Former Salad Sandwich
My boyfriend of one year is thoughtful, caring, and perfect in almost every way except one. He is really good friends with his ex. They have lunch every week, and she’ll call him to vent or get some advice. He assures me they’re just friends, but I can’t help but feel threatened. Is it crazy to tell him he needs to put some distance between them?
Evolution, it turns out, is a romantic doomsday prep, setting us up with a contingency plan “in case our boo disappears on us”: essentially the mating version of a reserve parachute or the vice-president.
Evolutionary psychologists Joshua Duntley and David Buss find that most of us cultivate “backup mates”: romantic Plan Bs that we can plug into our lives immediately if our current mate dies or abandons us or if their “life value companion” cliff diving. Although keeping a mental supply of back-up boos seems like a sure sign that a relationship has gone to the bathroom, Duntley and Buss find that even people in the happiest relationships are driven to keep back-up mates.
“Maintaining” backup companions can simply mean having them in mind. However, it can also involve efforts to keep a backup mate out of other relationships – such as sneering at the “terrible” looks and qualities of a guy they like (who is actually pretty much Jake Gyllenhaal crossed with Bishop Tutu and The Rock).
Major failure of warmfuzzy, sure, but it makes evolutionary sense. It is essentially loss of companion insurance. Just as car insurance replaces your car fairly quickly after you finish it, having a backup mate at hand shortens the genetically costly sexual downtime between losing or abandoning a partner. and its replacement.
By the way, both men and women have reserve mates – three, on average – sometimes consciously, but often unconsciously: a clever little ploy by evolution. (The relationship “crimes” we don’t quite know we are committing don’t leave us quite sick with guilt.)
Naturally, you yearn to tell your boyfriend to “put some distance” between him and his ex (like asking NASA to strap him to a rocket and blow it up in space to play nuzzlylunch with). the Mars Rover). However, psychologist Jack Brehm finds that telling a person what to do – trying to control their behavior – tends to fail, triggering a fear- and anxiety-driven panic he calls “psychological reactance”.
The apparent threat to a person’s freedom to do what they want pushes them into a state of motivation: an intense desire to keep doing what they have been doing – often with a ferocity never seen before. someone puts pressure on her. Also, activities that might interest them slightly tend to explode in importance the moment someone tries to take them away. (“Give me tennis or give me death!”)
In other words, telling the boyfriend that he needs to call back with the ex might cause him to, well, dial it forward. On the other hand, do not Telling her could waste a lot of your time, especially if you have an “insecure attachment” (a term used by psychologists for a relationship style driven by strong fears of abandonment and its unpleasant cousins like anger, depression, and jealousy).
Jealousy gets a bad rap, mostly because of all the pain it spreads, but it actually works: an evolved alarm system, alerting us to threats to our relationships. But it also detects threats where there are none. Like smoke detectors, it’s calibrated to err on the side of “Better safe than toast!” – especially in people who are attached in a precarious way.
That said, a jealousy that sounds “paranoid” may not be. Evolutionary psychologist Tom Kupfer explains the reasons why some people have higher levels of jealousy: feeling that their partner is untrustworthy, believing that they are not as sexy as their partner, and having been cheated on (in a past relationship, or, especially, in their current one!).
As for you, in determining the actual threat level and deciding what to do, context matters: specifically, the nature of your relationship and the nature of theirs (i.e. why your relationship exists and theirs doesn’t). ‘does not exist). First, consider that you describe your boyfriend as “caring, caring, and perfect in every way,” and probably not because you forgot “…and an insensitive bastard and a world-class con man.” Then ask yourself: is what you and your boyfriend have together rare and irreplaceable (on every level, from love to sex to fun), or… just another tram stop on Relationship Avenue?
Finally, ask your boyfriend what he saw in his ex and why they broke up. Was there a transient issue that is now a moot point (in which case, ruh-roh!) – or… were there “irreconcilable differences”, emotional issues, “we just want different things”, to different big unsolvable sexual problems? Better to “breathe a sigh of relief!” Case Scenario: She is sexually dead to him, as in, his penis is everything, “I’m not getting out of bed for this!”
(c)2022, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. I have a problem? Write to Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email [email protected]. @amyalkon on Twitter. Weekly podcast: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon
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