I’ve been with my boyfriend for about 5 months now, I care about him a lot and we tell each other everything, no secrets. There was just something I noticed one time when the both of us attended a friend’s wedding. I got to meet the rest of his friends and noticed the way they played around with each other. The way they play with each other is somewhat sexual. I noticed my boyfriend coming in from outside and one of his friends grabbed my boyfriend’s penis. He pulled away and didn’t seem to like it, but when I asked him about it later and told him that it made me uncomfortable he kind of got mad and said if I feel like this then we’re gonna have a problem in the future and that it’s just how he plays with his friends. I apologised and said maybe it’s just something I have to get used to, but it still bothers me. I guess my question is, could my boyfriend possibly be bi-curious or is he telling the truth and that’s just him and his friends being goofs? I want to ask him, but then again I don’t want to bring it up again and possibly start a fight. Please help.
Reading your story, I sensed a couple of red flags that have nothing to do with your boyfriend’s sexuality.
Communication is key
Firstly, I worry that you weren’t able to express to your partner how you felt without him responding defensively, with anger, and threatening a kind of ultimatum: it’s my way or the highway.
Your response was conciliatory, to back down and apologise, but now you are avoiding discussing a topic with him that bothers you. This is not a great beginning if it establishes a communication pattern.
You are only a few months into your relationship, and while it can take time to become comfortable with one another, to learn how to broach sensitive topics, you should be able to let one another know how you feel without being shut down.
The key here is to learn to be assertive: practice using ‘I statements’, for example, ‘When I saw your friends touching you in that way it made me uncomfortable because….’ And here is where you need to do a bit of self-inquiry to understand what bothered you about the scenario (more on this in a moment).
While you are entitled to express how you feel, you are not entitled to an explanation, to know everything that goes on inside your partner’s head. He may choose to respond by saying, ‘This is just how it is,’ and you need to decide whether you can accept that.
If you use assertive language and he still can’t hear and empathise with your feelings, and instead becomes habitually defensive and angry, you could point this out (again, assertively: ‘When I express how I feel and you deflect and become angry, I feel…‘) and ask him to work on his communication style. If he is not prepared to hear you or to work on being able to hear you, he may not be a good relationship partner for you.
Now, back to why this incident bothered you….
Time for self-reflection
Before you broach this topic with him, I recommend spending some time trying to understand your reaction. What you described sounded innocent enough, except your partner did not seem to like what his friend did to him.
If this is what bothered you, you could extend an offer of support, for example, letting your partner know you observed him feeling uncomfortable, and check if this was the case (don’t assume you know how he felt). Ask if he was okay. Let him know he can talk safely to you, without judgement, should he choose to. You may have misread the situation, or he may not want to talk about it, so respect this.
Did you feel left out seeing him and his friends playing and sharing in a familiar way? It can be confronting seeing someone you are just getting to know being intimate with others. The person, who feels part of you, is actually whole and separate, with his own history and relationships that predate yours. As you grow together and get to know more of one another’s pasts, you may encounter this again. These instances provide opportunities to learn more about your partner, so be open and curious. Remember, your partner is his own person, just as you are your own person, and this is positive and healthy.
Did the situation make you question your boyfriend’s sexuality? Different social groups have idiosyncratic ways of interacting. A group of males interacting physically is not necessarily homoerotic. However, your boyfriend’s sexuality may be fluid. He may be bi-curious, bisexual, hetero-flexible, or something else. More and more people acknowledge sexuality is not binary. If this bothers you, ask yourself why, as it need not affect your relationship. We are naturally attracted to people outside our relationships – if we weren’t, advertisers wouldn’t use sex to sell, because they would only be reaching a market of unattached individuals! This means your partner is likely to be attracted to people other than you, just as you find others attractive. If this makes you uncomfortable, you are going to have to acknowledge and work through your discomfort, because it is unavoidable in any relationship. (You may find my post on unravelling jealousy helpful.)
Where to from here?
Whenever you encounter such incidents it is worth reflecting on what bothers you, and working through whatever comes up. Once you have worked through your reaction you may decide to share what you discover with your partner. If done assertively, as an expression of how you felt and why you reacted as you did, without blame or expectation on him, it may be an opportunity to learn a little more about one another’s inner worlds.
In any case, keep working on communicating effectively and assertively, while respecting one another’s individuality and outside relationships. You don’t want to end up in a relationship where one or both of you discards friends to avoid possible conflict, or establishing a communication dynamic where one or both of you feels you can’t discuss potentially upsetting topics.
Good luck, Rhonda xx