Did I make a mistake in how I handled this?
October 13, 2011 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Help me understand my boyfriend's reaction to this relationship issue. While you're at it, help me figure out mine. I'm desperate.

I've spent a lot of time Googling the hell out of this, searching for advice, which lead me here. Apparently things are bad enough that I'm willing to pay to ask a bunch of strangers. Anonymous in case he reads this site.

I tried to make this short, but there's a lot of info.

My boyfriend's ex is back, and I'm concerned. Hear me out, though. They dated many, many years ago. At the time, she was taken. She was going to break up with her boyfriend, but kept putting it off. She finally said she'd done it, but she was lying. She dumped him, and went back to her boyfriend. They agreed they couldn't be friends, mainly because of the boyfriend. Her boyfriend forgave her, and now they're married with children

Now all of a sudden she's back in the picture. She got in touch with him and admitted that she didn't know why (maybe something to do with the fact that two of her own exes showed up recently professing to still have feelings for her?) and she wasn't sure what she wanted from him at this point. Oh, and her husband doesn't know they're talking again, because my boyfriend is still a sore subject with him, and she knows he wouldn't approve. Not cool.

My guy agrees it's a red flag, and has suggested she tells him. But they're still talking, and I'm struggling to understand. He's open to being her friend again, despite the fact that her husband wouldn't approve. As long as he knows.

I have some reservations, though. Among them, her history of lying, cheating, and crossing boundaries in her friendships. In his words, she goes beyond the boundaries of friendship and makes guys fall in love with her. I thought these were legit concerns, but I wanted to make sure I went about it in the right way. I wanted him to know I wasn't telling him what to do, or acting out of spite. I stayed calm and told him that it seemed like there was a good chance she was looking for more than friendship with him, and that I was a little worried about her history of ignoring boundaries. That I trusted him, but her track record isn't exactly clean.

He didn't see it that way, exactly. He thought that I should be okay with it because he told me if anything happened he would say no. And then? Give her a chance to prove she could control herself around him, he said.

So, even if she made it clear she still had feelings for him, or if she actually tried something, he would still want to be her friend? Yes, he would. I was upset, and he told me I as being too sensitive and obsessing over hypothetical situations. Then he said he felt like I was trying to guilt trip him into not talking to her, which was exactly what I was trying to avoid! All I wanted was to be heard, but he wouldn't even acknowledge my feelings. Instead of addressing the fact that I had a problem with it, he just kept insisting I shouldn't.

At this point I started questioning things. Like, was I really being too sensitive about this? What does it mean that he's willing to ignore any red flags for the possibility of fostering a friendship with a woman who hasn't been part of his life for years? Why is chance to reconnect with her really so important. She must be pretty important to him. And similarly, what does it say that he was so ready to dismiss any fears that I had, without even addressing them first?

The next day he said he'd given it a lot of thought, and decided that I was right, after all. That he was only fighting me because I was pushing so hard for him to see my side. Honestly, I'm not sure he's not just saying this to put an end to the discussion. It's obvious she's important to him and I'm not going to understand that. If anything, I feel like I've put him in the position where he's even less likely to be up front with me.

I keep thinking I've really hurt our relationship, but all I did was express myself. Am I out of line here? It's not as if I accused him of anything, or demanded he take my side. I was calm and rational when I explained myself. I just want him to be happy, but now I'm miserable.

Am I being totally unreasonable here, or is this something to be concerned about?

If it matters, we've been dating for a little over a year, and it's serious.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Go see a therapist. Better yet, go to a couples therapist. This sounds like alot of unwanted/unneeded drama that you need to talk to him about.
posted by TheBones at 9:36 AM on October 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you trust him, it doesn't matter what she does. If you don't (and it sounds to me like you don't completely), then you need to examine and evaluate that before serious goes any further.
posted by inturnaround at 9:46 AM on October 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't have been keen on his rekindling this "friendship" either. It sounds like he's been carrying a torch for her and wanted to jump at the chance to see her again.

On the surface, it sounds like things are now fine and you can just put this behind you. However, if I were you I'd be on my guard a little more just to make sure he's being honest with you about not seeing her. From the strength of his reaction the night before to the complete turn-around today, it almost sounds like he's planning to see her anyway and then just lie to you about it.

I think you did the right thing expressing your concerns. However, another way you could have approached it would have been to say "alright, when do we hang out with this friend of yours" and seen whether he was willing to introduce you. That plus the way he treated you in front of her is you did meet her would have given you pretty much all the information you needed.
posted by hazyjane at 9:47 AM on October 13, 2011 [15 favorites]

All I wanted was to be heard, but he wouldn't even acknowledge my feelings. Instead of addressing the fact that I had a problem with it, he just kept insisting I shouldn't.

I've been there. He's invalidating your feelings- this is not healthy. The fact that he's telling you how you should (or should not feel) undermines the value of what you are actually feeling, which is something he should acknowledge and care about. It doesn't matter whether your feelings are "right" or "wrong." I ended a relationship about a year ago with a guy who engaged in this sort of crap (among other totally mind-fucking manipulation and behavior) and I feel a lot saner now.

Anyway, even though the part I quoted is what bugs me the most about your story, the entire situation with this ex is totally ridiculous and dramatic. Totally not worth it.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 9:48 AM on October 13, 2011 [9 favorites]

Am I out of line here?

Nope. He is. Because:

Instead of addressing the fact that I had a problem with it, he just kept insisting I shouldn't.

THIS. This is something to be concerned about. This is a dealbreaker. Call it out head-on.
posted by clavicle at 9:53 AM on October 13, 2011 [20 favorites]

You expressed your concerns - which certainly sound legitimate to me and I would have said something too - and it seems like he had to do some processing. And maybe he had to actually ask himself "why AM I doing this? what is it I think I'm going to get out of it?"

I'm not really sure why you're so miserable about this. Because you stood up for yourself? Because you stood up for yourself and he didn't/doesn't approve? That's backwards, I hope you come to understand that. I hope he's not actively trying to make you feel like standing up for yourself is wrong.

There's also nothing wrong with him having to take a step back and figure this out and be a few beats behind you at first, since you may have the clearer perspective here. Some people have a default defensive Nuh Uh reaction to being told things they should have been aware of and weren't, and then they work it out. I think you need to have a followup conversation where you ASK him if he's on the same page with you or if he's just going to humor you and do what he wants. It's a fair question if you can't tell for sure if his response is genuine.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:53 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

In his words, she goes beyond the boundaries of friendship and makes guys fall in love with her.

Going beyond boundaries is bad news and if it's something she does, she'd not a good candidate for a friendship. However, she does not make guys fall in love with her. She might help them excuse their own behavior; she might happily validate the guy's refusal to be responsible for his own actions, but she doesn't make any person fall in love with her. If your boyfriend honestly believes that someone else can make him change his feelings toward you, or can make him act on his feelings toward someone else, if he truly might cheat on you or hurt you and believe it is someone else's responsibility, I would worry about that. (Actually, I would DTMFA, but that's me, not you) When he said you "guilted" him into the decision to not see her, it's sort of the same thing. Your feelings are yours; his are his; this other person's are her feelings. He may need to know all those feelings to make decisions; he definitely needs to consider your feelings as well as his own in making decisions. But in the end, he needs to accept that his decisions--even when based in part on consideration of someone else's feelings--are his own goddamn decisions. He is responsible for how he conducts his life and for the fallout it causes.

But generally, communication is hard. I don't think trying to communicate your fears or discomfort with something is wrong. And I don't think his reaction sounds too out of line for people learning how to communicate in an intimate relationship, even if his reaction was not ideal. I would not be worried about whether this was a reasonable thing to have uncomfortable conversations about. I would worry about whether he can understand that your feelings are not making, him do anything, even when they inform his choices.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:54 AM on October 13, 2011 [13 favorites]

There was a question very similar to this last week.

I can not understand why are trying to be so polite. They are both playing games and it is just plain sad because innocent people (you, her kids, her husband) are involved.

I say "playing games" because your bf is doing a lot of equivocating. It should be a deal breaker that she has contacted him behind her husband's back. If she crossed the line romantically, he'd still give her yet another shot at friendship? What is it between these two? Why is your bf willing to open the door on so much drama??

The problem is that your bf opened your lives up to all this drama without consulting you. Anyone can see this will end badly, yet he's not giving you any say in the matter. Of course this effects you!


This reflects very very badly on your bf no matter how it turns out because he's made it clear he's fine to take risks with your shared happiness and stability. He's already thrown you under the bus by totally removing your well-being as a concern as he makes the decision to reconnect with this woman. it's not even that he doesn't care for you enough, it's that he has exceptionally poor character. He is not the man you thought he was. You are lucky to find out now, BTW.

- I'm so sorry. I think you should save yourself the counseling, the arguments, the suspicions, the dramaz of it all and just dump him now. He's pretty much told you straight up he's jumping into this pool of drama. It's OK for you to refuse to jump in with him.

- I could never trust a person after discovering they are OK about associating with a married woman behind the backs of her husband and kids. If you didn't feel the same, you would not have joined MetaFilter.

Short answer: Yes. This is nuts.
posted by jbenben at 9:54 AM on October 13, 2011 [43 favorites]

In his words, she goes beyond the boundaries of friendship and makes guys fall in love with her.

What, she has a mind-control ray? I mean, I realize this is your version of his impression of her, but it's not like those guys where passive bystanders. I think your boyfriend is not owning up to his own agency. Which, people like to do.

But that does raise the question of your boyfriend feeling like he can hide behind "she made me do it," which is not so great.

Count me in with the group that says nothing good will come of this drama, and, from what you have written, I would think your boyfriend would be first in line for the exit. If he's not, he needs (for his own sake, if not yours) to think about why he isn't.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:55 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is a hard question to answer without actually being in your relationship. It basically all comes down to issues of trust -- and only you and your boyfriend know the level of trust that is appropriate.

I'm sort of on the other side of this issue. I had a several month long fling with a guy who (it turns out) was married at the time. I knew he was in a relationship, did not know he was married, but am honestly not sure if it would have made much difference. Maybe that's horrible of me, I don't know, but I think it's the responsibility of people in relationships to ensure that they don't cheat (which is not to say I would have a relationship with a friend's partner -- that would violate the terms of the friendship). Anyway, it was casual, I was not interested in him romantically and we broke it off when he separated from his wife and moved away. Since then I've gotten into a serious and wonderful relationship with another guy which I'm very excited about. He knows about this guy as well as other flings we've had in the past.

He was very non-judgmental about it, which is a quality I appreciate very much. Occasionally this past fling will contact me on chat, to tell me about his luck with dating and the women he's meeting. There's never been any hint of flirtation and I think I've made my boundaries very clear. My boyfriend knows about this and doesn't seem to have much of a problem with it. To me, this makes perfect sense. I expect to be trusted in a relationship and grant a great deal of trust to my partners as well. For example, my last boyfriend continued to help out his ex with sums of money for a good while (they'd been in a serious relationship for a number of years and she was hard up). I didn't have a problem with this. My current boyfriend still keeps small mementos of his ex hanging in his apartment. None of this is a problem as long as you have iron-clad trust in the other person to not cheat, not flirt inappropriately, not cross the boundaries you've set together. Maybe you need to have more conversations about boundaries and where your personal ones are. I'm not saying to trust blindly -- sometimes trust is not appropriate -- but if you're not feeling trustful, you need to figure out why and try to remedy that.
posted by peacheater at 9:56 AM on October 13, 2011

I don't think you were out of line at all. I think it does sound suspect that he would like to have a "friendship" with her, when it doesn't sound like they were ever just friends to begin with.

There are trust issues, and other communication problems at play here and I would second the couples therapy recommendation. Just remember that you are not crazy, and in this situation it sounds safe to trust your gut. I believe that in a healthy relationship one should be allowed to say "Your friendship with so-and-so makes me uncomfortable" without being made to feel crazy. It also doesn't mean that said friendship is going to end, just that you should be able to express how you feel.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 9:57 AM on October 13, 2011

I don't think you've done anything terrible here, but you may have passed up a golden opportunity:

The next day he said he'd given it a lot of thought, and decided that I was right, after all. That he was only fighting me because I was pushing so hard for him to see my side.

At this point you might've said something like, "That completely makes sense, and I'm sorry if I came off as pushy yesterday. I really don't want to get in the way of your other friendships. I guess I'm just feeling a little worried. I love you and our relationship is very important to me, and I have this impression that your ex is less than trustworthy. But I also know that you're your own man, responsible for yourself, and its wrong for me to micromanage your life just to reassure myself. I'm sorry I pushed so hard."

This is not to say that your feelings are unreasonable. They absolutely aren't. But, his decisions are based on his own intuitions, not yours. You can't argue him into shaping his choices according to your impression of the situation; you can only disclose your own feelings and ask him to take them into account.

I'm struggling to understand.

So ask him to help you understand. Listen to what he has to say. Turn it over in your mind, try to make sense of it. Reflect it back to him and ask if you understand correctly. If you let your (totally reasonable) anxiety drive you to argue with him, you're only going to make things worse. If he can talk this through safely with you, it will make things better.
posted by jon1270 at 10:00 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oops!! I wrote, "If you did not feel the same, you would not have joined MetaFilter."

Damn awkward sentence. What I meant to say was that you joined MetaFilter to check in that most reasonable would find your bf's opinions on his ex unreasonable. Or "nuts" as I put it.

Sorry for the confusion.
posted by jbenben at 10:01 AM on October 13, 2011

You are fully entitled to be uncomfortable with this and to grant her ZERO credit. Pretending you are semi-okay with it in order to not seem controlling is just going to delay the inevitable moment when you reach your boiling point and have to put your foot down anyway.

SHE has the burden of proving she's a safe person to know. It's not your job to float benefit of doubt to various characters from the background, just because your boyfriend thinks it may be safe. If your boyfriend is willing to gamble on your relationship and your peace of mind to enter into this nebulous relationship, that's on him. So is whatever you decide to do as a result.
posted by hermitosis at 10:02 AM on October 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

He's sort of doing a low-grade lashing out because he feels like you don't trust him. In an emotionally heated state like that, it's hard to have a constructive dialogue, even though your concerns are valid and you do trust him.

Having said that, the part that sticks out at me is that he's clearly stated that he would continue to want to be friends with her even if she made a move on him, despite the fact that (I'm assuming) she knows he's with you.

He says he'd be open to being friends with her as long as her husband knew about it - which seems like he's trying to be a stand-up guy about it, but they're already talking and her husband doesn't know about it and would be upset if he did. So I'm not sure what particular sacrifice he's making here.

He's liking the attention she's giving him. She's already creeping around on her husband, though the stakes aren't very high just now. I'm not saying he's definitely going to do something egregiously wrong but a lot of what he's doing right now is pretty irresponsible. So is this something to be concerned about? Yeah. But not something to freak out about yet. Take him at his word for now and keep communication open about it. She'll probably tip her hand sooner or later, and you'll have a clearer picture of what to do next when she does.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:13 AM on October 13, 2011

The next day he said he'd given it a lot of thought, and decided that I was right, after all.

Even after many years of working against it I still sometimes go on the defensive first, actually think and discuss rationally later. So maybe he sincerely decided you were right.

On the other hand at no point in my adult life would I have not seen "hey let's catch up - BUT SHHHH DON'T TELL ANYONE" as anything other than something to stay far away from.

or if she actually tried something, he would still want to be her friend? Yes, he would

This seemed the most troubling to me. The ex knows he is in a committed relationship, so "trying something" (physically or emotionally) is incredibly disrespectful of you. I don't want to be friends with those that disrespect the people I love.
posted by mikepop at 10:13 AM on October 13, 2011 [8 favorites]

Agreeing a thousand times with what Lyn Never wrote.
It's up to you to decide if this is how your SO may possibly react, though...
posted by newpotato at 10:35 AM on October 13, 2011

Nthing what mikepop said. A fair number of people have a reaction of initial defensiveness, especially if someone's bringing some heat, and/or can need to let things percolate in their brains a little... and realize, "Yup; I'm being dumb."
posted by ambient2 at 10:54 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I keep thinking I've really hurt our relationship, but all I did was express myself.

You didn't so anything wrong and there's no need to for your feel miserable. The ex sounds like trouble and your boyfriend is either incredibly naive, stupid or lying if she says he isn't. Why? Because her antics aren't respectful of you. He's explicitly said he's willing to put up with her making attempts to come between you two, while lying to her husband. If that doesn't call for a "What the hell are thinking", I don't know what does.

You did fine and you were reasonable. Rock on. Love is great, but it doesn't mean you have to or should put up with drama like this.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:01 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I actually don't think there's a problem here. Here's what happened:

You guys had a difficult conversation. He started to feel like you were trying to control him and his choices about who to be friends with. He got defensive, dug in, and started making statements that are probably not true (like that he'd stay friends with her if she tried something). And to be fair to him, you were actually trying to control his friendship choices. You say:
All I wanted was to be heard, but he wouldn't even acknowledge my feelings. Instead of addressing the fact that I had a problem with it, he just kept insisting I shouldn't.

But in the context of a relationship, saying "it really hurts/upsets me when you do x" is the same as saying "please don't do x." So he probably felt like control was slipping away, panicked, and starting drawing arbitrary lines in the sand.

This isn't a great dynamic, and if the story had ended there I'd probably say that you guys have some communication problems. But it didn't! Instead, he calmed down, and the fight-or-flight response that was triggered by feeling like he wasn't in control wore off. Once that happened, he was able to look at the situation rationally. And he decided that you were right! Sure, it would have been great if he could have gotten there immediately, but this is still pretty good. I think it's time for you to take yes for an answer.
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:09 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Instead of addressing the fact that I had a problem with it, he just kept insisting I shouldn't.

Regarding that, go look at my question from last week.

Do you trust him, not her, to make sure that nothing happens? If she tries to take it further, he should stop her. You shouldn't have to doubt that course of events. It sounds like you do, even though you're only telling us that you're concerned about what she could do.

The ex knows he is in a committed relationship, so "trying something" (physically or emotionally) is incredibly disrespectful of you. I don't want to be friends with those that disrespect the people I love.
Also, expressing your feelings is never wrong. You might be less than diplomatic in how you express it sometimes, or the complete opposite - but you're never, ever, ever wrong for telling your SO how you feel.

posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 11:10 AM on October 13, 2011

It is possible that this has damaged your relationship.

Wait, let me rephrase that. It is possible that this has exposed a less than solid part of your relationship.

And from the way you've worded your question I'm going to take your side and say

Instead of addressing the fact that I had a problem with it, he just kept insisting I shouldn't.

THIS. This is something to be concerned about. This is a dealbreaker. Call it out head-on.
posted by clavicle at 12:53 PM on October 13 [5 favorites +] [!]
is a thousand times true.

He is invalidating your feelings in a big huge, and frankly scary way.

"You shouldn't feel that way" is a favorite and time honored phrase of scum bags across the globe. Get out now before you have any advanced drama experience. He may very well be setting you up for the cheating, because if you keep trying to talk about it, you'll have "pushed him into her arms" by "nagging him" and "since you already didn't trust him" he was "wondering why he should even try to keep your trust." All of those phrases will be crafted to make you look crazy and controlling, which I doubt you are. Get out now before this crazy train picks up real speed.

admittedly, this is colored by my terrible childhood and my recent experience in an abusive relationship. The first big red flag of that one was being told that I shouldn't feel afraid that he insisted on texting and driving with me in the passenger seat. That demonstration of disregard for my safety lit up brightly in my memory when he hit me.
posted by bilabial at 11:13 AM on October 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think this whole thing must be shocking for you to have to deal with. I believe you are mistakenly blaming yourself because it's likely easier to do that than facing whatever your BF has revealed to you about himself via this situation.

You're human. It's OK.

You have not ruined your relationship by anything you've said or done. Rather, you are having some pretty big emotions because this a big deal type thing to crop up inside of your serious, one year long+ relationship with your BF.
posted by jbenben at 11:15 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wait, she contacted your bf without telling her husband because she knew how upset he'd be? If she doesn't respect her own relationship boundaries, she's certainly not going to respect yours. I think you did the right thing by voicing your concern about this "rekindling". My guess is that she's bored and wants some attention/drama/risk back in her life. Your relationship shouldn't be fodder for that and your boyfriend should know that.

I think that if you're going to stay with your bf through this mess (and there is no other word for this woman's re-emergence in his life), then he has to set and stick to firm boundaries that you're comfortable with. If he's not willing to do that, then leave him and let this thing implode without you.
posted by swingbraid at 11:16 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh holy frick on a stick. I keep trying to think of details to examine, but really, I have a kind of blanket disapproval of your BF's and this woman's actions which I agree you have every reason to share.

I mean why the hell see each other again? Even they don't know? Of course they know, they just won't state their purpose outright because it's so obviously unacceptable.

I have to nitpick this remark from a later poster though: she does not make guys fall in love with her - you can't definitively make anyone fall in love with you, but there are any number of manipulative techniques designed to make someone's falling in love with you substantially more likely (they won't work if the person fancied you about as much as last Thursday's cold porridge, but if there's any attraction there...) tl;dr for practical purposes it is sometimes possible to make a person fall in love with you.

What you can never do is make someone break their principles and act on the strong feelings you manipulated them into having for you.

I'm sorry to say we can pretty much predict what will happen next, and it will involve him not being able to help himself, when, in reality, he can. He is showing you exceptional disrespect here and about the only thing you can do about it is walk away and refuse to sit there mute and helpless while he entertains himself by betraying you right before your streaming eyes. Anything other than walking away is just going to be fodder for his personal drama festival at your expense.

Sorry, it sucks.
posted by tel3path at 11:37 AM on October 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

Maybe I'm being naive here, but it seems like a lot of people in this thread are missing the part where he comes back and says the OP was right. She then goes on to say that he may be lying to her in order to shut down the conversation, but doesn't present any evidence to suggest that this might be the case. They had an argument and he came around. Sure, he had a momentary lapse in judgement, but that happens to all of us sometimes.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:05 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ragged Richard is right, I am overlooking the part where he comes back and says the OP was right.

I notice, though, that the OP is still suspicious.

OP, may I suggest that you see how you feel after you cool down, and if you still feel funny about it, keep it in the back of your mind?
posted by tel3path at 12:11 PM on October 13, 2011

OP says in the ask that BF and ex are still talking.

I think he said "You're right" to OP, as in he was agreeing there are red flags. It seems from the question he has not decided to cease contact with the ex.

OP, update?
posted by jbenben at 12:18 PM on October 13, 2011

I have been in both the OP's and the OP's boyfriends position in the past and have developed a trick to help me work out this overly common issue, I call it the Candy Store analogy. When in doubt, I usually bring it up to my significant other:

You put a young child on a chair in the center of a large candy store and tell them that they are not to touch the candy under any circumstances while you are away. You then leave the child completely alone in the store with a view that would not allow you or anyone else to walk in and catch him without him having ample time to completely hide his misdeeds.

In this situation, there are three “basic” outcomes:

1) The child follows the rules and does not touch any of the candy. He may be tempted, but he does not budge from his chair, he is unbreakable.

2) The child sits calmly for a while, but eventually the allure of the luscious and delectable candy starts to wear on him and he has just one little piece. Since the piece of candy was so very good and really didn’t cause any harm, he decided to have just one more until, if left alone long enough, he is gorging himself. He didn’t mean for it to happen that way, it just started small and spiraled out of control.

3) The moment that you leave the store he leaps upon the candy and eats more then his fill, not caring about the agreed upon rules.

Which category a person falls into determines how I will respond to their actions. If I believe the man is unbreakable, then I would have no problem with him flirting up a storm with every woman in town. Why would I? I know that his resolve is strong.

However, if I have reason to believe that the man I am with can be tempted onto the slippery slope, then I may to question (respectfully) his decision to have dinner alone with his ex who still wants him every Friday, or go on a week long ski vacation with his friend and his friend’s irresistible sister.

When you are in the early stages of a relationship (first year or so), you don’t know what category the person you are with falls into. You haven’t had enough time and circumstance to figure out where they stand. You could give them the benefit of the doubt and treat them as a person from #1 or you could assume the worst based on past ills you have suffered and toss them into #3.

When a situation such as OP's arises, I find it is in no way helpful to accuse or speculate. Instead, I prefer to ask my partner using this analogy. I always make sure to mention that none of the children in this example are “bad”. They could all be wonderful kind and caring kids just with different levels of impulse control, and since the relationship is new I am not sure which category my partner falls into. I then ask them where they think they stand. If they say they are firmly in category #1, then I give them the benefit of the doubt and treat their actions as such. If they say that they are in category #2, I usually say something to the effect of “ok, I trust you to handle your own life and will not bring this issue up again, thank you for being honest about who you are” and let the implications of the analogy sink in.

This has the distinct benefit of getting the other person to think about who they are and how they would react in a less accusatory way. If a person honestly realizes that they are in category #2, then they may think twice about allowing themselves to be put into potentially harmful situations. I have had more then one past boyfriend clean up his act once he realized where he stood in regard to his self control (without being accused or forced to defend himself against crimes he did not commit).

I should mention, as I always do with my partners when the appropriate time arises, that I see myself in category #2. I have very strong resolve as well as a strong moral compass in general, however, I am not 100% sure that I am above temptation. Thus, I never let myself get into situations that have the potential to get “slippery”. I wont be spending the week alone in a shack with Brad Pitt, just to be safe.
posted by Shouraku at 1:12 PM on October 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

Am I being totally unreasonable here, or is this something to be concerned about?

There is no "reasonable." There is you asking for what you want and him giving you that or not. You can ask for things that a specific person may or may not give you, but comparing what is being done to a mythological "reasonable" person isn't helpful. Ask yourself: Is my behavior helping me get what I want or not?

Here, the answer is yes, you are saying that you want boundaries set.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:52 PM on October 13, 2011

You did exactly what you had to. I would not be okay with a "friend" who didn't respect personal boundaries. Load of mash potatoes when he insists she *makes* men fall in love. He's setting you up, that's what he's doing. Sorta like "the devil made me do it!" Guy needs a swift kick.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 1:54 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, he said you were right. What about him saying this made you feel he was not being authentic? Did he not give you enough information about his change of heart to make you believe it was real? Do you think he thinks he had a change of heart but he really didn't and he is liable to flip flop again? Is he a flip flopper in general? Is there something in your shared history that points to him being a liar?

I would just ask myself these questions and be aware.

I say things in an emotional state all the time that I later realize were nonsense. I especially will fight if I feel like someone is trying to control me.
posted by amodelcitizen at 2:02 PM on October 13, 2011

There are so many relationship questions on here that seem like the OP just wants to be validated, and they get those typically in-line kind of responses, but this question--both due to your emotional maturity and your good communication skills in describing the situation--have led to a truly interesting discussion, so a) thanks for that.

b) I'm going through this exact same situation right now, except that the BF and I have only been dating for a few months, and we're poly. And the fiance of BF's Intense Ex-Lover -Friend THING knows they are in communication. So...it's similar, but a little different, and I get to be more open with my fears, which has led me to the following conclusions:

1. I'm annoyed as a FRIEND of his that he's open to seeing this woman again, who left him overnight for the man who is now her fiance. His self confidence and health were pretty broken for a long time, at least as I understand it, and I get the idea that she is the type of woman that OP's boyfriend may have been trying to describe--incredibly intense, incredibly vulnerable, and incredibly attractive to a certain type of man. (I saw several of my guy friends fall for these types in college. It was so heartbreaking and frustrating every time.) (Which I'm trying NOT to project onto BF.)

So, as purely a friend of his who wants the best for him, I think it's a bad idea and I think he should write off the relationship, but of course, I've known the man a few months and he was with this woman, as a friend or lover, for years.

2. As his GF I don't want to be cognizant of his most intense feelings centering on someone else. I know that loving someone really intensely doesn't stop you from loving someone else, just as intensely, or differently, or whatever. That's a core tenement of my belief about love. But going from the center of his attentions to knowing that even when he's with me, he's mentally worried about his relationship with her, is something I have to get used to tolerating for right now. He's been trying to be good about keeping his brooding out of our time together, and of course, it's just come up in the past few weeks, so it hasn't been like that the whole time.

That was a lot of words, and I hope I don't hijack. What I'm saying is, a) you think it's a bad idea as his friend, and b) as his lover, you're worried about his attentions being other places with this lure of a woman back in his life. Both things are TOTALLY legit, especially (a) since she seems like a troublemaker, and (b) because you're his monogamous lover, dammit. But if you trust him, you have to trust him to a) be faithful to you, b) accept the fact that he's occasionally going to *think* about other women, and unless he does it a lot, and while he's with you to the point of not really mentally being there, it's a healthy thing, and c) if you respect him, you have to allow him to make BAD decisions, too.

However, if his bad decisions start affecting you--all the way from "he talks on the phone long into the night because she wants to talk" to "he breaks dates to rush to her side" to "there's a dramatic change in his secrecy and vagueness about where he is or what his available time is like" to, god forbid, he gets physical with her and it AFFECTS you in awful ways, then you're allowed to put your foot down, or pack up and leave, or do whatever, with full validation.

Good luck.
posted by aarwenn at 9:07 PM on October 13, 2011

So, even if she made it clear she still had feelings for him, or if she actually tried something, he would still want to be her friend? Yes, he would. I was upset, and he told me I as being too sensitive and obsessing over hypothetical situations. Then he said he felt like I was trying to guilt trip him into not talking to her, which was exactly what I was trying to avoid! All I wanted was to be heard,

Hmm. It's hard to fully understand a situation via a few paragraphs, so maybe my comment is off base.

But it kinda sounds like you DID want him to agree not to see her. And to then claim you just wanted to be heard? After you asked how he'd handle it and got upset when you got an answer you didn't like? That might feel a bit disingenuous to me. And like you trying to claim the moral high ground or victim role.

I mean, you are 100% within your rights to have boundaries. But it's kinda uncool to present those boundaries via hypothetical questions. If you want to lay down a line, just do so.

He didn't see it that way, exactly. He thought that I should be okay with it because he told me if anything happened he would say no. And then? Give her a chance to prove she could control herself around him, he said.

That sounds potentially reasonable if you really do trust him 100%. I wouldn't trust him 100%, but just saying.

But the part where he says you're just being too sensitive, that part is BS. But I can't tell what happened when you said you got upset, so I might not deem this some DTMFA dealbreaker.

I'd recommend couples counseling.
posted by salvia at 1:40 AM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

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