Thursday, January 04, 2007

Dismaying Story #99: That "Friends-Only" Kind of Love

Dear Andrew,

My boyfriend and I have been together for about nine months and I am having an extremely hard time getting over his past sexual relationships. I think a lot to do with it is the fact that he had a lot of "flings" with close female friends who he is still currently good friends with. One of these girls in particular is one of his best friends who he hangs out with on a fairly regular basis and even says "I love you" in a friends-only manner. He keeps reassuring me that he is "in love" with me and that he simply "loves" her as a friend. I have told my boyfriend several times that this makes me uncomfortable but he insists that they will remain only friends and that I have nothing to worry about. This situation has been eating at me for some time and I was just seeking some advice on how to get over my insecurities with my relationship.

Signed, His Current Love

Dear His Current Love,

I wrote about a similar situation a couple of months ago in Jealousy Over Past Partners, in which a young man hated the fact that his girlfriend had previous sexual partners. I suggest you read that article because my advice to him forms part of my answer to you -- in your case an ex-girlfriend is just that, an ex, regardless of whether sex was part of the previous relationship. She's out, you're in. In general I support the view that we should not automatically assume old flames are threats. Unless you have evidence that he still has feelings for her or is playing both sides of the fence, the fact that he had previous sexual relationships does not necessarily represent a danger to your current relationship.

However ... and this is a big "however" ... your story involves additional factors. Hanging out on a fairly regular basis with his ex-girlfriend as one of his current best friends and exchanging the "I love you" line is a different story, especially since you have admitted this makes you insecure. That scenario would probably have the same effect on most people.

Sure, guys and girls can simply be friends who hang out. It happens. But he and the ex have been intimate in the past, which means there is more of a connection there than simply old friends. They still invest a good deal of time into each other and don't mind throwing that "love" word around. I doubt they use that word with all their friends, so they still have a special bond. My instinct is that you're right to be uncomfortable. Whether your boyfriend wants to admit it or not (even to himself perhaps), it sounds like they are playing the game called, "We'll pretend to just be friends for a while but who knows what the future will bring."

Do I know that for sure? Of course not; that's just my educated guess.

But let's suppose I'm wrong. Suppose their friendship is entirely innocent and he is completely devoted to you.

That's still not enough.

Sometimes we also have to demonstrate our devotion, especially when our partner is feeling insecure and needs a little extra support. In other words, appearances count. Your boyfriend is doing a wonderful impression of someone who still has a thing for his ex, and his actions are speaking more loudly to you than his words. If he truly cares for and values his relationship with you, he should be willing to show you that you have nothing to worry about. That means backing off a bit with the ex. Sure, be friendly, but all this "still my best friend" and "we still love each other" stuff is over the line.

How do you get over your insecurities? You need his cooperation. If he is unwilling to do that, then either (a) you have real reason to be insecure, or (b) he lacks the empathy and supportiveness to be a giving partner. Either way I would consider that to be a danger signal.

Hopefully he'll see the light and find a way to put your mind at ease. If so, leave the past where it belongs (that would be in the past) and enjoy the fact that he is with you because he wants to be.

Good luck!

All the best,

Not many people have suggested New Years relationship resolutions in response to this week's Question of the Week. Perhaps you can think of a really good one that someone you know should make. Whether it's you or someone else, I'd love to hear your ideas. I'll pitch in with a personal resolution of my own on Saturday.


  1. Anonymous8:08 AM

    i know that this might not be something most readers will agree with but i think it's time to pull out the 'me or her' line. as a person who's been there and shut up and is now extremely sorry and still extremely insecure about the subject (even if the subject is no longer an actual present threat), i sincerely recommend His Current Love to put him to the test. i understand that she might not want that test (and she might be afraid of the result) but trust me: if you don't do it now, even if she goes away, even if she disappears into thin air etc. etc. there will always be a part of you wondering if you're not just second best.

  2. Oh, no--I've had plenty of close guy friends and not a one of them has ever said, "I love you." I know they do (platonically), but they don't say it. I've also never slept with any of them so there is no friends-or-exes ambiguity, or potential "privileges" implied by experiences shared in the past. I, personally, think that trying to mix a female best friend and a girlfriend is asking for trouble, too, but maybe some people can pull it off.

    I'm not really a jealous girl but this situation would be much too close for comfort for me.

  3. Her insecurities are not unfounded. If her boyfriend continues to disregard how she is feeling towards the way he is behaving with his exes, it also signals that he doesn't love her.

    Because if he does, then he won't want to do anything to hurt her or break the trust in a relationship.

  4. You gave very good advice, Andrew.
    Sometimes a past love is just that. But if it IS totally harmless, then your guy will do everything he can to demonstarte the truth to you so you have no questions about it...

  5. So interesting, as I am still very good friends with a man I dated nearly 20 years ago. We are very close and although we currently live on opposite coasts, we usually talk on the phone at least once a week or so.

    He left his wife a year ago (they'd married in 2001, and had been together since 1993) for a 23 year old actress/model. He used to act, as well; he and I met working at a theatre back in 1987, and I still work in theatre, today.

    Once the divorce was final, he moved from CO to DC to be with her. My parents both live in the DC area and they were the only people he knew, other than his new girlfriend.

    When they hit a rough patch after two and a half months, he moved in with my father for a month, trying to decide what to do. He's still sorting through his feelings about the end of his marriage and the different places he and his young new girlfriend are in their lives.

    He was the one suffering insecurity and trust issues about her interactions with her co-stars, and I was concerned about the immaturity she demonstrated in her lack of empathy, support and sensitivity.

    I tried to gently point out that infidelity was less the real issue than trust. She was with him and either he trusted that or he didn't. If he didn't, he should further examine why he was with her.

    He vacillates from joy to pessimism, and back again about the relationship. I am one of the few people he talks to and confides in.

    We both value our friendship tremendously, and even though we were sexually intimate years ago (and always had a very strong physical chemistry), there is no confusion over what is the past and the nature of our relationship today.

    I know I am one of his best friends and occasionally we express our love for each other. It is purely platonic, and there is no danger of competition or anything else with either of our current relationshiips.

    However, I completely agree that attention should be paid to a partner's discomfort, and efforts should be made to reassure someone's insecurity. Ultimatums are almost always a bad idea and show a lack of respect for the complexities of human nature.