Of course, she wanted to know why I wasn’t ready. At first, it was just a gut feeling, but, when I spent some time thinking about it, I realized I do not feel fully trusted. And this is where the background comes in: I am a musician, and I have been in a band for five years. For two of those years, I was romantically involved with the keyboardist in my band. We had a tumultuous and difficult relationship that I ended in early 2013, about three months before I met my current girlfriend. The band pre-dated my romantic involvement with the keyboardist, and so we decided to try to keep it going after we broke up. Things were certainly a little rocky at first, but we managed to come to a good place with it and operate solely as bandmates. I swear on everything I hold sacred that I have absolutely zero romantic interest in my ex. At my age, it is really hard to find people who want to play for free with whom one clicks, musically, and music is very important to me. That’s all this is to me.
The problem is that, from the beginning, my current girlfriend has had a problem with me being in a band with someone I used to be romantically involved with. I was honest with her about some of the ways in which my ex mistreated me (example: She didn’t tell me she had herpes before we were intimate, and I got it from her), and she says that the fact that I want someone like that in my life at all is disturbing to her. She has said repeatedly that she is worried my ex might have some sort of hold over me or my feelings. She has told me that my ex’s presence at all in my life is disrespectful to her. She has never given me an ultimatum, but she has made clear that the fact that this hurts her, that I know it hurts her, and that I continue to do it, leads her to feel like she can’t fully trust me with her feelings.
I struggle with this. On one hand, I know it is important to honor my girlfriend’s feelings, even if I don’t understand or agree with them. I acknowledge that this pain is real for her. At the same time, I can’t feel like I am doing anything objectively wrong. My ex and I see each other only at band rehearsals (once a week) and shows (a couple times a month), and never alone – the rest of the band is always there. We don’t hang out socially and we don’t idly shoot the breeze – 99.99% of our communication is band business-related. Very clear boundaries are in place and respected…and I get no indication from my ex that she has any lingering weirdness or feelings for me; she has moved on and been through a couple of relationships since ours ended.
My girlfriend and I have fought over this almost monthly for a year and a half. It is without a doubt our biggest issue. I understand someone having an ex in his or her life isn’t typical (although, working in the arts as I do, I know a lot of people who have continued to work with people they were once involved with), but, at the same time, I feel like I have taken steps to help my girlfriend feel safe and have been true to the things I’ve said about how I feel about her (my girlfriend concedes that I am very affectionate and attentive) and about my ex.
All of this has come up again in the wake of my pulling out of moving in together. The fact is that we’re not in a relationship that’s built on trust. That’s a really hard place for me to be and I can’t see taking a step like moving in together and looking toward a possible marriage-and-kids future when that’s what’s going on. We’re in couples therapy now, and I’m hopeful that might help somewhat . . . but a big part of me also wonders if all of this means that we are just not the right fit for one another, that maybe I need to be with someone who can handle the things I’m asking someone I’m with to handle (having an ex still in my life in some capacity), and she needs to be with someone with a less complicated situation. That idea makes me very sad, because there are really good things about our relationship too, but I just don’t see how we can move forward when she can’t trust me with her feelings and I don’t feel trusted. — Still Making Music with My Ex
You were wise to pay attention to your gut feelings and put a stop to moving in together when you still had doubts about your relationship. I don’t list it in my 15 things couples should do before moving in together, but “feel at peace in the relationship” would be number 16. And, unfortunately, you don’t feel at peace. And it sounds like, in almost two years, you never have felt total peace with the relationship, and neither has your girlfriend. And the truth is, you may not be the best match. You may be two people who love and care about each other but can’t get past your differences. Maybe your couples therapist will help you, but, if in almost two years you have not reached a resolution on this issue regarding your ex-girlfriend, I’m not sure what compromise you can happily meet that will get you the peace you need to move forward.
The way I see it is you have two choices: give up the band or give up the girl. Your girlfriend isn’t going to suddenly become cool with you playing music with your ex. She’s just not. You have done everything you can to help her find some peace with the situation and she’s not there. She’s not ever going to be there. In her mind, it sounds like the situation isn’t quite a deal-breaker yet (or she would have broken up with you by now), but could be eventually. Like, she might be thinking/hoping this band won’t last forever and eventually you are going to move on and the ex will finally be simply part of your past and no longer part of your present. She is banking on that. And every month that you continue to play music with this woman, your girlfriend is hurt, which is why you have a fight about it every month.
And for your part, you are banking on your girlfriend finally getting over her jealousy and accepting that this ex is nothing more than someone you click with musically. And every month that she is still jealous and upset that you are, in essence, continuing to choose your happiness over her sense of peace, your relationship continues to suffer. And this all begs the question: Why don’t you choose her sense of peace? Why don’t you just quit the band or find someone else to play music with when you know it’s what will make your girlfriend happy and may save your relationship? Because . . . you don’t want to. And that’s totally fair. You don’t want to make this compromise, especially when the whole situation makes you question whether your girlfriend, as someone who is so jealous and doesn’t trust you, is really the right match for you. Because it isn’t JUST about your playing in this band. There’s the principle of the matter. There’s what it says about you and your values (and her and her values) and the way you might face other issues in the future if you give in and give up something that brings you joy because your girlfriend can’t deal with her jealousy.
And that’s what it all comes down to. How much do you value this relationship? Are you willing to give up the band for your girlfriend? And if you did, would you resent her? Would you feel like your relationship still was not based on trust (because you had to remove yourself from the thing/person that your girlfriend was jealous of rather than her accepting that you would never compromise your relationship for someone else)? Your answers to these questions should give you a pretty good indication of the state of your relationship, your commitment to this woman, and whether you are, indeed, the right fit for each other.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.