Dear Kelly: My boyfriend hates to dance, and his best friend is a great dancer. Recently we went to a dance club with all high schoolers and my boyfriend refused to dance, so I started to dance with his best friend for just one song. We weren’t grinding or anything like that and we didn’t even touch each other when we danced. We both knew he was watching, but we were having so much fun dancing and didn’t know he would react the way he did.
He left the club and was furious, almost punched his best friend when he tried to calm him down, and accused me of wanting to break up with him and date his best friend. He’s always known I like to dance, so this was nothing new to him. I’m not sure why he freaked out so bad. He says he can’t trust me and that he doesn’t trust his best friend, either.
What can I do? Never dance again? Go to dances and clubs and now I will stand around and watch everyone else dance all night? I love to dance and he doesn’t get it. He says I flirt when I dance, but I just like to dance and be silly and have fun. I’m not a flirty kind of girl and he knows that. I’ve never cheated on him and it’s not like I talk to other guys or do things to make him jealous.
Am I wrong for thinking he’s overreacting to this? He says it’s a respect issue and I need to respect him as my boyfriend and not dance with any other guys.
If I’m OK with him dancing with other people, shouldn’t he be OK with me dancing with his friends?
Dear Jamie: The issue isn’t about the dancing, or the best friend, or the fact that that you are OK if he does it. The issue is that your boyfriend is jealous and is asking you to stop doing something you love to make him feel better. He views your decision to dance as disrespectful when really it is more about his insecurity. Respect is a two-way street – meaning in order to get it, you have to give it. Understanding what makes the other person happy and accepting what brings them joy is giving respect to the relationship and not trying to change each other.
Most of us have felt jealous at some point in our lives. It can be a normal feeling and it doesn’t mean we are neurotic or dysfunctional if we experience jealousy at times. But jealous feelings are different than jealous behaviors, and that is where the line is crossed from healthy and normal to unhealthy and harmful.
Jealousy is about insecurity and creates feelings of fear and anxiety in people. Most people respond to their jealous feelings by blaming the other person for making them feel that way. The reality is that the person who is jealous struggles with inadequacy and uncertainty and uses anger as a way to control the other person’s behaviors. They fear rejection and feel threatened by other people. Jealousy is an unhealthy coping strategy that focuses on the negative outcome rather than addressing the emotion.
People who are jealous fear losing someone and the painful feelings around the loss. What they can’t understand, though, is that their inability to handle their own emotions is what often causes the other person to end the relationship. The jealous person creates what they fear most because they can’t see that the behavior is damaging, exhausting and overwhelming to the other person.
Your job isn’t to change your boyfriend, and his job isn’t to change you, either. You both have some tough decisions ahead if you choose to move forward in this relationship. Relationships are about compromise, but when one partner is jealous there should not be a compromise of giving up friends, family or healthy activities just to make them happy.
My guess is this has a lot to do with your boyfriend’s own feelings about his skills as a dancer and he is afraid you will find someone who likes to dance as more attractive than him. Maybe you could offer to teach him to dance or show him how he can just be on the dance floor and not feel he has to cut a rug to be effective. His willingness to work together instead of just demanding you give in to his needs will tell you where the relationship is going.
If your boyfriend can’t handle your love of dancing and attempts to restrict you from dancing, then your best decision would be to end the relationship.
Kelly Richardson, a Folsom therapist, works with adolescents.