DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m an independent woman, financially and otherwise. I have no desire to remarry and I’m not sure that I ever want to live with a man again. I also have a teenage son at home whom I am very close to.
So, I’ve been dating a man (J) for the last 2.5 years. We met 5 months after his 22 year marriage ended (I’ve been divorced a few years). J loves me and would like a future with me. There are however a few issues.
One is that he has a problem with boundaries – he had a couple of emotional affairs (at least that’s what his ex-wife called them). One was with a younger colleague that he was texting non-stop for 6 months – first thing in the morning, on his way home, giving her relationship advice and a shoulder to cry on. She felt that he was offering more than friendship and when it became apparent that he wasn’t, it blew up. She asked him not to contact her, he was worried he may get fired so he came clean to his wife, and that was the end of it. Part of J’s issue was that he used his Christianity as an excuse ie. “it’s part of my faith to help people – listen and offer support in any way I can” – coincidently this seemed to only extend to younger, attractive women.
The other was with a friend of his (and to a lesser extent his wife’s). The friend (K) and J spent a great deal of time together as they shared a hobby. They also messaged nonstop, including when she travelled overseas with her husband and kids. Much of the texting was him offering her support as her marriage was failing and a lot was just chatter. It was apparent to all that he was infatuated with K (his wife would say in love with her.) It’s clear that the feelings were not reciprocated, instead it seems that the K enjoyed the attention and being a priority in J’s life. When J and his wife went to couples therapy for this issue, they decided that he and K should see less of each other and cease the hundred texts per week contact. This lasted 6 months and then they fell back into the same old pattern. K on a couple of occasions was happy to undermine the wife and encouraged J to have contact with her. This whole saga all unfolded over 4 or so years.
Fast forward, J and K are both separated. You would think that they are free to hang out as often as they like, but no. J tries to continue the friendship but K has limited contact with him. J finds out that his ex-wife and K have agreed that K and J would not see each other for an undefined period of time (they’re part of a larger friendship group so I think this had a lot to do with K wanting to appease the wife). A few months later, I come into the picture, K finds out and all of a sudden ramps up her contact with J, and tries schedule meet-ups. K also tells the ex-wife that J is dating me. After many discussions with me, and it becoming apparent that I was not going to put up with his toxic friend, J decides to end his friendship with K.
J has been good to his family financially (he has two girls, 15 and 25) He continued to have joined finances (like they were still married) with his wife (he earns 3 times more than her and she works part-time) for a year and a half after they separated. His wife tries to take advantage financially at every opportunity and he is not good at saying no. He also can’t afford all the demands she makes. She also demanded J and I not see any of their mutual friends for a period of time – we did not concede this one.
J spends time with his eldest daughter but I wouldn’t say he was close to either of his children – they are very close to their mother. His daughters have not shown any interest in their father’s life and that includes me. I have met the youngest as J has her a couple of nights a week, but not the oldest daughter (she’s not interested). His oldest became engaged a few months ago and I was not invited – the daughter said it was because she was keeping the numbers tight and there were no plus-one’s. I don’t believe this as it was not a very formal affair – stand up finger food where one additional person would have made little difference.
The drama is set to continue as the oldest will be getting married in a year and a half and J would like me to attend. I cannot see J being allowed a plus-one this time either. I’m not fussed about actually attending and am more concerned about how J feels. The other important person in J’s life is his mother who lives overseas. She is lovely. We’ve had a few video chats and we are quite fond of each other.
I would really appreciate your thoughts on the above and also how you think we should handle the upcoming wedding? I really like J but I’m struggling with knowing whether I can trust him (given the emotional affairs and not seeing K’s for who she really was), him being a people pleaser, and the drama that (although not constant) seems to unfolds every so often.
Premium Cable Family Drama
DEAR PREMIUM CABLE FAMILY DRAMA: Hoo boy.
This is an interesting letter, FPCD, because I’m a little torn. On the one hand, I think there’re definite issues that need to be addressed here. On the other… well, honestly I disagree with the way some of these situations or relationships are categorized and which aspects are actually problems.
Let’s start with the whole “emotional affair” thing. To be perfectly blunt, I take a dim view of the idea of “emotional affairs”. Much like with “micro-cheating”, whenever I see someone talk about their partner having an “emotional affair”, what they usually end up describing is… well, friendship. An emotionally intimate friendship perhaps, but still just friendship, and one that likely wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if it were between two straight people of the same gender.
That’s one reason why, frankly, I wonder whether this is only something that occurs with younger, attractive women or if those are just the ones that garnered people’s attention.
The only lines that seem to be crossed is the idea that the “cheating” partner is close with another person and having the sort of closeness that the other partner feels should be reserved exclusively for them… which often tends to have the effect of isolating the “cheater” from their friends.
(And this gets particularly problematic when you consider how emotionally isolated a lot of men are and how women are often seen as the only “acceptable” venue for emotional intimacy for men…)
And if I’m going to be honest, I think the ex-wife is a far bigger problem here. While it certainly seems like J has issues with boundaries and people-pleasing – more on that in a moment – it’s his ex-wife’s behavior that sets off my Spidey-sense. His ex seems to have devoted a lot of time trying to control J, directly and indirectly, up to and including after they’re no longer in a relationship.
The fact that she felt entitled to dictate who J could and couldn’t be friends with after the divorce and the way that she’s roped others into monitoring his relationships, I’m having a hard time seeing him as being the bad actor in this situation.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think his friends are all that great either. His coworker blowing things up when it became clear he wasn’t going to date her, K letting his ex-wife say “you two won’t see each other any more,” and then looping her in when J started dating you… honestly, none of these people are covering themselves in glory and it makes me wonder what the hell J saw in them in the first place.
However, they all seem to be minor players in this drama, while his ex-wife apparently sits at the center of this particular web, tugging on whatever strands of his life that she still has access to. The fact that she feels entitled to dictate who he is or isn’t allowed to be friends with or who he can introduce to mutual friends, long after their relationship ended, is the sort of things that make me doubt that she’s an honest actor in all of this. That includes his relationship with his daughters.
In fact, the wedding issue is a prime example of this. I realize that “she’s turning my children against me” is one of the rallying cries of s--tty deadbeat dads the world over, her previous behavior does make me wonder just what she’s been saying about him to his children.
While folks are allowed to have the kind of wedding they want (and can afford) with the guest list they prefer… there comes a point where people are being performatively mean, controlling or just plain rude for no real reason.
It would be one thing you and J had been having an affair and that’s why he and his wife got divorced. I would be sympathetic to the idea of “I want you there, but not the jezebel who broke up my parents’ marriage”. Similarly, I could understand not inviting you if you and J had only just started dating. However, by the time his eldest daughter got engaged, you’d been dating for at least two years. I think most folks could agree that this would be more than enough to say that this was a serious relationship. Excluding you seems to be a deliberate, pointed snub – the cut direct, as it were. Which is something she’s allowed to do – it’s her wedding, after all – but it’s the sort of behavior that comes with consequences down the line.
Not, mind you, that I think she’s all that concerned; she hardly seems to be worried about having any relationship with him.
Frankly, I think J would be justified in attending the ceremony but leaving before the reception, or sending his regrets and a toaster. But if I’m going to be honest with you? I think the point is moot.
I don’t think the issue is that J can’t be trusted; I think it’s his ex-wife who is the dishonest one in this and I don’t buy her take on what J was doing. I think the issue is that, frankly, J has next to no boundaries and seems to be a people-pleaser besides. Those are things that he should be addressing. However, while I’m a believer that the past is merely prologue, there is some truth to the fact that previous relevant behavior is a good predictor of future outcomes. J went for 22 years with weak boundaries and allowing other people, especially women, to walk all over him. I don’t think that’s likely to change any time soon. Certainly not unless he is motivated to change it himself… and that motivation needs to come from within. While I’m sure that if you were to push for him to establish stronger boundaries or talk to someone about the origin of his people-pleasing tendencies he would… but I suspect that this would end up being another entry on a list of things that he’s doing because someone else pushed him into it.
Ping-ponging between the desires of people with stronger personalities than his is the sort of thing that is going to end up being exhausting for pretty much anyone who’s dealing with him, and that’s going to include you.
I think, in the end, you should consider whether you want to stay with him. I think the drama is going to continue indefinitely, since he doesn’t seem to be willing to stand up to anyone. Even if his ex-wife were no longer in the picture, other people are going to see his lack of boundaries and latch onto him like a lovesick lamprey. This is going to put you in the unenviable and undesirable position of having to monitor him, not for affairs or nefarious secrets, but for other people trying to use his excessive willingness to give people access. At best, that’s going to end up being exhausting. At worst… well, it’s likely to curdle the affection you have for him into resentment and worse.
If he shows genuine signs of being willing to establish and enforce boundaries – including with you, I might add – then that would be a positive sign. But if he isn’t? Then that’s as good a sign that your present is also going to be your future with him.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com