Miss Information: I’m jealous of my boyfriend’s female friend. Are they closer than they should be, or am I just imagining things?

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I'm jealous of my boyfriend's female friend. Are they closer than they should be, or am I just imagining things?

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Dear Miss Information,

I've been with my boyfriend for a few months. Things are going well, but something's bothering me. He has a very, very close female friend. They talk to each other nearly every day, and he says he misses her when they go stretches without talking. I've met her a few times, and both of us seem slightly wary of each other.

I've always known they were very close, but they're closer than I am comfortable with, and I'm ashamed to say I know this because I read some of the text messages between them. It was a violation of trust, and it was bad. I feel guilty, but I also didn't like what I read. They jokingly text dirty things to each other, and add "hug" and "cuddle" (which are the kinds of things he and I text each other). I read bits and pieces like "I love getting your sweet texts" and "you know I <3 you." They're listed as brother and sister on facebook, and he's told me that he cares about her a lot and thinks of her "like a sister."

I can't help but feel like I'm competing with her. I wish I could talk to him, but I wouldn't be able to say exactly what I want without revealing to him the fact that I invaded his privacy. I trust him, but I don't know if I trust him completely and wholeheartedly. My imagination can run away with me sometimes, so I don't know how I should feel. I also hate how things like this take over so much headspace.

— The Other Woman

Dear The Other Woman,

Do you have a brother? I do. We're close and he is awesome, but neither of us would ever dream of tacking on texts like "hugs!" or "cuddles!" in our communication. In real life, we're more likely to fist-bump than we are to hug it out. Maybe that's just us and our prickly Protestant ways, but my point stands — your boyfriend's claim that his friend is "like a sister" rings hollow. (Unless, of course, it's the Paris in the '60s: little-known loophole.)

Maybe your boyfriend and this girl are just friends, but that doesn't excuse dirty texts. (And "<3" as a verb is never okay. Because it is lame.) Regardless of intention, their behavior is effectively driving a girl-shaped wedge between you two. You know all of this; it just sounds like you need to have it validated. If it feels like they're too close for your comfort, then they are. And if it's bothering you, you need to bring it up.

When you talk to him, center on how this situation makes you feel — "I feel insecure" or "it's hard for me to trust you" or "I feel like she and I are in competition" are all legitimate viewpoints. Whatever you do, don't sink to ultimatums like "It's her or me." She's not the issue here; the issue is your boyfriend's ability to draw appropriate boundaries. Don't get swiftboated into thinking it's a flaw in you/it's a flaw in her/socialism is a threat to America. The issue you describe — real or imagined — is about trust and security, and any partner worth his salt will take that seriously.

As a side note, you say you and his friend are "both wary of one another." If you're each eyeing the other as if she's a rabid dog, you're playing into centuries-old stereotypes about women and jealousy. And that means that both you and she are stuck in an uncomfortable situation while he gets to high-five a mirror. He may not be conscious that he's doing it, but if he refuses to smooth things over, then he's probably not worth the energy after all.

Dear Miss Information,

I'm going berserk with loneliness, boredom, and frustration. I live alone in my parents' house, in the town I grew up in, while they're waiting for it to sell. I'm unemployed and never quite good enough for anyone. I dropped out of university because I couldn't muster the motivation to actually study; while the subject matter was interesting, there was no spark, no drive, nothing that pushed me to keep going. Those skills I do have are mostly self-taught, but without a formal qualification, nobody will take me seriously.

I've never had a girlfriend; the sum total of my experiences with women are two ill-advised make-out sessions with a friend in college. I've only got a few friends, many of whom live fairly far away. It makes communication hard. Loneliness and regret have pretty much been the defining features of my life: loneliness because I've never really had many friends (I was the school nerd, bullied and ostracized); and regret because there are so many near-misses I've had, and I can't help but wonder what might have happened had I not been so lacking in confidence, or at least been able to read people's intentions better.

My handful of friends always tell me that things will improve when I get more self-confidence, or when I'm not so self-deprecating and harsh on myself. It seems, though, that those problems are self-perpetuating: I'm not confident, I try to meet people/find employment/etc., people sense I'm not confident, reject me, and my confidence falls another notch. I've spent more time than is probably healthy on introspection, and the only solution I can think of is for someone to accept me out-of-the-blue. I should point out that the lack of confidence isn't a belief that I'm not capable of anything — I know that I can probably do anything if I put my mind to it — but that anything I'm capable of doing will be utterly worthless to anyone else.

I just wish I could get out of this. What do I need to do to get a fresh start on life?

— Hometown Zero

Dear Hometown Zero,

This is a really rich letter, Hometown, and the lights it sparked in my brain are, no doubt, also lighting up other readers' brains, too. Your series of quandaries are common and relatable. You're absolutely not the only one to fall down this foxhole.

First, I want to kick down some of your misconceptions. When was the last time you heard someone fascinating attribute their success to their days on the child-beauty-pageant circuit or their prowess at underaged beer pong? Never, right? Getting picked on is horrible and unfair, but sooner or later you have to spin that torment into character. And forget the cliché that "chicks dig scars" — what we actually dig is character. (The line got left on the cutting-room floor of Fight Club, by the way.) Outcasts run the world!

And then you hit us with this: "…anything I'm capable of doing will be utterly worthless to anyone else." As long as you live in a world where NASCAR is popular and Oreo Cakesters are a thing, I doubt that you have "absolutely nothing" to contribute. Suffice it to say, Hometown, that I see many seeds of coolness in you. You already figured out what's wrong; you just need a nudge in some direction. So here's your nudge. The same rules of inertia that are making you miserable now can also be applied to improving things. Make one tiny change at a time, and good things will snowball. Opportunities don't just happen; they have to be engineered, brick by brick.

For starters, tweak your perspective. I understand that it sucks that you're living in your childhood home and that you're unemployed. But that also means you've got low overhead costs and time on your hands. Believe it or not, that's not a bad start.

From here, it's just about taking action. If motivation is a problem, choose something that you care a lot about, and fuck external praise. Have you always wanted to take a robotics class? Great! Solder it up, and don't worry about grades. Do you want to be around people? Rad, apply as a part-time bartender at TGI Friday's and try to figure out how to make Pizza Shooters sound appealing. Pick one small thing that sounds fun, jump in, and don't think twice about others' judgments. Stop defining yourself by failures, and you'll open more space for growth.

During all of this, you could probably use the backing of a good therapist. He or she can be an ally, and can help you rewrite your mental narrative. Pull yourself out of the margins and things will get infinitely easier. Still not convinced? Take it from an inspirational nerd. Just look at how happy he is.