Q: I am dating an attractive, intelligent woman for whom I care deeply. Her ex-husband is an unemployed alcoholic who abused her emotionally during the marriage, and they had a child together.
The other day I went to her office to take her out to lunch, and she was on the phone with him. She said that after he told her to buy their son shoes at a certain store (no, he doesn't keep up on child support) he was making hints about their getting back together. She was in a fog for half an hour, thinking about the call. That evening, despite being very tired, she took their son to that store to buy him shoes. Later that evening, when I suggested she try to have her ex pick up the boy on Thursday rather than Tuesday so we could have some time together, she said no, he said Tuesday and she wouldn't bother him.
A month ago I would have laughed at the thought of this man having any sway over her, but now I'm not so certain. Am I correct in putting out my caution flag, or am I blowing this out of proportion? I was married to a woman who was greatly controlled by her ex; for instance, she gave him a copy of our prenuptial agreement (they shared no property at that time). I'm very sensitive to this issue, but don't want to blow her off over insignificant incidents.
Is it possible to have an ex-spouse running a person's life without being legally attached?
A: You should know -- you married someone who felt obliged to share a very private matter with her former husband. So of course you are super-sensitive when you see behavior that might be in the same vein. As you well know, it is entirely possible for an ex-partner to exert great influence, whether he/she be divorced or dead. Entanglements from the past can be even stronger than ones in the present, because they tend to be idealized in the mind. But since you know your sensitivity in this area, you should be wary of making snap judgments or trashing a relationship hastily -- or mistakenly.
Give this good woman time, let the relationship spin a few more spins and, at the right moment, bring up the subject for discussion. After all, if you can't talk about this in a rational and kindly way, the communication must need boosting. Don't answer your own question without due thought.
Q: I want to comment on all your readers who write bemoaning the "fact" that all the "nice" men are taken, so they have resigned themselves to the single life. First of all, this is not exactly true, and they may be looking too hard. Love can happen when one least expects it and isn't purposely looking for it.
That said: After a soured relationship eight years ago (I really thought I was going to "catch" this guy, but as usual he got cold feet when I tried to get him to make a commitment), two or three years of answering "misrepresentational" personals (the guys usually looked old enough to be my father and only wanted a roll in the hay) -- I finally at 36 decided I've had enough of these head games.
As much as I would have liked to marry and have children (believe me, did I hear from the female relatives about that!) I have discovered that it is more important to have a very select few close friends (male and female) whom one can count on all the time!
But first and foremost, all your readers must learn to like themselves and enjoy being alone with themselves. Only then will they be happy in whatever they choose to make of their lives. It took me several years to learn this valuable lesson. But now that I have, I have discovered that I can be a better friend because I'm a friend first to myself, and others see that.
Here's an often-quoted axiom to live by: God grant me the courage to change the things I cannot accept, to accept those things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Pass that on to your lovelorn readers -- I guarantee they'll be a lot happier about the dating scene (and the pressure from relatives about it, too).
Besides, in this age of AIDS, you can't be sure of the honesty of those you're dealing with, and that seems to mean both male and female potential partners. From the sounds of the letters you've been getting, it's far better (and healthier) to be celibate and live a long life making yourself happy!
A: You've learned the lesson of singleness well: Being comfortable in your own company makes you much better able to live life on your own terms. (I disagree, though, with your "catching" and "getting to commit" approach to marriage. It is almost a sure way to sabotage your dreams.) But haven't you overlooked its follow-up? Making someone else happy is the natural outgrowth and usefulness of making yourself happy. Think about it.