I’m having trouble trusting my new boyfriend

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Dear Cary,

I am writing to you in the hope that you can help me sort out my life, such as it is. I am a woman in her late thirties, though I look much younger. Who knows how long that will be the case, which is one of many issues clouding my mind and keeping me up at night.

I met a man last year; we started as “friends,” though we slept together the first time we met. We were both getting over being mistreated in various ways by previous partners, and kept it light for a while. However, after almost a year of spending weeks on end together (I wasn’t working and he works from home), we realized it was working out despite itself and made it official.

Things changed a lot when finances dictated he move home to his parents’ house, but he still makes an effort to see me regularly, almost always twice a week. It is more difficult to be alone or engage in physicality, but we make it work and enjoy each others’ company a lot. He texts me good morning and good evening almost every night and in general, it’s working out.

The main problem is that I have not been able to trust him. I trust that he is not seeing anyone else, but I don’t trust that he truly wants me. He is definitely more reticent than I am used to, he doesn’t compliment me but when I mentioned it, he said that the real compliment (and the reassurance that I needed) was to be found in the way that he is still eager to see me and that it has lasted so long.

He seems to be missing the point, that I wish he could just once tell me I am pretty, or that he wants me physically.

I know that he does want me, in that there has been no sign that sex between us is less interesting or that he is just seeing me for convenience’s sake. In fact, I have never met anyone who was less likely to do me wrong or misrepresent himself in order to avoid conflict. I have never found him in a lie, not in all this time.

I should add that before we met, I was in a long-term situation with someone who was extremely manipulative and cruel, who trampled my self-esteem and used me to feel powerful due to his own perceived inadequacies. I spent that whole time in growing despair and confusion. If I hadn’t met my current friend, I may never have escaped because the previous one was heavily invested in keeping me around. I really lucked out in finding the new man.

I know that he is stressed and worried over the state of his life. I am also in a similar position, and the idea that there are many things more important than this is not lost on me. However, I live with the fear that I will lose this, the best thing I’ve ever found, due to timing and life issues. I get the feeling that this will be my fault, in the way of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How can I learn to trust him? If I can’t trust him, I can’t trust anyone. I love this man. I don’t want my problems to create additional stress for him. I just wish he could try a little to reassure me on the physical level, which he deems unimportant but without which I feel constantly insecure.

Trying Not To Mess This Up

Dear Trying Not To Mess This Up,

You may think that if only he would show more affection, you would feel more trust. But that’s not guaranteed.

What if he starts telling you you’re beautiful and desirable and that he thinks about you all the time and wants you and finds you attractive and irresistible? Will that solve the trust problem?

That depends. Maybe you really don’t trust him for good reasons. Maybe you sense that he is being dishonest with you. Sometimes we pick up on things, or read people’s micro-expressions, and we are actually picking up on something that is real. In that case, if you can get him to be more demonstrative in his affection, it may only be helping you to be more blind to what is really going on. It may be your way of unconsciously asking him to lie to you better.

So don’t automatically distrust your distrust. On the other hand, part of your distrust probably has to do not with his behavior but with your own recent experiences. Because of that, you may be overly alert to signs of dishonesty. So it will be important to notice if certain things are triggering you just because they remind you of past experiences. For instance, if your former partner used to show up late because he was fooling around with someone else, then if your new friend is late, it might trigger the suspicion that he’s fooling around with someone else. That would be an instance in which your prior experience is triggering distrust that has nothing to do with the present. So you would need to know. You might need to ask your current lover, if he is late, if he was fooling around with someone else. Just bring it to the surface and make it explicit. Then you and he can joke about it. If he knows that your fears are triggered by certain things, then he can be sensitive to this. He can perhaps know not to take it personally.So you need to know what is really going on.

I’m not suggesting that you accuse him of cheating on you. I’m suggesting that you get it out in the open, whatever it is you’re talking about, what you’re concerned about. Just get it out in the open.

And what about you? Are you completely reliable yourself? It’s a two-way street. Can he ask you about that? Can you admit that sometimes you might think of doing things you would want to hide from him? He has to trust you as well.

If you just level with each other about what you really think about and what you really want, you can get more intimate. It may be that asking him to tell you you are beautiful is a way of becoming less intimate, because you are asking him to be inauthentic. Maybe that’s just not his way. On the other hand, out of love, we do things for the other person that we’re not totally comfortable with.

And we live in a culture that has imbued us with certain fairy tales. We can play with these fairy tales but they are fairy tales. The beautiful maiden and the strong, loyal man are fairy tales. They exist in us, and they are real and powerful archetypes, but they can also be distorted and used against us by cynical advertisers and despots; they can be used against us to keep us powerless, like children. So it is not a simple matter. Your desire to be told you are beautiful is not a simple matter.

I think you and he have to get to the deeper issues in order to truly feel trust between you. That means examining and revealing your weaknesses to each other. What if you to say to him, “I know it may seem shallow, but I really feel I need to be adored as a woman; I need to know that you find me beautiful.”? What if he did not adore you in that way? What if you are not as beautiful as you wish to be? What then? Is that a death sentence? Could you live with that? Would you renounce him if he were to admit to you that he does not have these feelings? What if this is not a storybook romance? What if it is something else, a bond of love, of two desperate souls, of two people unsure just how honest and unguarded they can be with each other?

Wouldn’t trust grow out of knowing the truth? Why not ask him to tell you the truth? Why not take that courageous leap and see if you can handle the truth from him, if you can love his truth, who he is, how he genuinely feels? And likewise, he must love your truth, the real you, the one who needs to be told she is beautiful.

There is nothing wrong with play-acting. But if he feels that he is unable to be authentic with you then that will lessen his love. Because what the soul longs for in love is to be authentic. We wish to be, in front of the lover, the person we truly are, and we wish to be accepted for being that person. What you need from him is not a canned expression of a culturally determined value but something unique, from the heart, something true about why he is with you.

What you need is the truth.
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9 thoughts on “I’m having trouble trusting my new boyfriend”

  1. If he knows validation is important to her but refuses to try, I think that’s a problem. Regardless of whether she’s insecure or not.

    I had the same problem with a guy – he just wasn’t forthcoming with this sort of thing. (I learned later that he bragged to other people about my looks.) I believe firmly that he wanted me under his thumb and not giving me what I really needed was a form of control. I was also insecure, coming out of a very destructive relationship. We also started sleeping together immediately. I was so focused on what he wasn’t giving me, because I was on the rebound and deprived, that I really didn’t look at who he was and if he was the right guy for me. The combo of all of it worked like a big hook.

    I knew something was missing and in my case, I found he was still active on the dating sites. (He wasn’t dating anyone – called me a.m. and p.m. just like this woman’s beau.) The thing was he preferred what he didn’t have over what he did. Treating me like I was invisible was just his way. He prefers mist and fantasy, and is still seeking the ultimate woman.

    While I don’t know if this woman’s beau has a similar secret – and who knows, maybe’s he’s still in love with HIS previous ex, Cary is right – the instinct not to trust should be honored. And, if we love someone we do things that make us feel uncomfortable sometimes.

    Personally, I think the best thing would be a break. Take time off, work on the career/finances… go to the gym and cleanse yourself of all the residues of past relationships. If it’s really true love, you’ll find each other again. If not, you’ll be whole or at least a lot more ready when someone comes along who thinks you’re the most beautiful woman on the planet – inside and out.

  2. Neither of these people are stable financially, and I think that is the real source of stress here. The LW and her boyfriend need to make a plan for the future that includes sound finances for both of them, so they both have a future to look forward to. The LW specifically needs to stop worrying so much about her relationship and start worrying a bit more about why niether of them can pay rent.

    That’s my take on it anyway. Once I became stable financially, a lot of my “need” to be in a relationship just faded away with other insecurities.

  3. Wow, Cary. Thank you so much for the thoughtful advice. I’ve read your column for years and never thought I’d actually see my letter.

    Thank you, as well, to all of the commenters. Your insight is invaluable.

    I have managed to move past the obsession about my relationship and let the lack of compliments be okay. I realize it may pop up again someday, but for now, this man is really treating me well. I am relieved we have found some common ground and stability.

    Something I found interesting was the question about if I could handle it if it turned out my partner didn’t find me beautiful. I don’t know the answer to that, and I hope to never find out. I do, however, feel more secure with his affection than if it were based solely upon my looks.

    Thanks again!

  4. I had similar difficulty in my relationship, because actually, I *know* I am not physically his ideal of beauty. Also, my partner is not demonstrative…

    I went through a long period of time where I questioned his feelings because I felt so inadequate. But this wasn’t something we needed to have a wonderful life together, including a great sex life.

    He says he sees *me*, who I am and the person he loves so deeply when we make love… And surface attraction is really irrelevant.

    Honestly, it took me a long time to come to terms with this as my previous relationship saw me as incredibly beautiful and would tell me so.

    I think your questions to the writer are very valid. What if he doesn’t find you beautiful? Is it really the end of the relationship? Or does it free you to let go of something that has held you back?

  5. Trying says, “I am a woman in her late thirties, though I look much younger. Who knows how long that will be the case, which is one of many issues clouding my mind and keeping me up at night.”

    Please try to see yourself as more than your looks. You WILL get older (if you’re lucky); you WILL look older. Why should that keep you up at night? You might be more comfortable if you try to look at yourself in other ways – pay attention to your other good attributes, other reasons why your love is spending time with you. That may also help you to love yourself more and have more confidence.

    Good luck.

  6. To the man in this relationship: It’s very easy for one person to become the one who calls all the shots. Just say “I’m really busy, but I’ll call you as soon as I have my schedule,” and then do that and call and get together. It’s very easy to always do that. Be nice about it, be reliable (you do call when you know you’re free) but always have everything happen on your terms. It is very easy to say no to things and counter-offer. You think of something that is fun for both of you, you are fair. But it’s your suggestion, on your terms. It’s very easy to decide what you want to do, how you are going to do it and then be very nice and friendly about filling the other person in without giving them any say. At first, everything seems fine and you look great to the other person, but after a while they get kind of clingy and you don’t know why and they don’t know why. After a while, they want reassurances and you don’t know why. You don’t know that it has all been on your terms because it would never occur to you to ask their opinion or for their suggestions before you make a decision. It’s your life, you determine how it goes. Except, when you’re in partnership, it isn’t. You have enlarged your life by including someone else.

    You have to recognize that you are having an effect on the other person, that you have entered a feedback loop. You have to make allowance for that and be responsive to that. You have to learn some things about the other person’s needs. Acknowledgement and praise, for instance. You are a man, you have been trained to do without. Having your arm punched instead of getting praise. Having your chain yanked instead of being acknowledged, but understanding the code.

    But is that how it has to be? Maybe as you learn to give that praise, to give that acknowledgement, you can learn to receive it. Instead of interpreting this request as pressure to not be yourself, you can see it as an opportunity to expand your own emotional horizon by saying “I’d like some acknowledgement and praise, too. Maybe we can do this for each other.”

    You’re in a relationship now. This requires a little, maybe a lot, of letting go of total control. This requires some surrender, some vulnerability. Making love causes a release of oxytocin, what some call the bonding chemical. This is the case more so in women than in men. You are half of a couple in which there is a woman. Bonding is happening. And with it, the emotional risk is rising, the risk of loss and what that loss would mean. You’re in a feedback loop and have to address the consequences of your involvement. You now have to address that increased risk and the fears that come with it. She already has, but you, being a man, have not quite felt it yet. It may be years before you become attached enough to feel it and to want the same assurances she is asking for now which may make you unsympathetic at this time. But if you wait until you understand for the simple reason that you feel the same, it will probably be too late.

  7. Her looking much younger than she is is a factor in the equation which she brings up to show one way she’s being insecure in this situation. It *does* not mean that this is a false fact. She’s writing to Cary to figure out how to keep her insecurities from sabotaging the relationship. How this translates into the need for a good dermatologist, salon, and/or couples therapy(!) is baffling.

  8. Dear LW, it sounds like a lot (really, A LOT) of your energy is being spent on worrying about your relationship. It must be tiring. And I wonder if you could try to meditate frequently, take deep breaths, and focus that energy inward to understand why you are so scared. Maybe you don’t trust him for good reasons. Or maybe this anxiety is a pattern of behaviour that just feels more comfortable than leaping in openly. You know best. I hope you can trust your gut on this one — more than anything, I think it will lead the way. Wishing you all the best.

  9. This woman needs therapy now. Her double think is driving her mad.

    She believes she looks much younger than she is. I’m confident she does NOT look younger than she is or she wouldn’t brag about it while still obsessing over it. If hiding her age is so important to her she should see a dermatologist and also get honest feedback in a good salon about what’s wrong with her hair. Women who think they look younger than they are always seem to have that tacky crispy fried bleached hair and deep tanned leathery skin with obvious sun damage that actually makes them look at least a lot older than they are.

    She said she started as friends with her boyfriend but before she’s even in the next sentence she says they had sex the first time they met. What she has is a romance that has been through a lot of changes. Nonetheless, it is still going strong except she’s doing everything she can do to sabotage it. She thinks she can’t trust him because he won’t tell her she’s pretty and because his living situation has limited their opportunities to have sex. She says he’s a perfectly honest, faithful, and trustworthy person while obsessing over not trusting him. This makes no sense at all. She thinks they are both seriously emotionally damaged by past bad relationships. This part could be true. She certainly is.

    So she needs professional help. A good dermatologist, a good salon, and a couples therapist would be a great start. I truly wish them both a ton of good luck.

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