Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Help, My Ex Is Ruining My Relationship

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: So, I’m writing with something of a convoluted story. I’ll try to keep it brief: I’m in a band with my ex-girlfriend. The band pre-dated our relationship, and when the relationship ended, we decided to keep the band going. A couple months after that relationship ended and that decision was made, I started seeing someone new. This person, with whom I have now been together for almost 2 years, doesn’t like that I’m in a band with my ex, and we have had repeated, massive fights about it. She is not being totally irrational about it – my ex, when I first told her I had started seeing someone new, kind of flipped out on me, and I, wanting to be fully honest with my new girlfriend, told her about that. My ex also was not the best to me in our relationship, not telling me she had herpes, with led to my developing it. And, again, I was honest with my new girlfriend about this. My current girlfriend thinks it is unfair to her that I have decided to keep this person in my life in any capacity.

But. The fact of the matter is that I have zero interest in any romantic rekindling with my ex. Absolutely zero, and I’ve looked at this and examined my feelings on it from every angle, including with my therapist. I simply want to continue to play in a band with this person. And my ex, while, yes, she did freak out at me a little when I told her I was seeing something new, quickly moved past that, apologized, and has been absolutely fine in terms of respecting boundaries since then. In two years, there has not even been an inkling of the possibility of one or the other of us trying to rekindle anything. She and I are friendly, but we talk only about band business and see each other only at rehearsals and shows, which amounts to 2-4 hours a week. I make sure to call or text my girlfriend after every practice so she knows where I am and that there is no funny business going on. And in almost two years, my ex has in no way acted to threaten my relationship with my current girlfriend.

And yet, we (my current girlfriend and I) still fight about this, as recently as last night. To her, the existence of the situation at all is unfair to her. It doesn’t matter that there’s nothing going on or no real existential threat to the relationship – she just doesn’t like it, and she’s never going to like it. She has never given me an ultimatum, and I’m grateful for that, but the end result has been repeated, big fights, never started by me and most often not triggered by anything more than her seeing me and my ex on stage together at a show.

Now, I JUST read an article on your site about the differences between being correct and being right in an argument, and that really hit home. I know I am CORRECT in that I have zero interest in any sort of romantic involvement with my ex. She has also moved on, and has had more than one boyfriend in the past two years, including a current one. We are just two people who want to play in a band together. At the same time, I am trying to honor my girlfriend’s feelings and the fact that me being “correct” about there not being a threat to the relationship because of this situation does not make me “right.”

But so, how can I do that when we are so diametrically opposed in our view on this situation? To her, the presence of an ex in my life, particularly one who treated me badly, is an offense. To me, someone coming into my life and trying to change something that is important to me that doesn’t directly affect them is not fair. And no matter how much I try to tell her that I hear her, that I’m trying to understand her POV, that I love her…and no matter how good to her I am, otherwise (she has said more than once that, other than having an ex in my band, I am the best boyfriend she’s ever had)… none of it matters as long as this situation exists.

So, what can we do? Is this situation – her not liking the existence of my ex in my life, me not liking that she doesn’t like it to the degree that it leads to screaming fights and makes me feel not trusted – sustainable? I want to be open to her POV, but not to the extent that I feel like I have to compromise certain emotional truths I know about myself and the way I handle my life, because I feel like that’s not healthy, either.

Obviously, I didn’t keep it short. I’m so upset by all of this. Help?

Ex Wrecks

DEAR EX WRECKS: I just want to make sure I’m understanding things clearly:

You and your ex had a drama-filled relationship. There was some poor (and occasionally outright awful) behavior on her part while you were dating and afterwards. But after you two broke up you were able to get past things, forgive each other, repair your professional relationship together and in general have a cordial platonic relationship that doesn’t extend past the fact that you’re in the same band.

And your current girlfriend has a problem with this. Well ok then.

Look, I’m not going to beat around the bush here. I think your current girlfriend is being almost absurdly unreasonable. The fact that you and your ex are able to put the past behind you like grown-ass adults and maintain a pleasant working relationship is a sign of quality in the both of you. It shows that the both of you are mature individuals who’re able to hash things out like reasonable people, recognize your f

k ups and find the core of affection and respect for one another to continue working together. These are all admirable qualities. These are traits that men and women should want to see in the people they’re dating.

It’s sweet, in a kind of distressingly possessive way, that your current girlfriend is offended on your behalf for the way that your ex wronged you. Y’know. If you squint. A lot. But at the same time the fact that she is holding a grudge that YOU let go of a while ago is, frankly, more than a little preposterous. It carries the message that she thinks you are wrong for forgiving your ex and letting bygones be bygones. Her behavior is saying that she doesn’t respect the decision that you’ve made to rise above things for the sake of the band and that she doesn’t believe that you can or should have made your peace with your ex. That, I hate to say, is NOT compatible with a long-term relationship built on mutual affection and respect.

If I had to guess, I’d say that no small part of this hinges less on whether you to may get back together (as you said: nope) and more on the fact that your ex may (and I stress MAY) have given you herpes. This, I suspect, is the crime that cannot be forgiven in her eyes. And frankly that’s more than a little absurd.

Now for some straight sex-ed: unless you tested negative immediately before dating her and tested positive afterwards, it’s entirely possible that you had herpes prior to your ex. The fact of the matter is that a significant portion of the adult population of the planet has one form of herpes or another – 1 in 6 if you keep it strictly to genital herpes (HSV-2) or 1 in 4 if you include HSV-1 – and most people who have it don’t realize it. It’s entirely possible for the virus to lie dormant and not present any symptoms for years. Some people will simply never have symptoms or an outbreak. You can even have an outbreak and never realize it – the initial outbreak tends to mimic flu symptoms.

And here’s the kicker: herpes isn’t that big of a deal. The stigma of the virus significantly outweighs the actual impact; it’s a skin condition. Woo. If someone gets a cold-sore on their lip on occasion, we don’t freak out and call them unclean or immoral, we just avoid kissing them until it heals up. If someone gets an ingrown hair, even on their crotch, we don’t make moral judgements about them. The only time herpes has a significant effect on someone’s health is if they’re having an outbreak while having sex with someone who’s HIV positive or during pregnancy.

Now: this doesn’t mean that it’s ok that your ex didn’t disclose that she had the virus. That’s not cool. But at the same time: you’ve clearly made your peace with this. You’re over it. Your ex is over it. The only person who isn’t, who refuses to accept that it’s all ok… is your current girlfriend. The fact that she has repeatedly initiated fights over something as unbelievably minor as your performing with your bandmates is a bad sign. There’s times when being right isn’t the same as being correct, true, but this ain’t one of them. Your girlfriend is wrong and she’s being unspeakably sh

ty to you over this. Your ex isn’t a threat to your relationship. She’s not compromising the intimacy you have with your girlfriend, nor trying to inject herself into things outside of simply existing. Your girlfriend is the one doing that and it’s on her to either get over her issues.

I appreciate that you’re trying to see things from her POV but sometimes there’s not two sides with the truth in the middle. Sometimes people are just being a

holes. You need to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with your girlfriend: either she can accept that your ex is your friend and your bandmate and get the fuck over things or she can move on. But you? You are done getting yelled at by someone who supposedly cares for you over crimes you haven’t committed. If she won’t quit being an a

hole about this and making you feel miserable because she can’t handle her own bulls

t, then it’s time to dump her already. Yeah, I realize you care for her. But she doesn’t respect you and she’s making you miserable. That’s not a healthy relationship. That’s abuse. Don’t put up with it.

Good luck.

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