#542: The Butt Dial of Jealousy and Specious Accusations

Beyonce asking" Why are you so jealous?"

We haven’t had a gif party or a “Yo, maybe you are way cooler than that person you are dating” thread in a while, so, here you go.

Dear Captain Awkward:

My partner of 5 years moved 200 miles away last week for a job. I’m sad he’s gone and I’m missing him, but I really support what he’s doing —  he was having a hard and stressful time finding work in his field in our city and has been unhappy for some time. We agreed that, for now, we want to keep our relationship exclusive and revisit that decision in a few months. 

On Saturday, I went to the corner store and one of the workers — I’ve seen him many times, but we’ve never really talked — initiated a conversation with me. I felt a little forced into it (“Hi there, lady who never talks to me when she comes in to buy cigarettes”) but he’s a part of my neighborhood and I wanted to be polite. He turned out to be a big talker and amusing storyteller, and we had a 15-minute conversation about his family, his country, and so on. Very innocuous and kind of sweet; I tend to be reserved and don’t necessarily get to know people I see daily. He asked about my partner, and I told him that he’d moved.

Joel from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind saying "I assume you fucked someone tonight. Isn't that how you get people to like you?"
A sad, disheveled man saying cruel things…totally hot, amirite?

As I left, I tried to dial my partner’s number to tell him that the corner store guy had asked about him and that I had actually had a conversation with someone in my neighborhood. I was feeling pretty good, and also relieved that the conversation hadn’t gone in an awkward direction. I realized that I had butt- (or face-) dialled my partner at some point, and thought that I had just left a long, boring message on his voice mail. I hung up and called him back, and his voice was shaking with rage when he answered. He had been listening in on the conversation the entire time. He accused me of being with another man, a mutual friend of ours who was in town and had gotten in touch with me about getting together (this friend has made his attraction for me clear in the past, so I had opted to not get together with him without my partner). When I told him that I had been talking to the corner store guy, he didn’t believe me and said that he heard the whole conversation and clearly heard our friend’s voice. I explained that it was, indeed, the guy from the store, and he then demanded to know why I spent 15 minutes talking to him, as if there’s something wrong with that. I was too amazed to be mad, so I responded pretty patiently and tried to reassure him that everything was OK.

He then hung up and refused to talk to me about the incident. He said that I told him “my truth” but that he didn’t believe me, in the end, and that he didn’t have the emotional energy to deal with this and didn’t want to talk about it. I couldn’t believe it – I was gobsmacked.   

I’m at a loss.  

My partner is a big talker who could easily chat with a stranger for 15 minutes. I had told him our friend called and didn’t plan to see him. I don’t see anything wrong with anything I said, and there was nothing remotely flirtatious that could have stung to overhear — and he refuses to tell me what about the conversation bothered him so much.

How can I open this topic with him and deal with this in a mature way? It really bothers me to think that he thinks I’m lying blatantly to him, only a week after I left him with a promise to see him in a couple of weeks. It bothers me that, had I decided to see our friend, he would consider it a betrayal because this friend has the hots for me. It bothers me that he’s putting some type of arbitrary limits on how long a conversation should be before it becomes evidence of something else. We’ve had some issues with trust in the past – he’s thought that I’ve been lying to him when I haven’t been – but we’ve been stable for a long time now.

Hello, and thanks for your question.

My reaction to the part of the story where “15 minutes is too long to talk to someone” and your romantic partner thinks he gets to judge or proscribe anything about your routine social interactions was:

Wonder Woman holding up a finger and saying "Aw Hell No"

And the thing where he called your explanation “your” truth as a way to dismiss it?

Okay, in the most empathetic light I am capable of here: Say your partner has a history of jealousy and insecurity. Say things are not going too well in New City. Say that the agreements you made re: exclusivity feel extra-fragile and not realistic right now, and he suspects your heart was not in such an agreement. Say he’s generally feeling crappy and nervous and jealous, and the thought of that mutual friend who likes you was gnawing at the corner of his mind. Say he overreacts and takes it out on you.

That might be somewhat ….I won’t say forgivable, let’s call it “imaginable” or “navigable”… if he were to apologize to you for calling you a liar, and if he were to back way off on future attempts to control you. “I am so sorry about the other day, I was being a jerk.”

Might. Maybe.

Absent that, what the hell are you supposed to do here? How are you supposed to fix something when you didn’t do anything wrong, and the “problem” is completely manufactured by your partner’s projections? There really isn’t anything you can do to make this right, because it’s not on you to make this right. You asked for a way to discuss this maturely, but that’s pretty hard when the other person has taken all their marbles home. Accusations like this from jealous and controlling dudes basically translate as “I am having negative feelings that I don’t like, so I will make them all your fault and make sure you have negative feelings, too.”  And it’s working, because you are the one who is worried about how you can work this out, when really, you’re not the one with ground to make up here.

In your shoes, I do not know that I would be reaching out to him at all. He’s the one who shut down conversation, so isn’t it kind of on him to open it back up? What if you didn’t contact him and waited for him to seek you out? My prediction is that he will sulk for a few days and then, if he reaches out, he will magnanimously pretend to have forgiven you or try to breeze by it like nothing happened. It’s part of the cycle, him hoping that you won’t want to rock the boat by revisiting the uncomfortable topic and that you’ll be in a mood to “make it up” to him.


To which you might say:

I’m still very bothered by our conversation the other day. Accusing me of lying was really out of line, and you actually don’t have a say over how long I converse with someone. I’d like an apology.”

If for some reason he does want to accuse you of lying some more, how’s this for a script?

“Where the hell is this all coming from? Please. Explain.”

Another script:

If you need reassurance about my feelings & commitment, you can ask for that and I can do what I can to give it. If you need us to revisit the arrangement we made about exclusivity, I’m happy to talk it through. But I can’t hang with you ‘shaking with rage’ because I talked to a man-shaped person for a few minutes. I need to know that you see how very over the line that is, and that I’m not the one who needs to apologize or work to make this right.

A man says angry things at the camera and then roll-bounces away on roller skates.
Internet, please help me find what video this is from so I can watch it over and over again.

If the next words out of his mouth aren’t some variation of “You’re right, I’m sorry…” it’s a sign that maybe it’s time to board the Nope Rocket. I mean, why would he even want to be with a lying liar who will cheat on him with a visiting friend, or, literally the first person she runs into at the corner store? You seem like a cool person who deserves way better than that. Maybe your butt was trying to save you when it dialed that number.


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96 thoughts on “#542: The Butt Dial of Jealousy and Specious Accusations

  1. As someone who has struggled with jealousy/ insecurity issues, and who has made jealous remarks to a partner that come from MY issues, I want to say that the Captain’s advice is spot on. It is up to your partner, LW, to deal with his issues himself and you can offer him reassurance but it’s up to him not to act like a jerk.

  2. Yes! Good scripts all around! I am utterly baffled by the line of thinking LW’s partner is having right there & I agree entirely with what the Captain has said.

  3. Also, he’d have figured out it was a pocket or butt-dial pretty fast when you didn’t reply to him, and yet be chose to *eavsdrop* on your conversation. Something to think on.

    1. See, that’s somewhat forgivable to me – it’s not great behavior, but in a situation where someone is feeling insecure and uncomfortable, I can see it. If a partner did that to me, I’d be pissed, but for me, at least, an apology would be sufficient if the relationship as a whole was solid, and this was out of character.

      What would really get me is if my partner got angry at me for talking to someone or accused me of cheating on him or answered the phone “shaking with rage” after eavesdropping on me. That’s a very different animal, IMO.

  4. He then hung up and refused to talk to me about the incident. He said that I told him “my truth” but that he didn’t believe me, in the end, and that he didn’t have the emotional energy to deal with this and didn’t want to talk about it.


    1. I think that translates to “I am too proud to admit I freaked the fuck out and was so very very wrong.” Which once in a while we’re entitled to, when we have done embarrassing stuff that didn’t involve screaming at our loved ones. In this case I think refusal to apologize and talk about it is a refusal to accept responsibility since that might mean he’d have to change his future behavior too.

    2. I must say I find, “It upsets me too much to talk about an incident between us and if you bring it up again, you’re the bad guy.” is a flaming red flag for me. If you can get someone to stay quiet about the time you attacked them, you’ve got a lot more power than anyone needs over the people they care about.

      1. There’s a big difference between “I think I’m too emotional to discuss this in a helpful way right now, so can we pause?” and “Never bring this up again.”

        This is particularly scary because to me, whenever I see someone turning “The thing I did to you” into “The thing you did to me (by being hurt by what I did to you)” that’s a huuuuuge red flag, and this guy seems to be jumping the gun right into righteous indignation.

        1. That sort of gaslighting behavior is meant to keep you always on the back foot, where you find yourself apologizing and crying when you’ve confronted someone about their bad behavior, which is now miraculously all your fault. Big red flag, LW. HUGE. Jealousy (especially unfounded! ) is one of the characteristic hallmarks of someone who is controlling and/or abusive. It may, unfortunately, also be indicative of projection, ie; “I would do this, so she must be doing it!”. So sorry you’re experiencing this, life is too short to have your energies drained by needless drama.

          1. I was going to say… is it at all possible Boyfriend is looking for a reason to split or pressure LW into non-monogamy by throwing a tantrum? Because “I would do this so she must be, too” is really ringing the bell of notice here.

          2. “The thing you did to me (by being hurt by what I did to you)”

            I’m just going to stare at that sentence for a while until it hopefully burns into my brain. I had a friend who went that way, spent a lot of time explaining to me in depth how I couldn’t ever mention things zie did that hurt me because that made hir sad, and here’s how that was my fault. I don’t regret removing myself from that relationship, but sometimes I have a hard time wrapping words around what zie did that was so wrong, and that’s what it was really. Making it my fault for hurting hir by being hurt by horrible things zie did.

      2. Oh wow, this is… a really powerful articulation, and one I’m going to take away and sit with. Thank you.

    3. I my friend called me a liar even after I explained, hung up and refused to talk about it, I would have interpreted this behavior to be him breaking up with me. No trust, no talk, no friendship.

  5. I also would not be surprised if you discover that his anger has *nothing* to do with this, and that he’s done something to contravene the exclusivity arrangement himself. Too many times when someone is behaving inexplicably angry about some far-fetched perceived betrayal, they’re projecting and deflecting from their own behaviour.

    Not that it matters, because what he’s doing is loco and ridiculous, and *that* is the tiger with teeth right now.

    1. That could be, or he wants to break up with LW (possibly because he’s met someone new) and wants to make it All Her Fault.

  6. Not to mention- He thought it was the visiting friend after hearing the corner store dude “talk about his family and his country”? Unless corner store dude is from the same country as visiting friend, I smell a rat here.

    1. I had the exact same thought. Maybe Boyfriend couldn’t make out exactly what they were saying? 😐

    2. My assumption was that he heard her side of the conversation and a male voice, but couldn’t make out the details of the voice or what the guy was saying, and filled in the blanks that it was the friend because he’s been thinking about him as a threat to the relationship.
      NOT that that makes any of it ok.

    3. I noticed that too – it was so completely irrational. Which leads to something I’ve learned the hard way: when someone reacts in a way that is completely inappropriate in the context of the situation that actually happened, and then refuses to back down from their fictional version of what happened, that basically means that it is all about some issue of theirs, and really has nothing to do with anything you’ve done. What I mean is — he could’ve had the same reaction if LW had stayed home and watched TV. Or if the person she spoke with at the store was a woman. It was already in his head that LW was going to do “something” with that other friend, and I’m really not sure that there’s anything LW can say or do at this point that will convince him otherwise.

      It’s also quite possible that, on some level, he knows he’s being ridiculous, but he doesn’t want to admit it, so he’s doubling down on an indefensible position.

      1. Exactly. Even if, as Anandatic and KL pointed out, he couldn’t really hear the guy talking, they were speaking for a bare 15 minutes. The LW wonders what he considers an appropriate amount of time to talk to another dude (I’m guessing the answer is a snappy 0) but, if he could hear wordless dude sounds and LW’s half of the convo, what on Earth bad could possibly have been happening, in a mere 15 minutes no less? And she called him immediately after. It’s so irrational.

        1. I’ve sometimes had sex for less than 15 minutes, but I’m sure that it doesn’t sould like smalltalk with the corner guy!

  7. Wow. Agreed, LW – you do not deserve this third degree you’re getting from your boyfriend. It sounds like you make very reasonable choices (choosing not to see your friend who you know is attracted to you, for example) and you did absolutely nothing wrong here. DO NOT apologize. DO NOT let him manipulate you into feeling like you have to “make this up to him.” He went off the deep end and he is the one who owes apologies and amends.

  8. For me, hearing of a past issue with him trusting you & accusing you of falsehood combined with this rage reaction really sets off the controlling alarm. Is his refusal to address this and apologize influenced by a disappointment that you’re managing without him?

    1. To build on this, are there any similarities between this time and when he didn’t believe you in the past? Like, he’s feeling isolated, or really stressed, or whatever? Because it might be helpful to notice this out loud. “Hey, sweetiebear, I’ve noticed that when your shoe is untied, you act like a jackass. How about not doing that, and tying your own shoe?”

      This worked for my sweetie and me when I would get hungry and snappish.

      1. I call that “hangry”. Ex and I both got it, and we identified it through the same process.

        1. The version I’ve heard is HALT, as in, don’t go ahead and do that jackass thing when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.

          1. Oh, I remember that from driver’s ed! Our state manual included it as, essentially, “it’s legal to drive in these circumstances but we really wish you wouldn’t.”

          2. Oh, THAT’s the acronym I was trying to remember! I had remembered it as CHAT, and the only thing I could come up with for C was “Cold”, which is in fact good advice for me but not everyone gets that grouchy when they’re cold.

          3. Muddie Mae, you’re state doesn’t want you to drive when you’re LONELY? That seems a bit… restrictive.

            Actually, also a bit weird that you shouldn’t drive when HUNGRY. I mean, what if there’s no food where you are, and the nearest food is driving-distance away? Do you need to call someone to come pick you up? But then what if they say, oh, I’d love to help, but I’m feeling a bit lonely, so I can’t drive? In a bit of a pickle, then.

            Anyway, on-thread – add another voice to the many saying there’s something wrong here, and it’s not the LW’s responsibility to fix it.

  9. Yikes!! You have my total sympathy, LW. In my case it was a childhood best friend and not a boyfriend whose long-distance move caused this kind of problem — she suddenly started seeing evidence everywhere that our social circle was conspiring to cut her out, make moves on her ex-boyfriend, etc. Any attempt I made to tell her no, we actually all missed her a lot, just resulted in accusations that a REAL friend wouldn’t take THEIR side. It was painfully obvious that her own fears about losing her friends because she’d moved away were manifesting in a self-fulfilling prophecy, because eventually it got to the point where my stomach was in knots if the phone rang and her number came up.

    I apologize if I am projecting my own experience all over yours, but yes, I’ve been on the receiving end of people who are feeling overwhelmed by new circumstances and suddenly decide that their REAL problem is YOU (because YOU are familiar and willing to forgive them, unlike the rest of their surroundings). And it hurts like hell. I had exactly the same too-stunned-to-be-angry reaction many times, and just didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. Am I not being a good friend? Am I just a terrible person who never should have done/said that?? We had been friends for more than 10 years at that point, and I was terrified of what would happen if I pushed back too hard. (Terrified in a “I can’t lose this friendship, it’s part of my identity” sense, not a “fear for my safety” sense.)

    In hindsight, I would say: Don’t be me. You can have sympathy for the fact that a person is lashing out in times of stress, but it’s not your job to be their punching bag. I never set that boundary with my friend and I wish like hell that I had. Because two things happened. 1) I unwittingly taught my friend that it was OK to use me as a verbal punching bag because I would always excuse her as being under stress, having had a much worse home life than me, “she’s not hypercritical, just overly honest,” etc. And 2), when I finally did hit my breaking point, I was DONE.

    Regardless of whether this is what’s going on with your boyfriend, it is clear that you did nothing wrong. You have nothing to apologize for. Your boyfriend’s reaction is seriously a problem (that “you told your truth” comment is jaw-dropping. Literally, my jaw dropped when I read that). And I agree strongly that you should not allow it to be swept aside on his say-so. It’s not remotely fair or acceptable that he gets to spew a bunch of angry abuse at you and then suddenly, oh, “I don’t have the emotional energy to deal with this anymore, topic’s closed.” Well gee, where was the consideration for your emotional energy when he made all these unfair accusations?


    I had a long-term partner like this.

    I have not had a long-term partner like this for two years.

    It is fucking amazing and I thoroughly recommend it as a life choice.

    1. ME TOO.

      (I’ve been free for 7 years, and I still sometimes have nightmares about him.)

      *fist bump of solidarity*

        1. not quite 6 months, but it is a situation very like the LW’s that I use as my “remember why you don’t want” if I ever get sappy about the parts that were ok.

    2. I second the recommendation of this as a life choice! It’s been over three years for me as well and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

    3. 5 years and still have all the scars. Being in that situation for too long makes it hard to trust that good people in your life won’t constantly do this (with or without minor mistakes of your own) going forward.

  11. I think the accusation about your Friend is going to come back. The fact that this Friend was the immediate conclusion he jumped to once the bull-dial conversation commenced, and refused to be talked out of that conclusion, means he’s been spending a great deal of mental energy worrying about/imagining you with this Friend. Even if he gets over this particular storm and is all apologies, he is going to constantly ask you if you saw Friend, if you were alone with Friend, that he heard from *someone else* (his mind) that you and Friend were spending time together and why is that?

    In a way, this altercation was helpful because it brought his insecurity about your situation to the fore earlier than it may have otherwise come up. If he hadn’t heard butt-dial convo, he would have no excuse to sound off about how you totally wanna bone Friend now that he is out of town. His jealousy is understandable, but is it livable, for you? What if you never speak to Friend again, but you continue to have nice chats with Corner Store Guy, and that becomes the new third rail of conversation with your boyfriend? If you two want to do a long-distance exclusive successfully, Boyfriend needs to learn that he can’t police your behavior by throwing a jealous snit every time you talk to any other man at all.

    As a good partner, you should of course reassure him of your commitment to him, but I would avoid saying anything about how you put off plans with Friend due to fears of his reaction. Because that A) tells him he can control you by reacting this way and B) throws more fuel on the fire of his insecurities, because why would you say that unless there was *something* about Friend that he had to worry about? If he can’t acknowledge this jealousy for what it is and deal with it without making you unhappy, then you two were not cut out for a long-distance run, or at least won’t be until he can get this under control.

    1. Men are 50-ish percent of the population, so yeah, the LW is going to run into more of them and sometimes have conversations with them!

    2. “Boyfriend needs to learn that he can’t police your behavior by throwing a jealous snit every time you talk to any other man at all.”

      Yup, that one. Do whatever combination of communication and boundary-setting you feel is necessary to get the point across. He’ll whine like you’re killing him, but if he can’t rein in his jealousy this relationship isn’t going to last long at all.

      1. Seriously. Long distance relationships NEED a) trust and b) good communication. Even moreso than typical in the same place relationships. So far he’s not showing himself to be capable of either, which is realy not a good sign

  12. I’m not big on “asking for an apology”; I’ve been with people who could apologize til the cows came home and then do the exact same thing the next time. That said, if he thinks you’re lying to him, now or in the past, that’s pretty hard for me to get over; if I don’t feel I can trust you to tell the truth, or if you think you can’t trust me to do so, it’s pretty hard for me to maintain a relationship at that point.

    Depending on how much you want to keep this relationship, and how much slack you want to grant him, you could go meta and say something like, say, how are things going okay there? How’s the job and the new city working out? etc. And maybe you’ll find out it’s as the Captain says, that he was taking it out on you — which is not okay! to be sure! — but he might be able to converse with you about it more calmly after being able to vent about his own issues for a while, as opposed to immediately butting heads over the jealousy issue. And then you can go to, look, it really hurt my feelings the other day when you said you thought I was lying to you, it makes me feel like you don’t trust me, and it’s hard for me to maintain a relationship with someone who doesn’t trust me. (Or whatever phrasing is appropriate for you.)

    And when you do talk about the jealousy issue specifically, I’d probably say, okay, it sounds like you had an issue with me talking to this person for that long. Just out of curiosity, how long do you think it is appropriate for me to talk to another man? Which men do you believe I’m allowed to talk to? Is he holding himself to the same restrictions when talking to other women? I am *not* saying it’s okay for him to have these views, but being faced with the questions may help him realize it for himself. And if it’s something you’re willing to negotiate at all, you at least have to find out what it is he’d want, in his ideal world, and then you express what you want in your ideal world, and then you negotiate together on what you can each be comfortable with.

    It really all depends on you guys. With five years, like what you say you have, I’m willing to grant the other partner some slack and that they’re stressed with a new job and living situation. But if it were six months, or this starts happening a lot, I’d kick his ass to the curb.

    1. An apology definitely doesn’t mean that all is fixed, but I think in a situation like this it’s a necessary (but not sufficient) step. Apologizing requires LW’s partner to acknowledge that he was in the wrong and acted inappropriately. He’s currently refusing to do that, and unless he comes around on that point, I don’t see how this relationship can move forward.

      Of course, if he keeps doing this and apologizing and then doing it again, that’s a whole separate problem of him needing to stop doing things he later agrees he shouldn’t have done.

      1. I also think it’s a Come To Cheeses moment, because a controlling jerk will just… not… want… to… admit… what… the… problem… is. It’s like, yeah, you need them to apologize. They should!

        But if you are the one directly saying “no, out of line, yellow card, do not do” then they have to also let *you* be the one to direct the conversation when necessary. If they can’t do that, well, that’s good information to have. You know what to expect.

        I think that is possible, with this dude, and good to know if he does.

  13. >How are you supposed to fix something when you didn’t do anything wrong, and the “problem” is completely manufactured by your partner’s projections?

    This sentence. Helpful.

  14. My (long-distance) boyfriend is quite jealous – if I mention going out for dinner, he will ask ‘with whom?’ with a slight note of panic in his voice, will get suspicious if he sees me talking to a man he doesn’t know etc. But I can live with the jealousy because A) he always assumes I tell the truth, so if I say ‘I was just talking to a guy’ he accepts that as an answer; B) the jealousy is not aimed at me, it’s aimed at the other people e.g. he doesn’t think ‘Why is my girlfirend talking to that guy?’ but ‘Why is that guy talking to my girlfriend?’* and C) he never, ever, EVER tells me what I can or cannot do! Not overtly, not passive-agressively, he doesn’t sulk and he doesn’t threaten. He accepts that he can trust me and that the jealousy is HIS issue, not mine.

    I know we’re not the same people, LW, but for me, your partner broke all three conditions under which jealousy is managable (I won’t say ‘acceptable’). So I agree with everyone here that you are not the one who should be apologizing in this situation. He’s the one who messed up, it’s his issue.

    * I’m not saying this is good or fair, but I think it’s one thing to think badly of strangers and quite another to think badly of your partner

    1. This kind of thing is a bit of a ymmv situation, but I think you’ve got a good point here about different kinds/levels of jealousy. It’s okay to have that moment of fear (ideally you wouldn’t, but it can take a while to improve on something like that), but you have to be able to recognize that it’s coming from your own insecurities, not your partner’s behaviour, and manage it appropriately.

      1. Oh yeah, definitely a YMMV situation. My point was that it’s not necessarily a problem that LW’s partner is jealous, but how he is handling his jealousy is, in my opinion, a big issue here.

        1. Yep, I was totally trying to agree with you on that, but it may have been a bit unclear in my comment 🙂

  15. I agree that some people respond to the apology-ask into a Mars Blackmon please-baby-please-baby-please-baby-please bit of misdirection, but I think conveying out loud that an action has created a debt for which an apology is owing is still useful. If the offender can grok what’s up, great. If the offender says ‘sorry’ without meaning it, or in an attempt to shut down your complaints, well, that’s useful information to have.

  16. Unfortunately, I think a person’s Jerkbrain really takes control during the “growing pains” a couple suffers through when going from up-close-and-personal to a long distance arrangement. It sounds like LW’s partner has jealousy/security issues maybe he wasn’t even aware he had up until now.

    Hopefully, he calms down and comes to his senses soon. And if not, if this continues, then yep, time to hop on that nope rocket. At very least, hopefully he realizes that LDRs are not meant for him.

    I don’t really know, though, that LW should ask for an apology. Not because their partner isn’t in the wrong, but more like…if their partner isn’t just going through an adjustment period but is more showing themselves to be a jealous and controlling person, I’ve found they can really easily fake an apology.

    1. It’s not about the quality of the apology, sincerity of the apology, outcome of the apology, etc. – it’s about the LW saying “Hey, you were actually wrong about that, and we’re not going back to normal until you acknowledge that in some way.” Asking can still be useful, even if the getting is disappointing/fake.

  17. i say this a lot, but thank you for existing and thank you for your insights. THANK YOU!

  18. I’ve been there. I didn’t recognize it as a ‘his problem’ not a ‘my problem’ until we were married and two kids in. I assumed responsibility for making him feel better and making sure that there was nothing that could give him cause to worry or be upset. But it never got better, only worse, and I got so resentful not just of feeling like I had to manage my behavior and that of the people around me (like the coworker who kindly texted me to make sure that I made it back to my hotel alright after a dinner) but also manage my thoughts, that it drove our marriage almost to dissolution.

    I’m happy to report that with the help of counseling and his recognition that this was not healthy, reasonable behavior we were able to repair our marriage, but there are the lingering chinks.

    Please don’t ignore this or think that this is your issue to manage. It’s not. And it will not go away on its own.

  19. This dude sounds really exhausting, LW.
    I dated a dude who pulled stuff like this for four years. (I’m actually an old LW myself from back in the 200s somewhere. 274 maybe?)
    I lost a few mutual friends because the relationships deteriorated so badly when I wasn’t allowed to talk to them. I was constantly exhausted. Unreasonable rage tantrums are exhausting. No matter how careful I was, I kept setting him off worse and worse. I couldn’t set any boundaries but he could set ironclad rules about my behavior to make him feel safe. My life was designed around managing his jealousy and I handled it, feeling more and more strained, until he demanded that I skip a Christmas Eve party with my whole extended family so I could Skype him instead. That was my last straw and along with grieving the breakup I had such a sense of relief because I didn’t have to second-guess my every action anymore.
    Nobody could tell me to leave him (well, actually, the entire lovely commentariat here at Captain Awkward did, the Captain herself included) but I needed to hit that breaking point on my own time. If you’re going to, you will too.

    1. We might be shitty relationship twins! Though mine was only about half as long as yours, I know all too well how exhausting a jealous and controlling partner can be. I cut friends out of my life and avoided seeing one of my best friends for the whole relationship, which meant when he left the province for good to go to school back home I didn’t even get to say goodbye. If Shitty Boyfriend found out I’d seen a movie with a male friend, he’s freak out and panic and it would be My Job to make him feel better by insisting that I’d never cheat on him, I’ll never see that friend again, here have my Facebook password so you don’t need to worry, you can read everything and know that I didn’t cheat! (He would insist that people who were in Real Love didn’t need privacy, not even joking). Then he’d go through my Facebook messages until he came across something even vaguely ambiguous, like the time an old school friend asked how “the boy” was doing, and I asked which boy because I couldn’t remember if I’d spoken to her since Shitty Relationship had started, and the cycle would start all over. How dare I not de-friend a guy I flirted with once when we were broken up! Obviously I still like him or else I’d hunt him down and tell him that I was Taken Forever so he had no point to talk to me or even be in my Facebook friends list.

      Shitty Ex and I would also break up again and again. Always initiated by him, of course; he’d freak and dump me over MSN (or just change his FB status to Single and wait for me to react), then come back a week or two later insisting it was only because he was in a “bad place” and he was totally different now. Weirdly enough, for most of the relationship I was absolutely miserable, and every time he broke up with me I felt a sense of relief that at least it was finally over! But when he came back I’d always get back together with him. Not even because I missed him all that much, but because I felt like I still had to Make Things Better because breaking up with me had upset him so much that I needed to fix things now to make him feel better about himself. The one time I had enough spine to break up with him, he threatened to kill himself if I didn’t get back together with him, then when I gave in because I was panicking and terrified he insisted that saying he would be dead by the time the ambulance got there if I called 911 wasn’t actually him threatening suicide, just saying he FELT like dying (despite explicitly saying he was gonna kill himself that night if I didn’t come back). Totally different! He then avoided me for three months until I felt safe enough to break up with him again (and was willing to actually call 911 despite his bullshit gaslighting abuse no matter what he said, though thankfully he seemed to just accept it this time and didn’t argue).

      I’ve been either single or in very casual short-term relationships since then, specifically because I’m still amazed at how freaking GOOD it feels to not be responsible for someone else’s irrational tantrums, and how much time I have to spend with my friends, and how I don’t have to make excuses or lie about who I’m seeing to spend time with them! I don’t need to take a photo of myself with the friends I’m hanging out with to *prove* who I spent the evening with, and I don’t have to avoid playing video games with anyone because who cares if they are in my room with the door closed! And my low-pressure relationships have done a great job re-teaching me that I shouldn’t have to always be nervous or afraid or walking on eggshells in a relationship, and that a decent dude won’t freak out at me talking to someone they don’t know or make me throw my clothes away because he hadn’t seen them before somehow that means I’m cheating! (Not even joking; once I finally did laundry after putting it off for ages and was really excited to find some old shirts that I loved, and Shitty Ex made me get rid of them and we had a giant fight because i MUST be lying about shopping, thus I MUST be lying about not cheating on him! It was….weird.)

      1. I am really glad you are away from this guy, Remi. I don’t know you, and yet I am *thrilled* that you are away from this guy.

        1. Woah, that ended up being a really long vent rather than my intended short comment of “I totally agree about how exhausting controlling and abusive dudes can be, and how it can sometimes take a long time to break up even if you know it’s the right thing to do” haha. I’m also thrilled to be away from him, and I’m still dealing with the emotional fallout of that relationship. I’m having a really hard time right now to stop myself from going “No, I misrepresented him, he’s not ALWAYS like this!” because it doesn’t matter if he was nice a lot too, there is no amount of this bullshit that is acceptable in a relationship, especially when one of the first boundaries he set was “You aren’t allowed to talk about our relationship with anyone.” In retrospect though, I still don’t regret being in that relationship; not because I enjoyed it or it was fulfilling in any way, but because it could have been way worse than it was, and it taught me a lot about what I should and should not accept from someone I’m dating, and what lines it’s ok to draw. Now I know how to deal with gaslighting and suicide threats, for example; it’s not a lesson I particularly wanted to learn, but there were benefits to learning it.

          1. “I’m having a really hard time right now to stop myself from going “No, I misrepresented him, he’s not ALWAYS like this!” because it doesn’t matter if he was nice a lot too, there is no amount of this bullshit that is acceptable in a relationship,”


      2. ugh I have a somewhat similar shitty ex. it’s only after 10 years of being single and casually dating that I feel like actively dating a lot and trying to get into a new LTR. My list of dealbreakers is kind of long now and I’m really slow to commit.

        1. It seems like having awful relationships is a good way to realize how happy you can be on your own. A bit of a silver lining, I suppose 😛 I’m also slowly coming around to the idea that another LTR might be nice, but unlike old me I’m not doing it because I hate being single, I’m doing it because being single is just as awesome as being in a relationship so I don’t think I’d mind swapping one set of perks for another, given the right person comes along.

      3. Weirdly enough, for most of the relationship I was absolutely miserable, and every time he broke up with me I felt a sense of relief that at least it was finally over! But when he came back I’d always get back together with him. Not even because I missed him all that much, but because I felt like I still had to Make Things Better because breaking up with me had upset him so much that I needed to fix things now to make him feel better about himself.

        Oh, oh, did he also call you crazy for freaking out about the suicide threat? Because if so, I think we’ve dated the same guy.

        Why are some people so awful?

  20. Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away….
    My husband was jealous of someone that I played with in an MMO. The person lived several states away, we had never met, people in this game sometimes played men when they themselves were not(several people that I know of played whatever sex/gender character and it didn’t matter to me. Why should I care? But, if I did know, I was good at keeping it private. This person was someone that i ONLY knew online at the time)…but, none of this mattered. He was jealous, and so, this was damaging our relationship. 
    He demanded that I drop my friendship with this person, that I never hung out with them, and that I never, ever, tell any of our(some mutual) friends why….
    I did it. I hated it. It haunted me. I resented the heck out of it every time I remembered that I was supposed to keep the whole shebang secret even though I did nothing wrong….except that in hindsight I did do something wrong. I gave in to his fear instead of holding my ground. 
    The other person wasn’t a threat to our relationship, but, his jealousy sure was. 

    1. Not being allowed to talk about it?? Way of him to escape responsibility for his actions. I’m glad this sounds like it got resolved one way or another.

  21. “How can I open this topic with him and deal with this in a mature way?”

    I’d try something like, “Hey, it really upset me when you flipped out the other day” and maybe continue with “Do you really think I would lie to you about this?”

    I’d try the former as a noncombative opener (it is, after all, about how *you* feel, and not a judgment of why he might have snapped if in fact it was because he was stressed/sad/lonely/had been watching too much daytime tv). And I’d try the latter because, well, it seems like useful information to have, and hopefully would get him to think for a moment about whether his present assumptions correspond to his past observations.

    1. or maybe even “Why do you think I’d get together with Mutual Friend behind your back?” because an answer to that will probably necessarily involve him being like “yeah I didn’t really think that one through” (I mean, assuming you don’t have some history of sketchy doings you’ve left out of your missive.)

  22. The amount of control the LW’s dude had over her personal life when he was in town isn’t mentioned, but I’m going to assume that she did a lot of checking in and, at least subconsciously, he set a lot of her boundaries. Now he’s not there… and those reins of control are loosening. So it’s time to lay out The Guilt. I don’t think that this particular discussion was the actual problem — it was just time to make the LW acknowledge him as Alpha, and if it hadn’t been this, it would have been something else.

    The really good control freaks make you control yourself. Because if you don’t, it *hurts* them so, so much.

  23. LW, one thing you mentioned that struck me as a possible red flag was Mutual Friend. You said that MF “has made his attraction for me clear in the past” and therefore you didn’t want to meet him, even innocuously, while Boyfriend was out of town.

    Now, this makes complete sense if MF has been disrespectful of you or your relationship – if MF was rude to Boyfriend, or moons around after you constantly, or makes unwanted advances, or made comments about how he’d totally date you in a second if you dumped Boyfriend. That could just be you drawing appropriate boundaries.

    But it sounds like what’s going on is this: at one time, in the past, MF expressed attraction to you, and now Boyfriend flips his shit if you see him in an innocuous social situation – to the point that you are choosing not to go to dinner with MF purely so Boyfriend won’t flip his shit. That, that is not OK. That is abusive. That is Boyfriend telling you that he does not trust you around anyone who might ever have been attracted to you, even a mutual friend who is respectful of your relationship.

    1. Yeah, it’s not clear from this whether the uncomfortable feeling about the dinner is coming from LW, boyfriend, or both. I personally probably would not have dinner with a mutual friend in the stated situation, because I would probably feel personally uncomfortable and on edge during the meal. A group setting/double date/etc. would be ok, but I probably would not want to do one-on-one dinners with someone who had expressed an interest — actually, whether I was dating anyone else or not, I hate the feeling of wondering if I am somehow leading someone on, and/or if they have an ultirior motive to try and date me even though I’ve said no, blah blah blah. So I would rather avoid it. (I mean, given the situation — if it was literally years in the past, he is now married to someone else, etc. that’s a different story, but I don’t get the sense from the letter that it’s what is happening here.) But, if LW really would enjoy and want to go to this dinner, and is 100% opting out to prevent boyfriend from flipping out, that is definitely another story and something to consider.

  24. I used to go out with this winner who gave me endless grief because he had a dream I cheated on him. Like, dude…. wha? I don’t, uh…? I’m sorry?… that your sleeping brain imagined some stuff? He was uber-jealous and Darth-y in other ways too (he was convinced I was sleeping with all my male friends), but the poetry of that particular instance still gets me speechless.

    1. Wow. It just couldn’t be clearer, could it.
      “No sweetie, that is completely, genuinely, LITERALLY all in your head.”

    2. One time I woke up with my husband trying to physically push me out of bed because he dreamed I cheated on him. He was jealous while awake also, but in a sort of fatalistic way – he wouldn’t actually fly into a rage or forbid me to see anyone, but he would talk about “when you cheat on me” or “when you leave me for someone else” as if it were a foregone conclusion. Every time I would mention a new person at work who happened to be a man, he would say “I’ll bet that’s going to be the guy.” It was so frustrating, plus it really hurt my feelings because dude, do you really have such a low opinion of me that you think it’s only a matter of time until I bang a coworker in an empty conference room? Gah.

      1. Good gods, your husband sounds like a total ass, VG! What a horrible situation to be in! I suppose you have to just say “well, either you trust me or you don’t, and if you don’t, YOU need to deal with that.”

        Also if someone can’t work out that dream=/=real life there’s a pretty serious problem.

    3. My husband and I have both had dreams in which the other partner does something horrible, and we wake up feeling irrationally angry. BUT…we both recognize that the other person did nothing wrong and that our angry feelings are our own problems to deal with. We usually have a good laugh about it once the dreamfeelings have abated. Blaming your partner for something that happened in a dream is just…wow.

  25. I found a book while house-sitting which I wish I had stolen since I’ve never tracked it down again. It was called something like “The Six Rules of love…” It was simple. 70s edition.
    For jealousy or accusations of betrayal it was very strict. You only ever have to deny it once and this denial must be accepted at once and left at that. Any other response means irreparable breakdown of trust.

    LDRs are agonizing for those with an anxious attachment style. I would tell him to break up with you simply because it is impossible for him to trust you. (I believe LW *is* trustworthy–but trust rests with the beholder and he has dropped it.)
    I have had jealousy issues come to the fore whereby my gf at-the-time worked in a dynamic all-guy office of “Smart talented funny guys” who earned lots more than me had more brains and who she liked to quote and exalt. Yeah I did actually dread the first 5 à 7 drink-up they took her too. Boy did I wonder what was going on down there! But I could also reason that if she were really going to mess around with one of these guys then our relationship would be over anyway.
    Thank God she called before midnight. Thank God I was able to tell her how childish I felt worrying she’d be distracted by these guys… But it did make me realize that if I were truly unable to get beyond this anxiety then we were finished as a couple.
    If you cannot trust your S.O. you have to back out — even if you are deluded and the S.O. is innocent.
    I think this mind trap of putting the onus on you for making him feel secure is inoperable. The guy who is orbiting you is another trigger for boyfriend’s delusions but there are millions of other “man-shaped humans” (BTW I LOVE CAPTAIN AWKWARD) with the same potential to rile him up.
    The 5 years of history ought to have provided him with some perspective. Deal is… Trust cannot be magically instilled. Confidence is the same thing. Nobody can buy it. Nor can complaining about not having it get you more.
    I feel for you LW. The conversation here that needs to be had is one with him to himself.

  26. So…exactly how long ARE you allowed to speak with a man-shaped (or man-voiced) person before SHENANIGANS? In boyfriend’s world, I mean?

  27. The most logical explanation I can think of is a very childish way to break up while avoiding to take the responsibility for it (by making it all the partner’s fault).

    1. I think you might be on to something there. Some folks get so heavily invested in the story where they are the Good Person here, dammit! that they will bend the narrative to fit. Even when pesky things like facts get in the way. Or, once again, projection: cheaters think everyone cheats, liars think everyone lies, etc.

  28. I have to say, “your truth” about something that is a matter of empirical fact — such as the identity of a conversation partner — is Very Concerning. It sounds like a way for Boyfriend to call LW a liar without saying “you’re a liar” — laying the groundwork to take further umbrage if she acts like he called her a liar.

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