Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Boyfriend's friendship should spur self-examination
Miami: My long-term boyfriend has developed a friendship with another girl that has me confused. She's a former colleague who lives far away, is not physically attractive and doesn't have a boyfriend. But they e-mail constantly, text each other night and day, and I get the sense she knows many, many details of his life and vice versa.
He says they are just friends. I am positive no physical cheating has gone on, but could this be emotional cheating? How would I know? What would I do if I found out it were?
Carolyn: Sure, it could be an emotional affair. It could also be that he and this other girl are compatible, and you're seeing them interact with an ease and pleasure that you and he have never really shared. If that's true, I'd call it an extension of a common problem — when people treat dating as a separate entity from all their other relationships. There's a tendency to recognize physical attraction, act on it, and then file it under "romantic relationship" without even questioning whether you're able to generate good conversation, share common interests, enjoy the same jokes, be close and natural friends.
The getting-to-know-you stuff doesn't count toward that, either, since it's usually just a stepladder to the physical payoff. I'm talking about conversation that's a reward in itself.
If you and he never really had that and he has it with her, then it might be dawning on you that both of you already get your best conversation elsewhere, and possibly even that you're not as right for each other as you thought. One good question to ask is whether you have this same kind of friend, just not of the opposite sex.
There's also this: Just because the former colleague isn't traditionally "hot" doesn't mean she isn't a catch, or that your BF isn't drawn to her.
By the way, I say these last things matter-of-factly. If he does fit better with this other woman, then that's not a poor reflection on you. Hard as it is to pull off, try to step back and look at it all objectively — in particular, try to override the jealous/protective reflexes and see what the best, most sensible outcome would be for you and your relationship, and then take it from there.
How to put yourself on the path to happiness
Va.: People always say you have to make yourself happy. What goes into that? How does one make oneself happy?
Carolyn: Short, easy description of a long, difficult process: Figure out the things that make you feel confident/fulfilled/energized; that give you a sense of purpose or accomplishment; that tap into your natural abilities and strengths; and that don't put you at the mercy of any one person, and orient your life around those.
Often, this requires the separate step of reducing the role in your life of things that make you feel worthless/empty/exhausted; that don't excite you; that require skills that don't come naturally; that feel like a waste of time; or that put you routinely at the mercy of others.
Then, you make a conscious decision to be patient and flexible toward life, and break any habits of jumping to negative conclusions.