Saturday, May 2, 2009

Is the Past just the past? Or is it something more?

A friend of ours recently came into a problem that I'm sure in the age of facebook and twitter is becoming more and more common.

A former girlfriend of her husband's contacted them.

The email I got read like this:

P didn't hide the communication from me. In fact, he called me right over to the computer and showed me the message when he opened his inbox. Something in my heart kind of sank. I know our marriage is strong, I just didn't think I would experience jealousy over someone he dated so long ago. I realize this person lives far away and is probably just trying to be friendly but in my heart I am freaking out about this. P thought it was strange she would contact him now, and told me it does make him a little uncomfortable because of how much time had passed and the fact that they did not part on the best of terms. I spoke with S, P's best friend, who also thinks that she is probably just trying to be friendly and reassured me I had nothing to worry about, he had never seen P as happy as he has been since we met and married. Why am I being so insecure?

My first answer, you feel insecure because you love your husband and you don't want to think that he may have for a second considered anyone other than you. I have been able to find out since I got that original email that this is someone that this friend's husband dated more than ten years before he met his wife, so there has been plenty of time (they have been married just under five years and have a set of twins) since he has had contact with this person.

It is hard to say why this ex-girlfriend has decided to try and reconnect now. Perhaps she feels badly about the relationship ending on bad terms and just wants to make a clean break. Maybe she is just being friendly. And there always does exist the option that perhaps she is trying to rekindle the past. But we really can't know for sure without asking outright and do we know if we can trust her answer?

It appears clear that this husband is not quite sure how to proceed. He feels awkward but did not hesitate to show his wife which I consider a merit for him. To me it shows a value of the marriage and her part in it as well as her feelings. Many men might have just deleted it which may or may not be a bad thing. Many more might have corresponded or read it and then waited to show their wives, which I think is a bit disrespectful of the marriage.

I think this begs a bigger question though. Can we ever leave the past in the past? Santayana says those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. And of course, we should try and learn from past mistakes and successes. I have written about what I feel is the futility of the high school reunion, to recapture days that are gone 10 years or more. But what of past relationships our spouses have had? I wish I could just tell my friend that she should just get over it that her husband chose her. The fact is though, that no matter how confident we feel in our marriages, something like this can shake it a bit. How wonderful it would be if we could marry a person we fell in love with at a young age knowing that neither of us ever had any sort of romantic feelings for another person. How wonderful if we all had the unshakeable confidence in ourselves that would allow us to just shrug something like this off.

I asked another friend of mine who does not know the couple involved what she thought. She has been in a few long-term relationships but never married. She said she felt that the past should stay in the past. She went onto elaborate that she felt if she were in the same situation as the wife here, she would expect her husband to take her feelings into primary consideration when he decides whether to correspond. She also went onto say that if she was the ex-girlfriend and was solely interested in just being friendly she would avoid talking about the "good ol' days" and keep things just light and somewhat formal. Since I don't know the exact nature of what was said in the email in question, I can't say for sure what the intent was.

I don't think there is an easy solution to this situation. And I reserve judgment on my friend's insecurities, because they surprised her and I believe this is another situation in which we don't know how we would feel unless we were directly confronted. We must believe in the sanctity and strength of our marriage and if communication between the spousees is open, I believe that chances are better the marriage would survive even an old boyfriend or girlfriend trying to pry into it instead of just being friendly. One thing is for sure though, I don't think I've met the last person who will find him or herself in this situation as we become more easily connected in this age of electronic communication.

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