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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