He Flirts and I Feel Bad, but I Don't Want it to be Over

Lorelli123
asks:
So I'm 14 and me and my bf have gone through loads. We were best friends for three years and have been together for one and a half years. He struggles with bullying at school, so to impress this guy he got pics of two girls on Snapchat. This crushed me because he sent stuff to her like "your tits are perfect" and stuff like that. I found this out four months ago and put him through a lot, then finally forgave him a couple months ago. I know he loves me and I don't want to hear stuff like I should leave him or anything it just upsets me so please don't. It's great and were so in love but it's hard to forget sometimes and it does cause some arguments. I need help on getting over it, and keeping the relationship strong at school with the constant bullying about us and I want to keep my friends at the same time. If you can tell me how to not be bothered with him flirting because he flirts naturally and has friends that are girls more. (We do sexual things but not proper sex, which made me feel self conscious when he got those pictures and that feeling has faded but still effects me).
Sam W replies:

Okay, first things first. If the bullying of him and you is at this level, then it's time to call in the administration at the school and let them know what's happening. If there's a teacher that you or he trusts, they might be able to help you with the process. But this is one of those times where going through official channels is the sound thing to do as your first move.

Beyond that, it sounds like there are a number of things that are not solid in your relationship. A major one being that your boyfriend has gotten (and, more to the point, solicited) racy pictures from other girls and flirted with them, and continues to flirt with other girls in front of you (or flirts in such a way that you find out about it). That, to put it bluntly, is a jerk move.

An aside about flirting naturally. Some people are flirtatious by nature, in that they connect easily with others, people feel comfortable around them quickly, and their demeanor is often playful or teasing. But there are two things that tip that behavior from "just the way a person is" to a problem. One is if they seem to only direct those behaviors at a certain group of people. For instance, if they constantly touch their girl friends but never touch their dude friends? Then odds are they are, at least a little bit deliberately, flirting with those friends. The other is if they have been told something like "hey, when you talk to other girls in X way in front of me, I feel really insecure" and they don't stop.

Additionally, someone who is attracted to girls can have primarily girls as friends and not automatically flirt with them. That's not some unavoidable consequence of having friends of the gender you're attracted to. It's a choice that you make, and one that it sounds like your boyfriend is making.

Not having all the details, I can't say if how he interacts is something you need to "get over" or not. If it's simply that he has girl friends who he hangs out with, that's something you need to be okay with. Straight guys having girl friends is normal, and it doesn't mean they have any intention of cheating. But, as I mentioned before, if he's deliberately flirting with them, that's not cool. And that's not something you should just get over, because he's being disrespectful of you and your relationship.

If you haven't, it's time to bring this up with him directly and say "when you do x with other girls in front of me, that seems like you're flirting with them and makes me feel like crap." Then see what he has to say. He may not have realized what he was doing or that it was making you feel this way, and will apologize and take steps to respect your request. Or he may tell you that you're overreacting, why can't you just chill, this is just how he is, etc. If he responds in that vein, then that's a sign it might be time to end this relationship.

Ouch, there it is. The words you didn't want to read. Believe me, advice columnists don't actually enjoy telling people that it's time to consider breaking up. It's just that so many people write in with situations where breaking up needs to be treated as an option. So bear with me while I explain why I'm suggesting it.

The way you describe your relationship is...not good. He flirts with other girls, decides that your relationship is what gets thrown under the bus in order for him to seem cool and maybe not get bullied anymore, and you feel insecure and "put him through stuff" when you're unhappy. That's not a healthy pattern, and breaking it requires a concerted effort on both your parts. He will need to respect your feelings and not flirt with other girls, and you will need to not bring up all his past errors when angry with him or use them as fodder for a fight. You'll both need to develop explicit communication around your insecurities, hopes, fears, and needs when it comes to the relationship. Those things are often easier said than done, and I'll give you some links at the end of my answer to help you do them. It is up to you to decide whether or not you want to put in the energy required to salvage this relationship, especially since you're fourteen and have a whole future of good relationships open to you.

I believe you when you say you're in love. But from what you've described, you don't treat each other in a loving way. And therein lies the issue. You can feel all the love in the world for someone, but if that doesn't lead you to treat each other with respect and kindness, then it isn't the foundation of a good relationship. You can love someone a lot, and be loved by them, and still be better off not dating them. That's a truth that doesn't fit with the cultural stories about how love conquers all, but it's something you learn as you date.

I'm also guessing that this is your first love. First loves can be powerful and wonderful, but the truth is that the majority of them don't last forever. So you're not a failure or an anomaly if this ends, and ending it doesn't mean what you felt wasn't true or didn't matter. It just means that the relationship ran its course. And I promise you that, if you or he chooses to end this, you'll meet plenty of cool people to have relationships with down the road.

Regardless of whether or not you break up, one thing I really want to encourage you to do is take steps to start feeling secure in your own body and your own life in a way that isn't tied to relationship status. There is so much pressure to get and stay in a romantic relationship as a teenager that you often don't get time to learn how to feel confident in yourself. I'd focus part of that energy on your body image in particular, since it sounds like you're insecure about that. You can check out body positive blogs and social media to find ways to counter some of the negative messages you might be feeling.

It's also good to take some time and imagine, as complexly as you can, what your perfect relationship would be like. How would you and your partner treat each other? How would they behave? What traits would they have? Obviously, no relationship will match up perfectly with the one in your head, but you're doing this to give yourself space to come up with the dynamics that make you feel loved and respected by a partner. Then ask yourself: Does the relationship in your head bear any resemblance to the one you're in right now? Or are there a lot of pieces that are missing?

In the end, it's up to you to decide if you want to continue this relationship. In your question, you made it clear that you wanted to keep going, but I hope I've given you some reasons to consider ending this relationship, or at least giving it a serious tune-up. Because you deserve the chance to be with a partner who you respect and who respects you.

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