The Opposite Sex 

Baggage handler

Baggage handler

Dear B&D,

I have been seeing this guy for about six months now. The relationship is satisfying in every way, except for one problem: his ex-girlfriend. I have dealt with the inevitable awkward run-ins and late-night calls with exes before, but this one is beyond all comprehension. They went out for a year, and apparently the bulk of the relationship was spent dealing with the many flashbacks and other problems she has been experiencing because she was raped when she was 12.

When I found this out, I tried to be sympathetic and understanding. But as she continued to use the bond between them to get his attention, I became bothered. Whenever we see her out, she inevitably has a flashback and has to pull him aside for a good half-hour. But once they talk, we next see her laughing, joking, and flirting with friends, as though nothing ever happened. I like him a lot and don’t want to blame him for what she is doing. I really want to be with him, but he’s got enough baggage for the royal family. What should I do?

—Traumatized in Nashville

DANNY: Ah, the It. Everybody has one—you just have to decide if this guy has enough positive qualities to offset the problems created by his ex-girlfriend. And I know that’s very easy to say, but it’s the truth. Every relationship has an Achilles’ heel, and yours is certainly a doozy. If we were just talking a once-in-awhile ex-girlfriend ego stroke, I’d say get over it. But the fact that she was raped is seriously sticky. She could be using it as a crutch to talk to him, or as a power play over you, or she could sincerely need comfort from someone who knows her history. Any way it goes, you can’t make too much of a stink about it because you’ll wind up being the bad guy.

Take stock of your feelings. Are you angry because she still has a hold over him? Or is it just plain jealousy? Ask yourself this: If he had a guy friend who had a problem, and every time you saw him out they wound up huddling for a while to hash it out, would you still feel the same way? I bet not. Jealousy is one of those ugly emotions that turns you inside-out for no good reason.

And everyone has an ex. It would be nice if, when you started dating someone, their dating past vanished—but it just doesn’t happen that way. To this very day, I can run into my 10th-grade boyfriend and his wife, and she’s giving me the evil eye the whole time. I just want to say, ”Hello? My love for your man died out around the same time as my jazz shoes and Toni home perm. Get over it.“

Personally, I’m about three months away from marrying off the last of my ex-boyfriends. And believe me, each one came with an entire Samsonite collection full of baggage—but if they needed me at any time, I’d jump and run. And unless the end of the relationship involved some kind of restraining order, most people would do the same.

Since there don’t seem to be any ulterior motives, your boyfriend is obviously just trying to be a good person. But it’s important for him to temper her needs with yours. Find some sort of happy medium. Talk to him about it as frankly as you can, which is hard enough. I mean, what are you going to do? Tell him he can’t help out his rape-victim ex-girlfriend? The karma of that alone might be more than you can handle.

Make yourself a list of all the things you like about him and all the things you don’t. If one list is longer than the other, you know which way to go. Again, it seems cut and dried, and it’s not easy to do when matters of the heart are concerned. Boyfriends deserve a little stretch and bend of the rules every now and then—the kind of understanding you’d hope to be afforded if ever the finger were pointing at you.

Also, don’t be fooled that there are potential dates out there shouldering nothing more than a carry-on. The dating scene is nothing short of an ugly, barren wasteland of disappointment, and that’s on a good day. It’s also no reason to stay in a relationship that doesn’t make you happy—but consider your options closely. The grass is always greener on the other side of baggage claim.

BEN: I don’t want to belittle something as horrifying as child abuse of any sort. But at the same time, I truly think this guy and his ex-girlfriend are doing you a serious disservice. Let’s start with the ex-girlfriend. I’m sure what this woman went through has left some irreparable psychological scars. But that does not give her free reign to monopolize the attention and time of anyone she pleases. I don’t consider childhood trauma of any kind to be license to be a nutjob forever. If she has severe psychological problems, then she should be seeing a therapist and not your boyfriend.

I myself have dealt in the past with a similarly needy woman. Her life was a complete mess on many levels, and for the longest time I was drawn into being her personal savior for whatever issue was killing her that particular day. The thing is, though, as many real problems as she did have, I realized she did little to remedy them and was at times the cause of them. I think there was a part of her that wasn’t satisfied if she wasn’t the tragic figure in need of attention and care. Some of this may have had something to do with her problems, and some of it probably had to do with her being a drama queen. Either way, she manipulated me with every new crisis.

I’m not trying to say that your boyfriend’s ex’s rape is something to be handled flippantly. But he needs to realize that he is not the one to help her. In all likelihood, she’s merely dependent on his attention as some sort of validation for her self-esteem. That’s not healthy for him or for her.

More important, he should be more conscientious of her presence in your life. Danny’s attitude about being there for former lovers is admirable, but at a certain point you have to draw the line. You’re his girlfriend now. You should be his priority, and he should be making that clear both to you and to his ex-girlfriend.

Breaking up with someone doesn’t mean you only quit having sex with them; it’s a dissolution of obligations and responsibilities. That doesn’t mean you can’t still be friends or be there for that person should they need help. But the temperamental whimsy of a flake becomes someone else’s problem the minute the relationship is over. Your boyfriend’s job now is to deal with your irrational notions and eccentricities, not hers.

Got a question for Danny and Ben? E-mail them at oppositesex@nashvillescene.com.

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