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Parallax - Advice

March 10, 2003

Ex-perience?

Dear Conversely,

Ask us a Question!My boyfriend has this nasty habit of keeping in touch with his ex-girlfriends and is very close to one of them. He sees this ex for dinner every couple of weeks and they frequently talk on the phone. She lives in our neighborhood, so I run into her occasionally, and it feels awkward. I'm not sure what to make of the whole thing but it has me kind of worried. My boyfriend says it's nothing I should worry about and he is not interested in dating her, but I don't like how close they seem to be. He confides in her and probably talks about our relationship. How do I learn to deal with this? Or should I just ask him to stop spending time with her? Email to a Friend


Her view:

Dear Rear-view,

You're right on the nasty habit part. Maintaining close relationships with exes fosters all sorts of doubts and insecurities about the present relationship—even if such doubts are unfounded. There is always the threat looming that one partner could simply return to the ex if a spat were to ensue. You have every right to request he attenuate or even eliminate the time he spends with his ex. At the very least, you should communicate that it makes you uncomfortable.

Your other option is to just let it go and commit to trusting him completely. That's easier said than done in the early stage of a relationship. Frankly, it's a bit inconsiderate of him to assume you do not mind such little get-togethers. Are you invited to these events? If not, then I see a problem for certain.

He should be bringing you into the fold of his friendships. If she is now a friend, then you too, should be included. What you do depends upon how insidious you determine the relationship to be. If it truly is a sore point for you it will eventually unfold in one tantrum or another. It's better to be upfront and honest about the whole issue early on.

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His view:

Dear Rear-view,

We get questions like this all the time. Generally I side with the partner who is still occasionally seeing or talking to his or her ex. I don't think there's anything nasty about the idea, per se. After all, most people have exes, and there is nothing wrong with maintaining some manner of friendship with them. If a relationship is not strong enough on the trust axis to withstand such ties with exes, then it probably has a limited chance of surviving.

In this case, however, I have to admit that your boyfriend may be taking the old keep-in-touch habit too far. Dinner every couple of weeks and frequent phone conferences are perfectly normal for a good friend. But they do seem excessive for an ex, especially since she lives so close and he knows that it worries you.

The question of how to deal with it is tricky. You have to manage a fine balance between reassuring your man that you trust him while also making him realize that he has crossed the line.

A two-step approach could work like this: Ask him to cut back on his relationship with her. Be specific about what level of interaction would be comfortable for you, and don't ask him to stop seeing her entirely. If he doesn't give in, or if he gives in but in a few weeks nothing appears to be changing, then take the matter up with her. Bump into her and in the friendliest possible terms tell her that she is threatening to ruin your relationship with her 'best friend.'

If she is indeed just his friend, she should be willing to concede. If she isn't, then you have other problems.

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