Be nice but not too nice

Joey Garcia

I’ve read that it’s important to be on speaking terms with the people you have previously dated or with former spouses. I have made it a habit to end my relationships well and stay connected to my ex-girlfriends. My current girlfriend thinks my connections mean I can’t let go and accuses me of leaving “pieces of my heart with all of these women.” She wants me to choose between her and my exes. Who is right here?

Your girlfriend might feel threatened by your entourage of exes because her baseline is insecurity. If that’s the issue, she is responsible for healing her fears of betrayal. Sifting through her history, she can determine where she began to lose trust in others. From that point, she can see how she participated in choosing or continuing relationships with people who lie to her. This process allows her to admit how she lies to herself, perhaps by talking herself into believing the liar, despite obvious evidence not to (also known as denial). Then she can review her history with you and see if you are a man of your word or a manipulator. Your job is to be supportive of her growth through this process, without becoming her doormat.

Of course, if the problem is the way you pitched your story, be honest. Are your friendships with former lovers tinged with more emotional intimacy or physical affection than your relationships with women you have not dated? If so, your exes are ladies-in-waiting-for-the-right-moment. That’s a vibe your girlfriend can feel and is reacting to. And, no, it doesn’t matter if that energy emanates from you or from an ex. Either way, it’s a problem.

So should you be on speaking terms with everyone you previously dated? Not necessarily. It’s perfectly healthy to be friendly (a brief chat during a chance encounter) rather than being friends (texting, e-mailing, calling on a regular basis with intimate updates about your life or occasional yelps for help). It’s fine to let go and move on to another stage of your life without carrying everyone from your past with you. Being on speaking terms with your exes doesn’t mean you are a “good” person, but a person who is not on speaking terms with any ex probably needs to see a therapist.

When my girlfriend and I had separate households, our teenagers, all from previous relationships, got along. Now it’s a disaster, with constant arguing, door slamming, silent treatments, you name it. My girlfriend is really lackadaisical. She allows her kids to have computers and televisions in their rooms, cell phones 24/7, coed sleepovers and unsupervised parties. I don’t. She always takes the kids’ side in fights, and my kids now hate me. I put my house on the market (it hasn’t sold yet) and we bought a much larger home together. I’m locked in and need to make this work. Any ideas?

Lose your shirt or lose your mind—that’s your choice. Your girlfriend is invested in being a pal to her kids, rather than a mentor and guide. You can’t change her habit of permissive parenting, particularly when she sees no value in your authoritative approach.

You are right to collect cell phones from your teens at night. Doing so allows kids to sleep without receiving texts or calls from friends too troubled to rest at 2 a.m. And, yes, nixing the coed sleepovers and placing computers in a communal area is smart. So keep trusting your instincts.

Trust my advice, too: Whatever money you lose by taking your house off the market, moving back in and selling the home you now share with your girlfriend and her kids, is tuition in the school of life. Pay it and move on.

Meditation of the week
If you bring forth what is within you, what you birth will save you and the world. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you fail to create will destroy you—that’s my rewrite of a well-known quote from the heretical Gospel of Thomas. What are you here for?

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