Sunday, August 27, 2006

Dismaying Story #40: When the Past Won't Let Go

Dear Andrew,

I met my boyfriend when he had just broken up with his former girlfriend. I was suspicious he was only interested in me because he was on the rebound but he insisted on a date. I liked him too much to say no, although somewhere in the back of my mind I knew this was going to be trouble.

I was right. On our first date he talked about her for two hours. He said he wanted to explain that it was a wrong relationship that shouldn't have happened. He didn't like her anymore and the whole thing was in the past. That didn't stop him from talking about her for two hours. I wanted to stop him but I figured he needed to vent. He told me way too much about their relationship, things that I would rather not know and that I can't compete with.

After that we got along great, we had a lot in common, lots of chemistry, lots of attraction ... and then she called. She said she wanted him back. He spent hours with her on the phone, telling her no, including while on dates with me. She always called. She once followed us to a date, crying hysterically, asking why he doesn't have any pity for her. He had to take her home and he only got home at midnight. I stood by the phone crying until he called to say he was home. I didn't tell him that, though. I had no right to interfere between them.

One night when he was supposed to be with me he ended up staying with her because she threatened suicide. That was the worst night of my life. I couldn't sleep. I just cried and waited for him to call, which he did, in the morning.

After that she cooled down a little, but she kept calling him 'just to talk.' She asked him to go out with her once because she was going away and wanted to say good bye. He went again but she only left two months later, so that had nothing to do with good bye. She used to keep him online to tell her about her new sexual adventures with other guys until I put my foot down and told him these conversations bother me. He ended them (I think); he never mentioned them again, anyway.

I can't shake the image of her crying hysterically and asking for mercy. He couldn't have stayed in a totally bad relationship for so long, so he must have liked her. She seems to believe that he loved her. Did he lie when he said it was a bad relationship?

His mother still e-mails her, and once called me by her name (on purpose?).

What should I do? I have tried everything: letting it out, keeping it in, asking, refraining from asking, occupying my time. I can't help worrying that she's going to try again. My partner and I have been together for quite a while now. He seems committed and he's never actually done anything wrong. (I can't blame him for trying to help her, although I wish I could.) This is not about him anymore, though. This is about me and my fears.

Signed, Haunted One

Dear Haunted,

I believe your boyfriend was telling the truth when he said he had a poor relationship with his former girlfriend, because he continued to have a bizarre and dysfunctional relationship with her after he met you. People stay in bad relationships for a variety of reasons, including poor self-esteem or because the relationship has some redeeming feature such as steamy sex. He did choose to end it, though, just before meeting you.

I disagree when you say he did nothing wrong. He repeatedly chose to safeguard her feelings at the expense of yours. He obviously had a difficult time letting go of his feelings for her and you were justified in feeling threatened by this.

You say he spent hours talking to her, telling her no, including while he was out with you. His words might have been saying no but the fact that he was willing to talk with her that long was a clear signal to her that there was hope. She still had a degree of control over him. For goodness sake, she was able to make him ignore you when he was out on a date with you! She was playing him like a fiddle and he was willing to go along with it, even though that meant hurting you in the process. If he was over her and truly committed to your new relationship, he should have simply shut her down, and quickly. All he needed to say when she called was, "Look, it's over between us and I can't talk right now."

"But I need you. We never should have broken up."

"I've got to go. Goodbye."



That's it. That's how long it should have taken for him to get off the phone and away from her ... IF he was truly over her. When she called back, he should have turned off his cell phone and focused on you. He should have known it would be threatening to you to have the former girlfriend calling and he should have done everything in his power to show you that you had nothing to worry about.

Instead he talked to her for hours and allowed you to worry and feel neglected. Why? At best he didn't want to be rude to her, to hurt her feelings. In the process, though, he chose to do exactly that to you. At worst he was not over her and couldn't bring himself to completely sever the ties. He wanted to keep both options open while he sorted out his feelings. Either way, his focus was clearly not where it should have been -- on building a relationship with you. You should have put your foot down right there. "Either pay attention to me, buddy, or I'm out of here."

So then she shows up at one of your dates crying hysterically and he "has to" take her home? Without you? Making you wait and worry and cry until he calls? Please, that just doesn't wash. Either the hysteria was real (in which case he needs to avoid this woman) or faked (in which case he DEFINITELY needs to avoid this woman). He had to know you felt threatened by her. No way should he have allowed himself to be alone with her in any circumstances, let alone to allow her to crash your date and drag him away from you. Again, that was another occasion to put your foot down. Many women would have refused to have anything to do with him after a stunt like that. Unfortunately, by putting up with it you gave clear signals to both him and the former girlfriend that they could get away with poor behavior.

Threats of suicide should never be taken lightly, though I wonder in this case if it was simply another ploy to gain his sympathy. If he truly felt she was in danger and needed help, he could have found ways to do so without ending up alone with her and without making you worry for hours. He could have called her mother, or the two of you could have taken her someplace where she could have obtained help. He had options and he chose the worst possible one in terms of your relationship. He should have chosen an option that included the two of you remaining together. Again, he allowed her to control him and to hurt you. He chose her over you.

Are you starting to see the pattern here?

She told him stories of her sexual adventures ... and he listened to them? You have to ask yourself why he didn't just shut her down in disgust. What was he getting out of those conversations? Whatever the answer, I can't see it boding well for your relationship.

You put your foot down way too late in the game. You allowed yourself to be treated badly and now find yourself in a relationship you can't trust. As I explained above, your boyfriend has given you plenty of good reasons to mistrust him. Many women would have ended this relationship long before now and I wouldn't blame you if you considered doing the same.

At a minimum you should make sure your boyfriend knows how his actions hurt you and how badly you feel. He owes you several huge apologies for the appalling way he treated you. The ball should be in his court to find ways to reassure you, to repair the damage he has done.

You definitely have the right to interfere between him and his former girlfriend. He gave up any rights to have a relationship with her when he chose to be with you, especially if she is going to act like a possessive, controlling wacko. You should insist that he have no further contact with this woman. If she calls or sends him an online message, he should tell her he can’t talk and should break off contact immediately. If she shows up, he should say he can't see her anymore and should walk away immediately. If he fails to abide by those rules, YOU should walk away immediately.

Whatever your decision, I hope you are able to regain the peace of mind these events have cost you.

All the best,

A reminder: I have volunteered to be interviewed online but this can only happen if readers like you submit a sufficient number of interview questions. If you would like to know more about me or this website, this is a good opportunity to find out. You can find the details here.


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  3. Great words of wisdom!

    It wasn't so long ago I was on the dating scene and been in a few simular situations. Guys and girls alike, sometimes like to buy "two or more lottery tickets" to hold on to as possible winners.

    In time and in experience the numbers either match or don't match and one by one we let go of tickets that once held hope and toss 'em away.

    This girl should still keep this guy as her own personal possible winning ticket but it shouldn't be her only one. An old cliche' "Don't put all of your eggs in one basket just yet."

  4. Andrew,
    Your points were apt and precise. Im not a avid follower or an advice expert counselling on relationships. But the one thing I realize abt any relationship is trust - and it doesnt get built in a day! It requires a great deal of understanding and confidence! Glad to see some wise suggestions on your blog! Do Keep flowing!

  5. I'm really enjoying your website and sound, down-to-earth advice. Thanks.

  6. This is great information. She needed to hear that. You are right she totally needs to put her foot down and leave if she sees no changes. I will definitely return here. Very good advice...

  7. Anonymous10:48 PM

    do you write these questions and/or embellish them? i think disclosure is important here.

  8. Great advice, Andrew. I must say I disagree with Margaret though. Why hold on to someone who has proven that he is not trustworthy or 100% concerned about your feelings? I'm sure it's better to be alone.

    She should take her lessons, move on, and look for a love worth keeping, rather than settling for a man who brings stress and drama to her life.

  9. Hi everyone,
    As usual, I truly appreciate all the input. I try to think of all the angles in my responses, but I don't think it's possible to include them all. Your comments invariably help to fill out the picture.

    Dear anonymous,
    Sure, I'm all for disclosure. (...and feel free to submit some interview questions using the link at the bottom of this post if you have other questions)

    The first week or so when I started this blog, I was forced to make up a few questions to get the ball rolling. Also, the "Hunt for the Vacuum Cleaner Gene" series includes questions that pre-date this blog and come from a number of sources (all are based on real households). Other than that, every question on this site has been submitted by a reader.

    I never embellish a reader's question. I typically edit for grammar, clarity and brevity (and sometimes have an email "conversation" with the submitter to gather more information before writing a response) but I never add or alter elements to suit an answer I would like to give. This would cheat the reader who was supportive and trusting enough to submit the question. They deserve an answer to THEIR problem, not an embellished version of my choosing.

    Does that help?

  10. Dear Sir Andrew,

    Truly amazing job! Thank you very much for your kindness to stop and read at my blog.

    I put your website url in my favorite link :)

    I felt really great and gain many useful information in your blog.

    Keep on blogging Sir. Best of Luck.

  11. I can see some similarities in a situation I've been in in the past in Haunted's question. In fact, I'm ashamed to admit I've been on both sides of the fence before. Just the once mind you, but that was plenty enough. It's alarming in some ways to get a different perspective on a situation I had become blind to. Although I had been told some of your response, directly from the horse's mouth about how he felt, I guess you have to be looking from the outside to truly understand.

    This one in particular has been an interesting and rather enlightening post for me. Hell, I'm learning all sorts of things about myself via this page!

    "I've learned that I still have a lot to learn"

  12. Anonymous8:16 AM

    dear andrew,

    i am the haunted and i want to thank you very much. you are the first person i ever told about this to see it my way. everyone is telling me to get over it. everyone's telling me it's in the past. i know it is. but i can't let go of it. it keeps coming up at the worst moments possible and even six months after the last encounter with her, and she's still here, in our fights. and no-one ever understood why. i even felt guilty about the whole thing most of the time...

    i know i put my foot down too late. but that has nothing to do with him rather than with me. because i truly felt pity for her and that image of her crying histerically is not annoying rather than depressively sad. i wanted her to get better before i hated her. it was also because i had a feeling i shouldn't have gotten involved in the whole thing, even before we went on a date, and i felt this was my punishment for not saying no when he asked me on a date. because for me he was love at first sight. also my first true, strong love. and that is the reason i stayed.

    the problem is that i'm afraid those three first months of continuous hysterics and phone calls have destroyed a relationship that could have been THE ONE. because if i haven't gotten rid of her already (from my head, she's in another country now), i don't think i ever will. and i don't think there will ever be a time when our relationship will not be associated with her. and that is (probably) the nail in our coffin. it's a true shame, because we really fit in every possible way and this is pretty much the only problem we have.

    i can understand why he did what he did. had he not been over her, he would have gone back at some point. he had plenty of moments to choose that. he chose to stay with me because he wanted to stay with me. he didn't shut his phone in her face because he simply had pity on her. i know that's why he did everything and not any other reason. however by doing so, he did all those things mentioned above and he destroyed us.

  13. If he were THE ONE, I find it hard to imagine that he would have treated you so badly. Trust me, plenty of guys would have handled this situation differently. They would have found a way to take pity on the former girlfriend WITHOUT ignoring, hurting and disrespecting you in the process.

  14. Three is too many to have in a relationship if a twosome is what you want. I've been there - there is someone else out there who has all the swell qualities of this guy - who is not enmeshed in a relationship with an ex who sleeps invisibly between you. Dan Savage has a term - DTMFA. I'll let you figure out what that means.