I am a (female) musician just starting out on a new duo project with a fellow (male) musician, and we’re just about heading for our first gigs and things. We’re both really excited — we get on well musically and personally, and we’re enjoying what we do and looking forward to sharing it with people. However, he has a girlfriend, who is (perhaps inevitably) insecure in one way or another about him playing music with “pretty young women” (she’s a fair bit older than us two, hence the inclusion of “young”). They have their own conversations to have about all sorts of things (not my business, of course), but the nub of it is that it makes him uncomfortable having to tell her about this new duo with me. He and I are both on the autistic spectrum, and established in a beautifully blunt moment that neither of us was interested in the other for the sake of getting the conversation out of the way, and he’s since referred to me as a “top bloke”, which to me makes the distinction perfectly clear. While it’s that simple for us, it’s not that simple for her, and I totally see where she’s coming from having been in her position previously.
My question is what can I do to help the situation? He said he will talk to her about the duo at some point soon when he can find a good moment (they live quite far away from each other so it’s not 100% simple), but in the mean time, it means that I can’t get excited in public too much about it because he thinks she shouldn’t find out from me or by seeing a random Facebook post (far from unreasonable). He’s already asked me not to tag him in posts about being excited about making music together for her sake, and while I can see that it’s a small gesture towards keeping things OK from his side (he’s my friend, why the hell shouldn’t I?), I worry that I’m going to do or say something stupid that’s going to cause problems for them or for us. He says it’s not going to get in the way of the duo working and being successful, but I can’t help feeling there’s an inevitable sticking point if his girlfriend is uncomfortable with him hanging around with me at the close quarters necessary to work in such a small ensemble. I haven’t met her yet, though our paths are due to cross in the coming months, but I’m nervous of making some mistake that means that her insecurities come out and cause problems.
In short, I play music with a guy in whom I’m not remotely romantically interested, but I think my being female and apparently not bad looking (who am I to judge?) might cause a problem, and I want to know what I can do to avoid sticking my boot in it. She sounds nice, and they are basically happy, and he and I are very happy with the music we make, and I don’t want it to get any more complex than that.
Over-Optimistic Aspie Musician
Here’s what you can do to help the situation:
“Duo Partner, please tell your girlfriend about our plans today. I want to start promoting our gigs. Please rip the bandaid off so we can focus on our music. Thanks.”
Something hinky is going on here. Either his girlfriend is manipulative/emotionally abusive, and he is afraid of her in some way (very possible), or he is way overthinking it and overcomplicating it (very possible), or he is using the issue to control & manipulate you and the situation in some way (I hope not, but also very possible). None of these possibilities are your fault or within your control.
Some red flags pointing to him being the problem:
1) You are getting to the point of scheduling gigs but he has not told her. This means he has been lying to her about questions like “how was your day?” and “what’s new?” the whole time you’ve been working together. What. Like, what is his plan? “Surprise, I’ve been in a secret band all this time and our first gig is (date)!” Don’t get mad that it’s with (dramatic pause) a GIRL.” That approach is guaranteed to make the girlfriend feel insecure and jealous.
2) I have side-eye for people who constantly complain about their romantic partners, especially to someone who hasn’t even met that person, especially when it’s a man complaining about a woman and her scary feelings. It sets you up in advance to have a weird competitive relationship when honestly the least awkward thing he could do is to say “I’m starting a band with LW, we’re really excited about it” rather than all this cloak and dagger stuff. He’s set you up to be a threat to his relationship and he’s set his girlfriend up to be totally insecure and horrible, which sounds to me like he’s grooming one or both of you for the possibility of him cheating or his girlfriend breaking up your band.
3) The result has been that YOU are worried about YOUR behavior and how YOU can smooth things over to avoid a reaction from his girlfriend when you are the one person in the scenario who literally has nothing to do with their relationship. Gross. The sooner everything is out in the open, the better for everyone.
The specter of his girlfriend’s possible jealousy is not your problem, and I think the way forward is to make it clear that is not your problem. So more scripts for you are:
- “Huh. So, about the chorus, do you want to come in right on the beat?”
- “I don’t really feel comfortable talking about your girlfriend when she’s not here, especially since I haven’t met her. Let’s try the bridge again.”
- “I’m sorry you’re dealing with that, but I don’t think it’s good for me to be your sounding board about it. I hope y’all work it out. Let’s make music.”
- “I don’t feel comfortable doing anything that you need to keep a secret from your girlfriend, and I’d encourage you to think about why you think it needs to be a secret and work that out with yourself and her. Why don’t we put this on hold for now, and you let me know when you can proceed in the open.”
- “Your strange behavior around this is really stressing me out and making me wonder if you really want to do this. I’m so excited to work with you, but I am reluctant to invest significant time or money into a venture that could fall apart at any moment because: Your Girlfriend. Let me know when you’ve worked all that out, and then we can get to work.”
Your planned duo sounds like it could be so great and I’m so sorry this is ruining your excitement. You are literally doing nothing wrong, and there is nothing you can do besides holding strong to your creative vision and the fact that you deserve to talk about your creative projects with your networks without drama. Strongly consider getting together with whatever your local version of Lawyers for the Creative Arts might be and putting something in writing about how you’ll handle songwriting credit, ownership of songs, division of labor, and money. It’s better to get it all in writing when everyone is excited and happy so that everyone is protected if things go downhill.