I am dating a man who was divorced a few years ago, and has since had one long-term relationship, with a woman who turned out to be crazy. She drives by his house at night, texts him constantly, and has contacted friends of mine on Facebook and told them he is wrong for me. I’m frankly a little scared of her. He no longer has feelings for her, but is hesitant to confront her or cut her off completely because she has had problems with depression and he’s afraid of what she’ll do to herself.
Normally I would not put up with this, but my boyfriend has had a rough go of it. His marriage ended in similar circumstances; his crazy ex-wife estranged his children from him and dragged their divorce out for several years. I love him for having empathy, but I feel like his ex-girlfriend is not his problem, and shouldn’t be mine. Should I give him an ultimatum?
Sane and Sensible
Of course you should give your boyfriend an ultimatum. Tell him that he needs to stop dating nut jobs…and then take it gracefully when, because he knows you’re right, he sends you packing.
Sorry. Easy joke, but serious point: your boyfriend is either establishing a pattern of being with unstable women, or claiming to have established that pattern. (I say “claiming,” because you’re taking his word for how his marriage ended; I suspect his ex-wife has a different version.) Whichever the case, the longer you stay with this guy, the greater the chance you’ll end up being the story he tells to the next woman. In that story, of course, you’ll be Glenn Close. He’ll be the poor guy with the pet rabbit.
Romantically speaking, we are predictable creatures. We find ourselves drawn to the same types of people time and again. That’s why you have certain girlfriends who always seem to date men who treat them badly, and others who move from one ‘little boy who needs mothering’ to the next. These are not conscious choices, S&S. They’re rooted in our personalities, which are formed when we’re very young, and they are not easily or often changed.
(For more on this, see the brilliant, incisive book, “Actually, It Is Your Parents’ Fault: Why Your Romantic Relationship Isn’t Working, and How to Fix It,” co-authored by, uh…oh yeah: me! Now available at Barrett Books, and other fine retailers everywhere.)
Your boyfriend chooses women who either start out as unstable or who he can — and this is a technical term — drive completely bonkers. Though you can’t be sure about his ex-wife because you weren’t there, you can correctly label his last girlfriend’s inappropriate behavior as nutty. The fact that he’s unwilling to do anything about that nutty behavior leaves you with two choices: you can dump him now, or you can live in the fantasy that your ultimatums will have any impact on a man who blames others for the fact his kids won’t see him and labels every former paramour a wackadoo.
Here’s the ironic part: you wrote in your letter that you love him for his empathy. (What a good guy! What a caring man! What a crock of…never mind.) S&S, your boyfriend has you bamboozled if you’re honestly defending him even as he labels the mother of his children “crazy” and does nothing to shield you from the actions of a woman who probably needs help. If he’s seriously worried about what she’ll do to herself, he should speak to mental health professionals and then extricate himself entirely. Sitting idly by, and subjecting you to his messes, smacks of ‘loving the drama,’ not ‘wanting to help.’
The question isn’t really whether you should give him an ultimatum (why bother?) or even if you should be with him at all (clearly not), S&S. The real question is why you chose to date this guy in the first place. I suspect he isn’t the first drama-magnet you’ve been with…but if you do a little work and try to deal with whatever it is in your personality that draws you to guys like him, maybe he’ll be the last.
Yours in sanity,
Philip Van Munching is a New York Times bestselling author of advice books, and was a finalist last year in the Good Morning America nationwide “advice guru” search. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.