DEAR CAROLYN: My girlfriend insists she is not jealous of my ex-girlfriend, but I'm not convinced. I have tried to reassure her the old relationship is well over. I have started to notice some of my clothes — hats and T-shirts — are missing. These all had some loose connection to where my ex lived. I suspect my girlfriend has taken these things and disposed of them. I think it's the only explanation for their disappearance. And it's giving me a sick feeling, not because I miss them but because it seems so devious. Do I ask her about them? How can I do that? It doesn't feel right to confront her, but I deserve to know if she would do such a thing. I want to trust her, but this is in the way.
ANONYMOUS: Well that's disturbing.
And if it happened to me, I guess I'd start by asking whether she's seen my whatever-hat, and watch how she responded.
I hope, however, I wouldn't have stuck around long enough to get to this point.
This is a concept that gets treated as typical in couples — and not just by you, by any means — when it's really a prelude to soul-sucking dysfunction: "I have tried to reassure …"
Him or her, over an ex or something else, it doesn't matter.
It's all the same and it's all bad.
If you're regularly in the position of having to explain yourself, then you don't need to go all private-detective on your T-shirts to test your relationship's health. You already have proof of: her unhappiness; her doubts; her unwillingness to believe you; her unwillingness to believe in herself; and your willingness to have your feelings and intentions doubted, if not openly questioned.
These problems are in your relationship's foundation. Trust, comfort, sense of self.
If you want a relationship to work, then just inhabit it, as the closest thing possible to your natural self. Swear off reassurance. Say what you feel moved to say. Act as you feel moved to act. Show your attentions as you feel moved to, and don't live a never-ending sales pitch for their sincerity. (Be your best moral self, too, obviously; if you feel moved to mistreat people, then you have no business being in any relationship with anyone.) See what happens.
If that isn't enough for someone to feel good in your company, enough for her to stop questioning your commitment to her, then what more information do you need? Would your next impulse really be to try harder to persuade her? Even after pausing to think? Why?
Wouldn't it be time to wonder why anyone stays in a relationship she finds so unsatisfying? And why you'd tap-dance so hard, in such earnest, to keep her there?
While it would be interesting to find out whether your girlfriend is in fact unstable and unscrupulous enough to act out her insecurities through your souvenirs, that's reaching for an elusive answer when there's an easy one in your lap. This isn't working.
Plus, to arrive at that tougher answer, we'd have to pass another easy answer: that you're still (living?) with someone you even think capable of being this devious. Yikes. Please turn your interrogation onto yourself and your standards. Ask yourself what flag would be red enough.