Dear Ann Cannon • My boyfriend has only dated women in his friend group (they’re all from Davis County) that he’s known for 20 years or more. I’m the first person he’s dated outside this friend group. This causes problems, as his last two girlfriends are really close to each other, so there was no trouble with hanging out with the group after their subsequent breakups. He struggles having me do things with this friend group because he’s worried I’ll be upset about these women and their closeness and that I’ll feel left out. He’s not wrong — I do feel left out — but I’m confident in our relationship to not feel threatened by either woman.

How do I let these old friendships stay as they are, but manage to be friends with them as well? And also, why do people think it makes them “more evolved” as human beings if they remain friends with their exes?

Out of the Friend Loop

Dear New Friend • There’s a fair amount to unpack here. I’ll try to give your question my best shot. Here are a few observations:

  1. Give yourself credit for recognizing the importance of these long-established friendships to your boyfriend. Also give yourself credit for not going all Yoko Ono on them with an eye to breaking up the band.
  2. I don’t know your boyfriend. I do wonder, however, if he’s being just a little bit disingenuous when he tells you he doesn’t want you to hang out with the “band” because he worries YOUR feelings will be hurt by the presence of his ex-girlfriends. I suspect it’s just easier for him not to mess with a group dynamic that’s comfortable for him and his friends. I’m not being critical of him necessarily. It is hard to introduce new members into any group, which is why relations with new in-laws can be tricky, for example.
  3. On the other hand, I do think you’re within your rights to expect inclusion in the group’s activities. When you do join in, be a friendly, low-key presence at first. As a friend of mine once said, it’s better to just get your toes wet when entering a new group instead of shouting, “Clear the decks!” and doing a cannonball right in the middle of them. Sadly, over-eagerness invariably drives people away. It will take time, of course, but my guess is that you’ll eventually be viewed as one of the group, too — or at least an honorary member.
  4. On the other other hand, I don’t think it’s a bad idea for you to give your boyfriend enough space to hang out with old friends by himself sometimes.
  5. But! If he’s serious about you and your relationship, he should be spending more time with you than he does with his old friends.

The most intriguing part of your question — to me, at least — is your last sentence: “Why do people think it makes them ‘more evolved’ as human beings if they remain friends with their exes?” Maybe I’m wrong, but I think I detect a little heat behind your question. Is it possible that the presence of ex-girlfriends in your boyfriend’s life is more problematic than you care to admit? I do think that in most cases, it’s a good thing if exes can arrive at a place where they’re at least civil to one another. But still. Having TWO of them around regularly can’t be easy. It’s certainly OK for you to acknowledge that. Meanwhile, remember that your own worth is intrinsic and that you don’t need them — or a boyfriend — to validate that. Ever.

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