Q: My boyfriend of three months is 22, and so am I. He tells me he loves me but is horrible about returning texts and calls and following through with dates. (He seems to ditch me if something better comes along.) He also doesn’t treat me very well around others. Recently, he got really drunk at a party and was hitting on my friend all night, though she ignored him. I finally pulled him aside and said he was hurting my feelings, and he said I was too sensitive and I’m just jealous that people like him. He later disappeared from the party for over an hour, and when I asked him where he’d gone, he said, “What are you, my mom?” I know I don’t deserve to be treated like this, but he can be so sweet and kind when we are on my couch watching a movie or in bed snuggling. Part of me wants to leave, and part thinks he just needs to get used to being in a relationship, because this is his first “serious” one.
—Loved and Unloved
A: If you’re like a lot of women, you’ve dreamed about this since you were a little girl — that moment the man in your life puts his hands on your shoulders and says, “Would you mind ducking your head so I can see if that woman across the room is hot?”
Men, like golden retrievers, have their flaws. They shed on the furniture, leave hairs in the soap, and hump your leg at inappropriate times. But when it’s clear that a particular man generally means well, these things are to be overlooked. Your boyfriend, on the other hand, claims to love you but ignores you, stands you up, belittles you, and publicly humiliates you, making it pretty clear that he’s looking to leave hairs in other women’s soap. And sure, he’s sweet to you when you’re snuggling in bed — probably because there are no other women under your comforter for him to hit on.
Like many people, you place too much importance on hearing “I love you.” You want to believe that these words mean something — and they probably do: that he needs to throw you a romantic chew-toy from time to time so you’ll stick around for all the casual cruelty. In an abusive relationship, which this is, you begin to crave the little moments of sweetness and intimacy that you use to justify staying through all the spirit-chomping parts. The big picture is, you aren’t so much this guy’s girlfriend as you are his backup girlfriend (the spare tire of girlfriendhood) — the one he keeps around in case there’s nothing or no one better to do.
Part of you wants to leave? Follow that part. And turn this into a meaningful relationship after the fact — one you use to represent what you won’t put up with in the future. Sure, in the process of figuring out what you want in a man, you’ll have to “kiss a few toads,” but if you’re honest about who a guy is, you’ll see no reason to stick around for an extended makeout session.
Q: I’m staying at a friend’s house while on a business trip. She and I talk frequently, but since I moved away, we have not had any quality time. We’d both looked forward to hanging out and catching up, but her boyfriend of six months has been here every night. I like him well enough, but the worst, the absolute worst, is the extreme PDA. They share long, passionate kisses and lie on top of each other and make out while we’re all watching TV. I want to say something, but what?
A: How nice to have time to catch up with your friend — to learn how her job’s going, what’s happening with her family, the kind of faces she makes while being dry-humped. When you’re a houseguest, the things you should be expected to bring are wine and maybe a box of fancy soaps, not earplugs and a blindfold. As welcome as they’re making you feel, it must be tempting to go passive-aggressive when they’re getting it on: “Mind if I tweet this?” Or “Should I move over? I don’t want to be sitting on third base.” But, your best bet for shutting down the heavy petting zoo is evoking sympathy, not defensiveness. Do that by telling your friend that you feel bad — like you’re interrupting something — and that it’s no problem for you to stay at a motel. Sure, there may still be live sex acts there, but they’ll be separated from you by a wall and some innocuous framed print. You’ll hear everything, but in the morning, you’ll leave with the image of an adequately painted lighthouse forever burned into your brain.