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I sensed something wrong, so I read my girlfriend’s messages; it’s much worse

By PrimeNewsGhana
I read my girlfriend’s messages
I read my girlfriend’s messages
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How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 41-year-old man who met my partner (35-year-old woman) just two months before the pandemic, and we immediately connected on all levels from the start. Everything from activities to life goals to our sex life just seemed to click in spectacular fashion. I had been a couple years out of a divorce, and she had been a few years out of an abusive, all-consuming relationship, and we were both ready for something steady again. So we resolved to make it exclusive mere days before everything shut down. It felt serendipitous, and also weirdly at odds with the outside world: As everything was crumbling, we were discovering new ways to be excited about each other every day. It felt lucky to find joy in the middle of so much sadness. Our communication remained open and honest throughout: We were comfortable talking about everything from why our past relationships dissolved to what we wanted in bed to handling stress or needs for space.

Our sex life throughout was vigorous by my standards—several times a week, with both parties usually orgasming, sometimes multiple times per session. It was maybe a little vanilla by some folks’ standards, but that was mostly because we were too eager to rip each other’s clothes off to mess with extra layers. We leaned into the animal desire we had for each other, joking sometimes together that “our love language was fucking.” We moved in together midway through the pandemic and started talking about a future, maybe getting hitched, kids, the works.

Of course, in a story like this, there’s always a “but,” so here’s mine: She maintains relationships with many of her exes, including the ones who were abusive. One of them is a rich narcissist who still sends her expensive gifts; she can’t seem to cut him out, even though he let her take the fall for a mutual domestic altercation that sent her (wrongfully) to jail. Another ex-turned-friend pressured her for sex on a vacation they went on together as friends shortly after we got together, but before we became exclusive; I supported her from afar in fending him off with late-night texts encouraging her to stand her ground.

She told me she cut that ex off, but after we became exclusive, she left her phone at home and open and I noticed that she hadn’t in fact cut him off, and that this ex was also encouraging her to get rid of me and get back with him (though she professed no interest at all to me). It’s important to note that I didn’t root around for these texts—I was in the process of returning the phone to her and they were staring me in the face. We had an argument about it, and eventually she confided in me that she has issues with attention from men when she’s in a relationship, and that she has very few girlfriends. She feels she needs to keep these exes around because they’re the only friends she has. Though she’s grown close to my friends and family, in some way they “don’t count” because if I leave her, they will cease to be her friends, or something. It’s been an on-and-off issue, and the only real point of friction in our relationship. But things have gone so well otherwise that I’ve been content to let it fade into the background, even though I know these former-lover friends are bouncing around in her phone, if not in real life, given the pandemic.

Fast forward to now: For the last few weeks, something had felt off between us. So following our usual convention of open conversation, I tried on several occasions to figure out what was wrong, to no avail. She blamed it on flare-ups with anxiety and depression, which she struggles with and I do my best to support her with. I tried to mention that it felt like I was more into her than she was into me, but she pooh-poohed that notion.

With not much to go on and her not wanting to level, this time I did the no-no and snooped when she left her phone open. I don’t feel good about violating that boundary, and I know what your feelings are on this, but I felt like there was enough smoke that there must be fire, and sure enough I found a conversation with yet another ex where she said exactly “he’s definitely more into me than I am into him” and how she’s not as attracted to me as her exes. She mentioned that this relationship is “healthy” and “stable,” but without the thrill of attraction she’s used to. She expressed a desire to want settle down with me, because she was trying to be honest about how much time she had left, but remained “freaked out” about committing to a relationship when she wasn’t really into the sexual part of it.

I know: I did it to myself. But that doesn’t make it any less devastating, or contrary to what I believed we both were sharing and building on. I suppose it’s possible she wasn’t telling him the whole truth—but then I feel the only explanation is that she was lying or embellishing to communicate sexual availability to this ex.

I am now utterly lost. I had planned on building a future with this incredible woman, but a huge part of that was what I believed was a shared passion that could endure the test of time. It’s how I feel inside. I don’t know if I should apologize for snooping but confront her to get at the truth of these feelings, blindside her by just breaking up, or hope that what I feel between us is the truth and just let this sink below the waves so I can focus on what we have in the physical world. Please help.

—Lost

Dear Lost,

I’m not going to ride you about looking at your girlfriend’s phone the second time. You shouldn’t have, you know you shouldn’t have, and you’re not defending yourself for doing it. You’re also doing a lot of justification of her behavior.

I think the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic placed a lot of pressure on new—and existing—relationships. The stress, the restrictions on who we could share air with, and the fear and trauma all added up to us being not quite ourselves. Now that things are opening back up, we’re either reverting to form or coming out the other side different than we were when this started. I’m not sure which is happening for your girlfriend, but she certainly isn’t contributing to a healthy relationship.

If you aren’t ready to give up, by all means, go ahead and let this sink below the waves. At the end of the day, it’s your choice whether to stay or go. The thing about choppy waters, though, is that objects we thought lost to the depths have a way of resurfacing later. You’ve tried to have conversations about your feelings and insecurity within the relationship, and they haven’t been satisfactory. It seems unlikely that her behavior will change, but your feelings are your feelings.

If you decide you want to end this, you can break it off with her gently— “this isn’t working out.” But she’s probably going to be surprised, upset, and possibly hurt. She may be using you for stability and comfort while she gets her desires for attention, expensive gifts, and whatever else she gets out of these interactions met. She may genuinely love you and be struggling with sex that isn’t what she’s used to—toxic relationships tend to make for great sexual energy.

You would do well to articulate what you want out of a relationship somewhere—maybe to a trusted friend, maybe on paper—and compare it with your current situation to help you decide. Good luck and let us know how it goes.