Hello all you freakbone bed buzzards of the interwebs, and welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the dating advice column with the the patch notes for your latest relationship update. Image via Shutterstock
This week, we're in for some confrontations. Nobody likes conflict, but some issues need to be tackled head on. Whether it's putting your foot down with an inappropriate coworker or trying to decide whether your relationship has rotted out from under you, it's time to put up some boundaries and have the arguments that have been boiling for all this time.
Let's do this thing.
I've been in a relationship for over four years and I love my girlfriend very much. We've lived together for nearly our whole relationship. We both complement each other's' personality in the right ways and provide support when needed.
A few months ago I met a woman at my work that I'll call Triss. Ever since we first talked she's taken an interest to me. She would often ask to meet outside to just chat during our lunch breaks but very quickly she started made some advances. Nothing too weird but she would try to touch me or hold my hand. I told her that made me uncomfortable and I was in a long term relationship. She understood and stopped.
As we talked more over the months, I learned she's not monogamous and likes to date around. I'm not one to judge and honestly that's just not my thing. But when she talks with me she always brings up her latest sex story and discusses it in detail. My mind started to wander about any potential with her but I pulled back hard. I started blowing off our breaks together because I don't think this was right and I didn't want to destroy my relationship that I currently have. So I would actively try to avoid her throughout the day.
More recently Triss has been doubling down on this approach. She'll casually ask me when I'll be joining in a threesome with her or she'll put her hand and head against my chest. Sometimes she even shows me revealing photos of her from her phone. She already knows I'm fairly uncomfortable with her actions but at this point I don't know to approach this. She knows I'm in a relationship and cheating on them is something I would not do. Any advice?
- Bothered At Work, Sexually
So… you know that this is sexual harassment, right BAWS? She's behaving in a manner that is making for a hostile and unwelcoming workplace and it's affecting your performance and your productivity. If we switched genders of everyone involved, there really wouldn't be a question about what is going on.
But I suspect it's the gender thing that's doing a number on your head right now. I've heard from men in similar situations in the past, and it can be difficult for guys to admit that they're being harassed by someone and harder to be taken seriously when they do. I imagine if you were to tell male friends and coworkers about this, they'd be more likely to ask whether she was hot, if you had copies of those pictures or mention how lucky you are. Hell, odds are you're going to be hearing from a lot of folks about how they wish that they'd be on the receiving ends of the harassment you're getting.
But here's the thing: The fact that it's being done by a woman - hot or not - doesn't make it any more acceptable or desirable. The fact that you're a little attracted to her doesn't make it better. It's still unwanted behaviour and it's making you uncomfortable.
So what do you do?
Start with giving the relevant parties at work a heads up. If your company has an HR department, you want to talk to them. If you don't, then talk with your manager or immediate supervisor and tell them that this is going on. Letting them know what's happening now makes things easier in the event that you have to make a formal complaint.
Then it's time to talk to Triss once more. Tell her, in no uncertain terms, that you don't want to hear about her sex life, that you don't want to be propositioned, you don't want her touching you and you'd prefer that the two of you keep thing strictly professional. With luck, she'll recognise she was crossing a line and back off.
That being said, while you're doing this, you want to do the best practices for handling sexual harassment at work, regardless of gender. That means you want to document everything. Keep a journal with the exact times and dates she was inappropriate, what she said or did, what you said or did in response, where you were and who was around. If she's sent you emails or texts, print out hard copies and keep them safe - preferably at home.
Do your best to avoid being alone with her or try to have friends around when she approaches you. Looping in your friends so that they know this is going on can be a help; not only can they back you up if needed, they can also provide a buffer or distraction if she's trying to corner you for more talk about threesomes.
If she doesn't respect your boundaries and desires to be left alone, then it's time to escalate things and file a formal complaint. This is where all that documentation comes in handy; the more evidence you have, the less it becomes a matter of he-said/she-said and the more likely that things will work out for the best.
I have a problem that is a little bit different than most of your columns. It's not so much about sex (though that does play a factor) than it is about having incompatible living styles. Another factor about this is that I am having trouble pinpointing exactly what the problem is or if we are dealing with separate issues?
To give you some background, my girlfriend and I have been together for 6 years and living together the past year and a half. I am generally a neat and organised person and she is not. She also has an 11 year old daughter and we have 4 dogs (which all factors into the problem). She and her daughter both exhibit hoarding behaviour. They do not clean up after themselves. If they put a game or coffee cup or hairbrush on the coffee table that is where that item will permanently stay. If one of our dogs has an accident on the carpet, it is a 50/50 proposition whether they will throw a towel on it or just let it sink into the carpet. I do everything I can to at least keep the kitchen, my bathroom, and "our bedroom" (more on that in a bit) clean. I am tired of being their maid (I also do all of our cooking, vacuuming/dusting, taking out the dogs).
In the interest of full disclosure, it is HER house and I did know this was how they lived before I moved in but I was told that when I moved in my gf would have a clean office for me (which it wasn't and had boxes of junk stacked from floor to ceiling that I had to deal with by myself) and that she wanted to be more clean and organised, if only she had the help.
The other part of this issue is the way my girlfriend handles problems in her life, whether it is problems between us, at work, or with her family/daughter. She immediately defaults into "I'm not good enough", "I'm working as hard as I can", "it's just the way things are" when confronted with these issues. We had a big fight about the cleanliness of the house issue about a year ago. This was our last fight. After I got through the "I'm not good enough" wall we eventually compromised and agreed on a level of cleanliness for living room. This lasted 3 days before it was back to business as usual. Since then I have basically kept my mouth shut about any problems I have with our household.
More recently, issues with her daughter are being handled in the same fashion. To be brief, her daughter is very needy and has a very "me, me, me" attitude (even moreso than the usual only-child behaviour) that it borders on rudeness. I can tell my girlfriend does not approve of this behaviour and is frustrated by it but she does nothing to confront or correct it. The most detrimental example of this that is impacting our relationship is that she has to have my gf sleep in bed with her every night. This problem has gotten worse over time and has devolved into us only being able to share a bed together on nights she is with her dad (which has also devolved into about one night a month since I have moved in). My girlfriend refuses to do anything try and fix this issue or address her daughter's me-first attitude. Needless to say this has severely reduced our sex life to about once or twice a week (which we have to do in a hurried fashion before her daughter comes downstairs and brings her mother back to bed). At least before I moved in, we had dinner together twice during the week and spent the night together every Saturday and all day Sunday.
I am wondering if I am just wasting our time?
How do I try and have a constructive conversation about these problems so that things could change for the better? I feel like we have both given up on trying to improve things. Do I treat the cleanliness issue separately from the issues with her daughter? Do I first address her inability to deal with problems and then branch off from there? Do I just accept this for what it is and move on (even though she has said she wants to change)? I want to be able to express how dire the situation is to me (I do not want to move forward/get married/buy a house together the way things currently are) in a constructive way. I do not want to break up over this. I want things to improve!
I do love my girlfriend but I feel like our success as a couple right now is based solely on my ability to keep my issues in the relationship to myself and manage my anxiety over them. Maybe the issue is that I am the only one that is unhappy with the relationship? I feel like she is happy with the way things are and I'm not.
I know I threw a lot out at you, but I have had this bottling up for a long time and need some help.
Felix To Her Oscar
Dating a single mother means that you're going to be second to their child or children; that's just part of the deal. She may love you, but her kids are going to come first. That means that they're going to have the biggest claim to her time and attention. Yes, she can and should carve out time for the two of you, but her children are going to be her biggest priority and accepting this is part of the price of entry for a relationship with her.
Now, whether she needs to take a firmer hand with her daughter is something that's pretty far out of my lane. I'm not here to talk about her relationship with her daughter, I'm here to talk your relationship with her.
The problem you're having isn't with your girlfriend's ideas of acceptable cleanliness or her inability to discipline her daughter; those are symptoms of the underlying issue.
That underlying issue is simple: She doesn't care about you. I can't tell you if she cares for you or not but she sure as hell doesn't respect you, nor does she take your feelings into consideration.
And while I know you love her and want things to work out, I'm going to have to be applying the Hobnailed Boot of Reality here: Your relationship is basically fucked.
The biggest sign of this is that nothing changes. You've had these discussions - repeatedly, even. Every single time, everything reverts back to the status quo, no matter what's been said or agreed to. Perhaps she's severely conflict averse. Perhaps she's used to other people taking responsibility for her. Doesn't really matter. Nothing changes and that's the sign of where this is going.
This goes beyond a lifestyle compatibility issue and becomes one of relationship compatibility. What matters is that relationships are partnerships. Making a relationship work means finding compromise, dealing with conflicts and working things out. She isn't holding up her end of the bargain, and she's making it clear that she's just not going to by throwing up roadblocks when you try to have these discussions. Yelling "I guess I'm not good enough" is part of how someone shuts down a conflict by making it about your judgment of them rather than the issue. The fact that your compromise lasted three days is a pretty good indication of just how much respect she's giving for your feelings on the matter.
Here's the thing: Your feelings are legitimate. Your anxiety here is legitimate. The fact that you're the one having an issue with this doesn't mean that you don't have a right to feel the way you do, or to address those problems. And, quite frankly, your girlfriend has given you her answer: Get used to it.
But let's game this out, Felix. Let's imagine that — for the purposes of this exercise — nothing is going to change. You're going to be stuck cleaning up after two people who seem to be willing to live in filth, that your girlfriend's daughter is going to be making more and more demands on her time and that you're going to be the one asked to make all the compromises in this relationship.
How will you feel when this is the status quo for you for the next six months? The next year? The next five years? Are you willing to swallow your anxiety over this for that long?
You don't want to move forward until things have been resolved. You've seen the future, dude, and it looks exactly the same as it does now. Unless that's what you want… well, you know what you need to do.
I wish I could give you better news, but there really isn't going to be a magic script that's going to change her mind or make her recognise that she's been treating you poorly. I hate to say it, but you're going to be happier in the long run if you end things now.
Have you dealt with harassment at work? Did your conflicting lifestyles destroy your relationship? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, and we'll be back in two weeks with more of your dating questions.
Ask Dr Nerdlove is Kotaku's fortnightly advice column for matters of the heart, hosted by the one and only Harris O'Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove.
Harris O'Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove and the Dr NerdLove podcast. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove. Dr Nerdlove is not really a doctor.