Hello, world. My name's Stephen LaConte, and this is Hey Stephen — a cozy little corner of the internet where BuzzFeed readers like you can DM me for advice.
Today, we've got this woman, who used to work at the same job as her 31-year-old boyfriend, and would occasionally question his interactions with their 19-year-old coworker. They've since broken up, and she recently discovered that her ex is now dating this 19-year-old, despite his repeated claims that he had no interest in her. Should she confront him or let this go? Here's what she wrote to me via Instagram:
I think you're right to be skeeved out by your ex's new relationship — and not just because it's with your former coworker. An age difference between two consenting adults who want to date isn't inherently wrong or immoral, but both partners in that relationship should examine their dynamic closely, and ask serious questions about whether they're well matched in terms of maturity, and whether the younger person is at risk of being exploited. In this case, it's not only the age difference between a 31-year-old and a 19-year-old that raises eyebrows; there's also the fact your ex spent years with this person when she was a minor. And given that he's her much older coworker, I have to wonder whether he wields any sort of power over her on the job. It's not a crime for your ex to date this 19-year-old, but it sure is worthy of thorough scrutiny.
So, you're wondering whether you should confront your ex about all this. My answer to that is a firm maybe — but it depends on what your intentions for that conversation would be. Do you have a clear objective in mind?
For example, if your objective is to call out your ex for his apparent lies to you over the past year, by all means, go for it. His new relationship has some undeniable and painful intersections with your past relationship. You have every right to be angry about that, and to articulate that anger out loud to him. You also have a right to some answers here. Clearly, there are lingering questions about what, exactly, he was doing with this coworker in the final months of your relationship. You deserve the truth about that, if you want it.
On the other hand, if your objective here is to simply call out your ex for dating a much younger person, I have to wonder whether that would be the best use of your valuable time and energy. Unless you're worried that he might have been secretly dating this person when she was a minor (which you didn't mention as a concern in your DM, so I'll assume it's not the case), then disapproving of their relationship is more a matter of personal taste than objective wrongdoing. You find it gross, and so do I, but is there any real benefit in saying that to him? Is he likely to care whether his ex approves of his new girlfriend? Or would he just dismiss your criticisms as jealousy?
Likewise, if your objective in confronting this guy is to protect the 19-year-old girlfriend, I think that's a noble goal, but one that would ultimately prove fruitless. This woman may be young, but she's an adult and entitled to make her own choices about who she dates. I sincerely hope she has trusted people in her life — friends, family, other coworkers at this job — who are looking out for her, urging her to be careful, and pointing out all the red flags as they inevitably pop up. But you, as the ex-girlfriend of this man, are probably not the right person for that job. Your motives, pure and good as they may be, are likely to be questioned. And it's hard for you to be a neutral observer to their relationship when you've also been burned by it.
At the end of the day, I think a conversation about this is only worth it if your objective is to gain clarity or closure on your own relationship with this man. If the objective is to intervene on his new relationship in some way, understandable as that impulse may be, it's likely to backfire. And if you can't think of any clear objective in confronting him, well, maybe that's the sign you need not to do it. You've already given seven years of your life to this person; I don't think you should give him one more second of it, unless it would be productive to your healing.
Let's end with the silver lining to this mess: You're no longer dating a guy who sure sounds like a liar and a creep, and who thinks he's finally met his match with a teenager. It can't be fun to find out that your ex is dating the much younger coworker who he swore up and down he had no interest in. But the upside here is that you now have a much clearer picture of who your ex is, and a whole new list of reasons why you should not be with him. It sucks, but it sure beats learning the truth after he put that ring on your finger. Count your blessings that you're no longer dating this guy, or working with him and his new girlfriend. I think you dodged more than a few bullets. Good luck. I'm rooting for you.
Last week, we heard from this woman, who caught her husband sending flirty messages to another woman on their wedding anniversary. Two years later, they're in a better place, but she no longer wants to celebrate their anniversary given her associations with it. The big day is fast approaching — what should she do? Here's what she wrote to me via Instagram:
I wish your husband were the one writing to me, because this seems like it should be his problem to solve, not yours. Your husband is the one who violated your marriage, who gave your anniversary this new and unfortunate meaning. And ultimately, he's the one responsible for making it right — which includes figuring out how to salvage a day that was once so special to you until he ruined it. As the anniversary approaches, he should be asking himself — and you — some serious questions about how to best support you through it. I hope he is.
So, let's start here: You are absolutely allowed to sit this anniversary out, if that's what you want to do. By no means should you be forced to fake your way through some big, sappy, romantic celebration just for the sake of sweeping your husband's betrayal under the rug. You can be sad on your anniversary. You can be angry on your anniversary. All that matters is that you're honest and upfront about how you're feeling as the dreaded date approaches. Don't shield your husband from the consequences of his own actions. Let him face them head-on, and reckon with them.
And honestly, I think it would be productive for your husband to know the truth about how you're feeling right now. You two have come a long way in the past two years, but it's clear from your DM that you're not out of the woods yet — you say that you wonder every day whether he's betraying you again, and that you need to have access to his text messages in order to feel safe. Without a doubt, there's more healing that needs to happen here, and your husband should be aware of that. If he's expecting a perfectly normal and blissful anniversary celebration just like any other, then he's missing the point. More importantly, he's missing out on an opportunity to support you, to show up for you, to prove that he's invested in fixing this no matter what it takes.
It's also worth considering the ways you might be able to acknowledge this anniversary, without celebrating it. Clearly, you're both invested in your marriage, or you wouldn't still be here two years later fighting for it. Are there things you can do on your anniversary that affirm your love and commitment to each other, without glossing over the harsh reality of what happened? Here are three ideas for how you might observe this year's anniversary with honesty, authenticity, and no heart-shaped boxes of chocolates:
1) Go to therapy together: Have the two of you ever considered doing couples counseling? If not, maybe this year's anniversary is the perfect opportunity to schedule your first session. A therapist might be able to help you work through some of those lingering trust issues you've described, and open up better lines of communication between the two of you. If both of you are willing to invest the time and money into counseling sessions together, I think that would be a much more meaningful anniversary gift than, say, flowers or jewelry.
2) Write letters to each other: The past two years have undoubtedly been quite a journey for both of you. Maybe you can use this anniversary to reflect on that by writing letters to one another. You can each share what your healing or atonement experience has been like, list the reasons you're still standing here today, and describe your hopes, dreams, and even worries for your future together. Maybe this anniversary can be one of genuine reflection instead of a party.
3) Create a fresh start at home: Is there a big project that the two of you have been putting off for a while now? Perhaps you've been meaning to repaint the bedroom, or reorganize the kitchen, or finally start that garden in your backyard. Maybe your anniversary can be the day you two finally cross that project off your to-do list. You'd get to spend some real time together (and hopefully distract yourself from the day's unpleasant memories) without needing to do the whole song and dance of an anniversary celebration. As a bonus, you'd end the day with some sort of physical reset of your living space — it could be a fresh start, literally and metaphorically.
And if none of the above options appeal to you, it's also perfectly valid to do nothing at all when the anniversary day rolls around. A healthy relationship is not made by having some fancy candlelit dinner one night of the year; it's made by being honest, respectful, and decent to your partner 365 days a year. Let that be your focus — and, more specifically, your husband's focus. Good luck. I'm rooting for both of you.
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