Carolyn Hax: You can’t decide who is important to someone

September 29, 2013 

Carolyn: I’m a 45-year-old divorced male, and I’ve been dating a divorced woman for three months.

Over a year ago, she broke up with a guy she dated for two and a half years.

The ex-boyfriend never had kids, and he bonded with her boys, 12 and 15. He attends their football and baseball games. She keeps him updated on schedule changes. They play word games together on their phones at night. He comes over to play catch and hang out at her house.

Last Sunday, I was going to her son’s football game for the first time. She said, “You might even meet ‘Tom’ today.” She could tell this really bothered me because I’ve expressed in the past that this isn’t normal. Halfway through the game, I noticed she kept looking to her right, and realized he was sitting a good distance in that direction.

The next day I did voice that this has bothered me and that I didn’t find it normal. Her reply was that I was being unreasonable and they are just friends.

She also told me the ex-boyfriend volunteered to be the baseball coach next season.

Am I being unreasonable with expecting a chance to build our relationship without the ex-boyfriend in the picture?

B.

She already made it clear the ex-boyfriend is staying in the picture, so, yes, it is “unreasonable (to expect) a chance to build (a) relationship without the ex-boyfriend in the picture” — whether I agree with you or not.

I don’t care about “normal,” I care about healthy. I can’t say from here whether Tom’s relationship with this woman or her kids is healthy, but if close observation gave me cause for alarm, I’d speak up, and if it gave me no cause for alarm, I’d shut up. A friendship between a paired-off woman and a single man is not in itself a pearl-clutching offense.

Plus, it’s not my call: I don’t get to decide which people are or aren’t important to someone. I can dislike them all if I want to, avoid them even, but I still have to respect their relationship to the person I love.

As for her game-day glances? Maybe some couple-embers still glow. Or maybe your being freaked out freaked her out.

Dear Carolyn: My husband is a mechanic and constantly has people asking him to work on their cars, on evenings or weekends. What is a nice way to say “no”?

They always offer to pay for parts, as they should, but then offer no real compensation. Not only is it not fair to him, but I’m the one left picking up the slack at home, and, frankly, I’m tired.

CAR TROUBLE

“Sorry, going fishing.” Too brazenly recreational? “Sorry, my family has first dibs on my weekends.”

But these are so simple! So I have to ask, why isn’t he just saying no? Are you the one asking me because he doesn’t want to say no? Then, good luck. Or were you both trained to believe only selfish people say no? Then why aren’t these moochers the selfish ones?

The way to say no is to believe in your right to, and trust good people will get that. The rest is just words.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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