Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax
Columnist

Carolyn Hax: Her ex is too close for comfort

Hi, Carolyn! I’m a 45-year-old divorced male and I’ve been dating a divorced woman for three months. We really have trust, love and respect for each other.

Over a year ago, she broke up with a guy she dated for 21 / 2 years. They weren’t friends originally after the breakup, but through a shared hobby they became friends again.

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of “relationship cartoonist” Nick Galifianakis. She is the author of “Tell Me About It” (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon.

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(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

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The ex-boyfriend never had kids and he bonded with her boys, 12 and 15. He attends their football and baseball games. She keeps him updated on schedule changes. They play word games together on their phones at night. When she needs bags for her dog’s poop, she gets extras from him. He comes over to play catch and hang out at her house. I’ve never felt she was doing something behind my back — she’s not that type of person.

Last Sunday I was going to her son’s football game for the first time. She said, “You might even meet ‘Tom’ today.” She could tell this really bothered me because I’ve expressed in the past that this isn’t normal. Halfway through the game I noticed she kept looking to her right and realized he was sitting a good distance in that direction. She looked that way several more times.

The next day I did voice that this has bothered me and that I didn’t find it normal. I actually like her ex-husband. He is the father to her boys and I feel he is the one I need to respect, not the ex-boyfriend. Her reply was that I was being unreasonable, and they are just friends. She also told me the ex-boyfriend volunteered to be the baseball coach next season. So now the ex-husband, the ex-boyfriend and I will always be together.

Am I being unreasonable with expecting a chance to build our relationship without the ex-boyfriend in the picture? — B.

You didn’t like Mommy’s answer so you’re asking Daddy? You’re a bit old for answer-shopping.

She already made it clear that the ex-boyfriend is staying in the picture, so, yes, it is “unreasonable [to expect] a chance to build a relationship without the ex-boyfriend in the picture” — whether I agree with you or not.

I do agree somewhat and sympathize; starting a relationship with two exes asking you to pass the salt is not for the faint of self.

But I don’t agree much beyond that. For one, I don’t care about “normal,” I care about healthy. I can’t say from here whether Tom’s relationship with this woman or her kids is healthy, but if close observation gave me cause for alarm, I’d speak up, and if it gave me no cause for alarm, I’d shut up. A friendship between a paired-off woman and a single man is not in itself a pearl-clutching offense.

Plus, it’s not my call: I believe implicitly that the people “I need to respect” in loved ones’ lives are the ones they choose. I don’t get to decide which people are or aren’t important to someone. I can dislike them all if I want to, avoid them even, but I still have to respect their relationship to the person I love.

As for her game-day glances? Maybe some couple-embers still glow. Or maybe your being freaked out freaked her out.

To find out which it is, you don’t keep expecting her to live by your rules (and seeking outside validation when she doesn’t). Instead, you observe what her rules involve — which you can! She’s out in the open! And choosing you!

Then you decide whether your and her rules can coexist. The best way to see if you can live with something (as long as it’s not abusive or criminal) is to open your mind and try. If you can’t, then you say so on your way to the door.

* * *

Dear Carolyn: My husband is a mechanic and constantly has people asking him to work on their cars, on evenings or weekends. What is a nice way to say no?

They always offer to pay for parts, as they should, but then offer no real compensation. Not only is it not fair to him but I’m the one left picking up the slack at home, and frankly I’m tired. He would like to have a Sunday fishing instead of under the hood of someone’s car for free. Any advice? — Car Trouble

“Sorry, going fishing.”

Too brazenly recreational? “Sorry, my family has first dibs on my weekends.”

But these are so simple! So I have to ask, why isn’t he just saying no? Are you the one asking me because he doesn’t want to say no? Then good luck. Or were you both trained to believe only selfish people say no? Then why aren’t these moochers the selfish ones?

The way to say no is to believe in your right to and trust that good people will get that. The rest is just words.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

 
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