My question is about what I perceive to be the red flags. I’m not sure Carl has sufficient boundaries around his ex-wife. They’ve been apart a shorter time than I have from my ex. They have teenage boys together that they split 50/50. I’m sharing parenting as well, so I get the need to be in contact with your ex, but I don’t think he’s as boundaried as I’d like.
Here’s what’s bothering me: During his ex’s custody periods, he picks them up from school when she can’t. He takes them to her house (he has keys), cooks for them, and waits for her to come home. On days when she’s able to pick them up, he’s often there fixing one thing or another. Last week he was there for a few hours fixing her computer printer. He invited her over to paint their rental unit, and then he seemed surprised when their old dynamic (and disagreements) came up. She has the keys to his house (where they lived for 19 years), and when she was over last week, he felt the need to remove all the things he’d bought for me to use when I was there. When I was staying over at his house last week, I made some offhand comment and, the next thing I knew, he opened a bedroom drawer where his ex *still* has her underwear, etc. His explanation was that she keeps things everywhere and one day she’ll come get them.
Because my own marriage was abusive, my boundaries are much firmer and I rarely see or speak with my ex. I know my situation is at the other extreme, so I’m not sure how this works for people who broke up for other reasons.
I’m not jealous; I just don’t want this to be some kind of red flag I ignore at my peril. Until I can make a decision about this, I’m having trouble deciding if I want to commit to this otherwise seemingly good relationship.
I’d appreciate your advice. — On the Fence
I can’t speak to your fear of intimacy and fear of missing out — they may very well be contributing to your not being ready to commit to this man you’ve known a couple months, and it’s great that you’re working through some of these issues with a therapist. I CAN speak to the red flags you’ve listed and confirm for you that your concerns are, indeed, valid. No one who still has a drawer full of his ex-wife’s panties should be pressuring a new girlfriend to commit to him, exclusively, period. It’s not even so much about YOUR not being ready; he clearly isn’t ready. Not if he’s removing any sign of your existence before the ex comes over. Not when he clearly hasn’t sufficiently moved on from the unhealthy dynamic with his ex-wife that led to their split.
We all have our own level of comfort around partners’ post-relationship interactions with their exes, but this is more than your feeling uncomfortable that Carl cooks dinner for his kids while at his ex-wife’s house before she gets home (something that I suspect others might not have as big an issue with; he’s taking care of his kids, after all). It’s even more than your feeling uncomfortable with Carl spending hours fixing his ex’s printer (arguably still an effort that benefits his kids if they use the printer). It’s even more than your discomfort with Carl painting a rental unit with his ex that they own together (much less about the kids!). The fact that Carl hides evidence of you when the ex comes over suggests that he is not truly available to you in the way you would want a committed partner to be. And that’s ok! You’re not asking him to be a committed partner to you. HE is asking YOU to be a committed partner, and it’s perfectly valid for you to say, “I don’t think we’re ready for that step yet.”
If you tell Carl you don’t think you’re ready for exclusivity and he asks why: be honest. You, yourself, are still processing and figuring out your own availability, and you feel that there’s sufficient evidence that he’s doing the same (or should be doing the same, anyway). Tell him you really like him a lot and enjoy his company and you’d love to continue seeing him while you both navigate your still relatively new post-divorce worlds and how to co-parent with your exes. It’s just not the right time yet for you two to take the next step in your relationship and why do you have to? Why rush? Why not enjoy each other’s company and continue getting to know each other? If he has a problem with that and he continues pushing you, then add that to your list of red flags and call it a day. He *may* be someone who feels he can’t function without a committed partner and he may be rushing to replace his ex-wife with you, not necessarily because you two are so great together (though maybe you are), but because he’s desperate to get that role filled ASAP so he doesn’t have to figure out who he is if he isn’t someone’s significant other.
In short: tell him you don’t feel your relationship is ready for an exclusive commitment and if he can’t respect that and he continues to push you, take that as a sign you need to MOA.
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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.
Anonymous March 17, 2020, 11:06 am
WWS. Why rush into something that is so new with so much baggage? There’s a lot to navigate on both sides. He needs to learn some boundaries with his ex, and I hope you take the time to work through the fears that have surfaced.
anonymousse March 17, 2020, 11:54 am
I definitely think the underwear and his removing all traces of you is a red flag. Not that you need to stop seeing him, but be aware. Pay attention to your intuition. Don’t agree to be exclusive yet. I also think him saying he loves you presumedly after around two months of dating around kids and custody etc (IE-I imagine not many dates!) is another red flag. Be alert for other red flags.
SM March 17, 2020, 2:54 pm
I had an ex boyfriend, who and a similar dynamic with his ex, minus the underwear still be in a drawer. They had been divorced for closer to 20 years and he had other girlsfriends in between, he has 3 daughters that were 13, 18, 19ish when we started dating..his ex wife called him for EVERYTHING. Not just about the girls, and I was not at all threatened by her, it was just annoying that we couldn’t go out for dinner without her calling because her son (with another man) was acting up. If he didn’t answer, she’d either take it out on the kids, call until he picked up or get her mother in law to call. Because he had never set proper boundaries. I kind of helped him do that, and it got better eventually. We are no longer together for other reasons, but with this being new for him, he might need help seeing things from someone else’s point of view.
saneinca March 19, 2020, 12:32 am
How is it that the guy had a 13 year old daughter in a 20 year old divorce ?
brise March 17, 2020, 4:06 pm
Make it a dare for him to send back the underwear to his ex. Then you can start discussing – or not. But these panties have to go.
I think that you are too soon too enmeshed in his life. It isn’t your business after all if he cooks at his ex’s place for his kids or so. Your overlapping presence with his ex in his house is more of an inconvenience. I would tell him that he has to make a lot more room for you to take him seriously as a potential partner. Do not commit now. Wendy is so right when she says that he needs the function of the committed girlfriend.
But your argument that you have more boundaries because you were abused is not very convincing… It is a contradiction. Don’t serve him that talk. Don’t give yourself in example. Just show that you are far from committed.
Sea Witch March 17, 2020, 8:30 pm
Sounds like you’re the Emergency Backup Woman. He’s hoping to reunite with his ex, but he’s keeping you on the back burner in case that doesn’t happen.
mellanthe March 18, 2020, 3:59 pm
To be fair, this is early days. But when and if things become commited, this could be a bigger problem.
You need to be able to tell him what would make you comfortable and what you expect of a committed partner, when the time comes. That will include setting healthy boundaries. For example: the ex isn’t getting around to claiming her panties, so he needs to box up her stuff and drop them to her place next time he goes. He’s always over there and he can’t return her stuff? He thinks it’s OK for his current partner to see this? And feel like she’s a secondary woman in his life? He needs to be able to put his ex aside before he can really be in a relationship.
It’s also a red flag that he hides all the evidence you’re ever there. If a person is over their ex, they don’t hide the fact they are in a new relationship – does she even know about you? That he’s dating at all? Or does he pretend he’s single and keep playing happy families? It’s not a red flag that he cooks for his kids, but he doesn’t need to be chilling in her house to do it – if he’s due to drop the kids off, she should tell him when she’s home, so he can come around and drop the kids then. Not hang around at hers until she eventually comes home.
This isn’t about infidelity (as in, sex, though emotional affairs may well be a possibility in some cases like this), but it’s about boundaries – all parties (parents and kids) being able to accept that the parents are no longer a couple and have new partners. Boundaries are important – it’s hard for people to have new partners if they are essentially living as if still part of a couple with their ex.
You shouldn’t be jealous just because someone has an ex. But you should be cautious if they still seem to very much be playing ‘happy families’ as if they never broke up.
Liz March 21, 2020, 7:18 am
The underwear in the drawer are his. Now you know why they are divorced.