The dilemma I’m in a wonderful relationship with a lovely woman. She’s always been very open and honest, and early on she revealed that she keeps in touch with an ex-boyfriend and would like him to stay over at times.
I’m assured it’s platonic and I do trust her. We both keep in touch with our exes in a friendly, casual way. However, the thought of having an ex sleep over makes me very uncomfortable. I expressed my worries a couple of years ago when the subject was first raised, and we agreed to put it on the back burner.
Now – much to my dismay – she is making plans to invite her ex over for a few days later in the year. As a compromise, I suggested he might stay at a hotel instead but this idea was not well received. Apparently, due to the free and easy arrangement they’ve had over the years, she’s concerned that he will feel snubbed by this change of circumstances. Please can you give me some advice towards solving this dilemma?
Mariella replies There’s a conundrum. You don’t make clear whether you live together or not (but your relationship seems to have been going for a few years now), and you don’t articulate what it is you are afraid of. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that for many of us the most threatening presence to a current relationship often tends to be an ex when, in reality, they are much more likely to be finished business and barely worth a bead of sweat? Isn’t it high time you relaxed your vigilance? I may not have the most common or conventional response to this so please don’t feel that my advice is in any way binding – which should probably be a regular disclaimer in this column!
Torment, unbridled passion and, in particular, possessiveness seem to me qualities synonymous with youthful, less-mature, less-dignified romantic adventures. That’s why I’m relieved that, in late middle age, my once-torturous insecurity and jealousy – which made ring-fencing my boyfriends an all-consuming preoccupation – has petered out. You can’t control every aspect of a relationship, or keep anyone locked down in order to preserve a union. There’s nothing more terrifying than what we perceive to be unresolved ardour, and the idea that a partner could have someone lurking in their past that they hadn’t entirely slammed the door on can feel like a terrifying threat. Or at least it did to me when I younger.
My first proper boyfriend was older and had already had a “serious” summer love with a French girl who – unbelievably – he still seemed fond of in October! Left alone in his bedroom one day I found myself scrabbling around under his bed looking for secrets and – bingo! – I found just what I was looking for: a photograph of my nemesis. In full obsessive mode, I found tangible evidence of what I feared was a dream come true and, boy, was she gorgeous; frankly, as Dolly Parton might say, the full Jolene. I lay awake long nights ruminating on the threat level from her. Finally, I blurted out my confession, convinced that his crime of harbouring this photo of my Gallic competition more than made up for my breach of his privacy. I still feel the burning shame of his response today. My “evidence”, it transpired, was actually a stock picture of Carly Simon, an unreconciled crush for which an 18-year-old musician in the 1970s could surely be excused.
Not that I didn’t also feel a sliver of threat from Carly. I knew that, given half a chance, she’d likely snatch him from my clingy arms, but even a fantasist like me had to admit it was an unlikely scenario. In keeping with the object of her ire in her song You’re So Vain, I had made my presumption based entirely on my own shortcomings. And this, I feel, is where you come in.
Either insecurity or your own impulses are driving you to behave irrationally here, so it’s your motives – not hers – that need examining. The key word here is ex. It’s already been two years since you last discussed it – that’s surely long enough to establish the foundations of your own situation and stop feeling that the rug is about to be pulled from beneath your feet. In many ways it’s a test of your feelings for her. Do you love her enough to let her be herself without expecting her to accommodate your insecurity? I suggest you regard this visitor as an old friend, throw your inhibitions back into Pandora’s box and enjoy the further understanding of your partner that meeting someone with whom she has history will bring.
In maturity, it’s imperative that old habits die off and new ones emerge. We both know that policing our relationships becomes an end in itself. Far better to ignore such instincts and trust that the relationship you cherish is of equal value to your partner. The freedom to make choices is a basic human right and anything you manage to maintain only through keeping a vice-like grip is therefore worthless. This ex will stop looming large on your mind the minute he becomes familiar, and that’s exactly what he’ll be after a few days’ stay.