Q: The woman I have dated for several years has a 16-year-old at home and an 18-year-old at college. Her ex teaches at the college and is bringing her home so the girls can attend a concert together. They are all having dinner at my girlfriend’s house before the concert, just the four of them. My girlfriend invited me to join them on the day of the concert, even though the plans were made a week ago. I declined because I have no respect for her ex and frankly I am a bit uncomfortable. For the last few years the ex has made it apparent that he would like to get back with my girlfriend. My girlfriend tells me she’s not interested, but feels funny not letting him come for dinner. Help! What are the proper boundaries?
A: In order to successfully integrate past and present, boundaries between exes must be clear — and remain clear if parents are to successfully coparent after a divorce. Your girlfriend has to ask herself how keeping her ex in the dark about her feelings for him actually improves the situation — it doesn’t, particularly in this case because the kids are adults and her coming clean about the fact that she has no intention of reconciling will not really affect everyday interaction. It may make the holidays more difficult to maneuver, but not “coparenting” the kids. So, “feeling funny” is really just leftovers from being a couple — and although understandable, her ambiguity sends an inappropriate message to all concerned if she has committed to you. It leaves Dad hanging, you frustrated, and the kids with no clear role model for having integrity in a relationship.
This does not mean that “former” families cannot interact on this sort of intimate basis, but again, everyone must understand the intent. And, if one of the partners has moved on and has a partner that is universally recognized as a partner, then that partner should be included in the family get-together. Does this mean that it’s OK if someone has an affair, moves on, then proposes a family do something together and wants to bring the new partner? No. These families will most likely not have family get-togethers because of ongoing hurt feelings — and it would only be appropriate if the family has worked through their own personal crisis. That said, if you have been Mom’s “boyfriend” for years as you say, you should have been included in the planning.
Be careful about taking a stand based on the fact that you do not respect the ex. Rarely do new partners respect exes — and it really doesn’t matter. Your place is to support your girlfriend. If you don’t respect her, that would be a concern and a reason to take a look at why you are in the relationship at all.
Jann Blackstone-Ford and her husband’s ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of “Ex-Etiquette for Parents,” are the founders of Bonus Families (www.bonusfamilies.com). Reach them at: