He was previously engaged over 6 years ago, to a girl he dated off and on for 5+ years. They were broken up the first time for almost two years when they ran into each other and decided to give it another shot. Shortly after, they were engaged. It ended up running its course again, for reasons that I don’t entirely know. I knew he had contact with her when we first started dating, but, when we became serious and I explained that it bothered me, he said he would stop (no Facebook, Instagram, etc.).
Cut to this week. In one of my less proud moments, I looked at his phone out of curiosity regarding engagement congratulations. He has several girls from his past who I’ve expected may have been more than friends at some point, who he still maintains contact with. I was interested to see what their take was on our engagement. Not cool, but the truth. I was also interested to see if his ex knew we got engaged and, if so, did she reach out to him.
While looking, I uncovered over a year’s worth of emails between the two of them. The first few I saw were a few months into our relationship. He sent her an “e-card” with some joke about having sex. They proceeded to talk about how they’d like to do “that” again. It went back and forth, but I was seeing more red than actual words on the screen.
Another email started because she deleted her Facebook account after seeing a photo of my fiancé and me at a concert together. He proceeded to tell her that he only took the picture because the “lights were cool” and that he would have preferred her to have been there instead of me. Then a month or so later he sent an email after her father passed. I completely understand his concern and need to express condolences, but he went into great detail about how important her family was to him. He then signed it with “Love,…”.
Then there were more emails between the two of them about six months later, which was well into our relationship. In those, they talked at great length about their relationship, how no one makes them feel the same, no one understands her like he does, how hard it is for him to see photos of her and her husband, how much she misses him. And finally, she complained thoroughly about her marriage and said she wished she could be with him again, but she said she knows she can’t “ask him to wait” for her. He said he was confused, flattered, and missed her too. I had had enough and stopped reading. I confronted him about it and a blow-out fight ensued.
The next day he deleted everything. Later on I saw an email from her telling him to delete everything and figure it out. He says he’s devastated and swears that all of the emails were over a year ago. But when I pressed him for honesty, he said he thinks their last emails to each other were “like 8 months ago.” I don’t know if I believe that. I don’t know what to believe.
He says he’s never loved anyone more than me and wouldn’t have proposed if he weren’t certain. I’m furious, heartbroken, humiliated. I simply don’t know what to do. I don’t feel like I can trust him again. They were broken up for two years before and got back together. How can I be sure that, if our marriage gets rocky someday, or if she divorces her husband, they won’t start talking again? He says he reciprocated the conversation because of the “attention.” To me, that sounds like the making of a cheater. We hit a speed bump, or don’t, and someone else gives him some attention, and then bam! Please help me figure out where to go from here. — Blindsided in Boston
I can imagine the fury and hurt and betrayal you’re feeling now — and at a time when you should be feeling joy and excitement. It may be hard to see it this way, but there is a silver lining here, and that’s that you have made this discovery about your fiancé and his relationship with his ex before tying the knot. Can you imagine how much worse you would feel and how much more complicated things would be if you were married and just discovering that he was expressing feelings for someone else months earlier and well into your relationship? That’s not to say that you should forget about marrying him and that your relationship is over; but this new insight does provide a much-needed opportunity to evaluate your feelings — especially your trust level — and to communicate and to think very carefully and thoroughly about what it would mean to commit to this man for life.
If I were you, I would put the engagement on hold until you know for sure you are ready to marry your boyfriend. You obviously have some doubts — doubts I believe existed even before you had proof of your boyfriend’s transgressions. Why else were you so curious what his exes thought about your engagement? Why else would you violate his privacy and snoop through his phone, with the sole purpose of seeking messages from ex-girlfriends? Something inside of you felt unsettled about his past relationships. Your gut was telling you something was “off.” And your gut was right.
So, what do you do now? You take some time to think about things and talk about things and think about things some more. You ask your boyfriend for full transparency. Tell him that trust has been broken and, in an effort to re-build it and save your relationship, you want access to texts and emails. Maybe that means his sharing of his passwords with you, or maybe it means his handing you his phone or logging into his email and Facebook accounts, whenever you might ask, and letting you scan through his messages. You also need clarity about when his feelings for you — and when his feelings for his ex — changed. If, at some point into your relationship, he was telling his ex he didn’t love anyone like he loved her and that he’d rather she be with her than you, when did that change? How did it change? What are his feelings for his ex now? And how would he feel if he never, ever spoke to her again (a fair request from you at this point, I think)? You also need to have clarity about the nature of his breakup(s) with his ex and have any questions you have about her or any of his other exes answered so that you don’t feel the need to search through messages and social media pages to find the clarity you seek.
I would set a timeline for when you would need to feel positive enough about your relationship to move forward (with an engagement and making wedding plans). Decide how long you’re comfortable waiting and how long you think it might take to earn back your trust. Maybe six months? Maybe less, maybe more. You have to decide for yourself (and it’s ok if it changes, but having an idea in your head for when you are going to MOA, whether it’s with him or without him, will help you get through this period of figuring things out). And if, when that time is up, you don’t 100% trust your boyfriend and his intentions and feel 100% that there are no other women competing for his affections, you shouldn’t marry him.
Another silver lining that may be hard to see now but does exist: you will have a better relationship in the future, whether it’s with your boyfriend… or with someone else. If you decide to stay with your boyfriend, it will be because you have worked through your current challenges and your bond will be much stronger for it. And if you break up, it will be because you know in your heart that you deserve better, and you will be far less likely to settle for anyone who doesn’t fill you with certainty about his commitment to you.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.