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While I was looking for a new notebook, I found my boyfriend's notebook of old love letters from his ex


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I was rifling through our shared desk drawer, thought this notebook might be new, and then discovered it wasn't. It's a notebook that has some handwritten love letters from his ex. They were college sweethearts and broke up almost 10 years ago because she moved for a job. I know I shouldn't have read them at all, but I skimmed the first one - very romantic and sweet. I am a little uncomfortable that he kept the notebook. We even recently cleaned our apartment and he threw away a bunch of things because of the "clutter", including a stamp collection he had since he was a kid and birthday cards from his family and friends.

My boyfriend regards her as the one that got away. He told me that it took him 6 years to get over her and start dating again. I don't plan on bringing this up to him. I put the notebook right back where I found it. I recognize that my behavior is a type of retroactive jealousy and that many people keep mementos from past relationships, though. Is it normal for me to feel uncomfortable? What should I do to cope with my retroactive jealousy? Or, what should I do in general?

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Can I ask how old you guys are and how long you’ve been together? Also curious: How would you have described your relationship prior to this discovery? Solid, moving in the right direction, or did you have anything you were concerned about?

Your discomfort is understandable, human. At the same time so is his keeping those letters. I personally wouldn’t place much meaning on that; if anything I’d be unnerved in your shoes that your boyfriend is still referring to an ex as the one that got away. Is that his actual language, or your interpretation?

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Cope with it by being a mature adult -you snooped and as a result you can't unsee what you saw.  I think it's fine he kept it -memories from his past.  I probably have old stuff like that too somewhere.  Do you trust him in general? I'd react to the feelings by not saying a thing to him -it's not his fault, it's not his problem for you to burden him with.  

Don't look for problems.  

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Some people tend to keep old things much more than others. Personally, it’s a red flag if someone isn’t able to let go of old items of the past. I generally steer clear as we won’t get along. I don’t share the sentimental links to the past that some might.

It’s more disturbing that he refers to her as the one that got away. 

If you are certain you enjoy being around him then trust that he’s not doing anything to hurt you. How is your relationship in other areas? Do you share similarities or similar hopes for the future? How long have you been dating?

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Not sure how long you two have been together but I'm guessing a good while since you're living together.

Yes, I feel it is normal for people to keep some things from their past.  He already admitted to you that it took him a long while to feel he was over her ( 6 yrs?).  Then I think he is over her enough now in order to feel good enough with you!

So, I'd let it go.  I have much of my own memorabilia of my past.  Doesn't mean I'm still stuck on them. Is just a part of me.  I'd expect no assumptions or judgement because of it.

Try to see it as all okay.  He has moved on.  he is with you. ( unless you are questioning some things?). If not, then carry on.  Leave it be.

 

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I guess because I’m a little different when it comes to memorabilia. I see more why you’re hurt. After my decade long relationship I got rid of everything the next day. I didn’t see the point and it helped me move on. So I can see why this is awkward for you. The fact that he keeps all of the letters along with saying she’s the one that got away. It has me concerned he hasn’t fully moved on from her. I had a dear friend who discovered her boyfriend’s past love letters. She and I were house sitting his house and dog while he was on a trip. 
 

I remember telling her at the time. If it makes you uncomfortable, ask questions. If he doesn’t understand or gets upset. Then that’s on him. 
 

my advice for you is the same. You won’t know unless you ask. Theres the reality of the letters and then there’s the thoughts inside your head. 

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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, lifescucumber said:

I was rifling through our shared desk drawer, thought this notebook might be new, and then discovered it wasn't. It's a notebook that has some handwritten love letters from his ex. They were college sweethearts and broke up almost 10 years ago because she moved for a job. I know I shouldn't have read them at all, but I skimmed the first one - very romantic and sweet. I am a little uncomfortable that he kept the notebook. We even recently cleaned our apartment and he threw away a bunch of things because of the "clutter", including a stamp collection he had since he was a kid and birthday cards from his family and friends.

My boyfriend regards her as the one that got away. He told me that it took him 6 years to get over her and start dating again. I don't plan on bringing this up to him. I put the notebook right back where I found it. I recognize that my behavior is a type of retroactive jealousy and that many people keep mementos from past relationships, though. Is it normal for me to feel uncomfortable? What should I do to cope with my retroactive jealousy? Or, what should I do in general?

People asking clarifying questions:

We're in our 30s and have been dating for about a year and a half. We've always had problems with trust in our relationship. Not for cheating or anything like that, but because he wasn't honest about his past with me, and because he was pretty terrible at honoring commitments when we started dating. Inconsistent behavior and half-truths led to my distrust, but we are working on this.

Of course, something like this wouldn't have bothered me if we had relationship with minimal arguments, but we have been rocky for the past few months due to the issues above. I'll also be candid and say I don't appreciate the comments to the effect of "stop going through other people's things" -- hello, we live together. It was in our shared desk.

Like I said in the original post, I don't plan on bringing this up to him because I think retroactive jealousy is something I need to deal with on my own, but I understand why some people are suggesting that I do. But thank you for the people who validated that it's normal to feel uncomfortable (and like I said, I know it's normal for people to keep memorabilia as well). Looking at the brighter side of reality is super helpful, as some of you pointed out. He's with me now, and we are living together. He's happy with me, and we have very deep feelings for each other.

If any of you also struggle with jealousy and have methods of coping with it on your own, please let me know! I am not going to let this add to the pile of things we argue about.

Edited by lifescucumber
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4 hours ago, lifescucumber said:

We've always had problems with trust in our relationship

This provides important context, as does this:

4 hours ago, lifescucumber said:

Inconsistent behavior and half-truths led to my distrust, but we are working on this.

Of course, something like this wouldn't have bothered me if we had relationship with minimal arguments, but we have been rocky for the past few months due to the issues above.

It sounds like your relationship is not a great one, and your feelings about these old love letters are merely symptoms of the bigger problems between you two. I am therefore not convinced this should be down to you looking to deal with retroactive jealousy, but rather maybe you needing to be more honest with yourself about the true long-term viability of this relationship. 

 

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I find it slightly odd and disrespectful to you that he would keep a notebook of love letters from his ex in a shared drawer where you'd likely see it. If he wants to keep mementos from another woman, can't he keep them in a box in his wardrobe or something? 

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5 hours ago, lifescucumber said:

He's with me now, and we are living together. 

How long have you lived together? Rifling through his stuff indicates the more fundamental incompatibilities and distrust in the relationship.

He is under no obligation to disclose every past relationship detail to you.

Your insecurities are going to eat you alive and snooping, policing and patrolling his stuff won't help that.

Whose place is it? Do you co-own co-lease? What was the reason you moved in together so soon?

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Posted (edited)

This is 100% about you and 0% about him. If you genuinely found it by accident, that’s fine, all that matters is how you react to it. The healthy and secure reaction is to know he lived his life before he met you and there is nothing wrong with that. Or you can let your own personal insecurities that have nothing to do with him eat away at you.
 

If you choose the latter, nothing good will come of it and it will simply bother you at best. At worst it will cause you to say or do something you have no place saying or doing. The notebook means literally nothing in the context of your relationship with him. Your reaction to it is the only thing that holds any significance. I recommend not trying to find problems where none exist. 

Edited by jul-els
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7 hours ago, lifescucumber said:

We're in our 30s and have been dating for about a year and a half. We've always had problems with trust in our relationship. Not for cheating or anything like that, but because he wasn't honest about his past with me, and because he was pretty terrible at honoring commitments when we started dating. Inconsistent behavior and half-truths led to my distrust, but we are working on this.

Unfortunately first impressions are hard to overcome. He was untrustworthy at the start of the relationship and came across as someone dishonest or bent the truth. People lie or omit info when they’re insecure about themselves or how they are perceived by others. 

You decided to stay with someone flawed in this way so owning your distrust of him would also be owning your jealousy and mistrust of this old ex and what she meant to him. It seems he told you way too much about his past and referred to her in grand terms, making your already shaky original perception of him worse.

Frankly, yes, this is on you because you chose to stay with a man who wasn’t who he said he was at the beginning or wasn’t as upfront. Second, no, and I am sad for you that you feel this way because he is who he is. If he’s still dodging truths and acting untrustworthy then you’ll have to think about whether this is worth the hassle in the long run. 

You’ve only been together 1.5 years?! Not long at all and yet none of it has been smooth. I’d rethink things if you continue to feel uneasy.

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8 hours ago, Seraphim said:

In your initial post you didn’t say you were having a lot of trust issues. Are there really good things about the relationship? I think once trust is broken it is almost impossible to regain. 

The notebook is not the issue then.  At all.  I agree and the fact that the OP didn't mention this essential part of the story speaks volumes.  You're burying your head in the sand and the notebook is this concrete thing to hold onto and conveniently let go because most people would be ok with it.  If that was the only thing.  It's not.

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10 years and he still has those old dusty things? Huge red flag that it took him 6 years to get over her...I wouldn't have touched him with a 10 foot pole. He's not disrespecting you, that isn't his intention, this guy has emotional/mental issues. He's not stable...and he's been hiding a lot of it from you. 

I don't know if this can be fixed because he has been like this for a decade. Call him out on it, and suggest he and you get some counselling as an option other than ending it. If that don't work, I would jump ship. 

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16 hours ago, lifescucumber said:

We even recently cleaned our apartment and he threw away a bunch of things because of the "clutter".

It's his apartment you moved into? It sounds like he is disorganized if he has to get rid of 'clutter' to accommodate you. As far as mementos, who cares? It was a chapter in his life that reminds him of his youth. You snooped around, he did not have it on the nightstand for you to see or throw in your face. Moving into his place was premature since you are uncomfortable with still learning about each other.

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Posted (edited)

When I was dating my husband for almost a year (but second time around) we were long distance and I visited him in his city.  Two bedroom two bathroom apartment.  He used the master bathroom not the guest bathroom as far as where he kept his stuff.  I was there and for some reason used the guest bathroom and was looking I guess for extra toilet paper under the sink.  And found his ex's feminine products lol.  They'd broken up not too long before we started dating.  I wasn't upset just surprised.  He had no idea she'd left them there - he didn't store anything under the sink in that bathroom.

Point is - I never ever doubted this.  Never thought it meant she'd been there again (and yes she actually did live in that city on and off) or that it belonged to another woman, nothing. It just was odd to see the stuff there and kind of amusing in the clueless male kind of way!  When there is trust there's no issue.

Edited by Batya33
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Posted (edited)
5 minutes ago, midnightdeirdre said:

How is “retroactive jealousy” any different from “regular” jealousy?

It's just a different focus -it's focusing on something that happened in the past that triggers jealousy now vs. something that is happening right now in the present time (or I guess will happen -like someone who wants a baby badly hearing that her friend is pregnant).  So she is jealous of his past connection to his then girlfriend -she says she doesn't feel jealous of his present connection to her and knows these letters describe how he felt then.  That's the difference as I understand it.  The jealous feelings can feel the same.

When I was 23 I dated someone who told me about his first love -they'd broken up a year ago or so.  He didn't mean to make me jealous but I was jealous of how into her he was -I could tell from how he spoke of her.  I never met her and they were not in touch but until he said he loved me I was jealous of how she had captured his heart.

Edited by Batya33
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17 hours ago, lifescucumber said:

We've always had problems with trust in our relationship. Not for cheating or anything like that, but because he wasn't honest about his past with me, and because he was pretty terrible at honoring commitments when we started dating. Inconsistent behavior and half-truths led to my distrust, but we are working on this.

Care to expand a bit more on this? As others have said, it seems that this is the real issue here, not any sort of "retroactive jealousy" triggered by seeing these letters. 

But in terms of what you can do now, I'd focus on owning that you chose, and continue to choose, to be with this guy. What's at the root of that choice? Do you believe in him, as a human? Do you trust that, whatever happened early, he is sincerely over his past and fully invested in you? Do you believe, in your heart, in what you two have? 

If the answers to those questions are yes, I'd practice reminding yourself of that when feelings of jealousy arise. That's not to discredit or invalidate those feelings. Acknowledge them too, to yourself, while understanding that, like all feelings, they are temporary. Sometimes meeting hard feelings with soft ones is a good way to to learn to balance it all and not rely on another person to soothe or soften them. 

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