My boyfriend is 29 and I'm 31, and we have been together for 3 years now. We each have lots of friends of both sexes, and he is close with many friends he grew up with. But there's this one friend in particular, I will call her Teresa. She and my boyfriend have known each other for over 14 years -- she's a nice girl, appears harmless. Years ago, while he was dating someone else, they both fooled around, but did not have sex.
Teresa is married and has been for a few years, but I get the sense that she is not over my boyfriend. She is very touchy-feely with him and very flirtatious. When the four of us go out, it's as if I'm not there. She talks without making eye contact with me. About 5 years ago, my boyfriend had a birthday party for his ex-wife, and Teresa and her boyfriend (now husband) were there. Later that night a bunch of them got into the hot tub. My boyfriend told me that Teresa was stroking him under the water, when her boyfriend/husband wasn't looking.
We have had talks about it, and he has assured me that nothing would ever happen and that I shouldn't feel so insecure. I just don't trust her, and wondered if I should talk to her about my concerns or if I should just learn to deal with it. But how do I deal with her flirtatiousness? -- Uncomfortable Claire
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Dear Uncomfortable Claire --
A few things struck me right away when I read your email: 1) It doesn't seem wise to trust Teresa because her behavior doesn't appear trustworthy, 2) I'm glad your boyfriend isn't hiding incidents with her from you, though I hope he delivers the details respectfully, 3) your boyfriend thinks the problem here is your insecurity, and 4) if I'm reading the timeline right, the last outrageously untoward incident involving Teresa happened between 3 to 5 years ago.
I think it's always a balancing act when dealing with someone whose behavior, sensitivity level and ethical center seem pretty far afield from our own. Add to that natural fears or worries, provocation, and intimacy, and the challenges multiply. I understand Teresa is your boyfriend's old friend, but that doesn't mean you're obligated to double date, and it doesn't mean her behavior should go unaddressed. I'm not sure everyone will be in agreement with me on this, but perhaps these suggestions will help.
Limit your time and exposure with her. Sit down with your boyfriend and clearly express to him that your feelings are legitimate and have a basis in external reality. His feelings about your feelings are not the subject of the conversation. Be sure to express that you trust him; explain that your difficulty is with her behavior, not his fidelity. Sure you're fearful, worried and frustrated, but he'd be feeling the same way if the tables were turned. And he wouldn't appreciate it if you minimized his experience or blamed him for his difficult feelings. Then, Uncomfortable Claire, pull your focus away from Teresa and keep it on things that matter to you, feed you, and improve the quality of your life.
Should Teresa's flirtatiousness, social rudeness or questionable touching continue or escalate -- if it's an active, current pattern -- sit down with your boyfriend again. She is his friend, after all, and I believe he is the one who should address the matter with her. Tell him it would mean a great deal to you if he would talk with her, set new expectations for her behavior, and make his boundaries -- and yours -- very clear for Teresa. I think that would be a constructive, loving, and helpful thing for him to do in these circumstances.