Should I tell my ex-lover?

I'm finally getting married and I wonder what to say

Published June 13, 2013 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I am seeking your advice because I find your letters deeply empathetic and kind, and because they have helped me in many ways over the years. My question is this: Do I tell an ex-love that I am getting married? How do I do it?

Here is some background: I call this man an ex-love because we were never in an exclusive relationship, though we were involved for many years. We had a very intense connection, having very similar emotional temperaments. Early on, I expressed my desire to be in a relationship with him. He made it clear that he didn't want to be in a relationship with me. Being both smart and emotionally healthy, I stayed involved with him for years. However, feeling deeply hurt by his earlier rejection of me (among other things), there were topics I literally never discussed with him in the years we were involved. These topics included how we felt about each other and whether we were seeing other people.

Obviously, I was in love with this man. I don't know if he knew, since we never talked about it, but he's not stupid. And of course I cannot report on how he felt about me, since we also never talked about it. Not that I am saying much to inspire confidence, but I am also not stupid, so I would venture that, as the years went by, his feelings for me increased. I might even venture a guess that he felt very strongly about me. At times. Maybe. I guess?

We stopped being involved gradually, mostly because we both moved away. We missed each other. We saw other people but of course we never discussed it. I went to therapy (not just for this). I became involved with another man, this one entirely open about his love for me, so please don't worry that I am still in the habit of being with people and never discussing our feelings. Not that I don't have problems, but I have definitely seen the error of my ways.

So I am marrying the new guy and I am very happy about it. It took ages but I can think about the ex-guy with affection and without pain. The only thing is, I can't shake off the feeling that I should tell him I am getting married. I want to tell him. We were close for many years, albeit ambiguously. But the untold nature of our feelings is making it hard for me to gauge how to say it to him. Even though we haven't seen each other in a couple of years, it feels insensitive and awkward to just, you know, text him. For my part, I would want him to tell me if he was getting married. How I reacted would be my problem. So ... what would you do (and with what words would you do it) if you were me? I just read over my letter and I know there are greater feats to devote our energies to, but I instinctively feel like you would do a non-harmful, right thing, and I would like to know what that is.

Thank you, Cary, for reading this and for many years of solace in your writings.

How to be?

Dear How to Be,

Telling him you're getting married is a form of goodbye. You have never said goodbye. The affair lingers. If you are getting married, you must face the fact that you and he are not going to be together. It may make both of you sad. But it has to be said.

So write him a beautiful letter. Send it on good stationery.

You can do this. You write well and carefully. Your letter to me is admirable. It is clear, thoughtful and friendly. There is a touch of sadness in it, too. I sense that you and he had a very deep connection. So tell him that it is over and tell him well. Tell him in a way that acknowledges that beyond what is spoken there may be great wellsprings of feeling -- on his side as well as yours. Yet do not say too much. Just be clear that you are getting married and that the long affair, often hazily defined, is definitely over.

Tell your husband, too. Tell him something, at least. He may not want to hear very much. But do not  keep it secret.

Getting married is opening one door and closing others. You must show your husband you have shut this door. Otherwise he will sleep with one eye open.

No matter how well you shut the door, you will notice the light under it when your old lover passes by, which he will from time to time in your mind. He will pass by and turn the light on and you will wonder what he's doing out there on the other side of the door, this special lover who did not want you completely.

It must have been tough to hear him say that he did not want you completely. That is what it means, isn't it, when someone says they don't want a "relationship"? When all your strings are wrung taut and plucked and are singing it seems like nothing else would do but a complete and utter giving of the self. So when someone says no, not the whole thing, just this piece, that piece, it hurts -- if you differ. And you did differ. You wanted the whole thing. He just wanted a piece.

So I would guess that it will linger. You will notice light under the door from time to time. Just let him walk by.

Now, on the practical side, here is a question: Would you invite him to your wedding? Would that be too strange? Would he come? Give some thought to that. I sense not but still, it's best to give even the unlikely scenarios some thought.

Another practical matter: After the wedding, would you want any kind of contact with him? For instance, including him in annual announcements or greetings might be appropriate. Perhaps you could send him a birthday card on his birthday. Would that be too friendly?

Just think about it. What is your future relationship going to be? How will you refer to him -- as an old friend, a former colleague, someone you used to know? In the decades to come, social and professional conditions may throw you together. If you attended school together, or were in the same line of work, your paths may cross. If that is foreseeable, perhaps you should maintain some pro-forma correspondence in preparation for such a time.

Just be careful. This was a major love and one senses it has not completely gone away.

You want your husband to sleep with both eyes closed.

By Cary Tennis

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