Science ain’t sexy. But when you commit a dating faux pas up of this magnitude sometimes it can help to bring in the experts.
Confused? Here’s some context.
Some dating f*ck ups transcend generations. Others are sparked by changing technology. I’m in the latter camp. Scrolling through Instagram, giving my thumb some much-needed isolation-exercise, yesterday, I had a minor panic attack.
Underneath a ‘throwback’ photo of one of my favourite Instagram personalities, posing in a far-flung locale in a black bikini, was a cattle prod to the heart.
I kept scrolling.
Turns out there are three or four more influencers my girlfriend has developed a sudden – mutual – interest in. While one or two make sense that she might follow (she likes surfing, they like surfing), I found the fact that she had also started to follow Emily Ratajkowski too unlikely to take lying down.
So I sat up and called Australian sexologist, relationship expert and author Dr Nikki Goldstein to ask: is it a coincidence or a trap? According to Nikki: “You can look at it two ways. If she’s got a commonality with you and the… people to do with surfing… you want to assume it’s not passive-aggressive.”
“But you could also look at it another way… and you’re not going to know unless you ask her directly.”
Apparently I must choose my words carefully though as, according to Nikki, “Asking her directly you might look like [you’re] mistrusting her… because what you [would be] saying is, ‘are you this type of person that can’t be honest and upfront’ or ‘why are you playing those catty games.'”
To avoid this, Nikki suggests the following: “I would use the particular photo or profile of the person… so just say it’s this picture and you’ve both liked it… what you could do is say … ‘oh… I saw that photo online today of x … how cool was it? I saw you liked it too, what did you think.'”
“You can actually use the post as a catalyst to start a conversation.”
“Next,” Nikki tells us, “Follow through with: ‘I actually noticed there are quite a few people that I like that you like.’ What you’re doing is fishing… you’re having a look around because you don’t want to accuse someone [and get their back up].”
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“If you know your girlfriend well enough,” Nikki says, “you might actually get a sense of where it’s coming from (with a face to face conversation).” They could be cagey about it (which gives you a hint) or they could ramble. They could also say; ‘yeah I’ve noticed it too, isn’t it great?’ in which case you know it really wasn’t a passive-aggressive dig (provided that last statement wasn’t dripping in sarcasm).
But, as Nikki tells us, “if the way that they reacted was a bit different then you might go: ‘hang on a second let’s keep going further.’ You might want to say: ‘listen, you can tell me if you’re uncomfortable with something that I’m doing online, but [why] are you trying to send me the message by liking that profile.'”
“Also important is to take a step back from the game playing and thinking: ‘are they insecure; do they have a history with people that have micro-cheated?'”
While it might seem petty from your perspective, Nikki says “if you start to get more context around it, then it might make sense: she might be being triggered by seeing you like bikini-clad girls because she is really struggling with her body at the moment because she’s in isolation and can’t get to the gym… it could even be that.”
The last piece of advice from Nikki is: “if there is some insecurity you have to talk.” Assure your partner they can come to you to discuss anything. Maybe avoid triggering them by using the word ‘games,’ but say, “you don’t have to do things like that, you can come to me directly and discuss anything you’re not happy about.”
“It’s at least letting that person know they don’t have to do the sneaky tactics – if there’s something they’re uncomfortable about, they should come forward with it – and that might give them the [security] that they haven’t had in a previous relationship.”
This advice did come with a disclaimer though: “you may open the flood gates.”
Consider yourselves warned.