DEAR CAROLYN: My boyfriend of the past three months recently received an email from a long-ago ex-girlfriend, who apologized for the way things had ended and wanted to catch up with him. She was the love of his life in college and shortly after. She broke his heart, cheating on him five times with other guys. He almost committed suicide over her, and was severely depressed after they broke up.
I am worried that she will want him back in her life, and he will spring back like a wound-up jack-in-the box. I know how much she affected his life; he has brought her up in conversation before. Is there anything I can do to prevent him from emailing her back? Are my fears warranted?
Scared to Lose Him
DEAR SCARED: This is one of those bad-news, bad-news, bad-news, good-news scenarios.
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Bad bad bad news first: Your fears are warranted, your preventive options are limited to none, and even if he doesn’t spring back into her arms, she could still mess him up.
Good news: This is all good news.
Yes, you may lose him. But if he wants her, then you don’t want him. Repeat to self as needed. Plus, you never want a guy who’s with you only because you forbade him to talk to his ex/another attractive woman/anyone who knows an attractive woman. You want a guy who could have anyone (within social and geographic reason) and who nevertheless wants you.
Plus, you’ve known him all of three months. As tragedies go, it’s a one-act.
Plus, you want to make sure his instability was also “long-ago.”
I know, this is the kind of good news that can make you wonder if the bad news came in the wrong box. But don’t. Be happy she sent that email. Losing him isn’t the worst-case scenario; wondering two, three, 15 years from now if and when and where you might lose him is worse. You already knew this was a guy with potent, unfinished stuff. Now he has a chance to finish it.
And you have a chance to be brave. Tell him you’re nuts about him, and you want him to do whatever he feels he needs. He’ll do that anyway, whether you like it or not, because that’s just what people do, especially when their relationships are still in the tadpole stage. Make it your idea, though, and you’ll like each other more for it — not to mention yourselves.
CAROLYN: Would you help us settle a disagreement? My wife often kisses male friends on the lips as greetings or goodbyes. I don’t like this and have asked her to stop, that it is too intimate. She argues that it’s just a peck and means nothing to her or the man. What do you think?
John From Los Angeles
DEAR JOHN: I think she has no business speaking for the men in this situation. And I think, since it would require such a minor adjustment, she ought to consider your feelings. I also think that if it really doesn’t mean anything to her — i.e., there’s no sexual component to it whatsoever — then she shouldn’t have any objection to kissing women hello and goodbye on the lips as well.
DEAR CAROLYN: My girlfriend and I have had an up-and-down relationship for four years, complete with several breakups. We keep getting drawn back to each other – there are qualities we see in each other that we don’t in other people. But she is very demanding emotionally, and I end up feeling like I don’t have enough time for work, friends and non-shared interests. Her demands push me to the limit, and I eventually get angry. Recently, I delicately brought up that she was high-maintenance. She told me that belittled her feelings, but her response was so practiced that it was obvious some other guys said the same thing. I know I can’t change her, but are there things I could do to foster a less high-maintenance style?
DEAR TUCSON: Yes — don’t maintain it. Stop being what she wants and start being yourself.
Either the roof will fall in or it won’t — but both outcomes warrant a round of applause, just for busting you out of a rut. You need to be you, she needs to be needy, and it’s time you both figured out whether you can be these things bearably together.
Or not. We pluck people out of the crowd because they satisfy some inner requirement in us. No friend or mate or family member is ever perfect, though, and not every requirement is healthy, so there’s always some dealmaking involved.
You say your girlfriend possesses some rare qualities — for which you pay with your energy, free time and your right to live drama-free. Sometimes all it takes to break a relationship impasse is a decision, once and for all, yes or no, whether a person is worth her price.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.