Too close for comfort . . .
December 19, 2013 2:05 PM   Subscribe

I've searched previous threads regarding appropriate relationships with exes, but I'm still a little confused with my situation. Would really appreciate some feedback from both the male and female perspective.

Have been dating my current dude for almost 1.5 years. I love everything about him and our relationship - we are very different but have a ton to talk about, we always make each other laugh, have great sexual chemistry, have similar ideas about the future (both of us have been divorced and aren't looking to have kids or get married again). We have the same mindset about finances, social issues, etc.

The only concern is my increasing uneasiness with his relationship with his ex-wife. He was married for 10 years, divorce went through right before we met. He has been good friends with her throughout and since the divorce. They text on a frequent basis about how they are doing and random things (like friends do), they invite each other to group outings maybe once every few months (I'm always in attendance). He was clear from the beginning that they are good friends and have no ill-will towards each other, and no romantic feelings. For what it's worth, they were both in agreement on getting divorced though I think it was initially her wanting it more than he.

I have hung out with her many times, including two day long road trips (which, I know, most people think is extremely weird and unusual). I think she's great, and if she wasn't his ex I would probably be good friends with her. We talk openly when we are all together about me being his girlfriend and she his ex. He's physically affectionate towards me in front of her, and we talk about our relationship in front of her.

That being said, despite his words, I wonder if there are still some physical attraction or feelings left between them for them to remain this close. They do have some of the same interests, and they have lots to talk about when they are together. I just have never known any divorced couple (without kids) to be as close as them. I don't *want* it to bother me, and I think it's great that he's been able to remain friends with his ex (that is not the case with me and my ex). But despite my best efforts, my jealousy is starting to nag at me. And I'm not sure why *now* it's starting to nag me so much. I do totally trust him in that I never think he would cheat on me. But I do worry that I'm being naive and months/years from now I will be hitting myself for not realizing the impact of their close relationship.

Personal experiences? Advice? Am I being way to naive? Does anyone out there in a long term relationship have a really good relationship with their ex where they interact this frequently? Thanks.
posted by canda to Human Relations (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Why did they get divorced? Are those reasons still relevant? Has anything changed that would make them think they could get back together?

By 1) getting married in the first place, and 2) still being friends after their divorce, they'll have plenty to say to each-other, especially if they stay in contact and go on trips together as you say they do.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:27 PM on December 19, 2013

Does anyone out there in a long term relationship have a really good relationship with their ex where they interact this frequently?

I'm the ex in question; a couple I know got together about one month after the guy dumped me. The day after we broke up, he called me and asked, "hang on, though, do you maybe instead want to WORK together?" They've been together for ten years, and we've been friends in all that same time. And in fact, your guy's ex is behaving herself a little better than I initially did, to be honest (I felt a little compelled to point out that I was his ex on occasion, and he actually had to take me aside once and say that it was creeping her out, and I hung back for a month and worked out one last issue and now it's cool).

Today, my friend and I are so very much not interested in each other that we actually have, like, an incest reaction to the idea of any kind of physical involvement (he can't even listen to "The Pina Colada" song in my presence because it talks about personal ads and that's how we met and that reminds him that we dated and it's just all weird for him). But we talk a lot, and the two of them came over for a little Christmas party last week and I'm supposed to go to a movie with them and they loan me their car and she finds me recipes and I pickle beets for her and they both send me goofy email shit and he and I are trying to think of work projects we can do together and the three of us have now and then talked about a vacation together, and it is all cool.

It IS possible for the two of them to be friends and that be it.

I'd maybe have a talk with him sometime, though, just talking about how you PERSONALLY feel - that being involved with someone with such a recent ex is really new territory for you, and so far it's been fine, but it's something you may waver in now and then when it comes to wrapping your brain around it. You're not telling him something is wrong, you're just giving him a heads-up that this is new for you and you may need a bit of a learning curve and a tiny bit more patience.

You're fine. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:31 PM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

Please relax. This could be my ex; it is part of his character to be good with his exes. I liked that about him when we were together and I still do. I think it is a really generous and wonderful attitude on his side.
To my knowledge, he has always been 100% faithful within the relationship he was in. I was his no. 2 serious relationship, the next person he married, and unfortunately they divorced after 10 years, because she was jealous and worried. I wish she'd asked me, because I could have assured her nothing was going on. I like them both a lot, and I wanted for them to succeed.
posted by mumimor at 2:31 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Anecdata: I'm a lesbian, and in a lesbian relationship, and one of my exes lives downstairs (with her partner). Another was the officiant at our commitment ceremony. Exes of my partner's are still in her life, too.

I have hot-tubbed naked with exes, gone to the movies with exes, exchanged Christmas presents with exes, etc. and so on. The only time I've ever had sex with an ex is when we were still in the not-quite-exes-yet period of time.

I have hung out with her many times, including two day long road trips (which, I know, most people think is extremely weird and unusual).

In my part of the world, this is so not-weird that no one would even think to remark on it, unless the breakup had been very recent and/or acrimonious.

If you trust him, and you trust her, then tell that voice in your head to shut up and get out.
posted by rtha at 2:31 PM on December 19, 2013 [9 favorites]

Sigh. Tough call, because it could go either way. It's possible for it to all be on the up-and-up, especially, imo, when the relationship had a strong friendship base prior to the relationship.

If my ex lived closer, instead of an hour away, we'd likely be in frequent communication, and we have, at times, anyway. We can still talk for hours, and we often talk about our relationships. Then again, that's what our friendship was like BEFORE we were ever in a relationship together. I'm also pretty certain that my ex and my guy would get along really well, and they do have a lot in common, if my guy could get past his (anger is too strong, disgust, maybe?) at the way my ex treated me and my kids, and remember that is MY thing to deal with, not his.

There are mutual kids involved, though, on top of the fact that we've know each other since early grade school and been close since early high school - there's so much mutual history that it may not exactly apply. But then again, that may not be a requirement for it to work on a friendship basis... sometimes, people just really can get along as just friends. (I have an older friend (he's now 50-ish, so his parents are even older) whose parents divorced, but still ran a business today, worked together daily, and had lunch together every day... and he told me that 20+ years ago, and it's still the same.)
posted by stormyteal at 2:34 PM on December 19, 2013

Oh, and forgot to add: if his family lived closer, we'd all probably be in and out of each other's houses several days a week, and I'd be providing childcare for their younger kids, and we'd likely all vacation together if we could just afford to. We've had a couple previously planned camping trips that just didn't pan out so we could go, but we wanted to!
posted by stormyteal at 2:37 PM on December 19, 2013

These things that he does with his ex-wife -- the texting, the day-long roadtrips (with you along) -- does he do them in equal measure with his male friends? If he's just a big ol' friendly kinda guy who has loosey-goosey but healthy boundaries, that's one thing; but if you are noticing a pattern where he maintains a particularly intense interaction style only with female exes (or this one ex), it may be something to discuss with him.

It's also fine to not be cool with doing more extended socializing with the ex -- a day-long roadtrip, e.g. -- if it makes you feel like things are a little too poly-tilting for your taste.

I wonder at the ex not stepping back a bit. I'm in her role, in relation to my best friend, and when he got a serious girlfriend (who happens to be fantastic), I made it my job to dial back and make sure she felt comfortable and safe. It's the kindly thing to do.

I know that goes against the popular "It's all good...being close with your exes is sign of a highly-evolved person", but people are vulnerable and scared sometimes when it comes to their love lives.

In your shoes, I would probably have a low-key discussion with your guy. Nothing accusatory; just put your feelings out there. It may be that he and she can make a few small adjustments that will put your mind at ease. If he's on your team, he'll get it.
posted by nacho fries at 2:40 PM on December 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

I have a good friend who I have spent the last couple of Thanksgivings with. She and her current husband also invite her ex-husband (and various other people). They all seem to get along great. People think it's weird. They don't. It's possible.
posted by miles1972 at 2:45 PM on December 19, 2013

I know childless ex-couples like this. They are not attracted to one another anymore and are much happier as close friends than they were as a couple. I personally don't see red flags here. Your partner is being transparent, including you in joint activities, his ex isn't territorial or inappropriate with you, and you and your partner have a great relationship. Don't borrow trouble via jealousy. I don't think you're being naive, you just have a partner who has a refreshingly mature and healthy relationship with his ex.
posted by quince at 3:13 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am very close friends with an ex. I would even say this person is one of my best friends. We hang out together a lot. When we say goodbye, we hug and even say, "Love you!" because we've been through a lot together and we hold one another in great esteem. We know what it means when we say it.

We're exes because we just didn't work as lovers, but we make wonderful friends. I can say with complete certainty that there's nothing untoward going on there, no lingering anything. My ex is in a long-term, committed relationship and this makes me very happy.

So there's your anecdata.

Honestly, I think what you have here is a solution in search of a problem. Nothing in your question raises any concerns, from where I sit.

And the thing is, the appearance of their current relationship is more or less meaningless in terms of whether or not you'll be kicking yourself later. Maybe he'll turn out to be awful in some way. Maybe he won't. But right now, he isn't doing anything questionable. This is one of those things where if he never cheats on you, it'll just sort of fade from your mind, but if he does, you'll be certain that this should have been a warning sign. We're people; we have strange brains that try very hard to see patterns, whether they're there or not.

For the time being, I'd say you can relax. If you have concerns about their closeness, there are ways to raise it that frame the question such that you know it's something about your own head and not their relationship. Just explain that this is new to you and ask him to hold you and make comforting word-noises.

I mean, keep your eyes open for sure. But that's true no matter what the situation.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 3:14 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Does anyone out there in a long term relationship have a really good relationship with their ex where they interact this frequently?

If I still lived in Chicago, my ex-husband and I would probably interact to a similar degree. He is very happily remarried with a new baby, and I have been very happily partnered with someone else for more than 8 years. I'm also friends with most of my exes to one degree or another, including an ex in San Francisco whose house I always crash at whenever I visit the Bay Area, even when my partner isn't with me. We genuinely love each other very much as friends, but have no residual romantic feelings for each other.

So yeah, what you describe wouldn't set off any alarm bells for me. But that's just how I'm wired (and how my partner is wired, too; he's friendly with his exes, and doesn't mind the time I spend with mine) may genuinely be wired a little differently on this score.
posted by scody at 3:20 PM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

There is nothing in what you've written that strikes me as obviously inappropriate or concerning. The devil is in the details with this kind of thing though. It depends so much on body language and other subtleties.

Being friends with a long term ex makes sense to me. If you got along well and had lots in common then it seems healthy and mature to be able to carry that on in some form after the relationship is over.

I have varying degrees of friendship with exes, though nothing as close as this. My experience of sexual attraction afterwards is that there is usually none for me and, like EmpressCallipygos, the thought of it is often somewhat repulsive, even if the sex was especially good at the time.

Given the jealousy is is coming up now, it may be worth looking into the possibility something else has happened or is happening and that this is a trigger.

I don't think you're being naive.
posted by mewsic at 3:29 PM on December 19, 2013

My partner stays with his ex wife when he travels to the city where she lives (and where he used to live). I'm 100% fine with it, and next month we are off for a holiday and to attend her birthday party.

I never considered that anything might go on between them and I guess the fact that there was another girlfriend before me kind of helps.

But I think it's great. As long as you are comfortable with it then what's the problem? Don't let society dictate how you should feel in this situation. It's different for everyone!
posted by Youremyworld at 3:44 PM on December 19, 2013

I have an ex partner who is in the category of "best friend." We stay at each other's houses when we're in one another's towns, we talk on the phone a few times a month, we help each other out with logistical problems, and he played a big role in my wedding. My spouse is fine with it, as is his partner, and we all like each other a lot. Just to offer another data point.
posted by feets at 4:03 PM on December 19, 2013

I'll echo the calls of why they got divorced in the first place. I know a couple who got divorced because although they still loved each other, the sexual aspect of their relationship was gone -- living together like brother and sister, basically, and neither was satisfied with that. So they're both remarried now but remain very close, and I believe they're each pretty close with the other's new partner. I'm not saying it's common and you can assume the same of your situation, but it's not unheard of.
posted by telegraph at 4:12 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was close to my ex when we first broke up bit he couldn't handle the jealousy when I started a new relationship and he didn't. My current husband is close to a few of his ex's and I am more than ok with that but my husband got very jealous and had delusions of things I said/did that he reported to his ex's as fact so I don't have contact with them because I didn't want to tell them he was delusional (as in, clinically diagnosed with hallucinations and delusions) without his permission. If we break up I hope we can still remain friends but I think it does take a lot of maturity, social graces, and empathy to do it effectively.
posted by saucysault at 5:17 PM on December 19, 2013

My standard advice: suspicion can't prevent infidelity; in fact it drives wedges into otherwise wonderful relationships. Learn to live without it.

Treat your present circumstances as an opportunity for personal growth. Recognize that your jealousy is yours and is something you need to learn to let go of when it happens.

Jealousy is just one of those unpleasant aspects of being a human being, like farting only less funny. You're not required to turn it into a big deal.
posted by flabdablet at 10:28 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Why would they not just be together then?

Besides, having the same interests and having a lot to talk about doesn't mean you want to shag one another.
posted by heyjude at 1:04 AM on December 20, 2013

I know that goes against the popular "It's all good...being close with your exes is sign of a highly-evolved person", but people are vulnerable and scared sometimes when it comes to their love lives.

Vulnerable is fine; mutual, chosen vulnerability is what intimacy is. Scared is unpleasant though.

The trick is to recognize that scared is happening and scared is unpleasant, and to work out how to make it less likely to crop up again, or at least less intense or important or distracting when it does. And the thing about being suspicious of your partner's relationships with other people is that practicing that suspicion will make you more scared of losing them to somebody else, not less. Mentally rehearsing all the ways that could happen just feels bad.

The way to get un-scared is to practice acknowledging that it's there, and then carrying on regardless. Because it's your fear. It's part of your experience. Talking it over and through with somebody you're intimate with can certainly help you work through it, but only as long as both people involved don't forget whose fear it is and therefore whose job it is to fix it. Because intimacy can only go so far. It can show you what's in your head, but it can't get inside it and clean up in there; only you can do that.

I was lucky enough to work this attitude out quite young, as a result of having a good friend who drove his car as if it were his motorcycle. He'd regularly take completely outrageous risks while overtaking, and as his passenger I would almost crap my pants every time. And one day it occurred to me in the middle of one of these terrifying manouevres that there was nothing at all I could do to make me less likely to be crushed like a bug; perhaps I could have avoided being in that position in the first place by choosing not to get in his car in the first place, but that was then and this was now and anything I could possibly say or do right this instant would be a distraction and make things worse not better and oh my god he's got away with it again.

There were all kinds of lessons there (don't get in a car with a fuckwit behind the wheel being the obvious one) but the main one I took away was that having chosen to put my life in somebody else's hands and ending up utterly terrified as a result, the right thing to do is to acknowledge that I am not now in control of the situation, to trust whoever is not to kill me, and to relax as much as possible. Since then I've occasionally sought out genuinely terrifying experiences (skydiving and the Giant Drop being notable - I've a very strong fear of heights) just for the sake of practicing that, and it's also come in very handy the few times I've been a surgical patient.

And it works in relationships as well. Once you're strapped in, relax and enjoy the ride. It will occasionally be scary, but that's its nature. And as long as your copilot is not a complete fuckwit, there is no better environment than a mutually vulnerable intimate relationship for learning how to live your life to the full without letting your fear get big enough to crush it.
posted by flabdablet at 1:30 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am in a great post-marriage relationship with my ex. We hang out, share our dogs and live nearby. I don't think ending a marriage [which requires a certain kind of intimacy and belief in each other] necessarily means ending all manner of friendship. I really want him to be happy, and that means happy in his new relationships, his health, work etc. I can imagine the relationship you describe above as being quite a respectful one.

I do think though that his or my new partner has the right to ask for a change in our closeness if they need it. When I was seeing someone who wasn't happy about us being so friendly, we drew back more. When he was seeing someone recently who I also knew socially, it was fine to hang out. I think it is reassuring to know that if either of us were asked by our new partners to draw back, we would with no bitching or moaning about it. I hope that won't happen though.

When you are married for a long time you develop all kinds of interest and knowledge as friends, and it is a shame to throw all of that away. I think I would like my future partners to be accepting of my friendship with my ex, and I would prefer that we were able to have the situations you described - the openness of affection between you and him being very clear, some social things shared from time to time.
posted by honey-barbara at 6:23 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

All my best friends are my ex-girlfriends. The reasons for your concern listed above all have to do with worrying whether his is normal/typical, etc.

A better metric would be to look back on their interactions and see if there is anything specific about the way they look at each other, touch each other, the tone of their voices, or anything off about his actions (concealing things from you).

From what you've written there doesn't seem to be a lot to be concerned about, but I guess that's my bias (coming from the staying friends with ex's camp).
posted by ravioli at 6:53 AM on December 20, 2013

Your feelings are valid even if there is nothing to them. By that I mean, it's OK for you to feel a little unsettled with the whole situation. The situation can be seen as unusual. Maybe not for Metafilter, but in general, That doesn't mean what he's doing is wrong or that anything could or would go on. Sometimes threads like this end up with people shaming the person feeling a tinge of jealousy or making it 100% their problem. It's OK for you to feel the way you feel. Reasonable relationship boundaries are defined in the relationship by agreement of two people, not by society and not on the Internet.

Like other people have said, it's all about the details. If your ex treats this person the same as every other person, there probably isn't anything to worry about. Even if he has a closer friendship with this ex than his other friends, there isn't necessarily anything to worry about.

I think you've got to figure out what boundaries you're comfortable with and what your partner is also OK with. I know folks who've stayed in hotel rooms with their exes while traveling, and others who seeing an ex is out of the question. You're in the middle. Figure out what works for you and what doesn't, discuss that with your partner and go from there.

The biggest thing is that you are who you are, and wherever you are on that spectrum is OK, as long as nobody is getting hurt and it works in the context of your relationship.
posted by cnc at 8:42 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I commend you for your strength of character and fairness here, but I would never in a million years be ok with a flame of mine spending so much time with/talking to his ex like that. What a headache.

It's making you uncomfortable, so you need to be honest about that with your partner. An open and honest line of communication is an absolute necessity for the success of relationships.
posted by OneHermit at 9:01 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Does anyone out there in a long term relationship have a really good relationship with their ex where they interact this frequently?

One of my exes is my best friend; he's closer to me than my own brother. We talk on IM during the day; I hang out with him and his wife a few times a month. We were close friends who tried dating each other for a few months, and then realized we were terrible in a romantic relationship and should just go back to a friendship. He went through a few girlfriends who couldn't stand the thought of us still being close, but the woman he married didn't have a problem with it.

Is there some physical attraction left? Sure; he's a handsome man and I'm not dead. I still have fond memories of the time we spent together in bed, just like I would any ex I left on good terms. But when I think about sleeping with him again, I involuntarily flinch and do the icky-nar-nar flailing dance — it would be like sleeping with my brother. He has the same reaction. While there's still a strong mutual and palpable attraction between us, it's no longer a romantic or sexual attraction. It's very similar to the mutual attraction I feel for my other close friends: we simply get on like a house on fire. We still love each other, but it's a different kind of love, now. I'd bet cash money that your boyfriend and his ex have a similar dynamic.

My advice would be to try to figure out exactly what it is that you're afraid of. Is it that he might sleep with her again? It seems highly unlikely. It seems like your boyfriend's treating you well, being transparent, including you in their time together, making it clear you're a priority in his life — and those are all good and appropriate things. Try to reframe her as his sister and see if that helps any.
posted by culfinglin at 3:24 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

« Older This totally awesome iridescent bag   |   13 years old, my car’s about to hit puberty. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.