Q: My 21-year-old son just broke up with his girlfriend of five years. He said it was mutual, and I’m not surprised. They’re moving in different directions and have different ideas of what the future holds for each. I understand and accept that. My problem is that I (and our extended family) loved her very much. She was part of our family. I asked my son if he would mind if I contacted her. I want to tell her we understand, hold nothing against her, and wish her luck. My son has asked that I do not contact her – “It will just make things worse.” This is killing me. I cry every time I think of her and feel like it would help me move on. Is this just a 21-year-old’s lack of emotional maturity? I won’t go behind his back, but I don’t know if I should give it time and ask him again, or let it go and wait for the sorrow to soften.
A: I’m sorry. Your loss is real and it’s one that often gets overlooked. Few even think about the families in a breakup or divorce, much less take a moment to help them deal with their loss.
The reason for that is built into your decision to ask your son before contacting his ex. This is about his life, not yours.
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Most parents and even siblings go through this at some point. It’s even harder when you think your child/sib is making a mistake in breaking up with someone (you’re lucky in this respect). But no matter how close, how heartbroken or even how right any family member or other bystander might be, it’s not your life. So you settle into your back seat and resist the impulse to drive.
Over the years you built your own relationship with this girlfriend, which makes her also a part of your life, and with any luck you will grow attached to other women he brings home. And of course we all have a fundamental right to associate with people of our choosing. As such you have some right to stay in touch with your son’s ex(es) if you and she both would like that — but not now, not yet, not when your son has asked you to respect the recovery process.
You certainly can ask again later. It might even be easier if you prepare him for that now. “I will respect your wishes — that’s why I asked. When things feel less raw, though, I’d like to discuss it again. In the meantime, please tell her we understand, love her and wish her the best.”
Except in cases where an ex has mistreated your son, time will elevate your right to choose your friends above your son’s right to impose these emotional embargoes. We’re talking months or years, though, not weeks.
Last thing: No matter when that time comes, you can’t fairly expect this ex-couple (or anyone else) to assume responsibility for your feelings. Your contacting the ex has to be with the intent to offer her some warmth or healing, not to secure it for you.
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