Reader is distressed about her boyfriend’s too-at­ten­tive, mar­ried ex-girl­friend

The Washington Post Sunday - - DIVERSIONS -

Dear Carolyn: The new man in my life has a friend­ship with an old lover from years ago. I went out with them and clearly saw she still has a thing for him and her hus­band is jeal­ous. She calls and sends him self­ies.

I told my boyfriend why I don’t want to hang out, that it up­sets me and makes me feel un­com­fort­able. He still doesn’t get it and says they’re just old friends, but he was nice about it and doesn’t want me to feel bad. The woman per­sists.

Am I wrong? My psy­chol­o­gist friend says to pre­tend it doesn’t bother me.


Won­der­ing: Here’s what would bother me, and I wouldn’t pre­tend other­wise:

Your new man just got a look from some­one else’s per­spec­tive, and it says he’s do­ing some­thing to harm two peo­ple, his ex and her hus­band.

The harm is ap­par­ently un­wit­ting, but if you’re right, it’s harm none­the­less; he’s al­low­ing oxy­gen to ex’s flame by not main­tain­ing bound­aries, and through that in­ac­tion he is un­der­min­ing the se­cu­rity of an­other man’s mar­riage.

Of course, yours is just one opin­ion, but one opin­ion is plenty to move a con­sci­en­tious per­son to take a closer look, at least. All he had to say in re­sponse to you was, “Re­ally? That sur­prises me — I’ll pay more at­ten­tion next time,” and we wouldn’t be hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion.

That’s be­cause even that ope­nended re­sponse would have checked im­por­tant boxes: re­spect for your ob­ser­va­tion skills; re­spect for this cou­ple’s mar­riage; open­ness to the pos­si­bil­ity that he’s wrong about some­thing.

Th­ese three things, in turn, are pow­er­ful in­di­ca­tors of hu­mil­ity, and there­fore char­ac­ter. The risk that he’ll go back to a re­cep­tive, mar­ried ex-girl­friend is a nar­rowly de­fined one, but the risks that come with wob­bly char­ac­ter aren’t just broad, they’re pro­found.

This is a lot to make of one night with a flirty ex-girl­friend, I know. But dig­ging into what’s pos­si­ble can help you un­der­stand the real rea­son you’re so un­com­fort­able, and un­der­stand­ing why you’re so un­com­fort­able can help you bet­ter ar­tic­u­late your con­cerns to your friend.

And do­ing so, in turn, would give him an­other shot at ei­ther tak­ing an is­sue se­ri­ously that he may have too quickly dis­missed, or ex­plain­ing to you why he’s so con­fi­dent in his lack of con­cern. Valu­able ei­ther way. Hi, Carolyn: My part­ner of over a year has asked to meet my ex. While we are on good terms and ended things am­i­ca­bly, I don’t wish to re­visit that time in my life. He has ex­plained that he wants to see what kind of per­son I had been with be­fore, sim­ply out of cu­rios­ity. This is the man I plan on mar­ry­ing; the ring has al­ready been or­dered. How can I ex­plain that I re­ally don’t want to walk down that par­tic­u­lar side street on mem­ory lane?

Out With the Old, In With the New?

Out With the Old, In With the New?: “I re­ally don’t want to walk down that par­tic­u­lar side street on mem­ory lane” would do it, as long as he doesn’t see unironic use of “mem­ory lane” as a re­la­tion­ship-end­ing of­fense.

If he presses, then please con­sider ask­ing him: Why does his “sim­ply cu­rios­ity” take prece­dence over your peace of mind?

This is a rhetor­i­cal ques­tion, by the way; your “no” to his re­quest was a com­plete an­swer that didn’t and still doesn’t need to be ex­plained. A part­ner who re­spects your bound­aries won’t push for it.

That is, if you’re de­tached from this ex. You do say you’re “on good terms,” so, just in case: See­ing your ex so­cially in a mean­ing­ful way means you can’t wall off ex-guy with­out giv­ing cur­rent-guy grounds to ob­ject.

Other­wise, though, his be­ing with you gives him no li­cense to pry into your past. Hi, Carolyn: I have a good friend who is, in many re­spects, a kind, gen­er­ous and com­pas­sion­ate per­son. How­ever, she has de­vel­oped a ten­dency to com­plain a lot about money and her salary, which is not high but is typ­i­cal for her field and def­i­nitely not close to poverty level. This makes her sound a bit spoiled, given that she in­dulges in things — a cen­trally lo­cated apart­ment, eat­ing out a lot, gro­cery de­liv­ery ser­vices — many peo­ple do not. She also has had a lot of help from her fam­ily in the past in terms of pay­ing for school and some as­sis­tance with rent, while many of us are mak­ing stu­dent loan pay­ments ev­ery month.

While it is a mi­nor an­noy­ance to me when she says things like this, I worry this lack of self-aware­ness is con­tribut­ing to strug­gles in other as­pects of her life. Is there a gen­tle way to call her on this?


Friend: If it both­ers you, then say so in the mo­ment: “I have stu­dent loan pay­ments till 2024, so maybe I’m not the right per­son to com­plain to about money.”

If it po­ten­tially-maybe-some­how both­ers other peo­ple, “con­tribut­ing to strug­gles” or not, how is that your prob­lem to fix?

Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@wash­ Get her col­umn de­liv­ered to your in­box each morn­ing at­post.

Join the dis­cus­sion live at noon Fri­days at wash­ing­ton­ con­ver­sa­tions.


Carolyn Hax

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