“I love my boyfriend but am attracted to someone else. Is there something inherently wrong with me?” Proper Advice From a Psychoanalytic Viewpoint

I am a 25-year-old postgraduate student, about to finish my PhD in the summer. I have got myself a job in the U.S. which I’m very excited about and am looking forward to starting there in August.

I have a wonderful boyfriend — S — who I love very much. He has agreed to move there with me and is looking for a job.

I met S while doing my PhD and we have been together for three years.

At the time we got together, I was still dating my boyfriend from school (who I’d been with for five years), but he lived away, so we were a long-distance couple.

After getting a bit too drunk at a party, I slept with S — even though I was still in the other relationship.

I immediately ended it with my ex and have been with S ever since — and I don’t particularly regret how that happened.

S now lives away and, again, I am in a long-distance relationship (I am in a science career, so this is common and expected).

The problem is that I now seem to have developed a bad pattern.

I have a male friend who I have known for seven years and see a couple of times a year (he lives away). I’ve always had a soft spot for him, but I’m very content just to be his friend.

I don’t/didn’t feel jealous of his girlfriends and have never tried to make anything happen with him.

I went to visit him and some other friends this weekend and, after everyone else had left his flat (I already planned to sleep on his couch), we ended up kissing.

We stopped it there and just cuddled for a bit and spoke of our feelings for one another — in that we like each other, but would rather stay friends, at least for now.

I like that we have (finally) talked things through and I feel less tempted around him now that I know how he feels.

However, I now feel horribly confused and guilty.

I don’t want to hurt S or break up with him, but I’m worried I might mess up my friendship or that, next time, we won’t just stop at kissing.

I’m also concerned about my behaviour, since history seems to be repeating itself.

Do you think being in long-distance relationships is what my problem is here?

If so, that will go away once myself and S move to the U.S. Or might there be something more inherently wrong with how I treat my partners?

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail


My answer:

This is really interesting because you start off by letting us know how intelligent you are, how high achieving and how pleased you are about that. It seems as though you want to make it clear that you are not dependent on anyone, that you don’t really need anyone and, most significantly, that we mustn’t think of you as an ordinary woman focusing on men, children or whatever else you imagine ordinary women focus on. You are extra-ordinary.

Not only this, but you are taking the lead in emigrating and your boyfriend, whom you love, is going to follow you. You have declared yourself to be in the dominant position.

You say you have been with S for three years and were with your previous partner for five years. These are both long, committed relationships and the facts of the end of one and the beginning of the other do not suggest promiscuity in themselves. And yet you suggest it. You mention being drunk and having sex (coyly described as sleeping with) even though you were still with the first boyfriend. This gives the impression that you felt slightly ashamed of the way things happened. Especially since you feel the need to add ‘I don’t particularly regret how that happened.’ Why would you? But you do and you worry that you behaved in some immoral way, in a way that might damage others.

All the more so since you describe it as ‘a bad pattern’. This is something that has happened twice in eight years! Also, in the second instance, you stopped the sexual relationship from becoming full sex. Yet you nonetheless feel ‘confused and guilty.’

You say you don’t want to split up with S but that you are still attracted to the other man. I wonder what this letter is really about? You sound as though you are looking for reassurance, asking permission to have the thoughts and feelings you already quite clearly have. You worry that you are somehow a ‘bad’ person and it seems that you feel 100% responsible for and in control of both relationships. The men apparently have very little say in what happens and very little personality in terms of what you write.

The extent of your guilt in what sound like very ordinary situations seems to be related to fear at the power you imagine you wield. You feel like someone who does damage or who might do damage, whose sexuality is dangerous.

There is something phallic about your presentation and I wonder if you think of yourself as more masculine than feminine, if you perhaps denigrate traditionally female traits and admire more masculine ones? I wonder if you are heavily identified with your father rather than your mother and whether you feel guilt about that? I also suspect that your sexuality was not considered to be acceptable at home when you were growing up, that you were expected to behave ‘well’ all the time and that your private thoughts and desires seemed dangerous to express.

It is interesting that you say ‘history repeating itself’ and ‘inherently wrong’. I think some kind of history of betrayal is repeating itself in your mind and that you feel the very essence of your personality must be wrong. I suspect you have always felt this and that the ‘pattern’ (which in adult life is, of course, not a pattern but something that has happened twice) was established in your mind in childhood. You preferred one parent to the other perhaps (your father), were accepted by him and this made you feel very powerful. But the power made you feel anxious, you were wracked with guilt about winning the Oedipal battle, desperate to be true to your original love (your mother).

Your confusion and guilt are related to early life, not to the situation you are currently in.

In practical terms there is nothing wrong with you, you are behaving like a perfectly normal young woman with a wonderful career ahead of her. Stop worrying about the blokes, enjoy them as you see fit and get on with your work!

Proper Advice in private via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

About Anna Blundy

Honorary psychotherapist with a Masters in Psychoanalytic Theory and another in Psychodynamic Clinical Psychotherapy. Novelist - Author of the Faith Zanetti quintet - The Bad News Bible, Faith Without Doubt, Neat Vodka (US - Vodka Neat), Breaking Faith, My Favourite Poison. Also a memoir of my father, Every Time We Say Goodbye and my most recent thriller - The Oligarch's Wife
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