Dear Leather and Lace: John and I have been dating about four months. He’s a year out of a long term relationship with Monica, a woman he lived with for six years. He says he’s totally over her and that she has moved on and is in a relationship with someone else. We get along really well, and it seems like our relationship is going in the right direction to become something serious. But there’s something that worries me. John is constantly comparing me to Monica, from the recipes I cook, to the way I wear my hair, to my laugh, and even to the way I kiss. He isn’t derogatory, but I’m tired of hearing how I’m different from Monica, or how Monica did something I do too, or whatever. It’s Monica, Monica, Monica! Although John says he really cares for me, I can’t shake the feeling that he really still has feelings for Monica and that I’m just a substitute. I don’t want to spend the rest of my days hearing about Monica and being compared to her. Is this relationship doomed?
Alisons’ Take: Everyone over a certain age comes into a new relationship with history, baggage, unresolved issues, and feelings for former loves, but it sounds like John is still the walking wounded. A year out from a long term relationship should be enough for some people to move forward, but in John’s case, it is clear that he is still longing for what he had with Monica. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care for you, but he is still hurt and guarded, and not ready to admit that Monica has moved on and he, clearly hasn’t. If you care for this man, he isn’t going to come to your relationship as a full package. He is damaged and probably on some level, grieving. Time may heal his wounds, but at this point in time, he’s not ready to give his whole heart to you.
As I see it, you have a choice. You can accept whatever affection John can give you, acknowledging the fact that he may never love you as completely as you want. You can wait it out and see if he does heal (because time does heal wounds). If you are patient, he may finally give his heart to you and stop comparing you to a love who is no longer front and center, because that is where you should be, and where you will be. On the other hand, he may never stop comparing you to Monica because he will never love you more than he loves her. You will be his “girl on the side” in his heart and soul, and that is where you will be parked, even if you get him to live with you or marry you. You will come to loathe the sound of “Monica” on his tongue and you will hate her, just because he can’t let her go. Some women might be satisfied with that.
Are you one of those women?
Tony’s Take: The problem here, other than John being an idiot, is that it would appear that John has not been out of the relationship with Monica long enough that the bad times in the relationship are as apparent to him as the good times. In any serious relationship it takes six months plus one month for every year of the relationship to get over it. It is highly unlikely that he waited that long before starting up with you. Also, it is clear that Monica dumped John and not the other way around, which is always harder on the person who comes after.
Although it is bizarre, in a way he is complimenting you. He is identifying in you the things he liked in Monica. He, however, is no prize in that he is uncaring about your feelings and unappreciative of the pain he is causing you.
The biggest single problem in a breakup relationship is the person who has broken up is not aware of what they had in the old partner and doesn’t look for those traits in a new partner. They simply look for the things that were lacking in the old partner. Apparently, he does have an appreciation of what your good qualities are with respect to his former love, even if he has an obnoxious way of telling you.
As far as the long term goes, you must judge whether he is appreciating you for how you actually are. The Monica fascination will fade with time if it is not an obsession. If it fades, then you must evaluate whether he sees and appreciates you as a person, and whether, given the stress, you see a future with him at that point. If the obsession does not fade, then you are correct –., the relationship is doomed and you need to get out. Under no circumstances should you give this man more than year of your life before he appreciates you for your own qualities.