Jan. 14, 2002 -- Dan Savage and his mom are co-hosts of the WebMD Savage Family Advice message board. He recently fielded this question posed to him:
I have been with my boyfriend for 1 1/2 years. I met him at work; first no-no. He was married; second no-no. He was with her for 14 years, married for nine of them, and they have three children. The marriage was bad for some time. She was seeing someone else, so was he. We met, just talked for several months, then he decided to leave her (four months after we met) and move in with me. His wife had her boyfriend move in with her. Then, however, he grew more and more bitter about that. It was OK for him to be with me, but not OK for his ex-wife to move on with her life.
Time passed, and we moved on and things were going great between us. He no longer showed signs of bitterness or feeling sorry for himself. Everything was going along fine, until recently. In one argument, he said he wished he were still with his ex-wife and that I will never be half the woman she was.
This hurt me deeply. Did he say those things to hurt me? Or did he really mean them? Is he with me only because he can't be with her? He is not exactly the type of person you can ask these questions. Plus, he may just lie about it, rather than hurt my feelings by telling me the truth. I never compare him to my ex-boyfriends, or tell him they were better men than he'll ever be.
Maybe I should just ask him to leave and go figure out what he wants. I don't want this thrown in my face every time we argue. Do you have any advice? I do love him more than I have loved anyone. I just can't understand, after all this time, why would he now say these things?
Ready for Savage's response? Here we go:
"Your boyfriend said those things to hurt you, and it would appear that he was successful. You are hurting, right? Unfortunately, the only person who knows if he meant those hurtful things is your boyfriend, himself -- a man, you say, who isn't 'the type of person you can ask these questions.' That's too bad.
"Getting involved with a married man and with someone at work were both no-nos. A third no-no, if I may be so bold, was getting involved with a man who can't or won't answer questions about his feelings.
"So why did he say these things? And why now? It's not uncommon for a person to have unresolved feelings for an ex, particularly if the ex was the one who initiated the breakup. Not everyone who gets dumped or divorced shifts effortlessly from anger to 'over it.' Some people live the rest of their lives with feelings of regret, remorse or loss. Men and women are divorced every day by spouses with whom they're still desperately in love. It could very well be that your boyfriend is still in love with his ex and misses her, and wishes things could have turned out differently.
"But even if that's the case -- even if he still loves his ex-wife -- that doesn't necessarily mean he isn't also in love with you. It is possible for someone to be in love with more than one person. And when you're in love with two people but live with only one of them, it's easy to fall into the grass-is-always-greener trap. Since he no longer has to live with his ex-wife, he may only remember the good stuff about his marriage. With you, he has to deal with the good and the bad, and the day-in/day-out frustrations of a real, living, breathing relationship. When you guys are fighting, he may miss his wife; since he doesn't fight with her anymore, he never has the chance to miss you.
"So what to do? If you two are going to stay together, you're going to have to ask him those dreaded questions. It might not be a bad idea for him to move out for a short time, as then he would see what life is like without you around. If being apart from his ex-wife made him miss her, maybe being apart from you will have the same effect on his feelings for you."