Q: I love my new boyfriend (he just moved here from Russia for a job) but he drives me crazy! He’s really a sweetheart, but sometimes he accuses me of flirting when I’m decidedly NOT flirting. For example, I have normal conversations with men at happy hour, but it leads to disagreements with my beau afterward. He is very respectful, funny, and he treats me as his equal, so we’re otherwise a perfect match. How can I resolve this, and continue being social like everyone else, without making my boyfriend feel bad?

A: First of all, I applaud you for trying to work out your differences in a way that works for both of you! That’s key to being in a healthy relationship.

There are a few possibilities for what’s going on here. And since when two people disagree, the truth is probably in the middle, I’ll answer the question assuming you both have a point.

Personally, I’m one of those people who believe that flirting is harmless—that is, unless it leads to exchanging numbers or touching someone in the non-shoulder area. And it’s necessary to be social with men, keep up your friendships and professional life, and not limit yourself to one point of view. That’s what the outside world is for!

That said, put yourself in your boyfriend’s shoes. He’s just moved and may not feel as if he has many friends in the U.S. yet, so he’s protective of the connections he does have. Also, the cultural expectations for men in Europe are far different than those in the states—men in Europe are sometimes encouraged to “keep a handle on their wives,” so to speak. So he may feel socially emasculated by your flirting or threatened that you’ll fall for someone new.

Next time, before you leave for this flirt-for-all that is happy hour (I should tell my single lady friends where this is!), sit down with your man and tell him that you can see where he’s coming from. Reassure him that you really only have eyes for him, but that you have to be friendly in social situations.

In my new book, the sexy Wild and Wanton edition of Henry James’s Daisy Miller, Daisy has a similar problem. Because she’s visiting from America and he’s been in Europe for awhile, she runs into cultural differences with her love interest, and he tries to help her fit into his world. Daisy doesn’t always appreciate it. Of course, back in the 1860s, women were shunned by society simply by flirting with more than one man at once! I won’t spoil the ending, but I hope you pick up the ebook and give it a read sometime.

As for your problem, you could try bringing your other attached girlfriends along sometimes so he can have someone to talk to, and so he can see your behavior is not abnormal when compared to other U.S. women. Introduce him to everyone you meet together and try to include him in the conversation if he comes over, because that’s courteous. And most importantly, get a third or fourth opinion from your friends and ask them to be brutally honest. Do they think you’re being inappropriate around other guys? If they say yes, it may be time to practice being a little more prudish. If they think he’s making a mountain out of a molehill and you and your boy continue to have disputes after you’ve tried to work it out, you may have some tough choices to make.

Love,
Gabrielle Vigot, author of Daisy Miller: The Wild and Wanton Edition

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