Does this email have romantic overtones?
April 12, 2016 1:16 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I have minor trust issues to deal with. He had an email exchange with an old ex- that I asked to read and have mixed feelings about and I'd like to hear your outside unbiased perceptions of it.

Context: he had a three month relationship with her something like five years ago, which didn't feel quite right. He left and she was in pain for a long time after, cut off contact, etc, but recently got in touch by email and added him on Facebook.

She sent him a long email about what an especially strong love she felt for him even though their affair was so brief and how much he had affected her life—she was with an abusive man for some years after and now has three children!

He feels some guilt about her pain of course and was happy that she was able to forgive him and be in touch. I know he's not looking to begin anything with her: he's clearly committed to me and besides, she's in a different country and has three children.

But his email in response to her long email made me feel uncomfortable. I feel it has romantic overtones, not enough boundaries and is ambiguous. He seems to genuinely say he didn't write it from that sort of space and that he was very happy to hear from her and read her email and that his expression of that would not be ambiguous to her.

The email said something like "I don't know why getting a mail from you excites me so much. I read it over and over, it resonates in me. You are probably right about the impossible platonic friendship."

And then it went on to say that he didn't realise how much she loved him at the time because he was confused at the time, etc...

The impossible platonic friendship thing is something she said: that she couldn't not be attracted to him. He says they did have a very strong attraction and he wouldn't put our relationship at any risk if she was in the same place and he did still feel that way.

How would you feel if your partner exchanged these words with another woman? Am I over-reacting?
posted by miaow to Human Relations (39 answers total)
I don't think you're overreacting. I'd be very uncomfortable if I read an email like that from my partner to an ex. It may very well be that he was simply happy to hear from her and flattered that her feelings for him were so strong, but if that's the case, he's not being kind to her by responding so ambiguously; she seems to have unresolved feelings for him and it sounds like she might be placing their (brief) relationship on a pedestal because she's comparing it to her relationship with her abuser. At the very least, he's naive about boundaries.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro at 1:33 AM on April 12, 2016 [18 favorites]

Yikes. No, there is definitely intimacy in this email that you are not part of. There is a way to have a conversation with someone that is totally neutral with no hints of potential intimacy and this is not it. "I don't know why getting a mail from you excites me so much. I read it over and over, it resonates in me." This in response to a very intimate email expressing love and attraction. Rather than deflect, he enthusiastically validates. Whatever she started with that email, he deepened.

The thing he said to you -- that he wouldn't put your relationship at risk -- it's a bit of an odd thing to say. It's a bit hard for me to articulate why. I think it suggests to me the reason why he is not having an affair with this person is because he is committed to you. This is different than not doing it because he has moved on from that person, or because he has grown past the point of seeking thrills in affairs. Does having an intimate conversation with an ex 'count' as putting your relationship at risk, or not? If he wants to do something, does he have what's best for your relationship in his heart, or is he only thinking about what's against the rules and what's not?

I don't think you're over-reacting. I think he should always act towards strengthening the relationship and he hasn't been doing that here. Promising not to destroy it altogether is not promising very much.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:48 AM on April 12, 2016 [25 favorites]

Your partner has been unkind to this woman if he does not plan on picking up their friendship and turning it into a defacto emotional affair/source of intimate support for her. Is he aware of how deep feelings work? That's a serious question and not snark.

That poor woman. Now she gets to think "If Only" and wish his partner (you) might disappear a thousand times a day. Clearly, he did not think his response all the way through. Please be kind to him in the short term! He just did not think.

I also agree he is unaware of what her perspective likely is.

There's no great way to deal with this as far as I know if he's this inexperienced with victims of abuse. Maybe future commenters can help point him to resources to help him understand? If he did not intend to re-ignite her unrequited romantic love for him, he wrote absolutely the worst worst response imaginable. She will not understand anything beyond "YES WE WERE STRONGLY CONNECTED AND STILL ARE!!!"

Be kind and personally flexible. If he doesn't "get" how shitty this is a response for all 3 of you, be flexible enough to end it with him. He might not be mature enough long term to stick it out with in a relationship.

He's inadvertently giving her false hope. ::shudders::
posted by jbenben at 1:49 AM on April 12, 2016 [16 favorites]

Thank you so much already. One little clarification. This email was written about six months ago, and the woman in question didn't reply to it. But she added him on FB a week or two ago and they had some fairly mundane conversation after. So far she doesn't seem interested in re-igniting their affair either. It seems like she was just trying to get something off her chest with that email. But I can't be sure what her feelings are.
posted by miaow at 1:54 AM on April 12, 2016

Eh? What was the context of you reading these emails?

There's always WhatsApp and a ton of other social media platforms for them to keep in touch with... My point is if you were snooping, there's nothing definitive.

If this was all above board and he told you about it himself from the beginning, you are borrowing problems that (thankfully!!) do not exist. Bullet dodged!
posted by jbenben at 2:07 AM on April 12, 2016

Context: we have trust issues because of little things in our past, I felt insecure about her and asked if I could read the emails, he willingly shared, and I wasn't expecting this and was shocked... I thought I'd be reassured and my fears put to rest.
posted by miaow at 2:12 AM on April 12, 2016

Every relationship is different but what you quoted would make me put my twenty-year relationship on the line as a dealbreaker. I'm sorry, but that was not an appropriate thing for him to write while in a relationship and it certainly makes him sound self-centered and immature. Unless you have a pattern of preventing him from having friendships I think you have the right to say no more communication between them and he needs to focus on your relationship instead.
posted by saucysault at 3:26 AM on April 12, 2016 [10 favorites]

What's going on in the bigger picture here? You mention in passing, almost as a footnote, your "minor trust issues" that arose from "little things in your past", and don't seem to connect them to this current issue at all. However, you asked to look at the emails because you felt something was up with them, and now you are shocked because they show clearly that you were right to be worried, and that your trust issues aren't unfounded or based in some other insecurity of your personality like you were maybe kind of hoping. You didn't want to admit that there are concrete things in your relationship which are demonstrating to you that your boyfriend is not trustworthy and that you might have cause to be insecure, but now you have evidence that you were secretly hoping you wouldn't find. What are you going to do with that evidence now you've gone looking and found it?

The email itself certainly reads to me like one written by someone who is not thinking of their current relationship as 100% solid and un-negotiable. The ex question is perhaps a red herring- it has more impact because they previously had a relationship, but really, I could see your boyfriend having this kind of attitude to another person, maybe an exciting new co-worker, or a male friend who just seems to get him, or even a hobby which makes him feel different from how he is with you. He "doesn't know why getting this email excites him so much" because it's hard to admit to oneself that one may be straying away from one's partner. No-one likes to think of themselves as a bad guy, and feelings of discontentment can be easily assigned to some other cause. But I think your boyfriend has a niggling feeling that he's not happy, and he jumped on this email because it offered him a new way of thinking of himself and his past- a way that's not connected to you or your relationship together. And your fear and insecurity comes from the fact that you are a sensitive and intuitive person, and can feel that his commitment is perhaps only predicated on there not being another option that's come around. The ex is clearly a no-go, but what if he received similar vibes from someone or something that is available? This is definitely the territory that affairs, emotional and/or physical potentially arise from. He loves you, he doesn't want to leave you, and he's not a bad guy, so what's the harm in indulging in some little fantasy about his ex-girlfriend? Or in flirting with a co-worker? Or going off with his boys on some hobby or adventure that absorbs all of his energy and which he does not share with you? The harm is that he doesn't see that that leaves you with a sense of lack and a sense of mistrust, which you can never acknowledge, because he hasn't done anything concretely wrong, and because he's being so open about- for example- showing you the emails, so why would you have any reason to doubt him, right?

Go with your gut. Your boyfriend is not in this as much as you need him to be, and unfortunately I don't think confrontation would ever be successful in getting him to admit that, because he wouldn't believe it of himself.
posted by mymbleth at 3:31 AM on April 12, 2016 [23 favorites]

Oh goody, I get to go against all the advice you've received thus far. Sigh.

First, if you have trust issues you may be predisposed to interpret things in the worst possible light. I think you should be very certain you are remembering his words correctly. It is possible that he said something more benign than "I'm excited". It would be unfair to judge him for "something like" what he said. Judge what he actually said. Look at the email again, in as calm and dispassionate a mood as you can, and see what it actually says rather than what you fear it might say.

Secondly, as someone who had a major relationship destroyed by my partner's unfounded jealousy, I'd caution you not to go accusing your partner of anything because of your fears. He deserves the benefit of the doubt. If you go into conversation with him with accusations, that will exacerbate any rifts between you. It really, really sucks, I mean it is tremendously off-putting, to have to deal with a jealous partner's paranoia.

It sounds like he's being open with you in showing you the email, and that he doesn't believe he's done anything wrong. If you re-read the email and it still bothers you, broach the subject in terms of your ferlings and desires, not his wrongdoing. And listen to his own explanation of where he was coming from.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 3:42 AM on April 12, 2016 [19 favorites]

Oh, hell no. Honestly, I don't think this is even fixable. I think you're gonna spend months or years trying to "work this out", and then one day realize you should have dumped him immediately. This guy is not committed to you deep in his heart. I hate having to say this, but I think you should DTMFA and save yourself from all that dragged out pain.
posted by MexicanYenta at 3:50 AM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

Your partner is being open with you about this and possibly doesn't think he did anything wrong. But that email was not okay to send while he is in a relationship with you. It leaves the door open to romantic possibility with her and keeps her deep feelings on the hook. Whether he intended this or not is one thing, but the appropriate and kind response to her in the circumstances would have been something along the lines of acknowledging her feelings, telling her that he is now in a very happy committed relationship and wishing her well for the future and closing the door to any further contact. Why is he talking to her on Facebook now? It might all be mundane but keeping contact with someone who is still hung up on you from a fling 5 years ago is not something you do when you're in a relationship, unless you want to keep things on a simmer in case the relationship ends. She has no place in his life so I am not sure what he's doing here. I wouldn't be happy.
posted by Polychrome at 3:56 AM on April 12, 2016 [18 favorites]

The problem here isn't "romantic undertones." The problem is that he's throwing you under the bus and pitting you against her. He's basically saying that he's into her, but isn't going to do anything because he's with you. So he's setting up the dynamic where you are the competition, and that if she can just get rid of you, they can be together and true love wins. That's pretty gross.

Does he do this a lot? Make you seem like the stumbling block getting in the way of his happiness? If so, I'd seriously reconsider staying.

Years ago, my aunt had a boyfriend sho she broke up with because felt she had to marry someone within our culture. When he turned out to be a layer, cheater, and addict, she left him and sent a note to her former love. He responded by saying that he had loved her, and that it had taken him a long time to think about her without sadness, and that he was happily married and preferred to keep his fond memories of her where they were: in the past. That's how it's supposed to work.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:25 AM on April 12, 2016 [40 favorites]

You have trust issues, and his responses don't sit well with you. What more is there to know? I wouldn't be with someone who gave me a moment's doubt. Are you happy in the relationship, or are you waiting for something to happen in order for you to be completely happy?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:21 AM on April 12, 2016

Their relationship happened years ago. They are not in regular contact. She lives in another country. Your husband allowed you to read private correspondence.

If that's not enough evidence for you that they don't have a relationship, I don't think you will ever be convinced.

If anything destroys your relationship it will be your fears.

You really need therapy. If you want to have long term relationships in your lifetime you are going to need to stop being obsessed by your fears with things you should not fear.
posted by littlewater at 5:27 AM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

I actually think it's good that he internally acknowledges that a relationship he had before yours was very important, and that if he were single now it could happen with that person again, BUT HE IS VERY CLEAR THAT IT WON'T BECAUSE HE IS COMMITTED TO YOU. I think it would be much worse if he was denying that things things are/ were true. He probably doesn't see it as a big deal because he thinks your relationship is strong enough that the idea of him leaving you for someone else is outside of his worldview.

It sounds like you and some other commenters may feel that it's an enormous, potentially insurmountable problem because he is even capable of recognizing these feelings while in a relationship with you. I think that's a bit of a fairy-tale-romance view of the world.

It may or may not have been bad judgment for him to write what he did based on how it may have made his correspondent feel. But that's only vaguely related to your relationship.
posted by metasarah at 5:28 AM on April 12, 2016 [12 favorites]

Everything about this strikes me as inappropriate (her initial contact is KINDA CRAZY, what with the "I was so screwed up after you left that I spent years with an abuser, it is kinda your fault" stuff). His response is off-kilter and uncomfortable.

You don't say how long you've been together or how committed you are, but if it's serious and long-term, I think this is a good candidate for a few sessions of couples counseling, so you can talk, with a neutral third-party arbiter, about how and why the exchange makes you uncomfortable, and he can talk about why he responded as he did and how he was feeling. It's possible that because her initial contact was so far beyond bizarre, he was sort-of fishing around for the right way to respond to something like that, and chose wrong, and in the context of your trust issues it reads as problematic when it's really just awkward. (It also strikes me as problematic, FYI. I just don't know your partner and maybe he's awkward like that. Could happen.) If you can come to deeply understand each others' reactions here -- why he responded like he did, why you are upset -- and come to a mutually agreeable solution (no FB contact? no e-mails with her ever? he shows you all contact with her? you all just forget about it and move on?), I think it's salvageable and could become an error that helps you guys understand your boundaries as a couple rather than a mistake that breaks up the relationship.

If it were not that serious or long-term, and depending on the prior trust issues, I think I'd be halfway out the door, because who wants to deal with that kind of nonsense in a young relationship that doesn't yet have the weight to survive big errors?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:31 AM on April 12, 2016 [11 favorites]

All of my eyebrow hairs are now higher.

Yep, that has overt tones of not just romantic, but outright infatuated unrequited feelings. That is not written by someone who is fully involved or even available to your own relationship. If he cannot acknowledge the depth of feelings that is obvious in those few words, he is gaslighting you. I'd be gone. I'm so sorry; you deserve someone who is fully into you.
posted by Dashy at 5:44 AM on April 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

Dude, it's fucked up.
posted by johngoren at 5:59 AM on April 12, 2016 [10 favorites]

I would be very concerned about that exchange, even absent ongoing trust issues with my partner. I don't think you're overreacting; I would read it as confirmation that I had good reason for my doubts, and have a very hard time just blowing it off. I would also think that either he really was completely clueless as to why I had a hard time trusting him, or that he was totally gaslighting me.
posted by skybluepink at 6:01 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Trust your instincts. That reads as though he's leaving a thread open. It's "probably impossible" to be platonic they're going to be what then? His email to her did one thing clearly: signaled openness to further advances. It's not about what she does or has done or will do. She's irrelevant here. It's what it shows about his degree of commitment, presently, to you.

I agree that couples counseling is a good next step. If your fears are overblown, that will surface in the counseling. If they're not that will also surface. Either way, it should be clarifying. If he doesn't want to go, that would also be clarifying.

we have trust issues because of little things in our past

What are the "little things?"
posted by Miko at 6:28 AM on April 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

The paraphrase: "I don't know why getting a mail from you excites me so much. I read it over and over, it resonates in me. You are probably right about the impossible platonic friendship."

It's not proper for someone in a monogamous relationship to send an email like this to a former lover. What kind of excitement is he talking about? What kind of "resonates"?
posted by theorique at 6:45 AM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

An email exchange like that is the kind of thing that can start an affair as each of them is letting the other know that they still feel that passionate attraction. Now, that didn't actually happen and he shouldn't be treated as if it did, but I get why it would bother you.

I think part of the trick to staying happy in a long-term, monogamous relationship is that you don't put yourself into the situations that can most easily develop into affairs or one-night stands. So, when I travel for work I'm not down at the hotel bar at night drinking and flirting with the flight attendants and travelling businesswomen, I'm not writing to ex-girlfriends about how difficult it would be for me to just be friends with them, and I don't have long, intimate lunches with attractive co-workers. I mentor women at work, but don't push their personal boundaries. So often, people will tell about an affair they had or a person they left their partner for and describe the whole thing as unexpected, but the actual story will be clichéd.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 6:48 AM on April 12, 2016 [16 favorites]

Yeah, I agree, this email exchange is completely hinky.

Not only that, I question your partner's character based on my (very limited) knowledge of him. He sounds like an exhausting sort of man, who is desperate for validation from others, who wants to "rescue" someone needier and more pathetic than himself. "I didn't realize how much you loved me at the time"? "I was confused"? This is a man who makes excuses, who hems and haws, who goes back on his word and who can't be decisive, strong and in control of his own life. This is a man who feels like he has a gaping hole of emotional needs he has to fill. This is a man who, even if he truly doesn't reciprocate romantic feeling, is excited and pleased and selfish about getting a nice ego boost.
posted by quincunx at 6:54 AM on April 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

There's just enough ambiguity in his response for him to deny (to you, to her, and to himself) that there's any lingering infatuation. It's a very, very thin veneer, but enough for any discussion to get bogged down with nitpicking semantics and "but don't you trust me?"

But, to me, it definitely reads like a typical precursor to an emotional affair. Putting out feelers just a little bit... then a little more, then a little more. Leaving a door open just the tiniest of cracks, so he can be surprised when it blows all the way open.

It is good that he shared the emails with you. It doesn't make the actual communication okay, but it's at least a step in the right direction that he's willing to be above deck with it.

I think it's generally understood that talking to exes where there are unresolved feelings either way is bad news bears. It erodes your trust* and it's cruel to the other person. Even if he swears up down and sideways that he has zero feelings for his ex, I think it's not hard to conclude that she still has feelings, and it is absolutely reasonable for you to ask him to stop.

*As an aside, and I don't know if this specifically applies to you but I have a feeling it might: there's a common pattern where one person betrays the other person's trust, and it's somehow the other person's "issue" to get over. Don't fall into the trap of thinking it's your responsibility to forgive someone else's bad behavior if they don't learn from it.

Another thought: maybe he explicitly wants you to say "no, not okay." Maybe these old feelings have him confused and he needs an outside agent to squash them. Which kind of sucks - acting like a grownup about personal relationships should be his responsibility - but is understandable. Just a possibility.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:11 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I agree, this email exchange is completely hinky.

Hinky. And in the context of their past probably not-ok other for him or for her. However you're really only concerned with him and I think if it were me I'd be like "Hey I sort of get why this email exchange happened but I think you need to not be starting up the platonic friendship you were pretty sure you wouldn't be able to handle" and we'd talk about it openly and I'd strongly suggest he unfriend/unfollow her on facebook. That said, me and my guy don't have trust issues (we have some other issues but not that one) so it would be easy for me to be low key about this moving forward.
posted by jessamyn at 7:14 AM on April 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

Yes, talk to him about it. If he gets really defensive/tried to turn it around on you, that is a very bad sign. If not, you make be able to come to an agreement.
posted by BibiRose at 7:44 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't like this situation. I try to give benefit of the doubt, because I can be stunningly oblivious, and prone to sticking my foot in my mouth... But yeah, this reminds me of stuff my soon to be x wife did. I admit bias, because I trusted her and it didn't pay off, but... I don't have a good gut feel on this one :(

Can therapy help? Absolutely! I don't get the feeling he's had an affair, but working on issues now is probably a good idea.
posted by Jacen at 8:11 AM on April 12, 2016

How would you feel if your partner exchanged these words with another woman?

Completely secure, because I choose to trust my partner not to go off having sex with other people behind my back, and I have no wish to think of myself as the kind of person who would put limits on who my partner may talk to or what they may say.

My partner is an adult who has chosen to spend the rest of their life with me; that is how things are. But I'd be a fool to believe that the only person another human being ought ever have any kind of emotional connection with is me, and managing my partner's emotional relationships with other people is my partner's job, not mine.

I have "emotional affairs" filed squarely under "drama not to bother with"; it's not my job nor my right nor actually even possible to police my partner's private thoughts, so I don't try. Also, I would resent the hell out of having that done to me, so I don't do it to other people.

This is what it's like to live without trust issues, and it makes my emotional life way, way simpler than yours sounds right now.

Am I over-reacting?

Quite possibly.

What outcome are you working toward here? Do you want to look for another relationship that never tweaks your trust issues, or do you want to work on those until they cease to bother you? I would generally recommend the latter path.

Of course if your partner actually does betray your trust by having sex with somebody else behind your back, or turns abusive, or engages in gaslighting, or fails to treat you as a responsible adult complete with private inner life: make no excuses for them but just dump like a hot potato. Preferably before making children.
posted by flabdablet at 8:50 AM on April 12, 2016 [13 favorites]

I'm confused about what he is saying to whom in these exchanges. Specifically:

The impossible platonic friendship thing is something she said: that she couldn't not be attracted to him. He says they did have a very strong attraction and he wouldn't put our relationship at any risk if she was in the same place and he did still feel that way.

There's a bunch of different ways of reading that bold bit, but I think that you are saying that he said that "he did not still feel that way." Which is a good thing. What would make it better, would be if he said that to her, in the email that he didn't think you'd read (so, he was of his on volition telling her that he didn't have the same feelings anymore).

If he is only telling you that he doesn't feel that way about her anymore, then that's a problem. And hopefully you can help him understand why he needs to be more assertive in declaring his feelings when he's talking to women like his ex.

Overall, the whole situation is weird, but I think the weirdness is probably her doing, not his. They were together for 90 days! 5 years ago! And now she's writing an email about how much she still loves him? That seems kind of unhinged. But, on the other hand, she sent one email, he replied, and his reply seems like it sent the message that there's no hope, so she went away.

Fast forward 6 months -- she friends him on facebook. This could be totally innocent. If you put yourself in her shoes, she got out of a bad relationship, reached out to someone whom she had good memories of, got turned down, and did some work to get herself back together again. A few months later, she's still thinking of her old flame, but kind of just wants to see what's up in his life -- that what Facebook friends are for.

I think that, going forward, you should take mysterious_stranger's advice about being aware of your own jealousy, but also talk to your boyfriend about appropriate boundaries regarding this particular woman. It's a fine line to walk, but I don't think it would be unreasonable to expect your boyfriend to make sure that you are in the loop with any conversations he has with her, if only because of their past history. There's no reason why he needs to be exchanging private messages with her -- and, to be fair to him, it seems like maybe he agrees, because he didn't have a problem sharing his private exchange with her when you asked.

That being said, you need to make sure that you're ok with your boyfriend having opposite sex friends, and you not necessarily being privy to every interaction that he has with other women in his life. You mention trust issues, but without context for that, it's hard to say if that's something that you need to work on yourself, or if he's partially at fault for causing them.

Good luck!
posted by sparklemotion at 8:58 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

When I work from home, I watch the most appalling television. I really like Maury. (Judge all you like.) The one thing that blows my mind is how many women come on the show with the feeling that their man is cheating. He's not where he says he is, there are photos in the phone, women call the house, really obvious things. But they want him to take a lie detector test. They want PROOF, a smoking gun, some solid, definitive thing that says, "This guy is totally cheating on you and isn't really in the relationship the way you want him to be."

They all show up, either angry or sobbing or in some state of emotion that I would characterize as unpleasant. They're suspicious, jealous and exhausted from the situation. And I wonder, if you feel like this regularly, if your life is underscored by unease and unhappiness, who CARES if he's cheating? It doesn't matter. You're not happy, it's time to bounce.

So my advice to you is, rather than wonder, and be concerned and all those other things, evaluate whether or not you're happy in the relationship. The kind of happy that means you're not having 'trust issues', or being jealous, or any other thing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:09 AM on April 12, 2016 [9 favorites]

People with trust issues will have them again in the next relationship. No matter how many times they "bounce", as long as they locate the problem in their SO and fail to look at their own tendency to be jealous and untrusting, there is NO relationship they can't poison with their suspicions.

Flabdablet's linked post is just fantastic. We all need to give the benefit of the doubt to our SO's. There's a lot of awareness in our society of how adultery can ruin relationships, but not a lot about how jealousy can. When you make your partner automatically responsible for your fears, you are the problematic party.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 10:26 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Did he write the email after he knew the two of you had trust issues? If so, that indicates not only his inability to maintain boundaries, but his lack of respect for your feelings.
posted by kinoeye at 10:46 AM on April 12, 2016

People with trust issues will have them again in the next relationship.

As a counter-example, I have had trust issues only once in my life. Once we broke up, I discovered that he'd been cheating on me throughout our entire multi-year relationship. So maybe it's you, but the evidence from that email tells me it's definitely on him.

I don't care if women flirt with my husband, because he treats me like I'm the most important thing in his life. He listens when I express my concerns and acts on them even when I admit they're crazy, because my happiness matters more to him than others'. I do the same for him. Because we took vows to that effect, and we meant them.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:51 AM on April 12, 2016 [9 favorites]

in my marriage my husband and i are a team, always, no matter what. your husband didn't seem to respond to that email as a member of your relationship's team. trust issues don't have to be about 'will he go out and have sex with her.' they can be very simply about 'is he always on our team?' this isn't about being controlling or trying to restrict his movements, it's about wanting him to always choose the team, even if he thinks you won't see it.
posted by nadawi at 11:42 AM on April 12, 2016 [22 favorites]

I agree that this would really bother me. Especially red-flag-y here is that they have both said they don't believe a platonic friendship is possible between them because of past/current feelings and attractions...but now they are attempting to form some sort of friendship. What do they think is going to happen here? They both admit such a friendship is not possible, but they're just going to go for it anyway? This is really disrespectful to you, and has a lot of potential to develop into an emotional affair, if not something worse. When it's combined with previous trust issues/incidents, it's extra bad because it's part of a pattern of poor behavior.
posted by rainbowbrite at 3:01 PM on April 12, 2016

in my marriage my husband and i are a team, always, no matter what
+1 for this.

People with trust issues will have them again in the next relationship.

Respectfully -1 for this.

I too only had trust issues with my ex, who was clearly not being loyal emotionally (maybe physically?) to our relationship. I have no trust issues with my husband because he's shown himself to be completely, 100% trustworthy. (Well, unless we're talking about cleaning his beard hair off the sink...)

But he's totally loyal to our team. Endlessly loyal and supporting. I've never felt trust issues with him, even though I of course went into the relationship a bit cautious and guarded. But his character showed me that I could bring those walls down.

This whole exchange is really odd to me. Personally any exes that I'm currently not in contact with are not anyone I'd want to be in contact with or really look fondly upon. So there's that. Same with my husband. He definitely wouldn't be in contact with any exes nor look upon them fondly.

However, I can imagine if he WERE to get an email like that, he'd be baffled, come to me with it, we'd laugh and say "wow that's really weird" and we'd decide as a team how best to respond or to even respond at all. I can 1000000% say he would never discuss with that person that he looked upon that relationship fondly even if it were true. Even if he told me he looked upon their relationship fondly in the past, there's no way he'd say it to that person. Again, this is hypothetical but in line with how he's acted with people in general in the past. With us as a team and him being emotionally true to our relationship. We're also secure enough in our relationship to look upon past relationships and admit they weren't horrible hellscapes but that our marriage is amazing and we'd never go back.

Something's off about this, and I think his response is very odd. Have you talked with him about it? What did he say?

He says they did have a very strong attraction and he wouldn't put our relationship at any risk if she was in the same place and he did still feel that way.

I'm.... not quite sure what this means. Is he saying that if she lived next door he wouldn't be with her because he's in a relationship despite his attraction? That he only won't be with her because he's with you? I agree it's making you sound like the reason he can't do his own thing - as if he's got no say as to whether or not he's in a relationship. Like he can't go play because he's grounded.

I dunno. All of it is weird. As you can tell, people have different feelings about this subject and I can only give you my opinion, but my opinion is that this reminds me of how uncomfortable I constantly felt with my ex because I always couldn't quite trust him but couldn't necessarily give one instance of behavior that couldn't be shrugged off as "giving him the benefit of the doubt."

Pile all the behavior that makes you not trust him. How does it all feel as a big picture?
posted by Crystalinne at 3:20 PM on April 12, 2016

OK I want to play Devils advocate for a second. I once got an email from an ex whom I am not otherwise in touch with. In it he told me about taking his young daughter to a beach where he and I used to go tidepooling a lot. It was a special place to us. He said he thought of me while being there. It was a really short email and it didn't say anything more than that. I am very happily married and I would NEVER want to start anything with this guy, yet I don't deny that for a moment I felt a huge rush of... I don't know what to call it... nostalgia maybe. For a time when I was young and very passionately in love. We ended on a bad note over 15 years ago, so not knowing what else to make of his email, I took it as a sort of peace offering and chose to respond. I said something like I was glad he was happy and I liked to think of him teaching his daughter about all the magical life in the tide pools. I thanked him for letting me know that a time and place that had been very special to me was also special to him. And I left it at that. I felt that by not inquiring further into his life I was making it clear that I was not interested in any further communication. And, indeed, I never heard anything else from him. But I wonder what metafilter would have said about his email and my response. It's entirely possible I was wrong to respond as I did. I did not mention this email exchange to my husband because it did not seem like something worth bringing up. Could I have been judged as shifty, dishonest, and uncommitted? I truly believed I was only acknowledging a peace offering from the past. Could your boyfriend just be misguided, but also genuinely committed to you as I am to my husband?
posted by WalkerWestridge at 4:53 PM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

Just because we enter into a new relationship doesn't mean we scrub all instances of prior intimacy with other humans... and that intimacy will always be somewhat disturbing to the current partner, be it conveyed through photos, mementos, correspondence, and in-person dynamics. If you have trust issues, it's really important for you to keep your nose out of the possible incarnations of past intimacies, unless you have evidence of wrongdoing.

That email exchange is disturbing, yes, but only because you were privy to it. He should never have let you read that, and you should not have asked. If he's otherwise well-behaved, I think his answer is acceptable, like how crushing on celebs (or getting off on porn) is totally acceptable.
posted by qzar at 12:02 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't know why getting a mail from you excites me so much. I read it over and over, it resonates in me.

Yeah, ouch. It wouldn't feel nice to read that. Knowing somebody else makes him feel that way must sting, and knowing it was somebody he was actually with is an extra squeeze of lemon.

posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:58 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

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