Each week, we offer a reader's relationship problem for you to weigh in on. Then we publish the most lively responses, with a final word on the matter from our columnist, Lynn Coady.
A reader writes: My boyfriend gave me an amazing book of tattoo art for my birthday, which I then lent back to him as a reference for his photography (he does pinup photos - in his bedroom). When he showed me a picture he called "sexy as hell," I saw a model with my birthday present covering her bare breasts. I felt violated and betrayed. I told him I never wanted to see the book again, but he doesn't understand why I'm upset and gets angry when I bring it up. He crossed a line between personal and professional, but I don't know how much of my feelings stem from my father's adultery and disrespect toward my mother. This entire situation probably sounds ridiculous, but it makes me feel lousy and unhappy. I need some advice.
It's not him, it's you
Come on - you concede that he does pin-up photography in his bedroom, yet you're obsessing about a book used as a prop! Twenty-five per cent he was being insensitive, and 75 per cent you are being too sensitive. He used the book because he likes it and he gave it as a gift to you because he likes you. Tell him you'd wished that he hadn't used the book as a prop for a photo with another woman because as a gift from him it has sentimental meaning for you, or perhaps you should have been the model for that shot. Accept the gift back then drop the subject, lest you start to look like an insecure nut. If he makes a habit of being insensitive, then drop him. But if you suspect that your parent's past relationship is getting in the way of your happiness, you should consider therapy, because no man will be sensitive enough. -Darby Brown, Kitchener, Ont.
This isn't about the book
Sounds like you resent his hobby and are threatened by it - and frankly, most women would feel pretty insecure under the circumstances. He's playing with fire and that's probably part of the thrill. The fact that he doesn't acknowledge your feelings on the matter shows he's unlikely to change any time soon. So you have a choice: Accept his hobby - and tell him straight up that any gift from you is not to be used as a prop for his nude models - or move on, to a relationship that doesn't make you feel "lousy and unhappy." -Catharine Parke, Vancouver
Don't let him off the hook
Rip the bandage off quick. The cut isn't quite healed yet, but it needs air to do that, not more bandages. Your instincts are right and if you don't want to repeat history, get into counselling or take some courses on family systems psychology. Your boyfriend's choice of work shows he objectifies women as sexual toys, and his anger and lack of consideration for you shows he is disrespectful, just like your father. Your unhappiness now is your soul, subconscious and conscious selves showing that they want to change the dysfunctional pattern. Trust yourself. Do it. - Brenda Henderson, Waterloo, Ont.
The Final Word
First, the bad news. Your dilemma, as you've outlined it, is very much representative of the reason why a lot of men believe women to be the more irrational of the sexes. Do you remember that old episode of Star Trek, where there's this floating doomsday-robot-thingy who wants to destroy everything in the universe that isn't ordered and rational and phallic? And it nearly blasts the beehive straight off poor Lt. Uhura the second it encounters her hoopy-earringed, mini-uniformed being, complaining (and here I paraphrase, Trekkies, please power down phasers): "This unit is disordered! It is full of contradictory emotions!" And Kirk explains to the killer robot in his patient, fatherly-yet-sensual way: "This unit … is a woman." Remember that? Well that's what a lot of men actually think: 1) Women are crazy! 2) Yes, they are, but it's perfectly fine and perfectly normal. We'll just have to make their uniforms as short as possible.
The good news is these men are not the deepest thinkers roaming the universe. They are your Captain Kirks - a crotch-first adventurer motivated mainly by the pursuit of scaly green booty - or else they are your geeky robotic types with zero emotional IQ.
A smarter guy - and maybe your guy is one of them, although I agree with Brenda that he sounds a little James Tiberius - would see right through your fixation on the book. As Darby says: Come on! It's the naked girl flesh underneath that's got under your skin and probably has been for a while. Catharine asks what woman wouldn't be threatened in this situation? Such feelings don't make you a disordered unit - but what does is the fact that you've been pretending to be okay with his hobby up until this point. Projecting your reasonable insecurities about naked women in your guy's boudoir, onto this incident of your birthday present being used as a brassiere, is what makes you look (and feel, it sounds like) irrational.
But let me guess: You pride yourself on being "the cool girlfriend." Your guy likes taking sexy pictures of hot chicks in his bedroom and that's just rockin', as far as you've been letting on. This is an opportunity to be more honest with yourself and your boyfriend about how his bedroom photo-studio is making you feel.
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy, with another one currently in the oven.
Next week's question
A reader writes: My sister-in-law lacks social skills. She has clumsily stomped all over the feelings of my family for years, and we have consistently turned the other cheek. A classic example: When she arranged the seating at their wedding, I was placed at the very back of the room instead of with the rest of my family near the head table. Her response? "Well, my cousin is sitting back there too, so I don't know what you're upset about!" (Yes, this is partly my brother's fault for failing to involve himself in the planning. And, yes, I see the psychological possibility that she might have done so to demonstrate my displacement as the most cherished female in my brother's life.) Another of my brothers recently decided never to speak to her again. I would love to cut her out of my life, but I don't want to lose contact with my brother and his children. But she is adamantly averse to any kind of heart-to-heart honest discussion. So after all these years of making allowances for her "because she doesn't know any better," and getting furious and then gradually cooling off until the next blooper, what can I do?
Let's hear from you
Do you have an answer to this question, or your own dilemma? Weigh in at firstname.lastname@example.org and include your full name and hometown. (We will not print your name if we publish your personal dilemma.)