Update: “On The Fence” Responds

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. Her update is below.

Since I wrote to you, I became exclusive with Carl. It’s so hard to say what I’d have done in a different world, but I can’t play the woulda coulda game. Not at my age. So, I’m dating Carl exclusively. In the last three months, we’ve spent about half of our weekends together – working around custody.

For me, this relationship has a shelf life. For him, he still wants an LTR. And I want an LTR, but not with him. As I write this, he’s in a car with his ex, driving thirty miles to his mother’s house to pick up a car his mother is giving to his son. The reasons I wrote, the situation with the ex, bothers me less as I’ve let go of any thought of change or evolution, and below I’ll describe why.

First, they had to have Passover dinner together because she insisted. He later texted me complaining because she came over too late (for the larger family Zoom session) and generally drove him nuts complaining about changes he’s made in the house since she moved out. Next, it was his birthday. He texted me that he wanted to spend it with me, but he couldn’t because his ex insisted that it was a family night. She brought cake, a card, and the kids, and then they all celebrated together. I think he was surprised that I wasn’t interested in waiting around to spend time with him when they were done. Then he won a large contract in his business, and when his business partner shared the news, his ex said that if she’d known he was going to make that kind of money, she wouldn’t have left.

He says that he can’t insist she take her things – which go beyond clothes to art, knick-knacks, and outdoor furniture – because he doesn’t want her to feel abandoned since she has abandonment issues. So of course, she comes whenever she likes, takes a single item – last week it was a pair of running shorts – and leaves the rest. Last week it was that she made extra food and needed to drop it off – that was Monday. Tuesday it was that she found a certain pastry that they all love and needed to share that.

He has said to me that one of his core goals is family and he’s obligated to her – whether it’s driving twenty minutes because she cut her finger and can’t find peroxide or picking up her prescription because she can’t figure out how to transfer it from the Walgreens down the block to one near her new place – and I think he frankly isn’t interested in setting boundaries despite what he says. To put it in perspective, I do not have conversations with him about this. He tells me or texts me, and I don’t respond. Mainly because his family seems to love drama and sh*t-stirring, and I don’t do that. I’ve thought of asking not to be updated with her every move, but I err on the side of information-gathering for myself.

He said to me just this week, after sending over a dozen red roses to me, that he’s in love, he thinks I’m great, and his biggest worry is losing me. I think he doesn’t have space in his life for a relationship – I am not sure if he ever will, which is fine, but I purposely don’t exist in these kinds of drama-filled spaces. When I game this out, I can see that his ex is likely to want him back (if he makes more money, if she finds out he’s dating, if she breaks up with whomever she’s seeing, or, or…). That, I imagine, will be my cue to find the door.

One friend has suggested I hash this out with him. To be honest, I don’t see how that would help. He’s made his position known: He can’t abandon fulfilling her needs because that would be tantamount to abandoning the mother of his children. I don’t do prescriptive conversations. I don’t want drama. I’ve found out what I need and can make a decision from there. 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.

Thank you for your update. I know you didn’t ask for advice, but I will say this: If what you want is a long-term relationship and you know you don’t want it with this guy, why not move on now? Is whatever you’re getting from this relationship worth the aggravation and the postponement of true happiness with someone who can better meet your needs? Only you can answer that, and you need only answer to yourself, but I do hope you’ll give it some thought. I’m wishing you all the best.

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. Avatar photo MaterialsGirl says:

    Sounds like you’re using this as a training grounds or stepping stone relationship. One where you clearly know there are limits, but other aspects are good and it feels nice to have that positive attention. I agree with Wendy though, i think the expiration date is sooner rather than later.. maybe you’re just psyching yourself up for it?

    1. “I became exclusive with Carl… I want an LTR, but not with him.”


      You’re doing all these mental gymnastics to justify staying because it’s fine! It’s not bothering you! You can tune out the drama and enjoy the good stuff and you’re learning life lessons from the bad stuff so it’s great!

      But if you “don’t have time for coulda woulda shouldas at (your) age,” how come you have time to waste being in a relationship with a man you don’t want an LTR with? If this was all you wanted from a relationship, that would be one thing, but you want more. And being exclusive with someone you don’t want to be with means you’re not available to meet people you DO want to be with.

    2. Whoops, meant to post that as a separate comment, not a reply to MG.

  2. Bittergaymark says:

    Eh, for someone who HATES drama you sure do seem to find it at every turn. Much of what he does with his ex seems normal to me — especially since it involves their kids. And keeping the peace. And maybe — dare I say it mutual respect and friendship?

    So many heterosexuals have this bizarre immaturity with regards to ending relationships. The BURN IT TO THE GROUND and must VANQUISH ALL CIVILITY is quite hilarious to me. Though, God, it’s so tired and so pathetic.

  3. Bittergaymark says:

    PS — Oh, and God forbid a father chooses to spend his birthday with HIS KIDS rather than some shack up honey who merely views him as Mr Right Now…

    So much of your letter is so fucking petty.

  4. I don’t see what you’re getting out of this. To me, this would be wholly unacceptable. I’m 53, and I wouldn’t stand for this bullshit. Life is too short to waste it on unfulfilling relationships. It is important to know what it’s like to be treated well, but you’re not being treated well. You’re being treated like a side chick. You’re already planning for the next relationship, so why not get on with it?

  5. Gail Sears says:

    What kind of a relationship do you want? One where you never discuss what you want/need? He is not a mind reader. I get that he will always lean towards his ex and kids, but there certainly could be more balance if he had any idea what you needed.

  6. Dont you have better things to do? I mean. This shit sounds exhausting, and I would rather expend my time doing stuff like yoga, painting, hiking, etc.

  7. Nice for you that you’re now in a place where you’re ok with his behaviour but I don’t think it’s ok to string this man along. Sure he’s not a great boyfriend but his feelings seem real and valid, prolonging whatever this is just to suit your own immediate wants seems cruel.

  8. None of this seems healthy at ALL, sorry.

  9. Maybe get a cat or a dog. You know this is not working out. Why stick around? You need to be alone for awhile and work out why put up with things that are driving you crazy.

  10. I think you still have a ways to go to be in a truly healthy relationship. In a healthy relationship, you should feel that if you bring up something your partner is doing that you don’t like, your partner will listen and you two will honestly and constructively discuss things and work on a compromise where your wants and needs are met. That you are basically afraid to react or bring things up because you think he won’t take your concerns to heart is not a good thing. That you think bringing up how you feel would cause unnecessary drama to avoid is not a good thing. People can’t read minds. Until you feel comfortable bringing up things that bother you, you won’t be able to fix any problems. You are still following the pattern where you just stay and tolerate behavior that isn’t alright with you, and that needs to stop. Just sitting and telling yourself the behavior isn’t so bad is not the solution. If you aren’t happy with how things are going, aren’t communicating, aren’t a priority to your partner, and don’t see long term potential it is okay to walk away.

  11. mellanthe says:

    If you know that this isnt the relationship you want, and you don’t feel you have time to waste, it’s probably best for you to move on sooner rather than later.

    You’ve made it clear that you don’t feel comfortable expressing how you feel. Maybe partly because you know that it’s reasonable for him to devote time to his kid. Perhaps his boundaries with his ex aren’t as firm as they could be – it seems clear that part of him just isn’t ready to move on, yet.

    But in the end, you don’t feel prioritised as a partner, and it seems that this is true. There’s no shame if this setup isn’t for you – there’s a reason people with kids often attract other people with kids – most often it takes having those priorities to understand them.

    Don’t stay in a situation where you feel your needs aren’t met, or where you feel second fiddle.

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