Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Your Turn: “How Do I Learn to Trust Him Again?”

In a feature I call “Your Turn,” in which you, the readers, get to answer the question, I’m presenting the following letter without commentary from me:

I have been with my boyfriend for almost two years. We’re silly together, the sex is good, and we’re a good team. I’ve never had jealousy issues in a relationship before, and tend to be the opposite of insecure-crazy; we watch porn together, talk about other girls (and guys) together, and have even had a threesome with another woman (which, believe it or not, was my idea).

The problem is that over the course of the past four months, I have caught him speaking to other women inappropriately via text, email, and chat, on three separate occasions. Once with an ex-fling, once with a girl he’d met online (who turned out to be 17!!), and once with his BOSS (yes, really). We had a long talk about our relationship, and why he was doing these things (he says that it’s just the way he relates to women, and that he gets a thrill out of flirting). I wasn’t completely satisfied with any of his reasons, and felt really disrespected, disgusted, and disappointed in him; it’s hard to reconcile this dishonest behavior with the awesome guy I know and love. He promised to cease and desist, and I decided that I wanted to stay with him and work through it.

Through none of these periods of flirtation was he any less attentive to me, but lately, doubts have begun to creep in, and I’ve been finding myself getting really paranoid. We’re not living together this summer, as I took a job in the city, and he’s finishing up grad school an hour away, before moving to the city to join me, and when I don’t hear from him by a certain time in the evening, the thoughts that creep through my head are unpleasant ones…

How do I really get past these feelings of insecurity and suspicion? This is the first time I’ve dealt with anything like this, and I truly want to forgive him. Any advice would be appreciated. It’s difficult to take a step back, and see the situation objectively. — Suspicious Mind

84 comments… add one
  • avatar

    darden July 6, 2011, 3:13 pm

    Call me old fashioned but why are you having trust issues when you are into threesomes? Can’t you just imagine him cheating on you as a threesome you couldn’t make it to? If you walk in on him with another woman and you join in is that cheating? Isn’t the whole idea behind threesomes that one person “isn’t enough”?

    I am really not being judgmental, do whatever you want, it just seems like if you were as into the polyamory thing as you say this wouldn’t be an issue at all.

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    • avatar

      oldie July 6, 2011, 3:19 pm

      Umm, no. Engaging in a threesome together is far different from him setting up his own two-somes without LW, which is what he seems to be trying to accomplish.

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      • avatar

        darden July 6, 2011, 3:32 pm

        How so? Is it just because she wasn’t invited? If your friends go out and “neglect” to invite you, you might be annoyed and maybe even hurt, but you probably wouldn’t. Be struggling with paranoia and insecurity, right?

        Just seems like a lot of youngish (20s) girls these days are always trying to prove to skeever guys that they are “really cool” and lie through their teeth and say they “also aren’t looking for a serious relationship” and, presumably, engage in sexual behaviors they wouldnt otherwise.

        I’m aware she said it was her idea, but it wouldn’t be the first time somebody lied to herself, would it? Even if it was honestly all her doing, its still part of the problem

        Having a threesome amounts to writing your “boyfriend” a permission slip saying its okay to have sex with other women. Whether or not you’re present will likely be interpreted as a minor detail rather than of the essence.

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        Morgan July 6, 2011, 3:41 pm

        No, a threesome is permission to on that occasion mutually engage in a sexual act with a third party. It is not permission for either him or her to go out and sleep with anyone anytime anywhere.

        This isn’t about her having a threesome with some guy she’s kinda hooking up with, and then being angry when he’s hooking up with other girls too. It is about her boyfriend, judge-y quotes excluded, crossing a line.

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph July 6, 2011, 3:43 pm

        Having a threesome amounts to writing your boyfriend a day pass that its ok to have sex with this woman while in your presence and also having sex with you.

        It does not give him a permission slip to have sex with any woman of his choosing without informing and/or inviting you.

        Also, I hardly think that your friends going out to a club without you is the same as your exclusive boyfriend having sex with another woman. Your analogy doesn’t make sense.

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      • avatar

        ele4phant July 6, 2011, 3:47 pm

        Its about the lying more than anything. When its a threesome, she’s obviously aware and comfortable with things. Emailing other women without telling her, that’s blatantly disrespectful and deceitful.

        I am pretty “old fashioned” too when it comes to relationships and sex, but I can clearly see a distinction between having threesomes that the couple has agreed upon (or for that matter agreeing to have an open relationship), and a partner that is seeking out sex with those outside the relationship without the knowledge or consent of the other. Having a threesome in no way “writes a permission slip” for the boyfriend to get in on the side on his own.

        Also, despite the fact that I am “conservative” when it comes to sex, I don’t think that women who have threesomes are necessarily lying to themselves about what turns them on or trying to “seem cool” to attract guys. Believe it or not, some people have different sexual turn-ons then you and me. You have no idea what’s going on in her head, or what does it for her.

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      • avatar

        SGMcG July 6, 2011, 3:48 pm

        In a threesome, there is some form of agreement between a couple before a third comes in. If the LW was truly polygamist, I’m sure she would have an agreement with the boyfriend regarding bringing others into the relationship. The fact that she was so freaked out about inappropriate communications with other women, suggests to me that there was not form of any agreement regarding them. Disclosure and communication is the difference between polyamory and cheating.

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      • leilani

        leilani July 6, 2011, 3:48 pm

        A threesome is a sexual experience that three people are sharing. Choosing to have a certain kind of sexual experience with your partner is not infidelity, regardless of who else it involves. It is not giving your partner free rein to go bang whoever he wants to at random, it is deciding that you want to share one specific experience with one specific person on one specific occasion. That’s all you’re “allowing”.

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    • avatar

      camille905 July 6, 2011, 3:22 pm

      And it sounds like the trust issues didn’t come up until AFTER the threesome when he started behaving inappropriately with other women, which is enough to give the most confident woman trust issues.

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph July 6, 2011, 3:27 pm

      Polyamory is different from threesomes. A threesome is about sex with the other person, polyamory is about romantic love with more than one person.
      LW has agreed to including a third person, with all 3 people consenting, in their sexual life. It doesn’t mean she has agreed to him either getting involved romantically with another (polyamory) OR with him going behind her back and bringing others into his sex life without her consent (cheating).

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      • avatar

        Betty Boop July 6, 2011, 4:53 pm

        Thank you for making that distinction! They are very different things indeed.

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    • avatar

      spanishdoll July 6, 2011, 3:30 pm

      Agreeing to polyamory ≠ Inviting disrespect from a partner

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      • avatar

        ele4phant July 6, 2011, 4:19 pm

        I wouldn’t want a poly relationship, but I wouldn’t say that it can’t work. There are plenty of people who disrespect their partners in monogamous relationships. My point is, if you love and respect your partner, you will respect the relationship you have both agreed too, no matter what form it is. I don’t think opening a relationship will cause make a previously respectful relationship to sour. That disrespect and lack of consideration was there to begin with.

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      • avatar

        LTC039 July 6, 2011, 4:30 pm

        I think you worded this perfectly. I, too, am old-fashioned. Three-somes & polyamory isn’t my thing, but to each his own! You’re right, it’s what the couple agrees to that defines the boundaries of disrespect, not what society thinks.

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    • avatar

      AKchic July 6, 2011, 7:09 pm

      In polyamorous relationships (or even experimentations), there is usually discussion beforehand on what the expectations are prior to the actual “doing of the deed”. A “laying down of the rules”, if you will.

      Most ground rules entail that the partnered couple involved are together and in a relationship prior to the relationship, therefore, they agree that this particular event (the threesome) is not cheating, therefore, at anytime a fight occurs, it cannot be brought up as cheating later.
      Both partners have to agree on the third party being brought into the bedroom (or where ever the sexual liason is taking place, but for the sake of brevity and argument, let’s call it bedroom).
      That condoms will be used at all times, even if all females are on birth control and/or cannot get pregnant because of permanent sterilization (or even pregnancy). All parties are clean (or all have a certain STD, who knows).
      There are usually discussions of photography and videography. What kinds of pictures/shots, who gets to keep the pictures/video(s), where the pictures/video(s) will be stored, etc.

      None of this says “I’m giving you a free pass to flirt with and/or hit on and/or have emotional relationships and/or sexual relationships with other women outside of our approved threesome”.

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  • avatar

    oldie July 6, 2011, 3:14 pm

    Your BF has behaved inappropriately with multiple women and claims to have changed. Yet, you remain suspicious. Since you say you have never been jealous/suspicious of prior BFs and had tried to put his past flirts behind you since your discussion with him, I think you must be subconsciously registering something in his behavior that is putting you on edge. This seems another case of creating a picture of him in your mind that is different from the reality of whom you have discovered him to actually be. You’ve fallen for the false image, not the real man. MOA.

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    • avatar

      oldie July 6, 2011, 3:17 pm

      BTW, if you choose not to MOA, I think you have the big question backwards. The issue is not ‘how can I learn to trust him’, but rather ‘can he learn to behave in a manner that any rational, self-respecting woman coul possibly trust him’. It’s his job to convince you of his trustworthiness, not your job to force yourself to igore red flags for the sake of the relationship. I wouldn’t say this if you had a history of jealousy and distrust in prior relationships, but you say that definitely is not the case.

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      • Skyblossom

        Skyblossom July 6, 2011, 3:30 pm

        Well said!

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph July 6, 2011, 3:23 pm

    If you really want to stay with this guy who disrespected you and made stupid excuses about that being how he is (and I really think you should think long and hard about whether you do)…
    I think you need to tell him that you are finding it hard to trust him and that he needs to earn your trust back. Put it on him for being disrespectful and at least a little unfaithful, rather than on yourself. You don’t need to train yourself to trust him, he needs to train himself to be trustworthy.
    If you need to hear from him by a certain time every night, ask him to text or call you by that time. If he gives you crap for it, tell him that you have a hard time trusting him after his recent indiscretions and that part of earning your trust back is being accountable for his actions. Set out the things that will make you feel comfortable keeping a relationship with him, the behaviors he needs to have in order to earn your trust back. If he can’t do these, or won’t, then call it off at least until you live in the same town. An LDR is impossible to sustain if you don’t trust him, you will drive yourself mad wondering where he is and can’t even look forward to him coming home at the end of the day to remind you where his heart is.

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  • avatar

    BoomChakaLaka July 6, 2011, 3:24 pm

    I think your insecurity is arising out of the fact that you aren’t quite sure whether “sexting” or “flirting” falls on the infidelity spectrum. I can’t decide that for you and I don’t think anyone else can. You seem to, thus far, have a pretty trusting and relaxed relationship with your bf, so maybe at first it might not have been something bad, but now, you’re having second thoughts.

    I would just like to point at this one particular phrase that I think contains your answer:

    “I wasn’t completely satisfied with any of his reasons, and felt really disrespected, disgusted, and disappointed in him”

    If you ever you feel one of those feelings in a relationship, let alone all three simultaneously, eh, it might be good for you to take some time apart and have both parties re-evaluate why they are in a relationship to begin with.

    I’m probably the worst person though to ask for advice on how to trust someone again, because my trust is so hard to earn in the first place. If you break it once, well, that’s it.

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  • avatar

    Lindsay July 6, 2011, 3:28 pm

    I’m all for communication and working through problems. But the thing about situations like this is that he knew it was wrong before you called him out on it. He said he’d stop, but I don’t hold much respect for people who won’t stop inappropriate behavior until they’re caught. A relationship is built on trust, which you don’t have. And for someone who thought it was OK to be inappropriate is not a person who is really going to build much trust. Might be time to move on.

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  • leilani

    leilani July 6, 2011, 3:34 pm

    I’m curious about the three separate times that you caught him having these inappropriate flirtations. Did you find out about them all separately, or at once? If you talked about it after the first one and he did it again, and then you talked about it again and then he did it AGAIN, I don’t really know why this last conversation would mean anything. He knew that it was inappropriate, he knew that it hurt you and could jeopardize your relationship, and he decided to do it anyway. Saying that inappropriate conversations is “how he relates to women” is just saying that he only knows how to relate to women on a sexual level. Which means that this problem is going to continue for the remainder of your relationship. Moreover, I’m sure he also finds sex with other women fun and exciting. What’s stopping him from doing that, if he has so little regards for your feelings and relationship?

    That said, if you confronted him about all of this in one fell swoop, I would give him another chance. Some people have different boundaries and definitions of fidelity, and it is possible that he didn’t think that there was anything wrong with his behavior. Maybe when you told him that that crossed a line, he listened. But if he did clearly knew that that crossed a line and he continued to do it….I think this relationship is a lost cause. He’s already made his priorities clear.

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    • avatar

      bad tempered sparrow July 7, 2011, 5:33 am

      I agree with this. You talk with him about other guys and girls all the time so he knows you don’t mind him appreciating other girls. Some people really like flirting, and I assume that the ‘being inappropriate’ you referred to wouldn’t be inappropriate outside a relationship. It is wrong of him to do it inside of a relationship if you don’t like it but maybe he just got his boundaries a little crossed to mix a metaphor. If you asked him to stop and he did I think you should absolutely try and forgive him if you can. Also if these texts weren’t welcomed by the recipients that is a different matter again.

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    • avatar

      Camigram July 13, 2011, 11:18 am

      I agree totally. If you addressed this issue 1 time, it (depending on the individual) can mean a 1-time offense and posssibly forgivable…still that little twinge of distrust can bury itself never to be awakened again…meaning he GOT IT and comprehends that it ain’t cool. OR the threesome thing was his pass to do whatever whenever with whomever and you “should” understand.

      My ex lied about something we had previously discussed as being “understandable”, then he lied about something that was trivial….by lie 3 it was eveident that this man had TRUTH issues which of course caused my TRUST issues and although I forgave and understood and forgave, it did not good as the longer I was with him, the more it was evident that he either could not tell the truth or he didn’t believe in it, either was you’re better off getting out ASAP, it’s the proverbial “cannot fit a square peg into a round hole”. It was hell trying NOT to question every little thing he said or said he was doing, or place he was “supposed” to be….it ultimately got to the point that some REAL untruths and deceitfulness was uncovered and though we’d been together for over 5 years, I could NEVER regain full confidence in his word, and although I have heard that true forgiveness means not “going back into time”, it’s almost (I said ALMOST) impossible not to, given certain circumstances. I will always have a spot in my heart, but I just couldn’t go on suspecting, 2nd guessing and having any inconsistencies causing more distrust and suspicion. I know that men lie for various (and they try to justify) reasons, but 1 lie may be a slip, 2 lies starts the mistrust and 3 or more lies….you have either a pthological liar or a man who doest respect your boundaries more than he does his desires.

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  • avatar

    Yammy July 6, 2011, 3:34 pm

    I think you should ditch him, you’ve caught him flirting with 3 ladies (well, 2 ladies and 1 girl). That’s not what you’re asking about, though, so if you want to be a total idiot and pull the wool over your own eyes, here’s how you can go about it:

    You pretty much just have to change your thought patterns. Come up with some replacement thoughts to take the place of your intuition, er, I mean, insecurities. For example, if you think, “he’a going to cheat on me while I’m gone,” you can replace that thought with “I’m worth waiting for,” and “he’s really going to miss me.” Make a list of the bad thoughts that trouble you and make up some thoughts that will make you feel better.

    You could also try the old rubber band trick and snap yourself every time you have a
    negative thought. Search online for other little mind tricks you can play on yourself. Just change your thought patterns so that you can ignore the evidence in front of your face.

    PS- you weren’t by chance a jurist in the Casey Anthony trial, were you?

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    • avatar

      Stephanie July 6, 2011, 8:29 pm

      I am constantly suprised by how nasty and judgemental some commenters are. The same advice could have been offered without the nastiness. How is that tone helpful? Don’t comment just to make yourself feel superior.

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    • avatar

      Camigram July 13, 2011, 11:41 am

      This definitely IS a debatable topic, but frankly I don’t believe that ANY woman wants to “settle” for a liar. No matter how wonderful he appears to be otherwise, lying should be a dealbreaker. If you can put up with lies, then you can put up with cheating and if you can put up with cheating then you can put up with many other major discrepancies in your relationship, and frankly I (and I would hope ALL women do) feel that I deserve MUCH MUCH better. Not ALL men are liars, and not to say your next man won’t have some of the same traits, but I believe that if you say to yourself, “I DESERVE BETTER”, you will ultimately GET better. Not settling for someone just because you don’t want to be alone. Make a list of all the things youd’ like to have in a mate…..date, date, date…..there is someone out there that thinks you’re wonderful and worth the truth and dedicatioon it takes to help make a relationship work!

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom July 6, 2011, 3:34 pm

    I think you can take his word for it that this is the way he relates to women. If so, this will continue and you either live with it or MOA. Personally, I’d MOA but that’s your decision.

    You can’t force yourself to trust someone. That trust has to be earned by the someone and in this case it’s been destroyed by the someone. I think trust is like an egg, once it’s broken you can’t put it back together again.

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    • avatar

      Laurel July 6, 2011, 4:00 pm

      Not to mention, if this really is how he relates to women and you’re not comfortable with that, you’d be asking him to change a basic part of himself (his communication style). This never goes over well. When he told you that’s how he communicates with women, you should have decided then and there if that was something you’re okay with or not.

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    • avatar

      Elle July 6, 2011, 5:38 pm

      Skyblossom, sorry about the purple thumb. It was supposed to be green, but my.phone had a different idea :(.

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    • avatar

      Camigram July 13, 2011, 11:50 am

      Well said

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  • avatar

    Greebo July 6, 2011, 3:43 pm

    Love does not live where there is no trust. Jealousy and suspicion strangle love.

    On the one hand, you are describing a great relationship with a man who loves you, plays with you, talks to you and indulges your fantasies. On the other hand, you’re describing a relationship in which you are “catching him” in inappropriate conversations, even verging on taboo (his boss?? This can be a career ending choice for him and her. A 17 year old?? Even if that’s legal, talk about the “eww factor”.) In this “other” relationship, you are tortured by suspicion and doubt, feel undervalued and disrespected.

    Play this forward in time: you let this go, ignore your instincts. In a couple months or years, you’re using his computer and find his online dating profile, more emails or texts, or even evidence of an affair. He says you’ve always known that this is just the way he is, and you can’t blame him for deception. Imagine staying around longer. You’re married, you have kids, and he’s not there for a doctors appointment, a birthday, and you’re left wondering “Is he working late? Or is he with her?”

    You have instincts for a reason. Yours are saying this guy, however much fun he is, isn’t playing for keeps. If you are, let him go and find that great, fun, playful, sexy guy who is.

    Suspicious, we have instincts for a good reason. Trust yours. However much fun this man is, there is another one out there who won’t ma

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    • avatar

      Greebo July 6, 2011, 3:44 pm

      Pardon the last paragraph–thought I’d deleted it.

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  • avatar

    YouGoGirl July 6, 2011, 4:00 pm

    I think previous readers have expressed my opinion very well. I want to add one thought. The fact that the boyfriend acted inappropriately with a 17 year old girl is a huge red flag.

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  • avatar

    LTC039 July 6, 2011, 3:09 pm

    I honestly don’t know if this relationship has a chance. He relates to women by talking to them innappropriately?
    If all the reasons he gave you left a bad taste in your mouth & you still feel bad about it, unless you have some epiphany where you’re 100% ok, I don’t see this situation lightening up. I would tell you to trust him, but obviously that’s not easy since he broke your trust.
    I’m not going to tell you what to do, but if I were in your situation, I would leave. If things are meant to be they will be, but I feel you aren’t happy. Feeling paranoid & unsure is only going to make things worse. If you don’t step aside & focus on yourself, you’ll lose yourself in this relationship.

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    • Lana

      Lanchik July 6, 2011, 4:14 pm

      Believe me, the situation doesn’t lighten up. I just broke up with my boyfriend for a very similar reason. He sent his co-worker some texts that I found to be really questionable and after reading them, I just couldn’t trust him anymore. One was asking to send him “sexy photos” from her trip to the beach with friends, and another was telling her that she was “beautiful and amazing”. Meanwhile, he was being highly critical of me and allowing our relationship to falter despite all my best efforts to keep it together. After seeing those texts, I couldn’t get them out of my head, no matter how much I loved him and wanted things to work. I don’t think that he had cheated on me, but it seemed like he might have had the intention to do so.

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      • Lana

        Lanchik July 6, 2011, 4:15 pm

        *One text was asking her to send him
        *might likely have had the intention to do so

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      • avatar

        LTC039 July 6, 2011, 4:19 pm

        Wow. I’m sorry you went through that but I’m glad you had the courage & right mind to say “This isn’t ok with me.” I hope the LW reads your comment & takes it to heart!

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      • Lana

        Lanchik July 6, 2011, 5:55 pm

        Thank you! I appreciate what you said. It was a really difficult decision, as I thought I was going to be with my (now ex) boyfriend for a long time. We’d even talked seriously about moving in together after I finished university. But my trust was broken after I saw those texts, and I felt totally disrespected and under-valued, so staying in the relationship was not an option. 🙁

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  • avatar

    Laurel July 6, 2011, 4:12 pm

    I hate to say it, but it sounds to me like he’s hit the year-and-a-half slump and he’s checking out of the relationship. It isn’t exciting like it was for the first year, and now he’s realizing that while your relationship may be good, his life is still his life and the new-love warm fuzzy bubble is gone. Even though you connect well sexually, he’s seeking validation and thrills from other women.

    Are you okay with that? Are you okay with flirting/sexting without physical contact? Do you trust him to draw the line at just flirting? If the answer to both of those is yes, then you need to have a talk with him about it and be firm about what your boundaries are. It’s not unreasonable to ask him to call/text by a certain time of night (and don’t forget *you can call him* too!).

    If you aren’t okay with the way he interacts with other women, then you should probably break up. He said he does it because it’s how he relates to women and that he like the thrill of flirting. Trying to change this about him will probably fail and will just lead to resentment.

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph July 6, 2011, 4:46 pm

      Year and a half slump? Is that a thing?!
      What? No, I’m not panicking! 😉

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      • avatar

        Laurel July 6, 2011, 6:16 pm

        Haha I know, my bf and I are at a year and seven months right now. 😉 I’ve just read a lot on Dear Wendy (and elsewhere) that the oxytocin high of first being together wears off between a year and a year and a half into a relationship. Also, I’ve had firsthand experience in relationships that seemed great at 8 months or a year and then by a year and a half (or two years) were completely falling apart.

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      • avatar

        Jess July 7, 2011, 3:17 am

        definitely a thing!

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  • avatar

    SGMcG July 6, 2011, 4:13 pm

    How do you really get past these feelings of insecurity and suspicion? You have to talk them out of your system with him. Communicate your feelings and make it known that the discovery of the inappropriate texts made you trust him less. Ask if he has any suggestions on how to build this trust again, or provide some of your own. If you don’t trust your boyfriend enough to have those embarassing, uncomfortable discussions so that you can share how you feel about one another, the two of you don’t have a relationship.

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  • avatar

    Desiree July 6, 2011, 4:21 pm

    I wonder if the only reason this relationship has worked at all is because the LW is fairly permissive (threesome, etc.). I suspect the boyfriend has *zero* interest in changing this particular behavior; he probably is just hoping that she will decide to be “cool” about it and drop it. But even if she could make peace with it, I see the potential for this to be a slippery slope (with him pushing for more and more freedom). Regardless of where a couple’s boundaries are, conservative or liberal, they have to be firmly decided and supported by both parties. I don’t see that happening here.

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  • landygirl

    Landygirl July 6, 2011, 4:51 pm

    You’ve been with him for two years so I have to ask, is this a newly emerging pattern or has he always been this way and you just never took notice before? Also, why is it you that must alter their behavior? You didn’t do anything, it’s him that must earn your trust. What has he done to reassure you? How has he tried to make it right?

    Keep your eyes open, but if you aren’t the jealous type like you’ve said, then some kind of alarm has gone off in your brain to warn you about this behavior, you should listen to it.

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  • caitie_didnt

    caitie_didn't July 6, 2011, 4:57 pm

    “that’s just how he relates to women”? Sorry, but that’s bullshit.

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  • TaraMonster

    TaraMonster July 6, 2011, 4:02 pm

    The first thought I had was, “She’s dating Anthony Weiner.” Which, admittedly, made me chuckle inwardly, but also made me think that your boyfriend’s betrayal may be an indication of what gets him off: texting inappropriate things to inappropriate people. He even told you that this is how he relates to women and gets a thrill out of flirting. You sound pretty open minded about your sex life, so I suspect it’s not the actual act of him flirting with other women that’s bothering you, but that it was with completely inappropriate individuals, and that he lied about it. And rightly so. Those were shitty things for him to do. Unacceptable, and he needs to know that.

    It’s possible that all he needs to keep him faithful to you is your permission to have these digital trysts. Is that something you could be comfortable with provided he is completely open and honest about it –and provided minors and people he knows IRL are not his flirt buddies? I suggest you talk to him one more time and ask him to truly lay his cards on the table. Is this something that he needs to do to feel sexually satisfied and stay faithful in a relationship? The only caveat I have about this is that he’s said that’s just how he “relates” to women. He needs to explain that, and whether or not it means he believes flirting with minors and his boss is acceptable behavior, because it goes without saying, that shit is NOT COOL AT ALL.

    Listen carefully to what he says and then take some time to think about whether or not you trust his response, and if you can live with any compromise on the texting front. Be honest with yourself about what you can accept. Because what you’re currently worried about is whether his digital flirtations will turn physical. It comes through in the letter that you really love him and want to trust him, but he needs to earn your trust back if you’re going to stick around. Make sure he knows this and set up some ground rules for who/how/when/ etc. he can get his texting rocks off. The only thing that will get you past these feelings of insecurity and suspicion is him earning your trust back. And if he can’t work on that with you, f he gives any indication that he will continue to be dishonest with you, his frankly, awesomely open minded girlfriend, or if you CAN’T deal with him texting women under ANY conditions, MOA.

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    • avatar

      lk July 6, 2011, 4:15 pm

      Totally agree. With emphasis on the dubious, “I can’t handle *even professional* relationships with women without sending a late-night titty text,” excuse. Because do you really want to be dating someone who somehow believes women are a separate category of human, entitled (or not entitled) to a different level of respect??

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      • TaraMonster

        TaraMonster July 6, 2011, 4:22 pm

        AMEN. I was already blabbering on for too long, but I do feel I should have been more specific about that. You don’t “relate” to women (and little girls!) by sexualizing them. So if that’s what he really meant, then wtf and MOA. I’m just hoping he didn’t mean it that way and has a sexting fetish. Lol.

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    liza July 6, 2011, 5:12 pm

    My ex/first boyfriend “related to women” similarly. When he interacted with any woman, he flirted. Some girls were mature enough to realize that this is how he was and didn’t take it personally, while others took it as a sign of interest. Considering he loved their attention, he let these ladies think what they wanted to (that they had a chance, wouldn’t bring up that he had a gf, hang out with them in date-like situations one-on-one, etc.) and only would put his foot down once they would go for the kiss/cuddle/physical connection. You can see how this lead to MANY frustrating situations for me and the girls that innocently thought they were going after a single guy.

    I continually put up with it, but I became more and more insecure. Finally, one of the more forward women that was interested in him initiated sex. And he didn’t say “I can’t, I have a girlfriend” until they were having intercourse. Really.

    That’s when I FINALLY realized that it wasn’t MY problem to learn to trust him (as you were speaking about) nor was it the fault of the other women (it is wise to assume that there will always be someone interested in your partner, and they may or may not be respectful of your relationship), but the fault of my partner for letting the way he “relates” to women and his incessant desire for female attention destroy the trust of our relationship.

    Clearly, your boyfriend does not draw the line in his communication with other women where you deem appropriate. Maybe some other women would be okay with it. Doesn’t matter – YOU are the one in the relationship. So, find someone who draws his line in a place that you are comfortable with. I hope that helps!

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    • caitie_didnt

      caitie_didn't July 6, 2011, 8:21 pm

      My first boyfriend was exactly like this! SO over it….It took me a while to realize how manipulative this type of behaviour is.

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    SalMarie July 6, 2011, 4:48 pm

    This is a really interesting NYT article by Mark Oppenheimer describing Dan Savage’s views on monogamous relationships and the “virtues of infidelity.” It is a bit long but I think well worth the read – even if you don’t agree with Dan Savage’s take on things, it certainly will provide some fascinating food for thought!

    I posted this because it brings up an interesting question – why, as a society, do we often place a higher value sexual fidelity than on the relationship itself? In the case of the LW, many comments here seem to say that the evidence of “infidelity” (which in this case does not even actually include full on cheating, so far as we know!) means that whatever is good with the relationship cannot or should not be salvaged. But there is another way to look at things, LW, if you want to – which is that, yes, your boyfriend broke your trust, but this mistake is not necessarily SO much worse than other non-fidelity related mistakes that one might make in a relationship that it cannot be forgiven. It sounds like you have already taken this view somewhat since you say you want to stay with him. As far as how to get over the distrust this event has engendered, I would just advise you to get out of the mindset that any sign of infidelity has to be the end-all be-all of a relationship. Everyone who is not dead IS attracted to other people besides their partners on occasion and you have simply had the misfortune of stumbling onto hard evidence of said attraction, but this does not have to be the end of the world unless you choose for it to be. I think open and honest communication with your boyfriend is crucial, and beyond that, I would simply say give it time – those voices will quiet themselves eventually if your boyfriend keeps up his end of the deal and does not continue this behavior.

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      SpaceySteph July 6, 2011, 5:13 pm

      But Dan Savage does not advocate cheating, he advocates honesty.
      If you need threesomes or sexts or tweets of your junk to strangers, then you have to say so. You don’t get to just go do it.
      I don’t thing that the boyfriend is wrong to want to text dirty things to people besides his gf (he should really not be texting his boss or 17 year olds, though) if thats what he needs, I think he’s wrong to do it behind her back.
      Lets assume that he isn’t just a jerk who’s using excuses and secretly just planning to cheat; that he wants a monogamous relationship with the LW but needs these dirty texts to feel sexually fulfulled…
      If he was being a mature adult about his sexuality (and he’s gotta be in his mid 20s if hes in graduate school) he would acknowledge that he needs these texts, and rather than swear off them, he would work with the LW to establish boundaries that would make both of them satisfied in the relationship. “I will text people dirty things, but you have my permission to take my phone at any moment and read what I’ve been writing,” or “I will text only consenting 18+ year olds who I do not see in a professional manner and only on days that start with T,” or “I will send dirty texts but they will only ever be dirty texts, never dirty acts and I will never meet up with them in a private place where things might get out of hand.” I don’t know what the LW would be comfortable with, and I don’t know what her boyfriend needs. But if, and to me its a big IF, he is just one of those people not cut out for monogamy… hes not being fair to the LW (who seems pretty GGG) by lying about his true needs.

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      Elle July 6, 2011, 5:32 pm

      I love Dan Savage too. But I disagree with you. It looks like they have a pretty open communication. A threesome is not an easy thing to pull off, I’m still not sure I could do it. But the thing here is, the bf crossed the line. The LW draws the line at flirting with other women. The thing that he did it behind her back pretty obviously points to the fact he knew he was crossing the line. So given the good communication in this relationship, their past, why did he have to hide it from her?

      So the LW can move the line to include flirting with other women. Or she can keep the line where it is, and state in absolute terms that she will no longer tolerate it. And how can she trust her bf won’t cross the line again? Well, if she stresses about it, she won’t prevent it from happening. So just hope he respects her enough to not cross your boundaries again. Maybe make those boundaries very clear?

      Oh, the part where I disagree with you. Yes, it is impossible to not be attracted to other people for the rest of our lives. But people in committed relationships don’t ACT on their attraction behind their SO’s back, out of consideration for their SO.

      I personally would be very hurt if my bf would sext other women. I’m as monogamous as they come, so maybe I’m the weird one.

      Oh, and what kind of person is he, flirting with other women with no purpose? Why invest the time if you’re not going to be in a relationship with any of those women? Did they know he has a gf? Just shady…….

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        SalMarie July 6, 2011, 6:01 pm

        I actually agree with both of you in that what the boyfriend did is wrong because he did it without her consent. I should have made that more clear in my response. What I was trying to say, albeit very imperfectly, is that, yeah, her boyfriend screwed up, but that it doesn’t have to necessarily spell the end of their relationship if she doesn’t want it to (and she has said that she does not want to end the relationship). My point with the Dan Savage reference was that, as he says, we are doing ourselves a disservice by pretending that if you love someone, monogamy will always be easy, and that ANY violation of that is automatic grounds for ending a relationship. I am not saying it is okay to go around and do whatever you want without your partner being in board, but I am saying that it is unfair for people to tell this LW that her relationship is over, because 100% perfect fidelity is more important than all of the combined positive aspects of the relationship. I wanted to give her another perspective since she said she herself WANTS to forgive him!!

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        SalMarie July 6, 2011, 6:04 pm

        Oops.,. *since she said herself that she wants to forgive him.

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      jessielyn July 7, 2011, 2:40 pm

      I think only you can decide what is a dealbreaker for you. For me, cheating (and I would consider sexting to be cheating) is a dealbreaker. I couldn’t trust someone after that, and without trust, there can’t be a good relationship, no matter how much we had in common or how good we were before. But I am honest about that with my fiance. For some people this might not be the case, but I think the majority of people would not be willing to have a nonmonogamous relationship.

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    Maracuya July 6, 2011, 5:50 pm

    Well, three strikes and you’re out, right?

    Did you find out about all of these three instances at once? If so, and you think you’d like to give him another chance, then you need to tell him that you’re having trust issues and let him know he needs to do certain things to earn your trust back. Then let him work on those things and assess if you can trust him again. If not, then he’s been disrespecting you multiple times when he KNOWS how you feel about it and you should dump him.

    Like the rest of the commenters said, it’s how he can be trusted again. Not vice versa.

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    cdobbs July 6, 2011, 6:11 pm

    He already showed you he can’t be trusted and shouldn’t be (and not just once!). Dump this cheating player and meet a nice trustworthy guy that you won’t constantly have to worry about.

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    MiMi July 6, 2011, 6:30 pm

    I don’t see how even the most infatuated woman could miss it if her boyfriend had been sexting random women for two years. So, either this is a brand-new behavior on his part, or what was always there has now come into the open. Foisting off your loved one with a one-liner is no proper answer to a legitimate concern. A serious sit down talk is needed here, to find out whether the two of you are still on the same page about this relationship.
    The waters may have gotten a bit murky when you engaged in a threesome, perhaps implying more flexibility in traditional mores than truly exists, so you need to be clear on what is and what isn’t okay for you personally and lay it out for him. The vicarious enjoyment of ogling other people and talking about it together: Yes or No. Threesomes initiated by her: Yes or No. Threesomes initiated by him: Yes or No. Open flirting in person: Yes or No. Flirting by electronic device: Yes or No. Sexting another woman: Yes or No. Sexting your boss: Yes or No. Whatever they are, your boundaries (and his) exist and this is the perfect opportunity to talk about them.

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    • katie

      katie July 6, 2011, 11:17 pm

      i totally agree with this. from the things she said (watches porn together, the threesome, checks out other guys and girls together, ect) i would assume that flirting with other people would just naturally fall into that list. maybe he thought it was something she would be ok with, or even was actively participating in herself with other guys!

      if these 3 occasions happened seperately, i would say that anyone who you tell that some thing is a dealbreaker to (ie, flirting with other girls is not acceptable), who then just does it anyway, multiple times, is not worth wasting your time over.

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        G July 7, 2011, 11:19 am

        Agreed. I’m old-fashioned… so threesomes and some of the other very “open” stuff that goes on in their relationship would never be my thing. And I agree with MiMi… they made the waters VERY murky.
        You gave him an inch (or many) and he took a mile. I think he will continue to do so.
        What I am really interested to know is does your boyfriend agree that his behaviors are wrong, or is he just “stopping” to appease you? To me, that’s a really important part to find out. I had a boyfriend who did this kind of thing constantly (sexting, sexy e-mails, etc.). He would always apologize and than one day in the midst of an argument he came out with “There was nothing wrong with my doing that”. The relationship ended up dragging out for too long after that (I was stupid), but I think that was the day I realized we would never work. You have to be on the same page as far as what you consider right and wrong… otherwise, he’ll probably never stop.

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    GertietheDino July 6, 2011, 6:45 pm

    “How do I learn to trust him again?” You don’t. MOA.

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  • Astronomer

    Astronomer July 6, 2011, 7:12 pm

    Boyfriend wasn’t just flirting/texting outside the acceptable parameters of the relationship. He was seeking sexual stimulation from people who would also be inappropriate and off-limits to a single man. A 17-year-old girl? His boss? What the what?

    That by itself says that something else is wrong here. What draws him to these taboo attractions as opposed to, say, fantasizing about his favorite bartender or friendly neighbor? The fact that these liaisons are with totally inappropriate people may indicate that Boyfriend has some sexual impulse control issues. Not a good sign.

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      twiglet July 7, 2011, 8:54 am

      i think the textees were carefully chosen to upset the LW. His boss, because now she has to worry every time he’s at work, the 17 year old because she is all young and lovely,the ex-fling…’nuff said. He also gets the added bonus of messing with the heads of these women, too. Lovely.

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    AKchic July 6, 2011, 7:14 pm

    You were with him for two years, and he just now starts acting this way, and tells you that this is how he relates to women? Did he act that way to you when you first started dating? Does he do it to your girlfriends? Your sisters? Your mom? Your aunts? (assuming you have all of the above mentioned female counterparts I mentioned)

    If not – loverboy is throwing a burlap sack over your head and hiding his hinky hijinks honey. A 17 year old girl? *shudder* Honey, he’s “priming the pump” so to speak. He’s either waiting until she’s legal, or just waiting for you to leave on that one. His boss – well, guess who will be working overtime to console him when he’s “missing” you?
    Dump his ass and I hope you find a better guy in this new town you’re going to.

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    ted July 6, 2011, 11:52 pm

    Wendy gives good advice, the comments section though ..it seems everyone knows everything about relationships. “My boyfriend did this” “My ex did that” “i dumped his ass…so over him” ‘You should do what I did, and dump his ass”

    You know you are talking about human beings right? A boyfriend is not a commodity.

    “Dump his ass, and MOA” is the new consensus opinion of the readers for the past little while. Yea, its like so easy to find another compatible, single person, and get to know them for a couple of years …

    I guess you girls are without any blemishes. If you dump your boyfriend over “flirty texts” be prepared to be single for a long, long time.

    You cannot have an intelligent conversation over texts…and if a few horribly worded texts make you insecure… about your relationship, good fu*king luck with your future is all i say.

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      Renee July 7, 2011, 12:28 am

      It guess I expect my boyfriend/husband to have appropriate decorum with other people.

      I can’t tell her whether or not to MOA, but if the relationship is sincere and healthy, maybe the threesome and adult material should cease forever more . Instead and they should build personal trust with activities that involve just the two of them for the future.

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      Marie July 7, 2011, 12:34 am

      Why should anyone,man or woman,tolerate their significant other sending inappropriate texts to other girls? Why should a man or woman stay with someone they aren’t happy with (regardless of the reasons) just because if they didn’t,they’d have to take the time to find someone they are happy with?

      There are plenty of people that would not do their bf/gf the disrespect of having any sort of inappropriate exchanges with other people.There’s nothing wrong with a little flirting.We’re in relationships,not dead,and flirting boosts our egos a bit.Now,I don’t know what the LW classifies as “inappropriate” since she didn’t specify.Who knows,maybe she is just paranoid. But if its anything like,say, sexting,she should move on.(Not sure what else might qualify as inappropriate).

      And flirting with one’s boss is tacky.

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      lk July 7, 2011, 8:23 am

      ted, I agree to an extent that it’s inappropriate to treat “bad” boyfriends as, essentially, trash – even if only in writing, in an online forum. Particularly since I happen to feel that, “Forgive & Move On Already,” would be the more apt advice (FMOA? Doesn’t sound as nice, though).

      Anyway, saying, “good fu*king luck with your future is all i say,” doesn’t reflect that you know you’re interacting with real human beings on this forum either.

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    • leilani

      leilani July 7, 2011, 9:06 am

      I agree that sometimes “MOA” is thrown around way too quickly on this website. Someone does not have to be flawless for you to love them and have a happy relationship with them. But I think when people write into Dear Wendy, they are looking for impartial advice. They have their rose-colored glasses on when they look at their SO, and they want to hear what people who aren’t blinded by love have to say. And typically, if you’re having issues so big that they cause you to doubt your relationship and write into advice columns, the readers can recognize that those issues aren’t going to go anywhere anytime soon–especially when those issues involve trust. And you’re right, its not like hot eligible bachelors are waiting on every corner to sweep you off your feet. Breaking up with someone is hard, and finding someone you genuinely care about and who treats you well can be even harder. But that doesn’t mean that you deserve it any less, or that you shouldn’t strive for it. We’re not writing to to tell her what her easiest route probably would be. We’re trying to give objectively good advice that isn’t completely bogged down in the emotions she’s currently feeling. She obviously doesn’t have to follow it. But I think it could be good for her to get some perspective from people who have been in similar situations and hear how they handled it and how they wished they handled it, looking back.

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      • parton_doll

        parton_doll July 7, 2011, 11:02 am

        Thank you for this comment. One of the most thoughtful I’ve seen here in a while.

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      LTC039 July 7, 2011, 8:33 am

      You sound like a chest-thumper…I guess you’re the kind of guy that sends “flirty texts” & mingles innappropriately with other women while in a relationship. Are you even in one??
      Thankfully there are PLENTY of men that are NOTHING like you!!!!

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        G July 7, 2011, 11:31 am

        Gosh LTC039 I hope you are right. If the majority of men have the poor and disrespectful opinion that Ted does, I will remain happily single…
        Gross.

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        LTC039 July 7, 2011, 11:33 am

        Agreed!

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      oldie July 7, 2011, 11:53 am

      No, you can’t have a meaningful conversation or relate to other women via texts. You can maneuver toward a hookup, however, and therein lies the problem. So, you agree the bf is not interested in a meaningful discussion with these other women. Why do you he is texting/sexting them, then. And why with a 17-year old.

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    twiglet July 7, 2011, 6:55 am

    Theoretically you could be having a very open minded and honest relationship, but there is also a risk that he will just keep pushing for permission to do more and more stuff you hadn’t bargained on. He could also be being “honest” by telling you only half of what’s going on. ( it makes it easier for him to cover up when he gets caught out) Also, he probably gets a kick out of trying to make you jealous. He also probably likes the little victory and sense of empowerment he gets whenever he gets you to accept some behaviour from him which you probably would not have accepted in your previous relationships. I am guessing that you have some pretty amazing intense communication with him, and feel closer to him than you have to any other human being.(otherwise I am sure you wouldn’t be happy with behaviour designed to make you feel vulnerable, as you seem an intelligent woman)
    He admits that he is addicted to objectifying women. I suspect that he objectifies men too. I believe that he is one of those fascinating charming people whose company is so marvellous, but who are incapable of empathy, and at heart do not believe that other people matter at all, except as playthings.
    It is good that you will be away for a while, it will give you time to think.
    I could be wrong, but I think you are being cleverly manipulated, and this relationship will only cause pain in the long run.

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    Amber July 7, 2011, 8:20 am

    From personal experience – he knows those conversations have no place in a loving relationship. He is gaslighting you by to justify it by saying that is how he relates to women. He knows he would be hurt if the situation was reversed, but he lacks the drive and maturity to apologize and stop. Your relationship does not have a chance because as much as he loves you, he does not respect you.
    You deserve to be respected. I know it is confusing because he has been attentive and loving, but you need to remind yourself that every kiss was duplicitous. It had meaning and I am sure he cares for you, but so what? You kisses did not mean enough to respect you. They say that a sign of cheating is that he is attentive, even more attentive than ever, BEFORE it gets physical.
    Let your heartbreak, move on, be strong, and remind yourself that you deserve respect. Love is not true without respect.
    I am so sorry this has happened to you.

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    melanie July 7, 2011, 11:47 am

    I, personally, believe you don’t draw boundaries by talking about them. You do it with your actions. Even if you don’t necessarily break up with him, you need space between you two at the moment so he realizes what he could be missing if this behavior continues.

    My ex did the same thing. The first time, I told him I’d leave if he did it again. Of course, he didn’t believe me because I didn’t SHOW him that I would. Until he did it again, then I left. Now he’s doing everything he can to win me back. I think that if I choose to take him back someday, he’d really think twice about behaving that way again because he knows what it’s like to lose me. I think it just boils down to human psychology. People will do what they think they can get away with.

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      SpaceySteph July 7, 2011, 11:57 am

      Or maybe he’ll learn that you will always forgive him and take him back no matter how much he screws up?
      If you’re going to attempt to train your boyfriend like a puppy, it could backfire.

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        melanie July 7, 2011, 12:01 pm

        I didn’t break up with him to train him. I said “IF I decide to take him back someday”. There was definitely no need to twist it into a dynamic as though my ex was a puppy.

        My point of my post that that some space between the two of them would be beneficial.

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    Fairhaired Child July 7, 2011, 12:13 pm

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, but here’s my feeling.

    There is a fine line on “playful flirting” where both parties know its completely just a game and that NOTHING will ever come of it and “sexual tension when the line has been crossed.” Your boyfriend crossed that line, instead teasing women about things like “your a beautiful woman who can do whatever she wants in life” he went as far to go (possibly – since you didn’t exactly quote something he said)”Your seventeen huh? you must be drop dead sexy” etc.

    I’m a super flirt myself, I love to flirt with people too. But I make it apparent UPFRONT that I am in a relationship and that it is my personality to say “Hey cutie/sexy/bunz of steal” etc I will also make comments like “you look awesome today, I can totally see you wearing that shirt out to the club” etc. However if it gets to the point of the conversation crossing the line I put my foot down with laughter and going “oooh ook yeah, my boyfriend would totally dislike that comment..no thank you” and then walk away. I would never do this flirting via text or email unless its the “hey cutie/sexy” at the beginning of the convo and THATS it. Conversations over multi-media and not in person can get taken way too far way too fast and a lot of things can be taken out of context, so I just don’t flirt in text/email because my flirting is not intended to go anywhere.

    Your boyfriend however, not only continued it in text/email form but sought it out! (such as with the 17 year old). I think to you that is the most hurtful part, its one thing to joke and talk about things (like with each other about other people) but its another thing to take actions to have more interaction with other people who HE IS NOT DATING. I think while you are both open people, you should have set some “rules” down first or at least talked about what could have been deal breakers for you. I know my boyfriend can have issues with me being flirtatious towards his male friends (I’ll say “oh haaaaaay sexy where you been all my life” really over the top lol etc ) so we made a rule that if he felt uncomfortable we would have a signal and I would stop immediately.

    There is no magic answer though that we can give you LW that will help you get over how you felt at your boyfriends flirting and how you can get over it. The thing is you need to figure out WHY this was a deal breaker to you (but threesomes, porn and talking about hot bods of other people isn’t) and explain this to your boyfriend. I’m not saying that anything that you’ve done previously in the relationship is wrong or that its what lead to this end. I’m just saying that MOST relationships are about figuring out what is acceptable to YOU and what isn’t. Think about it in a CALM way and think of what you expect in your relationship, and why you felt betrayed over the flirting (and what to you is just fun-harmless-flirting and what is taking it too far). Then try to sit down and explain your feelings to your boyfriend in a CALM way, and then go “lets get through this together”.

    But if you feel like that you can’t get over this and you need to step back – then do so! There is nothing wrong with going “this was a deal breaker for me and I need some space”. Its not up to other people to decide what works for you or what doesn’t – its up to you, and if this doesn’t work for you. Maybe you wont be able to get over the hurt or betrayal you felt, or maybe you’ll be able to set some new ground rules on your relationship. Either way, you need to think this over with yourself first then talk it over with your boyfriend on where to progress from here (in person is best if that is an option at the moment).

    Best of luck to you, and if it were me. I’d have to move on. But everyone’s deal breakers are different.

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    Flower White July 12, 2011, 10:24 pm

    Dump him already. We women blab and yammer on too much about men.

    Men are the sum of their actions. It’s not what they say it’s what they DO.

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