What are your thoughts on people who “steal” their friend’s boyfriend/girlfriend as their own?

A student wrote to me:

What are your thoughts on people who “steal” their friend’s boyfriend/girlfriend as their own?

I think you are ascribing too much moral responsibility to the person who “stole” the boyfriend/girlfriend. You forget that the ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend has the autonomy to make decisions as well.

If you need closure, it’s best to talk to your ex about it. But just to answer your question, there are two possible reasons:

(1) Either the relationship hasn’t been going well (or maybe it did at the start, but both sides got complacent about working at maintaining the relationship). This is the most common reason for this happening. This can happen when the basic emotional needs of a relationship are not fulfilled. So if someone is able to “steal” your ex away from you, it’s because that person has been fulfilling that need which you haven’t been able to; or you’ve been working hard, fulfilling the need in a way the partner doesn’t want (poor communication on the part of the partner); or sometimes, it could just be that you stopped fulfilling that need due to other priorities or complacency in being in a relationship for so long.

In such situations, both sides are responsible – it takes two hands to clap. What it points to really, is a breakdown in open and honest communication. It takes courage to tell your other half what your needs are, and it takes even greater courage to tell them that they are not fulfilling your needs in the way you require (people are scared they offend their partners).

Now, I don’t find it productive to blame anyone for this. We are all learning how to deal with ourselves and with other people. And relationships are very hard work – if it were so easy, we wouldn’t be having so many stories of breakups. It’s easy to grow complacent because you have to see that person every day, and so it becomes easier to tell ourselves that it’s ok to do this once or twice since we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together (except that tend to excuse ourselves way more than just once or twice). And when that happens, the other feels neglected.

If this was the reason, use it as a learning point and work on improving communication for the next relationship.

Or, (2) the ex may have been using you as a temporary placeholder until they found someone seemingly better. This is a very uncommon reason, but it does happen from time to time. Such people are under the assumption that they can be even happier if they have a much better love experience with someone else. Or in some cases, they be feeling incredibly lost with themselves, and it so happens that they found someone who inspires them with a sense of direction and purpose. And it is easy to confuse feelings of awe, hope, and wonder with love.

And again, this is a rare occurrence, but I have known this to happen to people from time to time. In most cases, people have the maturity and sensibility to stay with their current partner despite meeting someone “better.” If they do leave, it’s because of specific problems like that mentioned in point (1) above.

In the rare chance that you encounter someone who left you for someone better without any reasons in (1), then I’ll say, don’t blame yourself and well, don’t blame anyone. Sometimes people are just very lost and confused and they are trying to find their own way. Things like this happens. Humanity is filled with both happy and sad stories. These are the things that make us human and more humane when we understand them.

[By the way, since I’m talked about fulfilling each other’s needs, I want use this opportunity here to address a relevant issue. Some people pressure their partners into having sex with them using the reason that they have a “sexual need” (sometimes they threaten to leave the relationship to find someone who will satisfy that need). This is utter rubbish. People have survived their teenage years without having sex. No one has died from not having sex.

If your partner pressures you to have sex using reasons like this, this is a red flag because your partner is trying to emotionally manipulate you. This is a clear sign that he/she does not respect you as a person (to be manipulated is to be treated as an object, not a person) and you might want to reconsider the relationship if you are thinking about the long-term.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying don’t have sex (you’re adults, go do whatever you want – I don’t care what you do – just… don’t leave stains… lol). What I’m saying is: don’t give in to such pressure if you don’t want to or are not comfortable with it. Sexual intimacy due to manipulation is not love.]

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

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