My boyfriend's skulking around the personals on Craig's List

I'm a trophy girlfriend; I give it to him three times a day. Wouldn't you think that would keep him in line?

Published April 27, 2005 7:17PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm in a difficult situation because basically all trust has been broken between me and my boyfriend. I am 20 years younger than he and kind of a trophy girlfriend. I happily give him oral sex three times a day, and our love life is very sexual.

However, there is trouble in paradise. I'm worried that we don't have the same basic decency or morals. I don't understand why he would cheat on me, because I give him everything a man could want in bed. But twice that I know of, he has looked for a "discreet" relationship on

Why won't he be faithful to me? I am Ivy League-educated, good-looking, hypersexual, but also prone to mood swings (especially in this relationship). I am starting to believe he is a narcissist. He also drinks heavily, and we often have terrible fights in which he insists he is never wrong.

I dumped a can of garbage with coffee grounds and other messes in it on the bed last night when I found out he was poking around on Craig's List. He says that because I found out by reading an e-mail I was not supposed to see, he did not hurt me. This makes no sense, because the very act of searching for a "discreet" relationship is hurtful in itself whether I know or not. I would not do this to him, because I would fear hurting him and I would feel as if I were betraying him.

I don't understand his motivations, and why it has to be explained to him that he has hurt me deeply. I'm getting the feeling I should leave because I have never been so stressed out in my life. I'm also starting to become repulsed by his behavior. I feel so numb.

What should I do? I feel trapped. I know I should not be with someone who is so different from me, but it is so hard to get out of this ... Helllllllp!!!!!!!


Dear H,

When words fail and garbage dumped on the bed becomes your preferred medium of communication, it's usually a sign that you've reached a significant crisis in the relationship. At that point thoughts tend to arise about the security deposit on the apartment, how much it would be if split two ways, and whether that Maria Callas album is his or yours. (I'm betting it's yours.)

Simply put, I think you should leave him. If you're feeling this crazy, you'd better just put down the Hefty bag and back slowly away from the relationship. It's not that this thing couldn't be worked out, were there world enough and time. But what you're going through with him is going to take a lot of unraveling and rethinking, and if he's drinking heavily and generally uncooperative, your chances of working it out with him are slim to none. You're better off working out these issues on your own, so next time you get involved with a man you can better negotiate.

The word "negotiate" is key here, I think, because it sounds to me like bargaining plays a huge role in this relationship. It's all about bargaining for sex, fidelity and power. The emphasis on bargaining -- your giving him head three times a day, your reference to yourself as a trophy -- gets you into trouble when certain nonnegotiable elements come up, because it's not clear between you just where the bargaining ends and the nonnegotiable human stuff begins. If sex between you is a kind of bargain, why should sex between him and others not be also part of a bargain? I know the answer seems obvious to you. You are in love with him. But you are also bargaining with him from the position of an object, a trophy. That is bound to lead to confusion about what is permissible and what is not.

I would say the difference between a bargaining relationship and a love relationship is in the relative primacy of the ego in relation to the other; in a love relationship, the individual ego is subsumed by the whole; in a bargaining relationship, each ego is trying to satisfy itself in a calculated way, sort of the way the market works. Many self-interested individuals compete in the market, calculating always what price the consumer will bear; transactions are therefore chaotic and always shifting; it is characterized by brinksmanship and a trading mentality, rather than by self-sacrifice and a giving mentality.

In a trading environment, when someone suddenly introduces an a priori value --such as: Trading is fine, but I draw the line at trading sex slaves, or products tested on animals, or coffee that is not grown sustainably -- then relative strangers have to sit down and agree about values and ethics. Who's to say then who is right and who is wrong? Often it's the stronger partner who says what's right and what's wrong; bargaining, in the absence of shared values, leads to power struggles.

To be a trophy is to be a possession. There is something sexy about being able to possess someone completely. But there is also a whiff of death about it, a spiritual sterility. And when the possession begins to speak and act of its own will, to make demands, to assert a sense of honor and a code of decency, that is a point of shock and bewilderment to the purchaser of the trophy, the master, the slave owner. It may be that in playing the role of the trophy girlfriend you set yourself up to be treated like an object.

If all things in the relationship are negotiable, then you are obliged to negotiate them. If certain things are off the table, however -- if you love him and want an exclusive, committed relationship -- then you need to shift the basis of the relationship from one of bargaining for sex and power to one of deep mutual commitment. You need to say to each other that you're a couple and you're going to try to stick together no matter what, even if at times you do not completely meet each other's needs.

I doubt that he's at that point. It's very likely that your intuition is accurate, that he has narcissistic traits; if so, he will never regard you as an equal, and you will never get what you need from him. (Incidentally, have you seen the French movie "Look at Me"?)

Your situation suggests some deep and difficult issues about feminism, sexuality and ethics. I think you need to embrace them, perhaps with the help of a women's group or a therapist, before you get in another relationship with a man. Otherwise, I am afraid that you will simply be taken advantage of, you will be misunderstood, and you will be unhappy. And that would not be good. I would prefer you to be happy. I think you are probably much better to be around when you are not dumping coffee grounds on the bed.

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