Thought control

My boyfriend is loyal but I can't get over my obsession that he will cheat on me.

Published January 8, 2003 8:08PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

About six months ago I started dating a really great guy. We're both in our early 30s and graduate students. We never fight or harbor bad feelings, we love each other's company, we're very affectionate and caring, and we have a lot of respect and admiration for each other. We share the same interests and values. So far, we have no problems -- except one.

The problem is mine, and so far I've done a good job of concealing it from him. It's a problem I've had with every guy I've ever dated: I just can't seem to shake this obsessive feeling that guys are cheating on me. This is odd, because I've never come to find out that I've been cheated on by anyone, and I've never been left abruptly or had any other bad experience that would give rise to this fear. But the fear is always there all the same.

This guy has given me absolutely no cause for fear. I have no reason to believe that he's attracted to other specific women, that he's prone to infidelity, or that he does not like me as much as I like him. In fact, he's proven himself to be a very good, honest guy who is plainly as gaga about me as I am about him. But now, for instance, every time his cellphone rings and he doesn't answer it, saying "it's just my [insert relation], I'll talk to him later," I get anxious and sick to my stomach.

I would like some advice on how I can 1) stop obsessing about my fear of infidelity and learn to chill out, and 2) build trust with him so that every innocuous mention of a woman he knows doesn't turn my stomach upside down. So far I've been very good and have kept my fears from him, outside of a single conversation in which I stressed the importance of fidelity to me (he agreed). I don't want to frighten him away by being clingy and insecure, especially because some of the things he likes most about me are my (generally) easygoing nature and (otherwise) independence.

Living in Fear

Dear Living in Fear,

Don't be clingy and insecure. Just admit that you're crazy. I would just tell the guy that you've got this thing, you know, this ridiculous, irrational thing. If you're both graduate students, you must have by now acquired the intellectual discipline to entertain two apparently incompatible ideas at the same time, right? And you must understand that reality often consists of that narrow slice where the two ideas operate independently and in apparent contradiction? Like the enigma that is John Travolta's career?

I think you can say to him that you trust him and at the same time you experience this phenomenon of obsession about infidelity. Perhaps he wouldn't mind if you ask him for granular detail about all his contacts. Perhaps he would mind. But it's worth asking. It's worth asking if he would mind if every time he gets a cellphone call he doesn't answer, if you can look at the number and write down who it is, and keep their names on an Excel spreadsheet that hangs on your bedroom wall and is updated weekly. Perhaps he wouldn't mind that. Perhaps he would.

He might be intellectually mature enough to hold two contradictory thoughts in his head, like: He completely accepts your strange obsession and yet still wants to break up with you because of it. That's a possibility also. But if you continue hiding this little obsession, it's going to wedge its way into your relationship anyway. So I say lay it out there. Be vulnerable. Admit you're nuts.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

By Cary Tennis

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