is this the behavior of a guy who actually cares about me?
September 21, 2020 3:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some insights on how to interpret a recent situation with my boyfriend whereby he's moving in with an ex...

The context: we (me 32yrs, him 30yrs) have been going out for 1.5 years. We had been friends for 10 years prior to this but always lived in different parts of the world. He has a history of doing the polyamory thing (with girls) but that hasn't been the case for a few years. Our relationship trajectory has never been the standard 'house & kids' pathway, as neither of us are particularly thrilled at those ideals. We currently live in separate places, he lives with his brother.

The situation: he's moving in to a house with three other people who he's known for several years. One of them is an ex-girlfriend from a few years ago who he's been close friends with ever since and has also casually hooked up with a few times since they broke up.

I hadn't really thought about it much until the other week, and he's never said anything to me about it. So I decided to ask him about it, seeking some reassurance on whether I should or shouldn't have any reason to be concerned about him living in super-close proximity to this girl.

When I asked him explicitly about whether my thoughts, my feelings, any potential unease or opinion I had on the situation had come across his mind since he'd decided to move there, his answer was an absolutely definitive "no, not at all" and "if anything, i just wondered what the dynamic in the house will be like living with an ex".

Whilst I value his ability to be entirely honest with me, my interpretation of this was that I am very unimportant to him and I felt incredibly insignificant.

Is there another way I should have interpreted this or does this guy just really not give two craps about me?
posted by thiosux to Human Relations (20 answers total)
We internet people can't read his mind, but I think you're asking the wrong question. Do you want to be with a guy who either (a) doesn't have enough of an understanding of interpersonal dynamics that he even thought to ask this question or (b) does, but didn't think he needed to apply it to you? I'd argue the answer is that no, you should not want to be with either guy. The ability to value you and your feelings AS WELL AS the ability to model that concern by involving you in his decision making process is nonnegotiable. He failed, and the reasons why don't matter nearly as much as the fact of the failure itself.
posted by axiom at 3:37 PM on September 21 [17 favorites]

Being generous, maybe he truly does not see any reason for you to be uneasy (as in, he is so completely over her, does not believe anything could happen between them, etc.), but he does think it could be somewhat awkward for him. That would track with what he told you - it may be awkward but not "threatening" to you per say.

That being said it's somewhat careless of him to not think of your potential feelings on the subject. It's something most people would at least have some feelings on. It's up to you to decide if that is in line with how he normally is (does he normally disregard or not think of your feelings?) or out of character for him (maybe he's usually thoughtful and this was truly a blind spot with him because of his potential lack of feelings for ex?). It's also up to how to respond - if you think it was a blind spot vs willfully not thinking of you/your feelings, how much of that are you willing to put up with?
posted by sillysally at 4:04 PM on September 21 [3 favorites]

I associate this behavior with a certain strain of poly fuckboi-ism that values self-determination and personal freedom above pretty much everything else. Sometimes it couches itself in the language of feminism, but tends to disadvantage women.

I guess my follow-up questions would be: do you see him exhibiting these values elsewhere in the relationship, and if so, does that feel tolerable to you?

I’ve known people who can have meaningful relationships with these characters, but I personally can’t. Whether you can and whether you want to is a matter of your own values, preferences, and attachment style.
posted by unstrungharp at 4:50 PM on September 21 [43 favorites]

I would expect that from someone you’d been dating a few months, ie you wouldn’t expect them to make living decisions based on a new relationship. But you’ve been with him a year and a half now and you’re in an exclusive relationship (or so it would seem). If he didn’t think to even run it past you, that would send up a flag for me.

FWIW, I had a boyfriend take a job on the other side of the world without discussing it with me because he just assumed I’d be ok with long distance and my opinion apparently didn’t matter because he was going to do it anyway. This selfish inconsiderate behaviour didn’t change throughout the entire relationship. I should have left him then.

If this is a one off, I’d maybe give him a pass. If there have been other signs, I think you might have someone who just doesn’t consider you important enough to think about.
posted by Jubey at 5:03 PM on September 21 [6 favorites]

So I decided to ask him about it, seeking some reassurance on whether I should or shouldn't have any reason to be concerned about him living in super-close proximity to this girl. When I asked him explicitly about whether my thoughts, my feelings, any potential unease or opinion I had on the situation had come across his mind since he'd decided to move there, his answer was an absolutely definitive "no, not at all" and "if anything, i just wondered what the dynamic in the house will be like living with an ex".

I guess I'm a little confused by some of this. Did you express those feelings and unease to him? How did he respond to that? That seems important to know. I'm reading this that you didn't express that to him but wanted him to know automatically you were uncomfortable with the situation?

Also, you said he's been non-monogamous in the past. Are you all monogamous or non-monogamous? If you are non-monogamous, then are you trying to find out if he has any interest in pursuing any kind of relationship with his ex, or if they are moving in as friends. If you are monogamous, I think it would also be okay to say, "Hey, I'm feeling a bit insecure about you moving in with your ex. Can you talk to me about that a bit?"

It reads a bit to me like you all are dedicated to the idea of non-conventional, which is fine, but does it also mean you don't have open and honest conversations about the status of your relationship and whether it's monogamous?

I think there's too much missing context here for me to tell you if he's dismissing your feelings. I don't read it that way, but it's also all a bit confusing.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:22 PM on September 21 [8 favorites]

The fact that he didn't think about how this would affect you does not necessarily indicate how much he does or doesn't care about you, at least according to how he perceives his own emotional attachment. However, it does reveal how much he is proactively including you as a variable in his decision-making about his life in general.

I make the point about his perceived attachment because people who engage in polyamorous relationship models successfully have at least some capacity to compartmentalize their emotional life differently from people who are firmly monogamous. Indeed, it's an essential skill to navigate intimacy boundaries with multiple people - you have to be able to get close without having expectations beyond what is agreed upon explicitly by the participants, and that's if you're doing it ethically. Whether or not he's polyamorous now or interested in polyamory with you, this may be part of why he doesn't instinctively think about your needs, and it may be an indication that he doesn't believe he is obligated to do so in principle when it comes to topics like who he lives with. I'd recommend you guys have a clear conversation about these questions so you can evaluate if you are on the same page. It sounds like there is ambiguity about the boundaries of your relationship at play between you that should be addressed together.
posted by amycup at 6:14 PM on September 21 [2 favorites]

wanted him to know automatically you were uncomfortable with the situation

In my opinion, it is not at all unusual to expect a long-term romantic partner to “automatically know” that moving in with an ex/FWB would cause discomfort.

This isn’t a matter of being, say, frustrated about the way he does the dishes, or unhappy with how little he texts when he’s out of town.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 6:20 PM on September 21 [23 favorites]

Instead of asking, "what was my boyfriend thinking?" try asking, "what do I need to feel respected, desired, secure enough to open & vulnerable, cared for?"

Have you clearly expressed those needs to your boyfriend? Do your answers to the second question match the behavior you're seeing from your boyfriend?

If you're answer to the first question is yes and the second question is no, then I would say your boyfriend is not demonstrating caring and loving actions towards you.
posted by brookeb at 9:20 PM on September 21 [5 favorites]

My sense of polyamory or (ethical) non-monogamy is that whatever success a person has with it is directly related to their ability to clearly communicate expectations all around, with everybody who might be concerned. That he's not communicating anything about this, nor really responding to your inquiries, makes me wonder if everybody he dated knew he was "polyamorous." Which, y'know, bodes ill, and as someone mentioned above, having an ex in the same house is something a reasonable person would a) want to know; and b) want to tell, even without the *gamy.
posted by rhizome at 9:28 PM on September 21 [5 favorites]

Do you believe him, that there is nothing in his current relationship with this person that would make him think there was some reason to be jealous? Or do you think that he is or will be "falling into old habits" and having sex with her again? Because if you don't fully trust him, that is one issue.

If you believe that he is being honest, then at least one interpretation would be that knowing there is no reason to be jealous, he isn't worried about you having anxious fears about something that is not actually a threat. Right, why should he project jealous anxiety on you in a situation where he perceives no cause of anxiety. So, if you trust he was honest and if he is otherwise caring and empathetic in your relationship, this by itself isn't a problem.

However, if you are worried that he is self-centered not attuned to your feelings, I would take a hard look at the larger dynamic of the relationship. If this a clear pattern, maybe he really is jerk and not worth your time. Or it could just be different in attachment styles - here's one way of looking at that classifies people as island, waves and anchors. I"m guessing from your question, you might be wave. If his style is different, he may not understand or know how to address your unspoken needs and assumptions. (That's why talking about these things more directly can be so helpful) Lots of resources out there to help people learn how to bridge between attachment styles. Wire for Love (linked above) has a good explanation. Hold Me Tight actually offers a structure for 7 specific conversations that helps couples create a bridge that opens up connection and communication.
posted by metahawk at 9:52 PM on September 21 [2 favorites]

Polyamory becomes much more complicated when you rely on subtle communication and unspoken assumptions. Consider asking, "if the opportunity arises, would you consider fucking this woman?" And, think about what your response will be in either case. (Also, think about your response in the case he responds with anger, which would be a DTMF flag for me.)

Being jealous of partners who are friends with their exes very rarely indicates a healthy relationship. That doesn't mean it can't be fixed. But, it's worth thinking about.
posted by eotvos at 10:59 PM on September 21 [2 favorites]

He has a history of doing the polyamory thing (with girls) but that hasn't been the case for a few years.

It's not clear if he just so happens not to have "done the polyamory thing" recently, or if you have actually agreed on a monogamous relationship.

In either case, it's weird that he would have just told you that he was moving in with people he already knew without the subject of who they actually are even coming up, mentioning people by name if you know them or talking about how he knows them if you haven't already met them. But maybe the two of you just don't share very many details of your lives with each other?

Is there another way I should have interpreted this or does this guy just really not give two craps about me?

If you feel like he doesn't give two craps about you, it doesn't matter how other people might interpret this. You are the person dating him and that means you get to decide how to feel about it.
posted by yohko at 11:14 PM on September 21 [2 favorites]

This is just one data point for you, and I am not nor have ever been part of any polyamorous relationship so perhaps that's why I can't wrap my head around his thought process here. But this strikes me as an enormous red flag. He's moving in with an ex without discussing it with you first? Ridiculous. Of course there's a spectrum wrt how comfortable people are with their partner's exes - some feel there should be no contact at all, some are totally okay if their partner maintains close friendships with exes. But I imagine the percentage of people, polyamorous or not, who are totally okay with their partner moving in with an ex is exceedingly small. And it is natural and okay for you not to be okay with that either. He should 100% have anticipated that this would stir up a whole bunch of confusing and negative emotions in you.

If it were me, I would have been pretty pissed off that the thought of sharing a house with an ex even crossed his mind at all, but let's be generous and say that it should be okay for him to consider the possibility. He should have absolutely, unequivocally discussed this with you beforehand and given you every opportunity to say so if you were not okay with it. It doesn't matter if the trajectory of your relationship is non-traditional - you are still only human and it is perfectly understandable that you would have feelings about this. So, no, imo this is not the behavior of a guy who cares about you. That doesn't mean that he definitely does not care about you but it does mean that he made a careless mistake that you should have a serious talk about. And he needs to acknowledge that he's wronged you and show willingness to change his living situation to one you are comfortable with.
posted by piranna at 1:46 AM on September 22 [3 favorites]

I may be in the minority, but to me it seems mostly irrelevant whether this person is technically an ex, and much more relevant whether your boyfriend is still attracted to her.

When I started going out with my previous long-term partner he was (still) living in a shared household with his ex, and it never crossed my mind that this was a problem because it was clear to me at the time that they no longer had any kind of romantic relationship. It would, on the other hand, probably make me uncomfortable if my monogamous partner moved in with a person that I knew he was attracted to, whether they had ever actually been involved before or not.

You say that your boyfriend has previously been non-monogamous, and vaguely say that your relationship is not traditional, but you never explicitly say what your current relationship is, and whether that includes an expectation of monogamy. Are you and your boyfriend on the same page about what your expectations for this relationship are?

To be clear, there are more than two options here -- your boyfriend can genuinely care about you while not seeing the problem with moving in with this ex and not even considering that you might have a problem with it (whether it's because he has no intention of rekindling their intimate relationship or because the two of you are having a misunderstanding over whether that would be OK). You are also allowed to have a problem with this without accusing your boyfriend of intending to cheat on you or not caring about you. Different people have different boundaries and make different assumptions, and sometimes they are not compatible.

It kind of sounds like you need to have a conversation with him which is a lot more detailed.
posted by confluency at 3:56 AM on September 22 [4 favorites]

As someone who is close with a few exes and had one as a roommate long after we broke up, I honestly read the situation as one where he's moving in with friends, and yes, there's personal history with one of them but he's with you, he's committed to you, and there's no reason for concern on that account.

I honestly think that when someone is genuinely friends with their exes, that's a good sign - it shows that they can have positive relationships, care about the people they're with, and can resolve problems proactively. Breakups where you end as friends can be incredibly supportive friendships - I have a similar thing with an ex where we'll hook up if neither of us are seeing anyone, but we're 100% supportive of each other dating and going on with our lives because we care about each other and want each other to be happy. So I don't think that this situation is necessarily any kind of red flag (in part because if he wanted to cheat, he wouldn't need to move in with anyone) and you should talk to him about your concerns and what you need to feel good about this situation and to feel supported.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:28 AM on September 22 [2 favorites]

Maybe he is assuming that you do not have jealousy issues, or that if you do have jealousy issues you would have brought them up? It sounds like you're angry with him because you think you should have input into who he lives with, but that you haven't really discussed with him that sort of escalation of your relationship. You may want to put some thought into how much control you think you should have over each other's lives and the kinds of commitments you want, and have a conversation about that.

If this is the most recent of many incidents that made you question his feelings about you and that's why it's bothering you, then you need to reassess. But in isolation it doesn't really mean anything, especially given that your relationship style and his poly beliefs may have kept this from registering as a potential issue to him.
posted by metasarah at 11:41 AM on September 22

Whilst I value his ability to be entirely honest with me, my interpretation of this was that I am very unimportant to him and I felt incredibly insignificant.

Is there another way I should have interpreted this or does this guy just really not give two craps about me?

the interpretation he wants you to have is that you're so cool of course you would never be jealous. it's a compliment, see, and there's something off with you for not feeling complimented. and him, gosh, he's so faithful it never occurred to him that other people think twice before living with people they used to sleep with, guess he just doesn't have that kind of sex-obsessed mind, not like SOME people.

that's the interpretation you were "supposed" to have, is that hes very pure. it's bullshit, it's kid stuff. people who are honestly above jealousy say things like Hey, I'm thinking of moving in with X but you know we used to hook up, would that be uncomfortable for you? It's a group house, not just the two of us, and she knows I'm with you now, of course. and then you would say No or Yes and you'd talk more, or not, depending.

you are free to be as trusting as you want, but if he sleeps with her he is going to forget to consult you about that, too.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:29 PM on September 22 [5 favorites]

my interpretation of this was that I am very unimportant to him

My interpretation is slightly different. You didn't ask him the question you really wanted to ask -- which is whether you should be concerned. You asked him whether he thought you should be concerned, which he doesn't.

Whether that is true, or not, is a different story altogether.
posted by sm1tten at 4:48 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]

thank you to all commentators for the useful perspectives and food for thought on what next steps to take. appreciate it.
posted by thiosux at 3:29 AM on September 24

He's casually hooked up with her after breaking up? That's almost definitely going to happen again
posted by tillsbury at 12:19 PM on September 26

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