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    Miss Conduct

    Advice for when an ex-partner won’t go away

    A new couple has a third wheel. Plus, expressing condolences to a colleague.

    Lucy Truman

    “Bob” and I have been together for 3½ happy years. Bob and his ex were together for 10, and the ex is still very close to Bob’s family, dining with Bob’s mother twice a month and spending holidays at Bob’s siblings’ homes. At Christmas, the ex was invited for dinner and we weren’t because they thought it would be awkward for us! I feel the ex needs to move on and realize he did not get Bob’s family in the split. Most people I discuss this with think it’s odd and say they would not tolerate it. I should add that Bob’s family has been very welcoming to me. I would appreciate your opinion.

    D.M. / Saugus

    Unfortunately for you, my opinion is that Mr. Ex apparently did get Bob’s family in the split. Whether he should have, and whether it’s weird and Noel Coward-ly, now those might be different answers, but the facts on the ground are fairly compelling. So let’s get out of Shouldsville and talk about the situation as it exists.

    You say Bob’s family members welcome you, which implies that they’re not trying to get Bob and Mr. Ex back together, nor does their liking of him — as a person — imply disapproval of you — as a person or as Bob’s new partner. They just really like Mr. Ex! He was around for an awfully long time. They got attached!


    Still, leaving you and Bob to your own Dickensian devices on Christmas was a raw move. This is what Silent Bob (because we haven’t exactly talked about what he thinks of this, and don’t think I haven’t noticed that) needs to use as an introduction to suggest some ground rules to his mother and siblings about how to properly solve for Ex. Their personal relationships with Mr. Ex, of course, are their own business, but there clearly needs to be better communication about holidays and other family gatherings.

    My immediate supervisor’s father died and she went on leave. I donated money toward a bouquet along with my co-workers. Although I get along well with her, I didn’t feel I wanted to e-mail or call her during her leave. But she sent an e-mail to everyone today thanking us for the flowers and the phone calls. Should I have called?

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    S.D. / Brookline

    Did you have anything to say? No? Then you shouldn’t have called.

    When someone in a workplace has a personal triumph or tragedy, follow the office norms and donate to the group gift and sign the card. If the co-worker is a friend as well as a colleague, you should also make a personal outreach. If the particulars of their situation speak to your heart, you may make a personal outreach, but you don’t have to. I had a co-worker, for example, whose father died a year after my own had — her I reached out to, even though we weren’t close.

    In absence of any greater connection to the person or the event, though, your silence was in no way offensive or thoughtless. People who have lost a loved one want sympathy and intense emotional support, and they also want to exercise and reaffirm all the parts of their identity that aren’t Bereaved Betty and resume normal life. You are part of your supervisor’s normal life, and that’s all you have to be. She needs that as much or more than she needs a shoulder to cry on.


    Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

    ARE YOU HAVING YOUR OWN PROBLEMS WITH A FORMER FLAME? Write to Miss Conduct at And read her blog at