Q: The new man in my life has a friendship with an old lover from years ago. I went out with them and clearly saw she still has a thing for him and her husband is jealous. She calls and sends him selfies.
I told my boyfriend why I don’t want to hang out, that it upsets me and makes me feel uncomfortable. He still doesn’t get it and says they’re just old friends, but he was nice about it and doesn’t want me to feel bad. The woman persists.
Am I wrong? My psychologist friend says to pretend it doesn’t bother me.
A: Here’s what would bother me, and I wouldn’t pretend otherwise:
Your new man just got a look from someone else’s perspective, and it says he’s doing something to harm two people, his ex and her husband.
The harm is apparently unwitting, but if you’re right, it’s harm nonetheless; he’s allowing oxygen to ex’s flame by not maintaining boundaries, and through that inaction he is undermining the security of another man’s marriage.
Of course, yours is just one opinion – but one opinion is plenty to move a conscientious person to take a closer look, at least. All he had to say in response to you was, “Really? That surprises me – I’ll pay more attention next time,” and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
That’s because even that open-ended response would have checked important boxes: respect for your observation skills; respect for this couple’s marriage; openness to the possibility that he’s wrong about something.
These three things, in turn, are powerful indicators of humility, and therefore character. The risk that he’ll go back to a receptive, married ex-girlfriend is a narrowly defined one, but the risks that come with wobbly character aren’t just broad, they’re profound.
This is a lot to make of one night with a flirty ex-girlfriend, I know. But digging in to what’s possible can help you understand the real reason you’re so uncomfortable, and understanding why you’re so uncomfortable can help you better articulate your concerns to your friend.
And doing so, in turn, would give him another shot at either taking an issue seriously that he may have too quickly dismissed, or explaining to you why he’s so confident in his lack of concern. Valuable either way.
Q: My partner of over a year has asked to meet my ex. While we are on good terms and ended things amicably, I don’t wish to revisit that time in my life. He has explained that he wants to see what kind of person I had been with before, simply out of curiosity.
This is the man I plan on marrying; the ring has already been ordered. How can I explain that I really don’t want to walk down that particular side street on memory lane?
A: “I really don’t want to walk down that particular side street on memory lane” would do it, as long as he doesn’t see unironic use of “memory lane” as a relationship-ending offense.
If he presses, then please consider asking him: Why does his “simply out of curiosity” take precedence over your peace of mind?
This is a rhetorical question, by the way; your “no” to his request was a complete answer that didn’t and still doesn’t need to be explained. A partner who respects your boundaries won’t push for it.
That is, if you’re detached from this ex. You do say you’re “on good terms,” so, just in case: Seeing your ex socially in a meaningful way means you can’t wall off ex-guy without giving current-guy grounds to object.
Otherwise, though, his being with you gives him no license to pry into your past.
Q: I have a good friend who is, in many respects, a kind, generous and compassionate person. However, she has developed a tendency to complain a lot about money and her salary, which is not high but is typical for her field and definitely not close to poverty-level. This makes her sound a bit spoiled, given that she indulges in things – a centrally located apartment, eating out a lot, grocery delivery services – many people do not. She also has had a lot of help from her family in the past in terms of paying for school and some assistance with rent, while many of us are making student loan payments every month.
While it is a minor annoyance to me when she says things like this, I worry this lack of self-awareness is contributing to struggles in other aspects of her life. Is there a gentle way to call her on this?
A: If it bothers you, then say so in the moment: “I have student loan payments till 2024, so maybe I’m not the right person to complain to about money.”
If it potentially-maybe-somehow bothers other people, “contributing to struggles” or not, how is that your problem to fix?
Email Carolyn at email@example.com.