A few months after this we broke up and had no contact for about three months. It wasn’t easy, but I was having some personal issues (depression) and our relationship was struggling. We got back together about four months ago and things have been the best they’ve ever been. But she now has his initials tattooed on her wrist, which again has made me feel a bit betrayed, but I haven’t brought it up and had come to terms about the situation. A few weeks ago though she went to his parents’ house to have a celebration of life-type get-together. It was on my birthday and she didn’t text me all day, only calling me at 9 pm. I said I was worried about her as I was expecting to hear from her sooner. She knew I was upset and clearly felt bad for not calling sooner. The mom had knitted her a blanket (which is really nice) but it all makes me feel so secondary.
It’s been a year now since her coworker died and the way she’s grieving is really taking a toll on me. This is not her late boyfriend she’s grieving — it’s a coworker she was friends with while we were already together. I know she loves me, but she makes me feel like she is not “in” love with me. If she’s thinking about her and her dead friend being together “in another world” then how are we going to be together in this world? She sleeps under a blanket made by his mother and is reminded of him every time she looks down at her wrist. I love her so much, but it kills me knowing she wishes she could have broken up with me and dated this guy instead.
How do I detach my ego from this situation and be grateful for what we have now? Am I doing myself a disservice for being with someone who loves someone else? If this is how she reacts this time, how many other guy friends will turn into potential partners once they pass? I’m very confused and would love some insight. — Feeling Secondary
You sound like a compassionate and caring boyfriend who’s been supportive of his girlfriend as she grieves a friend. The problem is that you’ve let your sympathy for your girlfriend’s pain and grief cloud the very real – and justified – feelings you are having around the way your girlfriend treats you and regards your relationship. Rather than “detach your ego” and “be grateful for what you have,” which is a great practice for morning meditations but less powerful in interpersonal relationships, I urge you to re-attach your ego and stop settling for crumbs of attention from the very person who should be prioritizing you.
You say your girlfriend makes you feel like she isn’t in love with you. She makes you feel “secondary” (to a dead co-worker). She ignores you on your birthday, and she gives you reason to doubt her commitment to you. Alone, each of these is reason enough to deeply re-consider the value of this relationship, and taken all together they should have you running. The dead friend is almost beside the point, although you can’t ignore the signs that what your girlfriend felt for him while he was alive was more than platonic and in his death is deeper than the feelings she ever expresses for you. What is most relevant though is how she makes you feel, and she makes you feel like you aren’t very important — like you’re an afterthought.
What is perhaps even more troubling is your unwillingness or inability to communicate your feelings to your girlfriend or even to yourself. You seem almost apologetic for not being more immune to the rejection you’re experiencing, wondering if you should simply “be grateful for what you have,” as if you aren’t worth more than what you’re getting – as if you don’t deserve to be prioritized by the person you’re in a relationship with. That you asked whether you’re doing yourself a disservice being with someone who loves someone else at least hints at an understanding that this isn’t a healthy or empowered position to be in.
Yes, you are doing yourself a disservice! (And if it matters to you, you’re doing your girlfriend a disservice, too). If things with your girlfriend over the past four months are, as you say, “the best they’ve ever been,” your expectations for what a great relationship looks and feels like are really out of whack. If someone can ignore you on your birthday, get another man’s initials tattooed on her wrist, and make you feel like she’s not in love with you all during what you consider the best time of your relationship, I suggest you take some time off from dating and seek some therapy to address the incredibly low expectations you set and why you are so willing to settle for so little.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.