I am 20 years-old and I am/was a recovered anorexic and have been dating and living with a wonderful guy for two years. My problems are many and sometimes I don’t even understand them, but I’m hoping someone here can, so here it goes.
When my boyfriend and I were first together, it was wonderful. He clearly adored me unconditionally and made me feel like I might be an acceptable human being, which helped me get over my anorexia from which I had been suffering for many years. He made me feel pretty for the first time. About two months after we had been dating, I found a LOT of porn on the computer- sick, disgusting, porn which he had always told me was gross and that he never had any desire to use it. We are both very political, and I have always been against the media, tv, magazines, anything that uses boobs to sell a product. He had ALWAYS said the same. I felt like he had blatantly lied to and cheated on me by looking at these terrible things, like I wasn’t good enough. I never denied him of anything he wanted, so it’s not like I was neglectful and he “needed” it. I’m tall and thin and don’t really have the “right curves in the right places,” but I’m not terribly ugly to the point where he would have to look at other girls just so he could see something attractive every so often. I didn’t understand why he wanted to look at depraved women committing disgusting acts and I still don’t. I also found conversations between himself and some girl he apparently had met on some online personal. She had sent him scanty pictures of herself which he labeled as “pretty —– in a skirt,” “—–‘s ass,” and “—–‘s boobs…” I was CRUSHED. So I couldn’t help but snoop around elsewhere, to find out whether or not he had physically cheated on me. I checked his phone messages and there were text messages from her that were very crude and sexual, and I found messages from him to her that were all sweet and romantic… the things he had been telling me. I obviously confronted him about it, and he first denied everything, trying to tell me that these things were his friend’s. I obviously didn’t buy it and we fought until he finally confessed. He then promptly erased everything and claimed he would never do it again- that I meant more to him than all of these ridiculous things. Still, I didn’t believe him, but after a few months of him being “ok” I began to trust him a little bit again. We carried on as we had before, being happy and whatnot, but in the back of my mind was still this aching need to know whether or not he had really “changed.” I think I had been replacing my own insecurities with jealousy. I checked our computer again, and found conversations between himself and this other girl I knew he had been friends with for a long time. I wasn’t even jealous or surprised to find them, but I was still inclined to read them. To my horror, I found that he had been hitting on her too. She wasn’t as slutty as the first girl, but she didn’t fight it too much. He would say things like “kiddo,” and “sweetie-butt,” and “my little pumpkin…” All of the little names and things he used to say to me, the ones that I had specifically told him I liked. The ones that made me feel like I was at least a little bit special to him. He told her he missed her and wanted to hear her pretty voice again almost every other sentence. I was sickened, again. I confronted him about it, he finally confessed that he did have feelings for her… I knew that nothing would happen between them, because she has a boyfriend and I could tell that she doesn’t want him like that. I’ve known her for as long as he has… She’s snooty. But the feelings of inadequacy and depression set in, once again, despite his valiant efforts to make me feel better. At this point, I had pretty much set my mind to not trust him ever again. Everytime he tried to call me something cute or tell me I was pretty, I yelled at him and told him to stop because I didn’t believe him and it only reminded me of the things he had been saying to these other girls. Everytime we made love after that, all I could think about were those disgusting pictures he had seen, all of the other girls he might be pretending I am. I considered suicide. I have had terrible relationships in the past, and this was one of the first ones I didn’t want to screw up. I know that he loves me, despite his faults. I assure you, these are his only faults… He is the guy that every girl wishes she had. He pays attention to me, waits on me, we go places, we have a lot of fun, he’s nice to me, and he has the patience of a saint. I know I sound like every girl who probably has ever written you, but he truly is the one I want to be with.
One year has passed, and I haven’t found anything else. A normal human being probably would have been over all of that by now. He still treats me well, we still have fun, but all I have been able to think about since those incidents is my inadequacy and my inability to please him. I’ve tried everything from a makeover to (dreaded) self-help books and I don’t understand why I still feel this way. I have no suspicions of him but I still feel that even though he doesn’t outright show his disappointment with who I am, that he still thinks it, even though he gives no impression of that at all. I have stopped eating again, and am feeling a little bit better about who I am, but I know that it isn’t going to last and I know that it isn’t the right way to do it; it just kind of keeps my mind off of the bad things and allows me to feel as though I’m accomplishing SOMETHING. I’ve thought about using “happy pills” that doctors seem so ready to perscribe now, but I don’t really see that as solving a problem. To me, it’s more like masking a problem. How can I stop looking at him like he’s a monster and come to terms with my own, pathetic existence?
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A complex and yet commonplace song you sing. On the one hand, my heart goes out to you, for you are clearly trying very hard to do the right thing, and you are in pain. I wish very much there was a magic wand to wave, but there isn’t. Relationships are just difficult things, primarily because people have different ideas and attitudes and needs and often find themselves at odds no matter how much they love each other. The measure of a relationship that works is that the two partners are able to find ways to compromise on what they mutually need so as not to feel that either is getting taken advantage of.
Which brings me to the other hand. You’re asking a lot from this man; in some ways you’re asking him to be something he maybe is not, which is exclusively attracted to you and only to you. That is asking a lot from any man. It would be asking a lot from most women too. It is quite reasonable to expect that a romantic relationship partner should be faithful and committed; it is a whole other thing to expect that he’ll never feel attracted to another woman, never flirt, never fantasize about anyone other than your one self. Most men, and a few women too, seem to be attracted by sexual and romantic variety. They may never consumate such extra-relationship interests, but such interests will cross their minds from time to time. This is not a statement about your lack of adequacy as a sexual partner, but rather just a general statement about men. Even men who are very satisfied with their relationships will ocassionally be drawn to others and/or want to flirt with others. Men know that many women don’t like this about them, and so they cover up these interests, with varying degrees of success.
We could understand your boyfriend to be a casanova type who is into seducing as many women as he can, but that doesn’t seem to be accurate. You caught him flirting with another woman two months into your relationship, when your relationship was still only forming. He misrepresented himself as more like you than he may really be politically, but at that time, it was early in the relationship, and he was probably trying to impress you. It doesn’t necessarily mean much. Later you found him flirting (and only flirting) with an old friend, and when that bothered you, he stopped, and things have been good since then so far as you know (and you appear to be checking up on him so you might know more than many women would). This is not a bad track record, so far as I can tell.
At some level, your discomfort is maybe more about your own feelings of inadequacy and unrealistic expectations about what you are supposed to be as a woman than they are about what your boyfriend has done. I don’t think it is realistic for you to think that he’ll never want to flirt with another woman ever again. The best you can reasonably hope for is that he will refrain from such activity because he loves you and doesn’t want to hurt you and because your own relationship with him is fun and engaging enough that he is happily distracted back towards you and lets those momentary fantasies drop away. Your worth cannot be measured by how any man reacts towards you, anyway. You are an independent person and are not here on this earth to merely please another person. You are worthy independently of any boyfriend. To the extent that you don’t understand this truth in your gut, you will not feel particularly safe, I don’t think, in any relationship. You need to work on accepting yourself better, positives and negatives all, and not judging yourself too harshly.
Lastly, please consider that you may actually be depressed enough to benefit from clinical treatment, and that you should not prejudge the usefulness of such treatment until you give it a good try. “happy pills” (aka anti-depressants) are not a simple coverup for a problem; they help make it possible to solve that problem, and from allowing that problem to get too out of hand. If you don’t want medication, you ought to consider cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for depression. CBT might be a very good match for you inasmuch as your expectations are leading you to feel depressed. CBT is all about teaching you how to identify expectations and then reality-test them to see whether they should be modified or not.