My boyfriend's ex is his "best friend."
June 29, 2015 12:23 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend had a pretty awful 10-year relationship with his ex girlfriend. After they broke up three years ago, things recovered to the point where they are really good friends. I feel like their friendship has unhealthy elements and I'm not sure how best to proceed.

In my early 40s, I feel like I am finally in an awesome relationship. My boyfriend of 5 months is kind, considerate, smart, funny, supportive, and many other wonderful things. We are talking about the future -- I've met his parents and we talk about how we want to live 10 years from now and mostly see eye to eye. I'm really happy. My one concern is that he does not have great boundaries sometimes.

One of those times is with his ex, Terri. Boyfriend knew that things would not work out with Terri pretty early on, but she threatened suicide and he was afraid to break up with her. When she finally came around to see that their relationship was not good and they should end it, things got pretty bad -- drunken fights with her hitting him, screaming at him, etc. while they lived together in the house they had bought together and were trying to unload. After a year, they got past the worst of the breakup, sold the house and remained friends. Really good friends. Really good friends who see each other multiple times per week.

Boyfriend was up front about all of this and it did not bother me at first. Then I realized the extent to which Terry relies on him emotionally. She's dating an older guy who supports her financially and travels a lot. So boyfriend organized an early birthday party for Terri while Terri's boyfriend was still in town. I did not have an issue until I heard Terri was upset when my boyfriend tried to duck out of her second (!) birthday party because he wanted to spend the weekend with me before I went out of the country for two weeks.

So I brought this up to boyfriend as it came up last month and he was pretty great about it. He said he hated to see me upset and he agreed there was something off about how entangled Terri is with him. He said it was something he would have to work on. (This was progress because initially, boyfriend had mentioned that he wanted Terri and I to be best friends too. Uh. NO.)

Then today, boyfriend mentioned that he was going to have his weekly dinner with Terri so wouldn't be available tomorrow. He also had coffee with Terri yesterday and pushed back our plans to meet up by a few hours so he wouldn't have to cancel on her. Terri's boyfriend had been in town so I guess that's why my boyfriend hadn't seen much of her since I brought the issue up. When I was disappointed to hear the weekly dinner existed, boyfriend said, hey, I told you when we started dating that Terri was my best friend. Which is true, but when I found out how weird the relationship was, I told him about my concerns and he agreed.

I feel like this may die down on its own as our relationship continues to go well, and maybe I'm jumping the gun in being concerned. To be clear, I have no issue with my boyfriend being friends with his ex. I just have issues with him being her emotional boyfriend, having "dates" when her boyfriend is out of town. It's not jealousy so much as I feel like she is taking up emotional real estate that is more girlfriend than friend.

Have you encountered something like this before? How did you resolve it productively?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Whoa, m_s, did we read the same question? That's a pretty harsh take on what I think is an entirely sensible, legit concern that the OP has. In fact, I think the OP may be underreacting to this a little bit. The best friend is a former girlfriend of 10 years, not just an old beer buddy, ffs.

I don't have time to give a thorough answer, OP, but I believe you when you say BF has bad boundaries, and yes, I think the ex is leaning on him a bit too much to fulfill her emotional needs, per:

I did not have an issue until I heard Terri was upset when my boyfriend tried to duck out of her second (!) birthday party because he wanted to spend the weekend with me before I went out of the country for two weeks.

I think you're bang-on in your assessment, OP, and I think you need to have a heart-to-heart with boyfriend about this.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 1:16 AM on June 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


Important question: how long have your boyfriend and Terri been broken up? It sounds like they are still in a primary emotional relationship and casually dating other people.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 1:37 AM on June 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


To be clear, I have no issue with my boyfriend being friends with his ex. I just have issues with him being her emotional boyfriend, having "dates" when her boyfriend is out of town. It's not jealousy so much as I feel like she is taking up emotional real estate that is more girlfriend than friend.

I think your assessment is spot on, but I also think this isn't going to change on its own.
What you need to do is
- truly believe that you have a right to ask for the change you want. You do. His behaviour of prioritising his ex over you is not sustainable in a healthy relationship. Do not hold back your needs in order to be the cool, non-demanding girlfriend.
- make clear the many ways in which he shows skewed priorities and how off it is.
- discuss terms and solutions with him. Just because you are the only one to have a problem With the situation doesn't mean you need to present him with readymade solutions. He needs to be invested in your relationship enough to come up with suggestions together with you.
- make clear that this behaviour is a deal breaker.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:54 AM on June 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


I also don't believe you're over reacting! This wouldn't be okay with me in a relationship and I see this becoming emotionally unhealthy for you. If he can't step back and make you priority then I would say good byie and let her continue whatever this is with her and find the right relationship for you.
posted by catspajammies at 1:57 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


You're not over reacting. If it's all so innocent, why does Terri primarily catch up with him while her boyfriend is out of town? Why aren't you two catching up as couples or when her boyfriend is around? Is it because he wouldn't be ok with their closeness? Gee, I wonder why that would that be? If their relationship is so open and friendly, her current bf should be aware of how often they catch up and be fine with it too. I think it's very convenient for her that she gets the financial support from one guy and the emotional support from another. So what is your guy getting out of it? Hmmm...? He needs to pick a team. I have very close male friends but they and my partner know exactly what the pecking order is and who my priorities lie with. Do yours?
posted by Jubey at 2:33 AM on June 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


I wouldn't say this is so much an issue of boundaries as an issue that his priority list says that a formerly-romantic friend who he's had in his life for over a decade gets a higher bill than his girlfriend of five months. You're not wrong for wanting to be a higher priority, but--I'm in my mid-30s, and having had a lot of relationships not work out, even when the friendship dynamic might not be super-healthy, I'd probably still pick my friends over a relatively new girlfriend. I'm not saying I think his friendship with her is very functional, but just that I don't think you're actually in a position to get to make that call for him. She's been around for over a decade. You haven't. He's been hoping he can fit you in with this established life that he's got, and it's not working out, because you don't want to fit in with that life. You might be totally right about this being screwed up and bad for him, but five months, after you're past your early twenties, is not settled enough into someone's life to get to be the person who says that.

Which leaves either "live with it" or "find a partner whose friends are people you'd generally like to be friends with", and I'd probably say the latter, even though I realize that's not as easy a choice to make when you're not a 20-something anymore. This is kind of up there with "I think my partner is parenting wrong" in stuff where you can be all kinds of right, but it won't do you any good whatsoever. I don't know if you ARE right, but it functionally does not matter.
posted by Sequence at 2:39 AM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I did not have an issue until I heard Terri was upset when my boyfriend tried to duck out of her second (!) birthday party because he wanted to spend the weekend with me before I went out of the country for two weeks.

I got this far and already thought you were being completely reasonable. This is ridiculous.

I think this is completely inappropriate, and i actually just watched something very similar ruin a close friends relationship because he just kept picking Weird Friend Person over his freaking girlfriend.

This is, at best, an emotional affair sort of situation. Realistically, i think that there's more going on here than you realize even if it all stays over the clothes and "platonic".

While i don't think it's weird that they go out and do stuff solo, do you ever regularly go hang out with the both of them? Does he just make tons of plans that are consistently without you, rather than including you a decent amount of the time especially if you're available?

I think your boyfriend and Terri are both doing something very similar here in that they're both emotionally double dipping. They're still dating eachother, they're just also dating you and her new boyfriend.

If you make a completely legitimate stink about this, you'll probably be painted all around as the jealous/paranoid/insecure/etc "bitch" but you'll be completely on point. You can wait around and see how this plays out, you can leave, or you can be up front and explain plainly why you're not ok with this but it's probably all going to lead to the same point of finding out that some really questionable scenario happened with them not explicitly cheating, but hanging out in some sketchy late night manner or whatever.

You made a good call bringing up boundaries, because this is both bad boundaries and lack of respect for them. This is not how someone acts with a friend when they're dating someone, and it's really not how they act with their ex.

And i say this as a guy in a long term relationship with several close lady friends, whose also still friends and talks with his exes. There's a lot of inappropriateness going on here even coming from someone whose usually on the defending side with these kinds of questions.
posted by emptythought at 2:41 AM on June 29, 2015 [15 favorites]


[One comment deleted. Sorry for any confusion, folks. Answering sarcastically, telling the OP they are not being honest about their concern isn't okay. Productive and helpful answers, please.]
posted by taz (staff) at 2:42 AM on June 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


and let her continue whatever this is with her and find the right relationship for you.

I would actually say let them continue whatever this is.

I've seen this a few times before. A friend of mine recently met a guy she thought was great, except he was still very tied up with his ex, both financially and emotionally, several years post divorce. They weren't done yet. He was not actually free yet.

Is your guy really done with his ex? That is a lot of contact for any kind of friendship and his/their inability? reluctance? to reset now that they are both with other people troubles me, as it clearly troubles you. Everything you want is perfectly reasonable. Everything you're uncomfortable with is perfectly reasonable. It sounds like things are getting serious so have a serious talk about what is okay and not okay for you as a couple.

You're all grown ups, you want to be with someone who is emotionally mature enough to see their own dents and cracks and want to work on them for your relationship. Sometimes fucked up situations fill a deep emotional hole in us so well that we can't let it go. Is that what she does for him? Or is she an old habit that he can move on from?

Good luck. Take care of you.
posted by stellathon at 3:14 AM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Is their relationship directly affecting your relationship? As in, do you think he holds back from getting closer to you because of it or neglect you time-wise because of it? (I wouldn't consider his maintaining weekly dinners and failing to change pre-existing plans with her to be the latter, but if you prefer the type of relationship where your boyfriend is available 24/7 or more often than he currently is, I see why you might.)

If it's not affecting you anymore than it would be if he spent a lot of time playing golf, let it go and see how it plays out. As you said, it will probably resolve itself over time. If it IS affecting you, talk to him about exactly how it does, and the things you need to feel more secure.

Ex-girlfriend's feelings and boundary issues are not your problem unless they start directly pushing your boundaries.
posted by metasarah at 5:14 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


You might need to seriously consider ending the relationship unless both of you can see your way out of this situation in graceful way without resentment on either side. If it's less than graceful, there's a possibility that it will colour your relationship with him for its duration. My personal preference is for a relationship to start off with one's best foot forward.
posted by alusru at 5:14 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think you're right to be concerned, but I also think that he's doing okay, too. Since you relationship started, his friendship with Terri has slowly been de-escalating, from him wanting to you to be best friends too so he can spend all his time together, to him choosing to spend more time with you, and choosing you over her a lot of the time (until she throws a fit, anyway - how did the birthday party thing resolve?). By maintaining a weekly dinner with her, he's not choosing her over you, in the same way that going to work every day is not choosing work over you - Terri is part of his life, and so far it hasn't been a choice, in fact this week was the first time there was conflict with dinner. So, maybe now it is becoming a choice, and that's a reasonable thing to take seriously - but just because he's been implicitly continuing his dinners doesn't mean he's chosen her over you, or would choose her if that's what it came to. Talk about it, work though all the implications and feelings.

That said, if Best Friends have dinner once a week, coffee once a week, and are in constant contact, then I must not have any good friends at all, because I have to put effort into scheduling to see my each of my dearest friend about once every 2 weeks.
posted by aimedwander at 5:21 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Your boyfriend is making clear that his ex is his priority over you, even when he already has plans with you. In fact, it goes beyond prioritization when he cancels his plans with you in order to spend extra time with her -- that's plain old rude!

This would be weird and unhealthy even if she weren't his ex, and it would be a good reason to break. It's not going to change, and it's not going to go well for you. The fact that she's his ex just makes it weirder and more fucked up, and more likely that they will fuck or maybe even get back together.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:07 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Time to propose that the four of you go out to dinner, which has no downside. If anyone balks, that will be telling. If it comes off, seeing your BF and Terri interact, as well as how Terri and her guy behave, will give you all sorts of information about the shape of those relationships. Moreover, if you and your BF stay together, Terri will be in your lives (with or without her new guy) and so you might as well start being real people to each other instead of characters filtered through your BF. Reinforcing your roles and increasing mutual goodwill will also make it easier for everyone to draw and respect boundaries.
posted by carmicha at 7:02 AM on June 29, 2015 [19 favorites]


I feel like this may die down on its own as our relationship continues to go well, and maybe I'm jumping the gun in being concerned. To be clear, I have no issue with my boyfriend being friends with his ex. I just have issues with him being her emotional boyfriend, having "dates" when her boyfriend is out of town. It's not jealousy so much as I feel like she is taking up emotional real estate that is more girlfriend than friend.

It's not going to die down unless you make it clear that it has to. I've spoken here a lot about my SO and the relationship he had with his son's mom. She was overbearing and he was a sort of mellow get-along guy and the extent to which she wanted them to still be involved was, to my mind, inappropriate, but I had to be the one who said, basically "You are participating in girlfriend-like behavior with your ex. We are not in a poly relationship. I do not want this to continue. Let's talk about having better boundaries so that you can maintain your friendship but I feel like I am your only girlfriend." I mean of COURSE he wants you to be friends with Terri, then he doesn't have to do any of the hard work of making decisions about how he spends his time.

That said, you haven't been together that long and it seems like he may just need to learn to shift gears.

So regular meetups might be okay but changing plans with you (for non-emergency reasons) are not. Giving you static because she's his "best friend" isn't cool and is not in line with her uncool (I'd say manipulative) behavior when he left her party early. You can gently point this out to him and say that while you may believe he has the best of intentions this sort of weird girlfriend-behavior from her isn't okay and he needs to be the one who set sup boundaries.

And if he is like my nice mellow guy he'll get crabby that he is "In the middle" and you can point out to him that he put himself there, he just needs to be a little bit more cler with word and deed just what sort of relationship he and Terri have. She has a boyfriend. He is not the boyfriend. He has a girlfriend. That is you. That should not just be true "on paper" but clear to others in the way you all treat each other. And if Terri can't or won't get on board with that, then he'll have to draw some lines.

To be clear, many people have long wonderful best friend types of relationships with their exes and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But Terri is not behaving (as you've described it) like a best friend who honors and respects your guy's relationship with you. And that either needs to change or your guy needs to not let whatever's weird with her affect his relationship with you, but you may need to work with him to get to that place.
posted by jessamyn at 7:48 AM on June 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'm gonna be honest, I had a Terri, and until my Terri moved away our boundaries were super unhealthy. We're still best friends, but there's a lot less weird-shady-stuff-my-partner-doesn't-know-about now that he's in a different state. Sometimes you need distance.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:59 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


But Terri is not behaving (as you've described it) like a best friend who honors and respects your guy's relationship with you.

Going further with this -- ANY friend, opposite sex or not, ex or not, should be invested in making sure their friend is happy in his relationship. Not competing with it.

It's a definition thing: if you're my friend, I want you to be a happy, whole person. I support whatever that means, especially your relationship.

She's not his friend. He may be earnestly trying to be her friend, but she's not his friend. He needs to recognize that she doesn't actually want what's best for him, that she's not acting like a friend to him.
posted by Dashy at 8:13 AM on June 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'm a little torn if you should bother talking this through with him, but I also can state one thing firmly: This guy is not ready on his own without prompting to choose another relationship over Terri.

Do you really want to be deeply involved with someone who features these relationship skill deficiencies? I might also pin this on an underlying lack of maturity on his part...

I mean, any adult should be able to parse that he can't have both Terri and a serious girlfriend or wife - right?? Children want to have these types of set-ups in their lives where decisions and distinctions do not have to made. Adults understand they can't lie to themselves and other adults about their "best friend" and how that relationship is really something more. They intrinsically understand if they want a primary intimate relationship, they have to make space for it to flourish. This guy is not making space for a relationship with you. And the whole, "I told you about my best friend and you said it was OK!" tactic? Yeah. This also speaks to the fact that this guy is not available for an intimate adult romantic relationship. He's equivocating.

I'm heavily leaning towards you breaking up with this guy in the most graceful and non-aggressive way possible.

You maybe could explain, "Five months into our relationship, it turns out you are not emotionally available to cultivate the type of deep and mutually intimate relationship I aspire to have. That role in your life is already taken. Which is fine and there are no hard feelings. I'm breaking up with you because this situation is not for me." You maybe could express that. Maybe.

I feel like this guy is heavily manipulated by Terri, but by his own choice and willing participation. He's still figuring things out. I'm afraid if you offer any comments on his relationship with Terri, those comments will be misconstrued by himself, by Terri, or by both of them.

He kinda mislead you about his availability when you first started dating. I couldn't have respect for him after figuring this out, myself. He has a responsibility to make himself "relationship ready" before embarking on a new relationship. He's got self-work to do. This is not your problem to fix.

I think you should quietly back out of this relationship triangle (quadrangle?) and close the door on this chapter of your life.

My last point is that even if you can get the Terri-thing sorted out (you likely can't) his lack of boundaries and maturity will manifest in other ways. I think he's not ready to be in a fully adult romantic relationship. Throw this one back.
posted by jbenben at 9:30 AM on June 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


Ok, my boyfriend's best friend is a woman. They would not behave in this manner. This is not normal best friend behavior. How does her boyfriend feel about this?
posted by domo at 9:52 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't overthink this: you don't like the way Terri is still a big part of his life. You need to tell him "either she goes or I go". I'm not a fan of making ultimatums like that, but I think this is a case where it is not only acceptable, it is necessary if you want a serious future with this guy.
posted by doctor tough love at 9:53 AM on June 29, 2015


You could express this from Dashy's comment because it really gets to the heart of things, and see what he says:

"ANY friend, opposite sex or not, ex or not, should be invested in making sure their friend is happy in his relationship. Not competing with it."
posted by jbenben at 10:00 AM on June 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Many of my nearest and dearest are ex boyfriends.

They don't, except in cases of emergency, take priority over plans with a current boyfriend.

As said above, you are absolutely justified in having a heart to heart with your bf about priorities and boundaries and respect. I strongly suspect that she is probably still manipulating him emotionally, given the pattern established in their relationship.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:47 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Time to propose that the four of you go out to dinner, which has no downside. If anyone balks, that will be telling. If it comes off, seeing your BF and Terri interact, as well as how Terri and her guy behave, will give you all sorts of information about the shape of those relationships.

As someone whose done quite a bit of stuff like this, please don't even bother trying to engineer a "gotcha" situation. It's tiresome and ultimately pointless because you aren't a cop doing a stakeout and life is not to catch a predator.

If you doubt someone enough to try and catch them acting badly and set some ben and jerry box-and-stick trap for them, just don't even bother with them anymore.

Like, think long and hard if you really want to do this about why before you even try it. It's a demonstration of a huge lack of trust and faith that's ultimately incompatible with a healthy relationship and serves only to prove to yourself that well, it's not a healthy relationship. If you need that proof for closure, go for it, but otherwise just skip that step.
posted by emptythought at 3:16 PM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


« Older How common are 'hidden ovaries' in a transvaginal...   |   Chromebook vs. cheap Windows laptop for light... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.