Two years ago, I started a relationship with a wonderful older man, but from the beginning something seemed a little off. After we celebrated our first anniversary, I had the shameful impulse to ask to see his phone. He agreed. There I saw what was bothering me: a previous girlfriend had been texting him every day, and he had been replying: photos, kiss emoticons, five-minute-long voice messages. It had been going on every day for the year we had been together.
They apparently had an intense, somewhat problematic, two-year relationship, but she moved abroad. He says they were going to break up anyway. I felt they were being disrespectful towards me and towards themselves, putting all this energy into something that had theoretically ended and not allowing new relationships to fully blossom. He said they texted because they remained good friends, that’s all. That is hard for me to believe. He said he was not aware this could be so damaging to me. He told me he had stopped messaging her so often and that, for him, it made no difference.
A year has passed and everything is great. However, I still have moments of doubt. He travels a lot and works in the same field as his ex, sometimes travelling to the same places. I can’t help but imagine emotionally charged encounters, if not more. Does my insecurity have some sort of foundation, or I am making a bit too much of this?
I wonder what made you ask to see his phone after a year? And I wonder what made you write now?
I think we can become insecure when we know something’s not right, and that some people make us feel more insecure than others. We tend to lack confidence in situations, or people, when we feel information is being withheld and we don’t know the full story – so we fill in the gaps with our own imagination.
I would have liked to know a bit more about your past relationships and if you’ve always been like this. If so, then it’s worth looking at why relationships make you feel insecure. Or maybe this is your first serious relationship and you don’t have exes, so you can’t understand why people stay in touch with theirs. When I found out my first boyfriend still occasionally saw his ex, I couldn’t understand why, either. But people stay in touch with exes for all sorts of reasons, some of them benign and some not so much. Some people like to have their exes on the back-burner to bolster their ego. I’ve known men like that.
Five-minute-long voice messages and texts every day is quite a commitment, however: does he lavish the same attention on all his friends? What’s the context? I’m also intrigued that he’s older, has experience of relationships, but doesn’t seem to think that being in touch with his ex might bother you. Plus, so much texting yet it “made no difference to him”? Then why do it? I think he’s being disingenuous.
Gavin de Becker writes (brilliant, fascinating) books about how we ignore our intuition, often to our detriment. It has made me realise the power of intuition, which social conditioning has largely taught us to ignore for fear of seeming silly or paranoid. We don’t feel we can trust our instincts, so often look for proof instead – as you did with your boyfriend’s phone.
In De Becker’s book The Gift Of Fear, he writes about giving a talk and asking how many people in the audience had children. Then he asked: “How many of you have left your children with a babysitter?” And finally he asked: “How many of you aren’t absolutely sure about your babysitter?” A few hands went up. So he said: “What are you doing here? Go home.”
This isn’t really about who your boyfriend is in contact with or not; it’s about the fact that you feel something isn’t quite right. Pay attention to that feeling and explore it. There may be nothing going on, or you may just feel doubtful about him and have pegged all those doubts on to this one thing. For this relationship to have a future, you need to be able to trust him with your fears and know he will try to understand them; he should not only respect them, he should assuage them. A relationship where you doubt both him and yourself will eventually exhaust you.
• Send your problem to firstname.lastname@example.org. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence
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