Hi Dr. NerdLove,
I’ve been reading and enjoying your column for quite a while now. Your advice has been eye-opening and quite informative. I have an unusual situation that I’m feeling lost with and could use your perspective on. It’s about talking to your family after you take back someone who left you.
First, some background. I’m a straight guy in grad school. I was seeing a woman, I’ll call her “T”, I’d met through a job, and there was a big age difference. I’m in my late 20s and she’s in her mid-40s, so there’s just about a full generational gap. When I met her, she was in an abusive marriage for over 10 years to a guy who can best be described as “redneck”, but she was able to leave and divorce the guy. Afterwards, “T” and I hit it off, and we were seeing each other for the better part of 2 years. I never told my parents though. My mother especially would not have approved of me seeing her due to her age. Despite the secrecy, things started well, but became much more one-sided over time. I was still very into her, always wanting to hang out and have her over, but she grew distant. I didn’t notice (or probably rather refused to notice) until she hit me with it all at once: she decided that she needed to date another person to “get things out of her system” (her words). “T” had been spending time with one of her old classmates and decided she liked him enough to put a stop to what we had. Needless to say, I was devastated. I had only been in one relationship prior to her and I was feeling so bad and so out of control that I ended up seeking therapy for the first time in my life, which was and still is extremely helpful.
After the break up, “T” and I decided to try and be friends, which ended up working after I entered therapy and was able to clear my mind and heart. I told my mother about what had happened and while she wasn’t happy, she appreciated I told her. But then, one day, “T” gives me a call and says that she broke things off with whoever she started seeing and wanted to meet up and talk. I agreed, and she was in tears as I talked with her. She told me that she was sorry for leaving, she loved me, and that what she and I had was better than anything she had ever had before. She said she was committed to me now and that she’d never stray again, even going so far as to write me a long letter saying as much. She had never been very emotional before, so I was taken aback by how she was crying.
After some soul-searching I realized I still love “T”, and I agreed to take things slowly with her. The relationship’s been far more equal than it was in those prior months (for example, she asks me to spend time with her as much as the other way around), and she’s been doing everything else in her power to demonstrate that she’s serious about being with me. Things like gifts, long chats and extended time together (while maintaining social distance of course), and stopping all communication with the guy she ran off with, paint a genuine picture of remorse to me. I’ve let her know I appreciate her actions, and I feel closer to her than at any time before. Now though, the problem is telling my family. My mother especially now holds “T” up as “red-flags personified” and expressed how angry she’d be if I ever ended up with her, so I’m not sure how to eventually tell my mother about things. I don’t want to live in a secret relationship forever and want to tell her, but I’m afraid of essentially being kicked out of the family because of how I feel. “T” seems to be genuinely trying to make amends and I still truly love her, but my mother would likely not see it that way and insist that “T” is using me.
I’m lost on what course of action to take. Do I “damn the torpedoes” and tell my mother anyway, or do I heed my mother’s words and break things off with “T” despite how I love her? Like I said, I don’t want to be in a secret relationship, so I’m eventually going to have to go down one of those two paths I outlined above. What’s you take Doc? Or is there something I’m not seeing since I’m directly in it?
Thank you so much for your advice,
Between Two Places