Carolyn Hax: He’s troubled that girlfriend is so close to exes

Dear Carolyn: I’m a 45-year-old divorced male, and I’ve been dating a divorced woman for three months. We really have trust, love and respect for each other.

Over a year ago, she broke up with a guy she dated for 21/2 years. They weren’t friends originally after the breakup, but through a shared hobby, they became friends again.

The ex-boyfriend never had kids, and he bonded with her boys, 12 and 15. He attends their football and baseball games. I’ve never felt she was doing something behind my back; she’s not that type of person.

Last Sunday, I was going to her son’s football game for the first time. She said: “You might even meet ‘Tom’ today.” She could tell this really bothered me because I’ve expressed in the past that this isn’t normal. Halfway through the game, I noticed she kept looking to her right and realized he was sitting a good distance in that direction.

The next day, I did voice that this has bothered me and that I didn’t find it normal. I actually like her ex-husband. He is the father to her boys, and I feel he is the one I need to respect, not the ex-boyfriend. Her reply was that I was being unreasonable and they are just friends.

Am I being unreasonable with expecting a chance to build our relationship without the ex-boyfriend in the picture?

– B.

Dear B.: You’re a bit old for answer-shopping.

I do agree somewhat, and sympathize; starting a relationship with two exes asking you to pass the salt is not for the faint of self.

But I don’t agree much beyond that. For one, I don’t care about “normal”; I care about healthy. I can’t say from here whether Tom’s relationship with this woman or her kids is healthy, but if close observation gave me cause for alarm, I’d speak up, and if it gave me no cause for alarm, I’d shut up. A friendship between a paired-off woman and a single man is not in itself a pearl-clutching offense.

I believe implicitly that the people “I need to respect” in loved ones’ lives are the ones they choose. I don’t get to decide which people are or aren’t important to someone. I can dislike them all if I want to, avoid them even, but I still have to respect their relationship to the person I love.

As for her game-day glances? Maybe some couple-embers still glow. Or maybe your being freaked out freaked her out. You must decide whether your and her rules can co-exist. The best way to see if you can live with something (as long as it’s not abusive or criminal) is to open your mind and try.