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‘My ex was on dating apps while in a relationship with me – will this keep happening?’

Ask Roe: Are we living in a world where people are constantly asking themselves ‘Could I be happier?’

Dear Roe,

I broke up with my boyfriend one month ago. I ended the relationship because I found out from a friend that he had a profile on Tinder while we were together. When I confronted him, he denied it multiple times before telling me he had spoken with multiple girls. I went through periods of mistrust during our relationship because of his immature and disrespectful behaviour. I know it is a positive thing that I have left this relationship but I am finding it difficult to move past feelings of betrayal and anger. I can’t help but fear that, with the onset of apps and social media in the dating sphere, this situation will inevitably happen again. I realise there are many reasons why my ex-boyfriend could have been on Tinder – insecurity, attention, disillusionment – that may have been personal to him and not representative. However, I’m wondering whether we are living in a dating world run by the paradox of choice, where people are constantly asking themselves “Could I be happier?” How do I start dating without fearing this will happen again?

I’m sorry about your ex. He knew that he was betraying you and your relationship – that’s why he hid his behaviour and lied about it. He knew it was wrong, he knew that his actions would hurt you, he knew that he was risking your relationship for these interactions on dating apps. He made these choices consciously and knowingly. But you also made a choice: to show him that you are a person who demands respect and honesty in her relationship and will not settle for anything else. His choices made him dishonest and cruel and lost him a partner. Your choices made you honest, empowered and let you be free to find someone better. Guess who’s winning, here?

You can continue to make choices that empower you. You can choose – as I know that you are trying to do – not to let one selfish man colour your entire perspective on dating. You are of course entitled to feel angry and sad and betrayed, and give yourself time to move through those feelings. But when you start dating again, think about what you value and what power you want to give your ex. Do you want to remain hopeful and open-hearted and to value trust and open communication? Or do you want to let one selfish person affect your dating life moving forward, approaching new people with suspicion, wariness, and cynicism? I don’t think you want to give your ex that much power over you.


Boundaries can be about your decisions as an individual, but they can also be about how you and a partner agree to navigate the world together

You can refuse to let your ex cloud your future dating life, while still remaining aware of your needs in a relationship and making things like dating apps part of that conversation. What we’re talking about here is boundaries; boundaries are standards, rules, limits or modes of behaviour that we set for ourselves in relationships; note that I said for ourselves, not other people. If you are trying to force standards or limits or modes of behaviour on to other people, that isn’t a boundary, that is control. For example, if you don’t want a partner using dating apps while in an exclusive relationship, a way of using control to enforce that would be demanding access to or snooping through your partner’s phone. A boundary would instead be openly stating to your partner that you consider using dating apps while in an exclusive relationship a form of cheating and saying that if that happened, you would end the relationship – and enforcing that boundary if the situation arose by indeed ending the relationship.

Not all boundaries have to be as extreme. Often in relationships, boundaries can boil down to setting a standard for what you need from a person or how you want to be treated by them (explicitly stated or not) and if that standard is not met, adjusting how much time, energy, or access to you that you give them. This can play out in a myriad of different ways. If someone can’t keep a secret, limiting the amount of personal information you give them. If a family member insults you at family gatherings, either exiting conversations when it happens, not interacting with them, or refusing to attend the gathering entirely. If a friend only calls you for favours, adjusting the amount of unreciprocated time and energy that you give them. If a sexual partner won’t get screened for STIs, not having sex with them, not having unprotected sex with them, or not becoming exclusive.

You’ll note that none of these situations involves forcing the other person to do anything: you are simply deciding what you need to feel safe and respected and when people are unwilling or unable to give you that, responding by changing the terms of the relationship. Boundaries are about showing someone what we will and will not tolerate – not by trying to change the other person’s behaviour, but by changing ours.

I’m curious how boundaries played out within your relationship with your ex. You say that he engaged in “immature and disrespectful behaviour”, and I wonder what boundaries you set with him. How much did you put up with before leaving? When he behaved disrespectfully, did you invest in him less until he seemed genuinely remorseful – or did you give him more emotional energy? What’s going to be important for you moving forward is to hold on to the sense of empowerment that you created by leaving him. By leaving, you showed him what you would not tolerate. In new relationships, how can you address your boundaries and remain true to yourself and your needs?

Boundaries can change and evolve over time, so it’s important to keep these conversations open, and remain aware of what boundaries need to be enforced gently, and what are deal-breakers

While conversations with new or prospective partners should get specific to include new realities and mediums such as dating apps, the basic tenet of boundaries remains the same: what do you want from a partner, what do you consider disrespectful in a relationship, and then how will you enforce these boundaries if necessary? You can bring this into conversation with people when dating or becoming exclusive, opening up a conversation about what you consider inappropriate and what would be considered outright cheating. For example, would you want someone to delete or pause their dating apps before becoming exclusive with them? If someone you are dating is acting immaturely or selfishly, would you decrease the amount of time, energy or emotional investment you give them unless their behaviour changes? If a date doesn’t seem to be on the same page as you, do you stick it out and see if you can come up with an understanding over time as the relationship gets more involved, or do you decide what is a deal-breaker for you and leave?

When you get into a serious relationship, you can also have conversations about mutually agreed on boundaries. For example, how do you expect each other to set boundaries with other people, such as people who might be interested in you, with exes, etc? Boundaries can be about your decisions as an individual, but they can also be about how you and a partner agree to navigate the world together, and the standards you both agree upon and set for your relationship. Boundaries can change and evolve over time, so it’s important to keep these conversations open, and remain aware of what boundaries need to be enforced gently, and what are deal-breakers.

You’ve already set a great boundary for yourself. I trust you to continue to do so – and to meet someone who will happily respect them. Good luck.