Dear Carolyn: Here’s the basic version of the story:
Guy meets Girl in D.C., pursues her for a few years, they date and move out of the area together. Guy moves in with Girl.
After a year or so, Girl goes to a relative’s wedding without Guy.
Three months later Guy happens on a stack of passionate love letters written by a Man whom girl met at wedding. When confronted she admits, says there was no physical relationship begun at the wedding, but he will be coming up so they can spend a weekend together and she can “figure things out.” Guy understands and agrees, but it takes a toll on him.
Girl has passionate romantic weekend and decides she does not want to be with the Man From the Wedding, and cuts it off when he comes and tries to visit her for a second time — won’t even see him.
Guy and Girl get married, have two kids and move back to D.C. Twenty years later, 18 of them married, the man from the wedding asks girl to connect on a professional networking site. Girl ponders for a week, then tells Guy he has been in touch and wants to get together. He is now married with many children and in a career change. Girl is successful in career related to his, so he wants to have coffee and catch up, and get advice about their shared careers and about starting a business.
Guy thinks it is a bad idea. Girl needs to meet with him, she says, to be courageous and not run from her fears. Guy asks why she needs to open the door that has been shut tightly for all these years. Girl feels the need.
What should Guy do? He trusts his wife but has a bad feeling about the whole thing. — D.
As does Advice Columnist.
The obvious problem is that she’s making plans with an old flame who already torched you once. Badly.
The less obvious problem, but the one that speaks to some righteous nerve on your wife’s part, is that she’s framing this rendezvous as an act of courage.
Seriously? How about being courageous enough to admit her impulse to see Wedding Man is a selfish one, and to stand up for her marriage?
Maybe that’s an overreaction to a career-related inquiry from a man she decisively rejected 20 years ago. But I’m not reading the situation so much as I’m reading you, and you’re showing me that reopening this wound will cost you and your marriage more than Wedding Man stands to gain professionally from Girl’s advice — or than Girl stands to gain by scratching this itch.
If that’s indeed how you feel, then you need to say so.
You earned the right 20 years ago, in the dirt-eatingest kind of way, to say to her now, “Two decades ago, I ate dirt for you. I didn’t like it but I love you, so I did it. I never asked for anything in return [... right?]. Until now: I’m asking you not to do this.”
Or, abridged version: “How is it brave to hurt me twice?”
Either way, I expect her response will be revealing.
Even more revealing, arguably, would be her response if you decide not to ask her for anything, and instead let this drama play out. If that’s what you’ve decided to do, then I won’t try to talk you out of it. Oddly enough, though, I think your asking her not to go is the option that’s in her best interests.
That’s because it will tell her exactly how you feel and, by implication, what it will cost her, should she choose to meet up with this man.
If instead you choose to let it play out, then she won’t know how strong your feelings are about it — and she stands to get a nasty surprise if your feelings for her change as a result. If, say, you realize you can’t look the same way at someone who maintains that it’s some kind of sacrifice to check up on a particularly compelling old flame.
As with just about all of these difficult situations, this comes down to figuring out what your priorities are, and what serves them best. Namely: Is it more important for your truth to be heard, or for her truth to be revealed?
* * *
Dear Carolyn: I’m a newlywed and people at work have asked, “How is married life?” I say it is good, and more often than not, they say, “Wait until you have kids.” One told me not to have kids at all (she has kids). I suppose I should ignore the people at work? — Newly Married
Mostly. But do take them as a warning to give more thought than they apparently did to whether your marriage is built for kids.