My boyfriend is divorced and he shares equal custody of his five-year-old son with his ex-wife. They had an amicable divorce, but now I’m wondering if they’re a little too close; often when she drops him off, he invites her in to have dinner or watch a movie with us… and she accepts. Of the three or four days/nights a week he has his son, she usually ends up spending time with us in some way on about half of those days. Is this normal? I’m all for keeping a friendly relationship going for the benefit of their son, but this feels like a lot to me. —MW, San Francisco, CA
The Straight Man’s Perspective: Chris Kennedy
You have chosen to date someone with a five-year-old son and an ex-wife. There’s going to be baggage no matter what.
As far as amicable divorces go, this one seems pretty good. You have to be flexible on your expectations of what “normal” is in a divorce. I don’t know if it exists. I do know the most important person in this equation is the innocent party who didn’t get to choose any of this—your boyfriend’s son. The rest of you are adults who put yourselves in this position. You seem to be handling it well and I can’t imagine not feeling uncomfortable about this arrangement. It seems a bit much to have her stay for dinner and/or watch a movie two nights a week.
You have a right to ask your boyfriend to reduce the number of times, to one night a week or once every two weeks, but it sounds like you don’t have a real large say in all this. And you do risk looking like a bitch, so be mindful of your words. You could mention that though it’s necessary for the son’s mental health to see that his parents get along enough to hang out, it could also be a bit confusing for him to see his mom and dad together with you watching movies and having dinners so often.
Do your boyfriend and his ex still have a candle burning for one other? If so, that’s obviously a problem that needs to get resolved. If they are truly friendly and amicable, then perhaps the ex-wife can back off a bit without feeling hurt or shortchanged and understand that it’s negatively affecting your relationship with your boyfriend.
I believe all couples need to do the best job with their unique situation and I believe you two need to set up the rules of conduct that works best for you and what’s best for the son. If you can’t deal with that, then your dinner and a movie reservation is elsewhere.
The Gay Man’s Perspective: Darren Maddox
How odd! I understand what you’re saying about wanting to preserve the relationship for the sake of the kid, but to invite her into your plans that often is indeed a bit much. I’m friends with most of my exes, too, but there’s a time and a place to be alone with the person you’re dating. Have you talked to him about it? Do it—it’s the only way. If you don’t, it will continue to eat at you and won’t likely go away anytime soon. Why did they break up? Was it amicable? Other than the obvious, what obligation does he feel he still has toward her? How does she act when she’s around the two of you? How do you act? Can you be yourselves or are you guarded because she’s in the room?
I’m guessing from your tone that you’re trying to be as nice as possible without coming across as the jealous girlfriend. That’s good. The last thing you want is to be seen as a big ole bitch complaining about the ex. Just drop a few more hints to your love bug that you really enjoy the time you share with him and his son and that you hope that if your relationship continues to grow, there will be more quality time with memories for you three. I don’t have the expertise to advise you on how to handle a child’s emotions when trying to accept someone else in his parent’s life, so it might be worth talking this one out with a professional over a few paid sessions.
The Gay Woman’s Perspective: Jody Fischer
I wish I knew a bit more about your situation. For instance, I’m wondering how you and the ex-wife get along? Are you feeling threatened by her? I’m also wondering if you have begun to take on a mother sort of role with the son, or if you even want to? Lastly, have you and your boyfriend had conversations about the role his ex-wife plays in his life? Because I think you could use some clarity.
Asking a lesbian about what’s normal in a relationship with kids and ex-partners is interesting. I don’t know the first thing about normal and I don’t want to, except to say that if it works for all parties involved then it works. But if it doesn’t, then it’s time to talk with your guy.
I’m also curious to know how you feel about his son and how comfortable the boy is with you. How does he seem when the four of you hang out together? Normally, these visits are structured in a way that’s best for the child. Does it seem like this is what’s happening here?
I suggest you figure out what’s most uncomfortable for you when she’s around. Does it inhibit you from hugging and sitting close to your boyfriend? Is all the attention on the ex-wife? Really check in with yourself, then sit down, and have a talk with your boyfriend. That’s where I would start.
The Straight Woman’s Perspective: Rebecca Brown
Ahh, the American Dream. Sitting down to dinner with your boyfriend, his son, and his ex-wife. So cozy! It sounds like you guys are truly putting the fun in dysfunctional.
I think “normal” is relative to each individual divorce situation. The only way to find out if this behavior is normal for their particular situation is to ask your boyfriend what he and his ex agreed to as far as spending time with their son. Maybe this dinner arrangement is part of an agreement they made to try to create some sense of normalcy and consistency for their son. Maybe your boyfriend’s not over her. Maybe they’re sizing you up for a three-way. Maybe you’ve been wearing a bacon scarf and are triggering some sort of primal pork response in his ex-wife, thus her need to always join you for dinner. I don’t know, and you won’t either until you ask. You might also consider inviting the ex over to talk with you about your relationship with her son. (Your boyfriend would be present, of course.) Perhaps she keeps stopping by because she’s sizing up the new woman who’s spending so much time with her son. A conversation that lets her know you’re not angling to be the Replacement Mommy (let’s hope you’re not) might be all she needs to stop the frequent pop-ins.
The only thing that really matters, though, is what you do when you find out the facts. Whether he’s still in love with his ex-wife, she feels threatened, or they’re both just clueless, the most important thing is how you respond. Make your boyfriend aware of your boundaries and what you’re comfortable with (within reason, he does have a kid to consider here) and see how he responds. Be prepared to compromise, but don’t continue to sit around, say nothing, and smile. Yes, he needs to maintain as amicable as possible of a relationship between he and his ex-wife for his son’s sake, but you’re his girlfriend, and he also needs to foster growth in your relationship. If he’s not able to do that, he’s not your guy.