CAROLYN HAX

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Life - Email Carolyn at [email protected]­post.com or chat with her on­line at 9 a.m. each Fri­day at www.wash­ing­ton­post.com.

Dear Carolyn: I’ve been with my girl­friend only six months, but I felt like I could see years into the fu­ture with her.

She’s re­cently be­come very jealous and un­trust­ing of me, though. An ex of mine from col­lege was com­ing to town for work and wanted to get to­gether for din­ner. This was a re­la­tion­ship that ended am­i­ca­bly, and we re­mained good friends. I have no ro­man­tic feel­ings. My girl­friend is aware of all of this, she’s been in the room when we’ve video-chat­ted.

Around the time my girl­friend got jealous, we got on to the sub­ject of how many peo­ple each of us had been with. She was shocked by my num­ber. So dis­mayed she re­fused to tell me her num­ber.

Since then she’s been very ap­pre­hen­sive to­ward me. She didn’t out­right for­bid me from see­ing my ex, but told me she was un­com­fort­able with it, so I didn’t go. She now con­stantly wants to know what I’m do­ing and who I’m with, and though she’s timid about it, is clearly up­set if I so­cial­ize with any women.

I want to con­front her about this, es­pe­cially be­cause I have not given her a rea­son to dis­trust me, but I fear that would drive her away. I want to work at this re­la­tion­ship, and I want her to be able to trust me, I’m just not sure how.

–S

Dear S: Here’s the math, and it isn’t good: You haven’t changed. What has changed is your girl­friend’s un­der­stand­ing of who you are.

That un­der­stand­ing changed be­cause you were hon­est and trans­par­ent about your his­tory.

Her re­sponse to your trans­parency was to choose not to be trans­par­ent with you. Or trust you.

Her re­sponse was also to doubt her­self.

But she didn’t say, “Now that I know how many women you’ve dated, I feel as if I can’t mea­sure up to your exes.” That’s not a promising con­fes­sion, ei­ther – in­se­cu­rity can’t be fixed by any­one ex­cept the per­son who feels it – but at least it would be hon­est about where you and she stand.

And it would be on the right side of im­por­tant bound­aries.

In­stead, she dumped her self-doubt out­ward onto you, and de­cided you can’t be trusted to value her. To fear you’re in­ad­e­quate is a ter­ri­ble feel­ing, ob­vi­ously, so it’s go­ing to feel (marginally) bet­ter to cre­ate an ex­ter­nal vil­lain. But it’s not fair to you to be scape­goated, and it’s not your job to man­age her in­se­cu­ri­ties.

You can take rea­son­able of­fense at her think­ing so lit­tle of you – or take a com­pas­sion­ate view of her think­ing so lit­tle of her­self.

Ei­ther way, though, it’s not some­thing you can fix by de­fend­ing your trust­wor­thi­ness; prov­ing your­self through co­hab­i­ta­tion or mar­riage or re­pro­duc­tion (please, no); avoid­ing all women but her; painfully drop­ping friends (they have feel­ings, too!); or doc­u­ment­ing your ev­ery move.

Healthy peo­ple, for cur­rent and fu­ture ref­er­ence, won’t ask you to do the un­doable or sur­ren­der to their con­trol. Both are the be­gin­ning of var­i­ous abu­sive ends. Timid­ity does not pre-empt that, be­cause the tap­root of abuse isn’t force­ful­ness, it’s the be­lief one is en­ti­tled to con­trol oth­ers’ ac­tions.

Again, this is a trust break­down that oc­curred en­tirely within her, and she’s putting pres­sure on you to fix it. De­spite hav­ing op­tions she rightly con­trols: She can make peace with your past; wait and see without telling you what to do; or break up with you know­ing she no longer trusts you.

All you can do, mean­while, is keep be­ing your­self. Hon­estly and trans­par­ently so. And de­cide how long you in­tend to wait for her to ad­dress a prob­lem she isn’t yet will­ing or able to rec­og­nize she has.

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