By the time we got together they had been broken up for two years (she cheated) although they had been casually hooking up on occasion before we met. In the beginning of our relationship they were hanging out on average a couple times a week to get a meal, work out, or watch TV. I told him that this was problematic and, if he wanted to be serious, he needed to make more room for our relationship. He did make more time for me, and a year later we moved in together at his request. Since then, his ex has texted him quite a bit, sending pictures of herself in dresses, asking for car help at least twice, and calling when she locks herself out of her apartment (my boyfriend has a key to her place). She has also told me on several occasions that she thinks my boyfriend still has feelings for her.
A couple months ago we all happened to be out at a show and she told him that she missed her quality time with him and she didn’t feel she could text him as much anymore since he has a girlfriend. She was intoxicated and hanging on him, and, when she asked him to buy her a drink, he did. I told him this all made me feel uncomfortable and that I felt she is a little toxic. The next day I told him that I felt like there may be some unresolved feelings between the two of them and the situation does not make me feel comfortable. He tried to reassure me although my gut told me a few things: 1. I cannot make him end his connection with her, nor would I want to; 2. I do think there are unresolved issues between them; 3. I am not feeling respected or comfortable.
I let it go. Then last week I got a text from the ex asking if I had a key to her place because she was locked out once again. I said no, I didn’t, but my boyfriend might. Well, he did still have the key to her place. I suggested that he might give it back to her because she loses it so much and I don’t think we should be responsible for rescuing her. He said he tried to give it back, but she insisted we keep it. I feel that on some level his boundaries are not clear with his ex, that she is being manipulative, and that it is not healthy for him to be doing favors for her or being so close with her. I have no problems with occasional texting or hanging out in a group setting, but I do not see why he should need to have her key or be her go-to guy for fixing things or rescuing her. Am I out of line? — The Key Problem
Well, no, of course you’re not out of line, but here’s what I don’t get: you say that early on in your relationship you had to establish some boundaries regarding your boyfriend’s friendship with his ex in order for you to feel comfortable… and yet, your whole letter is about a total lack of boundaries and your total discomfort with their relationship. You have articulated to your boyfriend time and again how uncomfortable you are with the lack of boundaries he has with his ex. And you have even admitted to yourself — finally, it seems — that there are unresolved feelings between them. But what did you do about that? Apparently you “let it go.” Those were your words. You said you felt there were unresolved issues between your boyfriend and his ex and that you felt disrespected and uncomfortable, and you just … let it go.
I guess I’m having a really hard time figuring out why you’re so obsessed about the unclear boundaries between your boyfriend and his ex-girlfriend when your own boundaries with him are so unclear. Is it really ok that he repeatedly disrespects you? Because that’s the message you are giving him when you “let it go.” When you don’t put your foot down and say “Enough!”, you are setting unclear boundaries. You are saying you’re ok with his being in his ex-girlfriend’s back pocket essentially — being her go-to guy when she’s locked out or when she has car trouble or when she needs an opinion on a new dress or needs someone to buy her a drink. You’re saying you’re ok with being disrespected.
If you want to be respected, you need to demand it. You need to say, “Enough!” You need to quit “letting it go” and quit sweeping it under the rug and quit accepting this total disregard for your feelings. Speak up for yourself and keep speaking up for yourself, and, if you aren’t being treated the way you want and if your feelings aren’t being validated and if your boyfriend isn’t making you a top priority — far above the ex-girlfriend who cheated on him, then you need to say “Enough” to yourself and MOA. Because, honestly, there’s something fishy about a guy who can’t let go of his ex’s key even when his live-in girlfriend firmly suggests it’s time.* The key is such a metaphor, and in this case it seems like your boyfriend is hanging on to it so that he can be let back in whenever he wants. It’s time for you to let him know that, if he keeps this up, he’ll be losing another valuable key — the one to your heart.
* Exception: A key would be understandable if they happen to have shared custody of children and/or a beloved pet.
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