My boyfriend is still (pretty good) friends with his ex-girlfriends. Not just one of them, but a few. One in particular I have a problem with. They broke up at the end of last year after having dated for four years, and at the beginning of our relationship, he was still unsure if they should try dating again. I hung out with the two of them (plus others) before we had started dating and she gave off this super-fake vibe, so that naturally put me off. They still talk from time to time via GChat, and they’ve hung out a few times — like twice since we started dating five months ago. My problem is that she completely screwed him over on multiple occasions in their relationship, and seems to just cause drama, so I just can’t fathom why he still wants to maintain a friendship. She recently asked him to hang out soon, but he was busy until the following week and she freaked out on him. As a girl, that screams ‘ulterior motive’ to me. As far as he and I are concerned, we’re great. We laugh often and have very open communication. So I’m secure in our relationship, but seeing as they have such a history and I’ve gotten such bad vibes from her (and his friends have expressed their dislike for her), I’m not comfortable with their hanging out. I’ve tried to explain to him how I feel, but he’s not getting it. Do you have any suggestions as to what I could say to try to discourage it? I’m trying to be a cool girlfriend here. — CG
I don’t usually share my own personal anecdotes when doling out advice in this column, but I’m going to make an exception here to illustrate a point. About five years ago I was involved with a guy who had broken up with a girlfriend shortly before he and I started dating. They were in med school together and I knew they shared classes and had lots of mutual friends/classmates, so they had the opportunity to see each other a lot. He swore up and down there were no lingering feelings between them and I shouldn’t worry about them spending time together, but my gut — and plenty of signs — told me otherwise.
For one thing, they fought a lot and he’d call her names like a scorned lover. I hate to admit this now, but he actually called me by her name twice and once, when I was at his place, I turned on his laptop to check my email and it was opened to a bunch of photos of her. When I confronted him about these things, he told me I was being “crazy,” (yes, he used that word) and that they were “just friends.” It seems so obvious in retrospect that he wasn’t over her, but I was so desperate to be the “cool girlfriend,” just like you are, that I ignored all the red flags. Eventually we broke up and I found out through a simple Google search a few years later that they had gotten married.
My point, CG, is that as human beings — especially as women — we are blessed with a sixth sense. When our gut tells us something isn’t right, we need to trust it. When signs validate what our gut tells us, it’s our duty to pay attention. Red flag #1 was when you boyfriend told you at the beginning of your relationship that he was confused about whether he should try dating his ex again. Uh, hello! You ignored that sign because it wasn’t what you wanted to hear/see and now you’re paying the price. You’ve got a boyfriend who has an ex who’s still so attached to him that she freaks out when he doesn’t drop everything to be with her. And your boyfriend, by continuing to see her and chat with her online, is indulging her behavior and her attachment to him.
Come on, it doesn’t take a genius to know that a former couple with four years of history who still get wound up when one isn’t available to the other still have lingering feelings. Forget trying to be a “cool girlfriend.” You’re way past that. It’s time to put your foot down and give your boyfriend an ultimatum: either he stops all communication with his ex — at least long enough for them to get some emotional distance from each other — or you leave the picture. If he cares about you and wants to keep you as a girlfriend, he’ll respect your wishes. And if he doesn’t? Well, at least you’ll know that now, before you invest any more time in your relationship.
*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.