Ex-Wife VS New Girlfriend
October 26, 2018 11:21 PM   Subscribe

My ex-wife objects, strenously, to any contact, ever, between our children and the woman I am dating.

I have been divorced about 18 months. We share custody of two boys, one age 19, the other 11.

Our post-divorce relationship has been exceptionally amicable, and we are virtually always in accord regarding co-parenting stuff.

About 5 months ago, I began dating a woman ("K") who I knew my ex had been friends with at one point. However, they had a falling out of some kind, and my ex cut K out of her life entirely. I had no idea why and I didn't really know the degree of their estrangement, I just figured they drifted apart as people do.

(In case it's relevant: K and I connected because I discovered a book of hers at my house and offered to return it. After an online conversation, we wound up doing so during a chaste meetup at a coffeeshop. We kept talking online, decided to go on a date proper, and here we are.)

When my ex found out I was dating K, she had, to put it mildly, words of fire for me. She does not believe K is to be trusted, nor that K is anyone who could ever be a positive influence on our children. She is unyielding in her opposition to any contact between K and the boys.

Might be relevant:
+ K is some years my junior. About 18, to be exact. Ex thinks this is de facto appalling.
+ Ex objects to K's sexual history ("that girl has slept with everyone, I hope you have been tested"). K has been open about that to me and affirms we have an exclusive relationship.
+ K has, very reluctantly, said my Ex was unfaithful during our marriage in ways that rival K's own history. I have no real independent corroboration of that, except that my Ex did concede infidelity during the divorce.

I had imagined 6 months into dating could be a reasonable time for introducing K to the boys, with a year before we are doing anything family-like together. K is on board with that, though she did, a couple weeks after saying so, suggest a casual meet-up with me and my youngest at an event we'd all have independent interest in. I declined that with no objection from her. Sort of not sure what to think of that, actually.

I am a little lost.

I have basic trust in my ex, who I do believe always has our kids' best interests at heart. I do not believe, despite the divorce, that she would object to a relationship of mine simply to be spiteful. She told me to talk to mutual friends about K, if her word were not enough.

K is warm and smart and funny and thoughtful, and being with her makes me happy. She works with kids and adults in a respite care capacity and our values align. An honest concern is that she sometimes speaks of a life together, which I know is premature.

Gawd, I have no clue how to process this. Dear Sugars of AskMe, NOW WHAT
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (51 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Gently, consider why you are giving your ex-wife a say in this matter? Whether or not it's a good idea, it's your business, not hers. Do you think you will get a veto over any of her future S.O.s?
posted by muddgirl at 11:54 PM on October 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

It seems like there might be some missing information here. Namely, why does your ex feel so strongly about your children even meeting K? Like, okay, K has a particular sexual history--how is that at all relevant to how she might engage with your children?

I think it's probably at least worth asking those mutual friends to get more information about the picture here, though it does seem like tricky territory to navigate.

I would also talk further with your ex and specifically ask her what her concerns are. Like, what is she scared might happen if K does interact with your children? I think it's reasonable (and might assuage her somewhat) if you tell her something like, I'm in early days with K, I'm not trying to add in K as any kind of co-parent at this time, but it is logistically difficult to avoid any contact between the children I live with and my s.o.

I think there's a lot of daylight in between "your ex is doing this out of spite" and "your ex is totally right that K is untrustworthy and a bad seed." I mean, we all get clouded by strong feelings sometimes. One of my first reactions is that it seems likely that your ex is experiencing some jealousy and/or feeling threatened by your new relationship.

On the other hand, the fact that she had a falling out with K previously could mean that something else entirely is going on. Again, I would try to find out more information about that--first from your ex.

I'm also wondering if you know of any reasons why your ex would have particularly strong feelings about someone having a higher number of sexual partners. Is she religious? Has she been cheated on?

Finally, how much have you talked about all this with K? It sounds like you haven't shared much with her so far. There's a lot to consider about whether or not to share with her what's happening. Even if you don't share anything with K about what your ex has said, you could say something like, I know you and [ex] were friends and had a falling out and I want to know what's there for both of you so I can navigate what comes up if we're ever all in the same space. Would you feel comfortable telling me some more about the history there?
posted by overglow at 12:25 AM on October 27, 2018 [15 favorites]

Well, your oldest child isn't a child. He's an adult who can make his own decisions about whose company he wants to keep and doesn't need permission from anyone to meet your new partner. So there's that. It doesn't sound like your ex has any basis to dislike K, except that she has a prolific sexual history which you know and are ok with. Otherwise I'd assume she'd have told you that as well in an effort to poison the well.

I'm assuming there's nothing in your custody agreement stating keeping new girlfriends/boyfriends away from children or anything like that. So because she can't fall back on that, she's just trying to generally make life difficult. I'd smile and nod, tell her thanks for her concern and that she trusted your judgement on partners once, after all, or you two would never have gotten together and that you've got it from here.

Some people just don't like it unless they're the one to move on first, and given that apparently your wife stepped out during the marriage, she may have thought that was going to be her. Karma's a bitch.
posted by Jubey at 12:26 AM on October 27, 2018 [12 favorites]

Based on the eldest's age, I am guessing you and your ex are ~mid-30s, bit older maybe? So, what was the basis for the friendship between your ex and K (the age difference sparks my curiosity, though it may be irrelevant to the now-ended friendship)? Any chance it was a same-sex relationship, given ex's admitted infidelity - that might explain ex's vehement opposition. Regardless, if she won't provide a solid basis for her concern, you have no basis for keeping K away from (at least) the youngest. Seconding Karma.
posted by GeeEmm at 1:09 AM on October 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

So much missing information. If you're 45 then K is 27. How did ex and K meet? At what age of K? Why were they friends? How did it end? How in the world did she know about exs infidelity? What draws you to K? Did you know her before? Why does she want to meet your kids? Of what benefit is it to your kid that she meets them? All of this doesn't pass the sniff test.

I'd vote to keep it separated till you think big picture here. If your ex wife is typically reasonable then give her some benefit of doubt till you figure it out. 5 months is way short in dating time to actually know someone.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:46 AM on October 27, 2018 [60 favorites]

Some folks think that kids shouldn’t meet partners of their parents until there’s something serious like an engagement on the table. But others feel like it’s reasonable for kids to meet parents’ partners as you’ve suggested, with some more casual, friendly interactions. I think what people want to avoid is kids becoming attached to an adult who then isn’t around anymore. But it doesn’t sound like you’re talking about that frequent or serious of interactions.

In any case, unless your divorce agreement addresses new romantic partners, I don’t think your ex really has much say in this. I’m not sure why you’re even talking to her that much about K. How are your boundaries otherwise with your ex? Is she still managing other parts of your life and parenting?

I get that you want to keep things amicable with your ex, but I think it’d be a lot healthier not to be discussing your dating with her except as spelled out in your divorce agreement. Healthier for your relationship with your ex and with K.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:53 AM on October 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

If you trust your ex-wife - you say you do - if your divorce and separation has been free of histrionics, manipulation and non-cooperation, maybe take her more seriously on this. The way you've described her she seems a reasonable person, and she hasn't asked you to stop seeing this woman, she's asked that your girlfriend doesn't become a part of the household you have with your sons. Why don't you ask around your friend circle, as your ex suggested?

See, the new relationship you've described is actually not straightforward at all. There's issues all over the place.

1. I guess you were been married for about 18 years and this is your first relationship outside of the marriage? You may not realise it but you are in an extremely vulnerable emotional position there. You must have been lonely, and also bruised from the end of your marriage. The way you write about the new relationship, maybe it feels a bit miraculous? Apologies if this is mistaken. Give it a chance for awkward day-to-day reality to intrude a little more, after which you'll each know each other's character better.

2. You are seeing her as a soulmate. You've been dating for 5 months. You don't know this person and falling in love - as opposed to loving a person - always involves a heck of a lot of projection. Why not slow down a little. For lots of separated people with children, 5 months is too early to introduce them to family.

3. Where friends get with other friends' exes, there's enough background stuff going on that some people would hesitate to do it, or wouldn't do it at all. When the friends have fallen out before the new relationship the background stuff is even more complicated.

4. I'm not sure what the age difference is, at first I read it as she is 18? Or she is 18 years younger than you are? Well...that's quite an age gap to be soul mates, given 18 whole years of accumulated different life experience.

I mean, sleeping with lots of people has nothing to do with being a bad person! Being unkind to people does. Why not ask around if there's any viable reason for your ex to be so outraged? If it all just seems like baggage and resentment, you'll be informed and you can make your own judgement. I must say though, that to me you come across as a nice person but you also come across as a person who is vulnerable because of their niceness. Also, your ex will be involved with your future relationships, as you will be with hers, while you still share custody for minor children. You've had a warning from a source you say you trust, just slow down a little before you commit your whole family to this new relationship. And find out more, as advised. That's all.
posted by glasseyes at 3:39 AM on October 27, 2018 [43 favorites]

An honest concern is that she sometimes speaks of a life together, which I know is premature.

You need to make sure you're on the same page as K because getting her involved with your kids is a step towards building a life together. Is she thinking about having a family in the future? Is she imagining that with you?
posted by betweenthebars at 4:16 AM on October 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

Unless she has reason to believe that K is actually a danger to your children, your ex has no right to tell you that she can't be introduced to them. If she does, she needs to tell you—none of the things you've described above come anywhere close. (Although, why is K telling you, even reluctantly, about your ex's past infidelities? Are you somehow dragging that information out of her? Stop it, that's toxic.)

Assuming she's not actually dangerous rather than merely a "bad influence," your ex needs to be told firmly that she does not have a right to tell you who you can and can't date, and that if you're in a serious relationship with someone (according to your definition of serious and no-one else's) you are going to introduce them to the kids. Remind her that this works both ways, and that she is just as free to pursue romantic relationships as you are, given that you are both adults.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:23 AM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Do not yet (and probably never) ask mutual friends for their opinion of whether you should be dating K.

If your ex is someone whom you basically view as a good and honest person (and it sounds like you do), then ask your ex "what specifically is your reason? what do you assert that K did, that makes her a person who should not be around the kids?" If her answer is merely "she slept with a lot of people," say "I do not agree with your reasoning, if that's all there is then I think you are way off base, is there more?"

If your ex gives you a specific reason that strikes you as at least somewhat reasonable - something specific that K did - then ask K for her perspective on whether it really happened that way.

There is no substitute for communication.
posted by sheldman at 5:35 AM on October 27, 2018 [16 favorites]

I disagree with people who are saying that your ex has no right to say who you can and can't introduce your children to. At what point parents introduce their children to new SOs is a really common point that crops up in post-divorce parenting agreements, and even if you and your ex haven't included it in yours, is it so important that your kids meet K (or kid--as others have pointed out, the 19-year-old is presumably free to do as he wishes unless there's additional info you haven't included there) after a relationship of only five months that you torpedo a good relationship with their mother?

It sounds like while your ex is angry about the relationship in general, the line that she's drawing is in having the children meet her. What's the harm in, as a couple of others have said, waiting a little longer? Getting to the one-year mark at least? Above all, what is in the best interests of your children--holding off on this one step that helps you maintain a workable coparenting agreement with their mother, or asserting your "right" to introduce them to someone who, let's face it, you don't know very well?

(It's also weird that she's telling you about your ex's infidelities. Why or how did that ever even come up? Whether she brought it up or you did, you both need to stop.)
posted by tiger tiger at 5:38 AM on October 27, 2018 [21 favorites]

+ K has, very reluctantly, said my Ex was unfaithful during our marriage in ways that rival K's own history. I have no real independent corroboration of that, except that my Ex did concede infidelity during the divorce.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up when I read that but maybe it's the result of reading too many psychological thrillers (I had just come from reading this synopsis).

You've known your wife for decades and trust her judgement, especially regarding the children - I suggest sitting down with her over a bottle of wine to discuss her specific worries about K before going any further in the new relationship.
posted by humph at 5:38 AM on October 27, 2018 [28 favorites]

Like others, several things about this sound... off to me. Being close enough friends to have a falling out with someone who is 18 years younger than you seems weird to me. If you and your spouse are mid 40s, that makes K late twenties. When did this friendship and falling out happen? I’m 42 and I can’t imaging having a close friendship with someone in their early 20s, just because we’re unlikely to be in the same places and doing the same things. So what was the context of that friendship? How did they meet? What did they do together?

Also, the fact that she is “very reluctantly” talking to you about your ex’s infidelity is concerning. Think carefully about that conversation and how the topic came up.

My internet stranger’s read on the situation is that your ex and K we’re likely competitive in some (probably unhealthy) way that led to their falling out, and by dating you K has opened a new front in that competition.
posted by jeoc at 5:47 AM on October 27, 2018 [27 favorites]

The more I think about this, the more I think that there is something particular that neither ex nor K is telling you, something that each one of them thinks will make you think less of them. You have to decide whether you want to know. You probably should want to know, because there is definitely a risk that you are being carried away with the fun of a new relationship with a younger person.
posted by sheldman at 6:10 AM on October 27, 2018 [10 favorites]

Agree with sheldman that there's something going on here that you don't know about. This is pure speculation, but the way this dynamic sounds to me has me suspecting one or two things: You are not the only sexual partner that K and Ex have in common, or the relationship between K and Ex was itself sexual in nature.
posted by jordemort at 7:38 AM on October 27, 2018 [22 favorites]

It sounds to me (based on the age difference, which renders normal friendships unlikely; and in the reference to sexual history; and in the mysterious falling out) as if they've had a partner in common. That doesn't necessarily mean that your ex's aversion to K is based in jealousy; it could be just that she knows something about K - either from their own interactions or from hearing about it from the person in common - that you don't.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:45 AM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

I also think your Ex cheated on you with K.
posted by jindc at 7:51 AM on October 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

dating someone who is closer in age to your 19 year old son than to you will not help him to respect you, but I have never known a man inclined to do that that who could be convinced that it was injurious to his dignity or his reputation, until it was years too late to do anything about it. maybe with your ages the math isn't quite this bad? but be aware that both of your kids will form opinions about your choices even if they are well-brought-up and polite and keep it to themselves for now.

you already said this doesn't matter to you, so the main reason to reconsider is that if K is actually some kind of monster, the extreeeeeme age difference means nobody will or should have sympathy for you if she makes you miserable. you have the right to take that risk. or at least the ability.

dating someone who used to be a friend of your ex: well, it would be worse if it were her current friend. but it would be much much worse to date your ex's ex. there's no way that doesn't come out looking like a spite move even if you didn't know it going in. do your kids not know this woman used to be their mother's friend? if and when they do, they will have opinions and speculations about that, too. you don't have to care about that either.

If doing as your ex suggests and talking to mutual friends seems too much like soliciting gossip and going behind your girlfriend's back, what do you think of her friends that you've already met - does she have any that she's known for a long time, do they seem like nice people? that's a good basic first precaution. if she's demonstrably able to stay in harmonious relationships with everybody except your ex, you can disregard concerns about her character. not about everything else, but about that.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:58 AM on October 27, 2018 [19 favorites]

None of the reasons that you listed that your ex gave have anything to do with your 11 year old, though. They're all reasons why you shouldn't date her in the first place. Which, again, it's none of her business.
posted by muddgirl at 8:01 AM on October 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Maybe K was going to rat your ex out back when this infidelity was happening? Maybe your ex cut her out of her life because of that? Who knows? To have her now dating you is a weird head space for your ex regardless of the reason and she is reacting strongly to this person in your life. I agree with all those above who say this doesn't pass the smell test. While I also agree that your ex doesn't get to dictate who you date and also that you can keep your casual dating partners separate from your young child when your child is with you until such relationship becomes serious, I think in this case you'd be a fool not to have a serious heart-to-heart with your ex on this issue. I'm guessing the root of it won't make your ex look good either. If you can't do that then I think slowing your roll with this new relationship is a good idea anyway. And, side note, if she's of the age where she wants to get serious and start a family, check in with yourself about whether that's where you are at in your life. Don't string her along with all this drama if you aren't on the same page.
posted by amanda at 8:04 AM on October 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have two close friends who are that much younger than I am, so people who say it’s weird that ex and K were friends - it’s not. I met these friends at work, and I didn’t ask their ages before we started hanging out.

It’s not clear to me whether K’s sexual history is your ex’s reason or whether there’s something else she says she’s not telling you. If the former, then I think it’s your call. But maybe your ex knows something else about those relationships - like maybe K has a habit of telling partners they’re exclusive when they’re not. Or maybe the fallout was over something really serious.

I would ask your ex if there’s something specific she hasn’t shared with you. It doesn’t sound like she has a history of trying to fuck with your life.
posted by FencingGal at 8:09 AM on October 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Nobody has focused in on the "have a life together" piece. That plus (sorry) the age difference boost the "talking advantage of someone in a vulnerable position" possibility.

The other thing to consider is, was this person a factor in the divorce in some way? Especially if she was sleeping with your ex-wife. That would be weird and potentially upsetting to your kids, should it all come to light.

I tend to think that your ex- has some valuable info here and that listening more could be worthwhile.
posted by salvia at 8:22 AM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

An honest concern is that she sometimes speaks of a life together,

which means what? seriously have you not asked her if she wants to have kids? you've got to be somewhere between 40 and 60, right, so you either already know you don't want any more, or you do want more and you know that you've got to have them when you're still young enough to raise them. i.e. yesterday. so, she'll be fine if she needs to move on, but there's not a lot of time to waste, for you.

this would be a premature discussion at 5 months if you were both 22. it is not premature for a middle-aged man with one already adult son.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:19 AM on October 27, 2018 [14 favorites]

I have no idea what is going on with this, but your ex needs to be more specific--with gory details--as to why she doesn't want the kids to be around K. A vague disclaimer is nobody's friend. You need to know if it's really bad enough to want to end the relationship (like, I dunno, if she molests kids or something, though I don't think that is it necessarily) or if it's just "we had a huuuuuge fight," or if your ex-wife is jealous, or what. You can't figure out how to proceed without knowing just how bad this is.

"Don't, just don't, it's really bad, just DON'T" without any goddamned explanation of why not is not helpful. You need to judge the sanity levels of your ex-wife and K here and while both seem sane in general to you right now, you just don't know enough to be able to decide who to believe. I think it's very weird that your ex won't tell you directly and wants you to talk to mutual friends--what is up with that?

You can't give your ex what she wants and cut K out of your life/keep her away from kids/whatever unless she tells you what happened. Even if they boinked, she needs to tell you. You need to know how bad this is and this vagueness isn't helping you decide who's right and who's wrong.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:25 AM on October 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

Not much to go on here. I have many more questions. How old is your ex? She could have once been the younger gal. If she had your oldest when she was 19, she would be 38. You could be 48. Who knows.

I am a divorced father of 3 children now all in their low 20s. My ex and I never discussed it and it was never part of our agreement so I have no experience with an ex butting in. What was clear to us, since our kids had access to a car, was that once they were 16 or 17, custody meant only which house they slept in that night. From my standpoint it meant was I on worry duty that night.

I never introduced my children to anyone I was dating until recently. That is because I decided to only introduce them to someone who I thought I was going to have a long term relationship with. I am not sure that 6 months, 3 months or even a year is relevant, only the status of the relationship.

11 year olds are both smart and perceptive. How odd is it for them to know you are dating someone but won't let them meet them? Odd in my opinion. My kids have met the woman I am dating now because we are quite serious. I could see us together years from now. One of the interesting dynamics is that my kids are old enough to not need (or want) parenting. They see my gf as a friend, a normal extension of my life just as I see their bf and gf's as the folks they are dating (who might be a relative some day).

I think the big issue is the age difference. Not between you and your gf, but between your kids. Perhaps they should not be treated the same. Meeting the 19yo is much different than meeting the 11yo.

Putting everything aside, I think that you need to trust your own judgement here. You are a successful adult partly responsible for having already raised two well adjusted children. You should consider what your thoughts are on a L-T relationship with your gf. Are you just having fun now and no thoughts to the future? Is this leading up to a L-T relationship? I think the nature of the likely future relationship is the key to whether to have your 11yo meet her or not.

I do not think your ex's value judgement on your gf's character is relevant here. It is your judgement. In the absence of evidence that your gf is a child molester or a bad person in some other way, you decide when it is appropriate to meet your 11 yo. I would have a talk with him first.
posted by AugustWest at 10:22 AM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Worst case scenario is you are a throw-away tool in a psychological battle this woman has waged on your ex (for whatever reason) and she is afraid this woman will somehow turn her children against her the way she seems to be doing with you (or perhaps has done with others close to her in the past). This is not unheard of. Women compete and fuck with each other in ways that are subtle and primarily psychological in nature which men often do not seem to understand or believe. One of these ways is to turn men in their lives and others in their primary social group (including family) against them in order to isolate. The target often has very little repercussion to defend themselves until said person does it to enough people that they lose credibility. By then it's too late, however. The age difference is interesting certainly in that regard. I'd want to know how they became friends and the nature of the fall-out and you should too. Again, that's the worst case scenario but it's one others have touched upon in this thread.

Another scenario is this woman has information on your ex that she doesn't want leaking out to make her look bad to her children. If the case is that she did cheat on you, really, it's not something your children need to know or be involved with on any level. The whole situation jeopardizes their relationship with you and their mother, which won't do anything but harm them psychologically in the long run. That which harms you should never harm your children and you have to protect them from garbage like this. Divorce is hard enough, having one parent turning you against the other is life-altering fuckery.

In either scenario, the main question is: can you trust this woman you barely know, given her torrid history with your ex, to not drag their mother through the mud to their faces, regardless of whether or not it is true? What will you do if she starts? Can you live with the damage that will inevitable cause them?

Either way, ask. Insist upon honesty with respect for her feelings and experiences as someone you know to be civil, consistent, and sound post-divorce. Keep this person out of your primary life (i.e. away from your children) until her commitment is clear. She can do irreparable damage to your children and then walk away like it was another day and you're left with that. If she really wants a life with you as she says then she shouldn't have a problem waiting to interact with your children until you feel her out (which should be the case with anyone, honestly, but more so in this specific case). If you two didn't share children, then I'd say who really cares, but you do, and ultimately it's about them. You at least owe this to your children who need you to not have a toxic, dramatic relationship with their mother.
posted by Young Kullervo at 11:34 AM on October 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

My advice is to revisit this if you’re still with K in 6 months or so.
posted by kapers at 12:06 PM on October 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Women compete and fuck with each other in ways that are subtle and primarily psychological in nature which men often do not seem to understand or believe. One of these ways is to turn men in their lives and others in their primary social group (including family) against them in order to isolate.

this is offensive nonsense. men ignoring women's interpersonal relationships - their existence and their importance - sure, that part of it is a real thing. the main evidence of that here is that the OP knew this friendship broke up but never had any curiosity, before, as to why. someone was "cut out" of his ex's life after a falling-out and he decided to revise that into drifting apart naturally. that's a real effort not to know something and not to ask.

but the theory that women are subtle mindfuckers and men their earnest, simpleminded pawns in six-dimensional psychological ladychess is not a real thing. misogyny is not a good substitute for analysis. men's determined obliviousness often serves to represent women as impossibly subtle and devious creatures, but that doesn't make it the case. for example:

K has, very reluctantly, said my Ex was unfaithful during our marriage in ways that rival K's own history.

lol "very reluctantly." no, OP, if she had been reluctant she would never have said it. she did it maliciously, whether it's true or not; you're already divorced, so it could not have been necessary. malice is a normal average human motivation in people who dislike other people. but it is not gendered and it is not some subtle psychological game. it's really obvious.

as a tactic, two women telling a man competing insults about each other's sex life isn't subtle. it is simple and it is dumb.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:05 PM on October 27, 2018 [48 favorites]

[Folks let's not go further into making up stories about lurid things imaginary villainous characters might do/might have done, and as ever in AskMe it needs to not be JudgeMe about the OP or a debate between commenters.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:25 PM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would speak more with your ex about this (don't speak to common friends about this unless it's someone in particular you really trust). Sometimes you lose respect for people and cut them out of your life accordingly, it doesn't mean they were having sex or that anything weird was going on, more likely something competitive came up or they just stopped having much in common due to their age gap and whatever else, maybe your girlfriend expressed some unsavoury or selfish opinions about her behaviour to your ex and it coloured her view of her.

Now imagine if you had an equivalent younger friend who you had a falling out with, and that "friend" is now dating your ex. You might not trust that they have the best interests of your ex and your kids in mind, right? You might wonder why this "friend" chose to pursue something with them in the wake of your divorce, when there are many other fish in the sea. That is where your ex is at.

I think the important thing is to make sure you really do want a longterm relationship. It sounds like you enjoy her company but aren't thinking longterm yet. I would give everything a few more months.
posted by lafemma at 2:52 PM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

We share custody of two boys, one age 19, the other 11.

I'm taking the OP at face value about the shared custody, so I'm answering while assuming the 19 year old that you share custody of has some sort of developmental disability, rather than that the 19 year old is an independent adult, since people don't usually share custody of children once they become adults. I'm not a lawyer so I don't know of other reasons why people would share joint custody of a 19 year old, so it's possible that none of this applies.

It seems like Ex knows a lot about K and the actual reasons why Ex is so against meeting K could be any of a number of things. Many of those things aren't valid reasons for Ex to object to K meeting your boys.

works with kids and adults in a respite care capacity

It's not clear if Ex is claiming any of the reasons she feels K is such a problem have to do with K's behavior in that setting, but if I had a developmentally disabled child, and someone said about a person I was dating who worked in respite care not only that they could not be trusted and could never be a positive influence on the children, I would be considering if such claims had anything to do with how the person I was dating had treated people with similar disabilities to my child in the past.

It seems like Ex hasn't given many details about what the issue is. Depending on the situation, it's possible that Ex can't do this for some reason, and is hoping that you will go to the friends who might not be bound by the same restrictions.

Something else I noticed in your question:

I declined that with no objection from her. Sort of not sure what to think of that, actually.

I would expect a reasonable adult not to "object" to you declining an invitation of any sort. It seems like you feel it's unusual to be able to decline an invitation from K without her "objecting" -- if this is the case, that's a red flag. You should be able to decline invitations and have that be an OK thing that won't be objected to.
posted by yohko at 3:32 PM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

K has, very reluctantly, said my Ex was unfaithful during our marriage in ways that rival K's own history.

K showed very poor judgement and immaturity in sharing that with you. I do not think it would be appropriate for her to be around your children because they do not need to hear her “reluctantly” tell them such things about their mother, or anything else she may “accidentally” spill. (Agreeing with the Queen that it was not reluctant at all, but planned and malicious).

Since your girlfriend is younger than your son, I would also suspect your co-parent is concerned your girlfriend may be sexually attracted to/be sexually attractive to your son, and she clearly would not approve of their relationship either, not to mention the fall-out for you. You dating someone his age (his friend-group?) may make your son uncomfortable as well, or an object of ridicule among his friends. (I assume I am doing the math correctly and this girl is not just 18 years younger than you but also 18 years old herself? If so, I would find it stretches credulity that a middle-aged man would have much in common with an 18 year old and the relationship is probably not in her best interest, long term).

You seem to have a good relationship with your co-parent, and the two of you obviously want what is best for your children. I would value her opinion, as someone you have known for twenty years, over that of someone you have been dating for five months, especially if I am correct in thinking she is just 18 herself.
posted by saucysault at 5:37 PM on October 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Gang, preeeettty sure:

+ K is some years my junior. About 18, to be exact. Ex thinks this is de facto appalling.

means she's 18 years younger.
posted by clseace at 5:44 PM on October 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

> Since your girlfriend is younger than your son

I don't think we know that. The girlfriend is significantly younger than the OP, but we don't know the age of any of the adults.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:45 PM on October 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Were K and your ex a thing? Like, was your ex cheating on you with K? It kind of sounds like they were a thing and then broke up, or like she was cheating on you with K's partner and K found out and that's what ended their friendship. Something weird and personal is going on here. If it weren't weird and personal, she'd just tell you.

Tell your ex to get specific about what her problem with K is and why she doesn't want K around your kids. Tell her if she can't tell you, then you can't take her vague discomfort seriously - you need real information.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:47 PM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Am I mathing wrong? His son is 19 years younger than OP, the new GF is 18 years younger, doesn’t that make the new GF one year younger than the son (and 18 years old)?
posted by saucysault at 5:54 PM on October 27, 2018

The son is 19, full stop - he could have been born when the OP was 20, 40, who knows.

The girlfriend, K., is "some years my junior. About 18, to be exact." Most here are reading that as K. being 18 years younger than OP, not a teenager herself.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:06 PM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Right now you’re clinging to an imo bizarre failure to understand what a fundamentally aggressive, malicious move it is to date the ex husband of a former friend who cut you out of her life. And then “”””reluctantly”””” tell that ex-husband what a huge slut your former friend was, jesus christ. Yyour relationship with K is, at least in part, about K wanting to hurt your ex-wife. How big that part is, I don’t know.

Right now you are navigating around a huge, miserable iceberg of sexual drama from your and your wife’s former marriage and friend circle. Get ready to know a whole lot of uncomfortable information going back to the days of your marriage and whatever infidelity went on there. Your friend group probably knows and have been holding back on telling you to spare you. Your wife and K have some kind of history of sexual betrayal between them, I have no idea what kind, but you’re going to find out. Maybe your wife slept with K or one of K’s partners; maybe K slept with one of your wife’s partners (other than the one she is sleeping with now, you), maybe K was a young party friend during a dark time in your wife’s life that she’s recovered from and they both saw each other at their worst, who knows.

Here’s the thing: the only person here who has *chosen* to perpetuate that drama with full knowledge of the situation, to jump back into byzantine, backstabbing sexual relationships full of resentment and secrets, and rekindle whatever toxicity ended your marriage, is K. Your wife did the adult thing, owned up to her infidelity to you, ended your marriage, and is working with you to be a good friend and co-parent to your children. K is making the incredibly destructive choice to get involved with a social enemy’s ex-husband and spread sexual rumors about her. This is not something your children need in their lives. Your wife may not have been the best partner but she’s in the right here. The world is full of people to date who don’t have this kind of bad blood with your family.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:09 PM on October 27, 2018 [15 favorites]

From the OP:
Thank you all for the range and depth of your replies. I apologize for some vagueness and lack of detail.

Here are some details that might clarify matters:
+ For perspective: even after the revelation and blow-up, Ex and I carpooled 2+ hours (there and back) to older kid's college cross country meet, then went to dinner with her family after, without awkward conversation.
+ Ages and such: I am 47, my ex is 48. Married 23 years. K is 18 years my junior, NOT 18 years old.
+ Ex met and befriended K in a mentor capacity owing to overlapping circles, meeting sometimes for coffee to discuss personal and professional matters.
+ Ex proactively introduced me to K at one point (two years before divorce?) because we had common interests, but after their falling out, no contact until I reached out to K. K was one of about ten people I contacted that week with respect to books I was seeking to return to their owners.
+ Extremely unlikely that Ex and K had any relational (read: sexual) contact or common partners before divorce.
+ Ex maintains that K is a persona non grata in our rather smallish city because of her sexual history, specifically because K has slept with so many men. Ex thinks this matters because I work for a major employer here, a college, in a capacity related to high school students.

It feels like there are endless details I can't quite wrap up into a tidy narrative. I truly appreciate you patience and the range of your observations.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 6:11 PM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

K is too young for you, my internet friend.
posted by sheldman at 6:59 PM on October 27, 2018 [23 favorites]

Leaving aside the issue of what's an appropriate age gap (since that is not the focus of the question for the OP to determine), I feel like I have to give my 2 cents here after your second post. If the issue that your Ex has with K is genuinely just that K has slept with many people: a) this is irrelevant to K's capacity to be a good partner to you and a positive influence to your child/ren; b) the bearing of this on your relationship with K is none of your Ex's business; and c) frankly I think we should be beyond shaming a woman for her sexual history.

The ONLY potential issue here is if your Ex has information that would affect the safety of your children around K. If this is not a thing, then your Ex needs to butt out. Any other factors about your relationship with K (e.g., age gap) are for you to figure out as it progresses.
posted by DTMFA at 8:12 PM on October 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

Just wanted to jump in and say one more thing: K bringing up your Ex's infidelity wasn't necessarily malicious. If I was seeing someone who knew that my ex had cheated on me, I would sure as fuck think it was appropriate that they acknowledge this rather than hide it or pretend they didn't know. What kind of foundation would that be for a new relationship?
posted by DTMFA at 8:16 PM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

After your update, OP, I would say to just let it rest a bit. The holidays are coming up, and in a few months you’ll have more/different information than you do now. If you enjoy being around K and you think she’s alright, keep hanging out and don’t worry about the kid stuff. My dad was very strict about keeping girlfriends away from us until they were “serious,” and it never bothered me (I was 12, 13, 14, 15 years old during my dad’s active dating days). I knew he was going on dates and I knew that I wouldn’t meet them until they were basically my stepmother, and it was all cool by me—in large part because I was in early adolescence and 95% of my attention was focused on myself and my friends and crushes.

TL;DR keep doing what you’re doing, be an open channel for communication; don’t worry about your kids.
posted by witchen at 8:29 PM on October 27, 2018

DTMFA, the OP already knew his ex had cheated. Checking in about that is good practice, you’re right, but K seems to have gone way above and beyond with intimate details about the ex wife’s sexual history. That crosses the line into malice and manufacturing drama for me. If K being promiscuous is really the ONLY issue, yeah thats slut shaming, not cool, and not reasonable for the ex to be upset about, but the two women triangulating with OP about each other’s sordid sexual histories indicates to me that there’a more going on.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 9:03 PM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

So you work at a college and live in a small college town, and as part of your job you're in contact with high school girls/women. After a 23 year marriage, you now are dating a much younger woman whom your wife used to mentor.

This already sounds not great.

Importantly, your ex apparently was absolutely fine with you having at least some kind of non-romantic relationship with K (since she introduced you two). So it doesn't seem the ex initially assumed K's romantic past made her a bad person to know. But there was a falling out for some reason (possibly related to inappropriate past relationships??) and your ex now does not want this woman to be connected to your kids (one of whom is old enough to be a potential romantic interest for K).

None of this is making things sound better.

Look, you seem very reasonable and it's perfectly possible everything is indeed innocuous. But these factors : college, high school, age difference, former mentee - this sounds AWFUL. Perhaps you are a recruiter or work in admissions, or teach at the college. If K might have slept with one or more of your colleagues at the school, that's very likely to be seen as problematic. Is K also at the college in some way? Is your ex? Does your ex have personal or professional connections to the school - could your relationship be seen as embarassing or even harmful to her?

I'm not sure there's enough info to give advice, but it seems worth considering those angles. And one more thing - whether or not it's fair, or any of your ex's business, you now know this makes her upset. This has the potential to impact how amicable things with your ex continue to be, and how willing she may be to listen to your preferences regarding the kids.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 9:46 PM on October 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

The context for this is really important. Ex doesn’t want K to be introduced to your kids yet because she’s slept with a lot of men - not great. Ex doesn’t want K to be introduced to your kids yet because she’s slept with a lot of men in a small community where OP is in a power role - makes a lot more sense. But I think you know that, OP.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:42 AM on October 28, 2018

Your ex believes K has a bad reputation in your small town. Is she right? As her former mentor, she probably knows more about this than you do.

Your ex doesn't want bad-reputation K to be part of her family life, which she would be if you promoted K from casual girlfriend to stepmother-figure (married or not.) And while you haven't mentioned that she's articulated this, it's not-great optics for one half of a formerly married couple to be dating the 18 years younger mentee of the other half, to whom he was introduced in the context of his wife's mentoring relationship. I don't blame your ex for asking you to slow your roll.

You're only a few months in and aren't real serious about K anyway, so there doesn't seem to be any hurry here to introduce her to your kids.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:57 AM on October 28, 2018 [10 favorites]

I had imagined 6 months into dating could be a reasonable time for introducing K to the boys, with a year before we are doing anything family-like together. K is on board with that
An honest concern is that she sometimes speaks of a life together, which I know is premature.

Just to point out the obvious here, you don't have to stick to some predetermined timeline for someone to meet your boys.

It sounds like you aren't thinking of a "life together" with this person, so there is no need to move them forward on some artificial timeline that moves along step by step until you have a life together. It's actually not very nice to the person you are dating to act as if you are taking steps towards a life together by doing things like declaring that it is now time for them to meet your family. Obviously you are not the sort of person who casually introduces someone to your kids right away, so what sort of message is setting up a timeline for meeting your children sending? You have not even dated them 6 months and you already have a plan a year out for her do do family things with your children -- more time in the future than the length of your relationship -- OF COURSE someone you are making these longer term plans with is going to assume you are thinking of a life together.

If you are concerned that someone is talking about a life together when you know that's premature, stop doing things that send messages that you want a life together with them.

It sounds like you are only thinking K needs to meet the boys because at some point you picked "6 months". I'm guessing you choose this time period simply because it sounded like a nice round number -- that's not a good reason to stick with that timeline. Actually, there's no good reason to have a fixed length of time for that to happen, no matter the number of months you pick. The sensible way to decide this would be to think about how the person you are dating is fitting into your life and what parts of your life you feel you want to share with them. (Protip: this is generally applicable to many issues in dating, not just when someone can meet your boys)

Aside from anything anyone else says, you don't sound ready to introduce this person to your boys now. You seem like the sort of person who really likes to make a plan and stick to it, but you need to accept that dating is a special case and this sort of advance planning of when everything will happen is not appropriate for dating. Accept the uncertainty of not being able to have a long term plan with a timeline.

Think about what would actually be good criteria for introducing someone to your boys.
posted by yohko at 11:25 AM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
Thank you all for your responses. Some were tough-lovish, some were gentle. All were appreciated, even when I felt a bit attacked.

A week ago my ex decided to draw a line in the sand, declaring that if this relationship persisted, she would seek to alter custody terms by moving away. During our conversation, I asked for specifics regarding her objection to K - no more vague accusations. She offered none, but doubled down on her claim that she and everyone would hold this relationship against me. She also dredged up everything that led to our divorce in the first place. It was painful. She warned that she was not bluffing about moving away and making a contest of custody.

K and I discussed this turn of events. I did not explain the part about my reputation, and in the end, it was truly a non-factor to me. K focused on the divide it would create between me and children, saying she could not persist in a relationship knowing that her presence in my life would sow such discord, such vehement ultimatums, even if we both believed her essentially blameless. The fight would inevitably damage my son's relationship with one or both of his parents, she said, and that she could not bear. We agreed that we ought not be together under such circumstances, and we ended our relationship. We cried together, she gathered her things from my home, and we parted.

A few stray clarifications:
+ My ex's mentorship of K was primarily social, rather than formally professional. They knew each other through common circles, but there was no real career overlap. I don't know what everyone's idea of a small town is, but this area has about 110K people. Anyways.
+ My 19 year old was included in the discussion simply for perspective, and I realize my mention was misleading. He is not developmentally disabled in any way and lives on his own in an apartment while attending college.
+ My ex proactively explained her objection to K to both children, though not apparently in explicit terms. My youngest told me, without prompting, that he was unhappy with me dating someone that much younger (he learned her age from my ex).

This whole episode has made clear to me the folly of my decisions on many levels. I don't foresee dating again for a long while.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 3:13 PM on November 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wow, I’m so sorry. Your ex’s behavior is awful and controlling and manipulative. She’s not married to you anymore and shouldn’t get to decide whom you date. It is profoundly inappropriate that she bullied you into breaking up with someone.

I strongly encourage you to get some therapy and discuss the boundaries you have (or don’t have) with your ex. She behaved extraordinarily inappropriately to you and your kids.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:16 PM on November 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, I strong recommend that, going forward, you do not discuss your dating with your ex. At all.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:19 PM on November 10, 2018

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