I can't ex, he can. How to relationship?
November 1, 2016 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Long-term lovers: can two people who identify with opposing schools of thought on exes and opposite-sex friends coexist happily? I want him to stop talking to his ex completely. He'll do it (and loves/respects me), but he thinks it's overkill.

The 10-Year Ex
My boyfriend's ex of 10 years pervaded every aspect of his life with a kind of natural semi-permanence. After he broke up with her, he allowed his ex to stay in close contact with his family and friends. By the time we were dating, he was still occasionally exchanging texts with her. When I asked why, he told me he was concerned about her lack of a support system post-breakup. I was ok with this, but when I found out after the fact that she was grabbing dinner with his brother, brunch with his mom, and drinks with his friends...I put my foot down. They were all still very fond of her and couldn't understand the breakup. While I didn't mind her connection to his friends, I hadn't had a chance to get close to his family yet. The gap seemed long and difficult to bridge with her around.It was clear our relationship needed some more of the spotlight to grow; I felt like I was in her shadows.

Initial Boundary-Setting #1
Therefore I kindly asked if he could a) tell her to stop meeting his parents and b) stop initiating contact with her. He obstinately disagreed with me on principle: she was a major figure in his life + he didn't want to control her relationships with his family. He said he wanted to be able to grab coffee with her casually to catch up and that he didn't believe in cutting people off, but ultimately respected my wishes of no-contact with one exception: he would be allowed to wish her a happy birthday every year. I said okay, cool, no problem.

And, to my excitement, our relationship did grow and we felt inseparable.

Seriously, Dude? Boundary Setting #2
However (there's always a however, right?), a few seemingly innocuous behaviors have irked me since:
  • turns out he has been texting her to congratulate her on career milestones and converse about their respective lives' progressions (not what we agreed, but totally cool)
  • during travels he texted her with "Have you been to X before? I walked into the building and immediately thought of you. It's amazing." (not cool). It stung because that same day I had publicly thanked him on social media with a picture of him in that building + a caption describing what an amazing boyfriend and travel companion he was.

  • Found out about these after the fact as well. Boyfriend insists they are innocent, meaningless (she is in architecture and the building was her style). I know he means it; he's not longing for her. But I did hound him on how this text might seem inappropriate from her POV and is disrespectful to me. We eventually want to get married and this felt like an annoying, persistent splinter in our metaphorical foot. So this time, I asked him to cut off contact completely, no Hi's no How Are You's, no NADA. It's just not worth it.

    Not This Again. Boundary Setting #3
    Fast forward a year. Her birthday happens to fall on my favorite holiday, Halloween (which means I haven't forgotten it), so I jokingly teased him with "I hope you didn't text your ex a happy birthday!" Was hoping we would just laugh off the cat which is very much of the bag: my insecurity. But to my surprise, he said he did. He said he thought it would be nice because she's texted him happy birthday before too.

    So....we went through the whole rigamarole again: I say "yo, please stop x3", he says "I don't agree with you, but I respect you and I'll stop x3", and I'm steaming bc I'm tired of going over this three times.

    I have no reason to worry. There's nothing going on. My issue is that we have different sets of values/boundaries when it comes to exes. He wants me to trust that he's not going to cross any lines and that his intentions are loyal. But it's also obvious that minute infractions have snowballed into a bigger trust issue. Today I realized that this (not he, but the situation) makes me feel like a crazy person. I realized that what I really want isn't just for him to stop talking to his ex; it's for him to *get* me -- to feel the same way I do. To wish the tables don't ever flip on him. But he could care less about me communicating with exes (well, he's never had to deal with it. I don't communicate with my ex and his ex never had an ex, so we don't really know if he would care should the tables turn).

    I'm never going to change him -- nor would I want to. He's great, but it's clear his empathy and follow-through is limited when it comes to this issue because he fundamentally disagrees with me. He's much more fluid and flexible when it comes to exes and female friends (he has many of them). Nevertheless, I'd rather not have a future husband who thinks it's okay to text his ex happy birthday every year simply because it's nice. I also try not to reach out to my friends' husbands too much (even if they were my friends too) to set some boundaries. I've also turned down my friendships with guys down a notch since entering a serous relationship. He's still respectful, but does neither. It's making me think about whether or not we're compatible in the long run if we have differing approaches towards opposite-sex friends and exes.

    What do you guys think? Long-term lovers: can two people who identify with opposing schools of thought on exes coexist happily? How would you damage control this situation?
    posted by doctordrey to Human Relations (82 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
    Nevertheless, I'd rather not have a future husband who thinks it's okay to text his ex happy birthday every year simply because it's nice.

    There is a difference between what you said there and "Nevertheless, I'd rather not have a future husband who texts his ex happy birthday every year simply because it's nice." You have a fundamental difference of opinion on this subject, and you have elevated it to his opinion being incorrect in your eyes, rather than his actions.

    Break up with him.
    posted by Etrigan at 1:03 PM on November 1, 2016 [30 favorites]

    You have a deal-breaker/ultimatum he sees as wrong, and thusly can't stick to the way you wish.

    This thread will likely be filled with people strongly opposed and aligned with your train of thought, that doesn't really matter.

    You need something he can't/won't provide, you need to decide whether this principle or the relationship is more important. He's showed you what he's going to do already.
    posted by French Fry at 1:04 PM on November 1, 2016 [13 favorites]

    "Yes, but" I think?

    As far as I can tell, there are really two issues here:

    1) He told you he was going to do something, and then he didn't. He said he would only message her about X, and he messaged her about XYZ. Then he said he wouldn't message her about anything, but he still messaged her about X. That part seems to me like an unambiguous trust issue. Issue-exclusive, I think you need to have the conversation about whether you weren't as clear about the boundary-setting as you thought (in which case, it's a communication discussion for both of you) or whether you were, but he decided it didn't matter (in which case, it's an honesty discussion).

    2) Let's pretend that (1) isn't an issue (it is, but let's make this a separate issue). It's totally fine for you to have preferences like this - about anything - and on a case by case basis you need to understand that that is a preference that you have and something you are bringing to the conversation as a desire to him, and he can agree to behave in accordance with your preference (again, remember we're assuming (1) isn't an issue), or he can say he won't agree to that, and you will need to decide - separately and together - if that's a deal breaker for you, depending on how much of a problem this is for you. Because neither of you are "right" about the right amount to communicate with exes - you have preferences, and as a couple you need to decide what to do about them.

    Those both said, I really think (1) is the bigger issue here. The issue isn't really the disagreement on whether or not it's appropriate, it's that he agreed to do something and then didn't, and that's what needs to be addressed.
    posted by brainmouse at 1:07 PM on November 1, 2016 [16 favorites]

    I realized that what I really want isn't just for him to stop talking to his ex; it's for him to *get* me -- to feel the same way I do. To wish the tables don't ever flip on him.

    I don't think you will ever get all of this. If you think that it might be enough if he could just hear you, validate you and empathize with your feelings without making it about whether or not he agrees, that's probably achievable. But if you need him to not only understand where you're coming from but also be just like you, feel just like you and make the same choices that you make around this, then I don't think this is going to work out.
    posted by jon1270 at 1:07 PM on November 1, 2016 [26 favorites]

    The issue is not that you have different sets of values/boundaries regarding exes. It's that your boyfriend keeps breaking his promises to you. Not cool.
    posted by frantumaglia at 1:08 PM on November 1, 2016 [24 favorites]

    You need to accept (that he is going to have casual contact with this ex AND that his family has every right to stay in contact with her!!) or reject (him as a partner).
    posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 1:09 PM on November 1, 2016 [32 favorites]

    I dated a woman for 8 years before I met and married my wife after 1 year of dating. There was a reason we dated for 8 years and never got married. Also, there were great reasons my wife and I were getting married. I agreed to cut off contact other than replies to Happy Birthdays she might send or the like. After about 5 years of marriage, something came up where we needed some information about a town that my ex was living in. I gave her contact information to my wife. They became decent email friends. Then I had the issue with her contacting my ex. I didn't want them talking about me. When I told my wife that, she said, "Why the fuck would we want to talk about you?"

    Anyway, I think it is ok to be in contact with an ex. Especially a long time SO. I think they are easier to get over than short term ones where you still wonder what could have been. LT exes you know what was.

    As for family, my ex used to say her family liked me more than her. I never felt that way, but some members of her family still send cards at Christmas, etc. No big deal.

    I think if you have a strong relationship, this should be worked out like any other issue. Discussion and consensus.
    posted by AugustWest at 1:12 PM on November 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

    It depends on the people. Can you live with his behavior - the behavior he chooses knowing how you feel where he lies and says he'll stop doing it and then doesn't, not the behavior you want him to perform - or can you not? If you cannot, or if you do not wish to live this way, you leave. There is no damage control. There is stay or go.

    It's not about who's right and who's wrong, it's about whether this is okay for you in your life or not. There are people out there who come much closer to your philosophy, if that's your question, and people closer to his. There are people who disagree but compromise and everyone holds up their end of the agreement. There are also people who decide this hurts them, but not enough for it to be a hill to die on, because they're willing to take a certain amount of pain.

    I strongly recommend reserving that pain for things outside anyone's control - the job crisis you'll have three years from now, a difficult in-law, the chronic health condition that one of you statistically are headed for eventually, parenting struggles - but some people decide to spend that margin up front.
    posted by Lyn Never at 1:12 PM on November 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

    So what if your boyfriend said to you, "my ex is a friend. I treat her like a friend, and I'm not going to cut her out of my life"? (Which is what his actions are saying.) Would you still want to be with him? If not then go ahead and break up, because you keep saying you don't want to change him... while trying to change him.

    (To put my biases on the table I'm not bothered at all by exes being friends and am certainly friendly at a "hey, happy birthday" level with all but a couple of them.)
    posted by MsMolly at 1:13 PM on November 1, 2016 [37 favorites]

    The dynamic that is playing out seems to be: you make unreasonable demands, he agrees (probably to get out of the conversation), he renegs on the agreement, you make even more unreasonable demands....

    This is not a good foundation for a relationship (let alone marriage). If I had to hand out punishment, I'd say the fault lies with him for agreeing to do something that it seems like he never had any intention to do.

    But dude -- past you needed to chill the fuck out. If you ever really believed that "he's not longing for her" and you " have no reason to worry", why did you care if he grabbed the occasional coffee, or god forbid, didn't deny her access to 3rd parties (his family)?

    Current you, and current BF need to come to terms with his dishonesty/trust breaking behavior, and your desire for inappropriate levels of control. I mean, it's entirely possible that he's staying in touch with her because he still holds a torch for her, but it's impossible to tease that out from him pushing back against your shackles.

    Besides couples therapy, I think that you should make an effort to be as friendly with ex as BF is. Invite her to coffee, wish her happy birthday, etc. Because this: I also try not to reach out to my friends' husbands too much (even if they were my friends too) to set some boundaries. is not where normal people set their boundaries. On the other hand, if she recoils from your attempts to befriend her as a couple, then yeah, your BF's continued friendship with her seems more inappropriate.
    posted by sparklemotion at 1:13 PM on November 1, 2016 [96 favorites]

    It stung because that same day I had publicly thanked him on social media with a picture of him in that building + a caption describing what an amazing boyfriend and travel companion he was.

    Maybe I'm being slow, but I don't see how social media has anything to do with anything.

    Like, would you be okay with him texting her, if at the same time, he made big, grandiose, public gestures about how much he loves you and being with you? Do you want him to talk to his friends/family, comparing you with his ex, and go on about how wonderful you are compared to her?

    That makes sense if his ex made him unhappy. But if she was generally sane and it was just an incompatibility issue, it seems unnecessary.

    I also try not to reach out to my friends' husbands too much (even if they were my friends too) to set some boundaries. I've also turned down my friendships with guys down a notch since entering a serous relationship.

    This seems like your personal choice, and not really fair to impose on your partner. I definitely still hang out with my male friends, though I don't flirt with the single/poly ones anymore (because relationship). My husband has a lot of female friends who are emotionally quite open with him (because he's an emotionally intelligent guy) and it's fine with me. And he would text/grab coffee/etc with his female friends, who are not his exes. But if your SO considers his ex a friend, and is doing friend things with her, and you trust that they're not interested in anything, I don't think it's necessary for him to cut her out.
    posted by ethidda at 1:14 PM on November 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

    After he broke up with her, he allowed his ex to stay in close contact with his family and friends.

    oh, that's big of him, allowing her.

    you can ask him to stop talking to her and although I would never do so myself (either do it, or ask someone else) it's a fair request, it's a thing people do, it's fine if he's willing. not fine for her, losing a friend, but hey. but he has no right and no business controlling her associations and friendships with anybody but himself. it doesn't even speak that well of him that he didn't, it just confirms he's not a controlling monster. if that was a concern. but maybe be pleased about that instead of upset?
    posted by queenofbithynia at 1:15 PM on November 1, 2016 [34 favorites]

    I think this is a deal breaker for you, so you should break the deal.

    Today I realized that this (not he, but the situation) makes me feel like a crazy person. I realized that what I really want isn't just for him to stop talking to his ex; it's for him to *get* me -- to feel the same way I do. To wish the tables don't ever flip on him. But he could care less about me communicating with exes (well, he's never had to deal with it. I don't communicate with my ex and his ex never had an ex, so we don't really know if he would care should the tables turn).

    If it were just the ex, it might be negotiable eventually (although I do think he's agreeing to get out of an argument and just fundamentally doesn't get it...and I wouldn't either) but given that it's also how he conducts his friendships with 1/2 the population and this is so important to you that it makes you feel crazy and unheard...it's better to break up.
    posted by warriorqueen at 1:17 PM on November 1, 2016 [11 favorites]

    Your differing expectations about what is OK in opposite-sex friendships will keep coming up and needing to be re-discussed/re-negotiated throughout your relationship (along with many other things-- how you spend/save money, etc.). To me, the fact that he will have these relatively difficult conversations and agree to change, but not actually change his behavior, would be a problem.
    posted by holyrood at 1:18 PM on November 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

    Anything is possible with effort, practice, and willingness to approach difficult subjects honestly, openly, and possibly with professional guidance.

    A thought experiment that comes up in couples counseling: you're upset that he communicates with his ex, but would you be upset if he'd had a child with his ex? In that situation, it's clear that adult interpersonal differences in opinion are moot: he'll have contact with his ex because a child is involved. And people adjust to these relationships as a matter of routine, even if that adjustment is simply that you two agree to not talk about that communication.

    Are you willing to work on this issue with your partner, perhaps in a very long term sense, not only in the context of disagreements or arguments? If you're unwilling to have those discussions just between the two of you, are you willing to approach a counselor to mediate them?
    posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:22 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

    I realized that what I really want isn't just for him to stop talking to his ex; it's for him to *get* me -- to feel the same way I do.

    You don't just want to control his actions, you want to control how he feels? It's good that you recognize this, and talking to a therapist / other third party would probably be helpful.

    It's not great that he's still contacting his ex, and that is a reasonable dealbreaker, but that doesn't seem to be the real problem here.
    posted by momus_window at 1:25 PM on November 1, 2016 [22 favorites]

    I think the only solution here is for you to decide you're okay with him remaining in casual contact with his ex, since rather than take a stand, it seems like he wants to just promise you whatever you want and then not follow through on what he promised.

    I mean, I'm not a fan of either a) restricting who your S.O. can be friendly with or b) weaseling out of agreements you make with your partner, but one of you has to step up and be the bigger person who decides this isn't going to be a problem anymore and it seems pretty clear that his wistful architecture feels have override priority, so it's kind of up to you, innit?
    posted by prize bull octorok at 1:28 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

    You're asking the wrong question because this has nothing to do with exes.*

    Your real question should be that instead of having difficult conversations, your BF will simply agree with you and then do whatever he wants anyway. That's the real issue. Your lives together will be filled with many more issues where you have opposing viewpoints, and you need to be able to trust that your partner is committed to communicating and really listening to you.

    So I would take a step back and think if this is part of a larger pattern; where he will agree to something and then do the thing he specifically agreed not to do. Because that's a serious problem.

    *But I do think you're dead wrong about the ex issue. You don't get to say he's wrong about maintaining contact and it's not cool to set rules like he's allowed to text her once a year.
    posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:29 PM on November 1, 2016 [74 favorites]

    No, I don't think it's possible for a couple to move forward with a long-term relationship when one half of the couple thinks friendships with exes are wrong and should be verboten, and also seems to generally object to opposite-sex friendships. A relationship of that kind seems very controlling and stifling, and I would recommend a breakup in this situation.
    posted by palomar at 1:30 PM on November 1, 2016 [40 favorites]

    He's much more fluid and flexible when it comes to exes and female friends (he has many of them). Nevertheless, I'd rather not have a future husband who thinks it's okay to text his ex happy birthday every year simply because it's nice. I also try not to reach out to my friends' husbands too much (even if they were my friends too) to set some boundaries. I've also turned down my friendships with guys down a notch since entering a serous relationship. He's still respectful, but does neither. It's making me think about whether or not we're compatible in the long run if we have differing approaches towards opposite-sex friends and exes.

    Even if you can figure out an exact boundary with the ex, the world is full of women and your boyfriend will be interacting with them. To me, his interactions sound fine - he sees them as people that he can be friends with, without impacting his primary relationship with you. But if it's not ok with you, if you expect him to give up or reduce many of his friendships, you should discuss it early. It's a pretty big demand on your part, and you should know where he stands on it.
    posted by oryelle at 1:31 PM on November 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

    Long-term lovers: can two people who identify with opposing schools of thought on exes coexist happily?

    I am the opposite of you regarding staying in contact and being friends with exes. I really hope that I would not lie like your boyfriend (SO UNCOOL, DUDE) about being in touch, and would instead use words to tell you what my boundaries are: You, the person I have chosen to be with, are walking a very fine line in trying to control the (platonic!) relationships I have with other people.

    How would you damage control this situation?

    I'd break up with you. This is not a cap-on-the-toothpaste difference of opinion.
    posted by rtha at 1:34 PM on November 1, 2016 [45 favorites]

    If it helps any, and I know it won't, I believe and he may also believe that (dis)loyalty to good friends is a fair indicator of character, and that a willingness to treat female friendships lightly and abandon them in times of difficulty is a sign that a man will do the same to lovers and wives. Like the rule about not dating guys who are jerks to waiters. I am not immune to jealousy and I have some liking for arbitrary rules about propriety, but proven loyalty is more valuable than either of them.

    This doesn't mean he or anybody has to become friends with exes and it's a fine preference to want to date people who just don't do that. but when a man already is friends with women, exes or not, and has been for a long time, I think a willingness to ditch them because someone else said so says worrying things about his character. His willingness to mostly drop her because you asked him to is more worrying than his basic worldview disagreement with you that it was OK to have this friendship in the first place.

    like - he's upsetting you by standing on principle, in spite of doing most of what you ask, but if he really had that principle he'd have stood by his friend from the start and made it a bigger fight.
    posted by queenofbithynia at 1:34 PM on November 1, 2016 [13 favorites]

    It seems to me that you are right to be upset that he tells you one thing and does another. That is something he needs to work on, no question, and, if he can't mend his ways, it's potentially a dealbreaker.

    It also seems to me that you are preparing to torch this relationship over a frankly minor substantive issue, and one which you can expect will recur in many (though certainly not all) relationships. It's definitely something you have the right to do, but it will significantly limit your options in the future, especially when it's at the level of banning happy-birthday texts. Is the no-contact-at-all-with-exes rule (as opposed to the don't-break-your-promise rule) really that important to you? If so, if you really don't feel in danger of being cheated on, if you're otherwise confident in the solidity of the relationship, why?

    (Also, neither you nor he gets to dictate what relations his ex has with his family. Those are all grown-up people not in a relationship with you who get to make their own decisions. Ask yourself where in your heart a demand like that is coming from, because...well...it's not a good or a reasonable place.)
    posted by praemunire at 1:37 PM on November 1, 2016 [16 favorites]

    You have a fundamental difference in world views about opposite-sex friendships. This is not something that can be easily resolved without one of you feeling resentful. My attitude is more in line with his (I have a lot of opposite-sex friends, and remain on good terms with exes), and I would break up with someone who made such demands of me. You need to be with someone who agrees with you on these sort of major issues.
    posted by fimbulvetr at 1:42 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

    The thing about dealbreakers is that you actually have to let them break the deal, or else you end up where you're at now.

    So what is it: is him continuing to have some low-level contact with his ex a dealbreaker? Or isn't it? Because it's clearly not changing. This isn't a him problem anymore: it's a you problem, as in, you are literally the only one who can solve it. And how you solve it is by breaking up.

    I realized that what I really want isn't just for him to stop talking to his ex; it's for him to *get* me -- to feel the same way I do.

    You're not wrong to want it, per se, but this is literally absolutely never going to happen. So make your decisions based on knowing that this is literally absolutely never ever ever ever going to happen.
    posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:43 PM on November 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

    Something I learned awhile ago, stop having expectations of other people. Yes, this includes your boyfriend.

    This is how he is, you either have to accept that he wants to have mild contact with his friend and former flame or you don't and break up with him.

    You have to decide if that's something you can live with.
    posted by INFJ at 1:43 PM on November 1, 2016

    That said, honesty is key . . . I would never hide my friendships from my significant other.
    posted by fimbulvetr at 1:44 PM on November 1, 2016

    I'm never going to change him -- nor would I want to.

    Then don't.

    Accept him, or not.
    posted by Capt. Renault at 1:51 PM on November 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

    Like I said upthread, you need to be able to have difficult talks and trust each other. However, knowing that he fundamentally disagrees, you dug your heels in and insisted he do this for you.

    Why are you demanding your BF do something he doesn't want to do? You can't expect a person to respect your feelings when you clearly don't respect theirs. She's an ex, you're not the boss of him and demanding he go no-contact to appease you (and why can't he talk to her anyway? ) shows you're not respecting his feelings. And you really can't demand that she have no contact with his family. That's out of line.

    Lastly, I think you should unpack and examine this:

    I'd rather not have a future husband who thinks it's okay to text his ex happy birthday every year simply because it's nice.

    Why on earth not? He'll be married to you and it's very nice to wish people who are/were important to you a happy birthday. I think you're really, really overreacting.
    posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:51 PM on November 1, 2016 [12 favorites]

    Let's be clear, everyone.

    I am not trying to control or change him and am not personally against opposite-sex friendships. I am also not debating whether or not we should stay together. I want him to empathize, validate, and follow-through with his actions in a way that resolves, not exacerbates, an unfortunate precedent that has been set into motion in our relationship (it would help if he could stop hiding things, for instance). But that's not the issue.

    In the same vein, please kindly withhold your judgments on whether my actions were reasonable/unreasonable in your eyes, whether past me needs to "chill the f out", if I should stop imposing on my partner, or whether you would break up with me, etc. What you're reading here is a truncation of a complex, loving relationship. There is plenty of context that you can infer from my well of text, but there is also a lot of underbelly + informing backstory (e.g. omitting past romantic history with girl friends, not introducing me to his girl friends when I'm 2 feet away, texting other girls whenever we fight for emotional support). I choose to leave these bits out because it's not directly related to question asked, which is this: can two people who have developed opposing thought systems on such a matter in a relationship coexist? What does it take?
    posted by doctordrey at 1:52 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

    If you don't have any kind of issue with same-sex friendships, then why do you limit your contact with friend's husbands or your own male friends now that you have a boyfriend? And why do you specifically mention that your boyfriend has not? Those things don't usually come up if a person has no problem with same-sex friendships...
    posted by palomar at 1:52 PM on November 1, 2016 [19 favorites]

    Also... wow, you left out a ton of information that actually DOES pertain to this situation, and based on all of that, I say break up with him. The two of you seem to have very different ideas of what kind of friendships are acceptable and the only real solution, if you can't change your feelings, is to leave.
    posted by palomar at 1:56 PM on November 1, 2016 [42 favorites]

    I choose to leave these bits out because it's not directly related to question asked, which is this: can two people who have developed opposing thought systems on such a matter in a relationship coexist? What does it take?

    I mean, coexist? Sure. Plenty of people with wildly divergent value systems coexist in a variety of situations.

    Coexist happily and without resentment? No, most likely not. This is why people are noting that the solution to your problem is to break up--we're assuming you aren't looking forward to a long life of resentful coexistence.

    What does it take? Well in your case, it would probably take the following:
    1) you never ever ask whether he has or has not texted his ex. Because you will never, ever like the answer.
    2) you just sort of box her away in your mind and refuse to ever think about it
    3) he, for his part, never mentions her or his contact with her to you.

    After some years of this, if everyone does their part perfectly, likely you will have reached "coexistence" on the subject. But that's a big "if".
    posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:58 PM on November 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

    (oh and also it would be a coexistence lacking contentment, based on a giant mutual lie, so, y'know.)
    posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:58 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

    I'm sorry, this isn't meant to be a judgment on your actions. However, much of your post seems to be contradictory.

    I am very, very opposed to my boyfriend staying in touch with exes and maintaining close friendships with female friends: I share your viewpoint. My boyfriend shares your boyfriend's views. However, with the exception of one instance that we had to work through, he's been respectful of my boundaries.

    But, back to you. This "omitting past romantic history with girl friends, not introducing me to his girl friends when I'm 2 feet away, texting other girls whenever we fight for emotional support" does not equate to this "a complex, loving relationship". And it does have a bearing on your question, because regardless of whether he shares your viewpoint, and whether or not there's "nothing going on", he's lied to you, his viewpoint is a dealbreaker for you, and it's very likely that your current viewpoint has subconsciously developed as a result of his past behavior.
    posted by Everydayville at 1:59 PM on November 1, 2016 [14 favorites]

    Let's be clear, everyone.

    I am not trying to control or change him

    No disrespect, but forbidding him to do something which is clearly in his nature to do sounds like you are trying to do exactly those things. And that thing which he wants to do is -- from what I can tell -- simply be nice to people who are or were in his life.

    So to answer your question on whether people with two opposing thought systems can coexist, I would say that's certainly possible, but probably isn't in your case. Sorry.
    posted by Capt. Renault at 2:00 PM on November 1, 2016 [34 favorites]

    You sound awfully controlling to me (with a side order of a lot of rationalizing your own behavior). His behavior doesn't sound great (telling you what you want to hear, and then doing what he wants anyway), but that doesn't mean you aren't being controlling. Telling someone whether/how often they can be in contact with anyone is being controlling.

    To answer your question, no, I don't think the two of you can get over this "difference of philosophies" about exes. If you feel you need to extract this sort of promise from him to ensure you can trust him, you can't.
    posted by msbubbaclees at 2:00 PM on November 1, 2016 [41 favorites]

    Wait wait wait.

    So you asked him to (completely appropriately in my opinion) stop initiating contact except for an annual birthday message, presumably via email or facebook or something, and he agreed. Then you found out that he did not in fact do this, but was continuing to reach out to her regularly in secret?

    Nope. That's all I need to hear.

    If he thought it was unreasonable to create distance with this person, he should have said that when you guys were initially working this out. The fact that he went along with what you wanted to your face and then did something different behind your back is like completely 100% unacceptable period the end giant red flag please dump immediately.

    You totally have a reason to worry. You just found out that your boyfriend has zero respect for your wishes and does not think it's worthwhile to communicate in an honest way with you. He will do things if and only if he thinks it is a good idea, all the while allowing you to think that you've come to an agreement that he has no intention of honoring. Replace "how much contact should you have with your ex" with another relationship issue like "will you come to my parents' house for Thanksgiving" or "should we move in together". Imagine that, like the current situation with the ex, he agrees to one thing with you and then privately pursues a different path. Sounds problematic, right? I know I would certainly worry.

    I'm conflicted about whether this is something you should confront him about, and then break up with him next time it turns out that he agreed to do one thing and actually did whatever he felt like doing, or whether you should save yourself the trouble and just break up with him now.
    posted by Sara C. at 2:00 PM on November 1, 2016 [9 favorites]

    I am not trying to control or change him and am not personally against opposite-sex friendships.

    Except that you're trying to control who he talks to and change him so that he sees things your way, and you would prefer if he'd 'turned down' his opposite sex friendships as you have done.

    You have a chicken and egg situation where your views on this are informed by his past deception, and his deception is partly a result of how he thinks you'll react to his contact with exes and female friends.

    I can't see a way forward where you'll feel happy and comfortable and he'll stop doing this behind your back.
    posted by wreckofthehesperus at 2:04 PM on November 1, 2016 [13 favorites]

    My spouse and I have very very different philosophies about maintaining relationships with exes. Seriously different. We are quite happily married, mostly because neither of us expects the other to abandon their life outside our marriage, provided we are both always prioritizing the health of our relationship. Compromise is hard but ¯\(°_o)/¯

    So, sure, it can be done. But when one adult tries to make the other never or always conduct life according to the other person's rules, it usually falls apart.
    posted by crush-onastick at 2:08 PM on November 1, 2016 [15 favorites]

    All the stuff you mentioned in your followup is relevant context for your question. You asked a question based on a scenario that sounded a lot like "will I be happy with someone who does stuff that is objectively harmless, and which most people would think is perfectly fine, while I arbitrarily ask him not to do those things, and get mad when he does them anyway." And you got responses based on that.

    Now in your update you're listing the reasons for your fundamental discomfort and lack of trust in your guy, and they paint a pretty different picture. He has a history of putting you second to his exes - being rude to you in front of them; confiding in them when you're fighting. I think these habits are the ones that will break you up, not annual "happy birthday" texts.
    posted by fingersandtoes at 2:09 PM on November 1, 2016 [67 favorites]

    Like, would you be okay with him texting her, if at the same time, he made big, grandiose, public gestures about how much he loves you and being with you?

    I think the idea is that while doctordrey was thinking about her boyfriend, her boyfriend was thinking about his ex. Which would burn me, too. Like I just sent you a whole big thing about how much I love you, and literally while that was happening you were texting your ex telling her you were thinking about her? That would be DTMFA territory right there, absent any of the rest of her question.
    posted by Sara C. at 2:09 PM on November 1, 2016 [13 favorites]

    informing backstory (e.g. omitting past romantic history with girl friends, not introducing me to his girl friends when I'm 2 feet away, texting other girls whenever we fight for emotional support). I choose to leave these bits out because it's not directly related to question asked

    ok but why not ask that question, the one where he's totally wrong and you're totally right? This backstory stuff here is actual lack of respect/disloyalty, why not worry about that substance instead of this symbolism?

    or there you go, if he doesn't get why you feel the way you do, explain to him that this one issue carries the symbolic weight of all his demonstrated disregard towards you and so maybe you care about it more than it deserves, but that's the natural consequence of how he's treated you. he ought to be able to understand that, although he will not like it and may not admit it.
    posted by queenofbithynia at 2:10 PM on November 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

    "Her birthday happens to fall on my favorite holiday, Halloween (which means I haven't forgotten it), so I jokingly teased him with "I hope you didn't text your ex a happy birthday!"

    On what planet does that even qualify as a joke? Don't pretend you're just joking about something when you really want to know if he texted her on her birthday. You don't sound like you aren't secure enough to date someone like this, and while he's probably not a saint, you haven't left us much to go on about his misdeeds.
    posted by cakelite at 2:13 PM on November 1, 2016 [73 favorites]

    I am not trying to control or change him.

    With kindness: You are literally trying to do both. Look, it sounds to me like your boyfriend is being kind of a jerk (especially given the intel in your update -- all of that behavior sounds way WAY shadier than what you put in your original post, and his pattern around non-you women actually is totally pertinent to your question, and is exactly why you feel the way you do about this particular situation), but you're ABSOLUTELY trying to change him into being a person who doesn't want to have anything to do with his exes, and the way you're doing this is by attempting to control how often he contacts them, and when.

    I think your boyfriend sounds like potentially kind of a weasel, and the way you're reacting to this is by holding on as tightly as possible in the hopes that setting up loads of rules and regulations will de-weasel him. That just isn't how these things work, though. The more he acts out, the more you tighten the reins, and it just turns into a vicious emotional cycle. He sounds like a person who agrees to stuff to get out of a serious or honest discussion that might lead to a real compromise you would both sign off on, and then just does what he wants. Which is not a great person to be dating. Food for thought.
    posted by Countess Sandwich at 2:15 PM on November 1, 2016 [67 favorites]

    I think that his history of behavior regarding other women, particularly the part about looking for emotional support from them, is very relevant to your current predicament. I went through something similar with my bf. He wanted to stay friends with his ex and early on in our relationship I was fine with that. But at one point something about the way he would talk about her, with a clearly feigned indifference, made me suspicious and reading his phone confirmed that he was far closer with her than he had led me to believe. Most egregiously, he had discussed our relationship problems with her and that made me feel like their bond was stronger than ours. It made me lose trust in him and spiral into the same kind of distrust and paranoia that I feel fuels your question. The damage his deceit did to our relationship was such that the only thing that made us heal was that he truly and fully cut all ties to her.

    Your addendum tells me that you struggle with your boyfriend´s relationship with his ex because he, similarly, has tried to downplay his involvement with other women even if nothing really nefarious was going on. This misguided attempt at avoiding conflict has made it so that while you might have been perfectly happy with their friendship, he now needs to sever it completely if you are ever going to trust him again. If he is unwilling to do this, walk away.
    posted by piranna at 2:16 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

    My husband and I have this difference of opinion, but on a more personal level. I don't want anything to do with my exes whereas he really values the friendships that have grown out of his past relationships. He is (and now I am too) super tight with a previous long-term ex and it was a little uncomfortable for me at first, but we handled it with openness and honesty. Some things he did really set off alarm bells for me - like I was not ok when I found out he called her after we had a fight - but we talked it out and I explained how that made me feel and he understood and it never happened again. I'd also add that becoming friends with his ex, especially spending time together just the two of us, really helped me see why they had such a good friendship but obviously never would have worked out in a relationship, and pretty much cooled any residual flames of jealousy.

    So your question of what does it take? It took us talking about it and being able to trust each other. If he hadn't taken my concerns seriously or I pushed too hard on what I was comfortable with it may well not have worked for us at all.
    posted by galvanized unicorn at 2:16 PM on November 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

    Regardless of the specific opinions and behaviors that prompted your question (about which I disagree with you in almost every possible way), you're learning a valuable lesson about your and your boyfriend's conflict resolution skills; namely, that they are very poor.

    Instead of communicating clearly with you what he is or is not willing to do, instead he agrees with you verbally about a course of action but then goes ahead and does whatever he wants anyway.

    You manage the anxiety of unresolved conflict by trying to exert control over the situation in ways that make your boyfriend even more avoidant.

    This pattern of avoiding/postponing conflict will be a feature in your relationship every time a disagreement arises, about anything.

    So unless you're willing to see this situation play out over and over again in ways big and small, it's time to break up.
    posted by jesourie at 2:19 PM on November 1, 2016 [13 favorites]

    can two people who have developed opposing thought systems on such a matter in a relationship coexist? What does it take?

    it takes one person caving.
    posted by prize bull octorok at 2:34 PM on November 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

    can two people who have developed opposing thought systems on such a matter in a relationship coexist? What does it take?

    I think a lot would depend on why partner 1 (P1) objects to partner 2’s (P2) contact with exes/ members of his or her preferred gender and what this says about the rest of the relationship. Are the objections because P1 is insecure (which will without a doubt affect the relationship beyond this one issue)? Are they because P2 has been flirting with betrayal in the past? Or for other, possibly religious/ cultural reasons, like P1 comes from a community in which this kind of thing is regarded as cheating, and they feel humiliated by it?

    So, in theory, I’d think, it would be possible for two people with seemingly mutually exclusive stances on this to make it work. It would probably be much easier in some cases (ex. P1 is insecure but working on it, or P2 doesn’t have stellar judgement but has gained insight into this and is being more level-headed, etc.)

    It would take a lot of compromises, conversations, and effort, as well as a genuine and deep care for the other person’s well-being. If we assume that P1 really hates their SO having any contact whatsoever with exes whilst partner 2’s (P2) best friends, for example, are all exes who he sees or talks to daily, I think they both can take steps to understand where the other person is coming from through lots of probably very difficult conversations and a genuine effort on both their parts to empathize with the other’s position. P1 also would have to figure out why they are as bothered as they are by the situation, and what kind of contact between P2 and exes they would be OK with. P2 would have to figure out for themselves what parts of his relationship with his/ her exes they can give up on/ reduce without either feeling controlled by P1 or like they are losing valuable people.

    This would probably have to be an ongoing thing, since new situations will pop up all the time; nor is it likely that P1 and P2 will ever feel the same about these issues.

    However, I’d say that whatever agreements P1 and 2 come to for themselves, these can’t realistically be extended to other people, and to try to do so is, I feel, not just evidence of disparate philosophies but actually shows a rather controlling dynamic (even if there is good reason for this, such as P2 having shown in the past that they can’t be trusted).

    Anyway, after your update it seems the issue is not just different philosophies; it sounds like your boyfriend is being disrespectful of you and your relationship and you are (literally) trying to control him and the way he behaves in the relationship. I don’t know which came first, you being incredibly strict or him sort of denying you, as it were, in front of his exes etc. Either way, this seems much bigger than a difference in philosophy.

    Good luck
    posted by miorita at 2:35 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

    Can two people coexist if they have different points of view on something like this? Yes, if they both can compromise.

    What strikes me in your post is that you seem to do a lot of demanding, instructing and ordering. He must do this, he must not do this. That doesn't tell me that you are very willing to compromise. He then pays you lip service that he will agree to your demands and then doesn't, which tells me he is not reliable to stand up against that directly.

    Who is compromising here? No one.
    posted by vunder at 2:47 PM on November 1, 2016 [18 favorites]

    To answer your question, of course, two people who identify with opposing schools of thought on exes and opposite-sex friends can coexist happily. My husband and I have strong opposing views on how many issues should be handled. We coexist quite happily thinking the other is completely off-base in their beliefs in that area.

    But, as many above have implied, that is not your problem. Differing schools of thought are easy to manage in a relationship - you agree to which school of thought will drive behavior of both partners or you agree that each person will follow their own school of thought in regards to their own behavior in that area. Both partners accept and work from which ever of these proposition they have agreed to. The problem is your boyfriend is saying he agrees you two are working from the first proposition, but is acting like you two are working from the second.
    posted by hworth at 3:01 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

    can two people who have developed opposing thought systems on such a matter in a relationship coexist? What does it take?

    No, I do not think this relationship will work out for you. You might have a chance if you weren't as insecure as you admit; this is preventing you from letting go of the past and starting a new future with him. There will always be other women - ex girlfriends, co-workers, neighbors, and like it or not, he had relationships with people before he met you. Insecurities are exhausting to some people and it seems you wear him down to where he will agree to something that is against his nature, but he goes back on his words because he never really agreed with you in the first place. Your fault for not trusting him at his word and making him stop contact, his fault for agreeing to change when he kinda knew he wouldn't. This is a carousel and it will go around and around. I suggest you get off.
    posted by NoraCharles at 3:02 PM on November 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

    Whether people with opposing thoughts on a topic can happily mate depends entirely on the people. If you want to be able to deal with this difference of opinion, you likely will be able to. If you decide it's a deal breaker then no, you can't make it work.

    What you're saying makes a lot of sense - it is healthy both to want to respect his viewpoint AND to want him to understand and respect your feelings. Maybe the understanding you need to reach is why this matters SO much to you, and he needs to understand and respect that too. When you both understand that better, perhaps you'll both be able to know how, and if, to move forward. It is a big leap to trust another person with your heart, especially as someone who has been deeply betrayed by trusted loved ones (speaking for myself). If they don't understand and value what you're risking, there's an imbalance in the relationship.

    Your actual question answered, I'll offer that my husband of 12 years still communicates regularly with a former girlfriend, via text, email, and even in-person visits. He said something to me early on that serves as my context for their continued contact: if they had wanted to still be together romantically, they would be. I've spent plenty of time with her and can say that she's a wonderful person who is a great friend to my husband, and he to her, but neither of them could provide what the other needs in a partner. He came with a past, and I love him for all that it made him - her included. He also knows that I came with a past, and is careful to give me no reasons to fear trusting him.
    posted by AliceBlue at 3:04 PM on November 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

    It seems like he's just paying you lip service. Pretty clear he has no intention to let go of his exes. Texting them for emotional support - WTF?!

    That being said, please clarify what you meant when you wrote that you had to put your foot down. Did you tell his family not to have contact with his ex? Because that's way out of line.

    My friend's BFF is her brother's ex of many years. Ex has no desire whatsoever to get back with him. Brother is now married. His wife seems to think she's entitled to tell his family they can't be friend with ex anymore. Wife comes across as a lunatic and family ignores her wishes.
    posted by Neekee at 3:13 PM on November 1, 2016 [9 favorites]

    I just took a look at your past questions. This doesn't directly answer your current question, but if you're asking it in an attempt to gauge whether to stay or go, please consider the following. you went through a major breakup almost exactly a year ago. In that time, you met this person who has already demonstrated a significantly different viewpoint on a dealbreaker subject (for you). In one year, he's also exhibited shady behavior and caused you to question what you call a "loving" relationship.

    In one year he's caused you to set boundaries on the same topic three times. This is not a man you should be referring to as your future husband. To answer your original question: yes, some couples could possibly coexist with differing viewpoints on such a matter. What it takes? Honesty and trust. He isn't honest. You don't trust him, because if you did, you wouldn't try to control him. So no, you likely won't be able to coexist successfully.
    posted by Everydayville at 3:29 PM on November 1, 2016 [14 favorites]

    Yes, people can co-exist with very different (abstract) values. (Practical values, not so much -- the world is full of Republicans happily married to Democrats; there are very few losing gamblers happily married to penny-pinchers or recovering alcoholics happily married to still-carousers.)

    No, you cannot stop your boyfriend or his family from feeling how they feel about his ex. You can make your boyfriend pretend to feel the way you do if he's got that kind of conflict-avoidance strategy, but for him to act consistently in line with that pretense requires a very large amount of personal fortitude that he just may not have.
    posted by MattD at 3:33 PM on November 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

    I understand your frustration with some of the other answers, but I think if you had really wanted no judgement, you would have left out what this particular 'difference in beliefs' was. Your update leads me to believe that your controlling behavior is based upon his earlier weird untrustworthy behavior with his exes/other girls while being in a relationship with you.

    It does indeed change how I'd answer the question. The answer is, "no".
    posted by destructive cactus at 3:35 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

    Thanks everyone for the valid points. You guys really got me thinking. I needed this.

    My boyfriend (Everydayville, we got back together but we still have issues, obviously) has admittedly had a history of being inconsiderate and I am lashing back in an unhealthy way. I didn't realize this was also related to my resentment towards how he dealt with other girls too until I went through the process of writing/reading/reacting to this thread. Being conflict-avoidant, he didn't take the time to fully and productively address some of his haphazard behaviors to make me feel safe -- and it's spun off into a nasty cycle wherein I deal with the uneasiness by exerting an inordinate amount of control. Then he loses his empathy for me and hides things from me, I grow more anxious, etc.

    Thanks also for providing the vocabulary to shape my feelings into thoughts. I will talk to my boyfriend. Today it dawned on me that we are trying to evolve, but we are relying on old, automated machinery. We are ill-equipped as a couple to resolve conflict and use disrespect instead of compromise. I'm sad because the prognosis isn't looking great, but he understands why I have a hard time trusting him and we're both pretty adamant about making this work.

    p.s. No, I didn't tell his family to stop having contact with his ex. That wouldn't be cool! We discussed why this was bugging me and ID'd that it was b/c everyone who is close to him I have never met, but they are all close to his ex and my bf wasn't making enough of an effort to make me acquainted (like not introducing me when I'm right there -- that was dumb of him). I was totally ok with his friends but the parents thing was a little complicated: My bf's ex cheated on him, but his parents didn't know so they were confused about the breakup and still adored/were attached to his ex. His ex also had remnant hopes of getting back together so it made me uncomfortable. It wasn't really going to go anywhere good and he didn't want to break the ugly details to his parents, so I suggested he ask her to cool it on at least the in-person meetings with his parents. He agreed to this compromise even though he hates of the idea of interfering with their relationship. Looking back, I think a common problem was that I was putting thought into considering our relationship, yet he was still at times used to considering her since it was a muscle he had used for 10 years (staying connected to her because he was worried about her not having a support system, worrying about how devastated she would be if his parents found out she cheated, shielding her from having to see photos of him with a new girl, thinking of her when we discover a cool place while we're traveling together, etc.).
    posted by doctordrey at 4:27 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

    can two people who have developed opposing thought systems on such a matter in a relationship coexist? What does it take?

    I know this one! Your partner's behavior is not going to change. Whether you're right, he's right, or whichever one of you needs to "chill the f out," makes no difference at all.

    The question in this case isn't whether two people can coexist. Since, in my opinion, the behavior is unlikely to change, the question is whether or not you're willing to live with it. I think only you can answer that question.
    posted by cnc at 4:34 PM on November 1, 2016

    I think it's possible for couples to negotiate a difference like this as long as they both respect that the other's point of view is a legitimate and ethical variance, and that they agree on ground rules that allow both to maintain their orientation while also respectfully compromising in ways that acknowledge their partner's emotional needs. One partner should not have to compromise to the point where their own thought system is essentially eliminated. This requires honest communication, openness, and respect.

    It doesn't sound like your situation as you've currently described it meets that threshold. You're exerting a lot of pressure on him to radically change his own orientations to appease you. There doesn't seem like a lot of compromise. You come to him with requests for radical change, and he eventually agrees to most all of your request besides a small concession and then fails to hold to his end of the bargain, which sets off secondary issues that have to due with honesty, betrayal, and trust. As you realize, this is a bad cycle that is repeating. I don't think that you'll get to a better place unless you wipe the slate and renegotiate for a new understanding that doesn't collapse his own orientation and desire to maintain appropriate relationships with past girlfriends. Right now, his very poor and inappropriate solution to having agreed to a set of rules that didn't reflect what he actually wants is to make small transgressions in secret. Neither of you are doing a good job with this situation. If you can't visualize a way to truly compromise instead of forcing him to conform to your thought system and preferences, I don't think you'll be able to find a resolution with him.

    I was about to hit post when I saw your latest update and I think that this could be the key to getting to into a new dynamic, "Today it dawned on me that we are trying to evolve, but we are relying on old, automated machinery. We are ill-equipped as a couple to resolve conflict and use disrespect instead of compromise. " You're going to have to unpack a lot of past hurts and inappropriate behavior, resolve and permanently shelve them, and start with a new set of ground rules that encourage mutual respect, trust, communication, and transparency. It's a lot of work and both partners have to be completely committed to the process.
    posted by quince at 4:42 PM on November 1, 2016

    There are two different views here, and I think that the modern views about 'being cool and letting your bf stay in close touch with his ex' is nagging you here, but I disagree, and I think you're right.

    I think there should be a reasonable distance between exes. This kinda thing interferes with moving on in life. I think your bf is still on the rebound, and needs some space to get over it.
    posted by ovvl at 6:23 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

    wait so this is the same ex who dumped you cold when you were visiting out there to start planning a life with him in his other city?

    Sheesh, no wonder you're losing your mind over a birthday text to his ex--you know full well that one day this dude might just drop you out of the blue like the hottest of potatoes, and you're terrified that the thing what makes him do it is this ex.

    For real? It probably will be. It probably was, the first time. You say you don't wanna change him but I think you really, really do---into someone who you can trust with your heart, and someone who never completely fuckin' stomped all over your dreams and love.
    posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:35 PM on November 1, 2016 [24 favorites]

    I feel like just because an ex talks with your current partner surely doesn't mean they want to be back together; it can undermine your relationship, though, because they're talking to someone who is presumably pretty sympathetic and who they're viewing through rose-coloured misty happy memories, lending a mighty harsh tone to your current issues.
    posted by Nyx at 6:42 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

    Telling another adult who to be friends with and not to text happy birthday to someone they care about (seriously?) seems extremely controlling and inappropriate.
    posted by bile and syntax at 6:42 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

    You made an unreasonable request—that he break up with a pre-existing friend for the sake of your relationship. This is controlling and isolating behavior, often the first step in a pattern of abuse, and if I had been your boyfriend I would have said, "Fuck no, you can accept my friends or we can part ways, but you can't make me give up my friends." We don't get to choose who our partners can and cannot be friends with, we only get to choose whether or not, given who our partner is friends with, we want to remain attached to them.

    He unwisely acquiesced to your request, but was unable to comply with it long-term because it is fundamentally unreasonable and he wasn't willing to let you control his social relationships. It sounds like he tried to talk himself into letting you do it, which was stupid of him, but he couldn't really buy into it because it felt wrong to him to be made to choose between his partner and his friend. When someone tries to force a choice like that, the correct choice is always to break up with the person who is doing the forcing. It sucks that he tried to go along with your wishes and then didn't follow through on his word, but a promise made under duress is not a valid promise.

    You need to break up with this person and let them live their own life. You cannot control who your partners associate with, only who you associate with. You are absolutely allowed to have contact-with-exes be a dealbreaker in your relationships, but you are absolutely not allowed to try and prune someone else's friendships in order to have a relationship with them. If you aren't cool with your partners being friends with any of their exes, you need to make that clear early on and be prepared to walk away if you don't get an answer you like. Sorry.
    posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:34 PM on November 1, 2016 [10 favorites]

    On reading your followups (I tend to skip to the bottom of long Asks in an effort to avoid just joining in a chorus of righteousness) I still think you are being controlling, but I'd downgrade my assessment of your boyfriend from "hapless man-child who doesn't know how to use his words" to "actual jerk who doesn't care about your feelings."

    Break up with him and seek someone with whom you are more naturally compatible and who has more respect for you as a person. This guy sounds like a poor match for you and a bad partner in general. You want to be with someone who you can easily trust and who is also worthy of that trust. This guy is neither.

    Still though, you don't get to choose who your partners are friends with—you only get to choose who you are partners with. You are allowed to reject people who are friends with their exes (as well as people who just don't value you, like your current boyfriend) but you aren't allowed to accept people conditional on their breaking off friendships. Find someone who is already on your wavelength to begin with, there are lots of guys in this world who aren't friends with their exes and who will be kinder to you in general.
    posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:59 PM on November 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

    I think the only way I could live with this situation is to try radical acceptance, and see if it sticks.
    posted by soakimbo at 8:18 PM on November 1, 2016

    Radical acceptance in the face of someone callously disregarding one's emotional wellbeing is indistinguishable from radical submissiveness in the face of emotional abuse. There's no healthy way to remain in this relationship.
    posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:46 PM on November 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

    You're so emotional over this that it's really hard to extract what needs to be extracted. He respects you! He agreed to do X and did not do X -- that's not respect.

    You don't want to change or control him! Except that's exactly what you want to do.

    > Long-term lovers: can two people who identify with opposing schools of thought on exes coexist happily?

    Not on this one, no. Trust and respect are such vital components of intimate relationships and you don't have either with this guy, because of this issue, because of how you've both handled it. If I had an ex who was still chummy with my extended family and me and a new partner insisted that I tell people outside of our relationship -- the ex and the extended family -- how to conduct themselves, when I approved of their conduct, the answer would have been a succinct "Screw you, that's nuts."

    And, as you can see from the thread, there are so many flavours of "okay" on this. When a very old and dear opposite-sex friend of mine came to visit, my partner of, at the time, a year and a half, wished me well and stocked my fridge with beer and my freezer with vodka. He has a solid number of friendships with women, some of whom he has slept with, and I think this is fantastic; I think it speaks really well to his character that the end of a dating relationship is not "That @#$* bitch" but just: that wasn't going to work out in the long run, but what a nice person! And they still want to be friends with him and vice-versa despite a dumping. If I think about a horrifying scenario in which the two of us split up, I can at least obtain comfort in the fact that it's highly unlikely to be on a screw-you basis; there'll be mutual respect and it will be highly likely that we can wring a friendship out of the ashes. I think this is part of what makes him such a good person.

    When I was a pre-teen an older female relative told me "There's no friend like an old boyfriend!" I, who had yet to have a boyfriend, never mind an ex, thought "hmm," and filed this information away for the future. It seemed to make a lot of sense: an ex would be somebody you knew well, right? And just because a dating relationship didn't work out, well, that didn't mean much about a friendship? And so I launched off into puberty with that in mind, and it worked out very well. The ex-boyfriends I am not still at least casually friendly with either drifted, or were horrible mistakes and I should never have dated them, never mind considered friendship with them. I am quite fixed in this belief that an ex can be a first-rate friend.

    And...and I would have no patience for a partner who suggested otherwise, and who did not trust me, and who felt threatened by that. I would view their insecurities as unfortunate, but ultimately not my problem -- I would be irritated, honestly, by a partner who I could not introduce exes to as I would any other friend.

    I'm at a bit of an extreme on this, and I know it.

    You're at a bit of an extreme on this, and you don't seem to know it.

    The boyfriend just seems to not have the emotional maturity to do this and do it right. I would not even lie by omission about this sort of thing.

    Who you can and cannot be friends with, and how one deals with that, is enormous; it's up there with how one deals with money for relationship dealbreakers. I would do damage control via a break-up; I just can't see how this can go from...this, to a mutually respectful, trusting relationship without this being a constant thorn in the side. He has been dishonest; you are lost in a weird place where you are trying to tell yourself "I am not trying to control or change him and am not personally against opposite-sex friendships" which is so very obviously not the case that... Well, anyway. Yikes. Look at this stuff:

    "Therefore I kindly asked if he could a) tell her to stop meeting his parents"

    "No, I didn't tell his family to stop having contact with his ex. That wouldn't be cool!"

    ...huh? There's some super-huge difference in those two?

    You don't like how this guy conducts himself in relationships. He clearly has objections to your expectations of him. You are pretty much lying to yourself to try to make things a better fit between the two of you in your mind, but not in reality.

    > I realized that what I really want isn't just for him to stop talking to his ex; it's for him to *get* me -- to feel the same way I do.

    Not going to happen. And to have this buried in a sea of "I don't want to change him" is really unhealthy. Also, his understanding you is not synonymous with his feeling the same way you do.

    Best I can tell: you're young, the relationship is young. This is a lot of misery to try to prolong, a lot of resentments already piled up, a lot of fundamental incompatibility. There are others who prefer to be in a couple where neither has contact with exes. Note that that is a substantial issue for you, think of this fellow as a helpful learning experience on your travels, and keep going to find something that makes all concerned happier.

    (Side note: the only time I ever fussed about a boyfriend being friends with an ex, it was because I thought she was treating him like dirt. This was almost fifteen years ago. I got out of that bad-idea relationship. Best I can tell, she's still using him as a sort of personal soap opera, and seems to love to load him up with terrible advice that gets him in all sorts of trouble. She's re-married, he stays single, as far as I know. Anyway, it remains the only good excuse I am aware of for "please don't talk to your ex anymore" -- that the ex is not the friend s/he pretends to be, but a person who treats your partner poorly -- sometimes manipulative partners stick around as still-manipulative ex-partners; not cool.)
    posted by kmennie at 12:09 AM on November 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

    Your boyfriend's behavior sounds absolutely terrible. I would agree that your behavior is tending toward controlling, but I think that is probably a coping mechanism due to the fact that your boyfriend seems utterly thoughtless and attached to his ex. (It's not that hard to stop "worrying" about an ex once you break up. I've never doted on an ex as much as this guy does, especially not one who cheated on me. It sounds like while he might not be carrying a torch for her, he gets some kind of validation or whatever out of her attention.)

    In other words, in a better relationship, you wouldn't have to worry about any of this, and you would be free of this huge burden that is probably making you feel a little unrecognizable to yourself (who wants to think this much about their partner's ex??). Feel free to tell him to figure it out or say goodbye.
    posted by stoneandstar at 12:13 AM on November 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

    It seems like there's a significant backstory with this guy of him being untrustworthy and you (with very good reason) don't trust him. You've never really trusted him (with very good reason).

    In that case I would ask you to examine why do you want to make this work with him? Why would you sign up for a lifetime of this?

    It's kind of one thing if you've been together for years and he did something stupid and now you've got to decide how to proceed, but it seems like he hasn't given you any reason to trust him since Day One.

    I'm not reversing my response upthread, but I can understand why you'd ask him to stop talking with her and even more upset when he agreed then did it anyway.

    But I think the fact you felt you HAD to ask him that really speaks to the genuine issue of not trusting him (say it with me this time: with very good reason).

    I would cut this one loose. You deserve better and you don't need this.
    posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:18 AM on November 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

    Emotional fidelity is equally as important as physical fidelity for the health and contentment of a monogamous relationship, and it doesn't sound like he's being emotionally faithful. Compounding the infidelity is his family's adoration for the ex. They obviously love her, and the two weren't even married, nor did they have children together to create some kind of reasonable lifetime bond (I don't think?), so you're going to be dealing with an unwelcoming atmosphere in situations that a S/O would otherwise be met with warmth and inclusion when it comes to his family- think holidays, and the not-so-cushy feeling of them wondering why [she] isn't there and you are. That's never going to feel good. This is a severe Case of the Ex scenario, and those never end well. There's no way I'd stay if I were you. No guy is worth feeling like that.

    "Have you been to X before? I walked into the building and immediately thought of you. It's amazing."

    ^ THIS right here would have been grounds for immediate dismissal if I were you. No, freaking, way. There is obviously still an emotional attachment there for both parties. He obviously enjoys communicating with her and misses her. Why on Earth would you settle for that? You sound very defiant in your post, like you're trying to reaffirm to yourself and everyone here that nothing is going on, and that everything is fine except for his texting/emailing boundary problem. But I'm afraid that's not the case and you need a strong dose of reality if you want to be happy. Rock your expectations of relationships and find someone who will be all in and who's romantic/emotional focus will be solely on you. He isn't the last man on Earth. And he isn't be fair. I think you deserve better
    posted by Avosunspin at 3:25 AM on November 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

    You buried the lede in a big way, OP. Upthread, I thought the reason you were feeling insecure and latching onto his small symbolic actions was because he had treated you poorly in the context of other women - and I still think that. But now that you've clarified that this is the guy that dumped you a year ago out of nowhere, AND that you've been seeing him three years (is that math right?) and he's still reaching out to his ex and you still don't know his family etc... it's even more obvious why you don't feel secure, and are distracting yourself from the big picture with small peeves.

    This isn't the time to be a chiller girlfriend, this is the time to really, really step back and assess the big picture with honesty. What has changed since he dumped you? Specifically, what has he done to earn your trust back?
    posted by fingersandtoes at 8:18 AM on November 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

    I wasn't going to chime in, but I feel like I should because you've gotten a lot of shaming and chiding in this thread. Even before I read your updates, I was much more on your side than most mefites seem to be. I honestly believe there is a lot of unnecessary browbeating of "jealous" girlfriends these days, and a huge amount of pressure to be the 100% Cool Chill Girlfriend. He's texting his ex? It's 2016, you jealous hag. He plays video games all day? Who are you to infringe on his freedom, you fun-hating harpy? Etc. Etc. It regularly makes me roll my eyes and I disagree with it on principle. I mean, are you slashing his tires? Boiling bunnies? No? Then the hand-wringing and moral outrage seems a bit much. You're hurt and worried. You feel bad. You've tried to talk it out. You expressed your preferences and they were ignored.

    All I needed to know what that he didn't introduce you to his female friend when you were standing right there. Sorry, that's unforgivable. It's objectively rude no matter how much of Cool Chill Girlfriend! you are. He's a jerk. And you're probably right, he probably does have some romantic or emotional attachment to his ex, and some burning need for female validation. Lots and lots of men with many "female friends" have this. It's not always the case that they're just "soooo enlightened and have moved past seeing gender" and you're the shrew. Please. My ass!
    posted by stockpuppet at 8:36 AM on November 2, 2016 [14 favorites]

    I consider myself a very laid-back person in many ways, but your BFs behavior, which you have described above reminds of the time I was with my ex-boyfriend, and he did things that made me super insecure and controlling - which is totally NOT the person I am today.

    We were university sweethearts and had been so strong for 2 years, then another girl entered the scene. She was everything I was not and I could tell he was besotted with her... he insisted it was just as "a friend" but his behavior told me otherwise.

    It came to a head when he came to visit me once in London, and we went out for a nice day in the city, doing touristy things. Every couple of hours he would find a way to bring up this other girl... "Oh X thinks this... or X wouldn't like that. X told me once that blah blah blah"

    I remember being so sad that he kept bringing her up. It felt to me that she was on his mind a LOT more than a "friend" should be. Anyway, long story short, we broke up and he DID go on to immediately date her (Although it didn't work out!)

    So I think, that if your ex is still finding ways to reach out to his ex, and if she's on his mind a lot more than you think she should be, and if he talks about her a lot or whatever - then you're not crazy, and you should listen to your gut and the question isn't really about whether it's ok to stay friends with an ex, but the question is whether or not your BF still has FEELINGS for his ex.... and based purely upon the words you've written and his behavior towards you, I don't think you should stay with him.
    posted by JenThePro at 9:08 AM on November 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

    One more thing:

    It has been my experience that men whose girlfriends cheated on them are way more obsessive about those exes. (More so than women in the same situation.) It's striking, now that I think of it, how much more true this has been of men - in my experience - than women. It's almost like the women were expecting it, or at least, once it happened, were able to mentally downgrade their exes ("he's a dog!" etc); while the men whose girlfriends cheat on them have a really hard time getting over that insult - almost like it raised the value of the girlfriend, instead of lowering it - and they've let it affect the relationships that come later in a much bigger way.
    posted by fingersandtoes at 10:11 AM on November 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

    In the context of your follow-ups, I think it's completely inappropriate to text a woman who holds any kind of torch for you, 'I was here at this place, and this made me think of you.' Among other things.

    I was texted things like this by a dude I once liked who had a girlfriend, and it felt like he was trying to keep the torch burning, and it was not cool, and completely unwarranted. It was super confusing and it actually felt kinda manipulative on his part, to receive these kind of intimate messages periodically while he KNEW I was trying to get over it and maintain some distance.

    Not only that, it's actually kind of cruel of him to do to her. I don't think he has inappropriate feelings for her, but I do think that he kinda likes that she wanted him back-- and I have a feeling that he likes the attention in general from people, which is why the whole thing sits badly with you. And I think that's a justified response.

    And in the context of your follow-ups, I understand why it bothered you that his family was spending time with her -- it's alarming he didn't tell them the actual reason they broke up. Why? To preserve their image of her? That indicates some kind of loyalty of her. They can totally spend time with her if they want to, they can have her as a friend, even. It's happened before, and some exes can do this. But it's different if they want them to get back together, and it's his job to tell them the truth so they know who she is. Not doing so is super disrespectful to you, because them adoring her is partly based on lack of information about her-- a lie of omission he perpetuated despite being in another relationship. That's yucky.

    I think that he's being super disrespectful, and I think he doesn't see it because he's just used to acting this way around women. Perhaps he's flirty and encourages attention? It appears to me that perhaps he enjoys being wanted. In reaching out to women emotionally when you fight, or not introducing you when there are women around, he's subconsciously elevating them, as if to say, 'Yes, I am taken, but you're important to me because of this attention I'm giving you over her right now,' it's a power play. A seed of false hope. It might be completely subconscious, and he may have no real interest in these women at all, but it's a yearning for attention and validation.

    And it's damaging to your relationship. It's such a subtle thing, It is easy to feel like you're going crazy and you're uptight and he's totally not doing anything wrong because he doesn't want in on it, he swears!

    So a better question is, why does he feel the need to contact her when he thinks of her? Why does he feel the need to reach out to her on her birthday? Get to the bottom of this need of his, and you'll be able to understand why he can't refrain. If he's getting nothing out of it, as he claims? Why do it at all? Right? Moreover, there seems to be a LOT of lying going on. You keep re-establishing boundaries and he tells you he doesn't care about those boundaries by his actions. His actions have marked consequences he's ignoring. Why? 'It means nothing to me,' is not a valid answer-- it means something to you. If it meant nothing to him it wouldn't be so hard for him to refrain from contacting her. So obviously, it means something to him.

    I've known guys like these, and they don't tend to get better without a lot of therapy and introspection and emotional maturity, but you don't tend to get there until a lot of relationships go south in a similar manner, and they hopefully think, 'maybe it me.' But first thing is first, they have to realize what they're doing and why it's problematic. He's not even there yet.

    I think it may be time to invoke the consequences of crossing those boundaries. It sucks and I'm sorry but he's proved time and time again he just doesn't care.

    Bottom line: I can tell you're unhappy. It makes you so incredibly unhappy, and he does it anyway and continues to do so. Fundamental differences or no, you don't deserve that. At all. You deserve to be in a relationship that brings out the best in you and helps you be happy.

    Best of luck.
    posted by Dimes at 10:11 AM on November 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

    Yeah.. I've posted a "how can we deal with our different ex philosophies" question before and thought yours would be similar, but it isn't.. your problem isn't just that you two have different ex philosophies, it's that he fundamentally disrespects you and your relationship (e.g. by lying, not keeping commitments, disrespecting you when these other women are around).

    What I want to communicate to you is the following:

    Even if you had a partner who 1) respects you 2) respects the relationship 3) keeps commitments 4) communicates honestly rather than telling you what you want to hear and then behaving differently behind your back, it can still be really, really, really, hard to negotiate boundaries when two people who love each other don't have the same comfort level with each other's exes. In other words, even in the very best of cases where you both are honest and caring and respectful, it can still be really difficult to find a way to be together and some folks can't -- even under "ideal" conditions.

    In your case, you two don't even have the basic components that are required of a loving relationship (honesty, mutual respect, commitment), so of course you can't get over this ex issue.

    So.. walk away, not because you two don't see eye to eye about exes, but because you two don't have a working, loving, healthy relationship. I personally don't think this can be "fixed" - from what you've shared. He's shown himself repeatedly to be a liar and someone who you can't rely on to keep their commitments .. he's also repeatedly disrespected you in front of these women .. and shared information about your relationship with them -- all of those things would be deal breakers for me. Absolute deal breakers.
    posted by Gray Skies at 10:49 AM on November 2, 2016

    Doctordrey, somehow I missed that this is the guy who broke up with you out of nowhere. You asked that previous question about "how could you get over the hope that he would take you back?" - I didn't answer it at the time but I should have. Everyone said things like, "it takes time, blah blah, throw yourself into hobbies, blah" you know, the usual. But what I wanted to say was YOU HAVE TO DECIDE YOU DON'T WANT HIM BACK. He decided in his mind he didn't want the relationship. He got that head start. But YOU should then decide in your mind you don't want the relationship, too. Because you should have a bright red line in your mind- "he doesn't want me? he breaks up with me? then I DON'T WANT HIM." It is seriously concerning to me that you view it as normal and okay for you to pine, hope, cling to the chance of him coming back to you. It sounds really one-sided and frankly, unhealthy. What you need to do is gain the confidence to realize that someone not wanting you is a deal breaker FOR YOU. Dump this guy. You should have done it earlier. Decide you will not tolerate someone having second thoughts about you. They get one chance. The end.
    posted by stockpuppet at 1:28 PM on November 2, 2016 [8 favorites]

    I have been in a similar relationship. It's over now. He was willing to SAY anything, but not DO even the least of what I needed. And his behaviour made mine worse, and mine made his worse, his lies made me insecure and controlling, my controlling made him unhappy and evasive, which made him lie more. The central issue of which needs could and should reasonably be met by the other, never got addressed because we both just went around in circles making one another feel bad about having needs at all.

    My advice is to take a long hard look at YOUR behaviour. Your moods. Your demands. Your words. Your actions. This is who being with him turns you into. Do you like this version of you? Is she the wife you want to be? The mother?

    For me the answer absobloodylutely NOT! But I was young and insecure and foolish and I realised it only after the baby was already in my arms. Get out before then, or you might be dealing with who this makes you for the rest of your days.
    posted by intergalacticvelvet at 3:38 PM on November 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

    His treatment of you isn't haphazard. It's systematic.

    Before talking to him, read Living with the Passive-Aggressive Man. (Or at least read the reviews, and especially the comments on the reviews, on the Amazon page. Some of the sections are like their own little support groups. But really, read the book.) It doesn't contain solutions, but it will raise your awareness of 1. how he operates and will continue to operate, and 2. your own patterns of making up excuses for him and continuing to try harder, rather than honoring 1. and treating yourself (and him, really) with dignity.

    In some years' time, you may well turn into someone who's pro-contact-with-exes, once you've experienced how that's done in a healthy way, with integrity. Until you've lived that, you have no way of knowing categorically what you can or can't do in that regard. Right now, it's clear only you can't be happy in a relationship with a person who perpetually insists on stirring up drama and jealousy.

    There's zero indication here that you are in any way a jealous or controlling person, just that you're with a crazy-maker, can't see that, and so keep digging yourself in deeper.

    BTDT, won the t-shirt, upcycled the t-shirt and sold it to a clown at the county fair.
    Breathing's a lot easier on the other side, and without that knot in your stomach.

    posted by wonton endangerment at 2:33 PM on November 3, 2016

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