Hey Pat,

Thank you for all the content you put out. My girlfriend and I of about 5 months got into our first real argument a few days ago which has left a sour taste in my mouth. The argument seems very childish I admit, but I feel like there may be bigger issues at play. My main question is how do you set boundaries without coming across as jealous and controlling?

Just some context I’m 25 dating a 23 year old. We are both attractive and fit and never have had a problem attracting the opposite sex. I can also assure you she is a high quality woman.

Essentially, I noticed that she liked a picture on Instagram of a guy I went to high school with. Out of curiosity I asked how she knew him and she said she met him one time in college.  I checked out his profile later in the day and saw that she had liked his past 5 or so photos, including one with his shirt off. These are all in the time frame we were dating.

This did not sit well with me so I brought it up. I told her I didn’t appreciate her liking guys she met once from college with their shirts off. I told her it’s not respectful to me and that I’m not cool with that. This caused an argument where she basically told me that it seemed controlling and that it was concerning. She said she has had controlling boyfriends in the past and that this topic brought up those vibes. She also said she doesn’t like photos to flirt like I do. I don’t believe I’m controlling or the jealous type, but I felt that I was being disrespected and needed to say something.

Should I have handled this differently? Did I lose frame and seem weak/jealous? How should I proceed from here?

We ended up having sex that night, but things still seem a little shaky.

Once again I appreciate all your help.


Hate answering questions like these and being the bearer of bad news, but someone’s gotta do it…

First point to note here: enforcing boundaries and being controlling are often conflated in practice, but in essence they are two very different things.

A boundary is basically a behavioral requirement someone needs to adhere if they want to be around you. It is a way of ensuring respect for you from other people. There is NO requirement people *have* to do this or that, they simply can’t do it and expect you to stick around.

Being “controlling” in contrast a) does not give the other party this choice and b) generally entails behavior requirements that aren’t about respect but about ego gratification / mollification.

The need for external control fundamentally comes from a lack of inner control. Lack of inner control is a self-esteem issue — it is a result of anxiety and fear about your worth, and about what might happen to you (by someone else or fate). 

Controlling the environment and the people around you is a way to attempt to reduce that anxiety. What you control can’t threaten you.

But control is in fact an illusion. Short of putting someone in chains, you can never control their behavior fully. And even if you can control their physical actions, you will never make them love you.

Which is why healthy, confident men reject demands that are based on anxiety and fear — this is where “controlling” impulses come from. They do not “force” a woman to act in a certain way.

However, tolerating a woman who acts poorly and disrespects you is an entirely different matter.

What is occurring to you my friend is textbook manipulation. It is gaslighting.

Women are very good at this. They will tell you what you are seeing — and feeling — on a deep level is not only incorrect, but says bad things about who you are. It’s accusing the victim of being the aggressor for defending himself.

Understand — this isn’t about her finding this guy attractive. We are all humans and have our predilections.

The reason is that by liking multiple photos — especially sexualized ones — she is sending a signal to this guy that she is sexually available to him.

She says she “met him once in college.” Interesting, isn’t it, that she did not go much into details. My guess is that they either hooked up or that she wanted to.

And this suspicion is reinforced by her response. She is going on the offense to make you question yourself for asking what she is really doing. If she had said “you’re right, I’m sorry” after a little back and forth — this could be chalked up to an error in judgment on her end….

But accusing you of being controlling because you asked her not to disrespect you by sending signals of sexual availability to another guy…

I would be very careful with her.

There are serious signs of untrustworthiness here.

The trap, however, is becoming exactly what she accuses you of — trying to check her phone, etc.

Then she turns you into the bad guy.I’d instead pull back investment and keep an eye on her. If you notice any additional discrepancies in her behavior, dump her immediately.

One of the big lessons to learn when it comes to women is trust you intuition. That part of you isn’t lying, even if it doesn’t know all the details.

And if you want help honing that intuition?

Apply to work with me here: www.patstedman.com/application

– Pat