Hello all you facecriminals of the Twitternet, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column to help you become an apex legend of the heart.
This week, we’re talking about the rights and responsibilities that come with relationships. When you find proof that your partner’s betrayed your trust, what can they do to earn it back? If they’ve been careless with other people’s sexy photos, can you trust them with yours? How can you keep a relationship going when you’re the only person putting any effort in?
It’s time to make the leap into the drop-zone of love. Let’s do this.
Sorry in advance if this is too long or there are some grammar mishaps, English is not my first language.
I’m writing to you because right now I feel you’re the best person I can ask this. Here’s some background: My boyfriend and I have been together for over 5 years now, and our relationship has been pretty good so far, he’s super nerdy, really cool, he gets me, the sex is great... but the last year things started to go downhill, especially the last months of the year.
We had always had a very balanced relationship, though there were aspects where each of us provided more (as in every relationship), but we both tried to give as much as we could to our relationship. Last year was also our last year of college, and so we had some job hunting to do. And when the time came I managed to get both a paid internship and a good entry-level job, but my boyfriend didn’t. Now, his area is politics, so I understood that sometimes for those type of cases who you knew, and how you knew them could be more relevant than how much you made.
When he finally got a job it sounded pretty good for him relationship wise, plus his boss promised him around $270 as his monthly wage. Months pass and he gets $0, until I push him and he’s able to get around $150 around six months after he started working with this guy. As you can imagine by this time I’m paying most of our dates and expenses, plus with all the stress he’s under I’m the one who gives the most emotional and psychological support.... which in turn takes a toll on me.
Finally, around eight months after he started working, he gets his full pay. (This was two weeks after our 5 year anniversary, the last week of December.)
Things have been rocky but I think we can work this out, after all.
Fast forward to this past weekend. I get a message from one of my close female friends and she’s like “Hey so I bought these panties that make me look bomb, do you mind if I send you a pic? I know we’re not usually like that, but I just really want to flaunt it.” Well, so I’m bi, and though me and my bf usually share pics of cute girls we like, this is different as she’s my friend. I show him the message and ask him if he has any issue with me getting that pic, even though I won’t show anyone. He says no, and that’s that. She sends me the picture, I respond and we keep talking of how we have to meet soon.
Then on Monday I’m helping my bf with some images for his work and when I’m done I start closing the chrome tabs, only to find out he somehow has this image of my friend. I just tell him he shouldn’t have it and close it, because I feel I need to think things through before doing anything.
So I start thinking how he could have gotten it, first it could have been my friend who sent it, something a bit unplausible but not totally crazy... he could be cheating on me, or for some reason she thought to share it with him. I could have sent it to him, and not remember, again unplausible but I don’t discard the possibility; and last, he got into my facebook and opened the image right from my conversation with my friend. I’m fairly sure I’d shared my password with him, so I think this is the most viable option. Even so I check my messages with him to make sure I hadn’t sent the image myself. There were no traces of this image, so with this in mind I ask him directly where he got it.
He tells me he sent it from my phone to his.... to which I reply “Of course not, I checked and there’s no message from me to you with that image.”
He responded with “I deleted it.”
So I ask him to let me check our conversation from his phone. And there it is. I don’t know what to think, he knowingly took my phone sent himself a picture of my friend (in underwear) that I had not shown him and then deleted the message. We then had a discussion and he told me he had never done that before, and kept apologizing.
But I don’t know, I’m scared knowing I’ve sent him suggestive pics. He says he’s never done that before of sending himself messages not meant for him nor shared any of my pics to anyone, but I can’t bring myself to believe him, especially since he not only broke my trust to him but also just invaded my privacy, as well as my friend’s. I’m not sure if staying together is even an option, should I break up with him? I don’t even know if telling my friend what happened is a good idea... I am completely lost, and though I love him very much and thought that last year was a test, I feel this is even worse.
Thanks in advance for reading this, and for your advice.
Love on Lockdown
Relationships are like Jenga, LOL: they make you incredibly tense the longer they go on, and eventually they come tumbling down around you no matter how careful you are.
No wait, that’s not right.
It’s that relationships are complicated and require a solid base to build on. And while no relationship is perfect, most of them can survive if you’re careful about which supports you move around. But if you pull the wrong block — or too many of them — the whole thing will collapse.
Your relationship was doing OK at first, even as one of those blocks got pulled and shifted around. While you had a steady, well-paying job, your boyfriend was stuck working for sweet-fuck-all for months and then for an insulting fraction of what he’d originally been promised. Not surprisingly, this took a toll on your boyfriend’s head; even liberal, progressive men often have emotional reactions to not being the breadwinner in the relationship.
As a result of all of this, you ended up having to cover more than your share — emotionally and financially — than you would, normally. That can be rough, but it is survivable, provided it doesn’t become the new norm in the relationship.
So that’s one block from the Jenga pile.
But his latest move was the second block from the pile. And this was a pretty significant block to pull, because this was a pretty serious violation of trust, on multiple levels. First, there’s the fact that he went through your phone to steal this picture. That alone is pretty goddamn sketchy. His going through and hiding the evidence that he did so is even sketchier, and a strong indicator that he knew what he was doing was fucked up.
But then there’s the fact that he doesn’t have your friend’s consent to have this picture. She sent you this picture in confidence. There’s the unspoken acknowledgement that you weren’t going to share this around — especially not without clearing it with her first. And even if someone wants to make the argument that she should assume that you’d show it to your boyfriend, there’s the difference between his seeing it once and having it himself, whenever he wanted.
And while getting upset about this can sound like an overreaction, it’s not about the picture or going through your phone, not on their own. It’s the fact that if he’s willing to ignore your friend’s wishes — that her picture doesn’t get shared with people she hasn’t cleared — then who knows what else he may do with it? What are the odds that he may decide to show this to other people?
Hell, as you say: what about the pics you shared with him?
Sure, he says he hasn’t. But he also made a point of covering his tracks so that you never knew he took your friend’s picture in the first place.
So now everything is balanced on one single block. And the entire structure is starting to teeter, alarmingly.
Now this doesn’t mean that your relationship is doomed. It’s certainly on shaky ground, all things considered, but you can come back from this. If this truly was a momentary lapse of judgement, if it really was a bad decision made in the heat of the moment, then this is a wound that can be healed. You can slide that block back into place.
But, as when couples are dealing with an infidelity, you need to answer two questions.
First: What can he do to earn your trust back?
Second: Will you be willing to be able to forgive him?
If the answers to this are “yes” and “here’s how,” then the relationship can be saved. It won’t be easy. Your boyfriend is going to have to work to prove that yeah, he is trustworthy. He’s going to have to be proactive in showing that he can be trusted, the one who’s the most vigilant at observing and maintaining boundaries. And he’s going to have to do this on his own, without your prompting. After all, he needs to want to show that he can be trusted. Having rules handed down from on high makes it very easy to go from “how do I fix this” to “what do I have to do to not be in trouble any more?”
However, if the answer to either of these is “no” or “nothing”... well, the relationship is functionally over. If you can’t bring yourself to trust him again, no matter what, then there’s nothing to be done. And if you can’t forgive him, even if he demonstrates good faith efforts that he can be trusted and wants to prove that he’s grown, changed and improved? Same story. The relationship may be able to limp along, but it’s already dead. An infection’s taken root that will kill the relationship sooner or later.
You may not have the answer to those questions right now. You may need to take some time, so you can try to figure out the answers when the pain isn’t as immediate and the betrayal isn’t as fresh. But you will need an answer. Neither of you can half-ass it if you try to make things work. It’s not fair to you if he’s only going to do the bare minimum for you to forgive him, without making a meaningful change. It’s not fair to ask him to put in the work in good faith only for you to decide that no, you can’t forgive him after all.
I think this relationship’s been damaged, no question. But I don’t think the wound is necessarily fatal. I think it can be pulled back from the brink. It won’t be the same, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Different doesn’t mean damaged or weakened; it just means different.
But you’re the only one who can decide if this is too much.
I’ve been with my girlfriend for 7 years now, and lately, we have been fighting more and more, and negativity abounds in our every interaction. I’m feeling very stuck-in-a-rut and I need some advice.
When we met she was fairly young, 20 to my 27. For the first while it was nice, we each had our lives but would spend a lot of time together. The sex was great and very frequent, and it felt like we each had our whole lives ahead of us. We moved in together after a year, and things were still great for quite a while. We travelled and went out to dinner and just generally enjoyed spending time with each other.
But about 5 years ago, she lost her office job, and in the time since, she has not applied to a single other job. She claims her anxiety makes it too difficult for her to walk in and apply to new places, that her past experiences have made her gun-shy. We are now extremely broke, my credit cards maxed, and had a miserable Christmas where I couldn’t afford gifts for anyone for the first time in my life. I’ve always been very good with my finances, but between her love of wine and cigarettes and take out food, and my own increasing dependencies, we have been struggling to make ends meet. I try to sacrifice for our future, but she refuses. I know it may seem obvious from this what I should do, but as I said, I feel stuck.
Whenever we argue, she tells me how she’s trying so hard, and she’s in therapy dealing with her severe anxiety, and thats she’s “ready to get a job.” She also tells me how I’m all she has, the only person that cares, and that if we ever broke up, she’s living on my couch and not leaving. I feel sometimes like I have a child more than a partner in an adult relationship. I’ve always thought the best relationships were built on mutual respect, and I don’t view her as an equal, which is problematic.
So basically, I am tired and depressed and need a way out, but I don’t have the heart to devastate her that way. If we break up, I have real concern for her. Needless to say, I do still love her, I’m just so profoundly unhappy that certain depressed thoughts are reentering my head after many years of being depression free. I feel like I need to get out, but I’m at a loss as to ‘how.’ I’ve been actually considering cheating on her so she can hate me and dump me and take the high ground, and not feel like it was all her fault. But being a child of divorce who saw the result of cheating, I don’t want to do that to her either.
I’m just very confused and frustrated, and I’m hoping you can provide me a little guidance.
Stuck in Jersey
So here’s a thing, SIJ: you aren’t the only letter I’ve received lately about a partner who’s been freeloading on them. In fact, I’ve decided to include the second because, frankly, they’re the same letter.
Three years ago I began a relationship with my boyfriend. Almost immediately I moved in with him and his grandfather, and it was pretty awesome! I didn’t know however, that he made his money by sports betting, didn’t have a “real” job, and lost his license.
After being kicked out of his grandfather’s, we moved in with my parents. He and I would split expenses when he had a job, but eventually, my parents kicked us out too! We rented a house with his cousins and a friend. Bills began to add up, and no one was working, so our water was turned off. I couldn’t pay it myself, so we basically abandoned the property and moved back into my parents’ house.
Fast forward to today.
I have stood by him throughout 5 or 6 job changes, and his countless self-imposed deadlines of getting his license back. He is 26 years old and very intelligent, but he lacks any type of drive. UNLESS of course, that’s “Pokémon Go!” He spends his days wandering the town playing. I guess I wouldn’t mind that he was unemployed if he cleaned while my parents and I were at work. Instead, he plays his videogames and the chores are left up to me.
I have maintained a job that I hate because I still pay the bills. I have made a pretty decent living this past year, but I have relatively nothing to show for it because I’m supporting two people. I honestly feel like his “sugar momma”. I never signed up for this role, and he swears he loves me.
He claimed that during football season, if I could give him $200-$500 dollars he could bet with, he would double it and that would be his income. I don’t mind sports betting, but I do not want to use my money and have it lost because a sports game is just that, a game.
Part of me wants to stick it out and be that “ride or die”, and see this young man’s come up, because I know he can be someone! The other part wants to establish myself, travel, and do everything I know I can do, without him.
I know that if I kick him out, my parents would lose the income from his unreliable cousins, and that his parents would not take him in. They have never told me explicitly why they don’t want him, but have said that he drinks too much and too often to be around their younger children. I am worried that he would become homeless.
I am fed up, but also deeply in love with him. How can I help show this man that he has potential, or get myself out of this emotional and financial burned I’ve put myself in?
Ride Together, Die Together
So, RTDT and Stuck In Jersey: let’s talk about balance. Relationships are never going to be completely equitable. Regardless of how you set things up, things will never balance out perfectly. One partner will make more money and the costs of living will affect them less. One partner will end up doing more of the housework than the other. One partner will put more effort into maintaining the relationship than the other.
But the fact that things aren’t perfectly equal on the micro level doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong, as long as it more or less balances out on the whole. If everyone feels like their efforts are balanced out over all then it ultimately doesn’t matter who’s doing the lion’s share of the washing up or contributes more to the bills.
But when those duties and responsibilities are falling disproportionately on one person… well, that’s when shit starts to fall apart. If you’re both contributing equally to the shared finances, but only one of you is doing all the housework? Then things are falling out of balance. If one of you is doing all the emotional labor? Things are out of balance.
And when only one of you is doing all of the work and the other is just consuming? That’s not a relationship; that’s a parasite and its host.
I hate to say it, but for both of you, that’s what you have. You may love them. The sex may be great. But right now? They’re parasites. They’re making absolutely no effort to balance out the equation — not by doing the housework, not by making your life easier and certainly not by, I dunno, going out and getting a goddamn job.
All they’re doing is consuming. And, by all appearances, they’ve decided that they’re going to let you keep them in the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to, making not even the slightest concession to the fact that you’re all living on a single income.
Now yes, the economy is only great if you’re a CEO; jobs are scarce and jobs paying a living wage are even rarer. But even minimum wage is better than nothing, and a part-time job mixed with keeping the house would start to balance things out and make life less of a stress-filled chore for the both of you. And neither of your partners is willing to do that.
And honestly, SIJ: if your girlfriend legitimately can’t work, then she needs to file for disability, not just tell you about how she’s going to sponge off you for life.
The problem is that neither of you are willing to do what you both know you need to do: you need to put boot to ass.
Frankly, I think both of you should bounce them so hard they achieve low-Earth orbit. But if you’re not willing to do that, then you need to have a long and extended conversation with the Chair Leg of Truth: either they start to pull their weight or they’re out. No ifs, ands or excuses. If they’re having a hard time landing a job while making a genuine, good faith effort, then they can balance things in other ways, including the housework and tightening their bets.
But it’s a one-strike-and-you’re-out policy. There are no more chances, no caveats, no excuses. If they aren’t pulling their weight, they’re gone. Period, the end, buh-bye, door’s over there.
Yeah, I know both of you are worried about what would happen if you weren’t there to support them. That is part of what they rely on. They’re trading on their supposed helplessness, the goodness of your hearts vs. the cruel cold world out there.
Tough shit. The grift ends here, and if it means that they’re fucked by that, then they’re fucked by choices of their own making. They’re both grown-ass adults, not children who have no concept of consequences. They’ve been coasting along because you’ve both let them.
Maybe this near-death-of-the-relationship experience will shock them out of their collective ruts and make them realize they need to shape the fuck up. But after all these years? I doubt it. I strongly suspect that in both cases, you’ll see them put in a show of minimum effort before the status quo reestablishes itself.
And when (not if, when) that happens? Then you need to remember the wise words of the sage: I may love you, yeah, but I love me more.
Did your partner have to re-earn your trust? Have you dealt with a parasitical partner? Share your story in the comments below and we’ll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.
Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write email@example.com and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.
Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove YouTube channel. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.