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Dear Demetria:

My boyfriend cheated and abandoned me and my kids. I didn’t even know he was leaving. I came home and his things were gone. I started dating a great guy, but after a year my ex has returned and wants to get married. The new guy has been there for that year, helping me with financial issues and me. Would I be wrong for going back to my ex? I still love him, and he said he needed time to give me 100 percent like I gave him. I don’t know what to do, but I feel like I never should have been without my ex. —Anonymous

Don’t be a fool for love. You’re in love with a man who, from what you’re telling me here, doesn’t deserve what you want to offer him. The guy who deserves it? He’s the one who’s been doing the most, pitching in to help financially and taking care of you while you’re a mess, pining for a man who doesn’t appreciate you. Just as you hope your ex will appreciate you the second time around, I wish you could appreciate the man in front of you. You’d be so much happier in the long run.

Your ex is no good for you. He walked out on you and your kids, and for a year he never looked back. He didn’t care how the rent (or mortgage) got paid or how you would explain his absence to the kids or the emotional toll it would take on you. He wanted to go and didn’t even have the decency to say goodbye. This is not the type of man you give a second chance to, much less marry. If you go back to him, he will do it again. He fundamentally does not respect you or commitment.

Let me tell you where your ex has been. He wasn’t sitting up somewhere in a monastery, praying daily and taking vows of silence and abstinence to find the God within himself. While you were trying to figure out how to take care of your kids on one income again, he was finding himself laid up with the woman (or one of the women) he was cheating on you with. While you were crying your eyes out about him leaving, he was taking her to dinner and buying her trinkets and whispering sweet nothings. While your kids were asking, “Where’s so-and-so?” he may have been splurging on this other woman’s child, trying to win that child’s affection and more of his or her mama’s. You’ll never know what he was up to because while you were holding it down, he was not there anymore.

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Because some version of this question comes up over and over and over in my inbox, I’m going to safely say that the woman or women he was with all this time either bored him or got rid of him. Now he needs some attention, and he’s shown back up at your door begging and promising the world and everything in it. It’s a mirage, hon. Don’t be fooled. Either he needs a place to stay or he’s jealous of your happiness and wants you to want him.

If you leave the new guy for your ex—exactly what your ex did to you, so you know—you will soon find yourself back in the same spot you were a year ago. Your ex isn’t staying this time, either, and when he leaves again, the new guy likely isn’t going to be as forgiving to you as you are to your ex. You’ll be on your own, again, which you probably need to be anyway. If you could skip all the drama to reach that point, it would serve you better.

So about the new guy: You’re using him—again, just as you were used by your ex. You’re keeping the new guy around while you piece yourself back together, and spending his money. It’s not fair to him, and you know exactly how unfair it is because you’ve been in his position. You need to let him go and work on fixing you, which means being alone and doing the work of finally getting over your ex. Your relationships will be continually messy until you do.

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Demetria L. Lucas 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.

Previously in Ask Demetria: “If He Wants to Put a Ring on It, Don’t Get Hung Up on What He Bought”