I’ll just dive right in — it’s come to my attention my boyfriend has Grindr on his phone. He was talking to multiple people, sending scandalous pictures, and making plans to have sex.
We’ve talked about this and he says it’ll never happen again and he’s sorry. He can’t explain why he was talking to other people, and swears up and down he is straight.
How do I learn to trust him again? How do we move forward?
— Findrs Keeprs
Hmm, welllll. If my memory is serving me (and I think it is, but I’m not entirely sure), this isn’t the first time you’ve written into the V-Spot, nor is this the first time you’ve caught this particular partner in the act of arranging sexual meet-ups with dudes on the internet (unless this is a different partner with a very similar habit).
Maya Angelou wrote one of my favorite pieces of relationship advice (though I’m sure she wasn’t intending for this to be overtly relationship advice specifically) which was: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
To me, this is a more helpful guiding piece of advice than the old saying “once a cheater, always a cheater” which, I believe can be reductionist. I’m not of the belief that there’s any shame in the game of second or third chances, of forgiving our partners, or of choosing to move forward in light of broken trust. Everyone — including our partners and ourselves — are capable of making mistakes, acting based on fear or the unknown, and of breaking, repairing, and rebuilding trust.
But, I do think that being aware of the complex contributions to our partner’s less-than-desirable choices is wise and proceeding with our eyes open is an important component of being fully present in our partnerships and helping our partners feel genuinely loved as we simultaneously hold them accountable to their actions.
What I’m driving at, Findrs, is that when it comes to the complex world of relationships, we’ve always got options. And as I see it, here are yours:
1) You can choose to believe that your boyfriend is 100 percent straight, is not interested in having sex with men, and will not reach out to them for fantasy arrangements online ever again.
2) You can choose to take his (seemingly repeated) actions around reaching out to men online for sex at face value and believe his patterns rather than his promises. Then, you can either restructure the relationship to include some non-monogamous options for him to pursue his desires or end the relationship.
3) You can choose to do neither one of these for now and proceed with a grain of salt and some continued, cautious trust.
As I say to my clients who are dealing with either broken or shaken trust between them — the tricky thing with trust is that it really is rebuilt and reinforced by experiencing continued trustworthiness over time. If you decide that you’d like to proceed in dating him and building trust, it’s important that he is willingly transparent about his online goings-on and that you feel free to ask for reassurance or some sort of agreed upon verification when you want or need it.
Building trust in this way isn’t about blanket control, but rather should be agreed upon between the two of you as a trust-building exercise for a specific amount of time with the express purpose of rebuilding trust in your shared relationship. A couples therapist can help navigate this process so that the control dynamic doesn’t get out of whack.
As I said in my last column of advice to you (if you are indeed the same person with the same partner, but again, I’m not entirely sure), you can’t and shouldn’t try to force anyone out of the closet, especially if for whatever reason they’re not even aware that they’ve been hanging out in there. It’s also possible that his online goings-ons are purely fantasy for him and don’t directly translate to his desires or sexuality. Regardless of what’s going on for him, you can look at what’s trending around you, and make your own decisions and set your own boundaries based on those observations.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.