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Love Letters

Should she leave her relationship for a past flame?

Q. Three years ago, while on a business trip, I met a very interesting man. I will call him man #1. He was always exceptionally kind to me, brilliant, funny, and extremely good-looking. Though there was some distance between us, we texted constantly all day, and I went to visit him several times. However, there were a few things in our way. The main one being he was younger, still in college, and wasn’t able to move to be with me for varying reasons. Long story short, he broke up with me. He said he felt incapable of having a relationship at the time. We had a very close platonic friendship after that.

Soon after that relationship ended, I began talking online with someone I had admired since my childhood. I would call him a childhood hero of mine. We hit it off exceptionally well, having a great deal in common and excellent communication. Again, there was a distance involved, but after I visited him several times, he took the leap and moved in with me and my young child.

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As soon as man #2 moved in, things changed dramatically. He became insanely jealous — accusing me of some of the most terrible things, all untrue. He badgered me incessantly, deprived me of sleep, and invaded every type of privacy I had in the hopes of finding evidence of cheating. Additionally, he insisted that I cut off all contact with man #1, which made me sad, but I did see his point there. Man #1 was kind and supportive in regard to me not talking to him during this time.

Over the course of a year, man #2 effectively tore me and the relationship apart, piece by piece. I became extremely depressed. All the while, though, man #2 was receiving professional help and promising to change. These days, he appears to have changed and is no longer accusing me of the things he did before. He is trying his best to be good to me, but I don’t trust him. I should mention that he has always been exceptionally nice to my child, and he has grown very attached.

Back to man #1. Man #2 created an e-mail account in my name and wrote man #1 a horribly insulting e-mail. When I found out about this, I wrote man #1 an e-mail, apologizing profusely and telling him how afraid I was. I did not expect a reply at all. Surprisingly, though, he did reply with the kindest, most sincere words. He said he would help me any way he could. He honestly cared for my well-being, unlike man #2 who seems to want to own me, regardless of the cost.

We exchanged a few (illicit in my current relationship) e-mails after that, and it came out that he has always been crazy about me but felt inadequate as a partner because I am more established than him. I agree that when we first met, the timing was very wrong, but now I am wondering if we have a chance.

Man #2 wants to marry me. He is behaving himself. I am very attracted to him. My kid is crazy about him. But what if the bad behavior returns? I am afraid for my mental health and well-being.

Man #1 makes me feel so good about myself. Every time I hear from him, I feel at peace.

Obviously, I am torn. Should I break apart my current situation and take my child’s friend away? Should I throw out a man who moved to be with me? Or keep with the status quo, remembering that all long-term relationships have issues? There is still a distance issue with man #1, but there is always a chance that it could be resolved. Should I entertain this possibility?

Do extremely jealous, psychologically abusive people ever change for the long term?

A. I don’t see this as a choice between man #1 and man #2. For now, I’m just focused on #2 and whether you’d want any part of this relationship if he wasn’t close with your kid. Are you in love with this man? Was your romantic relationship ever healthy? If you could go back in time, would you still choose to move in with him? Do you get the sense that it’s difficult or unnatural for him to behave?

You tell us that you’re attracted to #2, but you don’t seem to think he’s a good partner. Your reasons for keeping him around are more about guilt than love. Meanwhile, you’re lining up someone else. You’ve already jumped into a new, imaginary relationship in your head.

To me, the answer is pretty clear. You want out, but you’re afraid to be alone. Unfortunately, alone time is going to be part of the breakup process no matter what. It’s a bad idea to jump from #2 to #1 without processing what happened and giving your kid a stable routine.

As for your last question, sure, I believe that anyone can change, especially with professional help. But in your case, it sounds like no matter how #2 behaves, you’re looking for an escape. That’s fine, as long as you’re honest and healthy about your choices. Talk to a professional about how you can end this without feeling unsafe. Find out how to explain this to your kid. Tell man #1 that you have a lot to think about, and that for the moment, he can’t be in the way.

READERS RESPOND

What a terrible thing to be afraid of the person you live with, I don’t care how well that person treats my son, that is no reason to stick around. It doesn’t sound like much is going with man #1 and you still have a distance problem. Go out and find a nice guy near you!

Finding a “nice guy near her” should not be a priority. Getting safely away from crazy man #2 is. Then years of therapy. Focusing on her kid. Then maybe dating again, someday.

It’s not fair to man #1 to serve as rebound guy for your abusive partner. You need professional help, not simply a sympathetic shoulder. And I say that kindly — you’re not at fault for the fact your current partner is an abuser, but you are responsible for taking control of your side of the equation.

Somewhere in there is the child’s father, I assume. What happened to him?

Column is edited and reprinted from www.boston.com/loveletters. Meredith Goldstein can be reached atmgoldstein@globe.com.

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