This summer my boyfriend, a grad student, taught for a prestigious study abroad program that our university sponsors. We agreed that, for the duration of the program, we'd be free to see and sleep with other people as long as the relationships we pursued weren't serious and we practiced safe sex. Over the summer I slept with two other guys, and I inferred from my boyfriend's emails that he spent the summer with someone too.

Now he's back home, we're incredibly happy to be reunited, and I'm trying to deal with an unforeseen consequence of our summer dalliances: pictures of my boyfriend and the woman he saw this summer have begun to appear on Facebook. They're holding hands, hugging, and they were even each others dates for a formal event the program hosted. These photos have me feeling jealous (which I hate!) and embarrassed (because friends have begun asking who the other woman is). I don't expect the pictures to disappear or my boyfriend to cut off contact with this woman, so I need advice on how to get over the anxiety I feel about these photographs and the great discomfort I experience when others ask me who the woman is.

Thanks so much, Dan.

Study Abroad Summers Bring Slight Troubles

My response after the jump...


I'm all for the kind of arrangement you agreed to before your boyfriend left for the summer—a sort of "whatever happens, happens" approach—but those arrangements typically involve a little denial and some suspension of disbelief. The partner left at home doesn't obsess about what/who her partner is doing abroad, the partner who's away doesn't obsess about what/who his partner is doing back at home. And then, when you're reunited, you stuff those summer flings down the ol' memory hole. (Unless, of course, you enjoy swapping stories.)

But it's hard to stuff those flings down the memory hole if the affair is exhaustively/exhaustingly documented online. If your boyfriend's summer girlfriend knew he was involved with someone else, and knew the relationship would be a summer romance and nothing more, she shouldn't be posting pics to her Facebook page that show someone else's boyfriend with her in an obviously romantic setting. She should show a little more consideration for the feelings of the woman whose broadmindedness made her little summer romance possible, i.e. you.

But you don't say who's posting these pictures to Facebook. Your boyfriend's study-abroad fling? Other people in the program? Your boyfriend? So long as your boyfriend didn't mislead his summer girlfriend about your existence, or the other folks in his program, he should be able to make it stop with an email or two. If he's posting them, well, you have a bigger problem on your hands than an indiscreet piece-on-the-side.

As for your hypocrisy, well, you are being hypocritical. But your hypocrisy is pretty common. Most people who allow their partners to sleep with other people, whether they're abroad or not, are uncomfortable broadcasting that fact to everyone on their social networking sites. There's a stigma attached to non-monogamy—and there will be, of course, so long as loving, committed, non-monogamous couples are closeted about it—and most non-monogamous couples prefer to be perceived as monogamous. You too, obviously. And if maintaining that perception is the price your boyfriend has to pay to get your "whatever happens, happens" okay for future months-long separations, SASBST, it's a price he should be only too happy to pay.

How do you get over the anxiety? You power through it, you shrug it off, you pretend like it doesn't bother you until it actually stops bothering you—or, again, you ask your boyfriend to get those photos pulled or his name taken off 'em. And if people who have already seen those photos ask who that woman with your boyfriend is... there's always the truth, SASBST.