Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“Am I Just a Place-Holder for My Boyfriend?”

I love your site, and I couldn’t think of who else to ask. I don’t care if I’m in your column, I just want to know what you think about my relationship(s), if you don’t mind.

Mark is my boyfriend. I found him on Bumble this past December, we started dating in January, and he’s just moved in with me while he shops for a house to buy and flip into a rental property. I’ll be deploying in January, and while I’m away, he will hopefully be selected for Special Forces. Our career timelines wouldn’t give me anxiety if it wasn’t for one other variable.

Her name is Karen, his childhood sweetheart and long-time best friend. I believe the people who have been and currently are important to you comprise a little bit of your identity, so of course we’ve talked about her and their relationship, just as I’ve told him about mine with other people. I felt like Mark and I were open and very trusting of each other.

But things got shaky and Karen became “a variable” in my mind when Mark took me to his home in New England and there was a big birthday party for him at his brother’s house. Karen introduced herself to me and said goodbye before she left which I thought was nice, but she said something very of- putting as she said goodbye: “Can’t wait to see you in a couple of weeks.”

Confused, I asked Mark if he had plans in a couple of weeks, which loosely would also be when I was taking two weeks leave from my company. He said no and I felt like he was lying. It may have been immature, but privately I opened his phone to his text conversation with Karen and there it was: plans to visit him in the Midwestern city where Mark and I lived. He even sent her screen shots of potential flight itineraries and offered use of his car because he said he could ride around with me.

It shouldn’t have bothered me that a friend of his planned to visit — my nearest, dearest friends from other countries have visited me before. However, it bothered me that I knew their history and he was being secretive about the visit, even when I straight up asked him if he had plans for the specific time window in which he had shared potential flights with Karen.

The confrontation was sad. I thought our relationship would end over it, but Mark seemed understanding. I don’t know what he said to Karen about the visit and it never came up again between us, but she never showed in our part of the country.

Whatever happened, his response made me feel important, like he was choosing me over his past. But this girl keeps coming up. She keeps reaching out to him. She wants to know if I’m his best friend, and in the last message she sent to him she said, “I know we’re best friends but I get it now, bye dude.” He responded like he was trying to salvage their relationship, mentioning he heard a song on the radio they maybe once shared for some special reason.

First of all, I know it’s immature to read someone’s texts. It makes me feel like a jealous crazy person. However, Mark has assuaged this by telling me he wants me to feel like I can because he has nothing to hide. Not that that makes me feel any less guilty, but their correspondence gives me this terrible gut-wrenching feeling that I am a phase and there is a reason Mark can’t — or won’t — shake Karen.

I’ve felt this way once before, and not following that gut feeling led to a horrible disaster. “James” was my boyfriend at university. His “Karen” was a Hungarian exchange student named “Helen” whom he fell in love with at his high school boarding school. I was privy to their relationship and correspondence just like I am to Mark and Karen, but I tolerated it because she was in Hungary while we were going to school in New York, what could possibly come of it? Come to find out, he flew to London while I was in England for training and didn’t tell me. He said he wanted to surprise me, but that didn’t make sense because I was in military training and he didn’t even know our training schedule. Turns out, he was campaigning for Helen to meet him in Europe somewhere, anywhere. When I dug deeper into his correspondences with other women I thought were his friends, I found disturbing things: lots of explicit reminiscing, from songs to sex, and queries to hook up should James and me ever “take a break.” Eventually, these correspondences that I thought were innocent due to the nature of their relationship, or implausible due to distance, inevitably realized themselves in plane tickets purchased and sex on the side. The end of our relationship culminated with my abortion of his baby and his having sex with our mutual friend, which I found out about by reading his texts.

So you could say I have been traumatized.

I feel like I was James’ place-holder while he entertained these deeper relationships with other woman, and I didn’t matter enough to him for him to tell me about a single one of them. I thought he would, but I got an abortion for extending him the benefit of the doubt.

I can’t say I’ve ever had a relationship with anyone outside my family that transcends time, distance, and other relationships. I’m jealous of Mark and Karen for that. While Mark’s good character and heart certainly make James look like he belongs in hell, I’m all too familiar with that wretched gut feeling telling me I’m a phase and that I should subtract myself from a relationship before I get hurt. Do you think I’m a phase for Mark until January? — Fancifully Fretting

I don’t know if you’re a phase and it doesn’t matter what I think anyway. What matters is how you feel, and you don’t feel secure or confident in this relationship at all. You don’t trust Mark, you feel betrayed by his not being honest with you about Karen’s visit, you’re worried that he has a deeper relationship with Laura than with you, and you have a gut-wrenching feeling that you are a phase for him until you deploy in January. I am not positive about the timeline, but it seems your insecurity began before Mark moved in with you. To move someone in with you mere months after meeting is really fast in the first place — especially considering your upcoming deployment and the potential challenges such a transition will pose for your new relationship. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t wait until you’re back home to take such a big step in your relationship, unless you thought this big step would give you the sense of security you lack. But it doesn’t work that way. And you shouldn’t move in with someone you feel any insecurity with.

At this point, you’d be wise to ask Mark to move out and to put the brakes on your relationship until you’re back home from your deployment. You have a lot of issues to work through, not the least of which is the lingering trauma you feel over your breakup with James and the abortion you at least partially blame on him (“I got an abortion for extending him the benefit of the doubt”), suggesting that you may not have terminated the pregnancy if you were only considering your own feelings about it. And now you have these trust issues with Mark, feeling like you aren’t as important to him as Karen is, feeling scared you’re being played like you were played before. It’s a lot to unpack, and I don’t see how you can find the psychic space you need to unpack these things when you’re sharing a home with Mark (and regularly reading his texts) and then again when you’re deployed, which itself requires so much mental and physical stamina.

I guess I don’t understand the rush to move a relationship forward when the state of the relationship itself, as well as your career and unresolved feelings about a previous relationship (and related circumstances), beg for more time and consideration in their current iterations and their effect on your mental, emotional, and physical well-being. It seems like you’re trying to create a synthetic version of stability in your life, and that won’t work. The stability and security you seek is going to happen organically, and only after you’ve emotionally settled your previous pain — the trauma you say you experienced. That may require some therapy. It will surely require more time. So, put the brakes on your relationship. Ask for the time and space you need to address the roadblocks standing in your way of moving forward. And, if there is mutual desire and commitment, work on building the kind of friendship with Mark that, as you say, “transcends time, distance,” absent the romance that can complicate matters that aren’t otherwise as stable and secure as you’d like them to be (and that need to be in order to build a foundation for a long-lasting relationship).

Related: 15 Things Couples Should Do Before Moving in Together and “He Wants to Break Up Before He Deploys”.
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.

17 comments… add one
  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom August 16, 2018, 3:59 pm

    You don’t trust Jesse because you caught him lying to you. Laura wasn’t hiding anything but Jesse was. I’d back off from this relationship. Can anything make you trust him or is that ruined for good? You’ve been together less than a year so why fight to try to trust someone who proved pretty quickly that they were willing to lie. I think you are better off breaking up. Focus on your upcoming deployment.

    When you stay with someone you don’t trust you waste your time and you waste your emotional energy. You keep yourself focused on a relationship that will likely never work . You keep your emotions raw and hurt while never being available for a better relationship. If you move on you can heal and you can then be available to meet someone who is a better match when they happen to come through your life. Don’t miss a much better guy because you are wasting your time on a guy that you don’t trust.

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  • avatar

    Northern Star August 16, 2018, 4:03 pm

    You don’t have to accept shady behavior from one guy because another guy was WAY worse. Keep that in mind.

    Jesse lied about the visit. Why? Can you come up with a reason that’s aboveboard? I can’t.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom August 16, 2018, 4:18 pm

    The problem wasn’t that he had a friend who planned to visit who happened to be a woman. The problem was that he had hidden the planned visit. If he had been open about that visit there would have been no problem. This has nothing to do with your previous relationship and everything to do with Jesse being shady. When you catch someone lying when they should be open that is a great time to evaluate the relationship and often a great time to end it.

    The thing to ask yourself is why you are trying to make this work even after finding out he was too secretive. In the future watch for lies. If someone is sneaky end the relationship and move on. This is about learning to dump the bad ones as soon as you realize they are bad. You will meet a lot of men and have relationships with some of them and most of those relationships will end. Most relationships end. You only need to find one good man.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros August 16, 2018, 4:40 pm

    I don’t think your relationship history really has much to do with why you don’t trust him. You don’t trust him because he lied. Specifically, he pretended he wasn’t going to see his friend when he was. That’s super sketchy. I wouldn’t stay with someone who did that. Because the thing is, no matter what nice things he says or respectful things he says he does for you, a person who lies could be lying at any time. He tried to hide it once, so who’s to say that once things die down, he won’t just lie again? How do you know he won’t act like he’s doing things the right way, but still making secret plans? When a person who lies appears to stop lying, there are two scenarios — one where they actually stop lying and one where they get better at not getting caught. The thing about dishonesty is that after a person lies, you really have no idea which scenario you are in.

    Aside from the lying, do you really want to be with someone who, as an adult, thinks/thought that lying is the appropriate way to handle a situation that you think might be awkward? The best-case scenario is that he thought you might think it weird if she visited, and even that means that he’s either too immature to address potential conflict or he doesn’t value you enough to even bother talking to you about it.

    Take the fact that your career timelines are conflicting as an opportunity to detach from this guy and one day find someone who is more honest.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse August 16, 2018, 4:48 pm

    Your intuition is telling you something is off, and his hiding that trip is proof that you were on to something. Like NS said, you don’t have to accept shady behavior just because you were once treated worse. This is shady. It is too much, too soon. When things progress too quickly, you often find these skeletons. And now that he lives with you, you want to try to make it work, but he broke your trust and it’s not on you to fix that. I don’t really think he’s explained a legitimate reason he kept that trip secret from you. He still hasn’t come clean in that sense. And you know he’s not trustworthy now. Nothing is going to make this better before you deploy. It will be a big distraction for you, and not a happy one.

    It was a mistake to move him in so quickly.
    You should tell him to move out and take a step back.

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  • avatar

    ktfran August 16, 2018, 7:36 pm

    I’ll be the first to admit I’m usually on the side of “you’re overreacting” when people write in about spending time with people of the opposite sex, or exes. I don’t think this is the case here. If your bf was on the up and up, and only wanted to be friends with this woman, he would have told you about the visit. He wouldn’t have been secretive or tried to lie. That’s really weird, especially since she had no problem saying she’d see you soon. And yes, it’s super shady if him. If it were me, I’d probably break up.

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  • avatar

    CET August 17, 2018, 8:26 am

    You really want a boyfriend who is someone you can trust. Someone who tells you when their friend is coming to visit and makes plans with you to do things with her. Someone that is transparent. You should trust your partner and never feel like you need to read their texts. I have never once read my husband’s texts. I’d probably break this off if it were me and look for someone who is trustworthy. Good luck.

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  • avatar

    peggy August 17, 2018, 9:10 am

    Hi-I think he is untrustworty and shady too. I find it almost more suspicious that he cancelled her visit when you found out. You took it that he was “picking you”-but to me,if it was all innocent,he would have proved that by having her come and let the two of you get to know each other and be friends if possible.

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  • Cleopatra Jones

    Cleopatra Jones August 17, 2018, 9:49 am

    I’m on the fence about whether he lied. I almost feel like either he misunderstood the question or she misunderstood the answer.
    .
    She asked him did he have plans during X time, and he said no. I mean, I can see where it he wouldn’t think that he had particular plans during that time. He probably figured that he’d see Laura a couple of times but nothing concrete. Also, if he planned to give Laura his car while she was there (or if she planned to stay with them) then he wasn’t planning some kind of clandestine affair with her.
    .
    I think the crux of LW’s problem is that 1) they moved in to soon for the relationship 2) she’s not over the trauma of the last relationship 3) she had an unwanted abortion. LW has a lot of shit to unpack, so she should do WWS. Have him move out and get into some therapy to manage the trauma left by the last dude.
    .
    Also, DO NOT under any circumstances get into another relationship until you’ve fixed this other shit!!!!! When you are in the military and meet someone, the connection can feel amazing and relationships can move extra fast. You have to learn how to slow stuff down so you don’t keep repeating this same cycle.

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  • avatar

    Vathena August 17, 2018, 10:58 am

    I agree with Peggy – that he lied is bad, but the real tell here is that suddenly the trip was canceled. Was the whole purpose of the visit just so they could see each other? And he just conveniently didn’t mention it to you? It certainly doesn’t sound like it was a business trip. And if it were completely innocent and platonic, she could have still come to see you both (and even spend some one-on-one time with her friend, as friends do). Not telling you any of this, and then abruptly canceling the trip, is rather suspicious.

    Maybe it’s just the cynic in me, but I feel like he might just be enjoying having a free place to stay for awhile, in addition to getting some regular sex, in a relationship that more or less has a built-in expiration date.

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  • Copa

    Copa August 17, 2018, 11:14 am

    So I read this and I’m unsure if this is shady. Why did you ask him if he had plans instead of asking if Laura was planning to visit based on her comment that she’d see you soon? (I also don’t know why you’d find that off-putting, or why you wouldn’t have immediately asked her, “whaddayamean?” when she said that if you were unaware of the trip.) If Jesse was wanting to sneak away with Laura during her visit, why would he offer her his car and tell her he’d be riding around with you? On the other hand, yeah, it’s weird that he didn’t mention a lifelong friend would be visiting when you’re living together.

    Anyway, I’m not sure it matters, because when I read this, I got the impression that LW is an insecure and/or jealous person notwithstanding shady boyfriends. Yes, I can understand why the last relationship would leave someone with trust issues, but reading through time timeline of what happened, she was privy to the texts between her ex and his HS sweetheart before she knew of anything weird going on. Why would anyone want or need to read text messages between friends at this point? And she “tolerated” their relationship even though it made her deeply uncomfortable. Again, why? I know that there was a lot of distance between them, but if your gut is telling you something’s off, LW, you have to listen! And then it turned out there were a whole bunch of women, but it sounds like LW gave her ex the benefit of the doubt. Again, why? Why did this guy get so many strikes before he was out? Why are you in relationships where you’re reading your boyfriends’ texts? I don’t understand.

    In any case, whether or not your current boyfriend is shady is kinda beside the point for me. Reading your boyfriend’s texts for reassurance isn’t good, and it sounds like this is something that’s happened in both relationships. Snooping isn’t good. A lack of trust like seven months into dating someone isn’t good. A feeling that you’re just a temporary fixture in someone’s life this soon into a new relationship isn’t good. I think you should end things with him, LW, and stop dating while you work with a therapist to unpack what’s going on with you.

    I’ve never snooped on anyone’s phone before. Should I ever find myself doing that, it’d be my cue that something between us is deeply “off” and I’d need to get out.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse August 17, 2018, 11:43 am

    She moved him in before they’d really gotten to know each other, and that they don’t have good communication. Even if everything’s he was planning was aboveboard, a good partner would have been communicating about this potential trip, the possibility of having a guest or implicit plans for that week, the car situation, etc. He’s never mentioned what happened to the planned trip. He keeps LW separate from the friend. That’s what is suspicious in my eyes.

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    • avatar

      anonymousse August 17, 2018, 11:47 am

      Ugh, typos. More coffee.

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  • norabb

    Norabb August 20, 2018, 10:21 am

    You’ve written yourself a whole backstory, a whole land of make believe to argue with yourself in, and so you can go on not believing your gut. Stop thinking about your last relationship. It’s a good story, sure. But how is it helping you now? You haven’t learned your lesson, clearly. When your gut yells, listen!
    I agree with everyone. You are too insecure and the relationship is too new and rushed. This has led you to your current situation. So, in the here and now, how do you move forward with the #1 character, you, in mind? This new man is not the protagonist, you are! Laura is a background character, at best. How do you feel, right now, that some dude who schemed his way into your home has lied to you about something pretty significant? You feel awful about it. Don’t matter what the reasoning is, you smell something off and I think youre right to question his motives.
    If I were you, I would downgrade your relationship, ask him to find a new place because you made mistake and focus on you and your work when you are gone. If he’s a good man, he will admit he done wrong and you can rebuild from there. I mean, I would dump him and move on but.. I also think he lied bc of your insecurity. That’s the best case scenario. He lied to you. End of story. If I had to pick a reason, he was afraid of setting you off bc he knows how insecure you are. Not a smart choice honestly but here you are. Focus on you please. Not these men falling over themselves for background extras.

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  • avatar

    Bacon Mistress August 20, 2018, 12:01 pm

    “You’ve written yourself a whole backstory, a whole land of make believe to argue with yourself in, and so you can go on not believing your gut. ” – Norabb

    I LOVE THIS! It is very true.
    Remember that men SHOW you who they are with their actions, honey. Good luck!

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  • avatar

    LW August 21, 2018, 4:14 pm

    Oh my god these responses had me in tears. Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to write a comment. One thing I miss about NY is being able to go to Central Park and ask a stranger their opinion about an abridged crux, but I feel like that’s just what happened here. (No, I never walked around asking strangers their opinions about random things lol, but I certainly gave my piece a time or two!)
    Thank you all for your support and your hard won wisdom, I believe I know what to do now.

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  • avatar

    tzvifl3 September 5, 2018, 9:28 pm

    One quick query – how did “Mark” and “Karen” in the letter become “Jesse” and “Laura” in almost all the comments? Did something change, or did I miss something?

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