Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend used to be married to “Mandy,” with whom he has two children. He had a serious affair with “Jennifer” and left Mandy to be with her. Their mutual friends and Mandy’s family rallied around Mandy, of course. Ultimately the relationship with Jennifer didn’t work out.
A few months after he broke up with Jennifer, he and I got together — and I am also named “Jennifer.”
It is clear to me that many of the people I am introduced to as his girlfriend think I am that Jennifer. It is stressful and exhausting and leads to constant uncomfortable situations. People are frosty or outright nasty to me.
His former in-laws fall into the latter category. I met some of them at Thanksgiving at the kid handoff. My boyfriend asked that I not go into self-justification mode and not bring up the fact that I am “not that Jennifer,” as he would rather end all discussion of that affair altogether. He and I are together legitimately, no one is cheating on anyone, and yet I seem to be doomed to keep feeling like a dirty mistress, over and over. Anything I can do, or ask him to do?
Carolyn says: You can explain that you see why he’d rather not keep bringing up the affair, obviously, but that his choice leaves you under the bus with That Jennifer. And that it’s painful for you to absorb “frosty or outright nasty” behavior intended for somebody else.
I can’t see going forward with a relationship with anyone who couldn’t at least recognize that point as valid.
Assuming he does, then ask him if he has any ideas for sparing you this pain, if not with everyone, then with the people you’re going to see again and again, such as these former in-laws.
Such as: He eats dirt one more time with each party: “This is not that Jennifer, but someone I met later with an unlucky name. Please reserve your anger for me alone, because she’s innocent. Thank you.”
Or he at least gives you his blessing to say, not every time and not in passing, but only when you’re subject to particular cruelty: “I understand your fury, but I’m a different Jennifer.” I mean, come on — you have to be able to speak freely, just on principle, but especially in a tense situation.
Anything you decide will go better as a team decision.
I offer these even though I’m generally more in the less-explaining-the-better camp. While you’re not “a dirty mistress” no matter how openly anyone treats you as one, you’re dating the guy who dumped his family for Jennifer. There’s collateral fury in that. However, you do need to be (1) understood and (2) given a vote on how to handle this. Your boyfriend doesn’t get to dictate this for both of you.
So, what you can do is hold firm on having equal say in dealing with Jennifer fallout. And if he doesn’t see why, then you can run like you’re on fire.
Re: Other Jennifer
News at 10: Man selfish enough to start affairs instead of facing problems in marriage also plenty selfish enough to ignore new girlfriend’s discomfort. Now over to the weather.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at email@example.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.