Update: “On the Fence” Responds (Again)

updatesIt’s time again for “Dear Wendy Updates,” a feature where people I’ve given advice to in the past let us know whether they followed the advice and how they’re doing now. Today we hear from “On the Fence,” the woman who was dating a guy, “Carl,” who still had a drawer of his ex-wife’s underwear, despite telling the LW he loved her and wanted to be exclusive with her. She was concerned about other red flags she noticed about what she considered lax boundaries with his ex, like fixing things in her house and removing the LW’s stuff when the ex comes over (to drop off their kids). Having been in an abusive marriage, she was doubting her own judgment and wanted advice about whether these were, in fact, signs of a problem.

She updated us three months ago and said that she had become exclusive with Carl despite feeling like the relationship was only temporary and despite Carl’s still refusing to ask his ex to get her things from his place or his refusing to set any boundaries with her. She wrote: “I don’t want drama. I will say, though, that what I’ve gotten out of this relationship is more guidance in how it is to exist in a space where I’m treated well (outside of this) and am with someone who is genuinely nice. That’s been a breath of fresh air, and I very much look forward to taking those lessons into the next relationship.” Has she taken the lessons to the next relationship? Has she at least left Carl? Her latest update, below.

I’ll send one last update. I appreciate your advice. The commenters were right when they said to MOA. When I read advice given to others, I always think, “Yes! They should MOA!” But actually doing it is a little harder than I thought it would be.

Yes, I finally broke up with “Carl.” It took two days and it was hard because, in his words, I was “taking a great love and relationship and tossing it away.”

The final straw for me was his confessing, unprompted, that he was still kissing his (not yet ex-) wife. It finally stopped — I think because she got a new live-in boyfriend and some boundaries herself — and Carl pointed to that as closure and a “win.”

His trusted friends told him in the last months that the kissing was weird and inappropriate. I asked him then why he didn’t stop, and he said because it didn’t mean anything and he didn’t want to upset her. Ultimately, all he wanted was a future where I was by his side at his nearly-weekly family events (pre-COVID obvs, though they’re getting back to it) and she was with her new boyfriend and we all got along.

Breaking up took so long because he was constantly pursuing me, which has never happened before in my life, and it was intoxicating. He’d constantly say morning, noon, and night:

“You’re the love of my life!”
“Let’s be together forever!”
“You’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met!”
“I can’t get enough of you!”

For every boundary infraction (that I perceived), he’d apologize, get me roses, and promise to consider my feelings (not change his behavior – which I didn’t ask for nor expect). I finally had to ask him to give me some space to think – no constant texting and visits – and he called that request an emotionally abusive push/pull, though he did honor it. He said it was unreasonable for me to expect him to throw out a nearly 24-year marriage, that I needed to understand her fragility and his role in her life, and that if she called and needed a band-aid, he’d stop whatever he was doing and drive down and put it on her finger himself, no questions asked. He said that I should be grateful that he’s that kind of loving person, because he’d do that for me, and for anyone.

I told him he’s free to be kind and loving in that manner, but I was removing myself from the equation because his behavior felt disrespectful to me (the kissing, the secrecy around dating me, the fear that she’d find anything I left at his house). I explained that I couldn’t see building a future around managing her feelings, expectations, and fragility.

Because he admitted to being a serial cheat and had some other issues around honesty, I’m happy to let it go. It feels like a weight lifted.

He sent (what I’m hoping) is one final email where he said I’m too judgmental and not accepting enough and that, since he loves me despite my flaws, why can’t I grant him the same. I did not, and will not, respond.

Thanks again for your advice. It was edifying and, ultimately, I did take it. I am now taking a break from dating – thanks to COVID. I want to clarify my approach to finding my person.

I think a break is a good idea! Are you familiar with the idea of “love bombing”? It might be worth doing a little reading up on and, if you think it resonates, maybe exploring with a therapist why, to certain men/people, you might seem susceptible to that kind of tactic of manipulation. Good luck to you, and I am glad you ditched Carl. He’s going to make some unlucky woman really miserable.

If you’re someone I’ve given advice to in the past, I’d love to hear from you, too. Email me at wendy@dearwendy.com with a link to the original post, and let me know whether you followed the advice and how you’re doing now.
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  1. “He said it was unreasonable for me to expect him to throw out a nearly 24-year marriage…”

    …that’s what moving out/divorcing/dating someone else IS, what the fuck??

    Good riddance to bad rubbage, OP.

  2. Good for you for breaking through the manipulation and gaslighting and doing what is best for you, LW!

    1. And some negging mixed in with the manipulation and gaslighting as well.

      “one final email where he said I’m too judgmental, not accepting enough, and he loves me despite my flaws”

      I do hope it is the final email. I hope, in time, you find someone who can love you because of your “flaws”.

    2. LW, please take heed of these points. Because a lot of his behavior is right out of the emotionally abusive text book (love bombing, manipulating, gaslighting, negging, etc.) You mentioned in your first letter that your ex is abusive. It sounds like it may be worth it explore with a professional, or on your own, how to identify these behaviors and heal from these experiences. If you’re not familiar with it, there’s a book called “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft that might give you some insight and clarity on abusive partners. If you google it, there’s a free PDF available.

  3. anonymousse says:

    I would agree to seeing a therapist. Most of the good things you say he did- proclamations of love, roses every time he did something bad- are classic signs of abuse and gaslighting. I’m not saying all proclamations of love are bad, but they’re cheap and easy to use. Actions speak louder than words- it’s not just a clever saying. Why didn’t you ever ask him to change his behavior? I mean, if that’s what you wanted, why didn’t you expect it or ask for it?

  4. Good for you. He was a right manipulative cad despite his charming “love-bombing” and so forth. I’m really glad you are not liable to end up in a lockdown with him, as his charm would have worn very thin under the pressure of reality, when he wouldn’t have been able to skip off and get his ego-boost here there and wherever. It’s sad but that level of charm often covers up something much less charming. Next time I’m sure you will look for other qualities, good luck in finding someone more genuine with less need to resort to roses..

  5. Congratulations on summoning the courage to MOA.

    You have lost nothing. It seemed clear from your former posts, but the kissing part utterly confirms it: this guy was never actually available for a real relationship — the whole time you were with him, his driving goal was to get back together with his ex-wife.

    You said in your post that he is a cheater. Cheaters succeed by mastering the little ‘love’ gestures, like the roses and the flowery statements, that you and he had a forever love for the ages. If he actually felt that way, he wouldn’t be pursuing and kissing his ex and wouldn’t hide your existence. He behaved exactly like a cheater. You were his female companionship, while he pursued his ex.

    Keep him blocked. Now that the ex has a serious bf, he is going to be feeling desperate, with you gone.

    Therapy is an excellent idea. This guy is manipulative and likely, over time, would have shown abusive tendencies. For certain, he would have cheated on you.

    It’s strange that he identifies your flaw as not allowing him to have a second woman. Wtf.

  6. Bittergaymark says:

    Eh… somehow I simply don’t hear a fat lady singing just yet.

    1. Sea Witch says:

      *clears throat*
      ? La la la la la la laaaa ?

      1. Bittergaymark says:

        Hilarious!! ???

  7. He “confessed,” UNPROMPTED, that he was kissing his wife. (She’s still his wife, because they haven’t divorced, correct?) Anyway, he was goading you by “confessing” that. You were supposed to get upset, feel very threatened, dance harder, and generally swim in the Sea of Drama with him. That’s what he likes — drama.

    You’re supposed to “be grateful that he’s that kind of loving person” — but he’s also a serial cheater?! If anyone tells you they’re a serial cheater, it’s time to run like the paparazzi are chasing you. That person is not “loving.”

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