Heavy letter for a Friday. And yes, I'll stay in touch with the letter writer.
Q: I have been married for more than 20 years. My husband had some affairs (with different women) three years ago. I know that he is still talking to these women, as he makes comments about what they are doing and it seems pretty current information. I have not been able to gain back the trust and love that I once had. We have two children who are under 18.
My husband constantly calls me fat [and other inappropriate things] when our younger child is nearby. (I don't think that our child sees it though.) He pinches me until I tell him to stop because it hurts. He jokes, "I haven't even begun to hurt you." He flirts with friends and neighbors until we're all uncomfortable. When we tell him to stop, he says something like, "Oh, you can't take a joke."
He now accuses me (at least once a week) of having an affair with someone. I honestly will say I have never had an affair with anyone. If I refuse sex with, he gets very mad takes all the blankets.
He also threatens to divorce me and leave me with nothing. I used to kiss him after these threats, but now I'm at the point where I tell him to go ahead and leave me. I am at the end of my rope. We have tried counseling, both individual and marriage, and it hasn't worked because he has quit going after a few sessions.
– So Now What?, North Carolina
A: This is an abusive relationship, SNW. And I'm going to reveal to the readers (after much thought) that you emailed me several years ago about similar issues. It was a letter that we just didn't get to -- and it was much less severe than this version (it was about the affairs, not the abuse) -- but these problems have plagued your marriage for a long time. You've been pinched, harassed, questioned, and shamed, sometimes in front of your children. You need a way out. (And for the record, kids see and perceive more than you think they do. I'm sure that your younger child is aware of what's happening.)
You need to check in with a local domestic violence organization. North Carolina has them. (Click here if you're at a safe computer.) Pinching might not seem like real abuse, but it is. So are threats and intimidation. You must meet with a professional who can help you navigate this process. Because it will be process. If you can continue individual therapy, please do.
It's also a good time to reach out to your community. Don't be afraid to call friends and family. You mention that your neighbors have shared your discomfort over the years. Are any of these people real friends? Can you spend more time with them, just to feel less isolated?
You can't go through this alone, and you certainly can't put it off any longer. You might think I'm misusing the word "abuse," but find a safe computer and do some reading. You might be surprised by the definition.
Readers? Is this abuse? What should the letter writer do? Are the affairs relevant? Talk.
Q: Dear Meredith,
About 13 years ago I met this young lady (Alex) in a chat room. At the time, she was only about 18 years old. I'm 12 years older than her and as you may have surmised, I'm now 44 and she's 32. Throughout the years we have maintained a sort of friend/platonic relationship. On a couple of occasions at the beginning of our "cyber relationship" she was quite curious to meet me in person, but I remember declining it because I thought I was too old for her. Soon after I "cyber met" her, I got married. My marriage lasted about 11 years as I got divorced about 1 year ago (nothing to do with Alex). During the ending stages of my divorce, I confided in her about some things and she was supportive, which was very helpful to me. As fate would have it, she is now going through the end of her 5 year serious relationship. She and I have talked a lot about us one day having a relationship despite the fact that we have never met in person. We have, however, exchanged many pictures throughout the years as well as many emails, text messages, and phone calls.
If I really wanted to have a relationship with her, I wonder if it's better for me to try to stay out of her current breakup process or should I be supportive like she was with me when I was going down that path?
I also wonder if she's opened to talking about ''us" because she's going through her problems or does she really like me?
Looking forward to your advice.
– Should I be her confidant?, Cyberspace
A: There are so many issues here, SIBHC. I'm still upset about the fact that she was 18 when you met. I could say so much about this -- and about chat room relationships, in general -- but I'll focus on your question. And my answer to that is: No, you shouldn't be the voice of reason about her break-up. If you're trying to line yourself up as her next suitor, your intentions aren't honorable. She needs to find real friends for honest discussion.
Please encourage this woman to seek advice from her real-life peers. You say that she's still going through this break-up, which means that she's not quite broken up just yet. That means she has a significant other. She's off limits. Tell her to talk to her off-line friends, and please, focus on your off-line life, as well.
I understand that people meet in chat rooms. I understand that age gaps close. I understand that you guys have known each other for like 15 years and that the relationship feels significant, and maybe it is.
But at the moment, she's a woman with a partner who needs to talk to a platonic friend. That's not you. You're a pen pal with expectations. That's not OK.
Readers? Can the letter writer be her sounding board? Should the LW be thinking about dating her? How well can they possibly know each other? What should the LW do? Discuss.
Q: Dear Meredith,
I am in my late 40s and have been married for almost 25 years. I love and respect my wife -- she is intelligent and is a great mother to our two grown children. We have had a good life. There was a time about a decade ago where I was not in a good place personally. I was in a job I hated and just generally not happy. During this time I had a few one night stands with women I met through my job. I eventually confessed to my wife because I felt so guilty about it. She was devastated but said she forgave me and I have tried very hard to be a better husband and better person. I found another job that I enjoyed more (and where there were not many women). Things have been pretty good for the last nine years.
Recently my wife has been depressed, anxious, and sometimes has unpredictable outbursts. I think she is suffering with the whole empty-nest thing. I have tried to be supportive but it seems like she takes all her emotional issues out on me and several times has thrown my past cheating in my face even though she claims to have forgiven me. During this time, I happened to meet a woman (Sarah) and we have gotten close and have been physical a few times. I felt really guilty about it though so cut off the friendship. But I found I was miserable because I had no one to talk to about what was going on with my wife. So after several weeks of no contact, we have resumed our friendship and spend a couple of hours a day talking on the phone or emailing. We have only been physical once in that time. Sarah's a good listener and is also going through something similar (she is in an unhappy marriage and contemplating divorce).
After many conversations with her, Sarah helped me realize how unhappy I've been in my marriage for a long time. And that my wife has never forgiven me for my past cheating and probably never will. I am contemplating leaving but I'm worried about how that would affect my wife. I don't want to hurt her. I also worry about the financial aspects. My wife is the bread winner in the family and came into the marriage with some family money. We enjoy an above average lifestyle - without her income I'm not sure I could even afford a decent place on my own. I think my friend would be willing to move in with me (assuming she gets a divorce) but she doesn't work so would only have whatever alimony/child support comes her way after the divorce. Sarah says her husband does reasonably well though so we could probably enjoy a comfortable lifestyle especially if she were able to keep their house. But she also has two young boys and I'm not sure I'm ready to be in a step-dad type of relationship.
I know my wife would be devastated if I asked for a divorce. I have asked her to get counseling but she refuses. She's a good person and I do care about her but I'm just not happy. Should I do what's best for her or what's best for me?
– Unhappy, Mass.
A: Should I do what's best for her or what's best for me?
You should do what's best for both of you. You should stop cheating and get your act together.
Maintaining the status quo and lying to your wife isn't what's best for anybody. It's certainly not in your wife's best interest to live with someone who's miserable and lining up a second life behind her back. You have to drop Sarah, like right now. You're not entitled to her attention, and you both need to focus on your real lives.
You must also go to therapy, even if it's just for you. Perhaps you can go for a while and then ask your wife to join you for a session or two. Sometimes a visit on someone else's behalf is less intimidating.
And please know that you can't jump from your wife to Sarah. You sound crazy for prioritizing your escape plan and discussing your standard of living as your marriage is dissolving. You should show this letter to your therapist. I think it'd be quite revealing.
Again, in no particular order: Drop Sarah (now), go to therapy, ask your wife to join you, and be honest with her about what you want from your marriage, if anything. No more coasting, cheating, and planning for a live-in girlfriend. Sarah is married and so are you.
Say it with me: Married. You need to be a husband and figure out what's best for you and your wife.
Readers? Is there some narcissism going on here? Should he tell the wife about Sarah? Does he have to cut her off? What happens his wife continues to refuse therapy? Help.
A reminder: Please be thoughtful about your comments.
I don't mind critical comments, but they should be constructive. People are asking for help, so help them. Empathy.
Q: I am a single woman in my late 30s. I never thought I would say this, but I have fallen in love with someone who is married with young children. He is planning on leaving his marriage but wants to do it as gently as possible -- in order to protect his kids and also to minimize the hurt and pain for his wife. He is a very good man. Our affair -- if it is even that -- has been very brief. Not even two months. The physical contact has been minimal -- only a few days out of that time. (We live on different continents, met at a birthday weekend, and most of our contact has been in the form of emails and video chats).
He says the marriage was over in any case, and I believe him. We have talked about building a life together, and both of us believe it's possible. I agree with him that his children must come first in this next bit of time, and I would be happy to try to be a loving person (or perhaps even a stepmom) in their lives if we ever got to that stage.
The affair is over and we are now in a period of no contact. I have said that I don't want to meet again until he has talked to his wife and begun the process of leaving. But we love each other and I want to support him. My question is this: Is it possible to stay in touch (but not see each other) while he leaves his marriage or should I cut him off entirely and wait until he is a free agent? Please don't be too harsh. We fell in love, we didn't mean to, and now we are trying to do the right thing.
Thank you for your advice.
– Want to do the right thing from now on, Cambridge
A: Stay away from him until he's a free agent. You don't want to get caught in the middle of a divorce, and frankly, this process could take years. You need to protect yourself. Leave him alone.
I also want you to continue to live your life. You're thinking about potential stepmom duties, but you haven't spent any real time with this guy. In real life, after a few dates, you might not be so compatible. You have no idea whether this guy is capable of being a good partner.
Please don't save yourself for him. He's not "the one." Right now he's just a married guy who swept you off your feet. It's very possible that there are other people -- local people -- who can do some similar sweeping. Don't put blinders on just yet.
You've set appropriate boundaries. Now go live your life. Maybe he'll show up, maybe he won't. But for right now, he's unavailable.
Readers? Is she allowed to keep in touch with him? Will he leave his wife? Does her age have anything to do with this? Why do you think she fell for him so quickly? Should she wait this out? Help.
Q: Dear Meredith,
I'm a married man and recently separated. I was in a long-term marriage that should have ended some 11 years ago. I've made peace with the end of that relationship and am working on being happy while being alone.
I made a decision that it would take me three years to work though my marriage ending before I was ready for anyone else. I also decided that I was NOT interested in anyone with children -- been there, done that.
Recently I joined a support group as a way to help process some of the loneliness. At the first meeting, something wonderful and completely unexpected happened. A woman approached me and was very interested in talking. I was flattered by her attention and found her to be a very open and genuine person. That night after the support group, we went off to karaoke and the friendship I was NOT looking for instantly blossomed.
Things have been wonderful for the three short weeks we've been together. We've seen each other frequently, have shared a lot about our lives and relationships, and our friendship seemed to be going great. We made plans for an official first date, and I had some great things planned, wanting to create a special night of fun and the foundation to what I was hoping would be a lasting friendship. My friend is a separated woman with three children.
We never had that date; she cancelled and has pulled away. I've been downgraded to maybe not even a friend although she's told me that I am. My involvement with her may have been a distraction to her bad breakup after falling in love with the wrong guy. She has openly shared the details of that bad situation with me, for which I am grateful.
So here's my dilemma: She's awakened feelings that I tried so hard to bury. I am smitten, can't deny it, won't hide it, dismiss it, or make small of it. I do know that I am not in love with her, but over time I see that could happen. She has changed my world completely. I think about her a lot -- about our talks, how we kissed and hugged so passionately.
I am an emotionally available man, sensitive, honest, trustworthy, and dependable. It may sound egotistical and I'll accept that, but I can rock her world in time if given a chance. I am not the guy who caused her so much emotional pain (I want to take it away and make it all better), not her former husband, but a guy who's different.
I need advice on how I can save this friendship. I do not want to lose her because in her mind I'm associated with the man who broke her heart. I KNOW she has feelings for me but may be afraid to get hurt again. I get that completely.
Thank you for reading this and for any/all helpful suggestions and advice.
– Smitten, Cambridge
A: All you can do is tell her how you feel. If she doesn't want her world rocked, you must refrain from rocking it. You have to respect her boundaries.
Just make sure that you're honest with her (and yourself) about what you want. I mean, if she doesn't want to date you, do you really want to save the friendship? You're smitten and you want to hug and kiss. I'm not convinced that you have any interest in keeping her around as a platonic pal.
You've learned so much from her in just a few short weeks. She taught you that you're ready to date and that you're open to being with someone who has kids. She taught you that your stomach still produces butterflies. She's just a sign that there's more.
There are plenty of fantastic women out there who genuinely want their world rocked. Find them. And find a great therapist to supplement that support group.
Readers? What's up with this woman and her mixed signals? What can the letter writer do to keep her around? Should he keep her around? Should he care this much after just a few weeks? Discuss.
Q: My ex-wife and I divorced amicably and remained friends. We finalized our divorce 4 years ago. At the time we owned a home together and spent 3 years trying to sell it. During that time we spoke 3-4 times per week, and got together several times a month.
I have dated two girls since then. The first was OK with the friendship, the second one was not. One distinct difference was that I sold the house right before I met girlfriend number 2. After selling the house, the friendship with my ex-wife was obviously in a transition because we no longer had logistical reasons to speak to each other. The new situation had yet to settle into a routine, so I was somewhat undecided on what type of friendship was going to be maintained.
While building a relationship with girlfriend number 2, I found that she was completely uncomfortable with the friendship, and I was forced to decide between my ex-wife and my current/future girlfriend. Compounding the problem was the fact that I couldn't really explain the friendship because it was in the midst of change. I chose the girlfriend because I couldn't rationalize breaking up with her over someone from my past. I continued to speak to my ex occasionally, and told my girlfriend each time I did (the contact was initiated by my ex).
The transition was difficult for me, but I loved my girlfriend and wanted to see where the relationship would go. My ex was not terribly understanding, but eventually retreated into the background.
My girlfriend and I broke up recently due to what amounts to a miscommunication that we are still working out. During one of our conversations, I mentioned that it was important to me that I have my ex in my life. Meanwhile, I told my ex about the breakup, and she was excited that "we can be friends again."
I don't know the future of either relationship, but my fear is that in the future I am going to run into the same problem over and over again. I don't want to hurt my ex, but I also don't want to miss out on a happy future because of it.
I have received a mixed bag of opinions from friends and family. I really don't know who is right or wrong here or if there is even a right or wrong answer.
– Lost Between Venus and Mars, Boston
A: I can't figure out what kind of relationship you want with your ex, LBVAM. You say that you don't want to hurt her, but that's not why you want her around, is it? If it were up to you, how often would you talk to her? Once a week? Once a year? You need to make some decisions about your own needs and then talk to your ex about boundaries. My guess is that your latest girlfriend was frustrated because your ex seemed to have so much power.
Your ex isn't a bad person at all, and I think it's cool that you guys want to have a real friendship. I just want to make sure that you're both getting what you want. She should be asking you what makes you comfortable.
As for this recent ex ... well ... maybe it's best that it's over. You broke up over a simple miscommunication? That's rather telling.
My advice is to figure out what you want with your ex and then let her know. New girlfriends should pick up on your confidence and find it easier to trust your motives. If I were your girlfriend right now, I'd be more concerned about your passive role in the friendship with your ex than I would be about the friendship itself.
Readers? Do you get a sense of what he wants? Should he cut off the ex? Should the latest girlfriend have been skeptical about the letter writer's friendship with his ex? What’s happening here? Help.
Q: I have been with my wife for over almost a decade and we got married a few years ago. And I think I want a divorce, I just don't know what to do.
There has not been any one big fight or one big issue. And without question there are times where there is no one I would rather be with. But there are times when I feel, even on good days, that we just very good roommates. And there are times that seem to be occurring with more frequency, where I just wish I was by myself. I had always thought of myself as a relatively even-tempered person, usually in a good mood. But she can put me in a bad mood. There are times when I think that she is in a bad mood (perhaps incorrectly at times), which puts me in a bad mood, and that leads to tension.
I feel as if my wife is not happy, but I am not entirely sure why. I know she feels stressed all the time because of her job, but I think there is more (and I will admit I am not the best communicator and that it isn't easy for me to ask what else is bothering her … perhaps I am afraid she will say I am the problem). When we got married and when we were dating, we both had discussed how we did not want children. I have found that I am warming up to the idea but still am not ready, but suddenly she keeps talking about wanting them now. I also think that when she wants to, she looks for a reason to be unhappy and clings to it.
There are also money issues. I used to have a job that paid very well, but I hated it. It was not what I wanted to do. So I took a step back in my career, received additional training, which then allowed me to pursue what I really think is my dream job, which I have now. The problem is that this job does not pay much (about 50% of the job that I hated). This has definitely limited what we can do, where we can go, where we can live. And it definitely impacts our ability to afford children. There are some similar jobs that pay better, but those are very difficult to get. And if I could get one of those jobs I would; but she wants me to move on to something, anything, that pays better and that makes me feel stuck. If I stay in my current job, we will continue to have money issues (we can pay our bills, live a simple life, but nothing else). If I leave for a job that pays more because she wants me to, I know I will just resent her for it.
I just feel as too often I am not happy at the end of the day. But with student loans and my current job, I don't know that I can afford to be single (my wife makes more money than I do). There is also just the shame I think I would feel in getting divorced. Most, if not all, of my friends really like my wife. Our wedding was a great time and everyone honestly always talks about it still. I just don't know if I could do it, and I don't even know where to begin. I know communication would help, but I also am scared at what might come out.
– Not sure about my marriage, Boston
A: "I know communication would help." That's the understatement of the month, NSAMM.
You don't know what your wife is thinking. You don't ask. You make guesses about why she's angry. You make assumptions about what she might say if you talked to her about your problems.
You're not allowed to plan a divorce until you know that you need one. You don't know anything right now. And seriously, your wife deserves to know what's going on in your head. She's probably anxious because you're obviously unhappy. She's working like crazy -- at her job and at home -- and you've done little to explain your plan for your personal and professional future.
The kid thing is huge. The money thing is huge. You give incredibly mixed signals. (You might want a divorce ... but you're warming up to the idea of having kids with your wife? How does that work?)
I'm not blaming you for any of this, but you need to stop running away from honest discussion. If you're a better writer than talker, email your wife. Tell her that you're confused about what you want. Tell her that you'd like to see her happy again. Tell her that you're ready for the truth.
Again, you can't rev up for a divorce until you understand your own relationship. Think about what you want for your marriage and then talk (or write) to your wife about making it happen. Please don't wait.
Readers? Should he be talking about divorce? Can you empathize with the wife? What about the job? And that last paragraph ... with the friends and the wedding? What does that tell you? Help.
Make sure you read Friday's updates.
Q: Dear Meredith,
I know this is not going to go over well with the readers, but here it goes:
I am having a purely sexual affair with a co-worker. We are both late 30s, in decade-long unhappy marriages. We do not report to one another. Neither of us wants a "real" relationship, and neither knows whether our marriages will work out. We have been sleeping together for around a year, probably about once a month. We are very discreet, do not go out in public together, and only get together on business trips.
Either one of us can walk away and decide to fully commit to our marriage (This is not the typical "will he ever leave his wife for me?" situation). Alternately, if either one of us divorces and wants to start dating someone for real, it would also end our affair. We both have eyes wide open that this is a short-term fling and that we are in no way meant to be together.
Love Letters is generally filled with tales of woe from the cheated-upon -- hurting spouses, suspicious fiancés, etc. I am not trying to justify my behavior. I am not looking for people to condemn it, nor to tell me it is OK. Here are my questions:
Do you know of anyone who has had an affair that ended WELL? Has anyone had an affair and been able to salvage their marriage? Has anyone had a long-term "background" affair that didn't affect their marriage either way?
I guess I'm just looking for some insight as to how this might end...
– Am I kidding myself?, South Shore
A: To answer your first two questions, yes, many couples bounce back from affairs. Some couples come out stronger after dealing with a betrayal. It's possible, but it's certainly not a guarantee. It takes work, honesty, and the desire to stay together.
To answer your last question, no, you can't have an affair without it affecting your marriage. It's going to change your relationship even if you're the only one who knows about it.
You don't seem to want advice or to be scolded, AIKM, but … too bad. Here it goes:
If you're a Love Letters reader, you know that many of my letters come from people who are desperate to figure out whether their partners are cheating. These letter writers feel frantic and hopeless. They feel alone. How do you feel when you read their letters? Do you have empathy?
I won't make assumptions about your partner -- for all I know, your spouse is cheating too -- but I will say that for every month you continue this "background" affair, you're putting off the most important thing in your world: your unhappy marriage. Isn't it time to address your problems? Isn't it time to figure out what to do next?
If you can't stop cheating out of respect for your spouse, please stop for yourself. Because you're wasting your own time. You have questions to answer. This is no time to stall.
This affair is standing in the way of everyone's happiness. You will regret dragging this out. Stop kidding yourself and start dealing with reality.
Readers? Do affairs always end marriages? What can you tell this letter writer? What would the letter writer's partner say?
I am 45 and single, have never been married, and have no kids. Recently I reconnected with someone I had been very seriously involved with almost 15 years ago. She and I were coworkers when we met but lived in separate states. For two years we spoke by phone on a very regular basis on a professional level. She had to make occasional trips to my location, so we became friends. She had a young son and had been in the process of a divorce. During one of her trips to my location, we were able to spend time together and the relationship became personal.
After about three months, she asked to be transferred to my office. I knew that I wanted to marry her, but after her relocation with her son (who I had never met), she had issues with custody. Things got complicated and I got cold feet. I made the tragic mistake of telling her that I wanted to slow things down.
This hurt her terribly and damaged our relationship. Things suddenly became chilled, and within a few weeks I saw her walking out the door for lunch with another coworker. Long story short, our relationship deteriorated, we ended things, and she wound up marrying this other man. I left the company and went on to have another relationship that lasted for 8 years.
Fast forward to this spring. I needed to make some changes to my 401K and found myself having to contact my previous employer's corporate office. When I had the specialist on the phone, I asked her about some former coworkers and suddenly my ex came to mind. When I mentioned her by first name only, the specialist replied with her maiden name. Obviously she had gotten divorced from the aforementioned co-worker and I asked to speak with her.
We started emailing and visiting each other. We discussed making a life together and we both apologized for hurting each other so long ago. It was very special. I cannot remember having felt this way in so long -- to truly care about somebody, be so attracted to them, feel confident that they too want to make a future, and to also have a chance to correct the past.
But when I went to visit her a few weeks ago, things went wrong. I'm going through some career issues so I'm not at my best. We spent time with her friends and it didn't go well. We had trouble sharing the same space. I wound up leaving a day early because of weather. I knew that the chemistry felt off.
We spoke once briefly about an hour after I left and I tried to reaffirm my feelings and explain to her that I was willing to do anything to make this work this time. That's the last time we spoke. We went from speaking every day for a month and now nothing.
I've tried to contact her many times and have left messages to reassure her of how I feel. Flaws or no flaws, I know that I love her and that we were meant to be together. We've already lost so much time and at 45, I'm just not up for games. I'm making a big move for work soon and she had told me that she wanted to join me. I have no idea what's going on in her head. If she calls at this point, I can't say I'll be that excited to hearing from her.
– Déjà vu, Chapel Hill, NC
A: Move away. Go. This woman isn't your soul mate. She's just someone from your past. I'm not convinced that you guys ever had what it takes to sustain a relationship in person.
My big issue with your history (Part 1 and Part 2) is that you rushed it. You decided that you wanted to marry her before she was even living nearby. You hadn't even met her child. You didn't know her well enough to make any big promises.
And when you reconnected the second time around, you both jumped to more conclusions. You committed right off the bat. She told you that she wanted to move with you and make a life together. After just a few visits? That's a huge step, especially for someone with a kid.
After you get settled in your new home, I want you to date local. Get to know someone well before you commit. Don't rush it. Don't romanticize the unknown.
I understand that you're stressed about being 45 and single, but don't let that cloud your brain. You'll just wind up in a mess.
If/when she calls, just let yourself say goodbye.
Readers? Should I be more optimistic about this relationship? Will she come around? Any potential here? Thoughts about her? Advice for him? What should he say when she calls? Discuss.
Q: Dear Meredith,
I recently ended a 3 1/2-year long-distance relationship. We were high school sweethearts who lost touch and reconnected a few years ago after almost 20 years apart. At the time we were both going through divorces and supported each other. Things progressed and we fell back in love and had a fantastic relationship -- up until the past few months.
We had always planned on a future together (getting married). This would require my relocating with my children to the other side of the state, finding a new job, selling my house, moving away from family and friends, etc. I was willing to do all of that but wanted to be married or at least engaged first. I told him that from day one.
About a year ago he bought a home that would accommodate all of us. I picked out all of the paint colors, carpeting, furniture, etc. That was a huge step (or so I thought) toward our future together, but still no proposal.
We have had our share of issues, mostly revolving around not being together more often. When we did argue, we just would not talk to each other for a few days and then pretend like the argument never happened. He is also of the mindset that even though we have two separate households and are not married or engaged, we should be "working together financially," something I strongly disagree with! (We both make very good money. We split most of our expenses or take turns paying.) Am I wrong to think that unless you are living together the financials should be kept separate?
Recently he ended the relationship via text message (mind you, we are both in our late 30s; this to me was extremely immature), saying the distance was too much, he didn't have the desire for a long distance relationship, etc. I was devastated to say the least.
My problem is that I can't let him go, I am trying, but he keeps texting or calling and we rehash our "issues," all of which I feel are resolvable with the right time and effort. Whenever I try to talk to him about an issue, I am told I am "picking a scab." I love him very much and want a future with him, but I'm not sure how to get us back on track, or if it is even possible to do so.
– Devastated, Woburn
A: Many people write to me because they want an engagement before cohabitation and their partner wants to live together first. Usually these couples compromise with a "soft engagement" -- the expression of an intent to get engaged if the cohabitation goes well. I think that could happen here.
But -- and this is a big but -- even if you guys work out the engagement issue, your boyfriend will still be a terrible communicator. Can you live with someone who shuts off for a few days after a fight and then sweeps it under the rug? Can you share your life with someone who can't listen when it matters most?
As a last-ditch effort, I want you to write down all of your questions and feelings (including the good ones) and then send him your list in a long email for his consideration. Write an intro paragraph that says, "I can't have an honest conversation about my needs without picking scabs. The scabs must be picked." Ask him to wait a few days before writing back so that he can really think about what you have to say.
If he can't talk (or write) about these problems, this is over. Not because of the engagement, but because you need to be with someone who can communicate like a grownup. After three years, this shouldn't be so difficult.
Readers? What happened here? Why does he want to combine finances if they don't live together? Should she move without an engagement? Is there any potential here? Help.
Q: I met a woman online a couple of months ago and we met up for coffee. Sparks flew, lightning struck, and the angels wept. From my side anyway. Since then we have been not dating. I say "not dating" because she has set up some boundaries that she says have to do with a previous relationship, an on-and-off sort of deal with a guy who was emotionally abusive and an alcoholic. She says she is not yet ready to date. That said, we see each other almost every weekend for a benign brunch or walk in the park. We email and text each other almost every day. To me this feels a lot like dating except without the physical part. I'm in no rush to get to that part, but am in a rush to get to know her. That said, most of our non-dates end with some smooching. The last time we met, the kissing was a bit more intense than before. Yes, I feel like a 9-year-old even putting it this way, but there's a reason why I bring it up. I'm not 9, by the way. We're both in our 40s, both divorced and with children.
This last weekend we had a picnic that I carefully organized, complete with flowers and caviar. At the end of the afternoon we talked about where we are in our non-relationship, what we're doing, and what we should expect from each other. She may have even warmed up to the idea of going out at night (dare to dream).
My problem is this: It feels like I'm getting a lot of ambivalence from her. The "I'm interested" signals are there, with some texts and emails telling me how excited she is to see me. But the "stay away" signals seem equally strong, with all of the boundaries, and occasional gaps in the communication.
I am so intensely drawn to this woman that I can't sleep at night. It's not that I want to move in with her or anything. I just want to have a chance to play this out and see what could develop between us. But it's not clear to me whether her ambivalence is solely because of bad history or because of reservations about me. A big part of me feels that if she were really interested, we would be having much different dates, and we'd be having some of them in the bathtub, rather than squeezing in a couple of hours every week to have coffee and a danish. That part tells me that I just can't come to terms with the fact that she's not interested, and that the wise thing would be to move on. There are other women out there after all.
Based on those tiny shreds of information, what do you think?
– Basking in the Glow of her Ambivalence, Massachusetts
A: You have to tell her that you're at a breaking point, BITGOHA. She has to take some steps forward -- like in the next week or two-- or it's over. You've gone out of her way not to rush her. You've been respectful of her schedule. I understand that you've already had a talk about where she is with all of this, but what about where you are?
My advice is to be very specific about what you want. If you want a dinner date, tell her you need one soon. If you want to be making out horizontally, please ask. You're human. You're in your 40s. You want to move this to the next level. It's understandable. You're allowed to say, "I feel like you're ambivalent about me. If you're not, I really need more."
I have to admit that when I first read this letter I thought, "She's enjoying the attention but not that interested." Then I remembered that I was once in a similar situation. I was like your woman, trying to delay the inevitable so that I could remain safe. When I was finally confronted with a "make out or else" conversation (he said it much more sensitively than that) and I realized that my self-protecting behavior had turned into selfishness, I cut it out. I pounced. Rather literally. I didn't want to lose him, and the pouncing was not as scary as I thought it would be.
I can't promise you that she'll pounce. But she might plan or accept a dinner date. And dinner dates lead to bathtubs.
If she continues to move at this pace and remains all talk and no action, you must bail. Soon. Because you're right -- there are other women out there, and you sound fantastic. Your needs are just as important as hers. Start asking some very specific questions.
Readers? Is it possible she's interested and just holding back? What should he tell her? Is her lack of availability attractive to him? What should he do? Help.
Q: Dear Meredith,
I am a successful, never-been-married woman in her late 30s who has been in a wonderful relationship with a divorced man in his late 40s for about 18 months. By all accounts, this has been the most fulfilling relationship I have ever been in on many levels. He is a funny, loving, smart, and generous man who is also a standout father to his three (now older) children from his previous marriage. His children have grown up to be smart and polite human beings who also treat me with great respect and for whom I have grown to care deeply.
So where does my problem lie? Well my boyfriend made it clear initially that he never wants to get married again. He had a terrible first marriage and his parents also had difficulties in theirs. He has also has seen the marriage of many of his friends end in bitter divorce, whereas I was raised with parents who have been blissfully married for 50+ years and I have many friends in (seemingly) happy marriages. Of course I thought that I could change his mind over time, but I am beginning to realize I was naive in thinking so. Over the years my perception of the importance of marriage has diminished to some degree, and I truly believe my boyfriend and I could have a great long term relationship for many years to come. That being said, I almost feel like I am selling myself short in this deal as I have been nothing but a wonderful girlfriend and often ask myself why I need to pay the price now for his ex-wife's terrible behavior?
By stating he will never again remarry, I take it as a personal insult that I myself am not good enough to marry, which I know is not the case. My dilemma now is whether to stay in this (almost) totally fulfilling relationship and just try to come to peace with the fact that it won't end in marriage, or do I cut my losses and hope to find something half as fulfilling with someone I might not care as deeply about, but who is at least willing to show long-term commitment to me? I am hoping your readers who are married can shed some light on the big question here: "Is marriage totally overrated and should I just be happy with what I have got?"
– Do I need a ring to make me happy, Cambridge
A: We're not really talking about marriage here, DINARTMMH. This is about love and commitment. You want to be with someone who plans to stick around, even when things get rough. There's nothing overrated about that.
If your guy told you that he wanted to grow this relationship with the hope of being together forever, would you be satisfied? If he began to treat you like a partner -- as opposed to a girlfriend -- would it be enough? I think it would. Because you don't seem desperate for a ring or a wedding. You just want to know that he feels bound to you.
Many people aren't comfortable with the idea of marriage. That doesn't mean that they can't commit. Your guy, however, seems to be saying that he doesn't buy into the idea of lifelong relationships. And you do. That's not good.
You don't want to be a girlfriend forever. Talk to him and explain your needs. Find out what he wants ... as opposed to what he wants to avoid. If he intends to keep things status quo forever, you can't stick around. You're capable of so much more.
Readers? Should she be happy with what she has? Is this about marriage or commitment? Do you think he's more committed to her than he lets on? Is her age relevant? Should she even settle for a committed non-marriage? Help.
I forgot to tell you that I had a doctor's appointment and couldn't chat yesterday. Sorry.
Q: I am a faithful reader of your column and I hope you can steer me in the right direction.
I am in my late 40s, and I went through a divorce about two years ago. The ink was no sooner dry on the divorce agreement when I was laid off. I do my best to keep my chin up and be optimistic, but after almost two years of single fatherhood and unemployment, I have only a part time job and one date to show for it.
I recently met a woman at work. She is in the final stages of her divorce. We talked a couple of times and we connected. I asked her out for coffee and we talked more. I have enjoyed talking with her, and I have felt engaged and challenged like I have never felt before. She is not looking for a serious relationship right now, but would like to have one at some point in the future.
I asked this woman out for coffee again, and I got a note back saying that she did not feel a deeper connection. She went on to say that since we work in the same place, she did not want a relationship with me outside of work (even though because of our schedules, we have almost no interaction at work). She added that there were changes she wanted to make in herself and her life in order to find the kind of relationship she wanted.
I felt confused, disappointed, and hurt. I felt like we did connect, at least enough for me to want to see her again. I can only guess, but I think she was uncomfortable with the fact we both work in the same place. I also think she was uncomfortable with our age difference (she is about 15 years younger). Beyond that, I wonder if I did or said something wrong (like possibly mentioning my children or my ex-wife).
So I am left to wonder what I need to do in order to find someone else. I have a fear of not having someone special in my life and winding up alone. Through the whole process of my divorce and losing my full time job, I have just felt alone. I do know that people (mostly at my church) care and will listen, but I still feel alone. I guess I could use some insight and another point of view.
– Trying to Be Optimistic in Metrowest
A: There are so many reasons why this woman wasn't the woman, TTBOIM. I mean, there's the age difference, her divorce (would you have been ready to date two years ago?), the workplace stuff, and your shared insecurities about the future. As much as water seeks its own level, she's probably looking for someone who can make her feel confident about her new, independent life. You can't be that person for her right now.
You need to stop focusing so much on what you don't have and start making a list of what you want. You know you want a full-time job, so that remains a priority. As for love, what are you looking for? Do you want someone with kids? Do you want someone your age? Who do you think would make a good partner? Honestly, that's what you should be talking about with friends at church. Your friends are supposed to listen to your rants about being lonely, but you can't limit the interaction to just that. It's more productive to ask these people to help you create the life you want for yourself.
As for what you did wrong on your date, well, probably nothing. Again, there were other negative forces at work with this woman. That said, you should keep long rants about sadness and exes to a minimum when you meet someone new. And make sure that you ask a lot of questions and smile. Happiness is attractive. I know that things seem bleak right now, but they're not. You're hunting for a new and exciting job, you're single and free to meet people, and you're a self-aware man who isn't going to push the right person away. If you believe all of that, someone else will too.
Readers? Was he on the right track with this woman at work? Advice about dating while under-employed? Can you give this letter writer a boost? What's happening here? Should he be trying to date at all? Is he asking too much of two years? Help.
Q: Dear Meredith,
My cousin is currently going through a painful divorce (what divorce isn't painful?), and while her soon to be ex-husband was the one who initiated the divorce proceedings, both of them are responsible for the failure of their marriage. I should also note that the grounds for the divorce are on differences -- there were no extramarital affairs, and no one was abusive. Also, there are no children or any properties involved.
Since we are all a very large and close extended family, we are all friends on Facebook. All of us were on excellent terms with her ex, and welcomed him into the family. And while her ex and I do not keep in regular contact, we still remain friends on Facebook. During this time, her ex has periodically been in touch with me during my father's terminal illness, asking about his health, and sending a beautiful card when my father passed away. All in all, he is a very nice guy.
Now for my problem. For the past couple of months, my cousin has been repeatedly emailing everyone in the family to cut all contact and de-friend him. Since her ex has shown noting but kindness and compassion to me and my immediate family during our period of grief and loss, I feel reluctant to de-friend him and cut all contact. I understand where my cousin is coming from, but it seems rude and passive-aggressive for me to do this. I don't want to be a bad cousin, but I don't believe it is her place to tell all of us whom we can and cannot speak to. What would you advise me to do?
– Trapped by Facebook Drama, Brighton
A: Don't think of this as your cousin telling you what to do, TBFD. Think of it as her telling you what she needs. This isn't about who's at fault in the divorce. It's about losing her husband against her will. She's angry, confused, and doesn't want to be reminded of this great loss. She certainly doesn't want to see her close family members commenting on his Facebook status.
I understand where you're coming from, of course. This guy made you feel safe when you suffered a great loss against your will. Still, my advice is to minimize the Facebook stuff as much as possible. Keep the Internet safe for your cousin. You might not even have to de-friend him. Isn't there a way to put him on a more private or distant list of acquaintances? (Facebook savvy commenters: Please help with this.) He might be less available to you this way, but that's what happens during a divorce. We all lose something.
If this guy wants to reach out to you, he has your e-mail, phone number, and address (I assume). He'll find you, and if/when he does, you don't have to share that information with your cousin. You said that you don't speak to him regularly anyway, so this shouldn't be much of an issue. For you, this is just about knowing that he's out there. That should be good enough.
Readers? Is the letter writer allowed to stay in contact with her ex and keep it a secret? Can someone explain Facebook privacy settings so the letter writer can make this work? Is the cousin being unreasonable by asking her family to cut off her soon-to-be ex-husband? Is the letter writer lacking empathy for the cousin? Help.
A big sorry to everyone who tried to chat yesterday. The software rebelled and shut down. We will make up for it next week, I promise.
Q: Dear Meredith,
I met my wife through some mutual friends about two years ago. She was visiting Boston and ended up falling in love with the city and decided to give it a try. We ended up spending a great deal of time together and dating.
During that time, I had felt rather happy and satisfied with my life except for one thing -- I had not had a chance to pursue a meaningful relationship. I had spent almost all of my time after college building my life into what I wanted with my job, friends, and family. Because I was new to the dating game, I did anything I could to keep this new relationship alive.
After about five months of us dating, she became very critical of me and began to complain about various details of my life. I would often hear that I would be spending too much time at work, with my family and friends, or that I didn't spend enough time with her. She began to threaten leaving me, and due to my weak sense of self at the time, I did all I could to accommodate her. I changed my job, moved, and essentially devoted as much time as I could into making her happy.
Soon enough we became pregnant and quickly got married. We never got a chance to finish the dating part of our relationship and essentially put it on hold as we prepared for raising a child. We now live closer to her family.
As you can probably guess, we have had a rough marriage. It is now a few years later and I still have problems being happy with our situation and working out our differences. We argue about everything from the smallest quirks to our plans for the future (although we have ensured these emotions don't leak to our child). In a desperate attempt to save our marriage and keep our family together, we saw two different marriage counselors. The first one pushed the idea of a divorce, so we left him to look for another one who would be willing to encourage us to stay together.
Fortunately, the second counselor has been helping us see past our differences and we have become considerably more loving and caring as a couple. We rarely argue now but no matter what happens through the sessions, I cannot be happy. It does not seem like I have any emotional issues, I am just so upset about what has happened and where I am in my life at the moment. My wife seems to be happy and I want nothing more than to be able to share that feeling with her.
As of right now I am having trouble becoming intimate and excited about life again. What can I do? I just want to get over the feeling that I lost control of my life and be happy.
– Want to Stay, Formerly Boston
A: Are you still seeing that second marriage counselor, WTS? Because you have to admit these lingering bad feelings in front of a third party. Counselor No. 2 obviously helped you guys make some huge improvements in your marriage, but you're still stuck. That's something worth discussing.
I can't fix this for you or give you a magic pill to prevent resentment and misery, but I can tell you that you need to start imagining ways to be happy in this relationship. Would you feel closer to your wife and happier about your situation if you lived near your friends and family again? Is there a geographic compromise?
I find it interesting that you bailed from the counselor who pushed you to get a divorce. That person was giving you a way out. You could have easily turned to your wife and said, "Well, the professional has spoken. Let's get this separation rolling." Instead you opted to find a person who could save the marriage. Is that because you love your wife or because you feel obligated to stay? You need to be able to answer that question -- out loud.
I want you to know that you're not the only person who feels like they lost control of their adult life. Sometimes change happens and we just have to cope. That said, your whole goal in life before meeting this woman was to have a great job and to be close to friends and family. By hooking up with her, you've lost all of it. There has to be a way that you can get some of those great things back (proximity to friends, an inspiring job, etc.). I have a feeling that if she prioritized creating a better environment for you, you wouldn't be so sad about staying committed.
I don't know whether I agree with counselor No. 1 or 2., but it sort of depends on whether your wife understands that you need a big community and a full life in order to be happy. Get the answer to that question, even if it means disturbing the peace.
Readers? Do any of us have control? Is he in a marriage that can be saved? How can he let go of this resentment? Am I right to say that he'd be happier if he was closer to friends again? Help.
Q: I am writing for a few hundred unbiased opinions on a situation I have been having with my boyfriend. My friends are amazing listeners who are very supportive, but being agreed with repeatedly is not helping me. I need some fresh points of view. So, here's my "I love him, but…" story.
I live with an amazing man and his two kids from a previous relationship who we have about 50% of the time. We were together when we were younger and found our way back to each other about two years ago, both of us now in our 30s. Nothing in my life has ever felt so right. I am not perfect, he's not perfect, but we're perfect for each other. Before him, I was happily single and I could be again, so I am not with him out of a need to be in a relationship.
The problem has to do with his kids' mother. We all get along, she is recently married, they were apart for years before we got together, and we easily navigate custody without legal assistance. Neither of them has the slightest desire to be with the other in a romantic way. The problem is how frequently she calls/texts him. Their children are young, so there is bound to be more calls than with older children, but she calls at least once most days, usually a couple of times and that is often in addition to multiple texts. The kids have their own phone, so she is not calling to talk to them. The children are healthy, normal kids who do not require any special attention, so I can't figure out what is so important it can't wait until they see each other, which they do almost daily to drop off/pick up the kids. There have been times I know they've spoken more than once and exchanged a few texts and he still doesn't know who has the kids that night. Most calls have something to do with the kids but not always. Even when it is about the kids, it is often something trivial that really doesn't necessitate contact.
The other day, I asked when he last went a day without her calling. The only day he could come up with was the day he drove her and the kids to the airport. We fight about this constantly; he says he doesn't care because she is such a nonentity in his life that he doesn't even notice. I can't understand why it wouldn't bother him unless he wants to hear from her (he never calls her unless he has to). It has gotten to the point where I cannot even be rational when she calls for legitimate reasons.
Am I being unreasonable? Why doesn't he want less of her in his life? Should he set boundaries? How can he do that without creating waves (she can easily be tipped into crazy land and things wouldn't be so good for the kids)? Can you suggest ways for me to just accept it as "the thing" in our relationship?
– Feeling Like the Other Woman, CT
A: I understand why this bothers you, FLTOW, but there isn't much you can/should do about it right now. You've told him that her calls bother you, but it's not like he can ignore his ringing phone. The one time he ignores a call it might be a kid emergency.
I'm giving this woman a break right now for two reasons. The first is that she's sharing custody of two young kids, which means that she can be forgetful. She's probably overwhelmed. She's probably making many to-do lists and then leaving them in the car. Your boyfriend's ex could probably get all of her comments out of the way in one phone call, but she's calling whenever she remembers something tiny. That's just how it goes sometimes.
The other reason I'm giving this woman a temporary break is that she's a newlywed. It takes a long time to establish a good routine with kids, and despite the fact that this custody situation is relatively old, her marriage is new. My guess is that she's basically calling to ask, "Are we doing it right? Are we all still happy and friendly?" If she's calling this many times a day for no good reason in a year or so, you can absolutely talk to your boyfriend about making better choices about when to answer. But by then the circumstances will be different, so just sit tight.
For now, take a deep breath and remember that it could always be worse. She could be calling to yell. She could be not calling at all, which would be bad. Like your friends, I'll validate your feelings, but I can't endorse doing anything about them right now.
Readers? Should the boyfriend limit the calls with the ex? Is it worth rocking the boat with the ex? Am I right about the reasons for the frequency of calls? Is there something she can do to cope with the frequent communication? How can they avoid fighting about this? Discuss.
Just a note: If you have a comment for the letter writer, please post it, even if it's later in the day -- and even if other commenters are talking about other things. The letter writers sift through every comment to get advice no matter what time it's posted. Never assume your comment will be lost in the shuffle. It won't.
Q: My boyfriend and I have been dating for a little over six months and we have a very loving and trusting relationship. We both recognize the long-term potential in this and have started the discussion of getting engaged and moving in together. After a long marriage with five wonderful kids, he got divorced a few years ago. I am also divorced with a young son who adores my boyfriend. Although there is a 15 year age difference between the two of us (I'm younger), we have proven compatible so far in all the important areas of our relationship. Our friends and family have all been extremely supportive of us, and we have both fit comfortably in each other's circles, with one exception: he has not introduced me to his children (except for the eldest).
My boyfriend tells me that the other children know that he has a girlfriend, and that the eldest has been supportive of our relationship in front of his siblings. But I would still like the opportunity to meet the other children in the near future and begin working on having a relationship with them. (They live with their mother.) My boyfriend says he doesn't want to confuse them. I trust his judgment and know that he wants what is best for all parties involved. But I feel like he has two different lives right now: one with me and one with his children. It makes me sad at times when I'm not included in activities with them.
I am trying to be gentle with broaching this topic again with my boyfriend because I know he feels pulled in a bunch of different directions. I just wonder whether his reluctance to introduce me to his children is a sign of his insecurity about our future. Are we moving too fast? Shouldn't I meet the children before we move in together? Do I even have a right to influence this important decision?
– I want to be part of the family too, Newton
A: You should absolutely meet his kids before you move in with him, but it just might be too early for any of your big plans. Sure, you're talking about long-term goals, but it's only been six months. Do you really need to do these things right now? Maybe he wants some time to enjoy you and this wonderful, fun phase of your relationship before he begins to deal with a more complicated reality. Once you meet the kids (and the ex-wife), it becomes a different kind of partnership. When you talk about getting engaged, do you mean right now?
My advice is to tell him what you need, as opposed to telling him how you think he should deal with his kids. You can say, "I'm just not comfortable moving in with you until I've met the kids." You can say, "I respect that you're not ready for me to meet your family, but can we come up with some ideas about when and how I should introduce myself?"
My guess is that as happy as he is, he's overwhelmed by the next steps. I don't blame him. I would talk to him about his timeline and ask questions about how he feels. (As in, "I imagine that this introduction will be scary for you. How do you feel about it?") Be clear about your needs and ask him about his. Understand that even after you meet the kids, you won't always be a part of these family activities.
And … enjoy all of the great things that happen at six months. It's fantastic that you're serious about each other, but six months is six months. You need to have a conversation with this guy about whether your long-term plans should be called just that.
Readers? Should he be coming up with a timeline? Should marriage be on the table? How can she manage her expectations? Should they be discussing these big things if he's not ready to introduce her to his kids? Discuss.
We're down to the Final Four. If you like any of those sexy movies and want to see them with friends (or a date) on Feb. 10, buy your $8 tickets here. Film critic Wesley Morris and I will be there to watch and squirm with you.
Also, someone in yesterday's chat asked me to explain why the time stamp on letters is usually about 20 to 30 minutes off from the time the day's letter is actually posted. I answered that question at about 1:38, if you're interested.
Q: Hi Meredith,
I am a divorced father of a wonderful daughter. I've been divorced for almost 10 years, and while it's been a rocky road for me at times, I think I've moved on for the most part. My ex (let's call her Jane) and I have shared custody of our daughter. We have gotten along very well when it comes to raising our child. Recently, however, I have grown increasingly concerned about some of Jane's behavior and how it might affect my daughter. I just don't know how to handle it appropriately.
A bit of background: My marriage ended because Jane had been cheating on me for several years with several different people. I tried everything under the sun to try and save the situation for our daughter's sake and for my own. We tried counseling and various other things to try to fix the situation. In the end nothing helped, and Jane finally told me she was leaving me for a guy she had been seeing for some time and she was going to file for divorce regardless of what I wanted. Jane ended up marrying this guy a year or two later. He has kids of his own, and whether I like it or not, my daughter has grown close to his kids and now considers them to be family.
I told Jane when we broke up that regardless of how I felt, she better not "mess up" again because of the impact it would have on our child. I told her if she broke our daughter's heart again by messing up another marriage and once again turning her life upside down, I would not hesitate to file for full custody. As far as I am concerned, another divorce would show that Jane is completely self-absorbed and an unfit parent.
Flash forward to today. I'm still very close to Jane's family, since my daughter is their family. They also know the basics of what happened between Jane and me, and they have always been very supportive. Recently, one of them added me as a Facebook friend. This means that all of a sudden I can see a lot of Jane's Facebook activity, as we are now "Friends of Friends" of each other, in Facebook terms. For a while I tried not to look. But eventually my curiosity got the best of me. I can't see a lot, but I can see some of her activity and her friends' list, etc.
Facebook ethical dilemmas aside (I will do whatever I feel I need to do as a father to protect my daughter's best interests, and I can't help it if Jane doesn't understand the ins and outs of Facebook's byzantine privacy configurations), I now know things that are of great concern to me. Jane has been spending a lot of time with an old friend. My daughter told me that her mother even shared a "scorpion bowl" at lunch with this guy one day (and then drove with my daughter in the car, which is a whole different concern!). I think a lot of this time has been spent without the current husband around.
The bottom line is that I am seeing what appears to be a re-emergence of a pattern of behaviors that I am unfortunately very familiar with. Given Jane's history, I think my concerns are legitimate. I don't really care about how this impacts the new husband. It would be karmic justice if it only affected him, as far as I'm concerned. Unfortunately, such behavior doesn't just affect the new husband. My only concern is that Jane may once again be cheating, or is certainly tempting fate, and that this could lead to another messy divorce, which would hurt my daughter in ways I don't even want to think about. She would lose a family that she's become close to.
What do I do here? How do I confront Jane about my concerns? Is it even appropriate for me to do so? I just want to do whatever I can to protect my child in this mess. It took her several years to adjust to one new reality. I don't want her to have to start all over again if her mother is being as selfish as I think she is. Am I way off-base here?
– Concerned Father in Boston
A: You have every right to protect your child, CFIB. That means you can ask for custody if you feel that your ex is truly an unfit parent. You can absolutely talk about the rules (drinking, driving, who she brings the child around, etc.) and seek legal counseling about what can be done to enforce those rules. You can confront her about the scorpion bowl and the fact that your daughter has mentioned being exposed to new people who may or may not be appropriate company.
But … you can't determine the fate of your ex's marriage. You can't tell her that she's not allowed to get a divorce. If your ex-wife does turn out to be miserable in her marriage and wants to leave her husband, you can't force her to stick around. All you can do is respond to her behavior. You can ask her to reevaluate custody. You can set new rules. You can ask professionals for guidance.
My advice is to tell your ex that your daughter has mentioned some weird things. Tell her that you're concerned about what those things mean. Listen to what your ex has to say before Facebook allows you to create your own narrative. You told us that you usually get along with your ex when it comes to raising your daughter. Work with that.
No matter what she says, know that you can't change this woman. You can't force her to be a good wife or to stay put if she wants to leave. All you can do is make decisions based on how she behaves. That's certainly a good lesson to teach your daughter as she gets older.
Readers? How should he address this with his ex? Can he help her stay married? Is she really an unfit parent if she gets divorced again? What should he do? Help.
I just recently separated from my wife of 15 years. Totally my fault. I was not totally happy in my marriage so I had an affair. Not the right thing to do, but can't change the past. I know that it will be a tough road ahead, but I made my bed and now I am lying in it.
Here is my dilemma. My high school sweetheart, who was also married, is also in the process of a divorce. We have started chatting again -- nothing serious -- but talking/texting/emailing. I told her that I did still have feelings for her after all these years. It was a great relationship, but it ended quickly when I went off to college. She agreed that there was unfinished business, but she did not want to be the reason that I got divorced.
Since I moved out, I have asked her out a few times but something always comes up. I am thinking I may be too sensitive? Maybe she does not want to go out, maybe she does -- but why does she not have the same time table I do? Am I crazy for being so sensitive? Every time I decide that I am not going to contact her, she calls or text me!
When we dated in high school she had seen a movie, Mr. Destiny. The theme of the movie is: "Would you give up everything you have ever had for everything you ever wanted?" At the time I said no, because she was what I had, but now is she everything I ever wanted?
– Mr. Destiny, Central Mass.
A: MD, one of my first rules about dating and marriage is: Do not compare your relationships to movies that feature Jim Belushi. Not even "About Last Night." Although I do love that one.
In real life, you're separated from your wife of many years and have no idea what you need. Instead of deciding that this high school sweetheart is the answer to your problems, get to know yourself. Think about what you've done and what's to come. Consider that you might need time to process all that's happened. You can't give up what you have for this ex like you're in a movie. No one is giving you that option -- especially not her. Please take some time off from pursuing a relationship and get into therapy.
And know this: In the real world, we all have unfinished business with exes and crushes. Life just isn't long enough to finish our business with everyone. What-ifs are normal.
The warm feelings you're having for her right now? They're fueled by nostalgia. That's why you're quoting '90s movies. Take some space, get back to the present, and deal with your loss. It's too soon to ask anyone to be on your time table -- because you don't have one yet.
Readers? Can you help Mr. Destiny? What's happening with the ex? Help.
I'll run updates later this week. If you're a letter writer and you want to send an update, email it to meregoldstein at gmail with "UPDATE" in the subject line.
Q: Dear Meredith,
I have recently ended a relationship with a wonderful guy. Let's call him Mr. Green. He was my stab at "green dating" (the recycling of ex-boyfriends) after my marriage of 15 years ended. Mr. G contacted me out of the blue via Facebook almost a year after my breakup and we reconnected there. We have spent the past 2+ years in a relationship that I knew was doomed from the start.
I was honest with him from the get-go. I am not interested in ever being married again or even living with another man. I enjoyed his company, he was great with my kids, but the same issues we had 20+years ago were still valid. We are just ultimately not compatible. He has never been married and has his own emotional issues. He's a wonderfully sensitive guy and I love him very much but love isn't enough.
I ended the relationship last year but accepted a friendship with him. It was infrequent visits at first but then it became a monthly thing. We became friends with benefits and I felt like we were back in the thick of it again. I wasn't feeling compelled to go out there and meet others, nor was he.
One of our major differences is that I am demonstrative of my feelings and he lives in an emotional straight jacket. I get why, but it doesn't make me want to stay with him. I have now ended it for good and this time there will be no "friendship." I still care for him, I am still alone and he is too. Seeing each other will end up only one way. It’s unproductive for both our lives.
He is hurt that I won't be his friend. He says it's unprogressive of me, someone who prides herself on being a liberal-minded person. Am I wrong to not try to just be his friend? Can lovers really be friends after such intimacy? More than the proverbial innocuous holiday email that some exes can share, I don't believe you can just be friends without that tension or those old feelings coming up. Maybe I just wear my feelings too outwardly? Maybe I should restrain my feelings like him. Or maybe we just can't be friends. What do you think?
– Green Dater, Boston
A: It's not "unprogressive" to keep your distance, GD. It's honest and wise. Some exes are more than capable of being friends, but you guys aren't. So that's that. No friendship, at least not while you're single and vulnerable to making mistakes.
You can't change who you are. You can't bottle up your feelings and stay on your side of the friendship couch while he's sitting there just two cushions away. My guess is that he knows this, and that he's hoping that after another reconciliation or two you'll change your mind about him.
Explain that you need this space to figure out what it really feels like to be broken up. And tell him that dealing with the loss of an ex isn't about being liberal-minded. It's about protecting yourself. It's about reality. Assure him that a friendship might be possible -- later. But for now you need space. Your gut is right about that.
Readers? Thoughts on being "liberal" about post-breakup friendships? Thoughts on green dating? Is she being fair? Discuss.
Thanks to everyone who came to the Missed Connections party last night. It was a good time.
Q: Hey Meredith,
For the last couple of months I have been in what we'll call a "deep discussion" with my wife and I would like some help with the following question: Does your spouse have the right to look through your mobile phone?
Before you answer let me give you a little background. My wife and I have been married for a little over a year now. We are both in our 40s; I'm on the short end and she is on the long end of 40. We were both previously married. She's been divorced for more than a decade and I've been divorced for about a year (if you do the math, we didn't date long, a little over a year, before getting married). One other important note is that I have two children who are under 10.
So back to the question. I've noticed that my wife has been looking through my mobile phone for about four months now. About three months ago I asked her why she was looking. (I had nothing to hide and didn't really care. I thought she would find it boring and soon stop). Her answer was that she wanted to know how many times I was talking to my ex-wife. My ex and I have put our past aside and we now have a business-like relationship to raise our two kids. I have explained this to my wife since day one but she still gets visibly upset when my ex-wife calls, which is not often.
In the last two months she has started questioning me about every local number she does not recognize. Every time this has happened, I've explained who it was. I keep asking her why she does not trust me and why is she going through my phone. The only real answer I get is: "Because I can.”
Well, last night it all came to a head. I think this was being a little passive-aggressive but I deleted my phone history to see what she would do. As a result we got into a huge argument. I asked her again why she had to go through my phone, and the answer was: "Because as your wife I can.”
After discussing this topic for an hour or so, I told her I would post this question to our friends on Facebook to see how they would respond. But instead I wanted to ask you.
Is there a right or wrong answer to this question? Does my wife have a truck load of baggage that I missed or am I just in way over my head. Any advice would be most helpful. I love me wife to bits but not sure how much longer I can put up with this.
– Should I Stay or Should I Go...NOW!!, Boston
A: Don't post this question on Facebook, SISOSIGN. This isn't a playful question. It's an issue that's ruining your new marriage and no one's going to be able to give you a definitive answer. Not even me. Some couples share cell phones. Some are more private. There are different rules for every partnership. The important thing is that you develop those rules together and respect them.
In your case, the cell phone obsession is about something else. Your wife seems to have major problems with trust, privacy, and control.
Get to a therapist with her and figure out who you married. Is this someone who understands what you need to do with your ex in order to successfully raise your children? Did you marry this woman for the right reasons? Why did you get married so quickly? What were your expectations for the partnership? How are you functioning as a family?
You must see a professional and talk about the big things. The phone is a little thing. It's just the catalyst for talking about issues that should have been discussed before you made this commitment. But it's not too late. Go talk to someone. Soon. Don't let the phone issue distract you.
Readers? What are your cell phone rules? What's happening here? Does he want to stay married? What questions should have been answered before this marriage began? What should he do now? Discuss.
Remember to be constructive with advice.
Q: Dear Meredith,
I can hardly believe I am writing this. But here it goes:
A few years ago, I got involved with someone. I was married at the time and he was allegedly single. We had been talking as friends online for years before that. I never thought I would do that, but I did. I had been trying to save my marriage on my own for many years and I finally succumbed to the temptation of someone new. Let's call him Steve. During this time I never once lied to anyone about my current state. My then husband knew exactly where I was and even knew who I was with. I went away weekends with Steve and my husband knew. I knew my marriage was over for good then.
I fell head-over-heels in love with Steve. He was everything I ever wanted in a man. Then I learned Steve was indeed still married. I should have walked away then but it was too late. I was in love, my marriage was over, and he assured me his was over long before he met me. I came to find out that he had walked away from his marriage several times prior to meeting me but that he always went back for the sake of his young child.
After I divorced my husband I found a place. It was with the understanding that once my divorce was final, he would start to finalize his.
He didn't. The first excuse was he didn't have the money to do so.
We broke up for a while after that. He wanted to come back. I told him I wasn't taking him back until he moved forward with his divorce. He promised me he was going to and had even talked to his wife about it and she agreed to the divorce. He moved in with me, and I let him borrow the money he needed to get his divorce done. His excuse then was we needed to wait until we were settled into our house together. That was in the spring.
I put my foot down again this summer and told him he had a month to file his divorce papers. He said he would, he made a lame attempt to do the paperwork ... but it sits uncompleted and unfiled.
I've made another demand for it to get done and this time the excuse is he's afraid of losing his son (ridiculous -- they have a great relationship) and his retirement to a divorce.
Please, Meredith and readers, give me the kick in the pants I obviously need. He's never going to divorce his wife and I really need to move on.
– Needs a Good Kick in the Pants, Mass.
A: You already know what you have to do, NAGKITP, so I'm not going to focus on kicking you.
Instead I'm going to boost you up and assure you that you're going to be OK. You've learned so many things about yourself during this relationship, and it helped you find our way into a new life. That new life is set (you're divorced, you're in your own place, etc.), and you can finally focus on enjoying it -- alone or with someone who isn't caught up in a lie.
I don't want you to punish yourself for wasting time. Sometimes we need to get the runaround three or four times before we're sure about a decision. I bet that a year or so ago you wouldn't have been confident enough to write the last sentence of your letter, but you did this time around and that means you're ready for great things.
Prepare yourself, because when you tell him that you're done with him, he might run and file that divorce paperwork. And if he does, do you care? Because it seems to me that it's too late, no matter what.
Readers? If he runs and gets a divorce because she breaks up with him, should she take him back? Thoughts on recovering after such a long, messy relationship? Help.
I have been in a long-term, long-distance relationship with someone that I care for deeply. We are both mid-50s, have already had our families, have each had substantial therapy, and now have a loving relationship based on sincere open and honest communication.
The long-distance is not a problem -- we actually like it -- but he's still married after many years and that has become a problem for me. I got my divorce finalized a few years ago and am so relieved to have it over. He has not moved on his divorce, claiming he didn't want "to rock the boat" when he moved out. Now, years later, his not-yet-ex has calmed down but is still a loose cannon. He says being technically married doesn't or shouldn't matter. He feels guilty about hurting her feelings. I think he is intimidated by her and afraid for how she might take it out on their children, plus, he doesn’t want to pay for a divorce lawyer. If he is waiting for her to make the first move, she has no motivation. It's never going to happen. She has the big house and all the trappings of a suburban housewife without letting on to the rest of the world what is really happening.
Despite our pride in our honest, open relationship, he has had a brick wall about this subject until I made an issue of it recently. We have no plans to get married; we don't even plan to move to one coast or the other. I truly do not think he would ever go back to his wife. Every day when he tells me he loves me, in the back of my head I think, "... but not enough to get divorced." And every day when I tell him that I love him, in the back of my mind I think, "... but I can't completely because he's not really available."
I don't know if I'm off base here. My usual reaction would be to cut and run, but everything else is so good with him. In the spirit of our openness, I kept talking and did not give up and neither did he. He finally realized that he had to explain himself to me and at least told me of the guilt factor. If the guilt is so strong, why doesn't he make amends?
Am I making this into too big a deal? Does it matter? Is this a deal breaker? Or is it ill-fated? I'm tired of dating a married man.
– Limbo Lady, Boston
A: This is a big deal, LL. You're dating a married man and you don't like it. Your comfort should mean more to him than his fear of causing trouble with his ex.
I do think that it's a deal-breaker. If he wants you, he can't be with her -- not in real life, not on paper.
Demand the divorce. Tell him that if he doesn't know how to start the process, he should head back to his therapist (and yes, pay for a lawyer).
And ... let me throw just one more thing out there, if you don't mind. You say that the distance doesn’t bother you, but ... doesn't it? Just a little bit?
I'm all for personal space, and I condone long-distance relationships that are either short-term or in neighboring cities, but for the most part, it's best to be physically close to the one you love. This distance is allowing him to avoid his responsibilities and to lie to his ex. It's certainly allowing him to remain stagnant with you. I want you to ask yourself: What is the plan for the future? How should this relationship look in two years? Does the distance really work?
Be honest. You're allowed to ask for everything you want.
Readers? Should she demand the divorce? Why isn't he getting divorced? Is age relevant here? Should she walk? Does the divorce paperwork really matter? What about the distance? Help.
Q: I've been in a relationship with "Kevin" for about two years. We're both in our late thirties/early forties. I love the time I spend with him. We travel a lot and spend time with my young child and his young kids. Our lives have merged nicely together over the last year or so -- family dinners with the kids, vacations, the whole nice family scene. So when Kevin asked my child and me to move in with him and his kids, it only seemed natural. He suggested we buy a house together.
But I'm having second thoughts. He says he's not ready to get married. His first marriage ended in a very bad divorce. I sense that he's gun-shy about doing it again. I get that. My divorce was no picnic either.
My big concern is that he'll never be "ready." It recently occurred to me that people don't stay around his life for very long. The people that have been around more than a few years are either colleagues -- or high school buddies who like to hang out at his really nice house. People stick around if there's a financial aspect to the relationship.
It's the people he knows on a purely social level that seem to disappear after a while -- neighbors, parents of his kids' friends, etc. If they just faded away naturally, I wouldn't be so concerned, but at least three former friends have told him off about something and angrily stopped talking to him -- all of them women. From the stories his kids tell, it seems that these people used to spend a lot of time with them – birthdays, weekend trips, etc. I've asked him what happened, and the explanation always centers on some minor disagreement. He can't understand why the person would "overreact" like they do and then he claims the person is "crazy." I haven't met any of these people and I don't know enough about the arguments to know if these people are crazy or not, but it's weird for it to happen over and over again.
I also have reservations about his divorce. He still refers to his ex-wife by a derogatory nickname -- even in front of the kids. He'll tell anyone who listens that the divorce was all her fault. He also has no explanation for why she left other than "she's crazy." Then he will go on and on about everything he did for her and how he couldn't understand why she wouldn't be happy. My husband left me, too, and it took me by surprise, but years later I have some insight into how our marriage broke down. Kevin has no insights like that at all. It's all very strange and uncomfortable and I'm not convinced he's over her.
This leads me to wonder if he's capable of a stable, long-term relationship with anyone, especially a woman. Our relationship seems wonderful. He and I and our kids have a nice life going here. Am I the next "crazy" person to leave in a huff or should I stop worrying about it? Should I move in with him and see how it goes or insist on a marriage proposal?
– Am I The Next Crazy One?, Massachusetts
A: My first piece of advice: Don't insist on a marriage proposal. You don't know if you want to marry him, so it seems weird to demand that he ask. You're allowed to take your time and answer these questions before you pressure him (or yourself) to move forward.
My questions for you: Does he make you feel safe? Does he listen to you when you have problems? Does he ever show signs of empathy for others? Does he only empathize when it suits him?
Based on what you've told us, my biggest issue with you guys moving in together is the name calling. You have every right to tell him that you don't want to combine households with a guy who calls his ex by a mean name. You want to set an example for your young child. No negative nicknames. That has to be a rule.
Make a list of other rules you keep in your own home. Can this man respect them? Does he understand them? Will he listen? If you're not so sure, it's not safe to buy a house with him. You don't want to get stuck.
Bring up the name calling and see how he responds. If he respects the complaint and can participate in a good discussion about how you want to frame your divorces in front of your children, that's a sign that he's not "crazy." If he barks at you for questioning him or accuses you of being nuts, that's a sign of something else.
Good luck. Ask your questions and make that list. I want you to feel safe and respected in your home.
Readers? Anyone call their ex names in front of kids? Is that ever OK? Should this LW be concerned about marriage? What should she do? Is it possible that all of the people who left him were crazy? Discuss.
Q: Dear Meredith,
This is a tough letter for me to write. I am a 30something wife and mother of two small children. My husband and I have had numerous relationship problems over the past few years that have basically left me on emotional life support. I have not cheated physically on my husband; my father cheated on my mother which left me absolutely repulsed by the thought of infidelity. I have been leaning on one of my close male friends during this time for support. This includes after-hours talking, texting, other contact, lunches together, etc. It has also included the occasional hug, hand-holding, and that sort of minimal physical contact. My husband is aware of our friendship and has already once falsely accused me of cheating. To say that I feel closer to my friend than my husband at this point is absolutely true. I am trying to figure out a way to extricate myself from my marriage that leaves the least negative impression on my children (my primary concern). But in the meantime, this thought keeps coming up (and hence my question)... is what I am doing "emotional cheating"? What is emotional cheating? Does the fact that I am closer emotionally to a man that isn't my spouse make me a cheater?
– Haunted by the Thought, Boston
A: Is it cheating to be closer to a friend than a spouse? Not necessarily.
Are you cheating on your husband with your friend? Pretty much. Sorry.
You're pursing your feelings for another man. And you're holding hands, an act that can be more physically intimate than sex (depending on the hands and the sex).
That said, I'm not so sure that what you're doing with your friend is worth focusing on right now. The specifics or your relationship have nothing to do with what happened to your parents, and you have other, more important concerns to deal with.
My advice is to stop worrying about your friend and deal with your marriage. Get into therapy with your husband. Start talking about the fact that you want to extricate yourself from the partnership. Make plans for your children. Consider logistics. Worry less about how to label what's happening.
Obsessing about your relationship with your friend and how your behavior might parallel your father's is just a way to distract yourself from the real issue, your potential divorce. Going into a shame spiral about cheating won't help you right now.
Work on defining what it means to be in a broken marriage.
Readers? Is she cheating? Is that important? What should she be focused on right now? Should she be drawing parental parallels? Discuss.
Q: Hi Mere,
The short summary of my question is: How do I indicate to a lady friend that I'm no longer interested in her? My situation is complicated because (a) I previously did indicate that I had an interest in her but was unavailable (I was responding to her asking me out); and (b) the way she's acting right now is why I'm no longer interested. She seems to be making bad life choices.
The background: We worked together and became friends. We're in our 40s and have similar interests. She is divorced.
When she first expressed an interest in me, it was probably because I was showing new signs that I was single. I was flattered that she showed interest in me and told her so, but explained that I was still married and would be for a while for many reasons. I feel I made the mistake of agreeing with her assessment that "it was too bad, because we both seemed very compatible."
We remained friends and while we continued to talk, I didn't notice anything different or troubling about our interactions. I also got the impression that she had started to see someone -- and I was happy for her. Meanwhile, I did start my divorce proceedings and moved away from my wife.
The potential complication is that a mutual friend recently informed me that my friend is wondering what she should do about her current guy now that I'm "available." I'm thinking "Nice ... but wow, what if I was in his shoes? That wouldn't be nice.” This also tells me that another invitation from her is headed my way.
To complicate this, I've learned from friends that they really feel I ought to stay as far away from her as I can. Apparently, she has dated a married man we both know. This has since been confirmed to me.
My assessment is that this woman might be going through a big rebound phase. I think that she'll come back to earth eventually and be somewhat the same person I liked as a friend -- and maybe a potential partner. I can take the high road and say, "I've met someone else, sorry...," which is a downright lie. Or I can tell the truth and say, "I was very concerned seeing you date inappropriate people and that's just not the type of person I'd like to start a new relationship with."
So have at it advice givers. Give me some food for thought. I'll make up my own mind, but how would "you" handle this if you were in my shoes and you received a re-invitation?
– How do I handle this?, Massachusetts
A: HDIHT, you don't have to initiate a conversation with her about this. If she asks you out, you can decline. You can explain to her that you're just in different places in life (that's the truth, by the way). She's been out of her marriage and dating for a while. Meanwhile, you're just figuring this stuff out. You'd rather be her friend. No need to lie or get nasty.
You mention that she's rebounding and might be a good partner down the road. I'm not so sure you're right. She slept with a married person, and that person is someone you know. That mess would follow you around.
My advice is to set some boundaries with her and to start expanding your circle of friends. Your world is too small right now. You need new faces, new experiences. Once you start seeking that stuff out, everyone in your world -- including this woman – will get the hint.
Readers? Are there nonverbal ways he can tell her that he doesn’t want to date her? Will she be a better partner later? Does she deserve a shot? Help.
Q: Hello Meredith and fellow LL devotees,
I'm desperate for your advice, or at the very least, a reality check. Help a girl out.
I am in my mid-20s and have been in a wonderful, loving relationship for about a year and a half. (I always hate letters that start out like this -- my initial reaction is always something along the lines of "so shut up and be happy!") My boyfriend is in his early 30s and is everything I have ever wanted or looked for, and I'll spare you the nauseating list, but it stretches long and far. It has not always been smooth sailing for us, and we've had to navigate some tricky situations -- he has a child from a previous relationship and is a very involved father -- but we always seem to find a way around the difficulties. We both truly believe we were meant to find one another, and we are better people with each other than without.
The problem is not my boyfriend, but his female friend. She works with my boyfriend and was around long before I came into the picture. They carpool, she helps with his son, and she is a regular fixture in both of their lives. Although they do not usually socialize on weekends, she is invited to birthday parties and other family events, and on a couple of occasions she has joined us out with friends or to eat. All of this is A-OK in my book.
Where I begin to have an issue is her feelings toward me. It was made clear to me before I met this woman that she has long carried an unrequited torch for my boyfriend. When he broke up with his child's mother, this woman made a not-so-subtle effort to start dating him. He always politely refused her invitations for one-on-one socializing, and soon after, he and I met and began dating. The first few times I met her last summer she was cold, snide, condescending -- all of which I expected from a woman scorned. I realized it would take her a bit of time to get over the slight and that eventually she might come around.
Unfortunately their carpooling routine seems to have prevented her from getting over anything. She still texts my boyfriend constantly, even on weekends. She is still very cold to me, even going so far as to be upset with my boyfriend for not "warning" her that I would be stopping by his house when she was still hanging around after carpooling one afternoon. She said she was "caught off guard" -- well, considering that my boyfriend lives here, and I am his girlfriend, I find that to be a tad ridiculous and presumptuous on her part.
This has become a big problem recently, as my boyfriend just purchased a new home. I assisted him financially with the purchase and after his child gets settled in the new house, the intention is to have me move in with them. My name is not legally on the mortgage, but this was very much a joint endeavor emotionally. We see ourselves in this house for many years to come and expect my name to go on the legal paperwork a few years down the road. This woman has been around to help my boyfriend with the move, and despite my deep involvement with the house, she continues to request to receive a "heads up" from my boyfriend when I will be there. Also, after hearing me talk about "our house," she expressed to him via text message (no snooping -- we are very open with our phones and I saw her message) that she is concerned that I'm under the impression that it's my house too and started asking if I was planning on moving any of my stuff in. In my opinion, none of the above is her business. But my boyfriend's response was measured -- he told her that it is legally his house, but that since I am his girlfriend, that makes it partly mine as well. Which is true, but his response felt like a tiptoe around her attacks rather than the rebuttal I was hoping he'd give.
Mere, is it wrong to expect my boyfriend to put an end to her hater parade once and for all? Am I being unrealistic or catty? I've asked my boyfriend to say something directly, but he feels too badly about "breaking her heart" and thinks I should just have some sympathy for her and let it go. She is no threat to our relationship, but I'm uncomfortable and angry still.
Gah. I'm baffled.
– She Can't Stop Being A Hater, CT
A: You're right, SCSBAH. You're right about everything. Your boyfriend must set boundaries with this woman. If he doesn't, he's disrespecting your relationship and leading her on. I mean, how does he think this is going to play out? This situation won't fix itself.
She shouldn't be texting him all weekend. She shouldn't be around so much. She shouldn't be intimating you. And you shouldn't be expected to defend yourself to some woman who wishes you were out of the picture.
My guess is that your boyfriend doesn't want to be the bad guy and that he's trying to avoid alienating a woman who's been a help when it comes to single parenting. He's probably conflict averse in general after all he's been through. He's used to just saying what he needs to say to keep as many people as happy as possible. But it's time for some honesty. You're moving in and this woman deserves to know.
Tell your boyfriend that it's time to start disclosing to friends and family that you're preparing for cohabitation -- and that the house belongs to both of you. That should silence this woman -- or send her over the edge. Either way, there will be a change.
I don't think your boyfriend is capable of having a real sit-down with this woman about her bad attitude, but telling her the stuff about the house should send her all the right messages. Make that disclosure your one demand. For now. One demand isn't overwhelming.
Readers? I know the boyfriend is in the wrong, but should the LW have more empathy for this woman? Why isn't he saying what he needs to say? Will a disclosure about the house change things? Thoughts about the house and her contribution? Discuss.
Q: Hi Meredith, et al.,
OK, so my question is the question that has probably been asked a zillion times.
Where do professional single women (no kids) over the age of 35 go to meet professional single men who are interested in dating women over 35?
I've tried the internet, meet ups, sporting events (participant and spectator), but it appears most men are interested in girls under 35. Those who are interested in the 36 and up range tend to be on the older side (like 50 and older). I am 37. I am looking to meet men between 33-45 (ideally).
I am attractive, educated, successful, outgoing, happy, blah, blah, blah, but I can't shake this feeling that my age is hindering my chances to meet a nice, available guy.
I've been told by my guy friends that men are scared of girls over 35 because these guys think the girls want to get married and pregnant right away. Is this true? Sure, I want those things, but I am not running around with a registry gun looking to pounce on the first single guy who asks me out.
I've also been told that I am at a "bad" age. This means that all the single guys in my age range are either on or past the threshold of being confirmed bachelors (in other words, they have issues). The rest are married. One friend told me that I am going to have to wait for the married men to divorce in order to find a decent guy. Yikes, really? I don't want to believe this either.
And just so everyone knows, I am very happy with my life. I don’t feel like I need a man to complete me; however, having a partner would be the icing on the proverbial cake.
So what's a girl (and all the other never married, single girls) to do?
I know these guys are out there.
– Where are they hiding?, Boston
A: WATH, you are at an awkward age for dating. Not a bad age (that sounds too negative), just awkward. I won't lie to you and make the situation sound rosier than it is. You may not be running around with a registry gun, but the vibe is there. You're a 37-year-old who wants marriage and kids (right?). That means your timeline is different than a 28-year-old's, and men your age are (and should be) concerned about wasting your time.
Also, your friends are right about the marriage/divorce stuff. I can't make that reality sound better than it is. A lot of people your age are married. And many of them will be divorced. They're just not there yet.
But there is some good news here, I swear. Statistics aside, dating is awkward at any age. There might be plenty of options at 28, but no one feels accountable. At your age, you can assess suitors without having to wonder what they'll be like when they grow up. And while many singles (not just men) do like to date younger people, some don't. I remember a male friend of mine once saying to me, "I want to date a peer." Those guys exist.
You should accept is that this process will be slow. I can't promise you that you'll meet someone soon, and you will have to continue doing all of that work (classes, teams, set-ups, websites, etc.) to improve your odds. I know it's exhausting, but that's reality. Keep on truckin' and remember that yes, you're at an awkward age, but you're also at an honest one. That's a huge help.
Readers? Is she at a "bad" age? Will she have to wait for people to get divorced? Anything she should be doing to make this better? Do most men want to date younger women -- or is that just an online dating thing? Discuss.
Q: Hi there,
I am a lurker and occasional commenter, but now I find myself needing your (and your LL crew's) advice before I possibly screw up the most wonderful, fulfilling relationship I've ever been in. We have the best time together and I feel so safe when he's around.
I'm a 30-something single mom who's been divorced for almost a decade and there's no drama in that department -- except that I haven't been able to tell any man I've dated that I love him. I've been in a relationship with a genuinely sweet guy named "Ted" for the past year. For the first time in years I'm dying to tell Ted I'm madly in love with him. Here's the catch. He's freshly divorced single dad coming out of a horrible marriage. He's in the same mental place I was in so long ago. At the very beginning he said he didn't want to be alone, but didn't know if he could be in another serious relationship. Well, we've been in this fabulous relationship for the past year. I need to tell him I love him, but am so afraid he'll bolt because he'll realize he's been a serious relationship and suddenly feel boxed in. I NEVER want him to feel pressured to say he loves me too if he's not ready. I just need to tell him how I feel.
Please, what do I do? Do I tell him how I feel and hope for the best? Should I keep my mouth shut and hope eventually he'll tell me how he feels? It's been a year. Should I feel this anxious about saying "I love you" in the first place?
– Lovesick in Boston
A: LIB, just say it. But don't make a big deal about it. Don't sit him down and say, "There's something I have to tell you." Just say it when it feels right and let it be a nice thing.
Those three words mean different things to everyone. They don't have to mean that you want to marry him and that you expect to be with him forever. In your case they mean that you're having an awesome time and that you feel safe knowing that he's in your life.
My guess is that he'll be as anxious about the statement as you are. Humans smell fear, so don't freak out. Just say it. And if he seems confused or concerned, just tell him to relax and then explain what those words represent.
You've been together for a year. I don't think that he's going to be shocked to hear that you love him. I'd be a little worried if you didn't. Don't make the words larger than life and he won't either.
Readers? Should she wait until he says it first? After a year, should this be an issue? Is his life too turbulent for "love" to be introduced? Discuss.
Q: Hi Meredith,
A married friend of mine (yes, this truly is a friend) in his early 30s confided in me more than a year ago that he's bisexual and that he had recently told his wife. She was a little blindsided, seeing as how they had been together for a long time, but she was very supportive. He realized that it would be tough having to suppress a side of him that he's never truly been able to explore, but he acknowledged that he wanted to make his marriage work.
When the topic came up between us, he always had indicated that the situation was going well and that he wasn't worried about the future. But soon enough, he and his wife told our group of friends that they were getting a divorce. They maintain that they are best friends and that there are no hard feelings, but it is a devastating situation for both of them. For financial reasons, they'll be staying in the same place for a while, which in my opinion isn't such a good idea. My wife and I are very close with both of them, as are all of our mutual friends.
I would appreciate some advice on how we (me, my friend, his wife, our group of friends, etc.) support this major change in our close friends' lives and make it easier for him and
his (soon to be ex-)wife to move forward. One issue that we (friends) have run into is deciding how soon to try to set either of these people up on dates or introduce them to other singles that we know. And while the friends have not taken a side, we have all agreed that if the ex-husband decides that he does in fact want to be with a woman after he tries dating men, and if that woman isn't his soon-to-be ex-wife, then more than a few of our female friends are going to be pretty angry with him.
– Looking to be supportive, Mass.
A: LTBS, let's not even worry about the "What if he dates another woman?!" question. That hasn't happened, so don't go there.
The best thing to do right now is to ask your friends what they want. Do they want to be invited to the same events? Do they want to be set up, and if so, do they want that information kept secret? Let them guide you.
And do your best to spend some alone time with each of them. They might be best friends, but the group can't pretend that nothing has changed. They shouldn't be treated like a couple. Alone time gives each of them the chance to talk about how they really feel.
Also, expect that one or both of them might find some new friends. He might seek out a different community, and she might want to be around some folks who don't know about this mess. Be flexible and don't take anything too personally.
I know it's tough to be in the middle. Just keep asking questions, and make sure to get them alone for real discussions as often as you can.
Readers? Should the LW even be thinking about setting these people up with others? What do you do if you're a friend in the middle of this? What about the idea of the husband seeking out other women in this process? Discuss.
A one-day contest for "One Day" tickets:
Send me two sentences about the most significant day in any of your past relationships -- with the year on top. Here's an example:
He took me to Plum Island and I stood on a rock so that I was his height. Then he gave me a kiss.
The most interesting two-sentence descriptions will win a pass to see the movie "One Day," which is based on a very good book. Send entries to meregoldstein at gmail by 2 p.m. with ONE DAY in the subject line. I'll pick winners by the morning.
I'm going to pretend I'm Anne Hathaway and read all of your entries out loud to myself in a British accent. Cheerio!
And remember to chat at 1.
Q: "Brian" and I have been together for about a year. I'm in my early 30s and he's in his mid-40s. We had a friendly work relationship for several years. When my husband suddenly left me, Brian, who is divorced, was very supportive. We became lovers and he was my knight in shining armor during the worst period of my life. Things eventually got serious. Now we're inseparable. We spend every weekend together – mostly at his vacation house nearby. We take vacations when our kids are not with us. He regularly invites my friends and family to his beach house and is very generous with them. He recently asked me (and my kids) to move in with him.
I love the time we spend together, but something bothers me. I feel like I'm living his life, not mine. We talk a lot about his work. We spend time at his houses, and now he wants me to move into his house. If I want to do something that doesn't interest him, he suddenly has to work or do something with his kids. If I suggest something that prevents him from going to his vacation house, he won’t do it. It's not that I don’t like going down there, but can’t we do something that’s my idea once in a while?
This extends to my family and friends, too. Every time one of them invites us to a get together, he seems to have an excuse not to go. He's OK with me going by myself but he won't go with me. When he has gone, he's been uncomfortable. He loves to have my friends and family on his turf and he's a totally different person in those situations.
I was also upset with him last summer when one of my close relatives was seriously ill. This relative had to have a procedure in Boston and I wanted my boyfriend to come with me for support. Instead, he stayed home. He did call in occasionally to check on things but it wasn't the same as him being there.
It seems that if something isn't about him or his interests, he's won’t do it. He’s even like that with kids. Brian gets this glazed look in his eyes when they talk about what happened in school, but if they talk about one of his interests, he's all ears. I've also noticed that his kids don’t seem to have any hobbies that don't match one of Brian's interests.
I've tried addressing this issue with him but every time I bring it up, he always argues something like "I thought you liked going to the beach" and then accuses me of being ungrateful. He also thinks I don't understand how busy he is with work and his kids. But if he has time to go to the beach regularly, is he really sacrificing something that important to do something on my terms?
I don't know, maybe he's right. Maybe I expect too much of him. He is very generous and very busy with work and his kids. Brian is everything I’ve looked for -- smart, ambitious, adventurous and much more -- and I'm very much in love with him. We have a nice life and we have a lot of fun together. Should I just be grateful for what I have or potentially ruin a good thing by expecting more?
– Why Can't It Ever Be About Me?, Boston
A: We all have flaws, WCIEBAM. Brian's is that he likes things on his terms. He's in his 40s so that's probably not going to change too much.
It's annoying, but his major flaw does force both of you to take some space from each other. You get to have alone time with your friends without having to worry about him. He gets to sit on the beach without distractions while you're off doing something with your pals.
If he were belittling your passions, I'd be worried. If he were avoiding your friends and family, I'd be upset. But he's just ... behaving like a guy who doesn't want to leave his awesome cocoon. I'm not saying he's right, I'm just saying that we have to pick our battles.
I am bothered by your hospital story. My advice regarding that is to be very clear about when and how you really need him. As in, "I'm not just asking you to hang at the hospital; I'm telling you that I need you there as a partner because I'm scared to death about losing a relative. Calls will not be enough today." There's no way to misunderstand that request.
As for the rest of it, well, it sounds like Brian isn't going to be your everything. Your best friends will still be your best friends. Your family will be your family. Brian will be the guy who offers love when you get home. I don't think that's such a bad thing, but you have to decide for yourself. Maybe after you move in with him, you'll be psyched that he gives you space to enjoy things on your own.
Readers? Is she asking for too much? Is the sick relative thing the same as the not-going-to-other-people's things? Is there anything she can do to feel like she's not living life on his terms? Help.
Q: My boyfriend and I have been seeing each other for two years. We have the most wonderful relationship. He is kind, considerate, helpful, affectionate, and loving. We have both been married before -- and they weren't good marriages. I have heard my boyfriend say to friends that he never wants to get married again. I would actually be OK with that since I don't think I am ready for that either.
Here is where I get confused. A few times, he HAS made hints that he wants to marry me. Example: We were driving through New Hampshire and I read aloud a sign that said "danger falling rock," and he responded, "Good, I hope it lands on your finger." The comment went over my head and I gave him a look like, "What, you want a rock to fall on my finger?" His response was, "Yeah, then I won’t have to buy you one." Another time around the holidays, he told me that his cousin said that he should by me a ring. He told me he laughed at his cousin and said "yeah right." Then he told me, "Maybe next year, no need to rush things, I don't want to put a time line on something like that."
Since he has said those things, he continues to tell people he doesn't want to marry again. I’m confused. What is your take on this? I will eventually bring it up if the topic ever arises again while we are alone. I just hope I'm not a dimwit and miss it like I did with the last ones.
– Curious in Love, Mass.
A: Don't bring this up "eventually," CIL. Bring it up now. He's making weird passive-aggressive comments about proposals, but you can respond like a grown-up. After two years, it's fair to talk about what you want for your future. If it's not marriage, fine. No need to make weird jokes about it.
This is a pretty childish way to deal with the subject of commitment. And my guess is that this is how he communicated with his ex-wife. You must say to him, "We're not kids anymore. If you want to talk about getting married -- or never getting married again -- just tell me how you feel, and I'll do the same. I'm not sitting around waiting for you to propose. I'm sitting around wondering what you mean when you make all of these weird, loaded comments about our future. Just talk to me like I'm your friend. We're in this together."
Something tells me that he does want to get married but that he wants to feel as though he's doing it to appease you. There's less accountability in that kind of decision. But you can't let him get away with that.
Don't put off this conversation. Tell him that if he wants to talk marriage, that's fine. But no more "rock on finger" jokes. (And for the record, it took me a while to get that one, too.)
Readers? How do you deal with someone who's making weird comments about marriage like this? How can she talk to him about the issue without being critical? Do his comments suggest that he wants to get married or that he doesn't? Anybody else want to write her a speech? Discuss.
Q: Hi Meredith,
I am a married man in my early 30s. Been in Boston my whole life but moved to the West Coast two years ago with my wife in search of sun, beaches, and a job. I found the first two but the job is ever elusive. Found some temporary work here and there but nothing long term. During this time our relationship deteriorated and I started abusing substances. We argued constantly about our careers, finances, and how we didn't have a community of friends and family. On top of that, her family kept urging her to leave me and come back to the Bay State. Basically, we had very little support from family and friends since they were all back on the East Coast. I wanted to try some counseling, but obviously being a temporary employee you do not get any benefits so that was out of the question. We are very unhappy with each other.
Not too long ago, I started seeing this woman I met at a job. I knew it was extremely risky because I could get caught. But I found myself falling for her -- and this other woman does not know I have a wife. I'm just unsure of what to do. I know I can never get away with it, eventually someone will find out. I also run the risk of losing them both and ending up with nothing but my miserable self. Furthermore, I'm not sure how this other woman feels about me. What should I do? I've always been told I should do whatever makes me happy. I'm much happier with this other woman, but things are moving real slow. I think I'm just a "rebound" guy for her, since she just got out of a relationship. So my options are go back to an unhappy marriage and try to work it out, or pursue someone else who may or may not feel the same. Any advice?
A: "I've always been told that I should do whatever makes me happy."
Who told you that? They don't even say that to little kids on "Sesame Street." Please wipe that piece of advice from your brain. It doesn't make any sense and it's turned you into an entitled liar. Here you are, worried that you might be this new woman’s rebound guy, and you haven't even told her that you're married.
I hate oversimplifying with tough love (or as Bart Simpson calls it, "soft hate"), but with you I have no choice. You must tell this other woman that you're married and cut her out of your life. Then you must sit down with your wife and tell her you've been pretending that your marriage is already over. Maybe she feels the same way. Maybe she's been waiting for a cue from you to move back to Boston. Or maybe your news will shock her and she'll tell you that she wants more than anything to work it out. Maybe she'll tell you that she wants both of you to come home together so that you can be surrounded by the people who care about you.
The wife stuff is complicated, but it'll help if you start having honest discussions. You also need to look into subsidized therapy. It exists, especially for substance abuse. Google some local programs -- and maybe call your family for help. But before you do any of that, come clean with this other woman. Have some empathy. You are not the center of the universe.
Readers? Any hope for his marriage? Any hope for the LW and this other woman? Is his unemployment relevant? Ideas for couples therapy during unemployment? Discuss.
Q: Dear Meredith,
Let me start by getting the facts out of the way. We are mid 30s/early 40s, both divorced years ago. We each have children who are mid-late teens. Kids are great and all get along really well. Have known each other for about 5 years, in a serious relationship for a few years. We both dated and had relationships after our divorces, so not a "rebound" by any means. We have taken our time getting to know each other. There is talk of moving in together and marriage, but neither of us is in any rush. We don't want any more kids.
I know how lucky I am to have found an amazing, wonderful man. We have a fantastic relationship. Communicate well. When he kisses me, I still get goose bumps. When he walks into the room, I am always mesmerized by him. As cheesy as it sounds, my heart still flutters when I am around him. It's perfect. Really.
So then why, at times, do I feel that I should just be alone? Let me clarify this. Maybe every six months or so, I wonder if I am just not meant to be in a relationship. I have always been kind of a free spirit, independent, spur-of-the-moment kind of woman. While my boyfriend has never tried to tame that side of me, once you are in a relationship, it just naturally changes because you have someone else to consider when making these last-minute decisions. (To clarify, I am a very responsible mother and these last-minute trips/things I do have been when the children were with their father.)
These feelings, I have noticed, tend to come up when I am driving up the coast alone with the top down.
I haven't really broached the subject with my boyfriend yet because I don't want him to think I want to break up with him and I certainly don't want to scare him off. But is what I am feeling normal? I just don't have anything to compare it to. My marriage was unhealthy and needed to end. So now that I have found the man I want to spend the rest of my life with, I am scared by what these feelings mean. Do other people feel this way? Is there something I can do that will quell these feelings? Should I stop driving up the coast alone and/or change the music I am listening to?
– Is Love Enough?, Boston
A: Don't bring this up with your boyfriend, ILE. Please.
These feelings are totally, totally normal. Really. Most people want to be single when they're driving up the coast on a hot summer night. Similarly, most people want to be in a relationship when they're lounging on the couch watching television or taking a nice walk on a perfect fall evening.
The grass is supposed to look greener sometimes. It's part of being human. And you shouldn't rob yourself of these fantasies. Blast your single music on the coast, and when you get home, play the songs that make you happy to have a partner.
I know that you don't have any basis of comparison, but trust me, this is all good. And again, don't bring this up. This is the kind of thing you keep to yourself in a good relationship. You're not supposed to share everything.
Readers? Is it normal to fantasize about being single? Is this a red flag? Are these fantasies seasonal? Should she talk to him about the issue? Can you give her a coast and home soundtrack? (For the record, she did tell me what she listens to in the car, but I felt that naming the band made her too identifiable. I'd characterize it as -- rock. Maybe a little metal-ish.) Discuss.
Q: I am a divorced woman in my early 30s. I am of the mindset that you can fall in love several times, especially when the right person comes around. For the last three years, I've had an increasingly friendly relationship with a coworker who is married.
Because of the nature of our work, we have spent many hours together in social settings. In the last year, our relationship became closer, as we would text, email, and discuss everyday minutia and work. We would also find ourselves running errands or doing activities together that we both enjoy.
Eventually, our relationship changed. He confided in me that his life at home was not good and that he had feelings for me. At this point I backed off and told him that he should concentrate on his life and work things out at home. I always had feelings for him, but I knew that he was married and that I had to keep those feelings to myself.
That lasted a very short time. I felt such a connection to him and it was difficult to go back to that "he's not available" mindset knowing that he had feelings for me. At that point it seemed like things intensified. Before we knew it, we were right back in an inappropriate relationship. After some time, I again tried to stop communication with him, but because of work, would still end up around him where he would say things that would lead me to believe that he wasn't sure what was going on with his relationship.
I know that he is married, I know that he isn't going to leave his wife, but there is a part of me that can't let go of the connection we have. If he were single, this would be an amazing relationship. I've been miserable not being able to talk with him and so we recently met to digest everything that has happened over the last months and mutually decided that we could remain friends, but without the constant contact we had been having. He also made it very clear that his relationship with his wife is still undecided. My question is, is it morally wrong for me to remain friends with him? Or should I just do the strong woman thing and move on and forget?
It isn't easy for me to find meaningful relationships. My struggle is that I know deep down inside that I may be keeping him close just in case ... just in case he does leave his wife or just in case it makes it easier for him to leave his wife. I don't want to be a homewrecker, but I also don't want to lose a very meaningful relationship in my life either. I know that the rational thing to do is to stop all communication with him and move on, but my heart is telling me otherwise.
– Knows the Right Thing to Do but Hopeful, NYC
A: It's probably morally wrong to continue a friendship with him, but that's not why I want you to cut him off. I want you to cut him off because this is a bad friendship for you. It's one big tease. It involves too much effort and too much hope, and I'm not convinced that either of you are capable of setting real boundaries.
I know it's frustrating. You finally got to know someone you like, fell for him, found out that he reciprocated those feelings … and there's nothing you can do about it. But it is what it is. He's married and you're a single person who has to take care of herself. This is one of those awful situations where you have to ignore your heart and let your brain to do the talking.
I recommend minimizing him as much as you possibly can. You don't have to give him a dramatic speech about cutting him off. Just ban yourself from texts and calls. Make plans with real friends who can keep you busy. Try to develop a crush -- even if it's on a celebrity. Start training your brain to think about someone else's face when you start to daydream.
Every time you second guess yourself, write down the facts. "He is married." "He has a wife." Reality lists always help.
And remember, you're only in your early 30s. You've already had two meaningful relationships -- the one with your ex, and the one with this guy. There will be others, and you have plenty of time to find them.
Readers? Is she allowed to be his friend? What should happen here? Will this guy leave his wife? Does it matter? Is her age relevant? Discuss.
Q: Dear Meredith,
My husband and I have been together for 30 years (high school sweethearts). Neither of us has ever "been" with anyone else. We have two kids, a nice home, nice friends, and everyone thinks we have the perfect marriage. I included myself in that until about six months ago when he started to question whether he is in love with me or not. That's when I found out about it, but he says he's been feeling it for much longer.
He hasn't come near me for months, and there was some trouble prior to that. (Up until then, the sex was great). I have gained about 40 pounds since he met me, and he says that's part but not all of it. He feels like he doesn't know if he wants to be an empty nester with me. Depression runs in his family. He has a stressful job, and provides for almost all of the financial needs of our family. He's very athletic and I'm not, so we really don't have many common interests. In hindsight, I guess our marriage was far from perfect since he's never really been affectionate with me outside of the bedroom and that's something I think I need. Now that that the bedroom activity is gone, there's nothing. He says he's sorry, I didn't do anything wrong, he still loves me, but isn't in love with me.
Needless to say, I am beside myself. I feel rejected and blindsided by this whole thing. My question is this: Would you call this a mid-life crisis or depression? (We're both in our late 40s.) If so, how do these things usually end? I don't know how long is fair to wait it out before I have to move on. We had another blip on a much smaller scale many years ago, went to marriage counseling, but I don't really think it helped that much. I know I still love him, I don't want a divorce, but I also don't want to live my life in a loveless marriage.
– Lost In Limbo, Suburban Mass.
A: I don't think that this is a mid-life crisis, LIL. Your letter suggests that there have been problems over the years and that whatever is happening right now is the cumulative result of two people growing apart. I guess my question for you is: What does your husband want to do about all of this?
He told you all of these upsetting things ... and now you're asking us how long you have to wait it out before you move on. Does that mean that he expects you to be the one who devises a plan? Is he giving you options? Is he suggesting that he wants to work on this again?
My advice is to ask him what he wants to do. Like, in a dream world, would he magically fall in love with you again? Would he move into his own place and be your friend? Even a maybe-depressed person can fantasize.
And I want you to think about your life as an empty nester. What do you want to do? Hike? Travel? Move to a new town? Paint? Can you see your husband tagging along as you live your perfect life after 50?
I wish I could tell you how these things usually end. There's no "usually." But for now, you have unanswered questions. Your husband has given this a lot of thought but he hasn't come up with a plan. He hasn't said, "I want to separate to see how it feels." He hasn't said, "I want to stay and work on this." He hasn't asked, "What do you want to do?" Not really.
Have those talks and get some answers. Find out whether he's waiting to make a move because he wants you to be the one to do it.
Readers? Am I right to say that she doesn't have enough information from her husband? Is there hope here? Is this depression or a mid-life crisis? Do his financial responsibilities have anything to do with this? Discuss.
Thanks for your contest entries. I picked a few winners. It wasn't easy.
I am a divorced father of a young child. I had a particularly rough marriage that had me on the receiving end of quite a bit of verbal abuse and a few incidents of physical abuse. The divorce wasn't much better and I had to fight for fair visitation. All the while, with mounting legal expenses, I lost my home to foreclosure.
During the divorce process and in the months following its completion, I had two relationships. The first one was with someone who had commitment issues. The second relationship was long-distance and had all the early signs of becoming just volatile as my marriage.
Needless to say, neither of those relationships were healthy and I turned to professional therapy to attempt to figure out why I kept finding myself in situations where I allowed other people to walk all over me. Therapy helped me make a lot of positive changes in my life.
Last fall, I had managed to pull myself enough out of debt to make the decision to move back out of my parents' home and get my own place. Shortly after that, I met a great woman. She is supportive of me and understanding of my deficiencies. Where I am forgetful and a daydreamer, she is organized with lists and has her feet firmly planted on the ground. Most importantly, she is amazing with my child. I think she will make a great step-mom someday.
There are a few problems that I am wrestling with, however. I have felt constant pressure from her about when I am going to be comfortable moving in together. I am in my 30s and she is in her late 20s, and I think that maybe she's feeling more urgency to make that leap than I am.
I have tried to explain my side of the situation, which is that I have only just gotten myself out of the financial mess from the divorce, and just moved out on my own, and that I need time (for both myself and my child) to settle into this new situation. More importantly, I feel an overwhelming responsibility to prove to myself that I can handle life on my own before having someone else move in with me.
She is uncomfortable without a timeline, so I recently suggested that at some point, we should maybe think about spending a few weeks with her staying at my place just to see how it goes.
At first she thought it was a great idea, but now she's upset about it because she already spends most of the week at my place and doesn't understand what more could be learned from spending a few weeks here. Perhaps she is right, but the idea of it made me feel a lot more comfortable and prepared to have a discussion about where we're at. After all that I've been through, I need reassurance that I am making the right decision and not rushing into anything.
I am disappointed that she is not understanding to my need to take it slow. Is she right? Am I making her suffer and wait because of my relationship history? Or am I just doing what I need to do to make sure I don't repeat the mistakes of the past?
– Thrice Burned, Once Shy
A: I'm on her side about the trial run thing, TBOS. That just doesn't make any sense to me. An extended sleepover isn't going to make you any more comfortable with the idea of her moving in than you are now.
But I'm on your side about everything else. You haven't even been together for a year and she wants final answers. All you can do is tell her this: "I'm into you, I don't want to lose you, and yes, if we're happy and comfortable after a reasonable amount of time (at least a year?), we can revisit the cohabitation issue." Because that's how you feel, right?
If she can't give you at least a year to be in a relationship with her before moving in, she's just another woman who isn't considering your needs and you should reconsider the whole relationship. It's possible that she has her own past to deal with -- that she's been strung along in previous relationships -- but that doesn't mean you have to live on her schedule.
My advice is to bring her to therapy with you so that you can have this discussion in a safe zone. Don't attempt to keep her at bay with long-term sleepovers and promises you can't keep. Just set your boundaries, be honest, tell her all of the good things you told us, and see if she's capable of empathy. Because that's what you need from her.
Readers? Should this woman be asking to move in after just a few months? Is she just another woman who's telling him what to do? Do you think there's more to this story? Is the trial run/extended sleepover idea a fair one? What’s happening here? Discuss.
Don't forget to spend some time with yesterday's questions -- and Hoopz.
Q: I'm a TWICE divorced father in his late 40s. Meeting new people has never been easy for me and now that I'm older, it feels impossible.
I don't like being alone so much. I feel like I lose touch somehow. I'd love to meet someone with whom I really "connect," whatever that means. However, all the "Date-dot-com" websites seem so one-dimensional. I can't discern any spark or attraction from a coyly smiling face, quarter turned, and a caption that reads "Searching for my soul mate.”
Enter the first ex-wife; when it was good, it was GREAT, but when it was bad …
She reasons that it was the lack of maturity that brought about our demise more than 15 years back, and that, in retrospect, "we were made for each other." I see that she doesn't want to be alone; she's currently seeking her second divorce. Neither do I, but I'm finding it very difficult to reconcile what went wrong in the past with the here and now.
Is a rekindling reasonable or simply a reach for a past that no longer exists? Is there a someone for whom we were "made"?
A: I don't think we're made for anyone in particular, AIB. But ... I do think that some of our exes wouldn't be exes if we had met them at a later age, after we had matured and learned about ourselves. I do think that now-single, self-aware exes have a lot to offer us if we meet up with them again later in life.
Of course, I can't tell if you're really interested in your ex or if she's just a possible diversion from the loneliness. Are you still attracted to her? Do you like being around her? Does she make sense for you in the present? My guess is that you don't know. For that reason, my advice is to go out to dinner with her. As friends. Friends with potential. See how it feels. Remember that those past mistakes are now almost two decades old. Assuming that the relationship wasn't abusive, there's no harm in having dinner.
Just make sure to be clear about your intentions. Let her know that for now, it's just dinner. You want to reconnect without great expectations. Call her out on the fact that she's just as confused as you are.
If it becomes clear that she's just a friend, you might want to consider some of those date-dot-com websites. I know that the one-dimensional profiles are weird, but in person some of those people might make you smile. Those online women are like your ex-wife -- big question marks that need to be taken to dinner.
Readers? Is the ex-wife worth pursuing or is she just a quick fix for the loneliness? Should he try to date her again? Are they made for each other? Any words for the LW about online dating? Discuss.
Q: Somehow, after much resistance, I tried online dating. The men on the site seem to have a laundry list of wants and it scared me. I found one guy who sounded pretty relaxed and somehow I found the courage to go on a date with him. He was going to be my first date and my last, just to say I tried online dating. That was five months ago.
For five months this guy adored me. We talked all day on text and spoke every night. He couldn't believe he found me, loved me more than any man has, and we had so much fun together.
Problem? He wasn't divorced yet. Specifics were being worked out. They no longer lived together but kids were involved.
We had some hiccups and worked through it. I thought we were in a good place, but then I saw some postings on Facebook. Some girls were pretty flirty and hitting on him. I definitely had to bring it up. Until that point we didn't discuss how serious we were, but he had told me I'm the girl for him, he couldn't believe how right it felt, he thought about me all day, etc. If he wasn't with me he was with his kids. I thought we were just with each other. I didn't rush any girlfriend/boyfriend discussion because I knew he was just out of a long relationship and I didn't need a title. I had met his kids, his family, and his friends. He had met my family and friends and he initiated most of it.
After seeing the FB posts I finally asked him if he dated other people. He answered back and was mean. Barked back that he had. It felt like I was punched. He exploded and left saying he wants to be with me every minute, thinks about me all the time, but has no idea what he is doing. He was in a relationship for so long he had no clue what he wanted.
I have never been involved with or near a divorce. I do not understand the feelings involved there. He was in an unhappy relationship for many years and is free of her, can't believe he found me, but walked away from me?
Do I walk away? He's pushing me away and I'm so scared he forgets what we had because he has so much going on? Should I be angry? Where do I go from here? How do I go on from here being intertwined for 5 months? HELP....
– Heartbroken, MA
A: Should you be angry? Heck yeah. He might not know what he wants, but he knows exactly what he's been doing. He's been dating you, telling you lots of nice things, and seeing other people when he feels like it. Get angry.
Divorce is complicated, but it doesn't excuse his behavior. And it doesn't sound like he's begging you to forgive him for being unclear about his level of commitment. Instead, he's pushing you away. It's not your job to convince him to stay.
It sounds like he jumped into all of this too quickly. But that's not something you can fix for him. You can only decide what's best for you. Is he making you feel good? Keeping his promises? Remaining trustworthy? Allowing the relationship to grow? Making you feel safe? These are the things you ask at five months, and he's failing miserably.
My advice is to make yourself your first priority. Consider how you're being treated and then make decisions accordingly.
Also, you wound up liking your first internet guy enough to date him for five months. Shouldn’t that make you hopeful about what else is out there?
Readers? Should she give this guy another chance? Does he want one? Is his pending divorce an excuse for Facebook flirtations? Is it technically cheating if they never had a talk about their relationship status? Discuss.
Q: Dear Meredith,
It's very painful for me to write this letter because I'm a middle-aged man who is considering leaving a loving but troubled wife, and I would like to have primary custody of our two young children. My question to you and your readers is: When is it time to leave?
I'd describe myself as introspective, serious, and shy. I've always had a few friends and people generally like me, but until recently it has been hard for me to make friends out of acquaintances. By the end of college, I had never had a girlfriend. My self-esteem was so low that I honestly thought I might never find someone who would love me.
I was in this miasma when I first met my wife. I saw immediately that she's extremely intelligent, caring, attractive, athletic, and that she really liked me. She saw me as an honest and true person and admired my kindness. But from the start, she was also very critical of me, was constantly upset with me and tried to change almost everything else about me. Our relationship was completely imbalanced and I took all of her criticism to heart. After a year of trying to appease her and absorbing her anger, I finally meekly began to defend myself. She'd always say that things would get better after certain situations had passed -- like the death of a loved one, or a difficult apartment situation -- and I'd hope that she was right because she is an extraordinary woman.
If things hadn't gotten better bit by bit over time, we wouldn’t have stayed together, and there were a few golden periods. As is often the case, one of those golden periods led to the conception of our first child. But then, my wife immediately decided that independence and fun were now completely out of the question. Her anxiety and foul treatment reached new highs. Again I rode out the storm, hoping that life would improve as our little one grew up. Our second child is much loved but was unplanned.
Currently our relationship has recovered to some degree but we are struggling. Last week, my wife took a much needed four-day vacation with a girlfriend and I took time off from work to take care of our kids. To say I enjoyed those four days would be an understatement. With some help from family and friends I fed them, got them to their appointments, played with them, got them to bed on time for naps and the night, and generally had a great time. I expected my wife to return with new energy and the patience necessary to attend to our children, but have been sorely disappointed. Nothing has changed. She's constantly battling with them, me, and everyone else close to her.
So when is enough, enough? I am in therapy. She is in therapy. She's still miserable. I'm miserable when I’m around her and ecstatic when she's gone. Tom Waits sang "I wish to God you'd leave me, Baby, I wish to God you'd stay." We've lived that song, "Please Call Me, Baby," so many times that our movie would be a comedy not a drama. The inner peace I experienced during her absence last week came like a revelation. I even stopped reading Love Letters for that time. When I came back to work, I told myself why spend the time. Well, today, two days later, I remember why. Because my inner being is desperately searching for answers, and I want to do the right thing, but the world and my options all seem wrong.
– BG, I can't …
A: BGIC, I wish she hadn't taken that trip with girlfriends. I wish she had taken it with you. Because I wonder if she'd be capable of enjoying herself with you, even on vacation. It's not as though you guys were having a ball before the kids came along. Your golden periods sound like blips.
You say that you're in therapy and that she's in therapy. If you're not already in therapy together, you should be. Because in therapy you can ask this big question: "If we had all the money in the world for babysitters, would you want to stay married to me?" If she says that she would, it's time to make a list. Tell her what you need to be happy, whether it's specific help with your kids, a certain amount of positivity, date nights, etc. Then, with her help, come up with a second list of practical ways to make those things possible. Maybe you need hired help around the house (I know, it isn't cheap), more vacations, or more involvement from friends and family. The lists give you specific goals. And if those goals aren't met, you can feel better about whatever choice you need to make.
Tom Waits sings, "I wish to God you'd leave me, Baby, I wish to God you'd stay," but that's not your lyric. You sang, "I'm miserable when I'm around her and ecstatic when she's gone." You're not longing for your relationship to return to what it used to be. You're longing for brief, unexplained golden periods.
Get to therapy with her if you haven't already. Ask her if she wants you. Then make your lists. Check those lists twice as you move ahead. In the end, if your needs can't be met, remember that doing "the right thing" should involve being able to smile in front of your kids -- and in front of a mirror.
Readers? Any ideas for this LW? Is there something to save? Was his euphoria during his wife's vacation about her being gone -- or about not working and having so much extra help? Is this about the stress of kids or a marriage that was wrong from the start? Help.
Q: Dear Meredith,
I'm a 39-year-old single professional living in Brooklyn and working in NYC. I have been in one serious relationship my entire life (that lasted only 1.5 years) but feel that I'm really ready to find "the one" and settle down. I'm originally from Boston and have only lived in NYC for 4 years. At my age, it's been tough to break into social circles and make new legitimate friends. I've been using Match.com to increase the number in the dating pool. I met a guy in December who is great. Super smart, super funny, super sarcastic -- in short, just my type. We've been dating regularly since then. We go out about once a week. We have a great time. We "talk" (read text) often during the week, but never really talk on the phone. We usually go out on Saturday nights and he stays over at my place.
I'm at a point where I would like to move to the next level and date him exclusively. We had "the talk" last week. He's not ready for a relationship. He wants to take things slow and though he thinks I'm great and that we have the potential to turn into something more, he doesn't want to rush into anything. I should mention that he is divorced. He was married for 10 years and has been divorced for about 3. After his divorce he jumped into a relationship with a girl that lasted about 10 months but ultimately it didn't work out. He feels like he doesn't want to make the mistake of rushing into anything again. He says that I'm the only person he's been seeing regularly, but that he has been on dates with other women. He also says that I am the only person that he is sleeping with.
I'm not sure what to do. He seems very sincere. Do I wait it out for a bit and hope that he comes around? I feel strongly that he has a lot of the qualities that I am looking for and he makes me feel really great when I am with him. Should I invest some more time in this and just see where it goes? Or am I just being naive? I haven't felt this strongly about someone in a long time.
– Wanting to Believe, Brooklyn
A: I appreciate his honesty, WTB, and I believe that he might be into this -- just not enough to make promises at the moment. Frustrating.
What bothers me about the whole thing is that you only see each other once a week. I know that New York City is annoying to get around, but you have to see more of him. In order for you to make a real decision about him (note that I'm making your decision the priority), you need more than texts during the week. Camp-like sleepovers on the weekends are not enough. Saturday nights aren't reality.
Tell him that you'd like to make time for a Wednesday dinner or a Thursday night in front of the TV. That's the compromise. He should want to figure out whether he wants more from you -- and that takes more time than he's giving.
Readers? Should she even want more time with him? Do you feel comfortable with his reasoning? After his failed relationships, is it good that he's taking it slow? Should the LW be spending her time seeing other people? Discuss.
Q: Dear Meredith,
I'm a longtime lurker. And since I can't turn to my friends for advice, I thought I'd turn to yours. A few months ago, my best friend from childhood, "Stacey," got married. I was her maid of honor. Stacey's parents have been separated since we graduated high school but just haven't divorced yet (financial reasons). They live apart but in the same town. Anyway, at the wedding, I had more than a few drinks (after all, it was open bar and my job as MOH was to lead the fun). Stacey's dad, "Bob," and I started talking. A lot. When we were teens, Stacey's friends and I used to joke that her dad was hot. Well, wow. He actually is. There was a connection. Needless to say, it was awkward around Stacey's mom since she used to make us cookies all the time and here I am flirting with her almost ex-husband. He's my best friend's dad. It's weird, I know. But hey, at least I didn't throw a shoe! Anyway, after the wedding, Bob and I started dating. We didn't tell anyone. He makes me laugh, has great taste in wine, and well, let's just say that there's some benefits to dating an older, more experienced man.
I've wanted to tell Stacey but there really is no easy way to say it. Her parents are separated and are going to divorce, but it still really bothers her. Bob wants to tell her,
but I've been taking an "I'll deal with it tomorrow" approach. But here's the real problem. Bob has Red Sox season tickets. He has four seats for Opening Day. He wants to invite Stacey and her husband. And me. Can we say awkward? I know I need to tell Stacey and I certainly don't want a scene at Fenway. (I mean, it's the Yankees!). How do I tell her? I don't want to ruin anything. I am enjoying my time with Bob. I like him and I want to keep seeing him. I also don't want to lose my best friend. Do I just show up at the game with Bob and hope she doesn't flip out? Do I talk to her ahead of time? Does Bob tell her?
– I'm In Love With Stacey's Dad
A: You are not allowed to go to this game, IILWSD. You are certainly not allowed to surprise Stacey by showing up at Fenway Park on the arm of her dad. I mean, even if Stacey knew about your relationship with Bob and was cool with it, she might not be ready for a double date. Please put yourself in her shoes.
Before you sit down and tell Stacey that you're in line to be her stepmom, please think about whether this whole Bob thing is worth it. Can you really see yourself with him in five or ten years? You don't have to know for sure whether you want to be the next Mrs. Bob, but you do have to be honest with yourself if this is just a fun fling. Because if it is, you must end it -- for the sake of everyone's sanity.
But if Bob is worth the risk and you do want to stay with him, tell Stacey as soon as you can. Explain to her that you understand how weird this is and that you're confused and looking for guidance. Ask her what she needs you to do to make this work.
And again, whatever you do, don't spring this on her at a game. Opening Day against the Yankees is stressful enough on its own.
Readers? Is she going to lose Stacey? What are your thoughts about Bob? Could you deal with one of your peers dating one of your parents? Discuss.
Reminder: If you need a night out, get tickets to tomorrow night's performance of this. I'll be doing a talkback after the show.
Also, if you were assigned a book review and haven't turned it in, send it. And as you send it, picture me doing the "you missed your deadline" finger wag.
Q: Hi Meredith,
I have been reading your column since before I moved back to this great city. On to my dilemma/question. I am a 56-year-old twice divorced guy. First marriage was when I was 19 and "did the right thing." Second one lasted 18 yrs until she decided she didn't want to be married anymore. I have been dating someone now for about six months and she recently told me that while she enjoys my company she doesn't see me as marriage material. When I asked her why, she commented that my "track record" makes me a poor candidate for marriage. Meredith, I was a good husband and father for 18 years and I am very much a relationship kinda guy.
Am I going to be blacklisted for life because of two marriages (one of which was at 19) that didn't work??? Is there still hope for someone my age to be able to find someone that can see past my track record?
– Back in Boston at last
A: There is hope for you, BIBAL. And as far as I'm concerned, this woman is a "poor candidate for marriage." Marriage is about acceptance and honesty, not about finding the person with the best dating resume.
There are zillions of women out there who would happily date a self-aware guy who has been married twice for understandable reasons. It's not as though you bailed on nice people because you were bored. You got married too young and then committed to someone for almost two decades. That's not a terrible track record, in my opinion.
Keep in mind, it's possible that this woman was lying about the reason she ended the relationship. It's possible that she just didn't know how to break up with you without blaming your divorces.
Either way, she's out and you're still dateable. I'm sorry it took her six months to object to something you probably told her right off the bat. When you're ready, get back out there and keep fishing -- with confidence.
Readers? Does the LW have a bad track record? Was this woman just coming up with an easy reason to end it? Are two divorces a red flag? Discuss.
Q: Hi Meredith,
I got divorced about a year ago and was released from a very unhealthy relationship. I have reached a point where I have a workable relationship with my ex, despite harboring some lingering resentment for her indiscretions and lack of respect of me. I'm getting over it -- but give a guy some time.
I am getting to the point where it is time to start looking outside myself for someone to share my life with. Herein lies the trouble. I am in my mid 30s and have three absolutely wonderful (young) kids. They spend half their time living at our home and half the time at home with their mom. They are doing well with it. I am proud to be a dad and I think I am a good guy. The challenge is that it doesn't seem that the women I'd like to date have interest in dating a successful, funny, single dad. On paper, I think I am the type of guy they are looking for -- until you get to the dad thing. What gives?
– Confounded Single Dad, North of Boston
A: What gives, CSD? You have three kids. That's what you are on paper -- a dude with three kids.
Not everybody wants to walk into that situation. And that's OK. Your dating pool is more limited than it was when you were a freewheeling guy, but in some ways, that will make the whole process easier. The dates will be few and far between, but when you do date someone, they'll have real potential.
My advice is to tell friends that you're ready to date so that they know to keep you in mind when they meet single women. Try to make new friends, maybe when you're doing activities with your kids. Expand your circle as much as possible. Then follow your own advice and "give a guy some time." It may take a while to find women who are open to someone with three kids, but again, that's OK. There's no rush. It has only been a year.
Readers? Is it going to be difficult for him to find someone who's open to three kids? How should he go about meeting a partner? Is he great on paper? Is he seeking out the wrong women? Discuss.
Q: Hi Meredith,
I'm a divorced 30-something father (separated about 3 years ago) who has been trying to adapt to life after a nasty divorce. Now that the dust has settled, I can safely say that things between myself and my ex-wife "Jen" are amicable, although it is clear that we will never be friends again.
About a year ago, a close friend "Steve" (who is also divorced and now with someone else), without even the nerve to inform me, decided to end our friendship and has since barely uttered a word to me to the point that others are noticing his blatant avoidance. My understanding (based on observation) is that Steve became friends with someone who took my ex-wife's side in my divorce.
Over the summer, I ran into Steve's ex-wife "Mary" (whom I had not talked to since before Mary and her Steve separated) at a sporting event. We talked, caught up on old times, and swapped phone numbers -- with the intent of getting our children together. About a month later, Mary called me to arrange time for our children to see each other. At the play date, which had to wait a few weeks because of parenting schedules, everyone had a great time and my friendship with Mary resumed.
Fast forward about 2 months: Mary tells me that she had been thinking about me in a different light and wants to go out on a date with me (neither of us are seeing anyone now). She also told me that her pre-teen daughter has noticed Mary's reaction whenever my name has been brought up -- and offered an approval to us dating. Quite honestly, I am intrigued at the idea as well ... but is it OK to date the ex-wife of a former friend?
My gut feeling: It is none of Steve's business who his ex-wife dates; Steve chose to end our friendship (for whatever reason) and Mary and I are both free to date. So, what harm is there to see if there is more than a spark?
– Cautiously Interested In The Next Step, Boston
A: Your gut is right, CIITNS. To me, this is a no-brainer. The fact that Steve bailed on you is a major bonus. You can go into this without having to worry about his blessing.
But know this: If Steve and your ex-wife's friends think that you're the enemy now, it's only going to get worse. Assuming they find out about you and Mary (and they will), they'll probably talk trash. You'll probably wind up having to see Steve, especially if it works out with Mary. It'll be awkward. And maybe awful. But ... love after divorce is always a bit messy. You just have to own your feelings.
My only advice is to make sure that Mary understands your history with Steve -- the fact that he bailed without reason long ago. She probably knows that, but just in case she doesn't, be clear about the timeline. Mary should know that the bad feelings with Steve have nothing to do with her.
You have my permission to be not-so-cautious.
Readers? Should the LW stay away from Mary to respect Steve? Should he tell Steve? Should he talk to his ex-wife about it? Should Mary be concerned? What are the rules here? Discuss.
This letter writer loves putting things in parentheses. (Who doesn't?)
I am a 40something divorced mom of a grown child. I have been divorced for more than a decade. I have had several (3) long term relationships in that time, but all have failed to progress past the two-year mark for a few different reasons (ultimately, they were just not the right men for me).
I recently began online dating (again). I have tried it quite a few times over the years (all of the different sites). I recently met a man on a site and went out with him despite some misgivings about him being divorced a relatively short time. (About a year, according to his e-mail.)
We went out and had a fabulous time. We went out on a second date within a few days and had another great time. After this second date, he writes me an e-mail stating that he needed to come clean -- that he was not really divorced, he was only separated. He then told me that everything had been decided about the divorce agreement and he was staying with a friend and coming back to the family home to take the kids every other weekend. I was not comfortable with this, but I really liked the guy. So, I continued seeing him a few more times. After lots of chatting online and on the phone, (again, feeling like I was very connected to this guy) I started getting the feeling that he was not staying with a friend but still living in his marital home. I confronted him on this and he did admit that this was the case, but the marriage was over and it was just out of convenience that this was happening. I told him that I felt like I had been purposely misled by him and that I could not date someone who was still living with his wife, even if it was just because of the children (3 under age 10) or finances or under any other circumstances.
This guy got rather upset at me about this and could not understand how things were going along so well and then BAM, I changed my feelings for him. I tried to explain that it has been my practice for a long time not to date separated men. It has only been about 3 weeks since I met him and I feel that I was duped. Even though I felt we clicked, I do not think it's right to date someone that still lives in the marital home no matter what the circumstances are. I feel that the divorce process is agonizing and that he is doing a disservice to himself and his children by not focusing on the situation at hand and trying to begin a new romance with me. He has announced that he is moving out of the home in a few weeks in hopes that I will change my mind. (I feel his moving out has a lot to do with me and not really his own desire to move on, despite what he tells me.)
He just cannot understand why it's a good idea to wait to begin this relationship with me because he feels in his mind that he is 100 percent ready to move on because "his marriage was over for a long time before they decided to split." I think, at the very least, that it's going to take him 6 months to year to really get his life in order, move out, set a routine with his children and start getting his divorced finalized. (Another thing he is told me is that they will not be filing for divorce for at least a year, for financial reasons ---Something else I am not at all comfortable with) He thinks I should start back up with him after he moves out of the marital home. Am I being unreasonable to think that someone cannot move on in such a short time?
Should I just go with the flow and continue to see him because we clicked so well? I am going with my gut feeling, which I think is a good thing, but I just want a reality check from you and your readers. I also would like to say to this guy, "See, I am not being overcautious, the entire readership of Love Letters agrees with me!"
– No More Guys On the Rebound
A: It's possible he's rushing this whole thing and that his priorities are all messed up, NMGOTR. It's also possible that his marriage has been over for quite some time, that he was dating online to test the waters, and that he wound up meeting someone great long before he thought he would. All of that is probably true. He really likes you, but he has no idea what he's in for over the next year.
I'm sure there’s a person out there who wouldn't mind dating someone during the slow, uncomfortable, weirdness that comes with divorce, but that person isn't you. And at three weeks, there isn't much to lose besides the promise that comes with a few good dinners.
If he hadn't lied, you might be able to forgive. If he was already living alone, you might be able to reconsider. If he had plans to finalize his divorce within a month, you might be able to put up with dating someone who's only separated. But you're dealing with all of those things, and together, they're one big fat, deal-breaker.
Again, I think he really is smitten with you for the right reasons, so feel good about that. Please allow yourself to be flattered and let the experience remind you that there are people out there who can make you feel great. And commend yourself for knowing what's what. You're thinking of what's best for him and his kids. That's pretty selfless and cool. (Really.)
Readers? Is there anything here to salvage? It's difficult for her to meet people, so is it worth waiting it out? Is it admirable that he's moving out of his house for her or is that the wrong way to think of his decision? Are his lies forgivable? (Discuss.)
Vote Lloyd Dobler in '10! Remember, this isn't about choosing the best romantic movie of all time -- it's about choosing your favorite, the one you want to see with me on Dec. 10. Yes, I'm trying to sway you. Vote here. Buy tickets here.
As for the pre-party, it will be at Orleans in Davis Square from 7 to 8:30. There will be food and mingle time. Wesley and I will take movie ticket holders over to the Somerville Theatre at 8:30 for the 9 p.m. screening. There will be special treats for the movie buffs.
Q: While on vacation over the summer, I met someone special. I had just recently separated from my husband of two years and was not in a good place emotionally. This stranger gave me a much needed compliment and we ended up exchanging contact information. We immediately began e-mailing, texting, and talking on the phone. He was giving me a reason to get out of bed everyday and I was inspiring him to be a better man.
Here's the catch, He's 24 and I'm 33. Although he is completely sober, he has had previous problems with drugs and alcohol. He calls me his angel because I have given him a reason to fight his addictions and make him realize that his past doesn't define who he is.
Through our lengthy conversations and complete respect for one another, we have fallen in love. We had an amazing weekend together and he has made me realize that my marriage lacked many things, as he has given me more respect than my husband ever did.
I know my biological clock is ticking and reality tells me that at 24, this man isn't going to be my future husband. The question is....is it wrong to continue a "forbidden love" with a man who cannot give me what I truly want in life or is is OK to continue my "friendship" with him as he makes me smile during a time of personal pain due to a failed marriage?
– Too Young?, Boston
A: I'm not saying that this guy is your forever-I-love-you-soul-mate -- I have no idea what he is -- but I wouldn't underestimate his potential. He's been through a lot at 24.
There is an age gap here, don't get me wrong, but it's not so bad that it's forbidden. My advice is to stop treating this like forbidden love. How often do you see him? Can you make this feel more like a real relationship?
If you start behaving like this is legit, you'll find out whether your priorities are totally out of sync or whether in reality, you're actually on the same page. Perhaps after a battle with addiction he's looking for a mature 33-year-old who doesn’t live in a bar after work -- someone he can really talk to. And perhaps after a rough marriage, this is all you're ready for. Is your clock really ticking? Are you really ready to find someone else to marry?
If you're not seeing him, ask to visit. If you are seeing him, see him more often. Try to make this as real as possible. It'll either explode or turn into something that feels pretty fantastic.
Readers? Am I being naive about the potential here? Should the age gap matter so much? Is this forbidden love? Is the addiction issue something to be concerned about? Should she be focused on her clock? Discuss.
I am a 33-year-old guy who has been divorced for about a year and a half, and now I am having the same problem over and over. For history, while I have no proof that I was cheated on in my marriage, I think I was. The fact that someone (a friend of mine) moved in with my ex a month after I left makes me think so.
Now, anytime I meet someone I am interested in, I seem to have the same problem. Whenever I am with that person, I am funny, charming, confident, and very easy to get along with. But when I am not with them, I start thinking too much and can't get out of my own head. I seem to fall for people fairly fast and believe I come off too strong.
Just recently, I met someone I really like. She is successful and confident, and I think she would see any insecurities on my end as a turn off. She tells me how "we are quite similar" and that she enjoys my company, and that "the comfort we have had since day one has her a bit hesitant." The only word I hear is "hesitant" -- and now I'm just waiting for things to go bad. What is maddening is that my fears only take over when she's not around. What can I do?
– In My Head in New Hampshire
A: Ah, heads. Annoying, aren't they?
Your problem, IMHINH, is that you think that you're unique. You should see what's inside of my head. I imagine that when I'm dating someone, it looks like Alcatraz or "Labyrinth" in there.
We're all a wreck when we're lonely and dating. We're all preparing for potential loss. The only thing we can do is distract ourselves when we get super crazy. I highly recommend "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" marathons on Logo. That show is a real anxiety killer. I also recommend hanging out with friends as much as possible. They're a good reality check.
Yes, you have every reason to be extra insecure, but don't assume that this confident, successful woman doesn't have her own list of what-ifs. Perhaps she goes home after dates and stews about all that could go wrong. I wouldn't be surprised if that's what she means when she says she's hesitant.
It's all about distractions and remembering that even if it goes sour, you're going to be OK. You've already been through the worst of it.
Readers? How do you get out of your head? Is it normal to sit around expecting the worst? Does this fear of failure mean that he hasn't dealt with his divorce? Discuss.
Good morning. 1 p.m. chat.
Q: I'm going to get this out fast before I lose the nerve to send my emotional distress out into the universe for judgment. I've been with my boyfriend for three years and we've lived together for half that time. I'm in my late 20s and he is in his late 30s, divorced with kids.
Our relationship progressed pretty quickly -- we fell in love and experienced all of the wonderful things about a new romance. Overall, everything has been really good between us. We laugh together, travel together, and have planned our future together. My only concern throughout our relationship surrounds his divorce. Boyfriend does not like talking about it, didn't willingly share information about it, and doesn't like to answer my questions about it. From the beginning I assumed that his divorce was final (he never said otherwise), but I recently found out that the divorce wasn't legally finalized until last year (around the time we moved in together). I had a feeling this was the case because certain things did not add up but he kept denying it. I didn't want to press the subject because it would always end up in a fight and I wanted to believe him. He finally confessed.
I have no doubts about his feelings toward me and his dreams of being with me forever. The ex-wife is a non-issue for us as they have been separated for years. The delay with the divorce was simply technical difficulties with paperwork. My question to you and the readers is -- will I be able to trust him now that I know he has withheld information? He admits that he made a mistake and assures me that he was trying to protect me because I didn't deserve to go through it and he was afraid he would lose me. I understand that divorce is just an official legal date but I feel misled. Does his fear of loss -- and his attempt to protect me from the mess of his past relationship -- justify his long-lasting lie? I have been told by people who have gone through divorce how devastating and embarrassing it can be, so does this qualify him for a second chance? My heart wants to be with him but my head tells me this is a deal breaker. Boyfriend tells me he has never been happier in his life now that he is with me, but I'm not feeling too happy at the moment.
– Follow My Heart or Throw In The Towel?, Boston
A: "Does his fear of loss and his attempt to protect me from the mess of his past relationship justify his long-lasting lie?" No way, FMHOTITT. He caused you more pain by lying to you. But the lie only a deal-breaker if you want it to be. And really, it's only a deal-breaker if he doesn't understand why lying to you was wrong.
Did he apologize for the cover-up because he made you feel bad -- or because he truly understands that disclosure is necessary from now on? If you're going to stay together, 99.9 percent of his life is going to be your business. He has to be on board for that.
My advice is to ask. Ask as many questions as you want about the marriage and divorce. Ask about the kids. Ask about everything. If you get the sense that he's being closed off about anything, there's your red flag. "Boyfriend does not like talking about it, didn't willingly share information about it, and doesn't like to answer my questions about it." That just doesn't work. What if he was that way about money? Or his health? Protecting you means telling the truth. He either understands that or he doesn't.
Talk to him. Find out if this was really a learning experience for him. If not, consider that while your heart is important, your head (which is somehow attached to your gut) has a point.
Readers? Would you leave someone after three years if they lied to you about their divorce? Is this mistake more forgivable after three years than it would have been after one? Has he learned a real lesson? Does the pain and embarrassment of the divorce justify the lie? Get to it.
Quickie contest -- the Central Square Theater and the storytelling group massmouth are having a Love Letters night Nov. 6th. They want people to share their personal tales of love and redemption -- and I get to choose those tales. Send me a love/redemption story and I'll pick a few of my favorites. Winners will get tickets to that night's performance of Eugene O'Neill's "A Moon for the Misbegotten." Don't apply unless you're free on the 6th and willing to read your submission in front of people before the show. (I know, I know, you're not shy.)
Entries are due Monday by 3 p.m. Keep them to 400 words. I'll pick winners by Tuesday morning. Send to meregoldstein at gmail dot com. Put "love and redemption" in the subject line.
Q: I was married for six years, but left my husband after he turned into a controlling, conceited, self-absorbed hermit who thought his paycheck was where his contribution to our relationship began and ended. I left him -- and his financial security -- because I was losing myself and couldn't accept what my life had become.
Our divorce was quick. He was devastated but cooperative. Our post-divorce ties went on forever because of real estate that wouldn't sell in a bad market (the super-size house he saw as the route to his happiness was not popular with buyers).
He had intensive therapy, which led him to apologize for the years of bad behavior. He moved away, met a woman, and reported being really happy. At that point we tried to maintain a friendship. Six months into his new happy relationship, I had just started dating someone and didn't tell him because it was so new. He came back to town and hired people to do some work on the house and so that it would be easier to sell. I stayed with friends during this time.
My new boyfriend came by while a not-so-great contractor was working and pointed out areas of the work that were in dire need of improvement. He told the contractor not to mention his presence to my ex-husband because things were strained between us. Of course the contractor mentioned my boyfriend's presence when following up with my ex over the phone, and that resulted in my getting the silent treatment and a bitter e-mail asking about my boyfriend. This was almost two years after our divorce and more than six months into his new, happy relationship.
My ex and I now only interact by e-mail when there's official business that comes up. He was prone to temper tantrums, making me want to opt for as little communication as possible. When we do communicate, it's with a fake friendliness. We still have some mutual friends, and our parents still keep in touch a few times a year. I don't know where he's living and don't really care to ever see him again. I do know he's still with the same person he met a few years ago.
My quandary: my boyfriend and I are planning on eloping (we very much want to make a lifelong commitment but don't want to deal with the hoopla and expense of a wedding). What is the right thing to do -- should I tell my ex when we are married? And if so, by what means? I don't want to deal with drama and I don't know if there would be more drama if I did or didn't tell him, and he's bound to find out by some other means.
– Happily Moved On, Providence
A: My advice is to tell him, HMO. Not because it's any of his business, but because you have mutual friends and family connections, and if he's going to find out, it might as well be from you.
He was angry and jealous when he found out about your boyfriend because that's how he behaves -- but also because he shared news about his own relationship and probably expected you do the same. Instead, he heard from the contractor. Ouch.
That's not to say that I'm on his side about this. Really, I'm on yours. But save yourself the trouble of a tantrum down the road. Send him an e-mail that says something like, "I just wanted to share the news that my boyfriend and I are eloping. I'm not sure if you want/need to know -- but I didn't want you to hear about it through the grapevine. I'm so happy that you and I have moved on to such great new experiences. I hope you're doing well."
I'm not convinced that there will be crazy drama. More time has passed since the divorce, and he's been capable of pleasant business e-mails. Maybe he'll reply with a fake-friendly note. Or maybe he'll surprise you by not caring enough to respond.
Readers? Am I wrong? Does she have to tell him? Should her ex have had to hear about the boyfriend from the contractor? Is his issue jealousy or being blindsided? Will telling him just make it worse if she has already set an effective boundary? Discuss.
This letter inspired me to read about leprosy on Wikipedia for about 20 minutes.
Q: I'm 32 years old, successful, lots of friends, active in the community in a lot of ways, very social, and what my male friends call a "head turner."
I have also been divorced for just over a year (two-year marriage -- he had an emotional affair and was seriously mentally ill).
I can't get a boyfriend. I've met plenty of men in the year since my divorce and they seem interested in two things -- my friendship or getting me into bed. And that's it. I've heard every excuse under the sun why NOT me -- "I'm not ready for a relationship." "I already met someone." "The timing is off." "Just not interested." I'll go on one date, but they get so turned off by me that there's never a second date. But none will ever tell me why.
Am I too intimidating? What do I need to change about myself to get a man to look at me as girlfriend material?
I've lived a pretty interesting and full life at 32 years -- won some major awards for my work, lived some interesting places, and met some cool people. I've been lucky and blessed. I love my friends, I (generally) love my job, I am responsible financially (occasionally shoe purchase not withstanding), and I don't beat my dog.
I just don't get it.
I watch guys I'm interested in pick other girls and I keep asking, “Why not me?"
As the same time all of this is happening, my ex-husband wants to reconcile and I don't know what to do. He loved me, he was great to me until the emotional affair/his illness spiraled out of control. Plus, while he's claiming celibacy the last year, I certainly have not (he left me - not the other way around).
In short, I'd kill for a boyfriend -- someone to talk to and spend time with. But it's like all those positives work against me. Men don't seem to want confident, pretty, smart, outgoing women.
I have plenty of male friends, but that's all they see me as - a "little sister." Not "girlfriend material."
While I'm not sure I want to get married again, a part of me is so painfully lonely that I'm tempted to reconcile with my ex just to be with SOMEONE.
What's it gonna take? I'm at my breaking point. I come home and cry almost daily over this because I feel so deficient and like a failure. I go to the therapy and she tells me there's nothing wrong with me. While mentally I believe that, my heart thinks I have leprosy of some sort.
– Leper of Dating, Waltham
A: You're not a leper, LOD. And please don't kill for a boyfriend.
My guess is that you're going to hear from a lot of 32-year-old readers today who have never been married and have survived for longer than a year without a significant other. They're probably going to tell you that you need to be patient. And they'll be right.
I agree with your therapist. There's nothing wrong with you. You just have to take your time. Relax. Adjust to your new life. Some of that crying is about coping with change, not about being single. Work through it.
And remember -- this is an exciting journey (don't roll your eyes). Usually, in books and movies about love, we follow a single heroine until she meets someone fantastic. That's the fun part -- watching her as a single person. You're back to being that single heroine. That means you're movie-worthy. You could be played in some annoying romantic comedy by some annoying hot actress. Congrats.
You're lonely, and there's no quick fix for that, but loneliness is a part of life. If you can learn to cope with solitude -- and love yourself as a single person (as opposed to diagnosing yourself with leprosy) -- you'll be much better off when you find another partner.
And don't reconcile with your ex. It's a bad idea. You've made it clear that you're excited to be with someone new.
Readers? Who would play her in the annoying romantic comedy of her life? Is she asking for too much after a year? Does it get easier to be single over time? Should she consider the ex? Is it possible she has dating leprosy? Is her resume the problem? Discuss.
Q: A few years ago my husband and I were separated for six months. We both felt like our marriage was ending -- we were living far from family and friends and we had no resources (like counseling) available to help us deal with it. The situation was miserable but we resolved to maintain a friendly co-parenting relationship. I moved back to Boston for work with our two small children -- absolutely the toughest months of my life. After a few more months, he landed a job here and moved.
Well, many of our older problems started to seem kind of trivial and we discovered that there were some very strong parts of our 10-year relationship that had survived. It seemed natural to start spending all our free time together, and after a few months he moved back in. He still tells me every day how much he loves me and how grateful he is for this second chance. We're making plans for buying a house. We're talking about having more children (we had both always dreamed of a big family). We have great friends and family who are happy to see us back together. And thankfully our children barely remember the time we were separated. Sometimes it seems like a bad dream -- although we both learned a lot about ourselves during that time and hopefully came out of it wiser.
Our relationship had several issues that led to the separation. We were married young and after 10 years, there were still issues both of us needed to resolve. But the immediate trigger was (of course!) another woman. She was quite a bit younger and she believed whatever he told her -- that he already planning to leave me, that he was sleeping on the couch, that he was staying around for the kids, etc. Now that we're back together, she still holds onto the idea that he's just sticking it out with me until our children grow older and will then be "free" again. She still e-mails him and tries to make plans with him occasionally. He answers her e-mails but hasn't seen her in person -- mostly he just tells her he's busy.
I would like him to set the record straight with her and explain that he was not quite so "finished" with his marriage as he made it appear. He doesn't think it's right to burden her with the knowledge that he lied and says she'll eventually figure out that he's serious about staying in our marriage and growing old with me. He says she's naive and a bit silly but genuinely a nice person and he doesn't want to hurt her feelings. What do you think? Would it be kinder for him to tell her the truth? It would certainly make me feel better, but then again, he hasn't done anything in these few years to give me a reason to worry and I don't want to be paranoid about this.
– The Other Woman Won't Give Up, Boston
A: You're right and your husband's wrong, TOWWGU.
There are only two reasons for your husband to be vague about his marital status with this other woman. Reason 1) He wants to know that she'll be waiting for him, just in case. Reason 2) He's behaving like a big-time coward because he feels ridiculous about leading her on for so long.
It's probably 2. It's usually 2. But 2 is still pretty bad. Yes, this woman should take the hint and stop waiting around for a guy who's living with his wife, but your husband is giving her reason to be confused.
He has to tell her for her sanity. He has to tell her for your sanity. He has to tell her because marital do-overs take courage. Your husband needs to prove he has some.
Your gut is right. By not being the bad guy, he's being the bad guy. It's sort of inexcusable.
Send him a link to this. Because I think everyone's going to agree with me (and you).
Readers? Is he really scared to hurt this other woman's feelings? Does he have to be cruel to be kind? Does he want this other woman around as a back-up plan? How can the letter writer make her husband understand why this is cowardly? Talk.
I liked yesterday's discussion. Thanks for that.
Q: Hi everyone. I'm a longtime lurker, infrequent commenter, and have found myself with a question I'm unable to answer, so I figured it was time to put it out there to those with more experience. I'm in my early 40s and newly divorced after a 21-year marriage. I was shy and socially awkward in high school and college, and my ex-husband was really my only relationship, so I have a lot to learn.
After so long with one partner, I had decided that I was not going to date for a while, instead taking the time to figure out who I am "uncoupled," and what I want for myself (and my child) as I move forward through all this. However, in April I met someone through a friend of a friend and he and I started talking. Neither one of us was looking for anything from the other, especially since we live about an hour apart, but we found ourselves having a lot in common. We went from talking online every few days to phone calls to dating, in what has felt like a very natural progression.
So I guess my question is this: I've often read and heard that the transitional relationship is doomed. Is that always true? In spite of trying to go slowly and carefully, I'm really finding myself falling for this man. We enjoy each other's company, we're learning a lot from each other, and the um ... pajama parties ... are incredible. Because we came into this as friends first, we are really honest with each other, and he's not pushing me to go any faster than I am comfortable.
Am I worrying over nothing? Should I just shut up and enjoy this whatever-it-is and stop thinking about where it might lead? Why does it rattle me so much that we had our picture taken together this weekend? (Okay, so I guess I have more than just one question, but that one I asked first is the big one.)
– Nervous Nellie, Providence
A: That last question made me giggle, NN. Pictures mean there's evidence. Pictures mean that there will be something to stare at or burn if it doesn't work out. Pictures mean it's a thing.
As for the rest of your angst, I blame self-help books, television, catch phrases, etc. You probably heard a lot of silly, trendy dating terms and proclamations during your marriage, statements about men being from Mars, guys just not being into various women, friends with benefits, and rebound/transitional relationships.
Forget everything you heard. As it turns out, all relationships are different. We’re all from the same planet. Everyone is rebounding from something in life. Actions and words are both pretty important. And while timing is quite important, it isn't everything.
I don't know what you've got going on with this guy -- I can't define it for you -- but I do know that it sounds good and quite picture-worthy. And that's probably why you're freaking out. You suddenly have something to lose. That's sort of cool, right?
I know it's scary, but enjoy. What else can you do?
Readers? Can you help her with the concept of transitional relationships? Am I right that all relationships start as transitional relationships? Why did she freak about the picture? Is it bad that she didn't get her "uncoupled" time? Is this just fear of failure? Discuss.
I feel like the subject of this letter is going to be Boston's most eligible bachelor today.
Q: I don't know if this is a topic that fits in with love letters exactly, but I am going to ask away. A very good friend of mine recently got divorced. We are both 34. He was married for nearly seven years, and he and his wife were together years before that. In the time that he was with his former wife, basically all of our friends (myself included) got married and started having children. When we were young, we all lived in the city and went out all of the time. A few of us still live in the city, but for the most part, everyone has moved out into the suburbs somewhere.
My friend’s wife left him out of the blue. They had some minor issues and a larger one over when to try to start a family, but he was blindsided when she said she wanted to move out and get a divorce. That was earlier this year.
Since then it has become clear that he is completely panicked about ending up alone and does not really know where to begin to find someone new. When we go out as friends, we aren't going out anymore like we did when we were in our 20s. Now it's just a meet-up after work for a beer and some dinner, or to get together on the weekend to watch a game. But most nights I am home and in bed in time to watch “The Daily Show.”
Because of this, I think he constantly feels nervous about being alone and feels pressure to take advantage of any possible situation he comes across. Any sort of encounter with a single female he gets nervous and awkward. He thinks every chance might be his last. I know he eventually wants children and that's just adding to the pressure. And these chances to even meet someone are infrequent, and they involve situations where there is little to no chance of success (he may try to talk to a waitress, bartender, etc.). Most nights end with him just going home by himself to a big house that he used to share with his wife, and it is just empty. And I know that is hurting him the most -- the time at home with his thoughts.
So, I guess what I am asking for is any advice that I may be able to pass on to him, or any advice for me as his friend, and what I can (or can't) do to try to help?
– Concerned for my friend, Weymouth
A: This is a topic that fits with Love Letters, CFMF. Friends of singles must know how to treat them.
The first thing to know is it hasn't been very long. Your friend's wife left him earlier this year. It's normal to mourn this kind of thing for a while.
But there are some things you can do to help him.
1. Remind your pal that your social circle is just one group of people in their 30s. There are zillions (not an official statistic) of other people in their 30s who are single and itching to make babies. There are a few more zillions who are single and out on the town. Remind him that despite the look of your group, the supply of age-appropriate partners who are looking to mate and procreate isn't running dry. He's seeing a small sample.
2. Tell him to start expanding his social circle. Encourage him (not patronizingly!) to join a softball league, a young professionals group -- some activity that will put him in the mix with other singles. If he sees that he's not so alone in the single world, he may feel less crazed when he meets women. And bars won't seem like the only answer.
3. Skip "The Daily Show" every now and then. I know Jon Stewart is the best thing to look at before bed, but maybe go watch a game at your friend's house on a Tuesday. Or maybe take him to IKEA on a Wednesday night to buy some stuff to make his place look different. Plan a few outings (they don't have to be bar outings) that don't involve kids and couples. Leave the spouses at home. It doesn't have to happen often, just sometimes.
4. Know that no matter what he does, he's going to be a bit out of sorts for a while. He just got out of a very long relationship. He's divorcing. This phase won't last forever. He's getting his bearings. It may take some time. Keep validating.
And maybe send him a link to this letter. Because I have a feeling that a lot of readers are going to tell you that your friend sounds like a pretty fantastic catch.
Readers? Thoughts for this very nice friend? How can this LW help his pal without patronizing him? Is anyone out there the single man/woman in their group of married friends? Is IKEA the answer? Discuss.
I won't be in chat today. I'm in New York with my sister and her boyfriend. But please join Glenn Yoder, who will be dressing up in my clothes and moderating the chat. He'll be there at 1. Wearing heels.
And don't forget to send your book reviews. You know who you are.
Q: So it has come to this. I cannot waste any more of my oh-so-fleeting free time analyzing the relationship I've found myself in for the past 12 months. I am divorced -- married three years, divorced for three years. Physically/emotionally ignorant, abusive ex-husband. An aberration to my upbringing and to my own 32-yr-development of healthy self esteem and identity. Guess I was trying to help/save him. Played like it always does. For three years I've been back to me. Love myself (not narcissistically), LOVE my 5-yr-old daughter (father is the erratic ex), have the best family, and am grateful for every waking moment. Really.
I met "Counterpart," we'll call him, last summer. He was separated for maybe four months from his wife of three years and lived apart from her for that time. He and I have been seeing each other once or twice a month to date since then. His divorce was legally finalized in March. Here's the cute part: we grew up together and were each other's childhood crushes beginning in kindergarten, ending in first grade, but continuing to have the same experiences in the same places w/ mutual friends up until age 22. We moved to different places, thought it would be good to get married to others in our mid-20s per script. His wife, from his explanation, was not nice i.e., which, always wanted her way, got her way, dragged him around until he lost his cool, witty, smart rebel attitude that I had always observed. Now we find ourselves together. He tells me I am the (insert superlative). He claims to never have had as much fun and ease with anyone but me ever. BUT -- he is afraid. Afraid of failing. Afraid of me suddenly rolling my eyes at him. Afraid of me demanding to choose what I want and selfishly ignoring his needs. Afraid of me hating his friends and not wanting to see his family. Afraid of me superficially wanting a big house. These are all things his ex did. These are all things completely out of my character. I am silently insulted. It is not fair. I am being punished for the experiences of his dissolved marriage.
He hates his life situation he's said, all except for me -- "the one thing he has to look forward to and make him happy." I deem him to be the most considerate, heart-warming, compliment giving, humorous, handsome, thoughtful, genuine, naughty in a good way, music loving, hardworking, makes me feel like the only-woman-alive kind of guy. But yes, we see each other only once a month for the past year. Granted we are busy w/ work, family obligations on both ends, me a single mom ... Excuses? He brought up the exclusivity talk immediately when we started dating. We are sure on that. He initiates contact on the phone every two days. Never makes false promises. Every date is like a first date. Fun, but yeah, 16 first dates. In his word he doesn't want us to be anything so that way we cannot break up or hurt each other. You and I know it is past that point. I can't rush him. Should I back away after a year and give him time? I have a daughter to raise and a good career to distract me. But I crave companionship (as long as it is from someone awesome). He just means so much to me, worth it more than any other guy I've encountered. How do I approach this? Do I wait? Is it ultimatum time? Thank you for reading my Walter Mitty stream of consciousness tirade. I love him. Help me.
– The waiting feel is not so fine, Boston
A: I don't know if his reluctance to commit is about you, his ex, his family obligations, or his "rebel attitude," TWFINSF. But I do know that you're already rolling your eyes at him. You're already frustrated that you're not getting what you need.
If you gave him an ultimatum, what would it be? How often would you want to see him? How involved would you want him to be in your life? Figure out exactly what you want and talk to him about it. He'll either want to meet somewhere in the middle -- or he won't. Call it an ultimatum if you want, but I call it honesty. The first-date phase of your relationship has run its course. As you put it, it's past that point.
I know your story is romantic, but you have to forget what happened when you were five. If he's not ready for more than a string of first dates, you have to consider other options. I'm not so sure he can ask for exclusivity and demand distance at the same time. And I'm not so sure you should wait for someone who's content to see you just 16 to 24 times a year. Right now he's a phone friend with benefits.
Readers? Should she wait? Is this about his fear? Is once or twice a month OK when you have family obligations/kids/etc.? Does he get a pass because his divorce is so new? What's going on here? Talk.
I think we should all ditch work and meet at some restaurant with a patio.
Q: My ex-husband and I have been divorced since our children were small (they are now in their 20s). I remarried once for a brief and unfortunate time and I've had a few long, failed relationships. He used to date but hasn't in many years. We are both single now and remain very good friends.
He was always involved with the children, and our kids never remember us fighting or saying mean things to each another. Over the years we have changed and things just aren't as big a deal as they were when we were in our 20s. We are both nice people from good families and our families like one another.
My ex has always been welcome in our home. He spent Christmas Eves with us to wake up with the boys on Christmas morning (we slept in separate rooms). He came to every birthday party, and eventually every party we ever had he came as a friend and part of the family.
We remember being married and having many good times together. We now help each other with household things. He has helped me even when my boyfriend was living with me recently. My boyfriend and I used to visit him at his house.
We get along really well and have the same sense of humor and ethics. Not least of all we have our children's welfare in common. Recently I remodeled a room in my house. My ex helped me and we had a great time.
He is now doing his own remodel and asked me to help him with the design. It is my pleasure to help him - not only is it fun for me but I really enjoy his company. I think he enjoys mine. He never acts romantic at all and gives me no indication that he would like the relationship to evolve.
I admit I do think about it. I'd love to ask him to go out with me on a regular date: something fun, like a movie or concert. But I have some self-esteem issues surrounding my failed relationships. I'd be humiliated if he told me no, and I don't want to put our nice relationship at risk. I'd rather take what I have than risk not having his precious friendship. I would hate to think he would hesitate to call me because I put him on the spot. But, what if...?
– I am a lonely painter, I live in a box of paints, Boston
A: IAALPILIABOP, I'd take the emotional risk and ask your ex-husband/father-of-your-grown-children out on a date. And please, make sure he knows that it would be a date date. You guys sound chummy enough that a simple dinner-and-a-movie request might not be a big enough hint.
If he doesn't want to be with you like that -- if he has turned you from wife into platonic best friend -- well, yes, it's going to sting. And it may take you some time before you can jump in and remodel his home. But … aren't "what ifs" more painful? You can feel safe knowing that whatever happens, this man adores you. I'm pretty sure he'll go out of his way to help you cope with the rejection he doesn't feel the same way.
Please do not live in a box of paints. Please do not let this turn into an unrequited love situation where you're remodeling his home so that he can live there with someone else with him never knowing that you were an option.
And please, please, please -- give us an update when you know what's what.
Readers? Should she risk the perfect friendship she has with the father of her children by asking him on a date? Do you think he has feelings for her based on his close ties to her -- even when their kids aren’t involved? How bad would it be if he rejected her? Anyone have a friendship like this with an ex-spouse? Anyone live in a box of paints? Discuss.
Points to anyone who can find a Dickinson poem that matches the sentiment of this letter.
Q: Hello Meredith
I am a daily reader and a first time writer with a question about moving on. I have been divorced for seven years with teenage children, a great career, and what seems like a good-to-great life.
I am currently seeing a wonderful woman who is smart, caring, attractive, and has it together. We have been seeing each other for about five months. My problem is that back in September I broke off a relationship of a year and a half. The woman I was seeing was divorced with two children.
The relationship began rocky due to her having several personal and professional issues, which caused her above-average stress. But through it all, I was falling in love with her, and she with me. I loved this woman and felt loved like I had never felt in my life. So I stayed, and constantly supported her through a bad business-partnership breakup, repair and sale of a home, and several medical issues. Again, the love was real and pure.
Fast-forward a year-plus later, she began to talk marriage and engagement. I admit, this was not what I wanted at this point, but I agreed to living together. She was adamant about the engagement. I continued to say, “After your life is settled, we can revisit this, but I love you, and would like to be with you everyday and the rest of our lives.” Her children adored me and I treated them as if they were mine. We all spent a month traveling together last summer.
The relationship went down hill after that, with many small disagreements. Once there was a disagreement, she would shut down for days and not want to communicate. Well, after so much of this, I broke it off. My problem is, there was no closure, and I still think about her and in my heart, I truly love her. I know this has an affect on my new relationship. What do I do?
– Need to Move On, Andover
A: I don't believe in closure -- no such thing, NTMO -- but I do believe in reality checks. You need to reach out to your ex before you start turning her into something she wasn't.
When there's a nagging question messing up your life, I always recommend answering it. Seeing your ex (or just talking to her) will make it clear that the love is gone... or maybe you'll both decide that you miss the heck out of each other.
Do you have to tell current partner that you plan to chat with your ex? I'm not sure --because you've given me no indication of how committed you're supposed to be to this new woman. In fact, you really haven't told me anything about her. All you did was give me a vague list of her positive attributes. That's something to consider. You wrote two sentences about your new partner and about four paragraphs that suggest that you believe your break-up with your ex was more about frustration and over-reaction than loss of love.
Know that no matter what happens with the ex, you should consider whether you can rally for this new woman. You seem "good-to-great" – as opposed to excited-to-ecstatic – about her place in your life. If you knew your ex was gone for good, would you be any more excited about this new woman? Five months of thinking about someone else means it's time to consider whether you're wasting her time. Get these questions answered pronto.
Readers? Did he start dating too soon after the ex? Can he be interested in this new woman and stuck on the ex at the same time? How can he move on? Am I wrong to suggest that he should reach out to the ex? What would a reclusive poet in Amherst say about this? Help.
Remember to RSVP for the June 4 Love Letters/ Extra Bases party to email@example.com. We need to know how many free cars to bring.
Just kidding. No one is getting a free car.
And remember to chat at 1.
Q: Hi Mere,
I have been a faithfully devoted reader of yours even though I have moved to NY.
I have been married for five years. I am 27 years old and I have a very young child with my husband "Steve."
Like I said, Steve and I have been married five years, but we've been together for almost a decade. We met online when I was a junior in high school. Anywho, to make a long story even longer, after talking online for two years, we met, connected, and were engaged within a year. I was engaged by the time I was 20 ... and also very overweight. I love Steve, always have, always will. I just feel like things are off between us.
When we were about a month away from our wedding, I found out he had been online, trading pictures with women and commenting on their pictures. He was so apologetic, and to be honest, I was scared that I would never find anyone else because I was so overweight. And I loved him, so, so much. So I went through with the wedding.
He is my best friend, really and truly, and I would tell him all of this if I didn't think it would hurt him. We have been separated once before, a few years ago for a few months. We decided to try to work it out. The next year I had our child. Since then (well, for longer than just then) things have been strained between us. I have lost A LOT of weight (something snapped inside me when I realized that I had another life to worry about) and slowly but surely I lost 112 lbs. So here we are, 2010, 112 lbs lighter, in a whole lot better shape (I actually fit in for society's standards), and more confident. Not completely though.
Since about a year after we started dating, we have had issues with our "frequency" *ahem*. At the beginning, we were all over each other, then it became less frequent, maybe once every other week, then once a month, then once every other month. Now I am lucky if it happens every three or four months. Like I said, I am 27, I have a young child, and I am so scared. He is an EXCELLENT father and he loves me, but I don't feel as though he is IN LOVE with me. I don't even know if I'm in love with him at this point. I gave up my job so that he could take his dream job in NY and now I am a stay at home mom and I spend all day alone with my son (have been going to Mommy and Me classes, but those haven't been working out for us the greatest).
I just want to know what you would do in my situation. Does a passion-filled-relationship exist? Is it possible to have someone that is IN LOVE with me, as well as treat me with respect? I don't think it's fair to have my child grow up with my husband and I having just a friendship. I don't want my child to think a relationship can't be more. Will anyone else want me even though I have a baby? Or should I just accept what I am in and realize that I am lucky to be married to a friend? I asked Steve to go to therapy with me and he said that he "doesn't need it."
Steve wants me to figure out what it is that I want and to talk to him about it when I have decided. I don't know what to do. I hope you can help ...
– Oh, So Confused, NY
A: OSC, you know what bothers me most about your letter? This: "Steve wants me to figure out what it is that I want and to talk to him about it when I have decided."
Um ... does Steve not have an opinion? He quite obviously hasn't rallied and yelled, "I love you. Please don't leave."
I cringe at the thought of telling anyone to get divorced, so I'll say it advice-columnist-style. You are way too young to be in a relationship with a guy who makes you feel like a roommate. Kid or no kid, you deserve to be in a happy household, especially at your age.
I can't promise you that the transition out of your marriage would be easy, and I certainly can't promise that there will be some awesome guy who appears out of nowhere and says, "Wow, I'd like to help you raise your baby." But there might be. And at the very least, there would be hope.
Steve's lack of accountability in this process is what makes me think that he's already banking on a split. He's refusing therapy. He is what he is. He's a good father -- which will come in handy whether you're in the same house or not -- but he's not a good husband, at least not for you. If he has no plans to change, you have to think about what's best for you and this baby. I think it's pretty important to have parents who are full of hope about life. You seem to feel the same way.
Readers? Should she stay? Is there something to be salvaged here? Are people open to dating someone with a very young child? Is here weight loss an issue here? Discuss.
Thank you to those who entered the worst advice-"Lady With All the Answers" contest yesterday. I picked a winner last night. There are still tickets for sale. Just make sure you type LANDERS (as in Ann Landers) on the Central Square Theatre site to get a discount, and make sure you buy for the Saturday show, which is when I'll be there to say hello.
In other news, our marketing department tells me that RSVPs are rolling in for June 4. I'm excited to see you, too.
In other, other news, someone affiliated with the Red Sox (I'm not supposed to say who) is going to help me answer some letters next week to celebrate the aforementioned Love Letters/Extra Bases party. Any letter that comes to me between now and next Wednesday might wind up in the hands of this Red Sox-type person. If you want love advice from me and from someone wearing red and blue, now's the time to send. Remember when we got help from the Celtics legends? It will be something like that.
And now, meet Mitch.
As a guy, I admittedly feel odd/weird for writing you. But so be it. I'm a 33-year-old, college-educated white male. Not exotic by any means, but pretty normal when juxtaposed with the next random guy. I married my college girlfriend at 23; heartbroken, shocked and divorced by 27. We both made mistakes -- minor and major -- so I don't blame her for my current state. (There's a reason people say you're too young to get married, but I digress.) I'm not sure what exactly it was, but that experience changed me.
Since then, I feel that I subconsciously sabotage relationships after a few years. For example, I lived with my post-divorce girlfriend (and another male roommate) for 18 months. We both had issues, but I believe I exacerbated them with my primal desire to "find something new" and unwillingness to fully commit to her. That relationship ended. After three or so years I'm now living with my current girlfriend. She's sweet, friendly, and a really great person. So why am I always looking at other women wondering, "What if?" Why am I attracted to her friends? Am I just a normal male? Or simply just selfish?
This will sound odd, but sometimes I wish I could have my sex drive reduced so I could maintain a normal, loyal relationship with my current girlfriend. To be clear, I haven't been with anyone else since we moved from dating to exclusivity, but the desire is definitely there. Am I still really this immature at 33? Or am I just addicted to the drug of "newness"?
– Mitch in Dallas
A: Mitch, this isn't about your sex drive. It's about the fact that you got married young and it didn't work out. You're over all that (as much as you can be), and now you're suffering from desire to roam and too much opportunity. More than a few women have wanted to be your girlfriend. And those women have had friends, and their friends have had friends, too. I'm not so sure I'd call this immaturity. You just flipped 23 and 33. You're out of order. And it's difficult to motivate to choose from a pack when your first choice didn't work out like you planned.
I'm sure your current girlfriend is wonderful, but I'm not so sure you can give her what she wants right now. You need to get yourself from 23 to 28 (or 26, at the very least). It's up to you to decide how strong these urges are. It's one thing to fantasize about other women. It's another to know in the back of your mind that at some point, you're going to need to act on these instincts. If you know you can't stay with this woman forever and that you need more experience, you have to tell her.
Regardless of whether you stay with her, these flighty, flirty instincts will go away eventually. I'm confident about that -- not because all wandering eyes can be cured, but because your wandering eye is a result of an ill-timed experience. At one point in your life, your instinct was to give yourself to one person. You'll want that again. Eventually, being with anyone besides your current love will seem like too much work without the right benefits. That's when you'll be ready. You just jumped into more commitment too quickly.
Readers? Is Mitch a bad guy? Am I right to say he'll work through this? Do some people have drives that make it impossible to think about just one person? Does he have to break up with his current girlfriend just because he's thinking about other people? Help Mitch on a Friday.
News of the day: I have an asthma doctor appointment at 1 p.m. today. I tried to explain that my lungs are far less important than my 1 p.m. chat, but my doctor suggested that breathing is necessary when giving rational advice. She has a point.
For that reason, we'll be chatting at 1 p.m. tomorrow. I hope that doesn't mess with anyone's lives. My lungs thank you.
And ... Love Letters party June 4. Please save the date.
Q: Hope you can help me get some clarity in my relationship. I’ve been dating a girl who I will call Lisa for about six months now exclusively.
Lisa is someone I briefly dated about a decade ago. We are both in our 30s now. Both of us have been married before, both of us have fulltime jobs and kids.
She and I connect in many ways and we both feel like a future together is very possible. My question to you and your reader is this:
We live several towns away from each other. We only see each other once every 10 days or so, but we talk daily. Our intimate relationship is almost nonexistent.
At the beginning of most relationships it tends to be hot and heavy. This one has been the opposite.
My mind tells me that this is not normal and could only get worse, but my heart tells me Lisa could be the woman for me.
We've have talked about this problem recently and she says that she has a busy hectic life. She wants to let things develop slowly because she sees us working out. I also have a hectic lifestyle but could always find time.
Am I being impatient? Or does love really takes time to develop the older you get?
– Paul, Andover
A: Six months. Almost nonexistent? I wish I knew what you meant by almost, Paul.
Not all relationships are hot and heavy in the beginning. When people have been hurt, when they're balancing kids and work on their own, the beginning can be slow and cautious.
On the other hand, you're both quite young. I might argue that the perfect anecdote to a busy, stressful, single-parent lifestyle is a nice evening out with an understanding significant other. I'm wondering why she isn't more confident and relaxed after six months.
My big issue is the lack of regular interaction. You only see her every 10 days? That's not very often after six months. If you're both thinking that this could be something more, you're going to have to spend more time together. And if you do, you'll get a better sense of whether the lack of physical intimacy will continue if you become a bigger part of her life.
My guess -- and this is a very blind guess -- is that after a failed marriage, she's emotionally exhausted. She cares for you but wants to keep it safe. She's trying to prolong the beginning of this relationship to avoid the messy stuff that comes after.
Or maybe she has stress about you becoming involved with her kids. If so, she needs to come up with a plan for having a personal life and parenting at the same time.
You must explain that only seeing each other every 10 days after six months isn't getting anybody anywhere. You both deserve to know if this will work, and you're willing to put in the time and energy into finding out. If every 10 days is all she can offer, your head is probably right. This can't grow unless she wants it to.
Readers? Is every 10 days not so uncommon when kids are involved? Am I right to say that discussing the frequency of visits is more productive than discussing the physical intimacy? How slowly is love supposed to grow? Discuss.
I think this makes the best-of list for Love Letters lines:
"How do you convince someone you'll love them till death without dying?"
Q: Hi Meredith,
I must admit I never thought I would be the guy asking for advice on my relationship, but here I am ... on the verge of a divorce from my college love. I need help because I don't want to lose her, but she seems to be bent on becoming a new person and starting a new life.
So let me preface this story of an ending by telling you a little bit about the beginning. Many years ago, when we met in college, she had the courage to call me up blindly and tell me that she had been stalking me for a couple weeks. This was our freshman year. Her confidence and overall attractiveness sold me. We met and instantly liked each other. It wasn't instant love or a passionate college romance, but we had fun and grew to really love each other by college graduation. In fact I knew that someday I would marry her.
She moved in a year after graduation. We did everything together and we enjoyed many of the same things. But as we grew more accustomed to each other, I think some of that sparkle in our eyes started disappearing. The love got stronger but sex was rare. I was OK with that. The problem was, she wasn't OK with that. Over the years I think she started to doubt her attractiveness and self worth, even though I would constantly give her praise and attention. She needed actions not words, and I tried, but the pressure of my job, my sick parents, and everything else pertaining to daily life was weighing on me. I had a hard time being the romantic that she wanted me to, even though I tried my hardest.
The issues persisted year after year, and we had conversations on a quarterly basis about how we'd fix it, but we never did. Both of us just talked, agreed, and then crossed our arms. She didn't do anything and neither did I. I'm not sure why. She started gaining a lot of weight and started working late just to avoid me, and I feel like she would try and say things just to annoy me so that I would hate her. But all I kept doing was trying to get her out of her rut. Maybe I was too supportive. I don't know. Maybe I was a friend and not a lover. Again, I'm not sure. But as our friendship grew, our passion disappeared.
Fast forward to last year, we're in marriage counseling, she's in exit mode and I'm trying to convince her to look forward not back. I have a new job. My parents are still sick, but I'm more comfortable now with their situation. I was and still am a changed man, and I have been constantly fighting, hoping that she'll have an epiphany of some sort -- an epiphany about who I am and how much I really mean to her.
For the past two years, she has been telling me that she is confused. She doesn't know what she wants, but she knows that she has a hard time forgetting our past. She has a hard time processing the downs, and she doesn't focus on the ups. She's depressed and upset and no matter how much I tell her I love her, she doesn't believe me. "Why now?" she would ask. "Why do you try hard now?" And all I could do was say that "When times got bad, I realized what I really wanted, and it was you" -- and that was the honest truth.
I love and I want my wife more than ever, but she tells me she can't get past what's happened. She can't get over the doubt. She moved out of the house and it has been months now since I last saw her. I cry every day, I'm on a rollercoaster of emotions. I still want her as my wife but how do you convince someone you love them till death without dying? We were born to be together, but a blip in our past is blinding her future. I am willing to do whatever it takes to keep her. Is there anything I can do???
– Dog Willing to Try New Tricks
A: First of all, DWTTNT, what you're describing doesn't sound like a blip to me. I'm not trying to make you feel worse, but your wife dealt with years of rejection and self-doubt.
I feel for her. It probably took a great deal of courage for her to make the decision to let you go. Then, just as she's feeling confident about her choice, you rally. Talk about confusing.
I don't know what you can do to fix this besides words followed by actions, assuming she's open to either. It's about classic, consistent wooing. It's about showing her that you want what she wants.
But before you do any more lobbying, please think about what you really desire. She felt unattractive because you didn't want to sleep with her. Do you want to sleep with her now? She felt as though the romance was gone. Are you feeing romantic about her now?
If your angst and pain over the loss of her is really about losing your best friend, think hard about whether you should be begging her to come home. Some people are very happy just being best friends with their partner after a decade or so. Your wife has made it clear that she wants more, that her definition of marriage involves romance and passion from start to finish. If you can't live up to that expectation (or have no desire to), consider what's best for both of you.
You both love each other to death. I don't think she's really questioning that. She's questioning whether you have similar goals for your marriage. Do you?
Readers? What can he do to get her back? Should he get her back? Is this too little, too late? Why isn’t she responding to his new agenda? Help.
My friend/colleague Geoff Edgers made a wonderful movie that's playing at the Somerville Theatre on Saturday night as part of the Independent Film Festival Boston. It's called "Do It Again," and it's about Geoff's quest to reunite his favorite band, the Kinks. It's very funny and has some great appearances by Sting, Zooey Deschanel, Robin Hitchcock -- and me. I'm only in it for about a minute, but I still like to tell people that I'm starring in a movie with Zooey Deschanel. I can't imagine I'll ever be able to say that again … unless they do make "Love Letters: The Movie" and Zooey plays ... Alice? BackBayBabe?
Anyway, you can buy tickets to the screening here, but Geoff is giving us a pair for free. If you want them, write two sentences explaining why and send them to meregoldstein at gmail.com. Make sure the subject line says "PICK ME GLENN" – because rocker/Love Letters guy Glenn Yoder will be going through my e-mail and picking the winner. Submissions are due tomorrow at 9 a.m. Glenn will contact the winner by 5 p.m. tomorrow.
Speaking of Glenn, he'll be running today's chat while I'm out of the office for a trip. Be nice to him.
Q: Long time listener, first time caller --love your show! Now, down to business. Here's my situation: My boyfriend and I have been together six months. It was love at first sight. It was magical. We're inseparable. I want him and us forever. He wants/feels the same. We talk about the future. I'm 28. He's 31. I've dated a handful of good, quality guys through my 20s, some for a couple months, some for a couple years. I've had single time to learn who I am and what I'm looking for. I wasn't ready to talk "future" until I met this one. Everything is different and I've never been happier.
Here's my "but." Here's my dilemma. Here's why I'm writing. Technically, he's still married. He was married for seven years. They had been separated for two years when he and I started dating. There is no question that the pending divorce will happen. However, over the course of our six months together, more and more details have come out regarding exactly what the divorce road is going to look like for him/us. Long story short, the soon-to-be-ex is a feisty one. They own a house together (she lives there -- he has his apartment). They own a time share together. They have multiple credit cards in both of their names. His father receives financial assistance and for some reason those checks go to her name only. They still share car insurance. Since it's not legally over, he's still getting her benefits deducted from his check. He transfers money to her personally every month, not to the actual cards or banks. I conclude that she's feisty from the many interactions that I've witnessed and heard about. One day they'll talk and she'll be happy and cooperative. The next day they talk, she'll be crying, upset, profane, hang up, not return calls, or even drop the "I love you" on him. I understand this means reality is setting in for her. When I bring up my opinion/suggestion/advice such as paying the banks directly and taking initiative to get this stuff taken care of, I am met with his desire to not "rock the boat." He has explained that he's waiting until the divorce is complete to push anything else because he's scared she'll retaliate, get attorneys, push them further in debt, etc. Since I learned of this relationship (he told me on our third date), I have tried to prepare myself for whatever direction this road is going to take. I believe my boyfriend and our future together is worth going through this.
One more important detail. He moved for me -- across several states. They don't see each other. There is no potential for that. Also, he lived with a roommate for those two years they were separated. Lately though, I've been fearful that this isn't going to end. He's made a couple comments about how in the future, maybe he'll check in with her on her birthday or maybe they'll be friends on Facebook when all of this if over. For some reason I've been OK with everything we're currently dealing with, but now I'm beginning to think she will never go away.
My questions/concerns I hope you and your readers can help me with are: Am I living in a fantasy world thinking she'll just disappear when this is over? Why wasn't this taken care of before we met? Am I being pushy? How do I continue to deal with this situation (that I'm convinced could take years with debt and house)? Am I over-reacting? Am I entitled to be uncomfortable? How do I avoid resentment that I can offer him 100 percent but I can’t have the same in return….yet?
– Want Him All To Myself, Waltham
A: You're right, WHATM. Your boyfriend has been passive about separating from his ex. That's something to resent, for sure. Postponing necessary conflict out of fear is one thing when you're only worried about yourself. It's another thing when it hurts your current partner. I get that he doesn't want to rock her boat, but he should be worried about rocking yours. Your boat is just as important.
This is bound to be a bumpy ride. It's debt and divorce, after all. But he can help by explaining his plan and timeline to you and by making sure that he follows through. He can help himself by seeking advice from a financial expert. Perhaps he can see someone with his ex so that everyone knows the plan and that there's a witness to an agreement.
At the end of the day, you can't control what he does. You can't put him and his ex in a room and force them to map out their divorce. You can only advise. But you can expect his honesty, and you have every right to demand a timeline. I think that if you know his goals and believe that there are some deadlines, you'll be less resentful and frustrated. Demand to know the plan. If there isn't one, well, he's rocking everyone's boat. Make that known.
As for the birthday/Facebook thing ... well, I'm not worried about that. Feisty or not, this woman was your boyfriend's wife. At some point, they loved each other so much they invested in a time share. It's not surprising that he fantasizes about sending her a birthday card or messaging her on Facebook. It doesn't mean that he ever will. It's just that divorce is hard and he dreams of a time when he and his ex can look back on their relationship with a nostalgic smile. Even if he has moved on and is in love with you, he's still going to have mixed emotions about the end of a seven-year relationship.
Readers? Does the letter writer have the right to push her boyfriend to be more aggressive about the split? Is it weird that her boyfriend still shares accounts with his ex? Is it wrong for the boyfriend to want to remain in contact with the ex? How can the letter writer avoid resenting everyone and feeling helpless? Discuss.
What are we supposed to know after 18 months?
Also, chat day. 1 p.m.
Q: Hi Meredith,
I'm confused about what to do, if anything, about my boyfriend. Quick background: I'm 41, divorced for 2 years, and have been dating a man for 18 months. We were friendly before we started dating, and for the first few months all was great. About three months into it, he surprised me one night by telling me that he was still getting over a former girlfriend, seeing a therapist, and in general, dealing with massive heartbreak. I never saw any of this until he told me. I was OK with it because the truth is that I was (am) transitioning out of a 15 year marriage and wasn't looking for a serious romance. Since then, we've gone on vacation several times, met each other's families, he gets along great with my kids, gotten closer, etc. I am head over heels.
Cut to present: he says that he loves me, can't imagine life without me but is still dealing with the fallout from the previous woman. I believe he's also going through a mid-life crisis. He turns 50 next year, never been married, no kids, bored with job, etc.
I'm not exactly issue free either. I'm about to start working full time after eight years at home with my kids. My finances aren't great (divorce stuff). I'm pretty much a full-time parent and I've been involved in exactly 3 serious relationships since I was 18. I don't have much casual dating experience.
My dilemma: Someday, I would like to create a family again with someone special. We've been dating for 18 months and the "future" question has come up a few times. I have no clear answer and neither does he. Other than this "future" question, things are good. That said, knowing that I do want a family someday and considering all that we are dealing with as individuals right now, do I stay or do I go? How long to too long for a relationship like this? Am I being an idiot?
– Not so sure anymore, Newton
A:NSSA, I've got questions.
When you say you want to have a family "someday," when do you mean? In a year? In five? When you say you want a family, what do you mean? A man living in your home with your kids? And finally, based on your 18 months with this guy, is this the man you want in your home?
If you can't answer those questions with any certainty, why not enjoy the status quo? He says he can't imagine life without you but that he's not quite ready for more. If you're being honest in your letter, you also have some issues you'd like to deal with before you're ready for a greater commitment.
In think your big question is: Does he secretly know that at some point he's going to bail? Good question. I, too, am sitting here wondering whether he's using the whole heartbreak thing to ward off commitment. Maybe. But my guess is that his "I'm still in pain" line means really means, "I'm not 100 percent with you ... yet." And that's OK for right now. As long as he's not 100 percent out and just isn't ready to make his exit.
Can you ask him if he's hoping that a future with you is possible ... in the future? If his answer is, "Yes, I'm hoping for that," I think that's OK. The status quo is just great if you're both unsure and you have high hopes for growing closer. The status quo is only not OK if he's biding his time before he disappears. Ask him, and I think your gut will be able to interpret his answer.
Readers? Am I being too romantic again? Is he actually incapable of committing? Do you believe his heartbreak issues? Is this reader only pretending she doesn't know exactly what she wants? Should she stick around? Discuss.
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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.