Oh boundaries boundaries boundaries
March 21, 2012 6:41 AM   Subscribe

Relationship filter: New guy. His former flame. Her very bad medical condition. Wondering how to control my anxieties.

Have been dating Mr. X for approximately a month. He is a wonderful guy and to the extent you can get to know somebody in that span of time, I trust him. When we first started talking he mentioned a former college girlfriend -- their relationship was very intense in a variety of ways -- with whom he'd made contact over the last year. About a year ago, they hooked up but it ended with a lot of hurt feelings.

She is now waiting a medical diagnosis that could mean death in a short period of time or loss of mobility. She is also making romantic advances towards Mr. X. As per him, his response has been to gently reject her, w/o mentioning that he is dating somebody else.

I am so sorry that Mr. X's former (and more recent) object of great passion is facing this. I am so sorry that he has to bear the worry of this. He is one of two people she's told about this; they are very close, obvsly.

I want to be as supportive as possible. I know what it's like to be scared shitless over a medical condition.

My question is: how can I best be supportive here and control the *clang* *clang* of my anxieties regarding their connection. I feel like a selfish cunt for even bringing up my anxieties, given her situation.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Listen to your gut. It's been a month and he's already introducing a reason for him to maybe sleep with someone else or spend a lot of intimate time with them, and if you say no you're the bad one.

I'm not sure why you're involved in her life at all or hearing her private medical information, to be quite frank, it seems like a bit of an odd move on his part, inconsiderate to you both.

Nor, at one month, do you need to be supportive. One month is still "having fun, getting to know the other person" time.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:58 AM on March 21, 2012 [11 favorites]

There are a couple of problems here. First and most alarming, he is not being upfront with her about his relationship with you. He doesn't have to tell her you're the love of his life, but any fool can say "I'm seeing someone." Second of all, while it's nice that you trust him, you have zero reason to trust her, and I'd be very suspicious of this life-threatening medical condition. Third, just so you know, she's setting this up in a way that if unverified raises about a million red flags for me - she may be dying, he's one of only two people who knows, therefore she neeeeeds him, he caaaaan't leave, and by the way a kiss before death. I don't mean to be heartless, but I have participated in both ends of this kind of drama so I am naturally suspicious here.

If she really is sick, he still needs to be upfront about you. That is a healthy boundary. Not denying your existence should pretty much be a minimum threshold for being in a relationship with you. This is real life, not a soap opera.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:01 AM on March 21, 2012 [16 favorites]

A month in and he brought this up? That's odd. Unless you had "the talk" and are "a couple" he should have just kept this to himself and slept or not slept with her as he saw fit.

If he's going to do something, he's going to do something. It's okay to tell him how you're feeling. Talk it out. Ask him why he seems to be okay telling you all about her, but not okay telling her about you. If they were so close even before this troubling news, then why are you a secret? Telling her that you exist and are someone he really cares about isn't wrong, it's honest (assuming it is) and it's right to not lead her on into thinking that she can spend the last months of her life with him.

But yeah, stop beating yourself up and calling yourself names. It's human to feel insecure when someone we care about seems to not care as much about us.
posted by inturnaround at 7:06 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

...w/o mentioning that he is dating somebody else.

Yeah, he needs to change that bit. There's no good reason to keep that under wraps, really. That said, I could understand his impulse not to, but -- no.

Other than that, as said above, say that you want to support him and all, both for him and for you, but admit your being a bit weirded out by the situation, because anyone would be.

Good luck!
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:07 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure it's suspicious that he hasn't mentioned you. You've only been together for a short time, and you are not the reason they broke up. I think it's reasonable for him to reject her without reference to anyone else.
posted by tel3path at 7:10 AM on March 21, 2012

Some wariness about this is healthy and normal. Your guy's in touch with a former flame he's hooked up with before, and their conversation's turned intense quickly. She's clearly relying on him for emotional support, and she's clearly still romantically interested (which never bodes well).

There's a huge huge middle ground between being irrationally anxious about a relationship, and allowing shit that you're uncomfortable with in an attempt to be an "easygoing" or "supportive" partner. It's okay to be uncomfortable with this situation and to tell your guy so.

It will help you to take some time to think about what would put help your mind at ease about this (e.g. if he stopped talking to her? if he mentioned you? if he introduced you?) and then ask him to do it. Go into the talk with your desired resolution in mind. Be calm. Listen to his responses: how he reacts will give you a clue to the future of this relationship. If he blows up or turns things back on you or is evasive, not a good sign. However, you don't want to hear a breezy "sure baby, no problem," either.

And I have to echo previous comments: how do you know her medical diagnosis story is true? Or even that it's her story and not his? Even if you take this at face value, what will happen if the test turns out negative?
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:27 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm not quite clear on the chronology here. One year ago they hooked up (one-night? a few days?), bad ending, and then roughly a year later he is contacted again (after no contact? infrequent contact?) with the news about her condition? Were you already dating when he found out?

Other questions - does she know you (even if, ostensibly, not about your relationship)? Do you know her personally? Have you ever seen her?

Sorry to riddle you with questions, especially since you are anonymous, but something here feels iffy. It may be really rotten luck, but being thrown into the middle of so much drama so early on does not seem right.

Like others here, I may be prejudiced by having witnessed a couple of situations which on the face of it at least bear some similarities: "passionate" (often used as a synonym for high drama and not much else) couples finally break up with quite a bit of bad blood between them. After some intermittent pissing about post-break-up and the odd flare-up of the old drama, one of the two decides to move on. The other one seems to have a sixth sense for when they truly lose their hold: suddenly there is a diagnosis (of terminal cancer in one case, unspecified life-threatening condition in the other) and simply nowhere else to seek support other than with the former lover, who is meanwhile on the road to fall for someone else. New relationship is sidelined inch by inch, often with the active encouragement of the new love interest (after all, who would not be sympathetic in the face of potentially fatal condition?!), until new partner is informed that the old partnership will have to be revived because - support! decent thing to do! In one of the two cases, new partner wasn't even informed - she was given the fade, and upon confronting was first accused of an imagined slight, and, when that didn't wash of - you guessed it - pretty much being an insensitive ... well, person. Because - fatal condition! sympathy! Of course, once this new act in the old drama is played out, no-one ever hears of fatal condition again.

I hope I am wrong and jaded, and that everybody involved is genuine, and that the health threat, if true, turns out to be a false alarm, and that everything goes well for all three of you.
posted by miorita at 7:30 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Look, when I say it's not your problem - it's really not.

Because it's not your problem, you don't have to have a discussion with him about the best way to provide emotional support while he acts in a way that some would consider suspicious.

Because it's not your problem, if he blows off your date night to rush away with a quivering lip and tears in his eyes to be at Fiamma's bedside - you can just say, "I see. It doesn't look like you're in a good place to date right now, so you do what you have to do. 'Bye." You don't have to figure out how to accommodate him/them, because it's not your problem.

You don't have to assume they're up to something to take the stance that it's not your problem. You don't have to call yourself names to take the stance that it's not your problem. You don't have to assume they're innocent to take the stance that it's not your problem. You don't have to be heartless to take the stance that it's not your problem.

You just have to pay attention to what's really going on.
posted by tel3path at 7:43 AM on March 21, 2012 [11 favorites]

Oh gosh, this is similar to my boyfriend and his ex (except she's not dying). My boyfriend is best friends with his ex, and she has a medical condition that she comes to our city for (she lives an hour away) for testing, and he goes to her appointments with her. When I was still in new-guy-phase with him, she was very flirty with him, and I really suspected her of trying to psych me out so I would back off and she would have another shot with him.

I went through a lot of crappy personal drama about this, but I was open with my guy about my feelings the whole time, while making it clear that it was just my feelings and I wasn't going to try to change his relationship with her. As much as I still don't love the closeness they have, he has very clearly chosen me and put the boundaries there with her. But yeah, as his ex, he didn't specifically tell her about me and what our relationship was like.

My advice for where you are in this stage -- because you're dating this guy who you could have a future with -- is to be open about how you are feeling. Don't make demands on him, and don't accuse the ex-girlfriend of anything. Just make it about your feelings. If he cares, he will take them into account. You can be pretty simple and say "I hate to say this because I feel bad for your ex, but it's really stressing me out that she's trying to get with you. I trust you and I know it's illogical, but I can't help the stressed feeling."

It sounds like he's been pretty open with you about her, which is good. Have faith in him to be honest with you. If he wanted to be with her, he would be with her, not dating you. Don't demand he do anything -- you aren't his girlfriend, and if you make demands on him now, you'll come across as a jealous bitch. But you have the right to not feel stressed about this, and you do have the right to talk to him about how this situation is impacting you.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:45 AM on March 21, 2012

Rather than suggesting what you should do, I'll tell you what I would do if I were in your shoes: I'd sit down with him, and say something like "I've really enjoyed our time together in the last month, and I really think we have the potential for something good over the long term. The thing is, that's potential that we haven't realized yet, and meanwhile I know that [ex-flame] is someone you have a long and complex history with, and she's going through something very stressful. So, I trust you to do what's right for her, as a friend, and if the situation is stressing you out I'm here to listen. Just do all three of us a favor, and make sure you don't lead her on, take advantage of her fragile emotional state, or make commitments you can't keep, out of a misplaced sense of pity or responsibility. And if you do make that kind of mistake, I expect you to be honest with me about it."
posted by davejay at 8:00 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and what miorita said is a definite possibility. Use the traditional methods to indirectly help him suss out whether it's real or bullshit: ask simple questions like "how long before she'll receive her diagnosis?" and "what kind of tests do they have to do?" and "what's the proper medical term for [the type of disease he says she has]?" If he doesn't have answers for these questions, perhaps he'll then seek those answers out, and her responses may reveal to him that the whole thing is manufactured; or perhaps she'll have the answers because this is a real condition. If he says she doesn't know any of the answers, you might hazard a concerned "this seems like the kind of information that anyone in her position would have; do you think there's a chance that she's over-reacting to something her doctor said, or is only speculating about a potential diagnosis that isn't based on facts her doctor provided?"

After all, he's a smart guy; if it is not really happening, he'll either suss it out and get away, or let himself be pulled in because he really wants to be pulled in. You definitely don't want to be the person that expressed "oh, she's faking it" if it turns out to be real, and so you're going to have to trust him to figure it out if it is fake.
posted by davejay at 8:08 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

As you work through this, it's worth keeping two things in mind:
1. There is more than one person out there who can be a good fit for you. There is no "the one."
2. If something is a dealbreaker for you, admit it and move on.

Maybe this guy is taking care of a friend; maybe he's looking for something more. Maybe you and this guy will come to see each other as soul mates; maybe you won't. It's only been a month.
posted by jander03 at 8:16 AM on March 21, 2012

and control the *clang* *clang* of my anxieties regarding their connection.

You cannot control your anxieties. They exist. You can control your reaction to them, like telling yourself there's nothing you can do about this and that you'll have to trust or not trust, or set boundaries or not set them.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:17 AM on March 21, 2012

And this is all happening in the first/second month?

Up until you two are an official couple, he should be trying to impress you and vise versa. This is best behavior time.

My mother died soon after I started dating someone new. Because thhis person seemed to have potential, I didn't flood him with my drama. I explained that I was having some serious issues with a death in the family and may be unable to date as frequently, but would still really really like to see him in the future. What I didn't do, was expect him to support me.

My point with this is that if you are trying to impress someone, you don't drag them into your tragic ex drama. You mention it breifly, if that, and continue to show them how awesome you are, or if it is really bad, try to slow things down or put them on hold until the issues are resolved.

You have only known him a a month, there was no need for him to tell you that he politely rejected an ex recently, and you have no reason to be put in a postion where you would seem/feel heartless for not being supportive of this person (who is still a relative stranger).
posted by Shouraku at 9:22 AM on March 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've kind of been on both sides of this. My ex received a terminal diagnosis while we were in the process of breaking up. I call him my ex now, but while he was alive he remained a big part of my life and there was indeed some ambiguity (at times) about whether we might get back together. This was definitely an issue with anyone I tried to date over quite a long period. I was just not all there for those people.

From the other side-- a month in, and someone's ex is coming up repeatedly? Whether for health reasons or not, she is still in the picture. For my own comfort, I'd try to put the guy more in the friend zone. It wouldn't be so much a question of trust, to me-- it sounds like he is being open with you-- as it would be an unstable situation.
posted by BibiRose at 9:37 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like X is already once bitten twice shy. This is a good place for him to be for his own well being, even if you weren't in the picture.

To be sure, lots of guys have an ex-girlfriend von Munchausen who has reported all sorts of dire things just prior to or after a breakup. Mr. X almost certainly knows this (and is probably feeling like a selfish prick for even having theoretical knowledge that this happens). So, as has been said, don't bring up the possibility that she's faking it. If X broaches the subject and you respond with some of davejay's questions, that's one thing, but if you say it first and he's already feeling bad about thinking the same thing, you're going to be the low resistance path for a lot of guilt that he doesn't mean to dump on you.

I think the best way to control your anxieties is to remind yourself that yeah, she'd like to get X back, X has already extracted himself from that mess once and now she's back with More Drama - Impending Mortality Edition (well, maybe). If the pressure makes you go all drama queen yourself, X's decision is a bad stand up routine about not understanding women. If you continue to pursue him while being understanding and serene about the whole mess it's more like "Cake or Death."

If X chooses Death, X was not a keeper.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:00 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

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