You’ve got embarrassing, tricky, bizarre, and otherwise unusual life questions, we’ve got answers. Welcome to Is This Normal? — a no-nonsense, no-judgment advice column from HelloGiggles. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll track down expert advice you can trust.
Dear Is This Normal?,
I’ve been dating my boyfriend for about two years and we live together. We recently went out to a birthday party together and I decided to leave before him because I was tired, and he was hanging with a guy he works with and wanted to stay and talk a bit longer. But I forgot my jacket at the bar, so I went back about half an hour later and my BF was sitting with a woman at the bar who is another one of his coworkers. He seemed shocked to see me and asked why I was back, and when he introduced me to the other woman by my first name only — no girlfriend title — she had no idea who I was. I thought this seemed really sketchy, but he told me it was no biggie and I that I was overreacting and should “calm down.” Am I nuts?
— Pissed off in Pennsylvania
First off, you’re not nuts — and you should never be made to feel that way. This sounds like a complicated situation, but your boyfriend’s reaction isn’t exactly compassionate. Even if the conversation was NBD — say she showed up as he was leaving and they were catching up briefly, for example — a kinder response on his part would be to try looking at the situation from your perspective, understanding why you might feel upset, and offering his perspective.
We spoke to therapist and trauma specialist Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, who said said that telling you to “calm down” was definitely not the right thing for your boyfriend to do. Instead, she suggested, “[He could have said,] ‘I assure you, this is nothing and I love you very much,’ or ‘I would like to understand more about where you are coming from.’ These statements are cooperative, as opposed to defensive and dismissing.”
As far as his actions are concerned — staying later without letting you know, his coworker not knowing who you are, etc. — it’s tough to say whether he behaved badly since we don’t know the context or details of their interaction. Dr. Bais notes that the definition of infidelity is the violation of agreed-upon norms and behaviors, not assumptions, so perhaps your boyfriend didn’t see the conversation the same way you did. If this was the first time he’s behaved in this way, you could be reading the situation based on your own past experiences.
“Leaping to assumptions can be disastrous,” said Dr. Bais. “In certain instances and work places, discussing personal life and relationships [is] frowned upon, so there is no chance per se to understand if the other person is attached. It could simply be a case of having an interesting conversation with someone who happens to be female.”
She noted, though, that if he’s done things like this in the past and you’ve had arguments about it, he might have a different idea of what fidelity means — so it’s no wonder you’re feeling insecure, jealous, and unable to trust him.
Okay, so what the heck do you do now? Well, if you haven’t already, you should talk to your boyfriend about what happened and get some more information. Dr. Bais suggests asking him who the colleague is, and how the conversation came about. “And, in lieu of accusations, explain by owning [your] statements, e.g. ‘I know you have great camaraderie with your colleagues, I however have not had good experiences in the past with female colleagues in the workplace, this is what happened and that’s why I am on edge.'”
But if he’s not understanding or compassionate, especially if he’s behaved this way before, Dr. Bais said you have three options: be satisfied with the status quo, change it, or leave. Otherwise, you’re going to keep having this conversation for as long as you’re together — so figure out what you want, and follow your gut.