.

What can you do? You can start honoring the commitment you have made to your boyfriend and stop wandering over that line. Start acting like you would if he were there watching you.

If you find you can't do that, then I wonder just how strong your commitment really is. If so, then it's not fair to your boyfriend to deceive him. Let him know what has been going on.

You say that's not what you want, though, so if I were you I would get a kitten to snuggle with, or find a new girlfriend or two so you can have someone to spend time with and confide in. Join a club. Take a class. Get a part-time job to fill up your extra hours. There are plenty of ways to distract yourself from your loneliness without resorting to cheating on your boyfriend.

All the best,


  1. Anonymous9:30 AM

    Excellent, Andrew, just excellent. Obviously, Needs a Hug knew the answers to all her questions or she wouldn't have written about them. She just needed someone in authority, I guess, to reiterate it for her. Sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees, and a little clarification and downright common sense from someone outside our circle can really put things in perspective. Good advice, once again, Andrew.

  2. Bravo, Andrew.

    And make sure the kitten knows about your boyfriend too, missy.

  3. Well said.
    I have been in an Internet relationship and there were problems with someone else that was still in the picture that was there before me that cause endless problems with his interference and her willingness to keep in contact with him and his family.
    This was what finally ended it along with her fear of commitment.

    How can anyone profess their love for someone and still have ties to an EX when there are no more reasons for them to be together.
    If there were kids I would understand it but not the cuddling.

    She is using the EX as a surrogate for her absent BF and leading on the one that still is there in her life with her presence and show of affection.
    In essence she is cheating on both and lying to herself.
    As a rule when I end it with someone they are gone for good.
    No ties, no phone calls over.
    When the relationship ends it ends for a reason and why cling to someone who doesn’t want to be with you.
    If there are kids involved there is no choice but to keep in contact but outside of that, why.

    Have a nice day Andrew

  4. you hit the nail on the head...perfect answer!!

  5. Anonymous7:46 PM

    Hey Doc Andrew,
    Perfect way to lay down the law. She knows what's wrong and what's right. Andrew, I like the way you tell it like it is. I used to like Dr. Laura for the same reason, but she has become an overbearing, self absorbed bully and has lost her ability to be objective. Besides, I doubt there are naked picture of you anywhere online. Andrew, when are you going to have a syndicated radio show? I'll listen everyday. Right on and keep up the good work!
    A straight guy who gets it!

  6. just checking in to say hi. We made it through Ireland, three of us 11 days in the car, and close quarters. We made it. It was good to do, for my wife's 50th.

  7. perfect answer Andrew.....she just needs to remember to change the cat litter!

  8. Anonymous10:41 AM

    Actually, I thought this was an interesting post for a sort of tangential reason. One of the things I hate most about being perpetually single is that I really miss close physical contact. Once you hit a certain age, you can't get "that close" with your friends any more . . . or maybe I'm just particularly needy (although I was one of the few who was in favor of sleeping separately if that was what a couple felt worked best. Maybe I'm just weird).

    Not that it excuses her, though. She needs to make a decision and be honest with both of these guys.

  9. Anonymous4:55 PM

    People, there is not only black and white... Sometimes things are grey and an ex- relationship can turn into a friendship. If both sides know what the deal is. If both sides know when to stop. What's the problem? People feel lonely. And if you would watch TV, eat, go to parties, jada jada with a normal friend where there are no feelings involved - where is the problem in doing that with another friend who happens to be an ex. People don't always cheat. I'd say: Stop being so hard on the woman.

  10. I have major issues with the sexualization of every male-female relationship that a lot of people in this country seem to do.

    However, some of the questioner's comments, such as "I wouldn't want to hurt him by talking about my boyfriend", seem to indicate that she still sees this man in a romantic life. In this case, I think the advice is sound. Get away, and get something else to cuddle. Maybe have your boyfriend win you a big huge stuffed animal at a fair and use that.