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Love Letters

He mentions his ex-wife a lot

Q.I have been dating this great guy for three months. He’s someone with whom I could see building a life. We’re both older (mid-30s and early 40s) and have a better sense of who we are and what we want, as well as baggage. Both of us have had serious relationships. In his case, it’s an ex-wife of seven years who left him after multiple affairs he knew nothing about at the time.

Understandably, it was heartbreaking. He has taken five years working through it and feels like he is in a place to try again. However, the ex is still around in spirit — the house they bought, fixtures she selected, and pictures where she’s not visible but somehow has a connection to the subject. We talked early on because I was worried after she somehow was mentioned in every date. She’s a huge part of his past and I don’t want to discredit her role. The references are always devoid of emotion, usually just made in context as he shares stories from his life. Alas, her name still comes up in almost every date. I don’t know what to think. On one hand, it doesn’t bother me because I really do sense she is a part of his past. On the other hand, I find myself wondering if I would want to build a life around these memories. I’m not sure what to think. Is it normal to frequently reference past loves, even in an emotionally neutral context? How do you know when someone has truly let go?

Mass.

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A.It’s normal to bring up an ex if he/she was a part of your life for a long time, WAAG. But your guy has been single for five years. I’m surprised that his ex is a part of so many stories.

What did he say when you first talked about this issue? Was he sensitive? Did he understand? Does he ever talk about the last five years of his life — when his ex wasn’t around?

My advice is to bring this up again. He should know that your concerns haven’t vanished. It’d be one thing if he brought her up because he sees her every week to co-parent, but it doesn’t sound like there are any kids in the picture. And by now he should know how to tell stories without bringing up his ex-wife. He can say, “I’ve been to Paris twice.” He doesn’t have to say, “I’ve been to Paris twice . . . with her.”

When you have the conversation, tell him the good stuff too. Explain that you see big potential here, which is why you care so much about working this out. You understand that her name is going to come up on occasion, but hopefully not all the time. You want to hear about him. You don’t need the context.

READERS RESPOND:

Aw, geez, he’s still bringing her up after five years? They’ve been divorced almost as long as they were married. Dude needs some serious therapy, stat. He shouldn’t be bringing her up on every date.

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He’s probably not over his divorce. Some people never get over it. That doesn’t make him a bad person, but can you really picture a future with somebody who is continuing to live in the past?

Let’s step back a bit. While it’s good you see a future with this guy, you’ve only been dating three months. Slow down. I’m not sure he’s quite over the hurt she caused, and you both may benefit from less pressure to seal the deal or commit to a life together.

Lady . . . that’s creepy. Run, do not walk.

It’s a semantics thing. He’s telling you about things he’s done and mentioning his ex because she was there. They are shared experiences but I don’t think he’s doing it consciously because he’s pining for her. Like . . . When “we” went to Italy “we” really enjoyed the food. It’s the same as When “he” went to Italy “he” really enjoyed the food. The more he does with you the more shared experiences you will have and his conversations will start to include you instead. It’s only been three months.

Her spirit isn’t in the light fixtures or the furniture — it’s in him and it’s called anxiety. If you’re the first serious relationship he’s had since his divorce, it doesn’t matter if it’s been 5 years or 5 weeks — he’s afraid of being hurt again.

Yeah, he’s so not ready to date. I’m sure he’s great and all, but every date references don’t pass the “integral to the story” or “story that should be told” test of ex-name-dropping. He’s still raw. He hasn’t processed. He hasn’t moved from being a “we” to an “I.” Otherwise, he could go a few hours without mentioning his ex. He can’t. I’m sorry.

Three months into a relationship is way too soon to think about living with someone, but it is enough time to decide or not you should continue dating someone. Let this one go. He’s still in pieces over what happened. Dating you isn’t fixing it -- it’s merely stirring up all his old feelings about what his ex-wife did to him.

Meredith is right. It should be pretty easy to exclude most of these references. We all have past relationships but don’t go out of our way to bring them up unless we want to, consciously or not. You don’t sound threatened by this, which is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean you’re not sensitive to it. Make it clear that you think it’s weird that it keeps coming up and if he doesn’t make an effort then I think you have an issue that needs to be addressed — by him.

I don’t think she needs to bring this up with him. I think she just needs to keep observing. This goes back to trying to change people. This is less about him (and trying to alter what he feels natural talking about) and more about the letter writer. If she’s bothered by constant references to the ex, then it’s on her to decide if this is working for her.

I give the guy credit for trying to move on, but he should really just be casually dating at this point.

Column and reader comments are edited and reprinted from www.boston.com/loveletters. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at mgoldstein@globe.
com
. She chats online on Wednesdays at 1 p.m.

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