Hello all you burning godnipples of the Twitternet, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the dating advice column that’s the latest challenger to join Smash Bros. This week, it’s time to talk about managing relationship issues you never quite expected.
How can you tell when your partner’s still holding a flame for their ex? And what if you and yours are looking to add a couple extra guest stars into the mix? It’s time to hit your dating woes with an OHKO. Let’s do this.
Hello Doc, I hope you can help!
My girlfriend and I have been dating for about 7 months now and have decided to move in together. We’re both divorced, and while her marriage ended amicably, mine did not. This resulted in me throwing out everything from that marriage, but my girlfriend still has boxes of old photos/wedding photos, old phones with photos, his phone number in her contacts, the old wedding ring, dress, and up until recently his last name.
Moving in together, I feel awkward about having that stuff in our house. Like she’s still holding onto that relationship. I get that you acquire things over time (in this case 10 years), but I can’t shake this feeling that she could still be keeping that flame alive. (I found out they slept together at the beginning of last year)
Should I ask her to keep that stuff somewhere else? I feel like I’d be a jerk if I asked her to get rid of it entirely. I know it’s her past and it can’t change but do I have to be reminded of it when I see her boxes of photos, etc?
Is the problem me? Or her? Or neither? Please help!
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Congratulations my dude. Somehow you’re the living example of an old PUA routine known as The Jealous Girlfriend.
The routine goes something like this: you roll up on a group of people, preferably one that’s mostly women, and say, “Hey, I need an outsider’s/woman’s opinion on something. So you know how you everyone has that box of souvenirs and mementos from previous relationships? Well, my buddy’s girlfriend is moving in with him and she’s just discovered his box. So now she’s upset and — no seriously check this out — she’s demanding that he burns the box in front of her. I dunno, that seems a bit extreme to me. Is she just being unreasonable or is she onto something?”
And then you let them talk for a few minutes before you change the subject and try to figure out whether the person you’re interested in is single. But hey, if there’s anything I love, it’s when I get to intercede in what were formerly fictional scenarios…
One of the issues that comes up a lot when you’re giving people advie on relationship problems is just how to handle jealousy and envy. People have this tendency to assume that jealousy has far more meaning than it actually does. To some, it’s a sign that you care. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be upset when, say, Studly Goodnight is chatting up your girlfriend or your wife is spending time with her ex. To others, it’s an indication that something is wrong with you — if you actually loved and trusted your significant other, you’d never have a moment’s doubt. Still others will tell you that jealousy is the sexy version of Spidey-Sense; it only goes off when your relationship is in danger.
(And then we get into issues like comparison from the poly community, which is another ball of wax entirely and causes everyone to start bleeding from the eyes while all the sex geeks laugh maniacally.)
In reality, jealousy tends to be more of akin to a “check engine” light for your relationship. When the check engine light comes on, it’s a sign that something’s off. Sometimes it’s nothing; a wire got loose or you just forgot to tighten the gas cap after you fueled up the car. Other times it means that there’s an actual issue coming up and you really should do a quick check up before the transmission falls out of your car.
So it is with people. Everyone feels a twinge of jealousy on occasion. We’re all human, and emotions don’t always make sense. Sometimes it’s just a case of irrationality that passes almost as soon as it comes up. Other times, especially when it sticks around, it’s an indication that you should do a quick bit of soul-searching and trying to find the cause. Is there something wrong? Or is it an indicator that you have a need that’s not being met?
In your case, BRAHP, it sounds a little bit like the latter. You don’t describe anything in your letter that sounds like it’d be cause for worry; she hasn’t suddenly started dressing differently and spending even more time at work, for example. Nor does it sound like you’ve spotted her sitting on the couch, paging through her wedding album and sighing wistfully. It seems that, like the theoretical girlfriend in the PUA routine, the issue is that you’re being reminded that she has a past.
One of the things you need to keep in mind, BRAHP, is the fact that not all break-ups or divorces are equal. Some relationships end, and afterwards you’d rather dump every reminder that your ex exists in the same pit as all of those ET cartridges. Others end because your relationship just didn’t work; you may still have affection for your ex, even friendship, but the relationship itself reached the end of its lifespan.
The fact that the relationship ended doesn’t mean that you don’t remember it fondly or have good memories attached to it. Even a bad break up doesn’t mean that you might not look back on the good times and remember things back before it all fell apart. Nostalgia’s a powerful emotion, and sometimes those emotions get tied to the physical objects we have left over afterwards. Taking those out every once in a while is a way of getting a little dopamine hit of pleasant times.
The disconnect here is in the way your relationships ended. Hers was amicable. Yours was ugly. It’s understandable that you’re a little jaded and cynical, possibly even a little on your guard after what you went through. So what I think this jealousy is telling you is that you’re not feeling threatened per se, just in need of some reassurance. Since your last relationship ended messily and all over the place, it’s understandable that you find it harder to grok that others may not feel the same way. As a result, you’re starting to see dangers that aren’t actually there.
Like I said: if we strip away the insecurity you’re feeling at the moment, none of what’s happening is unreasonable. Hell, going by your timeline, she slept with her ex four months before you two got together. These are not exactly signs your relationship is in danger, my dude. Not if you deal with the root of the problem that’s flipped on the check-engine light.
So here’s what I want you to do about it: you’re gonna use your words. You’re going to sit down with your girlfriend and tell her how you feel. But you’re going to do it the right way. You’re going to start by explaining that you know that you’re being a smidge irrational, but you’re feeling a bit jealous because it’s clear that she and her ex are still on good terms while you and yours aren’t. You’re going to let her know that you get that this isn’t any fault of hers; it’s just your jerk-brain screwing with you. But while it’s going on, you’d appreciate a little more affection and assurance until things settle down again.
And in the meantime, here’s what I think will be a reasonable compromise on the box: it goes in storage somewhere. Maybe it’ll be in the attic or the basement or at the back of a shelf of a closet in a spare room; somewhere that she can get to it if she wants to go over the old photos, but where you can ignore its existence. It’s a case of “out of sight, out of mind”. If you don’t feel like it’s being rubbed in your face, it’s a lot easier to pretend it doesn’t exist until that check engine light goes away and you can get back to enjoying shacking up with your sweetie.
This will pass, BRAHP, as long as you let it. Good luck.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
My wife and I are polyamorous, and we find ourselves in an interesting situation. We only just moved away from conservative family, meaning we can practice our polyamory more openly. We’re really enjoying it, but there’s one major problem; neither of us has any idea what we’re doing.
Our conservative religious upbringings mean we both have no experience with casual dating. All our relationships formed after a while of friendship, were all fairly serious and long-term, and neither of us had sex — like ever, at all — until our wedding night. We don’t hold to those same ideals anymore, obviously, but we now find ourselves in a situation where we’re in our late 20s and, essentially, learning to date for the first time. Our first poly partners were old friends we let in on our secret, but now that we can actually date, we find ourselves in a position we’ve never actually been in before. We both have lots of relationship experience, but virtually no dating experience.
All this, in addition to the simple fact that it’s hard to find dates when you have a ring on your finger, means a hell of a time trying to really take advantage of the open situation we find ourselves in. So how would you suggest approaching the world of dating, dating apps, and casual relationships when our age suggests we should really have a much better idea what we’re doing than we actually do?
Confused Late Bloomer
First of all, CLB, congrats on you and your wife being in a position to actually live your truth. That’s going to make things easier for you both in the long run and make you both happier overall.
Here’s what I’d suggest for your next step: start doing your homework. Polyamorous relationships tends to be like dating on expert difficulty; you’re going to be dealing with both maintaining your existing relationship as well as trying to find and start a new one. This can be exhausting and confusing under the best of circumstances, which is why you two should lay out exactly what it is you’re both looking for, what you’re expecting and how you see it working.
Are you looking for casual play partners for sexy fun times, or are you looking for a more committed relationship? What style of poly relationship are you hoping to find? One where you’re forming a poly pod, or you and your wife having your own boyfriend or girlfriend independent of one another? Or are you looking for more of a swinging situation, where you and another couple switch partners?
The better an idea you have about what you’re looking for, the easier it is to communicate those interests and needs to potential partners (or couples, or what-have-you).
If you haven’t, I’d suggest you load yourself up with some books on the topic. I generally recommend Opening Up by Tristan Taormino and More Than Two by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickart. These can help give you the vocabulary you’ll need as well as some guidelines for navigating the scene and building the kind of relationship you want.
Then there’s the matter of finding partners. You have a couple of options. First is to see what’s available in your town; if there are any regular fetish parties, swinging groups or sex clubs nearby, these are great options for meeting like-minded couples and singletons who’d be open to dating someone in an open relationship.
But don’t forget that the Internet is your friend here too; online dating makes it easy to find people who’re down for dating or hooking up with people who’re in ethically non-monogamous relationships. I’d recommend OKCupid in particular, in this case; they’ve recently added tools to make it easier for people in open relationships to find partners.
One quick word of warning, though: if you and your wife play separately, then it may be harder for you as a man to find partners. The hard truth of the matter is that there are more guys out there who have little problem hooking up with a married woman than there are women who feel the same way.
There are ways around that, should the issue come up. First is to focus, at least at first, on meeting women who also identify as polyamorous or non-monogamous. They’ve already opted-in, as it were, so your relationship is going to be less of a hurdle to get past. The other is to sell yourselves as a package deal and focus on other couples. Let folks know that you two play together, and that there’s an equitable exchange situation involved.
Oh, and one more thing: shared Google calenders. Trust me: if you’re going to do full-on poly relationships, this will save your life, your relationship and your sanity. Good luck.
Does your partner have a close relationship with their ex? Are you in a poly or non-monogamous relationship? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. 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 on the Dr. NerdLove podcast. His dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is available on Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.