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I’d love your perspective on my current experience.

Last summer I went through a painful breakup with a man I had been with for a little over a year. I didn’t leave him because I didn’t love him anymore, but because we realized we wanted very different futures. In addition, he had the tendency to be self-destructive and I knew the relationship had become toxic for me. I also left because I had the sneaking suspicion that I wasn’t bisexual like I had thought for most of my adult life, but that I was leaning more towards gay. (Mostly interested in women, sometimes interested in men.) Months passed, I got over him and we didn’t speak or make contact at his request. Then later I met and fell in love with an amazing woman.

A few months after she and I began dating, I was informed by a mutual friend that my ex-boyfriend had been diagnosed and was currently battling a rare and aggressive (potentially terminal) cancer.

He is 34 years old. The news hit me like a train. He had experienced an array of mysterious and sometimes serious symptoms of illness when we were together, but refused to go to the doctor, always saying it was because he was stressed and overworked. Finding out that this was the culmination of those symptoms shook me to the core. I felt so saddened for him and saddened by the fact that I couldn't support him. I imagined how hard this experience must be for a person (my ex) who’s family all lived on the opposite coast. Because we no longer had any semblance of a relationship or friendship, I resolved to donate to his fundraising campaign and pray.

Later he called me to thank me for my donation. We caught up; we were both dating new people, and in the light of possible death, we let the pain of our past go. Because he was in the middle of his chemotherapy and radiation treatments, I began to visit him regularly, about once every 3-4 weeks. We exchanged a few texts maybe once every couple weeks; usually sending each other something funny from the internet to avoid the obvious pain he was experiencing. His treatment ended with an amputation of his arm and shoulder.

My girlfriend was supportive of me visiting him initially, albeit silently uncomfortable. Knowing this, I proceeded with openness and honesty about when I was going to see him and how I was feeling. After visiting him a couple times she admitted that she felt insecure and jealous, though felt that it was inappropriate to express given the situation. She had expressed jealousy and insecurity in several other situations prior to this and had explained that it was something she deeply struggled with in past relationships. (She had previously been cheated on.)

Then, about a week after my ex had his amputation (and about a week after my grandmother passed away and my current partner caught Mono) she admitted that she really hated my friendship with my ex and couldn't really handle it. We ended up fighting about it and she also admitted that she felt that I wasn’t giving her enough support while she herself was sick and would be a better partner to me if I was in her situation.

I love this woman, but I feel extremely hurt by her lack of compassion. Her jealousy scares me, especially because she feels jealous in other situations, where even according to her, I didn't do anything wrong or flirty. I know this situation is very unique and difficult and I thought I was doing a good job managing it all, but maybe I'm not. My friends and family tell me she isn’t being fair, and that I’m not doing anything wrong. It feels important to me to support my ex through this cancer journey, but it’s definitely jeopardizing my new relationship. HELP!

Lost In Translation

Wait—how long have you been dating this woman? — Dan

Just over 5 months since we met and started dating. — LIT

So you've been dating her for five months but it wasn't until after you'd been seeing her for "a few months" that you heard about your ex-boyfriend's cancer diagnosis. And you've visited him once every few weeks since finding out—so three times at most—and swapped a few texts with him to help distract him. And your new girlfriend hates that you're in contact with him at all and tells you she can't handle it—and this comes on top of times when she's been scary jealous, irrationally jealous, and so... there's a pattern here.

Her jealousy is ugly and to be jealous of your ailing ex is so incredibly petty. This is a huge red flag. — Dan

I agree. Ugh, it’s such a bummer because she and I are very compatible otherwise. Thanks so much, Dan. I’ve been a reader/listener of yours for years. Thanks for providing a space in the world for safe and open dialogue about the topics many have no one to turn to about. — LIT

To be clear: I’m not saying “dump her.” I’m saying “push back hard.” If she can recognize that the problem is hers, and if she's prepared to do something about it/take responsibility for it, your relationship doesn't have to end.

But most relationships do end, of course. So ask her how she want you to act if you two broke up and a year later she came down with a serious illness and needed as much support as she could possibly get. Wouldn't she want you to do for her what you’re currently doing for your ex-boyfriend? So coming through for your ex like this a good sign about you—you're compassionate and you're humane—and her inability to see that is a bad sign about her. That she doesn’t see your behavior as a positive thing about you—and a positive thing about being in a relationship with you—is a red flag, again, one that could mean she's desperately insecure (something she needs to work on) or incredibly selfish (ditto).

If she can get there—if she comes to see that the problem is hers—that's great, LIT, and there's hope for you two. If she can't, DTMFA. — Dan


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