I may have a master’s degree and a license in social work, but I’ll be the first one to tell you that there are times when I can’t explain human behavior, and that is what social work is about. According to Google (which knows everything), sociology is the study of social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behavior. Sociologists investigate the structure of groups, organizations, and societies, and how people interact within these contexts. I’m very honest about what I know and don’t know. I don’t lie to my readers. I can tell you why monkeys may act a certain way and why bulls snort and kick up dust, but people? I don’t know what motivates them to do or not do something. That’s one of the reasons I don’t practice clinical social work. At one point I did, but it’s exhausting. I found my place in administration.
So, when I received the following email, I had no idea what to answer. But in my defense, I was not privy to what the ex and his current wife have discussed or not discussed about their past relationships or if they agreed never to acknowledge any relationship other than the one they now have. Maybe one of you knows the answer.
About six or seven years ago I had an on-again, off-again boyfriend for a little over a year. I bring this up now because I’m currently engaged and recently met him and his wife at an event. We won’t be seeing each other much, maybe once or twice a year, but he pretended that this was the first time we met. He said, “Nice to meet you,” pretending not to know anything about me. I didn’t want to call him out in front of his wife. I didn’t want to cause a fight or argument that we knew each other. Nothing bad happened between us and even if something did, it was years ago. He’s married and I’m engaged.
After the weird encounter, I told my fiancé the truth. Just because my ex was hiding this fact from his wife didn’t mean that I was going to do the same to my fiancé. My fiancé agreed that it was very weird, but maybe his wife didn’t like hearing or meeting his former girlfriends.
I’ll play along with this because, like I said, I’ll only be seeing him once or twice a year. But what do you think?
Thank you for your email, Abbey.
I don’t have much information here except that you and someone else dated “on and off again” many years ago and “nothing bad happened” between the two of you, but he did not let on to his wife that he knew you, let alone that you went out together. This seems clear, but everything else is blurry. Was it an emotional relationship with highs and lows and therefore you were on and off again a few times? When you say “relationship,” are we talking about casual dating or starting to hear wedding bells? I’d really like to know what you are referring to by writing “nothing bad”; my mind is starting to wonder. I know what I think is bad, but what do you think is bad? What do the readers think is bad?
While I have more questions about your email than answers, I will first let all of you know why I chose to publish this letter and not another one that may have more details, or I may be able to answer without thinking “too much.” I just wrote about break-ups last week. I encourage ending all relationships in a mature way, even if emotions are hurt, because you never know where life takes you, and you may run into the person in another setting years later. Well, here you are.
All I know for certain is what I say to my daughter when she demands a drink: “I am not sitting here with nothing to do, just waiting for you to ask me for some chocolate milk.” What I mean by that is, I am busy doing something now and I’ll get to it as soon as possible. Only the first part of the explanation applies to you. You see, now I’m being Rashi :). Everyone has had a life before meeting his or her spouse or significant other. Even if you marry the first person you date, you’ve lived a life: went to school, have friends, went on trips, etc. No one has been waiting on the couch for his or her spouse to walk through the door before they start living. I don’t think that this man’s wife doesn’t think he has had a life; but if you know him well, or knew him well, then you may know what type of life he has led. Is it one that you feel he would be proud to tell his wife about, considering that you don’t know his wife or what he is like now? Let’s say you two were “wild and crazy” and partied all night, slept all day, jumped the turnstiles in the subway… but you’ve both changed your ways. You both have wonderful jobs, keep to regular waking hours, don’t party anymore, and you have a MetroCard you use regularly. Of course, neither of you knows what the other is up to in life or, like now, because you haven’t seen each other for many years. Now someone from your past pops up and may start bringing up memories you wished never happened and you don’t want to have that conversation with your spouse who knows nothing about it and probably wouldn’t understand it.
Sometimes it’s hard to hear about a significant other’s previous relationships because, had things gone differently, you may not be sitting here with your significant other. Your life may have turned out differently. It’s scary to think that this other person may be the one your spouse loves if something hadn’t gone wrong in their relationship. Maybe your ex didn’t want to answer all of the questions he knew she would have, and he would spend hours reliving the past, just because his wife has questions about something he feels has nothing to do with her.
They could have also had an agreement not to discuss previous relationships.
Abbey, I don’t know the answer. But the important thing is that you told your fiancé, and you are not keeping any secrets or telling any white lies to him. Your ex may have a dysfunctional relationship with his wife. It could be any number of things. You may have to file this in the same drawer as “Who killed JFK?” We may never know. You may never know what the answer is to your ex not acknowledging knowing you, but as you said, you’ll see him once or twice a year. It’s not important. Leave it alone.
Mazal tov on your engagement, and I wish you and your fiancé a wonderful, healthy life.
Hatzlachah to you all.