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Posted on Thu, Feb 9, 2012 : 5 a.m.

Does ex-boyfriend deserve second chance?

By Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

After years of reading your chats with a pit in my stomach, knowing that wanting things to work didn't make it so, I finally ended my tumultuous five-year relationship six months ago. I have felt great since then!

My ex did not take it well. We've kept in contact as friends (his choice, I thought time apart would help), and he's repeated his desire to try again. He's taking responsibility and making real changes to deal with what led to our problems (cheating, emotional abuse, etc.). I can see he's working really hard and seeing results. So, how do you even decide about trying again? I don't know how to figure out what's fair to both of us.

-- Change

Great, he's "working really hard" on himself.

That confers absolutely zero obligation on you to reward him with your trust or time or heart ever again. He can bestow the fruits of his hard emotional work on someone else, when he's really ready, which I highly doubt he is after six months.

If that's not a good enough argument, then try this one: If he were truly taking responsibility, then he'd recognize that he owes you freedom to find the happiness you deserve with someone who deserves you. "Trying again" is all about what he wants. Sound familiar?

What's fair to you is what you're doing -- enjoying your hard-earned happiness. What's fair to him is quite minimal: You owe him civility.

So, you can quite civilly say you're happy to hear of his progress, and you can wish him happiness in his future endeavors (i.e., a nice life).

--0-- --0-- --0--

For Change:

Think of it this way: A decent human being rectifies his life and changes behavior because it's the right thing to do, not because he thinks it will win him back his punching bag.

-- Anonymous

Ouf, well said, thanks.

Also: Even if he sees it as true love, squandered by his own bad choices, and he really is sincere about wanting her back as partner vs. punching bag, he still has to account for the shock of change. It is completely normal in this situation for him to pine for the comfort of his five-year relationship.

So, in other words, even if we put the shiniest, bestest-case-scenario face on this, his motives are still likely to be unhealthy for both of them. There's just no "I'm all better now, let's get back together" rationale here. Either he wants her back to regain his upper-hand status quo, or he wants her back as the comfy place that helps him feel better in a difficult time (and therefore spare him the ongoing hard work of facing his own rottenness). Two non-starters.

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For Change:

His pressure is a major red flag here, absolutely classic. Even if he really has reformed, what about your feeling of incredible liberation? Do you want to give that up just because he's all, "I did what you wanted so you owe me another try"?

-- Why Yes, I Have Seen This Before, Why Do You Ask ...

Nooooo, really?

Let's frame it as, "Should I give up my euphoric happiness alone to see if I can achieve moderate happiness with him, even though I risk a return to misery?"

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group