A reminder: I'm looking for updates from former letter writers. Send them to meregoldstein at gmail dot com with "UPDATE" in the subject line. Email me from the same account that you used the first time around so I know it's really you.
My boyfriend (I'll call him Drew) and I are in love and beginning to talk seriously about a future together. I'm in my late 30s and he's in his mid-40s, so we're both older and approaching this with significant past relationship experience and a clear sense of what we want.
We're good at talking things out, and we know how to communicate and compromise. However, one recent issue seems likely to resurface -- how Drew can maintain his friendship with a longtime ex-girlfriend in a way that doesn't interfere with our relationship.
Although it generally hasn't been my experience, I completely understand that many people maintain comfortable platonic friendships with exes, and I have no concerns about Drew's intentions with any of his. Despite Drew's good intentions, and despite my being open and comfortable meeting any of the others, everything I learn about this particular ex (I'll call her Suzanne) gives me reservation.
In Drew's words, he and Suzanne bonded to provide each other support for their extremely difficult young adult lives. They lived together throughout their 20s and into their early 30s, and despite being highly intelligent and well educated, both were socially and emotionally restricted, and also severely clinically depressed, Suzanne to the point of attempting (or gesturing) suicide.
Drew has since worked on his past and grown into an accomplished, stable person. Suzanne, although now married, is still troubled and has "serious limitations" (his words).
What got me thinking and prompted this letter is overhearing the nature of a recent phone call. Instead of casual conversation about their lives, the tone seemed emotionally entangled, with Drew in the role of constantly offering reassurances: Yes, they're "different" when it comes to their friendship, and although neither he nor I have ever felt happier with a partner, he of course "was very happy when he was with [her]," and, yes, I do realize "how important [she] is to [him]." Is this normal behavior?
Drew keeps in touch with Suzanne by occasional emails and phone calls, and he meets her for lunch once or twice a year when he visits Massachusetts, which seems within the bounds of appropriate behavior. I'll be going with him to Mass. later this summer, and although he asked me to meet Suzanne, I said I'd rather not. He understood, and he realizes that I don't want this connection to become a part of our life together.
I feel deeply loved and secure in our relationship. Drew says I mean everything to him, and without my asking, he offered to not have lunch with Suzanne. I said I wouldn't mind his doing so, and I meant it. No matter what their dynamic, meeting up once or twice a year to catch up isn't much, and I don't believe it's right for me to insist he cut contact with someone whom he shares history with and still cares about.
That said, is it rude for me to want no contact with Suzanne? Is his offer to cancel their lunch an appropriate thing for him to do? What boundaries should their relationship maintain so that it doesn't interfere with our relationship, especially if we end up getting married and having a family? Most importantly, is it right for me to ask that he keep personal details about me and our life together out of their conversations (this would upset me)?
What seems reasonable here? Looking forward to the perspectives of you and your readers.
– Trouble with his ex, Out of State
It's absolutely appropriate for you to stay away from this woman, TWHE. You're setting boundaries and trying to keep things healthy. There's nothing rude about your attitude. You're just being honest and smart. Good for you.
I do wonder whether Drew needs some help setting his own boundaries. He offered to skip lunch with this woman. Perhaps that was his way of admitting that he doesn't want to see her. Perhaps he was hoping that you'd set some rules for him. Those phone calls sound exhausting. He doesn't seem to have a way out. You might want to ask him what he wants from their platonic relationship and how his occasional interaction with her affects his head.
Something tells me that he'd love to talk to her even less than he does now.
You've been so understanding when it comes to this woman. Your boundaries are fair. Your only job now is to talk to Drew about his own needs and what he wants this situation to look like in five or ten years. Help him come up with a plan. Figure this out as a couple.
Readers? Should she want to meet the ex? Should he have asked her to? How do you distance yourself from a needy ex? What about her marriage? Am I right to say that Drew's offer to skip lunch might have been a cry for help? Discuss.