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Dear Demetria:

My long-distance significant other and I have been dating for a little over two years. It’s serious. Ring shopping has happened; he’s met my dad (no man in my life ever gets to meet Dad). Anyway, his daughter’s birthday is coming up, and we agreed that I would be attending this year. I couldn’t last year because his ex-wife wasn’t ready to meet me, and I understood that. His daughter and I get along very well, and I legitimately want to be there because I love her and I love him.

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Everything is all planned and I’ve booked my ticket already to visit them, and then today he says, “So, my ex says she isn’t ready to meet you yet, so I’m not sure what we are going to do.” I am trying really hard to not be in my feelings about this. I’m not mad at her; I’m mad at him for not putting his foot down. He’s always caving in to all her demands. I usually keep quiet because I know he’s trying to keep the peace, but this has just set me off. Any advice? —Anonymous

Some version of this question comes up with alarming frequency. Literally, yesterday, a woman wrote in to say that her boyfriend’s child’s mother threatened to stalk and harass her on social media because she was dating him. Last week, there was a wife who was being asked by her husband’s child’s mother to leave the room whenever the child was discussed because “you’re not family.” A couple months ago, a fiancee was complaining that her betrothed’s child’s mother instructed the child not to speak to her.

In each of these cases, like yours, the male partners cited an unwillingness to get involved, under the guise of keeping the peace with the ex who’s the mother of their child. They didn’t want conflict, they said. They didn’t want drama, they said. What they’re actually saying, if you’re listening—and not even closely—is, “I have not properly ended my relationship with my ex, and I am actively refusing to set boundaries for our new relationship as co-parents.” This is a red flag.

Are some exes bitter and vindictive and impossible to reason with? Absolutely. But not all. Some women behave this passive-aggressive way because their ex is ping-ponging between them and another woman, and he hasn’t completely established that the romantic relationship he had with her is over. That is, he’s still holding out a carrot of hope to reunite or still have sex. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case here. I mean, if you’ve been with him for two years, it should at least be that long since they broke up.

Again, maybe she’s one of those people who just can’t let go after the divorce. Or maybe he’s giving her some signs—like, say, giving in to her every demand and choosing her over you—that she doesn’t have to. 

But let’s take this at face value and assume that he’s done-done with his ex-wife. This still doesn’t bode well for you. Your boyfriend, with whom you’re planning a future, isn’t making you a priority if he’s “always caving in to all her demands.” His ex-wife is the priority. And this, according to you, isn’t a one-off incident. But in this latest instance, your excitement over the trip, the plans you made, the gift you bought, the flight you booked and the vacation time you took are all secondary to the comfort of his ex-wife. He’s more concerned about her feelings than yours. Again, this is not OK.

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The core issue here isn’t the birthday party, though; it’s that your guy has not established proper boundaries with his ex—and, worse, shows no intention of doing so. Don’t let your feelings for your boyfriend and the desire you have for a married future cloud your judgment here.

You should know that this scenario you’ve chosen to deal with for two years is not the case with all parents who are in new relationships. Some adults actually resolve their feelings, or suck them up, and act in the best interests of the child. Tell your boyfriend that is the kind of co-parenting relationship you expect from him and his ex-wife. If he’s not willing to create boundaries and advocate for you, then you can’t continue to be in the relationship, period. You can’t be his next wife if his ex-wife still comes first.

Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at askdemetria@theroot.com.

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Previously in Ask Demetria: “Don’t Waste Your Pretty on a Man Who Won’t Spend His Time on You