You Need Help: Is It A Fine Bromance?

Welcome to You Need Help! Where you’ve got a problem and yo, we solve it. Or we at least try.


Q:

Like every other young gay trying to stumble through the dating world, I’m making a horrible mess of a situation that is probably easily solved. My girlfriend and I have been together for just over a year and love each other to bits, but communication as of late leads to arguments and fighting. Before we started dating, I’d tried to woo a girl I was ultimately turned down by, and it turns out that my present girlfriend slept with that girl before we got together. I get that I have no right to be upset by it, but she lied to me all year about it and hid it from me, which hurts, and there isn’t much trust where this girl is concerned. They have a “bromance” of sorts; talking about personal topics, meeting up together and hanging out, and they hide it from me because they think it’s the right thing to do, in terms of not hurting me. All it’s making me feel like is that there is something to hide, which they assure me nothing would ever happen.

I believe them, but there wasn’t much time to get over the girl when my current GF and I started dating. That, combined with how often they talk and stuff, makes me paranoid, particularly when they don’t tell me. It’s not as if they should say something, but by omission it feels like they’re hiding something. When I try and tell my girlfriend, she responds, “OK well I just won’t talk to her anymore if it’ll make you happy.” But I don’t want her to stop talking to the girl because of me, it’s not fair, I get that. How can I tell her to let me heal, repair the trust that keeps breaking between us and keep her happy with her ‘bro’? I feel so angry with them both, but I can’t let this girl go, she means everything to me.

A:

Oh, Agnes! Is it okay if I call you Agnes? Good, ’cause I’m calling you Agnes. I was gonna call you Lenore, but then I changed my mind and decided that I’m gonna call you Agnes, and I’m gonna call your girlfriend Lenore, and I’m gonna call your girlfriend’s bromantic gal pal Millicent.

Okay, great, now that we’ve got that squared away.

Agnes, it’s true that you don’t have a right to be upset at Lenore for hooking up with Millicent before the two of you got together, or for hanging out with Millicent now. However, did you tell Lenore not to tell you when she hangs out with or talks to Millicent? If not, I’m curious where she got the idea that lying to you about it is “the right thing to do, in terms of not hurting me.” Because it sounds like you’re pretty hurt and that you don’t think it’s the right thing to do.

If you ask your girlfriend “what did you do today?” and she intentionally leaves big chunks out of that description on the regular, and those chunks didn’t involve her planning a secret birthday party for your cat or undertaking an undercover spy mission for the Canadian government, then she is lying. Lies of omission are still lies and you have a right to be upset about them — given, that is, that she isn’t just following your instructions. If she’s been lying to you about this repeatedly for a long time, I’m not surprised that you’re losing your mind a little bit, that shit is hard to handle!

Look, I’m totally for “having separate lives” and I think it’s important, in relationships, to have the freedom to disappear sometimes and to not always feel like you have to “check in.” I also understand that sometimes a person might do a thing that they know will be interpreted by their partner as having some ridiculously overblown significance even though it wasn’t a big deal at all, and therefore will leave it out of her daily recap. That’s sometimes okay. Sometimes. In general when it comes to an isolated lie of omission like that, though, I tend to go by the rule that if whatever that person is doing with their time has a genuine impact on your relationship and your feelings for her and about her, then you’ll feel that impact regardless of whether or not she discloses her whereabouts that one afternoon. If something is up, something is up. You don’t need to read her diary or check her phone messages or drive around town looking for her car to know that something is up when something is up. That’s when you sit down for a conversation about “what’s up,” not a conversation about some texts you snooped on or some sex romp you imagined.

So there are three possibilities here:

1. Something is up — and you do say that lately all your conversations have devolved into fighting, which is troubling.

2. She’s lying to you out of emotional laziness, in which case you both need to get way better at communicating with each other because avoidance and lies of omission are not mature relationship communication strategies.

3. She’s lying to you because you’ve become very difficult to tell the truth to.

So where do you go from here? Well, for starters, you’ve got to weed out all of the feelings Lenore should care about from the ones she shouldn’t care about. Lenore has no obligation to care that you once liked Millicent, or that there wasn’t much time to “move on” between liking Millicent and falling for Lenore. I’d keep that feeling to yourself, it’s not Lenore’s problem and is probably very hurtful to her. If you’re still carrying a torch for Millicent, you need to either put out that flame or promise to never talk about it again.

But if Lenore has been deliberately keeping secrets from you because she has something to hide or because she prefers emotional shortcuts to hashing things out and this makes you feel shitty and paranoid, then she should care about those feelings. Irrational paranoia is the #1 cause of Passive-Aggressiveness, which is a deadly flesh-eating virus that attacks rocky lesbian relationships and consumes them from the inside like Hep V. Convenient lies of omission are not a very solid foundation for a trusting relationship. I mean, we’re lesbians: we’re friends with people we’ve had sex with and sometimes our girlfriends have complicated relationships with people we have complicated relationships with. This is the way that we live.

Furthermore, unless you actually said “I would be happier if you never spoke to her again,” her saying “OK well I just won’t talk to her anymore if it’ll make you happy” is also stupid. It’s derailing, immature and overdramatic. Stick to the topic at hand — you’re having a hard time trusting her because she’s lied to you in the past, and you wanna be sure that doesn’t happen again. Your previous feelings for Millicent aren’t the issue, nor is her hanging out with other girls.

The issue here is one thing: trust. That goes both ways: she agrees to stop lying to you about where she is, and you agree to react fairly and evenly when she does tell you the truth. Call her out for lies of omission directly but calmly, maybe even teasingly, and give her the freedom to do the same if you get a little overdramatic. Consensual teasing is often a great argument dissipation strategy. There are so many moments of relationship failure that can be salvaged by both people taking a step back and laughing at themselves. 

If open communication and honesty don’t get your love back on track, then you can cross that bridge when you come to it. But for now, try communication and assumptions of good faith. Or scissoring? Or a threesome. JUST KIDDING ABOUT THE THREESOME DON’T DO THAT.

Love,

Riese

Okay weirdos, what do y’all think about this situation?

Riese is the 39-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2859 articles for us.

14 Comments

  1. Riese, good advice, as usual!

    One angle you didn’t seem to address (probably because Agnes did not specifically mention it, which is a good way to keep one’s advice relevant and manageable haha), but that made me curious – is Agnes interested in being friends with Millicent? I know I would find it very difficult if I was interested at one point in a romantic relationship (and for me, by extension, friendship), was rebuffed completely from both sex and bro time, and then was friends – let alone girlfriends! – with someone who hung out with that person all the time. It would definitely keep opening up the rejection wound. The FRIEND one, that is. Maybe that is why Agnes’ gf is making assumptions about Millicent being hurt – of course it hurts, even if you have no right or interest in forcing someone to be your friend. Is there a way to get over that even if it’s being shoved in your face that the person has no interest in befriending you? Is there a way for Agnes to convince her girlfriend that she IS over it?

    I am appalled at the gf’s antics (good on Riese for staying levelheaded, since it’s true we have only one side of the story) re: secrecy and whatever horrible device “I just won’t talk to her at all if that’ll make you happy” is. Yuck! But I guess I can sorta see where she’s coming from – perhaps she is just putting herself in Agnes shoes, and thinking it would be unbearable, and needs to be convinced somehow that it’s actually not.

  2. I think this is the main point:

    “she agrees to stop lying to you about where she is, and you agree to react fairly and evenly when she does tell you the truth.”

    The two of you need to have a conversation where boundaries are laid out. Lying is never acceptable and you do need to be fair when given the truth.

  3. The “I just won’t talk to her at all” line gives me the shudders.
    I am a huge fan of consensual banter because yeah its good to laugh at yourself if you’re being needlessly paranoid/jealous/worried. I’m sure everyone is from time to time in our tight knit complex (emphasis on the ex…and the fact she’s maybe your gf’s ex and your bff’s ex and your ex) community. Laughing off silly unwarranted negative emotional responses together is great, like at my work xmas dinner when my missus caught sight of a picture on my phone and flipped out for a second until I showed her it was Joan Jett. Adorable…and hilarious for both of us.

  4. I read the blurb for this and snorted, thinking “how familiar”, followed by a look of sheer horror and, “Oh dear bloody God”. It would appear that I, ahem, am the aforementioned Agnes. I’d completely forgotten about this, it was a bit like reading a sad, angsty time capsule. Riese, your advice, as always, is fair, on point, and made me laugh. Though I do wish I could’ve beat this into a younger, hot-tempered me. *Virtual hugs and applause for you*

    • OMG that’s hilarious!! We have this huge You Need Help document filled with every unanswered question from all of time, I was hoping this wouldn’t turn out to be a super-old one. How’d everything turn out for you?

      • Well, short term horrific, but long term valuable life experience. Good communication is paramount and we struggled to reach that point. Bearing in mind though, that there were a lot of other factors at play, mental health etc., which I feel had a pretty big impact. But we continued about another year or so after this was written and ended on civil terms. The degree of awkwardness when we were within 10m of each other was quite palpable haha

  5. I think Riese’s advice is spot-on. And it sounds to me like something really is up here – the way Lenore is evading talking about Millicent is just too weird and is totally grinding away at the trust in the relationship. And trust as we all know is the absolute foundation of a happy relationship. It sounds likely that Lenore will get defensive if Agnes calls out the lying-by-omission…but I think it’s the only way forwards.

  6. You know what’s awkward?
    Having the hots for someone, being turned down by her and then realizing that your new Girlfriend not only slept with that someone but still hangs out with her…
    Rejection can make us feel of lesser value, and then, if someone else does get the thumbs up, you’re in “What does she have that I don’t?” land, and that’s bad enough.
    I do get why your gf is trying to circumnavigate the issue altogether there, Agnes.
    Maybe she doesn’t really want to know about you still having the hots or not being over Millicent either.
    My advice would be: Get in the clear about where you stand on the Millicent issue. You didn’t have the time to get over your unfulfilled crush? Get over it stat.
    Take care of your own issues so you don’t have to lie when you tell her that you don’t care who she hangs out with.You couldn’t give a damn, you only have eyes for her.
    Buy your gf flowers, make her a nice dinner, go out to the carnival, whatever, and push the reset Button on the anger in your relationship.
    And then talk about communication and trust.

  7. Reise how do you know about my past relationships and where were you when I needed this advice??!?

    Great words of wisdom here. Follow them Agnes! Or else risk spending another year and a half of this perpetual argument before going, “i quit!” Wait, that’s me again.

  8. Only comment: I disagree with the consensual teasing, but maybe it works for Lenore & Agnes. Whenever I’ve teased a girlfriend about something like this, she gets piiiissed. But, I’m also single, so what do I know?

  9. All reasonable. Also, I feel like it’s fair for you to ask for some kind of reassurance (this plays in my life by being like,”Girlfriend! Tell me I’m pretty!”) and accepting it- Lenore gets to hang out with Milicent, and you get to feel/want to feel supported/desired/other sutff in your relationship. Irrational paranoia I see as a function of insecurity, and your girlfriend can’t make you more secure, but if you can build a cozier feeling between the two of you with some concrete requests. Also, maybe Milicent is made of magic, but I bet she has some unattractive qualities, and idk if you and girlfriend live together or what, but maybe the three of you could hang out a little bit- not to the exclusion of their hanging out, but like casually a couple times- and you can be like, it’s cool, we’re all here, nothing sketchy is going on, and like, that doesn’t become the new normal but then it becomes like there are not secrets and lies happening. But play a game or something, or have things to talk about besides just glowering at each other. Pinball! Maybe pinball!

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