It's A Pleasure
I’m Afraid My Boyfriend Is Going To Fall Back In Love With His Ex
It’s happened once before.
Q: My boyfriend is friends with his ex, which is fine with me, or so I thought initially. They were married and got divorced a long, long time ago. He hadn’t heard from her in a while, but now they're in contact again. Again, all fine with me until I found out he spoke to her about me in a really condescending manner and then brushed it off as nothing. This upset me and I told him it was an awful thing to do. I got a little wrapped in anxiety and I accused him of being in love with her — hence the necessity to put me down when speaking of our relationship. This is when things took a turn for the worse: he told me he wasn't in love with her now, but had mistakenly fallen in love with her again a few years back.
He assured me that there was nothing to be concerned about and that he was sorry he’d been so tactless. He said that they’d both been mistaken when they’d fallen back in love with each other. Both! So now, instead of thinking, “Well, he was in a bad place and looking to find solace and so mistakenly thought he was falling back in love with her,” now it's actually both of them who were in love!
I haven’t dared to ask any more questions because I don’t want to be continually hurt by every bit of new information, but I feel horrendous and I know the one thing I want him to do: end the friendship, as it seems they have the ability to fall in and out of love with each other. And it seems very likely to happen again.
I feel like I’m at an impasse: either accept his friendship or let our relationship go. I have never been an insecure person in relationships, and I cannot deal with feeling anxious when I’m normally not. Friendships are important, but he has a ton of friends he sees regularly, so it feels like this one is more of him hanging onto something and I don’t understand why.
Please help, as I do really like him, but I no longer trust him with my emotional well-being.
A: It can be true that he is just friends with her right now and it can be true that what he is doing is wildly inappropriate and hurtful. And even worth walking away from him for.
We often think of trust in a relationship as “I trust you not to cheat.” Which, yeah, you definitely want to trust your partner to not go make out with someone (unless you’ve agreed otherwise). That is absolutely an important part of trust. But the trust a relationship requires encompasses so much more than that. You have to be able to believe that your partner isn’t going to set bad boundaries with other people, that they are going to be equally vigilant about protecting the relationship, and that they aren’t going to put you in a position to worry.
You say you don’t understand why he’s hanging onto this relationship, and while I can’t be certain I'm correct, I have a guess. I don’t think he necessarily has romantic feelings toward her anymore, but I do think they both enjoy a spark of attention from one another. Attention from someone you once found attractive and desirable almost always feels nice. It can be totally harmless. You can privately enjoy the little mood boost that comes from sharing a friendly conversation with someone from your past. You can even feel a little, little, little flame of, “What if?” without it being a betrayal. However! I think it’s genuinely pathetic behavior to chase that validation at the expense of keeping your relationship secure.
And that’s what I think he’s doing. I get wanting to stay friends with someone who has been such a large part of his life. I understand his inclination to be around someone who felt like family or “home” at one point. But frankly, he needs to grow the hell up and get over that. He doesn’t get to enjoy the friendship with his ex and his relationship with you if he goes to her to complain about you.
I’m not In Charge of the World unfortunately, but I feel like you could have a good friendship with an ex-spouse without a regular check-in.
I’m not as concerned about him admitting he fell in love with her again, or that she fell in love again back. I simply don’t think humans are very good at switching feelings on and off. I think platonic love looks very similar to romantic love at times; the two aren’t as separate as we’d like to think. I don’t think the fact that they fell in love again is terrible — as long as they didn’t act on it while you two were together.
What I do think is terrible is how little regard he’s shown for you in this situation. He talked about you and your relationship in a dismissive way. He wasn’t upfront about what their situation is or has been. I’m also not entirely sure that he needs to be in contact with her weekly. I’m not In Charge of the World unfortunately, but I feel like you could have a good friendship with an ex-spouse without a regular check-in (unless you have children or a business together or something). Like, if two exes see each other weekly in a big friend group, sure! Great! But chatting on the phone once a week? I don’t know. That seems like a lot of emotional reliance on one another.
The real thing here, regardless of what I think of his behavior, is how you feel about his behavior. It was violating, cruel, and made you feel anxious and insecure, which are things you say you normally don’t feel. I think that right there is enough to walk away. I don’t think you have to. I don’t read your letter and think, “OH MY GOD, RUN!!!! WE ALL SEE IT BUT YOU!” But I do read your letter and think the boundaries of this relationship are going to have to massively shift if you two are going to stay together, and I think that process probably requires a couples therapist.
I don’t want you to swallow this; I don’t want you to take the bad with the good for this man. I don’t want you to look past this or think you’ve overreacted. I want him to understand that you cannot ever sh*t-talk your current relationship to an ex. Ever. I want him to understand that he’s broken your trust and that it will be on him to repair that. I want him to offer to stop talking to her, at least for now. I want him to examine why her friendship is so valuable, why he felt like he could say something negative about your relationship to her instead of to you, and why he wanted to. I want him to dig in and do the work. And I want you to leave him if he doesn’t do that.
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