Dear Carolyn: The new man in my life has a friendship with an old lover from years ago. I went out with them and clearly saw she still has a thing for him and her husband is jealous. She calls and sends him selfies.
I told my boyfriend why I don’t want to hang out, that it upsets me and makes me feel uncomfortable. He still doesn’t get it and says they’re just old friends, but he was nice about it and doesn’t want me to feel bad. The woman persists.
Am I wrong? My psychologist friend says to pretend it doesn’t bother me.
Here’s what would bother me, and I wouldn’t pretend otherwise:
Your new man just got a look from someone else’s perspective, and it says he’s doing something to harm two people, his ex and her husband.
The harm is apparently unwitting, but if you’re right, it’s harm nonetheless; he’s allowing oxygen to ex’s flame by not maintaining boundaries, and through that inaction he is undermining the security of another man’s marriage.
Of course, yours is just one opinion – but one opinion is plenty to move a conscientious person to take a closer look, at least. All he had to say in response to you was, “Really? That surprises me – I’ll pay more attention next time,” and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
That’s because even that open-ended response would have checked important boxes: respect for your observation skills; respect for this couple’s marriage; openness to the possibility that he’s wrong about something.
These three things, in turn, are powerful indicators of humility, and therefore character. The risk that he’ll go back to a receptive, married ex-girlfriend is a narrowly defined one, but the risks that come with wobbly character aren’t just broad, they’re profound.
This is a lot to make of one night with a flirty ex-girlfriend, I know. But digging in to what’s possible can help you understand the real reason you’re so uncomfortable, and understanding why you’re so uncomfortable can help you better articulate your concerns to your friend.
And doing so, in turn, would give him another shot at either taking an issue seriously that he may have too quickly dismissed, or explaining to you why he’s so confident in his lack of concern. Valuable either way.
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