Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I read your recent column from the woman who was complaining that her boyfriend always asks who she is texting and messaging. I could relate.
Since we started dating a couple of years ago, "Jessica" has insisted on staying in touch with multiple ex-boyfriends. I've tried to not let it bother me. Jessica is a very outgoing and friendly person, she has tons of friends, and I know it's important to her that she not "burn bridges." And I get it — Anchorage is a small town and sometimes it's easier to be polite and friendly than it would be to close the door on someone.
Jessica hasn't been totally open about some of these ongoing friendships. For example, I knew her last breakup was really bad, and early in our relationship especially, she complained often about how badly the guy had treated her and how grateful she was it had ended. She definitely gave the impression they weren't in contact. Imagine my surprise a few months in when I learned Jessica still talked to the guy, a lot, often. She said he was going through a hard time. When I reminded her this dude was a total jerk and asked to see the texts, she deleted them and said it was her private friendship.
It hasn't really gotten better since. It's the one major thing we fight about. She feels strongly that she has a right to these "private friendships" — with guys, and ex-boyfriends at that. I feel strongly that we shouldn't have secrets. Who's right?
There are very few permissible and healthy secrets in a relationship. For example, you want to surprise me with a gift, or a vacation? Great! You want to slyly fly in my bestie for a girls weekend? Yes please! You secretly dislike my new fav shade of lipstick but don't want to throw shade? I can live with you assuring me I look great. Yes, I sure can.
And that's about the end of the list of allowable lies. Otherwise, absolutely, we should prefer our significant others be honest with us. This definitely includes maintaining a respectful openness about how we interact — or don't — with our exes.
Technology today offers too many potential portals for infidelity — whether that illicit interaction be physical, emotional, or even perceived. That latter outcome is especially important, because for many couples, the ease of connecting and communicating with exes has blurred the lines on what's appropriate activity when it comes to interacting with others outside our primary relationship.
Cheating is no longer as simply defined as one partner having a sexual relationship with other person. What about the bored wife who begins secretly chatting with a high school ex? Is that cheating? What about the guy who doesn't tell his boyfriend that he still meets his ex for drinks? Is that disloyal? And what about Jessica? How many guys does she talk to and what do they talk about?
The common theme among these scenarios is people who are putting their own desires above a commitment to be open with and prioritize their partner. As Jessica's boyfriend, you do have a right to ask questions about who she's talking to, and about the tone, content and frequency of this communication. If she's not comfortable with sharing that with you, maybe she should try being single, because what she's doing is single-girl behavior if ever I heard it.
You're both right, at least in your own minds, and that's all that matters. She believes it's perfectly fine to maintain communication with exes, you believe that isn't cool at all. You're both living by, and standing by, your beliefs, and it doesn't sound like either of you are willing to budge.
But if you're committed to making this relationship work, I'm going to nudge you to budge.
You spent a good portion of your note writing about the importance of friendships to your girlfriend, as well as her giving personality, empathy and people-pleasing. She's one of those give-a-stranger-the-shirt-off-her-back folks. That's rare in this increasingly anxious, 'What are those teenagers doing walking down my street?' Nextdoor app alert posting, 'Hey babe, that's none of our business' society.
But people like your girlfriend don't just stop communicating with, being nice to, or even caring for the people who have come into her life. She's wired to be there from them when they are in need, and that includes seemingly lame exes.
And while it may seem like she holds everyone on an equal plane, I'm confident there are actually tiers to her friendships – Tier I: Family, partner, besties who she loves; Tier II: Everyone else. Now remember, you're in Tier I; seemingly lame ex-boyfriend is in Tier II.
And while you might find it suspicious that she wouldn't let you read her texts, why do you need to read them? Don't you trust her? If you don't, move on because you're just going to drive yourself crazy.
But if you do trust and love her, and you're secure in your relationship, let her protect her friendships and the privacy of a friend going through a tough time, and let her be her caring self.