She Looks Back
Q: I've had this great friend for 7 years now, and she's been my girlfriend for 2 years. One night three months into our more serious relationship, she told me something that shocked me out of my wits. She said she still thinks about this other guy who refused to be with her. She said each time something happened in her life, she'd think about him and imagine what he'd say. I hadn't even known that all this had transpired between them, though I'd known her so closely for 5 years then. After I didn't talk to her for a while, we got back together. But now, every few months, for seemingly no reason whatsoever, I remember that I was second choice, and then I hurt both her and myself with words. She's extremely patient, and brings me back to normal, but I feel terrible about all this. What do I do? -- Al, 24
Dr. Susan: These days, it's so common to be someone's so-called "second choice." Unless you hook up with the love of your life at something like 12, just about everyone will have fallen for someone else before you meet them. It's no big deal. Except in this case, your girlfriend stupidly made you jealous by talking the way she did about the one that got away. Sounds to me like she's turned him into a fantasy: What would X-boy say? That's just the slightest bit pathetic. If she'd rather have imaginary conversations with someone she knew when she was younger than have genuine intimacy with the man she's actually with, that tells you something about her. What you have to do is sit down with her and express your feelings about all this, but this time without the hurtful words. Are you getting vibes from her that you're not good enough, that you're not all she'd want from a guy? Above all, find out if she's still playing the fantasy game with him, even after she's been with you all this time. By now it could just be a habit, one that will eventually become stale and fade away.
It's normal to feel jealous of the one who had her heart before you came along, and as time goes on and the two of you build something solid together, those feelings will pass. So don't beat yourself up about feeling a little insecure, but hold onto your tongue when those feelings arise the next time. Your inability to avoid hurting her (and yourself) is the real problem here, since stuff that happened years ago, before you became boyfriend and girlfriend, simply isn't real enough to fret over. Of course, if she's still actually hankering for him, I can't blame you for being upset. If that's the case, you might have to move on and find someone who wants you and not some ghost.
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Advice for Her
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.