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.
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:
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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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