His ex wants to move in with him. Their bond is emotional but not sexual
November 21, 2016 11:16 AM   Subscribe

My current bf had a codependent relationship with his ex, and she helped him through difficult times. Now she is losing her job and wants to move in with him, and he feels responsible for her happiness. Where does this leave me?

Back in July, I met an older guy (mid 40s) on tinder. Neither was looking for a relationship, but when we realised we had amazing chemistry and compatibility we talked about where we stood and decided to be together, even though we agreed to be monogamish (as far as I know neither of us has slept with anyone else yet).

He's become a fully functional adult only in the past 10 years or so. He had a difficult childhood with a dysfunctional family, and in his '20s he met a woman who shared a similarly chaotic past. They lived together, but never 'consumed' the relationship, as she was not interested in sex. For 6 years she supported him financially while he created music, and he offered her stability and company. He got depressed and miserable due to the lack of sexual action and the arrangement came to an end after 6 years, when she lost her job. They moved to different cities but kept in touch and met regularly.

Last week he announced that she is about to lose her job again, and needs his support. As she won't be able to get another job in the small town where she lives, she asked him to move in with him. He currently lives alone in a bigger city and would welcome the extra money, but also feels responsible for her happiness and feels he owes it to her. She has no other friends and throws herself into her work, only to get sacked regularly and having to start from scratch. He tried to push her away, but she seems desperate and has decided to go through with the move, even though he worries sharing a flat with her will drive him crazy.

He has reassured me that she is not a threat. I know that they share a deep emotional connection, possibly unbreakable, and to be perfectly frank, a codependent relationship.
I could be ok with this, except that she doesn't want to know about, or even meet, me. In short, she loves him- though I am not convinced it is as selfless and unconditional as he believes. I don't dispute she's earned his eternal loyalty, but I wonder if this emotional connection, which would only increase when they live together, doesn't leave room for much else, and it makes me question what my role is. He says I'm his ideal woman and he would be very unhappy if he was stuck with her. He has implied that he'll spend more time with me, maybe even come to live in my flat, but after 4 months I am not ready for such a commitment. I am still trying to figure out how I feel, and am in no rush to start cohabiting. I am not interested in marriage and kids.

So my question is: should I break this off now, before I get more involved? Am I overreacting? What are your insights into this unusual situation? Thank you.
posted by muppets to Human Relations (45 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
There are so many red flags here that I just can't even start with picking out individual ones.

Tell him that you're not happy with this idea of his. If he won't budge, then you've got your answer. Run.
posted by Etrigan at 11:20 AM on November 21, 2016 [59 favorites]


What's your tolerance level for drama?
posted by aniola at 11:20 AM on November 21, 2016 [20 favorites]


You teach people how to treat you. By agreeing to keep seeing him while he prioritizes another relationship (one that you have no place in, it seems), you would be teaching him never to prioritize you. It's fine to not want to be on the traditional relationship escalator. But to not be at the top of his list? Is that what you want?
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:21 AM on November 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


Should I break this off now, before I get more involved? Yes. For the love of all that is good, holy, alcoholic and chocolate, YES!

Am I overreacting? No.

What are your insights into this unusual situation? I think this is a perfect out for you before you get stuck supporting some dude 'making music' for the next 10 years. "Sorry, that isn't going to work for me, best of luck to you gotta go bye."
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 11:25 AM on November 21, 2016 [69 favorites]


I find myself wondering how "broken up" they ever were, as the narrative (stayed with her for financial reasons, supposedly didn't have much of a sexual relationship) seems so similar to cheating spouses.

Anyhow, do you feel like you need a fresh source of drama in your life? You seem skeptical for good reason.
posted by stowaway at 11:25 AM on November 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


For 6 years she supported him financially while he created music, and he offered her stability and company. He got depressed and miserable due to the lack of sexual action and the arrangement came to an end after 6 years, when she lost her job.

oh wow. wow.

ok, so yeah, he kind of actually does owe it to her to let her live off him for a little while after living off her for so long. not in any legalistic enforceable way, he could of course say no and that would be better for you. Or would it? because if he says yes to her, he would just be co-dependent and a terrible boyfriend to anybody else, whereas if he says no, he would be an exploitative user who substitutes depression for remorse.

But though I think he ought to repay her in the way she asks for, there's no reason you should hang around tolerating it. I would withdraw at this point if I were you.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:26 AM on November 21, 2016 [30 favorites]


I'd wish him luck and end contact.

It's just cumulatively a bad scene. Lots of people have terrible pasts, but that does not mean you owe them your company on substandard terms. I would argue that this is not the behavior of a fully-functional adult who has been burned and subsequently learned lessons about boundaries.

Why could you be okay with this? I think that's an important question for you to answer, after you've cut off contact.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:26 AM on November 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


He says I'm his ideal woman and he would be very unhappy if he was stuck with her.

I'm not sure how much more "stuck with" a person you can get than letting a person who has a hard time keeping a job move in with you. So basically this dude is about to do something that is going to make both him and you very unhappy to make a third person (who wants nothing to do with you) happy. It sounds like you're pretty low on his list of priorities and you should definitely take that into consideration as to whether you should work on this relationship more or bail.
posted by griphus at 11:27 AM on November 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


I honestly feel like there must be more to this situation than you have explained so far that would lead you to believe you should even entertain this sort of arrangement. You don't seem all that into him, and this obviously has the potential to become a terrible situation, so yes, break it off now.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:28 AM on November 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


If he is even contemplating this, he is already not really committed to you. He is already not permitting a space for the two of you. Sorry.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:29 AM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


also this is a fantastic opportunity for him to just happen to move in with you by fiat since of course he would rather hang out at your place with you than at his own place with her. so unless you want to take over this other job she lost, the one of supporting him, do not let that happen. I know you already said you didn't want that, but he is going to try to make it happen I bet you anything.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:29 AM on November 21, 2016 [22 favorites]


So my question is: should I break this off now, before I get more involved?

Yes.

Am I overreacting?

No.

What are your insights into this unusual situation?

The same as they are for any other interpersonal situation: you are responsible for your own happiness. Nobody else will prioritize your needs but you.
He has reassured me that she is not a threat.
she doesn't want to know about, or even meet, me
These statements cannot both be true. His choosing to split his life in two discrete parts fundamentally changes the relationship you were building together, and is, ergo, a threat. But she's not doing it, he is. He is, it appears, not the adult you thought he was. Next!
posted by headnsouth at 11:29 AM on November 21, 2016 [9 favorites]


So my question is: should I break this off now, before I get more involved?

A screaming, screaming yes to this.

I join others in suggesting that you might want to examine why this is even a question to you.
posted by schadenfrau at 11:31 AM on November 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's controversial, but I strongly believe that being friends or at least friendly with your exes is a sign of emotional maturity. It means you date people based on personal compatibility and friendship, not just attraction; that you don't care for drama; and that you're capable of moving on from past relationships without harboring resentment or carrying a torch.

I want to say that because this friendship between exes, on the other hand, is a giant pile of NOPE.

No one is ever responsible for anyone else's happiness*, much less the happiness of their exes. These two people are still emotionally codependent on one another. You think your partner "has become a fully functional adult" but I would argue that someone who sees his ex's request to move in with him as an unstoppable force of nature that he can only rail vainly against is not actually a fully functional adult.

*We're all responsible for not being intentionally cruel to one another, but that's different from feeling like someone else's emotional responses are your duty to manage.
posted by capricorn at 11:32 AM on November 21, 2016 [23 favorites]


Please for the love of god dump this guy and move on so you can find someone Properly Single, who will have none of these issues. You just said that this guy has a codependent relationship with his ex. I don't believe him for two seconds about being together with her for six years and never having sex, but even if that bit is true, you just said it: he's in a codependent (nonsexual) relationship with his ex.

For whatever reason, he is in his mid 40s and still not behaving like an adult. You are an adult and you should have your own best interests at heart.nListen to yourself. The instinct that told you to write this question is the same instinct telling you to end it with him.

After you dump him, think about what exactly you were getting out of this, because based on what you've written, I'm having trouble understanding how this person would be able to meet your needs at all during the last four months other than the joy of a brief infatuation I guess. He doesn't seem to be emotionally available.
posted by zdravo at 11:36 AM on November 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is a person whose body is composed solely of red flags, living in a home constructed entirely from red flags, and he is waving a red flag at you.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:37 AM on November 21, 2016 [89 favorites]


He currently lives alone in a bigger city and would welcome the extra money

How would he be getting extra money if she doesn't have a job? This does not compute.

I don't think this arrangement will be happily sustainable for all 3 people. I'd extract myself now and find someone else that better suits your desires.
posted by MultiFaceted at 11:38 AM on November 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


I could be ok with this, except that she doesn't want to know about, or even meet, me.

Nope, nope, nope.

If she was willing to explore being friends with you, I would bump it up into a maybe (with giant fucking reservations).

But pushing you into being basically a secret? Nope.
posted by threetwentytwo at 11:41 AM on November 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Thanks for all your help so far. 2 things: when asked when they broke up, he said they never were properly together. And she would be getting a job, hence helping with the rent.
posted by muppets at 11:41 AM on November 21, 2016


when asked when they broke up, he said they never were properly together.

So.... there's a good chance she thinks they're dating.
posted by runningwithscissors at 11:52 AM on November 21, 2016 [28 favorites]


And she would be getting a job, hence helping with the rent.

Then she can help with someone else's rent instead. Craigslist is still a thing.
posted by Etrigan at 11:59 AM on November 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


he said they never were properly together

man is it worse to let someone support you for six years if they're not your girlfriend, or if they are? there is a question for a philosopher.

I especially like how he partially paid her back by keeping her company, whereas her own company is not worth anything on the exchange market. at least not to him.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:02 PM on November 21, 2016 [29 favorites]


Am I overreacting?

No. I agree with others above who say that showing care for an ex is a trait of a good human, but no matter what he may "owe" her, he owes his current relationships more.

should I break this off now, before I get more involved?

Yes, but not (just) because of this dude's flags.

What are your insights into this unusual situation?

You guys have been something of a thing for the past 4 months but you, yourself, haven't felt whatever spark it is that you need to go beyond "monagamish" yet. And now, when this kind of make or break situation has reared it's head, you're not asking "How do I strengthen my relationship?" or talking about how you "don't want to lose him," or "I can't imagine living living without him."

Instead, you're pushing back on the things he's trying to do to strengthen your bond (spending more time with you, for example), because you're not ready. From your question, this guy doesn't sound like "the one" for you. Which is fine if you're not looking for "the one," but even casual relationships need to be worth what you're putting in and the opportunity costs of what you're giving up.

Maybe this relationship was meeting that standard before, but I promise that the drama of the Ex moving in was and it doesn't sound like what you're getting out of your casual connection is worth the drama that will come from the Ex moving back into his life.

For the good of all of you, I think you need to break up. Let him take care of his Ex.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:02 PM on November 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


when asked when they broke up, he said they never were properly together.

Does this mean they never actually broke up?
posted by RainyJay at 12:03 PM on November 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


she doesn't want to know about, or even meet, me.

At least that's what he's telling you she said.

she loves him- though I am not convinced it is as selfless and unconditional as he believes

You mean as selfless and unconditional as he tells you he believes.

He tried to push her away

Of all the things he's told you about this woman and her impending move, this is the thing I believe the least.
posted by _Mona_ at 12:03 PM on November 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


Are you ready for him to say "You and I were never together." to you in six years? 'cause people show you exactly who they are in just this way.

Sorry, it is time to walk, and it is very, very likely that you need to break all contact because this man can't let go of anything it sounds like, and he will attempt to get you back in a constant hot and cold dance.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:05 PM on November 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


The whole of the People's Republic of China has fewer red flags than this situation.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 12:15 PM on November 21, 2016 [58 favorites]


RUN!

My standard advice in this situation is this:

I know, to you, that there is lots of important context and what-ifs and "Oh, but only if you kenw this crucial piece of information!" But. Stop for a second and imagine your best friend/sister/random person you meet in a bar told you: "My boyfriend of four months wants his ex-girlfriend to move in with him. What do you think?" I am pretty confident you would tell your friend/sister/stranger that this is insane and she should break it off with this dude. So, give yourself the same advice you'd give someone else, and get far away from this drama king.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:29 PM on November 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


He's become a fully functional adult only in the past 10 years or so.

No he hasn't.
posted by MsMolly at 12:36 PM on November 21, 2016 [24 favorites]


I may be going out on a limb here, but my take is that he still wants that 'relationship' with his ex, whatever it was, but given the lack of sexual intimacy will try to have his cake and eat it too by maintaining his relationship with you.
posted by chiquitita at 12:46 PM on November 21, 2016 [9 favorites]


Not sure what YOU are getting in this relationship except maybe crumbs. Never figured out why so many women expect so little in relationships. Move on from this drama and expect no less for yourself.
posted by metajim at 1:01 PM on November 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


In case you're having trouble framing this for yourself: you don't have to think he's a horrible person or categorically reject everything about him to say this situation right now means this is not the time for you and him to make a go of it. And that means that you may never make a go of it, and that's ok. This is a complicated situation and you're allowed to recuse yourself from complicated situations. No need for hard feelings or to hate him forever just because he's not in a place that works. But I think you know you do need to step away.
posted by brainmouse at 1:17 PM on November 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


when asked when they broke up, he said they never were properly together.

That's a pretty asshole thing to say about someone you have this intense unbreakable emotional bond with, who you also sponged off for 6 years. This is the guy who will carefully avoid "properly" making a commitment to you so when he wants to have sex with someone else he can tell you - and her - that "technically" you're not exclusive. Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. Low quality, run away.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:23 PM on November 21, 2016 [22 favorites]


I would stick around for a little while longer, just out of sheer curiosity. I'd also just go on over there and introduce myself to her, because he doesn't get to unilaterally erase you from existence. The safe bet is that you introducing yourself to her would solve this problem immediately because she is probably his girlfriend.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:35 PM on November 21, 2016 [14 favorites]


I should also mention that I have weird, ambiguously romantic/sexual relationships with people like this, and those relationships were nevertheless vitally important family-like relationships that deserved some measure of respect, support, etc. But even in my world of substantial interpersonal anarchy, in no case would someone be entitled to not know about another person who I cared about and was dating. That is some next-level bullshit.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:38 PM on November 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


Also, it is gross how he has made her out to be flaky, jealous, unstable, unpleasant, selfish, etc. THis is a common cheater tactic: say stuff that makes the SO look bad but frame it as though you, personally, don't think it's bad.

So, to the extent that you are being led to think "wow, he doesn't realize it, but his friend is just TERRIBLE! Poor thing, he is just too nice and trusting to realize what a selfish harpy she is!" well...that's the result of a common manipulative tactic that people use to demonize their SOs without looking like they're shittalking.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:42 PM on November 21, 2016 [16 favorites]


I should also mention that I have weird, ambiguously romantic/sexual relationships with people like this, and those relationships were nevertheless vitally important family-like relationships that deserved some measure of respect, support, etc. But even in my world of substantial interpersonal anarchy, in no case would someone be entitled to not know about another person who I cared about and was dating. That is some next-level bullshit.

Yep. Even for people who manage levels of non-standard relationships this just seems off. And that may be part of it. Like, if you're part of the poly community (as an example) you understand that a lot of making these things work is communication and good boundaries. That is central to the entire thing You have to go into situations mindfully and intentionally. And I am also a person who is very good friends with many of my exes and so is my partner (like go sleep over their house and hang out friends) and that is AOK fine.

When I started dating my guy, he was in a complicated relationship with his son's mom. They had split up a decade earlier but still lived together in an apartment he paid for. She had some mental and physical health issues. She had a boyfriend so it was pretty clearly non-sexual and yet... there was definite friction from her about my role in his life. Lots of weird rules. LOTS of drama. Eventually he decided he'd rather have a real girlfriend than a pseudo-girlfriend/wife and he moved out. Things got a lot better almost immediately but there was an extinction blast of drama that was really unpleasant.

All of which is to say, I've been in these sorts of situations. Yours still seems like it falls squarely in the NOPE category because your guy is inviting another intimate relationship into his life without clearing it with you. Red flags

- they sort of have unfinished business ("never broke up")
- they have unequal feelings for one another
- he feels like he owes her and is required to support her
- he's making bold statements about getting more together with you when you relented but not on your timeline
- she doesn't have a job and "she'll get one" is aspirational, not fact
- he is telling you not asking you and making weird pretend "I tried..." statements

I guess my feeling is that if he's willing to just pay for her apartment with him and move in with you, why doesn't he just give her some money so she can rent a room someplace? I would just break it off and tell him to enjoy his new celibate romance which is what he chose.
posted by jessamyn at 1:52 PM on November 21, 2016 [9 favorites]


She supported him financially for SIX years - no sex, just stability and friendship?

Troubling.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 2:24 PM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


In some sense it would be easier if she were super hot and their previous relationship was sex all the time. Then you'd have some kind of bar for "when is this woman disrupting my relationship too much" because it would be a physical thing. Everyone deserves to know when they're getting cheated on, and this is a weird case where he could tell you everything and you'd still have to guess whether it counted as cheating. Because you know the physical aspect isn't an issue - yet the relationship was still important enough to be all-important for him for 6 years - that means there's no easy line in the sand to draw. How can you tell the difference between him spending time with an old friend, vs him going back to his ex? You can't. Sounds like he can't really tell the difference either. Agreed that these are enough red flag to cross the line, but if you want to give it a shot, one really important conversation to have would be getting him to explain that difference to you.
posted by aimedwander at 3:24 PM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Where does this leave me?

Single.

Seriously, any relationship with someone who has the boundary issues this guy is displaying will not go well. Listen to your gut and take care of yourself.
posted by rpfields at 5:11 PM on November 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


What's easier to believe? All the contradictions in the farfetched story he's told you (she's not responsible, but was somehow responsible for him for years; they never officially dated but lived together and OH WOW did they ever connect emotionally, etc), or that he's lying?

Regardless of which of those things you believe, why would you want to be a part of either of them? I'd definitely get out ASAP so that you can forget him and, more importantly, he can forget you. He is still codependent - your relationship won't change him into ... not-that, especially if he's the one dictating it and controlling the fiction.
posted by destructive cactus at 5:16 PM on November 21, 2016


I just can't wrap my mind around 6 years in a monogamous relationship in one's twenties with no sex. Wait, it wasn't a relationship, he just couldn't sleep with other people. I can't comprehend it.
posted by kinoeye at 6:20 PM on November 21, 2016


Well thanks a lot guys, you did open my eyes to something that should have been obvious all along. For the record, I did not get crumbs up until now, and I do feel bad for everyone involved. I understand where both of them are coming from, and that is always my problem: over-empathising, a very dangerous thing, and the reason why I've a bit blind to what this new situation may mean for me.
posted by muppets at 2:00 AM on November 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


I was the third person (read: you) in a codependent quasi-romantic relationship like this for several years. Pay attention to those blaring klaxons in your brain. You will never be in a full partnership with this guy while his ex is still in the picture. The fact that they never consummated their relationship is an even bigger red flag to me (this was also the case in my relationship—the "ex" in question was a lesbian and the codependent partner was male). My read is that he was one half of a relationship where all the power rested with her, and she, wittingly or unwittingly, used her ability to give support and affection to keep him in thrall. For your boyfriend's part, the allure of this dynamic is powerful if he is prone to martyrdom or is subconsciously looking to justify his own failures or decisions ("I can't do this thing for myself--I need to take care of Person.").

On update, it appears as though you are backing off. Unless your boyfriend is willing to cut things off with his ex, I think this is the right decision.
posted by lieber hair at 11:09 AM on November 22, 2016


Yeah, so I would reframe this in your mind. The problem with the current conception of relationships in our culture is that they have a control hangover from the days when marriage was the major heterosexual social-romantic relationship, and when marriage meant that a husband had, and was expected to assert, actual legal and physical control of his wife.

After much social and cultural and legal change, we still tend to act as though we believe that two people in a romantic relationship with each other are somewhat responsible for each other's behavior (and are entitled to control each other's behavior). That belief has sort of merged with our understandings about the value of monogamy...and voila: People tend to believe that they have control over the way their SO behaves and feels towards people of the opposite sex, and as a result they sometimes also feel responsible for any negative effects that stem from the ways in which they choose to exert this control.

You seem to be in the worst of both worlds here: you don't actually have any control, or he wouldn't even be considering this (for, the control that does exist in these relationships comes from the strong power of norms, norms that would surely bar him from even suggesting this as acceptable). Despite your lack of control, for some reason you are being pushed into a role of responsibility, not just for the person you're sleeping with, but with some random woman who doesn't even know you exist! I understand where your beliefs are coming from here, and I can tell that you understand this as well, but for the record: this level of responsibility you're taking is surely very far from the norm, and very very far from the moral obligation that you have to be responsible for either of these people, given the level of actual control that your relationship seems to be exerting over this person's behavior towards you.

Just to sum up: you are not actually in control of, or in charge of, or otherwise responsible for your SO's behavior towards this woman. He can make his own decisions about his body, his feelings, his home, and his time. You cannot control what he does. The upside of this is that his response to your boundaries are not your responsibility. So if he decides not to let her move in, that is his choice. Unless you are holding a gun to his head, financially supporting him, or otherwise in a position to coerce him: start thinking about what you want.

The downside to this is that you don't have control over his behavior. But that is the reality basically no matter what; we don't really control other people barring some kind of extreme scenario. Accepting this is, I think, ultimately freeing.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:41 PM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


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