Why do I keep dating guys I need to babysit?
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Dear Miss Information,
Lately, I've noticed my boyfriend hangs out with girls and doesn't tell me about it, which makes me feel insecure and jealous. Though I don't think he's cheating on me or has any intention of doing so, I don't understand why he's so secretive. He claims it's because I act jealous, but I really only feel jealous when I hear about some girl weeks later. Recently, I admit, I snooped through his phone after he went on a trip to Vegas. While he was there he visited a girl who was an old friend. I felt so betrayed and angry that he didn't just tell me he saw her. When I confronted him and asked why he lied, he claimed it wasn't a lie because he just didn't tell me — had he made up some alternate story, then it would have been a lie.
I keep telling myself I'm being neurotic and controlling, and that it shouldn't matter because he's not interested in these girls and because he loves me. But I can't help but feel betrayed and left out somehow, like there's this part of his life he doesn't want to include me in. I get that he has friends and a life that I won't be a part of all the time, and I respect that; I just don't understand why saying "I visited my old friend today" is such a big deal. I tried to explain this to him before he went on his trip, and he assured me he'd tell me if he hung out with this girl, then he didn't. Am I justified in feeling like he should tell me who he's with?
— The Jealous Girlfriend
Dear The Jealous Girlfriend,
You asked him to tell you whom he sees while he is in Vegas — with a special attention to his one lady friend, correct? And then, when he failed to bring home any news, you snooped through his phone? I'm sorry, Jealous, but that's a breach of trust on your part, and it's unfair.
You seem sure that he loves you and and is faithful, which is great. So why do his social comings and goings matter? Could something deeper be going on here? Do you have specters of cheating partners in your past? Is it possible that your own social life is lacking, so you feel the need to live vicariously through his? Whatever the reason, the jealous behavior here is a symptom, but not the whole problem. It seems like there is a lot of secrecy and evasion going on between the two of you, and it's worth figuring out why.
First, apologize for searching his phone, and mean it. It's unfortunate that what you found validated your fears, but that doesn't justify the snooping. Then tell him about your insecurities, and ask for his help and support. For instance, an explanation like, "I'm nervous around Alicia because I know you two used to date" is more workable than "Here is a tracking device, and if it runs out of batteries, I will call your mother." Changes should be made, but it needs to be a two-person effort. It can't be a mandate that you hand down and then are charged with policing.
Punishing yourself for being "controlling" and "neurotic" only fans the flames of inadequacy, and that worsens the insecurity. He's with you for a reason, jealous behavior and all. Don't worry about grabbing onto him — you already have him. Assume security in the relationship, and work on strengthening it with trust and honesty.
Dear Miss Info,
I'm starting a new, fun job, just moved into a new place, and am distancing myself from a couple of toxic relationships. I'm at a pretty promising point in my life, I guess. I say "I guess" because I seem to give myself fresh starts constantly, and they never work out quite right.
I'm keenly aware of what I need to change about myself. But no matter how many times I tell myself to stop doing something — "never again will I talk bad about so-and-so / share someone else's secrets / order things off the internet I can't afford / eat fast food / sleep past noon / talk about my trust fund;" the list is virtually endless — I find myself doing that very thing, sometimes within hours. And I don't realize it's happening until immediately after it's too late.
It's never dangerous; I actually have pretty awesome self-control when it comes to sex, drugs, reckless behavior, and whathaveyou. But I feel like I'm in a nearly decade-long personality rut that's keeping me from being the person I'd like to be, and poisoning current and potential relationships.
I've tried all the gimmicks, from fastidious list-making to public declarations, but nothing seems to keep me from doing the exact opposite of what I had hoped for. Pile disappointment on top of the mile-long list of faults I've found in myself, and you have a lot of self-doubt. And I feel like it's all connected; until I straighten myself out, I'm going to keep dating the same guys that I feel like I have to babysit. I'm not looking for "love yourself the way you are" advice — there's nothing wrong with trying to be a better person! I just don't know where to go from here.
— Full of Fail
Dear Full of Fail,
Oh, you don't want to hear "love yourself the way you are?" That's a shame, because I only dispense advice I find on throw pillows. You're the most beautiful and unique of all the snowflakes, you know? Dance like nobody's watching.
I am, of course, kidding. An eye toward self-improvement never hurt anyone, and I applaud you for trying. A while ago, I was talking to a friend about very similar themes. (Oh, by the way — you're not that unique of a snowflake.) My friend is a physician's assistant, a doula, and full-time great. After listening to my self-critique, she said vaguely, "Well, I have been thinking a lot lately about negative pleasure. What kind of negative pleasure are you getting from this?"
I was taken aback. "Well, none. I'm failing, and I'm mad at myself." She just nodded sagely, then walked away to make tea. That conversation stuck in my brain like a thorn. The next time I found myself hate-eating a carton of Chicken McNuggets, I realized exactly what she was talking about. Failure sucks, and is frustrating. But really listen in: even when you're pissed at yourself, there is often some perverse pleasure in it.
Maybe you keep dating guys you have to babysit because you secretly appreciate the purpose and power it affords you. Maybe you can't stick to a healthier diet because failing feeds this sense of, "Why bother? I don't deserve better." Maybe telling your friends' secrets makes you feel like an insider. Who knows? But figuring out what these behaviors do for you will help you figure out why you keep doing them.
Fighting unhealthy patterns — as you've learned — often makes them worse. Think of these impulses like petulant children. If you yell "Stop it!" that impulse will scream and bite your ankle, then call 911 on you for no reason, and nothing gets accomplished. But if you crouch down, look directly into that behavior's PB&J-smeared face, and ask, "What's up?" you'll get further. Take a cooperative tone with your impulses, and you'll find it easier to get to what is actually driving them.
Meditation and introspective yoga practices are excellent for tuning out ambient bullshit and focusing on yourself. And if/when you slip up, acknowledge it without beating yourself up, then gently move yourself back to center. This takes practice, but it can be done.
Judging from your tone, FoF, you're doing okay. You seem pretty self-assured, and these are problems we all experience. (If you need more throw pillows, hit up your nearest Cracker Barrel.) Just lighten up your grip on yourself, and I think you'll find everything gets easier.
PS: If you're interested in meditation and can stomach the clip art of lily pads, I'm a fan of Tara Brach. She's a clinical psychologist and meditation teacher, plus an all-around cool lady. You can also get podcasts about meditation for free on iTunes, if you want a place to start.