It's a problem as old as time + lovers + friends. You're dating someone and you have a friendship with someone else and that friendship makes your partner mad jealz. How do you handle it?
Look, I'm not gonna go all When Harry Met Sally on you. I totally think men and women can be friends, with the sex part, without the sex part, before, during, and after the sex part, and even whilst moving furniture together, naked. Do I think it's more complicated sometimes to do so? Sure, but so is making coffee taste good and you won't see me ditching on that when the going gets tough.
There are some basic tenets everyone in a relationship should observe when it comes to navigating these friendships with respect to your partner. If you are single and want to have interpersonal ambiguous relationships with others, have at it. Who is to stop you? If you are committed to someone, those ambiguous interpersonal relationships could be problematic, and while they should not be something you have to ditch or face ultimatums over, they should at least be something you're willing to look at from your partner's perspective and offer some kind of reassurance about.
The problem here is that the jealous partner doesn't know which end of an ace is up: Are you secretly in love with that "friend"? Pining away for them? Fucking them on the DL? Alternately, is the friend secretly in love with your partner? Waiting to make a move the second he or she senses the slightest ripple in the force field of your relationship security? Or worse, slowly chipping away at the good thing you've got going by interfering, or talking shit about you, or all the other things that demonic gargoyle forces can do?
A third and equally possible option is, of course, that you're totally just friends and there is nothing to it. Let's not forget that! Never forget that! Try to start from there if you can. But let's not be naïve. People are people. You've seen 'em. You are one. And this is a scenario in which many people seem unable to be honest.
Let's look at a personal example from a recent advice column at The Awl. An advice-seeker writes in about a long distance relationship ongoing for 1.5 years that is going well, except for this hot prob:
One problem is one of my good friends, who is a girl and lives just down the road in my city. We met on the first day of college and have been friends since, and to be clear, the relationship has always been platonic. Nothing remotely sexual/physical/romantic has ever happened between us, and it's highly unlikely that something of that nature will ever develop. I see her like a sister, and I'm sure she views me the same way because during our friendship she's always had boyfriends anyway.
The thing is, my girlfriend becomes a jealous, paranoid, insecure nutcase whenever I'm with my friend. The first time my girlfriend got really mad was because my friend and I watched a film together in her room, just us—which, to be fair, we've done millions of times before. It's gotten to a point where I can't even meet her for coffee without my girlfriend getting mad. And on another hand, objectively speaking, my girlfriend is way hotter than my friend is—all my guy friends are aghast that she could be so insecure.
What's happened is that I've stopped seeing my friend so often, and when I do see her, I don't tell my girlfriend. We don't take pictures together and she can't post anything related to me on social media. It would be less crazy if we were actually having an affair.
My friend feels bad that my girlfriend feels that way, and I feel bad that she feels bad. And as much as I care about my girlfriend's feelings, she's my good friend too and I do care about her.
I actually believe this advice seeker, and the reason is that he even bothered to write in a letter. I think when dudes are being buds with some girl they used to fuck and will probably fuck again if shit doesn't work out with you, they don't write to advice columnists. (I guess they could be doing it just to make you think they are innocent when really they are plotting to marry this girl after you're sick of their shit, but that would be some long, tight con.) Usually, they just tell you that you are batshit, or a prude, or crazy, and proceed to keep lying and gaslighting you until you break up and then they immediately go fuck that person. (At least, that's what I've heard.)
Nonetheless, the advice giver ("The Concessionist"; née Choire Sicha) rightly points out a couple true things, such as the fact that it's weird to call someone you love a nutcase. But also this:
There's a reason that some women get their hackles up about their boyfriends being friends with women. That's because dudes are always cheating. Being cheated on is one of the 26 tolls that you pay when you date men.
But if you would rather stay together, you're going to have to talk about it until she is completely exhausted of the subject. The only way through this kind of thing is relentless talking. And even then she might still be like "Hey yeah I'm just not okay with this, why aren't you listening to me? WHY ARE YOU SO STUPID? WHY DON'T YOU GET OUT AND LEAVE ME ALONE?" Etc.
The Concessionist is really right about the relentless talking. That would be my advice, too. That is my advice for everything: Talk the fuck out of that shit until it can't be talked no more. It sucks when someone is jealous, especially for no reason, but if you love them and you want to be with them, dig in. Make a snack. Get to yappin'.
But I wish in these scenarios the advice givers would focus on something that is all too often missing from discussions of relationships (and the advice seeker here admitted this was probably his first serious girlfriend, which makes it all the more important): How much trust do you really have in the relationship?
Trust will solve most problems. It really will. If you believe someone is acting in good faith, you will give them the benefit of the doubt in nearly all scenarios, and that is one long leash. You give them max space to live their life, conduct the relationships they choose, and assume they are going to disclose all on their own—and without you having to drag it out of them, any relevant, crucial, status-altering facts should they arise.
When you don't have trust, there is no interaction innocuous enough to calm the fires of your suspicion.
Another facet here is that even with trust, people can get a little jealous anyway, or rightly object to a suspicious behavior that crosses a boundary. And when that happens, you have to consider your behavior toward the girl who is just a friend, and her behaviors toward you, and be willing and accountable and transparent (and not hostile—this is key!) to consider this from her perspective.
- Is the girlfriend just jealous because she's the jealous type, meaning there is good trust and good faith in your relationship and no reason for jealousy, and yet regardless of this, anything so much as a few jokes or chumminess between you and another woman would incite a jealous rage?
- Is there a decided lack of trust in the relationship for whatever reason, which would make it hard for her to believe you?
- Is it possible you or the friend act flirty in a way you don't see/rationalize as not there and it's obvious to your girlfriend, so she's just calling a spade a spade and you're calling her a nutcase?
Sometimes you're right to be jealous. When you date someone, if they have "just friends" who act wrong/shitty/suspiciously, you're not supposed to just reach deep down inside and produce bulletproof immunity, you're supposed to be reasonably skeptical and probably walk.
And about those long leashes: I think in good relationships there is a lot of cognizance regarding how your actions affect the other person. You care about this person; you're invested in their emotional wellbeing, too. That should mean that you're willing to do the work of looking at things and considering their feelings.
Does this mean you change your behavior drastically and stop hanging out with your friend or living your life or being a whole person apart from them? Of course not. But good relationships have some give and take which ought to lead to meeting in the middle.
One caveat: None of this even means the "friend" is someone your partner has never considered dating, fantasized about, or been attracted to, or already slept with. It just means that the status they claim is the honest status, and that no matter that status, you can trust them with their own brain. That part of that brain considers your feelings, even if they don't necessarily think you should have them.
If you've done all this admittedly tedious work and the partner is still jealous, I think it's a low self-esteem issue, and you can't fix that. You have done your part: Reassured without hostility, scrutinized your own behavior, and then reassured some more. Because the converse of all this is also true: When someone you're with doesn't trust you no matter what lengths you've gone to do address all issues in good faith, you have much bigger problems anyway.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.