Dear Just The Tips,
I have a problem with my girlfriend, and I was thinking you might be able to help because I just read your advice from “I Found My Girl’s Sex Pics” and found you to be very helpful.
My girl is extremely sentimental. And I’m fine with that, as long as it’s not towards her exes. And it is. I don’t mind sentimentality in any other situation except hoarding. What should I do? We’re serious in our relationship, and I’m not the jealous type, but I definitely feel jealous and spiteful towards her exes for her caring about them still. The biggest problem is that she still has pictures of their time together, and she texts them. I can’t decide whether or not it’s a fault of mine or hers for me seeing it as threatening. I want to snoop through her phone and delete all of those pictures, but I also don’t want to hurt her (which I’d be doing because of her attachment), and I don’t want to actually have to see them because they make me want to go find them and kick their faces in. (I don’t have anger issues, by the way, although I’m sure I’m making it sound like I do). Seriously, it’s offensive to me.
My Dear Jealous,
I feel you. I mean, if even Beyonce gets jealous then it must be an inescapable human emotion. Jealousy is a nefarious form of obsession, and obsession, while an alluring designer scent, isn’t attractive on anybody. Believe me, I’ve worn it in many seasons.
The question for you seems to be whether or not you are justified in your emotion and, given that, how to express it without ruining your relationship. And let’s be honest. Social media and texting don’t make things any easier when it comes to an obsessive spiral.
I’ve been feeling recently that this particular technological moment demands a new level of transparency and accountability in our relationships and emotional lives. “Sneaking around” just isn’t that difficult anymore. Instead of driving past somebody’s house obsessively you can just look at their every digital move. Rather than hire a P.I. to go through your husband’s work mail, you can just pick up his phone when he’s sleeping. Rather than making a plan to meet a mistress weeks in advance and leaving on the pretense of a business trip you can send a quick text and book a room with an app like One Night Standard.
My hope is that this kind of accessibility will force us to be more honest about the reasons we feel jealous or want to sneak around. While a little bit of bad feels good for a little while, sneaking and snooping doesn’t feel good for long.
Reinventing ourselves means rolling our pasts into our present selves. Most of us, when we start a new relationship, will have an entire digital record of the previous one. We can’t delete the history of our hearts. I’m not sure we ever really could, but these days we’re being asked to act like integrated humans who acknowledge our complexities, wounds and foibles before they get the best of us.
Jealousy is a great place to start.
IT MIGHT BE A GOOD THING THAT SHE’S STILL IN TOUCH WITH HER EXES
Let’s take a step back here for a moment and acknowledge that people who are in touch with their exes display a degree of emotional maturity. It shows that they respect the people they’ve loved as people, not just people to have sex with. Take that to heart and remind yourself that you’re probably dating somebody rad.
TAKE IT AS A COMPLIMENT THAT SHE’S RECEIVING ATTENTION
It could be that she’s receiving a little bit too much attention for your comfort from these exes. OK, that’s fair, and we’ll get to that, but remind yourself that dating a person who receives attention from people (whether that attention is professional, personal, artistic, whatever) is often a good thing. Dating a desirable person means that other people may desire them. Take it as a compliment.
ASK YOURSELF: WHAT AM I AFRAID OF?
I’m concerned about the anger you feel towards your lady and her exes. It’s not bad to feel angry, but it’s not fun either, right? Ask yourself why you are angry. Are there certain kinds of expectations you have around what it means to be in a relationship? Is she not meeting them? Are these exes people who hurt her, and are you feeling defensive of her? Has she or somebody else done something to betray your trust in the past? Anger tends to be a manifestation of fear, so what are you afraid of? Figure it out on your own or with her and then move on to step four…
ASK HER: WHAT CAN I GIVE YOU?
By asking your lady, “Is there anything you need from me that you’re not getting that is causing you to turn to other people?” you’re giving her the opportunity to voice her needs in the relationship. She may very well say “no,” in which case you’ve got to trust her or…
ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED TO TRUST HER
Be crystal clear with yourself about what you need to trust her. Remember: only you have the power to manage your jealousy. But you can ask for her help. Trying to control her behavior will prove difficult and unsatisfying. Instead of demanding that she never texts one of her exes again, make specific requests about things she can do to help you trust her. Be clear about what those requests are—Would you prefer if she didn’t text her exes late at night? Would you like it if she didn’t text them information about the two of you? Would you rather that she bring certain topics up with you before she talked to other people about them? Decide for yourself what those requests might be then ask for them. She may not be able or not want to do all of them or any of them but she will probably be able to hear them more clearly than anger and ultimatums.
A TUTORIAL ON FEELINGS
In a relationship you get to set the terms in regards to behavior, but you don’t get to control feelings. Actually, you don’t get to control yours or hers. That’s not really how feelings work. I would encourage you to stop looking for whose “fault” this jealousy is and embrace the idea that it is simply something that is happening that both of you can deal with together.
EXAMINE THE NEED TO DELETE
I talked about this desire to delete earlier. It’s very understandable but usually it comes back to bite you in the ass. What do you feel like you want to delete from your own experience or from hers? Then start asking questions that seek to integrate those experiences. Ask her questions about her past relationships, if it’s relevant to you. What did she learn from them? How have they shaped who she is? How have these other people shaped her into the person that you care about today? Likewise, how have your past relationships, jealousies and experiences shaped you into the person she cares about.
Start writing a new story together, because there is no way you’re going to delete the old ones.
Just the Tips is Playboy.com’s weekly advice column, with professional matchmaker Katherine Cooper. Have a question for Katherine about sex, love or dating? Shoot her a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.