“My Boyfriend Had Dinner With His Ex and I’m Upset About It”

My boyfriend has been divorced for four years and gets along with his ex-wife; they have two children, 16 and 18. Before I came along, they had a ridiculous relationship where his ex insisted that, aside from not living together, they carried on as if they were still together in every other sense. My boyfriend is a wonderful, generous, caring man who just went along with whatever it was she expected from him. However, now that we’re together and he realizes things need to change, he has pretty much taken every step necessary to MOA.

Late last night during our phone conversation, he mentioned that that he had gone out to dinner with his daughter, his ex-wife, and his ex-father-in-law. It bothered me a lot and I’m not sure if it was just plain jealousy or the fact that I didn’t really have a head’s up or time to adjust to the idea or even to talk about it with him. I’m not exactly sure how I’m supposed to feel; I like that he and his ex have a civil relationship and I don’t expect them as a family to never get together, but what is acceptable and what is not acceptable?

She’s not a fan of me whatsoever, considering I have just disrupted her idea of the pretend perfect life she wanted her kids to live, and she has tried to talk my boyfriend out of allowing me to be any part of the kids’ lives or even his, so I guess part of me feels like every chance she has to capture his attention is a victory for her.

Is it wrong that I feel like the only interacting they should be doing is in regard to business about the kids? — The New Girl

I don’t think you’re wrong to not trust the ex-wife or to feel confused by the nature of the relationship between your boyfriend and his ex. But I do think you need to get clarity for yourself about what you’re ok with and what you aren’t and then to express that tactfully to your boyfriend. You say you “don’t expect them as a family to never get together,” and then ask what is and is not acceptable, but the truth is that only YOU can say what boundaries you’re comfortable with and think are appropriate.

Your boyfriend may disagree with you, and that’s his right. That’s when it’s important to have a conversation about this in which you discuss your feelings, what you’re comfortable with, and what you aren’t comfortable with. And he can explain where he’s coming from (it sounds like this is all pretty new for him, too, and he’s also figuring things out). And maybe, through the conversation (or conversations, plural), you both gain a clearer understanding of the other’s perspective.

Maybe there isn’t a solution that feels 100% comfortable — you may never like when your boyfriend spends time in the company of his ex, for example — but you can at least appreciate intent and feelings. And you can continue to re-visit the issue, check in with each other, and even adjust boundaries and expectations according to circumstance and feelings. Ultimately, what this comes down to is respect, trust, and open communication. If you can maintain those in your relationship — and, really, this goes for all relationships — you’re setting yourself up for success, especially if you are well-matched in terms of values, goals, and compatibility.

All that said, I’d be a little leery about your boyfriend being the kind of guy who “just goes along with whatever is expected from him.” In a healthy relationship there’s give and take — there are two sets of expectations, not just one person solely meeting the expectations of the other. You may think, in regards to his ex-wife, this trait of your boyfriends puts him in a sympathetic light, making him something of a martyr, but it’s not heroic to keep your own needs buried and to simply do “what’s expected of you.” It’s actually kind of emotionally lazy and passive.

In a relationship, you want your partner to be an active participant, to take equal responsibility in the “mental load” of maintaining the relationship — to not just strive to meet expectations, but also to express them and to work with you in making sure the expectations are fair and just. You have a chance to work on exactly that when you bring to your boyfriend’s attention your feelings about his relationship with his ex. Good luck!


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.


  1. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    “they had a ridiculous relationship where his ex insisted that aside from not living together they carried on as if they were still together in every other sense.”

    What does it mean to be together in every other sense but living together?

    Their relationship isn’t ridiculous. It can be anything that they mutually choose it to be if it works for both of them. If their relationship works for them but not for you then you have to decide if he is the guy for you. If he is the type of go who goes along to get along then how do you know he prefers what you want over what she wants? You don’t. If he is doing what you want because you want it then the two of you aren’t any better than the two of them. Have you asked him how much and what type of contact he would prefer with her if he could choose what he wanted without either you or her telling him what he should do?

    I get the impression that you want to control him and you are frustrated because she was controlling him first and she hasn’t give up controlling him just because he started seeing you.

    Your boyfriend needs to grow a spine and stand up to both of you. I do understand him wanting to get along with her so that he has the most access to his children. Don’t try to interfere with that if you want his children to like you. Nothing sabotages a relationship like the kids hating you. There is nothing wrong with him joining them for dinner. Nothing.

  2. LisforLeslie says:

    LW#2: He will always be your first love blah blah blah. There is something overly romanticized about being high school sweethearts that go on to have happy long marriages. They made it work for them. It’s rare in this day and age and maybe that’s why they are the unicorn of relationships. However, those relationships don’t involve playing games by ignoring one another, lack of constructive communication, breaking up and getting back together over and over and lots of drunken promises. He’s not the one. Move on. Get busy dating and figuring out what you want in a relationship.

  3. I agree with Skyblossom. Your post sounds controlling. They are a family, though they are not love partners anymore, it has nothing to do with what you live with him. He is with you now, you are his partner, focus on your own relationship with him, don’t monitor his moves with his children, his ex and her parents. They don’t do that all the time anyway. And there is no “victory” of hers against you. Let him be and see how your relationship progresses, that is what matters here. The more your relationship will deepen, the less the ex will be important, except as an ex, the mother of his children.

  4. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    “Is it wrong that I feel like the only interacting they should be doing is in regard to business about the kids?”

    Having dinner together in a cordial way is about the kids. The kids benefit from some joint family time. The fact that he and his ex can do that says that they are basically good people who want to do the right thing and set aside differences for the kids. Then you come along and want to stop it all because you feel it is ridiculous. No wonder she doesn’t want you to be involved in anything to do with the kids. You aren’t good for the kids. You need to get your act together and not be so insecure that you need to have him only discuss business about the kids. You are making this all about you. If they didn’t get back together during the four years they have been separated they aren’t going to get back together and you have nothing to worry about. He is a man with a cordial relationship with his ex. You hopefully noticed that he wasn’t out having a romantic dinner with his ex. He was having a family dinner with his child and his child’s family. There is a huge difference and it is a win for the child. There is nothing here about an ex scoring a victory over you.

  5. “I’m not exactly sure how I’m supposed to feel; I like that he and his ex have a civil relationship and I don’t expect them as a family to never get together but what is acceptable ” — this dinner was acceptable. Likely it was about his child, who was present for the dinner, along with her grandfather. You are being overly jealous and controlling. You complain that you didn’t get a heads up prior to the dinner. He doesn’t need your permission to see his child in any context, even if his ex and her father are present. How can you be so jealous about a dinner? Does your imagination run to his making plans to get it on with his ex, with his child and her father present. You are just too insecure and that eventually will kill your relationship. It sounds like you are dating, but not living together. Unless he’s cheating, when you are not on a date, his time is his own. As a father, he should be spending time with his child. Also as a father, he should be having cordial contact with his child’s mother.

    LW #2 — Just MOA for real and get on with your college life. Find a new bf and stop wallowing in nostalgia for your HS days. While you wallow, you are missing what should be a key developmental time in your life. Your description of your history with HS guy says that it’s never going to work and is the crutch of a pleasant time in your past which you flee back to when you are feeling lonely and have gotten a drunk on. Focus your energy on the present and enjoying college — learn new skills, find new subjects which captivate your imagination, make new friends, participate in college activities, hopefully find a new love, which is actually real and not an artificially enhanced nostalgic image of what never was in your past. You and your ex broke up for a reason, your attempts to reunite failed for a reason. Ex has a new gf. Why can’t you move on? How long are you going to remain emotionally frozen in your H.S. past? You do realize that you are stunting your own emotional growth and passage into adulthood? Just stop the self sabotage. You can’t find real love until you walk away from your mental fixation on an imaginary, glorified version of a great HS romance which it sounds like was never that great, but which you for some reason feel more comfortable building up in your mind, clutching to your breast, and hiding behind.

  6. LW1, you lost me as soon as you talked about a “victory” for her. If that’s the way you’re looking at it, break up with him now, and choose to date men who don’t have children by other women.

    You’re not competing with her. This is not a competition. Say that to yourself as many times as you have to to get it through your head. She is the mother to his children. She will always be in his life, and so will her family, because they are his children’s family. And if you become a long-term presence in his life, you’ll be joining his pre-existing extended family, which will include all of these people. You don’t get to wipe out what came before…you join it.

    FWIW, I think it’s awesome that he had dinner with his daughter and her mom and her grandfather. That tells me that he’s mature enough to have a decent relationship with his kids’ family, which is SO much better in every way that having a contentious one. My boyfriend’s kids are well into adulthood. He goes to many events where his ex and her various relatives are present, because he’s a grownup. Sometimes I go along, sometimes I don’t. I’m not the least bit bothered. I think it’s wonderful that he does it.

  7. Avatar photo juliecatharine says:

    Something about LW1 really rubbed me the wrong way and I completely agree with others who have said they get a controlling vibe from her. How long have they even been dating? I found it pretty telling that that little detail was left out.

    1. Yes!!!!!! How long they’ve been dating is SO important to how her conversation with him should go. She only found out about the dinner through a phone conversation, which sounds like they don’t live together.

      If she’s already uncomfortable with the fact that he has an ex who will be in the picture indefinitely, AND she’s viewing all of his interactions with her as ‘win-lose’ situations, rather than ‘spending time with his children as a family’, then there’s no way this will work out favourably.

      I can totally understand her gut reaction of jealousy/uncertainty when she first heard about this dinner. It’s her need to define what his family interactions should look like that’s a red flag for me. She does mention talking to him about this either… It’s up to her to decide what she’s comfortable with, but she absolutely should not expect him to just go along with whatever she wants, which, apparently, is what he’s prone to. He needs to decide what’s best for himself and his family, and if she doesn’t like it, she needs to walk away.

  8. Leslie Joan says:

    Wow, LW2, I am amazed at how you could possibly get that “he’s walking all over me and using me” from your account of that relationship. Seriously, do you always play the victim in your relationships, or is it just that you’re completely thinking that women are stuck being passive and waiting around to get noticed, and oh, if you have sex with a guy it must somehow mean he’s “using” you, because women neeeeeever want sex. I can’t even type that with a straight face.

    He’s the one who appears to be genuinely stuck on you. And when HE texted “I love you” you didn’t even RESPOND. So where you get off boohooing and acting like a victim here is beyond me. No wonder your buddies are sick of this: they, like we, probably want to see you take some ownership of YOUR role in the situation.

    Have you noticed a theme that whenever you’re reaching out for attention from him that it’s always when you’re drunk? Seems to me that you are flattered by the attention, and it feeds your ego to be pursued. But you don’t really love him, so what on earth would be the purpose of having him dumping his current gf and pursuing you? Tell him the truth. You might try it while sober, for a change, because that seems to be the state where you’re closer to being able to admit YOUR truth. Tell him that it flatters you when he pursues you, but you are ambivalent.

    1. I am not saying he is using me just because of the sex. I keep trying to get back together with him but then after a few times of hanging out he stops pursuing me. Next time he does reach out do I just tell him if we can’t have something more then I can’t see you?

  9. Boo Berry Waffles says:

    As the adult child of parents who went through an ugly divorce, I would LOVE if my parents could make it through a civil dinner with us kids. For what it’s worth, I truly believe my mom would be able to get through that, but my father wouldn’t and a large part of that is because the woman he’s with has a huge problem with the fact all of us exist and are a part of his life.

    Obviously this is an opinion viewed through my own experience and the brief synopsis of your current situation, but you really sound like what I imagine my father’s partner probably thought she sounded like in the beginning. My brother and I view her as an incredibly toxic person and her hissy fit throwing and general attitude towards evidence of my father’s past has already successfully alienated him from my brother and it’s gotten in the way of my relationship with my father as well.

    Don’t be that person. Don’t even step close to the vicinity of being that person. My situation is an extreme one, but my advice to any woman walking into an existing family, especially one with minor children, is to walk soft and accept that those kids will always be a priority to him, and by extension, their mother. As it should be. You wouldn’t want to be with a man who didn’t take that approach.

  10. LW 1 – I feel some empathy towards you, because feeling insecure in a relationship sucks. Part of your insecurity seems to be a worry that his controlling ex will get her hooks in him and steal him back, which is understandable. However, I also agree with Wendy and with the other comments that this dinner was pretty innocent, mainly because it was a family dinner. A romantic dinner with just the 2 of them would be a red flag.

    If I read your post correctly, he told you about that after it already happened. Why do you think that is? I wonder if there might be some communication issues between you two. Is it because he was worried you would try to stop him or want to come along, thereby potentially making the dinner strained?

    Definitely talk to your BF about your insecurities, but use “I” statements. “I feel insecure when…” etc. You want to make it clear that you are not trying to get between him and his kids. I think it would be good for you and your BF’s communication to get this out in the open. However, you want to encourage him to open up, too, and make it a safe space for him to express his concerns. Make sure you have this conversation when you are feeling calm and centered, and you both have some time to talk. That’s my 2 cents. Best of luck.

  11. Not Skyblossom says:

    Everyone is just flat out green lighting that it’s ok for the ex-wife to be controlling, but criticizing the LW for feeling some kind of way about it, and calling her controlling. Make it make sense!!

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