Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: Five months ago I met the guy I think I am going to marry (hooray!). We are great for each other in so many ways, and we have a great time together and I love him. He’s even talking about our future together.
There is one issue upsetting me, and I am not sure if I am overreacting. He got divorced two years ago and shares custody of his beloved cat with his ex-wife. This custody arrangement does not bother me. However, his ex-wife calls and texts several times a week about the cat, sometimes calling in tears because she has trouble with the responsibility. This drives me insane.
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He said she has issues and is on medication, but I can’t help but feel this is an intrusion into our relationship. I’ve talked to him about it several times and offered to help care for the cat if he took it on full time, just so we could avoid this. He has also told me he hates confrontation.
She apparently started calling him more often when she found out we were dating. She even told him she thought they would get back together in five years, and then the next week said she wanted to meet “the girl who made him happier” than she could. (I said no way). I am in love with this guy but this situation is making me very uncomfortable. Help!
DEAR X-FACTOR: Please give yourself a long cooling-off period before you commit to this guy, so that attraction isn’t making your decisions for you. You want pragmatism to do that.
It’s so easy to make it all about the cat, or all about the issued/medicated(!) ex, when in fact if this guy were in good emotional health himself, he would be able to handle both of these problems well enough not to make them your problem, too.
Be very careful and deliberate in entering a relationship with people who are OK with having their problems become everyone else’s. (The other extreme, problem-hoarding, is an issue of its own.) It’s an exhausting road, and it’s one you’ll be traveling with a person who’s either too self-absorbed to recognize that you’re starting to carry his baggage, or who recognizes it but is too chaotic or selfish to do anything about it.
By the way — the response to “I hate confrontation” from an adult? “Everyone does. That’s not an excuse.” Cheez.
If you listen to what it’s meowing at you, then I suspect you’ll be very thankful for this cat.
DEAR CAROLYN: Re: X-Factor: I would add that one should also be careful with people who are OK having your problems become theirs. New people willing and eager to “help” me or “fix” things always make me wonder if doing so is a way to suggest, even force, a greater intimacy than there is. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re manipulative, could just be desperation for that intimacy, even though it only comes with time.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Well argued, thanks. Even if that doesn’t apply here, their mutual rush toward “our future together” could both signal and steamroll legitimate concerns.