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.
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.