She's Friends With Her Ex
Secrecy - Understanding What Your Feelings of Discomfort Mean for Your Relationship
Dear April Masini,
My girlfriend of two years, who is 25, dated her ex off-and-on for 5 years, through college (although they attended different schools). Now her ex is back on the scene. My girlfriend is naturally friendly and has always told me she wants to remain friends with her ex. However she is in a secret book club that consists of just him and her -- and of which I am not supposed to know about, but I do. They live in different states so they don't physically meet up, but they are reading the same book and having discussions over the phone with "wine and pajama pants." She claims I am her true love and there's nothing to worry about, but she keeps me in the dark (or so she thinks) about her interactions with him, and I'm feeling like something's wrong. Am I right? Do you have any advice for helping me deal with this and saving my relationship?"
Signed, Dark Vader
April Masini's Advice :
Dear Dark Vader,
She may be your true love, but you may not be hers. This can be difficult to figure out and even more difficult to accept, but that's why dating is important -- to figure out who is and who isn't right for what you want -- and in your case it sounds like you want a monogamous, long term relationship that leads to marriage and family.
Your Needs are Not Her Needs
People have different needs in love, and while you need to have more of a monogamous relationship – not just sexually, but socially and emotionally – she doesn’t. Or so she says. You're probably not wanting to see or hear that, which is why you think you're confused. But I can tell your eyes are beginning to open. It takes everyone their own special amount of time to see the truth in any relationship because we all want to see certain things. Just like you want to see your girlfriend as just "friendly" with her ex and nothing more. So you're choosing not to see what's actually there.
Discomfort Can Be a Helpful Clue
Your discomfort feels like something you want to get rid of, but it is actually your friend. It's a flashing yellow light and it's giving you a warning sign that something isn't right. Compatibility is one of the biggest, most important factors in a successful relationship, besides shared goals. If you both have enough of the same goals and desires then your relationship will flourish. If you have some of the same goalsand desires, but not enough of the same goals and desires then your relationship will flounder. The amount of differences in your mutual goals and desires will determine the amount of floundering you will do. Sometimes it takes a while to even get to the floundering -- depending on how open and honest you are with each other -- before you each see what's happening. Sometimes it takes even longer to accept that it's floundering. If the relationship does flounder, that does not mean it's over. It just means you have an opportunity to do the work and find a way to make it stronger – which means compromises – or you’ll have the opportunity to realize that you’re not right for each other -- either because you have different goals and desires or because you're not ready to do the work to make compromises.
Face it -- You Don't Want Her to Be Friends with Him
Once you’ve been clear with her about what you want (not always the easiest task), then she has the option to address your needs or ignore them. If she is not able to let go of her ex-boyfriend in a way that makes you feel comfortable (no secret book clubs), then you, my friend, have to face the fact that he is going to be in your life, as long as she is. And it doesn't sound like that is what you want. If you can’t deal with him in your life in this way – and there is nothing wrong with your not wanting him around (who would?) – after all, he’s not her ex-husband, her brother or some other family or ex-family member – then you have to move on. And that means it is over. Once you do move on, she may realize she's made a mistake and drop him. She may come back to you after she's dropped him and ask for a second chance, and you then have the option to give it another shot, which I would recommend. Or she may not be ready to drop him, and she'll either realize it's him she wants after all -- or she's just not ready to commit fully to anyone right now, and she was using him to keep from being truly intimate with you.
Secrecy Can Feel Like Betrayal
If you do stay together -- either with him in her (your) life or without him, there is still the problem of secrecy. What is most troubling in your letter is that you seem to imply that there is secrecy going on with both you and her. You say that she has a “secret book club” that you’re not supposed to know about but you do -- and you don't tell her you know. In other words, she is keeping her forays with her ex-boyfriend secret from you and you are keeping the fact that you know about them secret from her. You’re both in a bad dynamic, and unless one or the other of you snaps out of it, you’re going to go into a spiral of deception and betrayal. If she’s keeping this one secret from you, there may be others. And if you're keeping this one from her, you may be keeping other ones from her that you're not even aware of!
My advice is to have a serious talk with her where you get everything out on the table. Let her know what you know and how you feel -- and what you want. Then listen. Listen really hard. Find out if she is the kind of person who is going to put her need to have her friends around her even if they make you uncomfortable ahead of her intimacy with you. Remember, this guy is not her parent, her sibling or her child -- all those people you have to make compromises for if you're going to be serious with her, but an ex-boyfriend is a completely different level of relationship that falls below family. If she thinks that she will not be able to drop her ex as a friend, then it’s probably time for you to move on and not waste any more time with someone who is not compatible with you.
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