Thursday, October 4, 2007

Just a Latte

Dear Jane: Here's the problem. I was recently invited to dinner by an ex-boyfriend whom I haven't seen in 10 years, except once, about a year ago. This relationship ended very, very badly, but within the year a truce was called and some semblance of friendship patched together. Contact was infrequent, but always congenial - interactions predicated on friendliness. Nevertheless, there is quite a bit of emotional baggage attached to the past, which I have struggled to come to terms with (what went wrong? Self-recriminations abound).

However, right now, I am very happily married (and TTC). My husband was not included in the invitation, although to be sure he is out of town frequently. He, for his part, will not tell me what to do, although he has--through jokes and indirect comments--made clear that he doesn't like the idea. What should I do? At this point, I am considering downgrading the dinner invitation to just coffee. I don't want to do anything that could hurt my marriage, but I also doesn't want to be rude. Conundrum.


Dear Perplexed:

Jane would sum up this entire situation with a single word drenched in 18th century morality--impropriety.

Thankfully, we don't live in a world where married women are discouraged to socialize with former lovers.

That's what Jane would do (while throwing her hand over her mouth in astonishment).

But what should you do?

There are two types of exes. The ones who have truly crossed over into friends and the ones who are hanging around for other reasons. These reasons range from "I'm still in love with you" to "I just don't want anyone else to fully have you." Either way, the ones in the first category are always safe for a coffee date or dinner. Most of the time, your spouse or partner becomes friends with this person too and after a while, someone asks how you know each other and you have to think about it for a minute.

But your ex sounds like he belongs in the second category of exes. He comes with baggage and brings out certain emotions. He doesn't want to see the real, full Perplexed--the one who is with her spouse and trying to have a child. He wants to see the Perplexed that he knew long ago--the one who didn't have a husband or mothering ambitions. In other words, if the husband comes along, your ex doesn't see the Perplexed that exists in his head. The husband shatters the fantasy.

And even if he is amenable to your husband coming along, what is the purpose of the introduction? How does this ex fit into your life? Exes are attractive in the sense that--like all people--they hold a piece of your life. Once upon a time, this man meant a lot to you and you two share many memories that are only meaningful to you two. You can retell stories from that relationship to other people, but they'll never be able to remember being in the moment like your ex can. Therefore, even the shittiest ex can become somewhat attractive when you're feeling nostalgic and want to take a walk down memory lane.

By asking how your ex fits into your life, I'm really asking what you get out of the relationship. And is it worth disrupting home life in order to have that thing? You mention that your husband has expressed discomfort with this relationship. Is it because dinner with an ex is something that can send even the most confident husband into a sinking feeling of doubt? Or does your husband pick up on something in the invitation that you haven't noticed?

If you're not getting anything out of this relationship, I'd beg off with busyness and talk about rescheduling in the future. Which gives you more time to think. Sort of like packing away old clothes rather than donating them outright. Yes, they sit in your basement for a bit, but it gives you time to decide whether you really need them anymore or if they can be sent to a better home.

Now you (yes, you--I'm talking to you. The one reading this advice column) need to weigh in. Put yourself in Perplexed's shoes and employ a what would Jane do attitude to give her advice on this situation. Leave a comment for Perplexed elaborating or contradicting my advice--just do it in a ladylike or gentlemanly way.


Bea said...

I agree. I would downgrade to a coffee if that's more comfortable, at the least.


Stacie said...

This is not advice, but a quasi-random observation. Whenever I run into old boyfriends (which happens whenever I go back to where I grew up to visit my mother) I report to my husband (who tries to avoid said trips to visit my mother) that it is as though they are TRYING to make him look good. That is both true and makes my husband feel secure.

Coffee. Or nothing. Or dinner with the husband.

Shel said...

I would skip it. If your husband is teasing you, he must be a little threatened by the EX on some level. No need to make him uncomfortable... seek friendship elsewhere with a completely unthreatening person. He won't tell you, but he'll appreciate the gesture of choosing him first.

Anonymous said...

This is Perplexed - hi! :-)

I think all this advice confirms what I already knew but maybe didn't want to acknowledge, because there is that nostalgic part of me that remembers the youthful romance. But man, that is water SO under the bridge.

Here are two more tidbits of information that only further confirm Smart Mama's insight:

1) When I invited him to my wedding (on the basis of assumed friendship), he sent a card declining, with the additional note that my wedding would make him sad because he always kind of thought that we might have another chance to make it work someday. Mind you - I received this card the day I got back from my honeymoon, AND he was dating someone else at the time. Also? I hadn't actually heard from him in over a year. WTF, I ask you - WTF???

2) I recently learned from someone I JUST MET who happens to know him (such a wierd coincidence, I am tempted to ascribe it to the hand of God, cynic that I am) that recently he was involved in not one but two professionally inappropriate relationships.

Basically... Jane's "impropriety" stance is actually looking pretty sensible right now.

Michele said...

My husband has an ex girlfriend who still, after we've been married for two years and have a child, calls him just to catch up. I think she definitely falls in the second category and I'd kick his behind if he went to coffee or dinner with her. Not sure if that helps but it's a point of view from the other side : )

amy said...

No! No! No! Run like the wind. Affairs often begin when people who once dated start "reconnecting." Why tempt fate??
Your husband doesn't like the idea....the end. Stay away. Keep your marriage intact.

InfertileMadWoman said...

I agree with the RUN!!!!!!! I had this happen to me, and I went with the flow... yeah well now I can't get the jerk to leave me alone, no matter that I am pregnant, and VERY happy with DH....

So run!!! Far and fast!!

BethH6703 said...

I absolutely agree with the previous comments. This situation spells "bad ending" no matter how harmless YOUR intentions may be.

If you've gone 10 years without him in your life, and he had the NERVE to decline your wedding invitation with a note that he thought it "could've been him..."

That screams complete disrespect for YOU and the life you've created for yourself. Is that the kind of "friend" you want?

Nugget-Maker said...

I would keep him in the past where he belongs- You can 'make amends' and talk over the phone or internet but I wouldn't even consider hanging out. Even though your intentions are good, and his very well may be too- your husband doesnt deserve to see his wife who he's TTC with get together with an X flame for any reason.
Skip it- send regrets in a polite way- In my opinion, even a coffee conversation can last for hours and develop into an emotional 'relationship' of sorts...

Amanda said...

Ok, so I totally know what it's like to want to run off and hang out with an ex-boyfriend... as much as I love being married, I miss the "fun" of the dating field, and seeing ex-boyfriends always bring back those feelings.

But really, I wouldn't go... coffee might be ok, but maybe not if the hubby isn't too happy about it. Guys get their points across by joking, and being indirect, IMO.

MilestoneMemoriesMN said...

I would agree with all the previous comments. Don't give in to the temptation!

Jerseygirl89 said...

MySpace and email exist for a reason. If you want to be friendly, be his friend on MySpace or some other social network. Some things are just safer in cyberspace.

Michael Banks said...

From the male viewpoint, this fellow is interested in going to bed with her. He's thinking: "She was attracted to me before, and if she still is we can have sex and I won't have to maintain a relationship or get seroius with her, since she's married."