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Welcome to Tough Love. We answer your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advisor is Blair Braverman, dog sled racer and author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Do you have a question of your own? Write to us at [email protected]
I’ve been with my boyfriend for about a year and a half. When we started dating the pandemic hit, we really were nowhere but visiting his family about four hours away to sit around the house and visit his parents in the state. We have been talking lately about going to Europe, but we haven’t made any concrete plans.
Meanwhile, his ex-girlfriend, who has lived for six years, has asked him to go hiking with her next month (eight hours away, in a different state) and he has not consented, but says he is “thinking about it” despite the fact that we have no actual travel plans and have literally not left our home state since the beginning of the pandemic. I’m totally devastated not only because she seems to have such an important place in his life as an adventure partner while I’m only a domestic partner, but also because he wants to do the very first thing when we’re vaccinated and out of lockdown is considering traveling with her instead of making plans with me. When I confronted him about this, he insisted it wasn’t a big deal and like he was out with one of his male outdoor friends. But this woman lived with him for almost six years and shared so much of his life, and yet he cannot break his bond with her and insists that he needs her as his traveling buddies in his life.
I know I have restrictions on outdoor activities as I have back pain and have to limit myself to low-impact day hikes and a maximum weight of around 15 pounds. However, he has never tried to work within my limits to see what I could do about outdoor trips and keeps looking at her as his adventure partner. It makes me feel so hurt and like I can never replace her in his life. I even asked him if he could give me some time to condition myself for easy day hikes or maybe an overnight camping trip before he wrote me off as an outdoor travel buddy. But he insists that I would hate camping and hiking (although he never went camping or hiking with me, or even tried to work with my challenges). He’s not even grateful for these compromises I’m trying, and instead insists that I be mischievous and take the opportunity to take an outdoor trip away from someone who would really enjoy (that someone is his) ex- Girlfriend) but I think this whole thing just goes to show that he has an unnatural bond with her and will always see her as the person in his life to share adventures with while I’m supposed to hold the home front. Believe me, I would never see myself like this, and I’m not sure I can go on with someone who thinks that way of me. Is there any hope for this situation?
You see, is there a world where someone could backpack their ex without threatening or harming their current relationship? Sure, I’ll buy it. Backpacking for two is intense and fairly intimate, but in an ideal world of full, honest communication – and where the non-backpacking partner has a veto over the trip and neither backpacker has any lingering feelings – it could probably work. Is it wise Ah. But people do unwise things all the time, and delicate situations need to be handled as they are: gently.
That is not the case here.
Your boyfriend is planning (1) his first trip abroad without you, his partner who supported him during the pandemic, while (2) consistently prioritizing his ex’s feelings over yours, and (3) making it seem like the problem is would be to your body and (4) you lie about what you do and dislike while preventing you from trying something you might enjoy and (5) accusing you of being unreasonable to have fun yourself.
I think what frustrates me most about this conflict is that your boyfriend twisted the narrative to attribute it all to your physical ability (as if your back pain was forcing him to specifically hike with his ex-girlfriend rather than any of his platonic friends) and not his total refusal to work within what you can actually do – which is quite a lot, frankly! There are definitely outdoor trips, including multi-day outdoor trips, which can be done with short hikes and light backpacks. In fact, your limitations are incredibly normal and entirely workable, unlike its limitations, which at best include an embarrassing lack of empathy and self-awareness.
Can we also talk about him saying that you were “mean” about going camping and “taking away an opportunity from someone who was really enjoying it?” Excuse me? You are not there to enjoy your boyfriend’s ex girlfriend life. It’s not your responsibility to sacrifice your own fun so she can have it instead – with your boyfriend. Together. Without you. The whole thing is a mess of red flags, but even if that comment was the only problem, it would be enough. (To be clear, I don’t blame the ex-girlfriend in this situation. But anyway. I mean, come on.)
I usually try not to take things on when I don’t know the full story, but I would bet money on him being willing to at least meet, if not get back together with, his ex while sticking to her as Insurance in case it doesn’t work out. Not because he thought about packing her with her – that could be well-intentioned forgetfulness too – but because he desperately and cruelly rejected your concerns and invented reasons to keep you from coming. That kind of cruelty – literally getting you to try something you might like (camping and hiking) because he fears you would like it and then have no way of stopping you – is no accident. And it’s not something a person can grow out of without a tremendous amount of emotional work and introspection. I don’t see much to suggest that he deserves the support this work requires, at least not from you.
You asked if there was any hope for this situation. There is absolutely – for you. I hope you can leave this situation (and relationship) with a better sense of what’s negotiable and what isn’t – and committed to treating yourself with the kindness, openness, and understanding that your future ex boyfriend can does not seem to spare.