My Boyfriend is Having an Online Relationship

I walk into the room and whatever is on my boyfriend’s laptop screen fades to grey. He looks at me sheepishly.

“Looking at porn, again?” I ask, laughing.

He shakes his head. “No,” he says. “An email from an old girlfriend. I haven’t spoken to her in years.”

“Carry on,” I say, kissing him on the top of his head. “I don’t mind. You’re allowed to talk to anyone you want.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course,” I say. I hear myself quoting all the relationship advice I’m so quick to hand out to others. “Love isn’t a finite resource. You can love her as well as me.”

I wait for him to reassure me, to say that love is the furthest thing from his mind. There is a pause that seems to go on forever.

“I’m very fond of her,” he says. “Do you want to see her picture?”

The photo shows a slender woman with spiked grey hair. She is thinner than me, prettier than me, younger than me.

I know how this works. Online relationships leave wide chasms for the imagination to fill in the gaps. He will only see her best side, her considered responses, her embellished highlights.

He will never have to put up with her sweaty insomnia, her unprovoked crying, her baggy yoga pants with a hole in the thigh. My mind leaps into a future where my boyfriend decides he prefers her to me.

“I’m going to Skype her in the morning,” he says.

I force myself to smile and nod, hoping he doesn’t notice the fear in my eyes.

Some people say you should have your partner’s password to his computer and his phone. They say someone with nothing to hide will be happy to share everything with you. Other people go as far as saying you shouldn’t have private conversations with members of the opposite sex. Temptation, they insist, is around every corner and you should build high walls to keep your relationship safe.

I don’t agree. I believe in the right to privacy and nothing will change my mind. He doesn’t belong to me and I’m not interested in trying to pretend that he does.

Later that day my boyfriend makes a comment about my messy desk. I take a shower and blow-dry my hair, but he doesn’t even notice. I feel teary and anxious. My logical brain tells me I have nothing to worry about, but my heart starts amplifying the imperfections in our relationship which could easily widen into deep cracks.

When I wake the next morning, the space next to me is empty. I wander upstairs to find my boyfriend in front of the computer.

“She’s too busy to talk,” he says. “Apparently something came up.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. “Maybe another time?”

My boyfriend gets up from the chair and grabs my hand. “Let’s go back to bed,” he says, “I’ve missed you.”

And as I follow him down the stairs I know everything will be okay.



Because when it comes to love, nothing is guaranteed.

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About KatieP

Embracing my midlife sexy while exploring modern love & relationships • Devoted to all things beautiful • Master of Arts in creative writing & non-fiction writing

59 thoughts on “My Boyfriend is Having an Online Relationship

  1. It’s both a liberating and terrifying place to be in where you heart is open to infinite possibilities, none that can guarantee anything but living.

    I hope you know I recognise that place, because it’s where I live now. Xx

  2. We all feel this way, and I am so glad you wrote about it. I went through a similar situation with my now ex, and I remember these feelings very clearly. <3

    1. I’m almost positive it’s not the end of anything but just a bump in the road (which probably exists entirely in my head). I’m confident it will all be fine, but … you can’t ever know for sure, can you?

      Thank you for your comment and your solidarity xox

  3. This touches a nerve. Had a similar situation to this happening in my last relationship. I don’t know how you live with these things, but people just do.

    1. I don’t think my boyfriend is doing anything wrong — if I did I would tell him. I’d rather he be transparent than think he has something to hide.

  4. I’m in the messy middle of “The Wife Found Out”
    These aren’t excuses, they’re more like bullet points to explain how I, at 53 years-old and 33 years married, got here.
    1. Online trivia game that shuffles random players to your screen. “Wait, did that guy just beat me in my best category? Rematch!” Before I know it, it’s 5-4 in his favor and he sends a message saying his phone is dying but we should try to play again sometime. (count on it buster, you’re not going to have the better record here!)
    2. Within a month we’ve found a more efficient app on which to talk. We laugh about people who think they have fallen in love or met their soul mate on the internet. But if that’s such a ridiculous idea, why does it feel exactly like that’s what’s happening?
    3. We share a few pictures. Nothing graphic because for one, that’s a very bad idea and two, like I said, I’m 53. My body is best viewed clothed. He’s 38 and has that “swarthy” look about him that has always made me crazy.
    4. We talk about every little thing. Kids. Car repairs. “She always leaves dishes in the sink even though she knows I hate it.” “He never lets me know when he’s going to be late.” Likewise we shared “She’s been elected to the PTA board!” and “You should see the great job he did repairing the garbage disposer!” And of course there was plenty of: “I absolutely LOVE/HATE (blank).” Followed by, “Me too!”
    5. Sometimes we fought. It was always unsettling and I never got used to it. When we had our first fight (no idea what it was about), I remember thinking, ‘This is over’. When I told him that a few weeks later, he said he’d already forgotten about it and he would never let something that could be resolved be the reason we weren’t together.
    6. We spoke on the phone a handful of times. His voice… We didn’t video chat but had plans to. We’ve never met in person – he lives a thousand miles away.
    7. But, know this. I can physically feel this man as well as if not better than if he were standing or sitting or lying right next to me. It’s a connection neither of us is able to explain but we happily marvel at it.
    8. This relationship wasn’t sought out by two unhappily married people looking to hook up. We were living our lives well enough. Not perfect lives, but who’s are? During these past ten months, because of the contentment we’ve felt from being together we both feel like we’ve been better spouses. Each of us has been told by our spouse something like we seem to be in a better mood lately.
    9. It only takes one moment of inattention to make it all go very wrong. They’d had a party at their house and he’d had more to drink than usual. We were at a work function that went longer than expected. I messaged him that I was on my way home and I’d see him soon. He replied, “I’ll wait.”

    And with his phone open to that screen, having drunk a little too much, he fell asleep.

    My next message from him was waiting for me when I woke up the next morning. “She’s read everything. I’ve got to fix it. I can’t do it anymore. I’ve got to see if I can fix it.”
    10. Ten months of a human bonding I never knew could exist, now didn’t. It couldn’t. Then Pain, like something hell had rejected because of its savagery arrived. Pain moved in with three of us. One was spared due to her incredible mercy.

    He and I never intended harm but neither did we avoid causing it. She had ample opportunity and more than enough reason to want to pass out that fourth helping of pain but chose not to. She’s the hero of this tale.

  5. I really believe there’s nothing more unattractive than a person who is desperate to hang onto another, and I’ve been on both sides of that coin. You probably just did the single best thing you could for your relationship. I don’t know that I could be that strong. I’ll be thinking about you and hoping that it works out in a way that makes you happy. xo

  6. I always say, go with your gut feeling. I’ve been there too. I appeared calm on the outside but it made me reflect on my relationship and pulled me up a notch or two … thankfully, my gut ache receded; he decided I was worth pursuing still and our relationship strengthened. It is difficult not to show your hurt though.

  7. Online relationships are very intriguing. Not only are you getting the best of them but you are also able to present a manufactured, pimped up version of yourself. You can easily hide the things that you don’t like. Crossing over into real life is difficult because you can’t possibly keep up the image you have created. Sometimes I think these types of relationships carry on because the individual has fallen in love with who they have made themselves into more then the person they are conversing with.

    I question the motives of anyone from my past who tries to re-connect. I wonder what her motives are. Irregardless, I believe that you are doing the right thing. There is a reason this person is in your boyfriends past. Maybe they have both forgotten but if you squashed them from re-connecting, you risk their past becoming immortalized as something it probably was not. Their renewed communication will probably re-enforce for him why you are the one in his life now.

    Besides, at this point, it is innocent enough and an ego boost for him. Who doesn’t enjoy that? You are a very strong woman for handling this the way you are and at the end of the day, you can hold your head high, knowing that he is with you not because you have ensnared him but because he chooses to.

    1. Elena, you were correct on many points!
      Your words were insightful, kind and offered hope.
      I’m so glad you replied.

  8. I thought this was brave and honest and vulnerable. I admire your ability to cultivate a relationship that doesn’t have artificial ties – and that you admitted your fears even as you faced them. Love is choosing the other person, and shouldering the risk that someday they may make a different choice.

  9. This was interesting. I’m firmly in the “avoid near occasions of sin” camp on this issue, so it was intriguing to read a different perspective.

  10. “Love isn’t a finite resource. You can love her as well as me.” Well put, and hard to step into. I love that you are both being very open about what is happening.
    And, I understand the fear and jealousy part. Thank you for telling your story; people need to hear how relationships unfold in all their messy ways.

  11. God Katie, this strikes a raw nerve in me. I cannot put my thoughts into words that is how raw this topic is. You are indeed one of a kind to face it so well.



  12. I’ve been with my husband for nearly 20 years. There are days I have to talk myself off the ledge due to some imaginary circumstance that I have invented in my mind. Usually I have the good sense to not discuss these made up scenarios out loud. We are all insecure on some level some are just more aware than others. I like the way you handled this I would hope to do the same. I also do not spy on my husband though I have been tempted. I don’t want to be that person so I resist the pull.

  13. Katie, I’ve learned that privacy and keeping our dignity intact are two important things in relationships. I came to that notion the hard way, but I’m glad I realized it. I see that you feel the same way. Holding you in my thoughts as you work through this.
    As always, thank you for putting your story out there to help others!

  14. It’s a fantasy, as you aptly imply. It’s one thing to have an online relationship where you don’t have to deal with all the practicalities of life–his impatience, your shortness of temper, his socks on the floor, your only wanting to cook a few times a week—that’s one thing. It’s another to do the hard work of living with another. We all love fantasy and fairy tales, and that’s all that stuff is.

  15. you are a better woman than me – I think some of what you felt inside would have found itself coming out of my mouth (insecurity can be my middle name sometimes) I admire you for taking the high ground and I hope he truly appreciates what he has in you – or we’ll all come around and kill him for you xx

    1. I think he knows there is a legion of women ready to make his life a misery if he does anything wrong. Plus I’ve warned him that I’ll tell the world about all his bad habits 😉

  16. What a powerful post. You’ve shared so many things I can completely relate to. For me, I’m married, but I’ve never been the “don’t talk to her” person. But I know how that feeling can stir things sometimes. Thank you for sharing.

  17. Sounds like it was a bit of a test and you seemed to have passed. Being secure and confident with yourself always comes out on top. Insecurities can be very damaging to a relationship and you came through in flying colors. The truth will prevail and no matter the outcome, stay strong and you’ll be happier for it.

  18. Goodness, it never ends does it. Our vulnerability. Our hearts may as well be pulsating jelly masses stuck on the front of our shirts, because there is no protection. Very brave post. Loved it.

  19. This reminds me of an excerpt I just read from Brene Brown’s new book, about how we are constantly making up stories in our head about what’s happened. If we can stay present, and communicate as you are, then we spare ourselves a lot of pain and worry. Thanks for sharing. Clearly this piece resonated with a lot of people.

  20. I think women are especially vulnerable in relationships, especially as we grow older. Men are always the buyers and we’re always the sellers. Someone once said love is a confidence game and there’s truth to that. Its even more important for females. I think you displayed great assurance and restraint. Insecurity is never attractive. Well done.

    1. I’m not sure I agree with your buying and selling statement — I don’t think love is any sort of transaction where women are the only ones offering themselves to someone else. In my experience it works both ways.

      It is more like some giant pot luck buffet where you can taste a little of each dish before you settle on your main course … or something along those lines LOL.

  21. As someone who has been in this situation with a spouse, it’s very hard to move past and trust. Putting temptation in one’s face is never a good thing. I’m keeping you in my thoughts and hope for the best.


    1. I think I know what you mean by “temptation” but I don’t believe it’s a bad thing. If my boyfriend chooses someone else instead of (or as well as) me then that’s information I have to make a decision about if/when it happens.

      Keeping him locked up behind walls of scrutiny and distrust sounds like I have to coerce him into loving me. I don’t want that.

  22. I think that in some ways, successful relationships are a dance between the boundaries of each person – making sure that each person’s needs are met, whether those needs are for privacy, security, validation, honesty, freedom, comfort or whatever.

    I also think that each couple’s dance is going to be different. And coming from a poly perspective, things get even more interesting and complex, since there are more than just two sets of boundaries in the dance.

    The one constant I seem to invariably fall back on is that there’s no one right way, and no freaking instruction manual you can follow exactly. Even the best relationship books are written from the paradigm of someone else’s relationship, so they can never be gospel for anyone else.

    So the best we can do is try to figure it out as we go – which sounds like pretty much what you’re doing in this post.

    Wishing all the best for you, hon 🙂

    1. Successful relationships are a dance between the boundaries of each person – making sure that each person’s needs are met, whether those needs are for privacy, security, validation, honesty, freedom, comfort or whatever.
      Best comment ever x

  23. Hi Katie, this post strikes a HUGE chord with me.
    My first ex husband did have an online relationship. I didn’t know about it, he hid it from me. Until one day, about 4-5 months after he’d left me, saying he just wasn’t in love anymore, I googled his online name. He’d married her, in this virtual world. They had been seeing each other in cyberspace. I felt betrayed and it took a long time to get over. I eventually found out who she was (he told me her name) and she was 12 years older and fat. At least if she was younger and prettier, I could have just said he was a shallow git. But no. He was dating someone totally mumsy.
    Fast forward to after our divorce…….he married her. About 4 weeks after it was final.
    So, you are a much stronger woman than me. I could not handle that, it would be a deal breaker, but only because of the hurt it stirs up in me. This post brought a lot of it back. My second ex did something similar but not online, it was texts and phone calls. And he left me for her as well.

    I understand the pain that you feel when you see this. I wouldn’t be able to hold it together myself. I know we don’t ‘own’ people in our relationships but I do believe in playing fair and considering how your actions would make the other person feel.

    Much love to you!!!!

    1. I’m sorry you had to deal with those shitty men in your life – I want to punch both of them!

      You bring up a good point about triggers — as I don’t have any negative history with this kind of behaviour, it doesn’t worry me as much as it would you. I do have other triggers though, and if my BF did things he knew hurt me deeply, then it would be a deal breaker for me too.

  24. Where’s the “like” button? I think everyone reiterated everything I wanted to say already. Except I haven’t had that experience… yet. I’ve only been the girl “online.”

  25. Katie,
    Great post and a great point. We have to be able to give those we love the space to live their lives, which includes trusting them enough to contact old flames. In our connected world, old paramours are just a click away. We have to learn to be OK with that.

  26. As for me I think you should say him you don’t really like it. Ask him to explain what is the matter he wants to communicate with his ex. Is it just friendship or not. If there somthing else calmly explain that it bothers you. I always talk with my beloved on every topics that bothers me or him. It’s the way you build your relationships.

    1. Very much agree with this. Hoping things will work out is so naive. Communication is key, explaining how you feel to the person you love is key to having a healthy and successful relationship…not hiding it and hoping things will magically be okay.

  27. I 100% strongly disagree. Why on earth would you sit there and hide your true feelings from your significant other??? Acting like it’s okay to talk to another girl when here it’s tearing you up inside. That’s just a time bomb of emotions waiting to happen . A relationship is meant for two people and no more. As a woman I don’t share my man; if he’s constantly talking to other women and emailing them, especially ex girlfriends, then there’s a problem not being addressed. Either he’s committed or he’s not, and no one has time for those who don’t.

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