My husband died four years ago, and my current boyfriend is divorced.
To make our relationship work, we needed to get comfortable with uncomfortable situations.
His ex came with us on a trip to Disney, and he came with me to a wedding on my husband's side.
In March, my boyfriend, Evan, invited my kids and me to Disney World for his son's first Disney experience. He had planned the trip with his ex-wife, despite the divorce, for the sake of their son.
When I told my friends I was going to Disney World with my boyfriend's ex-wife, their eyes went wide. They wished me luck and made me promise to tell them all about it when I got home in the same breath.
I understood the reaction. The words "vacation," "boyfriend," and "ex-wife" are not traditionally grouped together. It's a recipe for disaster — or, at least, for discomfort.
I agreed to go despite that discomfort. He wanted my kids and me there to share in the memories; to be a part of something his son would remember forever. I chose to make myself comfortable in the uncomfortable because it was important to him.
He supports me around my late husband's family
Just a few short months later, Evan and I attended a wedding for my late husband's cousin, and Evan danced the night away alongside my husband's family.
When I told friends that Evan was coming to the wedding, each one lowered their voice and asked if he was comfortable spending time with my in-laws. I told them I hoped so, but either way, he'd decided to come because he knew staying close to my late husband's family is important to me. He chose to make himself comfortable in the uncomfortable to support me.
Coming face to face with your new partner's former partner is, to put it simply, uncomfortable. It's awkward, even when there are no hard feelings on either end. It's like looking into a mirror that's been warped by time and space, seeing a version of a future that could have been, but wasn't.
During the entirety of my marriage, I never looked into that mirror. When my husband and I started our life together, our former partners ceased to play a role in it. There was no overlap between our past relationships and our current one; we didn't have to learn how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.
I'm a widow and he's divorced, so there's no escaping our pasts
Evan and I don't have that luxury. I'm a widow with two young kids — my late husband will always be in the room. Evan's a divorced dad with a young son — cooperatively co-parenting with his ex-wife will always be a priority. He and I will constantly come to face to face with the other's former partner — or the ghost of them, as the case may be. The overlap between our pasts and presents will always be there, an uncomfortable space we can choose to lean into or avoid.
I would have understood if Evan had said "no" to a wedding with my late husband's family; it's uncomfortable to hear stories about your girlfriend's dead husband. Evan would have understood if I'd chosen not to go to Disney; it's awkward to be in vacation mode with your boyfriend's ex-wife.
We both chose to learn to be comfortable in the uncomfortable. Because those uncomfortable encounters are more than uncomfortable encounters with each other's former partners; they're parts of the story that made us who we are today and shaped us into the partners we are to each other. They're also often the parts that need the most support. Evan's presence at the wedding gave me strength; I hope mine at Disney did the same for him.
The truth we found is that the uncomfortable feeling fades fast, and once it does, you're left only with the feelings of love and support when you need them the most.
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