He's Always "Just" Kidding

Hara Estroff Marano gives advice on hurtful teasing, same-sex relationships, online relationships, and sexual insecurity.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on March 1, 2006 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

He's Always "Kidding"

Please suggest some ways I can become less sensitive to my husband's "jokes" and "just kidding" comments. I shrivel into a mass of hurt feelings and don't know how to recover quickly.

The important issue is whether he's hiding behind the cloak of "kidding" to tap a reservoir of nastiness. Does he tease others in other contexts? Perhaps it's just a style of being that he feels comfortable with. Either way, don't focus on becoming less sensitive. Join the game. The trick is to plan ahead and come up with a few good comebacks to deploy strategically when your husband unleashes one of his "just kidding" remarks. The fact is that teasing is always a sophisticated combination of aggression and play, and men especially value teasing; it is a way of bonding and connecting. For some it's a particularly strong part of their upbringing. Teasing (not to be confused with terrorizing or bullying) serves some valuable functions.

Try to understand that it's often a way of communicating affection—people don't tease with just anyone. Sure, teasing remarks sometimes feel more like guided missiles, but you just may find more excitement and closeness in playing the game than in playing victim. As you join in, don't aim to hurt your husband, just to play. After you demonstrate that you can get the banter going, no matter how edgy it is, then you might choose an affectionate moment to tell your husband that you enjoy playing with him but that some of his remarks cross the line. Be specific about which comments hurt and how they make you feel. Hopefully, hubby will cut back on the zingers, and you will grow closer through playful ribbing.

Should I Continue a Same-Sex Relationship?

I am 26 and I recently began my first same-sex relationship. It evolved quickly and now we live together. Recently, I find I'm unable to let down my barriers and accept her love and love her in return. I'm afraid for our futures (we're both teachers) and the future of our relationship. I can't seem to get beyond the ingrained societal norms of marriage. I'm worried that I will eventually look for a "normal" relationship with a man and end up hurting her. I am struggling with issues that come with being gay and a teacher, like concealing my relationship, telling people I'm single and refusing dates. Are these problems too numerous to continue the relationship?

Because your question rests so strongly on social values, I sought input from John Portmann, a social ethicist and philosopher of emotions at the University of Virginia. His response: "The moral question of what any two people owe each other can be tricky, but what is certain is that you seem to care about her deeply. And so letting her know that you probably will not, in fact, be available to her (emotionally, physically) is a good idea. The pressing question is whether you will show as much concern for your own welfare.

"After some difficulties, she may go on to settle down with another partner. Learning of her happiness in the future may sting you with regret. Your own happiness in a conventional marriage may turn out to please you less than you expect (of course, the converse is also possible). For whom are you making this sacrifice? If it's not for yourself, you may end up resenting the person or institution for which you make this sacrifice. As you must know, various institutions (Fortune 500 companies offering health benefits to same-sex partners, for example, and countries such as Spain and Canada legalizing same-sex marriage) and faith groups (Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Presbyterians and Episcopalians) are reversing traditional stigmas in this area. How will you feel twenty years from now, if your school district and faith group were to say that the position they held in 2006 was misguided? In no way am I urging you to swim against the tide today; I'm only urging you to articulate the reasons for which you will pass over what could possibly be the love of your life."

Love via the Internet

I'm having doubts about a long-distance relationship that started through a dating site. He has many qualities I would like in a mate. But we live three hours apart, and neither of us has a car. Getting together would require dedication from both of us. I've had doubts about whether things will work out once we're together and feel like I won't know for sure until we meet in person. Is it right to encourage him to put so much effort into a relationship that might not work out? Should we try to meet soon, if only for a visit, to work this out before we get "too deep"?

You should have questions about any relationship that begins via the Internet. Don't get me wrong. It's a great way to find people you may never otherwise encounter. But it's wise to conduct the getting-to-know-you process in ways that minimize the risks inherent in Internet interaction. Under no circumstances should you get "too deep" without an in-person meeting. Let's be clear: Any person with whom you are conducting an exclusively Internet relationship is more the product of your imagination than of reality. That's just the nature of the beast. People are complex, and online exchanges can capture only a minuscule portion of a person's character and personality. Furthermore, you have no idea how the other person functions in the context of a whole life. The process of seduction encourages people to control the information they reveal or to put forth a fictitious persona altogether. Acknowledge interest, even intrigue, but resist
emotional involvement—and entirely avoid heavy-breathing. Do engage in a slow but mutual self-revelation, and ask about any inconsistencies that turn up.

Genuine attraction is too idiosyncratic to predict, no matter how wonderful someone appears electronically. In addition, attraction often takes time to develop in person; don't expect lightning to strike the instant you meet. Don't even think of
making a life-altering decision (to move or not) based on one meeting. The most you can hope for is a sense of possibility. Walk away from anyone who makes or demands a commitment at that stage.

It's always necessary to put effort into a relationship; you can't know in advance whether or not it will work out—that's what dating is for. It gives you a chance to learn more about yourself and what you want, about your potential partner and about what it takes to make a relationship work.

He Fantasizes About My Friends

My boyfriend of two years recently confessed that he fantasizes about other women during sex. He claims that it's more about feeling wanted than about wanting them, and that he's done it
in every past relationship. Early in our relationship he shared his porn Web site subscription with me, and I was supportive. But now he's indulging in fantasies rather than truly being with me. Also, he's not fantasizing about imagined women, but real women including his exes and my girlfriends. This is hurtful. I now feel uncomfortable around my friends. I don't know how to cope with the knowledge that he thinks about them instead of me while we're intimate. I have difficulty trusting him now. Not only am I much less excited about sex but I've also become much more insecure.

Feeling wanted is more about what's going on at the pillow than who does what to whom under the covers. It has to do with trust that you will be accepting of each other's thoughts, dreams, desires and deepest fantasies, not about getting sexual overtures from a partner, no matter how thin. Remember, there is no right and wrong with fantasies. If your beau is fantasizing about other women, then clearly the two of you are not as deeply psychologically engaged with each other as you think. The issue is not so much whom he's fantasizing about—don't let your insecurities hijack you—but what he does with them. Forget, for now, that they're all real people he knows—that's who populates our imaginations.

You and lover boy need to start a warm, loving and nonjudgmental conversation in which you begin opening up your minds to each other. The two of you should be putting your likes and dislikes and hopes on the table to negotiate the kind of relationship that meets the needs of both of you. Encourage him to share his fantasies and treat the information with respect. This is, of course, a lifetime process, and it's the way all satisfying relationships are built. They don't just happen; you have to create them.

Send your questions to: askhara@psychologytoday.com.