Dear Carolyn: I'm having an ethical dilemma related to my ex-husband. We've been divorced a year, separated for two. We were together more than five years. We were both very hurt by the breakup, but ultimately it was my decision to leave. There was no infidelity, no abuse. It was complicated but not vicious. Since the divorce, we've talked only to work out tax/financial issues, since we have no children together. It was always amicable, but awkward.
This summer, my good friend from college is getting married to my ex's oldest friend (they actually introduced us). It will be the first time I've seen my ex since the divorce, and his mother will also be there. I have anxiety about not only seeing my ex and his mom (she can be quite curt), but also whether to bring along the man I am currently dating.
My boyfriend and I started dating months after the divorce, and it has gotten very serious. He's a considerate guy and says he'll understand if I don't bring him. But I am torn. I feel like if I don't bring my boyfriend, then I am putting my past relationship before my current one. Yet to bring my boyfriend might be heartless, since I know it would hurt my ex to see me with someone else. I respect my ex and don't want to cause him any more pain. Am I overthinking this?
Carolyn says: Possibly, but that's better than under-thinking it. The only things at stake here are people's feelings, and so choosing the path for this one event that's thoughtful and sensitive to the most people's feelings is your only real goal.
And with that discrete, narrow goal in mind, please feel free to jettison the concern that you're "putting my past relationship before my current one." This is one event, not the rest of your life.
It's common for people to fret about the precedent they're setting, the slippery slope they're traversing, the message they're sending, pick your cliché for far-reaching consequence. Most of the time, these worries are just a needless distraction; if you bend on something once and don't bend that way again, where's the slope-slippage in that?
If it sounds as if I'm advising you to leave your new boyfriend at home, I'm not (though he's either a good sport, eager not to go, both, or, ick, insincere and testing you, something else to consider). My advice is merely to simplify your decision by treating it as the one-off it is.
Envision seeing your ex for the first time since your divorce, and his mother, at the wedding of your mutual friends. What version of that scene is kindest to you, your current, your ex, his mom, and the bride and groom: being alone, or having your boyfriend there? That's the decision you make.'Fleeting ... madness'?
Dear Carolyn: How would you react, if at all, if a significant old flame, who is still a friend, but a married-to-someone-else friend, closed a message with, "I can't stop thinking about you"?
Blame it on a fleeting, full-moon madness? Wait and see if any similar comments are issued, then discuss?
I just ignored it, but the same message involved an invitation to get together for "coffee, etc." (etc.?), so I'm wondering if friendship can be maintained. Perhaps this is some seven-year itch? And no, I never swim in the married end of the pool.
Carolyn says: When I first read this question, my knee-jerk response was "Avoid." (If my reflexes had sound effects, they'd sound the horn from movie submarines when some sweaty officer is yelling, "Dive! Dive!")
But that passed. There's no risk of emotional affair, no flirtation with or allure of one, no appearance of one even, unless you were intrigued by his signoff.
And if you weren't intrigued, just alarmed, then consider that his message was less a love note than a cry for help.
Sending out a feeler the way he did might indeed mean that he misses/wants you. I think it's more likely, though, given that it was out of the blue (right?) and somewhat timid, that he is numb in his marriage, not ready to deal with that openly, and seeking sensory input elsewhere.
In that case, the best response from a true friend might be, "What the heck was that?" Someone who is close to him, but truly completely utterly devoid of ulterior motives and an unflinching advocate of this friend and his marriage, is in the ideal position to put her hand on his chin, figuratively speaking, and turn his attention right back to his marriage. "What about Jan?" you ask. And then you listen, and encourage him to talk to her, talk to a shrink, talk to his mommy, anyone but a desperate Plan B.
Oh -- and if you are intrigued? Tell him you want no part of cheating, then dive, dive, dive.