Carolyn Hax: She worries that he’s seeing his ex without her

Carolyn Hax
Columnist March 9, 2012

Dear Carolyn:

I have been seeing a wonderful gentleman for over a year now. He was divorced for about a year when we met and is committed to maintaining a friendship with his ex-wife.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My dilemma is that while we have been dating, his ex-wife has indicated to him that she will always love him, that she has had recurring dreams about him and misses certain things about their married life. I feel like the line of conversation is disrespectful to me and inappropriate. I have discussed my discomfort with him, and he maintains there is little he can do about it because he “can’t control what she does or how she feels.”

They recently planned to catch up over coffee. He initially invited me to introduce me to her and ease my discomfort. However, I was soon disinvited because she said she would like it to just be the two of them.

I am hurt that he is still willing to pursue a friendship with her when he knows it hurts me. Am I expecting too much?


Feeling Disrespected

Facts are funny things. I can see these facts — assuming their accuracy — from your perspective, and agree that he’s a little too cozy with his ex. The disinvitation and his “What can I do?!” are suspicious, if not damning.

Or, I can shift my perspective and see nothing inappropriate. They were married, they’re friends now, and her ongoing love and recurring dreams would be entirely unremarkable as points in an honest and free-ranging conversation. Imagine: “You know I’ll always love you, and I worry about you, too — so tell me about X.”

I can shift perspectives again and ask why he’s relating what his ex said, since you obviously weren’t there to hear it. Could be he’s open by nature, or just takes care to fill you in so there’s no sense he’s keeping ex-wifely secrets. Or, could be he not only enjoys dangling the ex on a string but also discovered a rich vein of manipulative potential in dangling the ex’s love in your face.

If there weren’t real feelings involved, this would be fun.

Since I can’t say definitively who (if anyone) is in the wrong here, and since you’ve got the “If you really loved me” goggles on — very bad for one’s judgment — I suggest:

1. Wait.

2. See.

A person’s value isn’t in the way he treats you; it’s in the way he treats everyone. So, think beyond your borders and consider whether his choices are kind to the ex.

And, take a look at how he treats you outside the coffee-with-ex issue.

See if his behavior changes with and without an audience.

And weigh how he treats his friends, parents, sibs, colleagues — and servers and bus people at restaurants, and pets, and custodial staff, and VIPs, and irritating/irritated strangers.

Does he try to be good to everyone? Is it decency or pandering? Does overindulging his ex fit with who he is, or is it exceptional? Does he play people off each other? Does he show different faces? Watch, listen, wait.

I bet you have this knowledge about him already, or most of it. Let it tell you whether your concern — about the ex, about him — is well-placed.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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