I don’t think anybody out there thinks, “Boy do I sure hope that my partner would work with his ex. That sounds like the ideal situation.” Even if you aren’t the jealous type, and even if you fully trust your partner, it’s not like anyone loves the idea of their partner being in a workspace with someone they once loved and had sex with—perhaps for many years—from 9 to 5. Or 7am to 7pm, depending on what industry they’re in. It’s not really natural to have to confront the fact that the person you love deeply once shared that connection with someone else. You’re not oblivious to the fact that your partner had other partners before you came along. It’s not like you think he was a virgin or some sort of celibate monk before you came into the picture. You understand, vaguely, somewhere in the background of your mind, that he’s been with other women. But the healthy, happy state is that in which you don’t have to think about that that often.
If your partner somehow winds up collaborating or working with an ex in his career, you are forced to face the reality of his romantic past. It’s worse than the drama of you working with your partner. His ex might be sitting at your dining room table, going over spreadsheets and documents with your partner. You don’t get to leave his exes, tucked away, in some strange but comfortable no-man’s land of your subconscious. They’re forced into your very conscious reality. I bring all of this up because my partner may very well begin working with an ex. It’s an amazing opportunity, I trust him, and I’d be a real b*tch to tell him to turn it down. But, I only sound this calm and reasonable about it because I’ve already gone through the not-so-calm phases of accepting this. Which look a bit like this.
The fake chill
When he first told me about the opportunity, and explained that it was through someone he once dated, I pulled a pretty decent acting job out of my *ss and said, “Oh wow! That’s great! So terrific. Sounds like an excellent opportunity.” And then I went into the other room, closed the door, and was consumed by a very dark, icky feeling.
The days of trying to suppress it
That dark, icky feeling I got lasted for several days. I knew, with my conscious mind, nothing bad is happening here. And I just wanted to power through this bad feeling, hoping that my rationale would rule the day, and, eventually, I really would just feel cool about it, and not tell my partner I’d felt any other way.
Then, you can’t contain it
Alright the dark, icky feeling wouldn’t go away. So, I finally just started sniffing around. I just needed to ask my partner questions like, “So, is your ex—what’s her name by the way?—is she in a new relationship? How long has she been with that person? Are they happy?” Then he guessed, correctly, and asked, “Does this bother you that we’ll be working together?”
The strength in sarcasm
I didn’t want to confess that it bothered me. So instead, I said things like, “No! Not at all. I mean. I don’t think anyone says gee do I sure hope my partner works with his ex! I don’t think anyone dreams of the situation. And it is bizarre since there are so many people in the world she could have reached out to about this project. But, no, it doesn’t bother me.”
Then he gets defensive
My boyfriend could tell that it clearly bothered me, but he became defensive, because he’s protective of the opportunity. It really is a good one—the type that doesn’t come around often—so he started getting a little cold with me and saying, “Hey, I can’t help how opportunity comes around and I have to take it where I can. I wouldn’t tell you to turn it down, if the tables were turned.”
An attempt at comparison
I was so dead-set on showing my partner that I’m totally rational and normal, and that anyone would respond this way. I said something to the effect of, “Hey, I’ll be fine. I mean, you don’t really know what this feels like, and you couldn’t, unless the tables actually were turned. And I wouldn’t want you to feel the way I feel right now, because it sucks. So I just have to grin and bear it.”
The score keeping
My partner cut me off to say, “How can you say I don’t know how you feel, if you regularly work with and take meetings with men who you tell me flirt with you and make comments about how they wish you were single?” Then he proceeded to remind me of many times I’ve worked—late, alone—with men who he knew were interested in me, and he didn’t tell me not to go, because he wanted to support my career.
It’s not the same
He has to know it’s not the same. My working with men who were just interested in me, but with whom nothing has ever happened, is completely different from him working with an ex whom he has had sex with and once loved. He tried to say that if we trust each other, it’s all part of the same thing. But, I think every woman out there knows that if we, as women, were to stop working with every man who found us attractive, we’d just have to stop working.
The jealousy/embarrassment phase
So then the cat was out of the bag. I had made it clear that I had negative feelings about the situation. And I was furious with myself, because I so badly wanted to be the cool girlfriend who never felt threatened, insecure, or—god forbid—jealous. And I felt deeply embarrassed, like I’d ruined my reputation as the cool girlfriend.
The resentment phase
Then, I was angry. Because, you know what? He sort of put me in this position—the position to feel jealous and embarrassed. I was just sitting around, enjoying my life, and this was shoved into my face. I didn’t ask for any of it. I suddenly deeply resented him for putting me in the position to either remain silent—holding in my feelings for his convenience—or state my feelings, and appear the jealous, crazy girlfriend.
Resenting her, too
I found myself muttering things to myself about his ex like, “Ugh. That dumb bitch. What does she want? Why is she ruining my peaceful existence?” She didn’t know she was doing this—causing this. She was just off somewhere, living her life, completely unaware that her seemingly innocent email just set off a series of unfortunate events in my relationship.
But also, how could she not know?
As a woman, I couldn’t help but think, “Hey, she knows my partner has been in a relationship with another woman for quite some time. Did it never cross her mind that that woman might have feelings about this?” I just grew angrier and angrier because, the two of them—the ones just thinking about their careers and so certain nothing weird is going on beyond that—just got to enjoy feeling calm, chill, and ambitious, while driving me insane.
Talking to friends
Naturally, I started consulting my friends. I had the calm friends, who said, “Well, they dated a very long time ago, and you do trust him, right? He just bought a condo with you, he’s clearly committed to you. So, there’s really nothing to worry about.” And I had the friends who said, “Ooooh. I wouldn’t like that. I totally get where you’re coming from. That would make me so uncomfortable. It’s messed up he’d put you in that position.”
My boyfriend came around
So we spent a couple of days kind of ignoring each other around the house, until my boyfriend came around and said, “Look, even though I know you have nothing to worry about, I am not stupid, and can see how this wouldn’t be your favorite situation. Any normal human would have some reaction to it.” I needed to hear him say that.
Anger exhaustion/releasing control
I love my partner, and I honestly got tired of being angry and jealous and resentful. I realized I was ruining our relationship over…nothing. A ghost. Something that wasn’t real. I also realized that, this is just a test—it’s testing the strength of our bond and our loyalty to one another. If it weren’t for this, there would be another test life throws our way. So I can’t sit here, angry that I don’t get to control this—to stop this. I can’t control or stop life at all. I just have to release it, and trust him. I don’t know that it will be okay, but that is always true about life. You just have to live with the information in front of you.