Pre-empting possessiveness
October 25, 2016 2:11 AM   Subscribe

My partner of over 10 years and I split up on very good terms about a year and a half ago. We had a very platonic relationship almost all through, just a deep friendship really, so it's easy to continue to have a friendship with absolutely no attraction or complicated emotions. He has a sweet new girlfriend now, I am spending time with them for the first time this weekend, and I'm looking for tips on adjusting to the new reality gracefully, making her very comfortable, and dealing with emotions of possessiveness that might come up for me.

We live in different cities, so we only see each other occasionally, but we are in touch on a daily basis especially because we also work together. In short, it's an unusually intimate situation, but it's very nice and not problematic in any way so far.

I got into a new relationship not very long after we split, and the two men are great friends, with no jealousy of any kind.

My ex and his girlfriend just began dating a couple of months ago. She is much younger than us, knows about our wonderful friendship and is comfortable with it so far. This weekend I'm traveling to their city and I'm going to be spending time with them for the first time. In fact she's planning a surprise birthday part for him and I am invited.

I can feel moments of possessiveness coming up, just because I'm so used to being the one planning everything for him or being at the center of his life. I was wondering if people have ideas and suggestions for how to deal well with the emotions that MIGHT just come up when I'm with them together.

Also how to go out of my way to make sure not to make the new girlfriend uncomfortable or insecure in any way.
posted by miaow to Human Relations (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Focus on trying to get to know her for her own sake... look for common interests or conversation subjects that establish shared ground between the two of you without reference to ex-partner at all. Given that the weekend is naturally set to be focused on him this may take a bit of deliberate effort on your part.

Help out with practicalities like a good and welcome guest, but make sure you "ask to be told" what to do rather than jumping the gun, e.g. fixing someone their favourite drink just how they like.

Watch out for phrases such as "I remember...", "Back when...", "You know that time..." forming in your head; when they do, try to think at least twice over about what you're instinctively wanting to say, and how and why it's phrased like that.

I think your honesty with this situation is a very laudable thing, and I hope you're able to get a lot of enjoyment out of the weekend. Best of luck!
posted by protorp at 2:43 AM on October 25, 2016 [12 favorites]

Don't plan out all your time for the visit - make sure that you have time to be by yourself to recharge. As much as you can try to make this a good visit and a good introduction, recognize that it is hard on you and make sure that you give yourself the self care that you need to be at your best for the time you spend with them.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:49 AM on October 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ehh, I think you may be overthinking this. You're in a relationship, you're totally over him, and you're already self-conscious of your impact to her. I think going out of your way to do anything else is a bit overboard and could come off a bit weird.

Apart from super obvious things (for example, don't dwell on memories you shared when you were together, avoid over-familiar touching, don't monopolise his time) I think you should just be yourself! Give them equal opportunity for conversation, mingle, and just focus on enjoying your trip.

It's not really your job to make her feel secure in their relationship. That's up to the two of them.
posted by like_neon at 2:56 AM on October 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Talk about your new relationship & how it’s going? Seeing that you’re committed to your new partner might help ease any concerns she might have about your intentions.
posted by pharm at 2:59 AM on October 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

My ex partner and I were together for six years and he is still one of my closest friends. Whenever I feel a moment of possessiveness or jealousy flare up, I think about how much I want him to be happy and how lucky I am to still have him in my life. It is a wonderful thing to share that deep friendship; remind yourself that it's worth the price of occasional discomfort.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 5:23 AM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I did notice that you referred to her as his "sweet" new girlfriend and a little flag went up for me, and then you described her as much younger, and well there it is. Veiled condescension. She's not worthy of less respect as a woman because she's younger or maybe has less life experience or enough time has not passed for you to let go and internalize that she's her own person and not taking your place. (And I think this situation sounds super emotional and I'm not saying you are doing anything wrong! Just that enough time and space has not passed since the partnership with your ex ended.)

Honestly? I think you should go and not stay long, make plausible excuses and leave quietly. Are you bringing your boyfriend? Bring your boyfriend.

Since you are already feeling possessive, I'm going to say (again) that you are not really over this enough (why would you be?) and this is too highly charged. The less you expose yourself to the situation, the better. Don't stay long. Don't drink. Be wary of seeing old friends in a new context.

Plan something special for yourself the next day, a museum or restaurant you've always wanted to visit. That kind of thing. Focus on something else entirely. And if you are traveling a long distance to attend, maybe just don't go at all and instead send a gift?

There will be other events. This one is just too soon. That's OK.
posted by jbenben at 6:57 AM on October 25, 2016 [15 favorites]

If it happens, acknowledge the feeling and then let it go. There's no magic trick to not having the feelings*, there's just habit. You may have to sit with the discomfort a minute, but as long as you don't take it out on them there's nothing wrong with being uncomfortable for a minute.

*Although it is also possible to convince yourself that you have to be more anxious about this than you actually are. Don't do that.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:03 AM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think it's great that you already know what your sore points might be. I'd try to frame this visit in my mind as "going to a party" not "going to visit Ex" - I'm assuming that there will be people you know at this birthday surprise event, and I think it would be helpful to build up some happy anticipation of seeing those old friends again, make it feel like Ex isn't the one reason you have for being in the room (and therefore the one person whose attention you must have). Definitely spend time with him and the new girlfriend, be enthusiastic to her about the effort she's gone to in planning/hosting this, be helpful to her, but make sure you're framing it (and feeling it) not "it's so sweet of you to do this for him, look how all his friends are here for him, of course I'd come in from out of town for him" but just "what a great event, it's so great to see everybody!" kind of enthusiasm. It's his birthday, but let it be not all about him but all about the party.
posted by aimedwander at 7:15 AM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have to agree with jbenben, this sounds 1) a bit too soon and 2) potentially a bit too raw. The "we-speak" regarding you and your ex (the girlfriend is much younger than us, we work together and are in touch daily) makes me worry that perhaps your concern that the girlfriend might feel left out (feel insecure or uncomfortable) is a warning bell that you identify yourselves as a unit which she might interpret as primary, rather than as friends who identify themselves as units with their own respective partners. I agree with the suggestion to bring your boyfriend, although looking back at your recent asks related to your current relationship, it seems to me that it would be quite easy to idealize the 10 years you had with your ex, and (perhaps fairly, perhaps not) judge your boyfriend against your ex and find your current relationship lacking. The kindest thing might be to go, focus what feels to you like more attention on the girlfriend than on your friend (this has been my technique in the past in this situation, and it fostered a lovely friendship with the girlfriend and also made my ex - and friend - feel that I valued his choice in partner), not stay long, and know that your friendship with them as a couple will grow with time (you won't instantly be close with her, but do be open to that). Good luck!
posted by pammeke at 7:22 AM on October 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

I don't quite understand why you're not taking your new partner. If you were, then it wouldn't be weird. If you're not, then it might easily be as jbenben says.
posted by tillsbury at 11:28 AM on October 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

This sounds like a terrible idea, honestly. If I were the new girlfriend I would be dreading this big time, and if I were you I wouldn't be looking forward to it either. Can you postpone until the next time you'll all be in the same place together?
posted by masquesoporfavor at 1:19 PM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Just a deep friendship", "absolutely no attraction or complicated emotions", "our wonderful friendship" - this all reads as protesting a bit too much. Which is not a bad thing! 10+ years long time to be together, even if the relationship was more platonic than not, and of course the change in partners and circumstances is going to dredge up all kinds of stuff from the depths. There is no law, natural or otherwise, that dictates you must be 100% over this relationship by now, or any other given time, for that matter.

I think you're putting too much pressure on yourself (and implicitly on your ex and his girlfriend) by expecting to get along perfectly and feel completely comfortable right away. Your impulse to want to set the new girlfriend at ease is kind and admirable, but you don't have control over her reaction to you or your presence. I think from a practical perspective, you should try to actively cultivate some friendly distance that allows all three of you some breathing room to deal with the feelings that churn up. Show up to the party and say hi, but plan to mostly mingle with other people, and have an exit plan in place if things get overwhelming. It may be that you feel completely fine but she doesn't; or she's comfortable and you're not; or you're both uncomfortable. Try to accept any of these as equally valid possibilities.

In situations like these, sometimes people think that just because two exes both have new partners, everything is OK and fine and there's no lingering emotional slosh, and that just isn't the case. Don't expect it of yourself! Everything doesn't have to be fine right NOW NOW NOW. You all have time. There's no need to rush this; the house isn't on fire.
posted by superfluousm at 1:44 PM on October 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

absolutely no attraction or complicated emotions

I know what you mean by "complicated emotions", I think, but I would urge you to consider the possibility that a previous (and ongoing, in a different form) relationship of that length, one deep enough where you're aware you will have to deliberately and consciously manage possessiveness, very very much falls into the "complicated emotions" category. I understand the urge to cast things as "we broke up and now we are just friends and everything is fine and not complicated", but there are likely to be threads and fragments of the former relationship echoing through your current one, regardless of the change in status - possessiveness being just one of them. It's OK for things to be complicated. How could they not be?
posted by Jon Mitchell at 2:58 PM on October 25, 2016

I think sometimes there's this thing that happens where two people who have been together for a while break up and stay friends, and even date other people, but secretly they still think of their connection as stronger than the connection with their new partners. And in that way, they're not threatened or jealous about the new partners until things get serious.

This kind of sounds like what's going on with you. If you want to feel less possessive, you have to actually be less possessive - let go of your feelings about a special relationship between the two of you.
posted by corb at 3:13 PM on October 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

Short-term advice from someone on the other side of this:

When she's putting the party together, don't offer your advice unless you're specifically asked. No, "Oh, you know what his favorite cake is, right? Coconut almond with mocha frosting? Oh my gosh, let me tell you about the first time he tried my homemade cake." You will come off like a bad movie stereotype of a pushy mother-in-law.

When you start reminiscing about some funny thing that happened to you and your ex, make an effort include the new girlfriend in the story. No inside jokes, unless you're willing to explain them and let them become her inside jokes with you as well.

Definitely make plans outside of hanging out with them. "I have to be somewhere," is a great way to excuse yourself when things get too awkward or difficult for you. You can just go on a walk in the park or through a museum and feel what you need to feel.

An observation: does your current guy know about your feeling weird about this new woman in your ex's life? If not, how do you think he would feel if he knew? Would it make a difference in your relationship with him? That's the relationship to focus on through this trip, in my opinion. A long, healthy friendship can weather some emotional distance now and then. You don't want to get emotionally distant from your current partner, though, right?

And just a word on a friend dating someone younger...her age doesn't matter, or it shouldn't matter to you, unless she's, like, in high school or something that would make it illegal. You're not the one dating her. She may not have experienced everything in life that you have, but I'm sure she's had some experiences you haven't. He's deemed her his equal by dating her, period.

Good luck, and I hope by the end of the visit you have a great new friend.
posted by Pearl928 at 4:52 PM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thought I'd let you all know that it went unexpectedly well, I had no possessiveness or hard feelings at all, and we get on well. It was good to think about it and have your input beforehand—helped me sort of get over it before it happened.
posted by miaow at 1:50 AM on November 8, 2016

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