Brandy Jensen, The Outline’s Power editor, has made a lot of mistakes in her life. Has she learned from them and become a wiser person as a result? Hahaha oh gosh no. But it does leave her uniquely qualified to tell you what not to do — because she’s probably done it.
I found out recently that my boyfriend showed a private photo of me to his coworkers (not completely naked, I'm in see-through underwear in the photo; not that it matters, just want you to get the whole picture). We were cuddling after sex and he was complimenting my body and told me that his coworkers thought I was hot too. I asked him what photo he had shown them, thinking it was one of several Facebook-friendly photos of me that he also has. He kind of pulled away, realizing he might have revealed too much, and I asked the question again in horror, and eventually found out specifically what picture they had seen.
I was shocked and horrified and hurt, and to his credit, my boyfriend immediately felt terrible. He listened while I told him about how I felt violated, how I had consented for him to see that and no one else, and how I felt betrayed. He let me cry and he also cried because he saw how much it hurt me.
The thing about my boyfriend is that he tries very hard and has a great heart, but he's not “classically trained“ in being “woke” the way I am. I have a college degree in liberal arts and have thought a lot about sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, etc. and the way they affect me and the world. My boyfriend dropped out of college and works on a landscaping crew of all white men. He's told me stories about the racist/sexist/homophobic etc things his coworkers have said and he disagrees with them and lets them know it, but clearly it's an environment in which he can be comfortable saying and doing whatever he wants.
I've forgiven my boyfriend and I believe him when he tells me he's learned and will be better. But I can't shake the feeling that maybe I shouldn't be so quick to move on from this. I KNOW this is a red flag, but I really do love this guy. Am I an idiot?
Naked and Nervous
Among the many common genres of letter I receive — I’m depressed! I’m lonely! I’m horny! I’m depressed and lonely and horny! — one of the more difficult to answer is “Should I forgive [my boyfriend/my mom/my coworker/etc]?” Yes, the mandate of an advice column is to tell someone else what they should do, but this genre of question is soliciting advice on how to feel, and that’s a much harder thing to let anyone else decide. Plus, by the time anyone has reached the point of writing to me, they have most likely already made a choice and are simply looking for me to validate it.
You say you have already forgiven your boyfriend, and if you mean it then I sincerely wish you both well. But let’s be clear here about what you are forgiving and why. This was a significant breach of trust. It was a violation of something private and shared between you; a closed intimacy now punctured. It was a very stupid thing for him to do, but he did not do this stupid thing because he lacks a college degree. Your boyfriend did not let his mates see your tits because he hasn’t read Julia Kristeva, and to imagine he did is setting up a dynamic that will be much more destructive to your relationship than one discrete indiscretion.
A liberal arts education is not a necessary training ground for developing a moral sensibility. Many, many people the world over and throughout history have been able to puzzle through the question of how to act responsibly toward those we love without the benefit of a seminar. Nor is the point of a liberal arts education to achieve a position of knowing moral superiority, and if the books you have read lead you to believe that being part of a landscaping crew leaves one somehow unprepared to behave ethically toward women I would suggest you read some different ones. Besides which, some of the most well-read men I know are real pieces of shit. A boyfriend with a degree in Comp Lit would simply tell you that he shared your nudes in his group text as part of a discussion of the male gaze.
So, Naked, presuming that this guy’s secondary education level has anything to do with his behavior here is the real red flag, since it sets you up to at once forgive and condescend to him. Your boyfriend being a little shit who bragged to his friends and violated your trust is something you can move on from, if you wish to do so. Thinking of him as an uncultured drop-out who simply didn’t know any better because he lacks your own “classical training” may not be.
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