What about Bob?
I met my ex-boyfriend, "Jack," four years ago and we fell quickly into a serious relationship. The first months were blissful -- quite honestly, the happiest of my life. He poured affection on me, wanted to have lengthy talks about our shared future, and could make me laugh like no one else. But, as so often happens, that first flush of love faded ... for him. He started treating me horribly. But I held onto that man that I "knew" he could be based on those first amazing months. He ended our relationship around the year mark, and I never really got over it. I dated two men fairly seriously after him, and he dated one woman after me. However, we always ended up going back to one another. Not just sloppy, drunken mistakes ... but a pattern of affection and intimacy and dating. I began to feel that no matter what happened in between, eventually we would end up together.
This last happened a little over a year ago now. Jack came wanting to be with me "officially" after I ended my most recent relationship. I told him we needed to take it slow because while I loved him (why, oh why, did I love him?), I had difficulty trusting I wouldn't be left heartbroken. He took this to mean "pull away." I endured this for a month or so, and then, randomly, met another man "Bob," while I was in a limbo of sorts with Jack. There was no instant love with Bob, but a slowly growing affection and comfort that grew into love. Not the topsy-turvy, on-a-knife-edge love I had with Jack, but a content partnership. Jack, "older and wiser", as he said, began actively pursuing me again as I started to date Bob, and for awhile I saw them both casually. Jack pulled one of his jerky moves yet again, and my relationship with Bob was solidified. I would not, could not, live through what Jack would do to me time and again, and I was happy with Bob.
Fast forward to the present. Bob and I own a home together and we envision spending our lives with one another. He is my best friend as well as my boyfriend, and I know I am lucky to have that. This weekend I got an email from Jack -- who, for the past year, has contacted me sporadically to try to get me to change my mind about him and us -- who told me that he was dating someone new he met at work. I figure his email was mostly meant as a manipulation, but I'm sad to say it sort of worked. Since getting that email I have been thinking about Jack and what we once had. I question what it would have been like if I had given him another chance. I feel horribly guilty about even having these thoughts. I know in my head that I picked right ... but why does my heart feel tugged right now? I think I feel ... jealous, for lack of a better word. And I'm ashamed of that feeling. Is it possible to be in love with one person and still have feelings for another?
– Tugged Heart, Boston
A: Wasn't it just last week that we had a letter from a woman who was still thinking about her ex? That letter writer seemed too young for a permanent relationship. She was rushing her future for no good reason.
That's not what's happening with you, TH. You're ready. You've learned lessons. You wised up about what makes a good relationship. In your case, it's all about Bob. Go Bob!
We'll always think about exes, especially the ones who toyed with us, manipulated us, and led us on a crazy chase. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. You know that your positive feelings about Jack represent just a few months out of four years. That's a blip, especially when you consider what you've been able to accomplish with Bob in far less time.
It's OK that your heart feels tugged. It's OK that you occasionally ask yourself, "What if?" We have to suffer through many what-ifs in relationships. They're annoying and distracting. But you're lucky enough to know the real answer to your what-if. What if you had given Jack another chance? Well, I'll tell you what if. If you had given Jack yet another opportunity to confuse you, you'd be writing me a different letter ... and you'd be wondering how to meet a guy like Bob.
Don't feel bad about nagging fantasies and what-ifs. Old feelings don't go away. They're just trumped by new, stronger ones.
Readers? How can she get Jack out of her head? What do her thoughts about Jack have to do with Bob? Are what-ifs normal? Discuss.
Recent blog posts
Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.