Dear Wendy: “My Boyfriend’s Apartment Is Still Filled With His Ex-Wife’s Belongings”

In a month and a half, I am moving in with my boyfriend of six months. He lives across the country and I am driving all the way out there to be with him. We are planning on getting married within the next year, which is very exciting! He was married for six years before, during which time his wife cheated on him while he was deployed to Iraq. They separated a year ago and their divorce was finalized a month after we started dating (five months ago). While I have no problem with the fact that he was married before, I do have a problem that his ex-wife’s stuff is still in his house — the couches, old photo albums, some of her art supplies, trash, even some of her old clothes. My first visit there, I was shocked by how many things I kept finding that were hers. Some of it is trash neither of them wants, and my boyfriend isn’t the cleanest person so he hasn’t thrown it away. He’s given her multiple deadlines and she has yet to deliver. She has a new boyfriend, but she calls and texts him at least once a week for advice or something. That’s OK with me– he ended it, it was an uncontested divorce, I have nothing to worry about, and I think it says a lot about their maturity if they aren’t constantly bickering and he hasn’t thrown all of her stuff in the street. But I want a clean slate when I move in. I’m a clean freak, I throw everything away and I want to make this home ours to build our new life together in. — The New Woman

Since you’re driving across country and you don’t have a plane ticket you’re tied to, tell your boyfriend you can’t move in with him until his apartment is thoroughly cleaned, and it’s clear of his ex-wife’s things. Let him know you’re very much looking forward to being with him but there simply isn’t enough room in his place for your things and hers. This gives him over a month to take care of business; if he isn’t able to shake his ex-wife’s belongings by then, you need to seriously ask yourself whether a man who can’t make room for you in his home has the ability to make room for you in his life.

Six months isn’t much time to process returning home from war, finding out your wife has cheated on you, separating from her, and then beginning to date a new woman. What you interpret as maturity in how your boyfriend deals with his ex-wife may very well be a lack of emotional distance and closure from her. Be very careful about pursuing a life-long commitment with someone whose life may still be entangled in a former commitment. “Clean freaks,” like you say, equate a lack of clutter in a physical space with a lack of clutter in one’s mental and emotional space. If his place is cluttered with his ex-wife’s mess, what do you imagine that says about his head space? Be mindful what you’re moving into and make sure it’s the right space for you.

I have been dating this girl for about three weeks now, we hit it off early and had sex the second night we met. She said she wants to date others but I was the only one she had been with sexually. She also said that she did not want have a serious relationship right now and wanted to take it slow and get to know me. I am fine with that but I’m getting mixed messages here. Is this just friends with benefits or what? I want more — I want to be exclusive with her. We talk daily and text all the time; I got her some stuff for her birthday that she seems to like a lot and wears all the time; I left my pillow with her one night and she keeps saying that it smells like me. So, I see she has some attachment, she tells me she likes me a lot, sexually I do it for her, so where do I go from here? — Mixed Messages

Her messages really aren’t that mixed. She likes you, but at three weeks in, she’s simply not ready to make a commitment to you. She’s still just getting to know you. Sure, she’s having sex with you, but obviously sex isn’t something for her that means some deep commitment or readiness to be exclusive. She’s sleeping with someone she’s dating whom she’s enjoying getting to know better. There really isn’t a mixed message there.

The thing you need to figure out is whether you’re willing to: a) continue dating someone who isn’t ready to be exclusive with you; and b) continue sleeping with someone who isn’t ready to be exclusive with you. And you have to answer those questions for yourself with the understanding that there’s no guarantee this girl is ever going to want to be exclusive with you. She may get to know you better and realize you aren’t right for her or she may meet someone else she likes better.

Every time we ever date someone we risk getting our hearts broken. Having some kind of forced commitment early on doesn’t lessen that risk. Having sex on the second date doesn’t lessen that risk. There are no guarantees. The girl may decide tomorrow she wants to be your girlfriend exclusively but that doesn’t mean she won’t change her mind next week and dump you. If you really want a true committed relationship with this girl, you need to let trust build between you. There needs to be mutual understanding, shared interests, companionship, and respect. And you need to understand that even with all those things, letting yourself fall for someone still carries the risk of getting your heart broken. That risk never goes away no matter how quickly you become exclusive with someone.

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