Friday, October 19, 2018

She Poached Another Woman's Boyfriend

You think that you have problems. Consider the problems faced by this 24 year old woman. She sits near a 32 year old man at work. She is single; he has a girlfriend. They strike up a conversation. They get along, very well. They have more conversations. Push leads to shove and shove leads to romance. It takes him some time, but the man breaks up with his girlfriend. The woman becomes the new girlfriend.

Now, rather than rejoicing in her coup-- sorry to put it in those terms-- she is constantly wondering whether he will cheat on her. She throws an occasional fit about it and finally, in desperation, writes to Lori Gottlieb, advice columnist at The Atlantic.

Here, for your delectation, is the letter:

I have been dating my boyfriend for eight months. However, we started “talking” over a year and a half ago. At the time, he had a girlfriend and they were about to buy a house. He and I just clicked immediately. We sat next to each other at work and talked all day every day and then it became physical. We started texting in December 2016 and in April 2017 he told me he was in love with me, but that he just felt stuck where he was. He ended the search for a house when he realized he was interested in me. Still, he took about 10 months to actually break up with her, out of fear and “feeling stuck.” He was 32 and I was 24, and it felt like he was really going through something so I always made excuses.

Although we have been dating exclusively now for eight months, and he has been only good to me, I randomly and somewhat regularly freak out on him. I picture them together all the time and get so frustrated that we even went through that period of time.

I hate that I was involved with him for so long while he had a girlfriend and kept breaking his promises of leaving her, but it felt bigger than any relationship I ever had and it truly is. Still, it worries me that he was capable of doing this. I can’t help but think he’s going to do the same thing to me.

What can I do to regain trust and break myself from that part of our story and move on with him?


It could well be, Gottlieb responds, that Catherine and her new beau are more compatible than he was with his previous girlfriend. It happens. We should never discount the possibility. And yet, Gottlieb continues, we do not know very much about either of these people. Beyond the ages of the protagonists we know nothing about either of them. We do not know how either of them feels about marriage and children, about making a home together. The point is important. Did the boyfriend see Catherine as a better wife? Is Catherine ready to be someone’s wife? The boyfriend was about to buy a house with his previous girlfriend. Does Catherine want to live with her boyfriend or to make a home with him?

Without knowing the answers to this question, we are in the dark. For my part I believe them to be more salient than the other questions that Gottlieb raises: namely, how did the boyfriend feel about cheating; have the two of them talked over why he cheated and whether he would ever do it again; have they ever had a real conversation about the circumstances that brought them together?

For my part, I would want to know, given the age difference, the nature of their work connection. Is he a manager? Does she report to him, or vice versa?

With all due respect, I do not believe that communication about these problems will solve much of anything. On that score I disagree with Gottlieb.  I do not believe that Catherine should make his cheating an issue. If she does, she is going to define her relationship in terms of treachery-- on the part of both of them. And she will be interrogating her boyfriend over why he took so long to break up with his girlfriend. For all I know he did not want to break a commitment in an offhand fashion. I do not want to sound any more crude than usual, but when you have won, don’t go flailing around questioning why you did not win by more.

To be more practical and to elaborate on Gottlieb's more salient point, Catherine fell in love with a man who is ready to settle down, to buy a house, to live with a woman, perhaps even to marry. She might have thought of it in terms of raw attraction or overwhelming lust, but what are the terms of her new relationship. It might be the case that her boyfriend decided that his prior girlfriend would not be the mate that he wants. Catherine should ask herself whether she is ready, willing and able to assume that role. I suspect that her freak outs derive from her realization that it’s not just about love and romance and great sex any more. It’s about defined adult relationships. Keep in mind, boyfriend and his previous girlfriend had an ambiguously defined adult relationship. I understand that he was cheating on his girlfriend, but cheating on a girlfriend is not the same as cheating on a wife. The latter qualifies as an affair; the former, not so much.

And, by the way, I believe that Catherine did target him, found him attractive and semi-consciously attempted to break up his relationship. Now, for all I know she now feels badly for the woman who got hurt.


Anonymous said...
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Sam L. said...

Having read The Atlantic, I don't do that any more. I had no idea it has an advice columnist. And from what you say, she's not a very good one, at least in this case.

lynney62 said...

I'm with you on this one, Stuart. :) She's feeling guilty and would like someone to tell her what she did was alright.....She'd like someone to say "all's free in love and war"....sorry, that's not gonna be me. :)

Anonymous said...

I think Stuart has called her out accurately as well. Given she is only 24...she displaces a rival on the relationship chessboard... and is now exposed in the new position she now occupies.

Anonymous said...

Rene Girard's "Memetic Desire" just jumped into view.
It's the classic "we dont know what we want until others want it" phenomena.
The man presented enough cues for the 24 y.o. to want to "nest". Now she distrusts her own(24 y.o.) judgement. Live and learn.

Stranger said...
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Ares Olympus said...

All's fair in love and war, right? But then there's the conscience, and knowing what you can do to someone else, someone else can do to you. And there's no easy relief from that reasonable irrational fear if it grabs you.

Sometimes it seem better in the unexpected cases where you can actually talk to the ex and you can learn lots of unexpected things that can ease the conscience, like perhaps the ex was also unsure, and glad he broke up first so she could express her interests in someone else. I've seen that! Of course she might also learn other reasons why he's not the great catch he seemed from the outside.

Shaun F said...
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Shaun F said...

The woman who “stole” this boyfriend was driven by envy and covetousness. So that in itself says plenty about her character. And really - those are poor building blocks for the foundation of a relationship. I see her fear of being cheated on as being tied to her envy and covetousness. And love is not grounded in envy and covetousness - but pride tends to be. So I understand this woman Catherine may think she loves him, but I see it as being an expression of her pride.