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An old boyfriend wants to meet: What’s a married woman to do?

The question

I'm a woman in my early 60s. I've been happily married for 37 years and have raised a grown family. Recently a boyfriend from my youth, my last relationship before I met and married my husband, phoned me. We had had a loving, healthy relationship in our early 20s, but he moved to California and we hadn't spoken in four decades. He said he'd be in town on business the next day and wanted to know if we could meet. I said that we could discuss a possible meeting tomorrow in the morning, as it was already evening. When I mentioned it to my husband he was upset that I would even think of going to meet him. He left it to me to decide. In the morning when he phoned. I said I couldn't meet and was quite short with him. Was it inappropriate to think of meeting him, or was it unkind to barely speak with him?

The answer

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Well, first of all, please accept my congratulations on being happily married for 37 years. That is a magnificent achievement, in this day and age, in my opinion.

Now, I know a lot of people might say "What's the big deal with meeting some dude she hasn't seen for 40 years?" But part of me wonders if your excessive punctilio vis à vis your marriage might not be part of the reason for its longevity and placidity.

So my hat's (metaphorically) off to you for being so concerned about your husband's feelings.

Now, you should know, I'm a bit of a freak about these things. It comes of being married to a woman who is a) full of gravitas, b) imbued with a winning personality, c) a bombshell. Do I keep a gimlet eye on her at all times? Better believe it, bub.

I trust her implicitly, but at the same time, I understand the true nature of men. What am I talking about? Hint: It can be rrrruf! to be a guy. All the pressures and responsibilities can really drive you through the woof! Or as my old bike mechanic Igor (who had a pit bull that could jump up, latch onto the bottom branch of a tree with its jaws, and just hang there) used to say: "Men are like dogs. You wave a piece of meat in front of them, they will snatch at it, no matter how much you beat them after."

So everywhere my wife Pam goes, she's surrounded by invisible motion sensors, laser beams, and proximity alarms.

Every once in a while some dude will float a trial balloon over her horizon. Take a shot. I don't blame them, in a way. But I'm like: "Detected by Viper. Stand back!"

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(Remember those car alarms?)

And, to tell you the truth, it's the most innocuous seeming invites that set off my doggie-detection alarm systems the most.

Like say some dude wants to meet her for "afternoon coffee" (which has happened). Sounds innocent, right? Not to me. First: why coffee? Second: why the afternoon? Could it be he's thinking in the depths of his canine cranial cavity: "Woof, woof, coffee's a perfect smokescreen. Rowf, we'll go somewhere that also serves chardonnay and I'll quickly suggest a switch. And, ruff ruff, meeting in the afternoon could pave the way for future daytime rendezvous about which no one need be the wiser, especially her arf-arf doofus of a husband."

In short, I think you did the right thing. Of course, there probably would have been no harm in meeting him, and I don't think you need have been "short" with him. But if it made your husband uncomfortable – well, he's the dude you have to deal with on a daily basis.

This ex is in town – what? Once every four decades? I wouldn't worry too much about hurting his feelings.

Paradoxically, I suppose, it may be a little off for your husband to become upset with you just for wanting to get together with a boyfriend from 40 years in your past. I do think you made the right choice – but I also think it should be yours alone to make. I like to keep an eye on my wife, but it would be both futile and foolish for me to attempt to curtail her activities and independence in any way.

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Going forward, if you felt bad, I suppose you could reach out and apologize to your ex – but really, toward what end? I mean, I understand: You're curious, you wonder how that person turned out.

But me, I resist the impulse even to Google my old exes. I want to remember them the way the were: young and fun, full of sprezzatura and joie de vivre and loving me. Why would I want to spoil those beautiful, sepia-tinted, gilt-edged memories with the cold douche of reality?

Let the past remain the past, I say, and recede in the rear-view the way it's supposed to. Onward into the glistening future!

What am I supposed to do now?

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