Dear Carolyn:

My relationship with my boyfriend is becoming increasingly serious. Last weekend he revealed two potential red flags. First, a mentally unstable ex-girlfriend, who still had a spare key to his car, saw us getting out of his car and then stole it (soon to be recovered; he knew where to look). The next day, he dropped the bomb that he is divorced; after three years, his wife decided she wanted to sleep with other people.

While I care for him a great deal and have always trusted him, I am concerned that he may be a poor judge of character. I know he is very sensitive on the subject but I feel it needs to be broached. I put a lot of faith in my own judgment of character, but how can I be with someone who doesn't share that same intuition?

Anonymous

Your two potential red flags raise two potential red flags: If your intuition is so good, then how did it lead you to him; and if his is so bad, then how did it lead him to you?

Not that his past shouldn't concern you. What we've done says so much about us that it's only responsible to consider what (and whom) a potential mate has left in his wake.

Especially true of this guy if he deliberately withheld his divorce news, which it sounds as if he did. Wow. On your hunt for red flags, you walked by a flaming crimson billboard. With fringe.

Back to your question. It's unfair, not to mention unrealistic, to maintain such a black-and-white view of people's character judgment. If having an unfaithful partner makes someone an idiot, then there's a world out there teeming with idiots. ("And your point is . . . ?") Plus, even if you insist that bad exes automatically mean bad judgment, your rationale is only a step away from a more forgiving one: that being exposed as an idiot is often just what a person needs to get smarter about judging character. So can't it also be possible this guy learned from his mistakes?

If you have specific questions for him, ask. Otherwise, good judgment, character and trustworthiness aren't the kinds of things you can demand that someone explain. They're things he has to demonstrate (or not) through his actions. Like, say, his openness about his past. Just for a random example.

In fact, if you push for explanations, you have the potential for more red flags: that he'll shut down completely, that he'll just say what you want to hear, that you'll become just the next woman to push him around.

Hi Carolyn:

I don't like my boyfriend's ex-girlfriend, whom he is friends with and who just moved to town, simply because she is his ex.

To say I don't like her is an understatement -- I can't stand being around her. I get uneasy and uncomfortable. What can I do? (Yes, the boyfriend knows this.)

Washington

You can be civil until you get used to her. And when you get used to her, you can decide whether you like or dislike her for who she is, which is the only fair way to judge someone. And if you find you dislike who she is, then you can ask that he see her without you.

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