Do High School Girlfriends Pose a Threat 40 Years Later?

My husband’s 40th high school reunion is coming up and while he is super excited about it, I am less so. Since he is on the committee, this has put him back in touch with his old girlfriend, who is also on the committee. There are emails including “Do you remember?” flying back and forth and he’d like us to get together before the reunion with this lady and her husband. I would rather have a root canal.

I don’t think anything is going on behind my back, but I do think talking to someone he still pictures as a seventeen-year-old ‘hottie’ is making him feel youthful and excited about a woman who isn’t me. That makes me feel old, and bowed down by practical concerns (taking care of OUR children and OUR home and OUR financial realities). He is living in the past rather than in our—other than this, pretty wonderful—present.

Do I just smile and put up with this or is there something I can and should do?

Melissa D.

Dear Melissa,

Well, first of all, you should support some of the single-sex religious schools in your area that discourage dating before one is ready for marriage. We are only being somewhat facetious. Past emotional and/or physical involvements greatly complicate any marriage.

Modern studies bear out the timeless truths of ancient Jewish wisdom. For a woman, her husband’s involvement with another woman, even if “only” emotional and psychological, is a real form of betrayal. In this area, men are different and a man may have trouble understanding that defending himself to his wife by saying, “I’ve never even met her,” doesn’t help much. That is one of the reasons why pornography is such a threat to marriage, whether it was the Playboy centerfold of the 60s or today’s more personal and graphic type. It is irrelevant and clueless for a man to say, “But I didn’t have an affair.” His actions might not technically qualify as an affair in a court of law, but a marriage that must rely solely on legalities like that is in peril.

However, you are not in charge of reorganizing society. You need to deal with the here and now. Let’s start with trying to remove some of the emotion—we know that is easier said than done. At a minimum you are frustrated, angry, embarrassed and resentful. Responding from an emotional place, however, rarely yields the best results. Your husband is in the wrong, but he is really easy to understand. He didn’t seek this woman out nor did he try to see her privately. While our society puts a lot of emphasis on the travails of aging women, men’s egos also take a real hit as they age, go bald, acquire a paunch, have less stamina and maybe are even becoming increasingly threatened in their jobs. The past, no matter how unrealistically it is viewed, can make an appealing fantasy to both sexes.

We are going to make an assumption that your husband has Godly friends and leadership in his life. The men with whom he associates are not encouraging him to get a divorce or have an affair. In fact, he might be slightly embarrassed if they knew that he was excited at seeing a past girlfriend even under the most chaste circumstances.

What can you do? We urge you to be straightforward and honest. Do not assume that if you frown when he mentions this woman, he will understand what you are feeling. Don’t say, “That would be nice,” when he talks about getting together in the hope that he will forget about it as the reunion gets closer. Don’t sulk and pout in an attempt to send subliminal messages. Most men are about as good at decoding wives’ subliminal messages as they are at ballet dancing.

Pick an appropriate time and explain to your husband clearly, kindly and without drama that you love him, value your marriage and feel hurt when he pursues even a distant relationship with another woman. Emphasize that you know that he would never do anything to physically betray his vows but that you think your emotions are both valid and reasonable. You might even have an article or two on this topic available for him to read. State what you would like to see happen. Perhaps you would like that he and she never have side conversations apart from the entire reunion committee. State that you do not want to get together for a meal with this woman and her husband, and that all contact should cease after the reunion. Ask your husband if he thinks this is reasonable and, if not, what does he suggest? Do you need an outside mediator?

Meanwhile, ask yourself what you can do both to add spice to your marriage and also to empathize with your husband. Are you prioritizing your role as wife over your role as mother and grandmother (if applicable)? Are the two of you growing together by sharing new hobbies, reading material and expanding your interests together? Are you granting him the empathy and compassion you would want him to grant you if you were going through a tough time? Are you focusing on and reminding yourself of your husband’s wonderful qualities? Remember that there is so much more to you than your children, your home and your financial realities that you described in your question. What your husband first fell for those years ago didn’t include children, home and financial realities.

The type of situation you describe is one that all young couples should discuss at the time that their relationship is still new and exciting. Guiding ourselves by the Biblical values of ancient Jewish wisdom, we know that platonic friendships between men and women are about as real as unicorns. We also know that retaining or renewing contact with ex-romantic interests is just plain wrong. The seventh commandment covers a catalog of activities, not a specific type of infidelity. The marriage relationship is holy and sacred and deserves the protection that we give to any precious part of our lives.

May you have many wonderful years ahead,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


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