Here is issue: My partners’ ex, and boundaries.
I have great relationships with my exes, I think it’s healthy and awesome. This is a new and different world, apparently.
My partner’s most recent ex is in our lives a LOT. There are good reasons for this that go beyond their ongoing friendship, but the upshot is that Ex has visited and stayed at our house approx. 1 week out of every month for the last four months. Ex and I get along… mostly. But we would likely not be friends in real life. She’s great in lots of ways but also incredibly different from me. To be honest I find her exhausting and sometimes horrible: a vain, high maintenance, superficial, demanding, selfish Regina George type. She calls other women “ugly”… a lot… she keeps everyone waiting for Makeup Reasons. She wants us to go to clubs and wears shoes she can’t walk in. Etc.
She also has radically different ideas about appropriateness from me: the first time I met her she walked topless past my partner, dropped trou with no warning and peed in the bathroom right next to me, etc. It’s not just her, they fall into these patterns together- he carries her purse, invites her to sleep in our bedroom (and bed!) to “be courteous to our roommate”, keeps me waiting at the house while they eat nice lunches, delays our special two day mini-break (for my birthday) for hours to do her sudden huge favors.
He knows this is shitty when I calmly (or occasionally shakingly) point it out. But he doesn’t anticipate it, and doesn’t predict the cumulative awfulness of it or why it means he should cool it on inviting her along on trips with us. He does feel terrible, and is incredibly patient and loving when I have an “I’m now an awkwardness alien who can’t fucking Person anymore” freakout. Never does annnything resembling deflection or gaslighting.
At this point I need a big, fat break from this person. And to take approximately ten thousand baths.
So tell me, how do I stop feeling like I have to constantly be the Boundaries Police, and do you think that’s even going to be possible?
(Not pictured: frequent references to their past, all their orgies and predictably boundaryless sex life. I’m all for fun group things, but I need to soberly discuss them before they happen. Again, he gets this, but has yet to demonstrate that as a practical behaviour before I find myself in a position of awful panic.)
Ps, he is otherwise a dream, best partner I’ve ever had, no question. Just, ack. This is not nothing.
I read your letter while saying No over and over again. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, nononononononono. When we got to the part about how being a houseguest means that he invites her to sleep (or “sleep”?) in y’all’s bed “to be courteous to our roommate” I screamed NO at a volume that startled both the cat (inside my apartment) and my neighbor’s dog (in a yard, next door).
Here’s what I know: Your partner wants things to be this way. How do I know? Because you explain that you don’t like it and “He does feel terrible, and is incredibly patient and loving when I have an “I’m now an awkwardness alien who can’t fucking Person anymore” freakout. Never does annnything resembling deflection or gaslighting.”
He doesn’t deflect or gaslight (I mean, I guess?) he just invites her back and does it all again. Like, you could say “I don’t want to hang out with Ex anymore, I’m not really a fan” or “She definitely can’t stay with us” or “Uh, I super don’t want her to sleep (or sleep?) in our bed, I’m not into that at all” or “Nope, not into it” and it sounds like he’d hear you out in that moment, make some soothing noises and then she’d still be there, one week out of every month like Satan’s own menstrual cycle, hogging your bathroom mirror while she gets ready to go out, reliving the great orgies of her past, and asking you if you want to be big spoon or little spoon later.
Oh right, he says he “feels terrible.”
[Bad Advisor Hat On]If only there were a way he could stop feeling terrible about inviting his ex to hang out continuously your lives in the hopes of coaxing y’all into a “spontaneous” threeway with him at the center! But alas, these things are inevitable, and you are stuck with her forever, because he has no agency in this situation and is just a hapless victim of his ex’s wily topless-walking-around-the-house ways. What can he even do to solve this situation? It’s a mystery! Who knows. [/Bad Advisor]
He wants it to be this way. If you were to be excited about her visits and become best friends and bedfellows, that would be ideal for him, but having you off-balance and anxious and waiting on his ass to show up for your vacation (to which he invites her along?) is also fine as long as he gets what he wants – your attention and company and compliance while also getting to hang out with his #1 favorite sexy houseguest.
(Clearly this guy is charismatic as fuck, we could probably make our fortunes by bottling what he has and spraying it less charismatic and persuasive people, but “the best partner I’ve ever had” sadly doesn’t equal “a great partner” or “a great partner for me right now.”)
My friend, you have been…stealth-polyfuckeried (I keep trying to find a word for what has happened here, and this is the best I can do – suggestions????). You are not being some kind of “awkwardness alien who can’t Person anymore” if you don’t want to continually comply with this situation that you are not enjoying!
Your partner wants it to be this way. You have already said the words and then he keeps inviting her. He’s not gonna stop. And you have fallen for a classic, classic manipulation story: “I am with the perfect guy, or he would be perfect if not for his awful ex, why is she always intruding on our lives, I want her to go away but I don’t want to look jealous or crazy” when really he is the one inviting her into your lives and enabling her at every turn. He is the problem.
Setting boundaries has two parts: 1) Telling the other person what you need and then 2) Following through with what you need to do to protect yourself from the situation if the person doesn’t respect your boundaries. You’re already doing the first one. The second part is the hardest one because ultimately your behavior is the only thing you can control, and it involves setting boundaries with yourself, like, “If he keeps doing this I will really have to leave.” It hurts because you end up breaking your own heart in the process, but it’s the only way you can really count on making the bad behavior stop.
Please listen to the part of you that is done with all of this and start on the 10,000 baths. (And maybe some therapy. If this is the best partner you’ve had, I think you’ve got some stories to tell to a kind, trained soul).
Update 3/4/2018: Hello nice commenters! I think we’re closing in on the “all there is to be said” threshold, so I’m gonna turn off comments on this one. Letter Writer, good luck moving on from this awful situation, we’re rooting for you.