Ex in shining armor

Joey has a thing for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

I’ve always heard that it’s a good sign when a man maintains a friendship with his ex-wife or ex-girlfriends. It makes sense intellectually, but not in real life. My boyfriend is a great guy in so many ways: thoughtful, smart, honest, caring and accomplished. But his social calendar includes a lot of lunches and, occasionally, dinners with his former love interests. These women also call him for advice on relationships, help with home repairs or rides to the airport. He obliges every time. I thought I was open-minded and trusting, but his commitment to his past bugs me. Plus, he told me that he stopped dating these women because they were too needy or damaged. Then he canceled on me three times in the last two weeks so he could help an ex. I’ve tried to talk to him, but he just blows me off. Am I being too controlling or is my boyfriend too nice?

I have a better question: Is he the right man for you? Your boyfriend enjoys playing hero and that means he needs people in distress surrounding him. At some point before meeting you, he caught a glimpse of himself and vowed to date a woman who could be his equal. But once he was ensconced in a new commitment, his old habits resurfaced. That’s because he doesn’t know himself well enough to establish an identity beyond “rescuer.” So when you confronted him, he dismissed your concerns. Doing so was easier than facing the truth: He’s as needy as the damsels he saves. Your man lives for the look of gratitude and admiration in the eyes of women.

As a smart, independent woman, I’m certain you are aware that human beings should help each other. But when low self-esteem (neediness) is the motivation for lending a hand, it’s like any addiction. Your man must give more of his time and energy to maintain the ego state in which he’s comfortable. Arguing with him is useless. He needs to feel safe investing fully in one relationship and discovering a different way of feeling needed. Try telling him how much you appreciate his generosity to others while reminding him that the relationship you share needs nurturing, too. Help him to value “no” as much as “yes” and “maybe.” Encourage him to bring you along on his missions. It also would help if he established some friendships with men. And, eventually, he should volunteer at a nonprofit so his habit of rescuing others is transformed into pouring care and concern into the community.

I am dating a man who has full custody of his preteen daughter. I think I am falling for my boyfriend, or would be, but there’s a really weird dynamic in the relationship. Every time the emotional intimacy between my boyfriend and I grows, he puts his daughter between us. Seriously, it becomes almost like he’s having an affair with her. If I pull away because it’s just too weird, he pursues me and treats me like his one and only again. What should I do?

Tell him about the triangle as something you are experiencing, not as something he is creating. Be certain not to blame or accuse his daughter in any form. Keep the conversation focused on the two of you. But before you have this chat, shift through the silt in your head. Get rid of any thought that inspires you to believe you are a victim of anything or anyone. Instead, be curious about why the situation pushes your buttons. Try to see other ways of interpreting the situation and be open to discovering whether this family is the right fit for you.

Meditation of the Week

“It is better to be hated for who you are than to be loved for what you are not?” wrote André Gide, winner of the 1947 Nobel Prize in literature. What would it take to strip yourself completely free of the past and be real?