DEAR MISS MANNERS: Are there any special rules that apply to old boyfriends who are friends with a married lady? Should we be held to a higher standard than other opposite-gender friends when one of us is married and the other is not, because we once had a romantic relationship?
I've started corresponding with my college girlfriend after many years. She is happily married to a fine gentleman I hope to meet after the pandemic, and I am very happy for her. Though I haven't seen her in years, I would like to do so again. For any future invitations, should I invite her husband along on every occasion?
Am I limited in complimenting her and expressing any feelings for her? I wish to behave as innocently as my feelings are. I certainly do not want to offend anyone or cause any misunderstandings.
GENTLE READER: Time was, it was generally believed that any male and any female, if left together, would get right down to doing one thing. Thus there were chaperones, parietal rules and other awkward devices for denying them the privacy to do it. If a married person was involved, it would be cause for divorce on the grounds of adultery.
Miss Manners is surprised to see this exciting, but unlikely, assumption surfacing in modern times. There is even a new term besmirching warm, opposite-gender friendships: "emotional affairs."
But there are many different types of emotion. And friendship -- even deep friendship, which can be felt for more than one person -- is not the same as romantic passion, which, in theory at least, should be limited to one at a time. Many friendships make for a rich life; many romances make trouble.
Yet we throw boys and girls together in educational, social and work situations, only to condemn them if they maintain any opposite-gender friendships -- or, indeed, form new ones -- after marriage. Miss Manners considers it a poor commentary on marriage if the partners cannot be trusted to form lesser bonds without breaking faith. Such marriages undoubtedly exist, but their problems have deeper roots.
Now we come to the extra element when, as in your case, there was romance in the past. Generally, we consider it civilized for exes to turn into friends.
But the key question in an individual case such as yours is how the lady and her husband think about this. Some husbands are amused at former boyfriends resurfacing, giving them endless material with which to tease their wives. Others fear that the old flame will reignite.
By all means, start by seeing the two of them. After that, you can ask her if he would feel left out if you and she had an occasional lunch. But you might find that you want to be friends with him, as well. Or instead.