Monday, July 27, 2009

The thing about the past...

Dear Brooke,

I have been dating my boyfriend for just over two years. We are happy and in love. Although our relationship has always been good, it has been a long road to this point. When I first met him he was freshly (less than 2 months) out of a 7 year relationship. In the end of the relationship, his girlfriend had given him an ultimatum of marriage or an end to the relationship. He decided to propose and she accepted. A short time later, she changed her mind, for reasons unknown to me, and left him. Needless to say, it took him a long time to be able to offer himself fully to me. A year of patience, care and devotion eventually allowed him to feel comfortable and we have been very happy ever since.

A few days ago I was looking through his office searching for a paper clip. I looked into the drawer of his desk and saw a jewelry box nudged in the very back. Of course, I couldn't help myself and I opened it expecting to find a pair of cuff links. I barely opened it, saw a diamond ring and quickly snapped it shut. My immediate response was that it must have been the ring from his previous proposal but it was still shocking and thrilling. I spent the next three days working through my head what it could be. I had never seen the box before but I'm not sure I've dug that deep into his desk before. You could probably call me a snoop so if I had seen the box before, there is no doubt that I would have opened it.

We rarely speak of marriage and it is always in a future tense since we are still working on the idea of living together at some point. Neither of us is totally sold on marriage in general but I feel like he might be affected because most of his friends are about to get married or are already married with children. He is nearing 40 and has been talking a lot about getting his life on track. I can't understand why he would keep the ring from his past engagement I’m having trouble figuring out what to think but I have a very strong feeling that the ring is not intended for me.

I really just want to know where this ring came from. Is it possible that it was from his past engagement, and if so, what does that mean? Is he still holding on? Is it a reminder of what he doesn't want? If it's not from his past engagement, then is it for me? Did he buy it impulsively one day or has he been planning it out?

Should I tell him that I saw it or should I keep this secret to myself? If we ever do get engaged I want it to be a surprise and I want it to be for the best reasons. I don't know how I'll react either way, if it is for me (gasp!) or if it is from the past (weird).

I've been trying to put the image out of my mind since I saw it. I wish it had never happened. I can't talk to any of my friends about it because I know that they'll have biased opinions and then they'll be expecting something that might never happen. I want to feel neutral about the whole thing because I love this man so much, I don't want to be effected by something I saw accidentally. Please help!

confused & feeling secretive

Dear Confused and Feeling Secretive,

So I wish I could know who that ring did or did not belong to or it may or may not be gifted to. But, you and I both know that I’m wishing into the wind. You said “I have a very strong feeling that the ring is not intended for me” so I’m going to respond based on your gut feeling. Let this be a first Soap Box Therapy lesson of many to come that our gut is more often that not, worth listening to…

First of all my love, know that feeling totally out of sorts is so perfect. If you were feeling “neutral” then I really would be worried about you. So, embrace that crazy feeling in your stomach and let’s talk... No matter how you found the ring, or if you were looking for it or not, what you are really asking me is… does he love me or her? Am I the one or is his past winning out? Right?

So there are so many possible reasons your boyfriend’s past relationship ended, right? No matter what the reason is, my suspicion is that regardless of the fact that he is totally in love with you, he is still holding on to the hurt and has not fully moved on from that difficult situation in his life. I mean, lets break it down… he was manipulated into a proposal that he didn’t necessarily want by an ultimatum, and then he got burned and dumped. Um, hello! He probably felt lower and angrier than ever after that experience. Can we say trust issues? It’s so noble that you stuck with him and let him take the time he needed to feel safe in a new relationship. You are a gem.

The thing about pasts is that everyone has one. Everyone. And no matter how hard we wish… they don’t suddenly vanish once we come along and sweep our partners off their feet. As much as we want to deny that our partners might still be affected by their past once they fall madly and deeply in love with us… it’s just not the case. Our past is always present…

Now that we have established that we are listening to your gut and your boyfriend has a past…let’s talk about communication. The communication in your relationship around the subject of “the past” I suspect so far has been on his terms. Meaning he is pretty touchy about what went on and you’ve been the loving patient girlfriend and haven’t probed where you may not be welcomed with open arms. You’ve been kind and sweet, waiting for him to be ready to share himself. The issue is, when we don’t talk about things, it usually means we are still holding on.

I’m not saying that everyone needs to share everything about their past with their partner…I believe we all have the right to our own stories… but in this case I think it’s time to communicate and ask some questions.

Thank goodness all of that crap happened in his life because now you get him, it’s perfect! But you, you patient sweet loving woman, don't deserve for all his past stuff to find itself a nice little suppressed home in your relationship... Begin to talk to your partner. Don’t blame, don’t point fingers… just ask. Ask about his past. Tell him you are ready to know. Ask things like, “How did you feel when” and “How was that for you?” Tackle the underlying issues which are commitment, fear, untold stories, and communication in general. Make sure those issues are on the forefront of the conversation. It’s not the actual ring you want to talk about, but what it represents.

If it is a ring from his past the reason to keep it is because, to get rid of it officially means that the hurt is real, that it actually happened- that messed up horrible unfair situation actually happened. No more denial, no more suppressing the feelings. I would be utterly shocked if he sits there and gazes longingly at the ring everyday.... he doesn't love that girl anymore, he loves you. But that doesn't mean he is over it and not pissed or embarrassed or even a little shameful about what went down. That ring represents the ultimatum and all the crappy feelings and decisions that came along with it.

Forgive him for being human, for having a past and holding onto it. Thank his past for making him a stronger more careful and deliberate person. Remind him how amazing you are by creating the space for him to share and communicate and release the stories and the feelings he has been holding onto with an iron grip for years. No matter who that ring does, did, or will belong to... its time to start talking with your man.


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1 comment:

  1. Ooooh I get a nervous feeling in my stomach when I see people jump from one long-term relatioship to the next. I think most studies will show, that people often break up/divorce/separate time after time for the same reasons. Most people do not allow time to gain some insight in the subtle similarities our past relationship partners reappear as a different persons in current relationships. I get a sense that eventually this will have to be done. Maybe seeing someone like a therapist/counselor might at least get to the issues that are living around the ring. But I agree allowing some space to talk about these things together would be helpful, although could be scary. Ahh the C word, Committment...

    I do find it odd though, being a man, not a straight man but a man, would keep onto such material items. Maybe he wants to reuse it?