Dear Dr. Darcy:
I am bi [sexual] and dating a woman. The issue though is that my ex boyfriend is still very much in my life and my girlfriend is not feeling tolerant of it anymore. My family still invites him to holidays (which means that I don’t take her) and I guess her patience is running out. I’m not sure how to change things without hurting people’s feelings. I hate conflict and really just want a peaceful life.
Listen, Switzerland, peace isn’t an accidental occurrence ~ it’s the result of making decisions which result in your life being properly aligned. Like with any goal, keeping your eye on the desired outcome will help you to push through the discomfort of the process.
Let’s start with the ex boyfriend. I’m guessing that you broke up with him and have allowed your family to remain connected with him to offset your guilt of the breakup. Your current situation should serve as a cautionary tale of how complex this dynamic can become. Not only has it resulted in an ex taking the seat that your girlfriend should rightfully have, but it maintains a smokescreen, camouflaging any homophobia that your family might be experiencing. So you see, this might get more complicated before it becomes peaceful…
Start by speaking with your family and telling them that in order for your girlfriend to come to holidays, the invitations to the ex boyfriend have to stop. Only then will you be able to see what their reaction is so that you can figure out your next move. Ultimately, you want to carve out space for her to attend functions, and I don’t see that happening in tandem with the ex boyfriend attending.
In addition, look for another area in your life where your ex is taking up a good amount of space so that you can make similar changes. I don’t think that those changes need to involve having a conversation with him. This is something that you need to do for you and for your current relationship and it doesn’t necessitate his informed consent. I also think that the less talking you do about this / the more action you take around it, the less drama you’ll have to contend with.
Keeping the ex around in the capacity that you described above is bad all around: It’s bad for him because as long as your family and you are meeting some of his emotional needs, he’s less likely to find a new partner. It’s bad for you because you aren’t able to fully attach to your girlfriend while you have a potential parachute hanging around waiting for your current relationship to end. And it’s bad for the girlfriend because it sends the message that your relationship isn’t as serious as it would be if she were a guy.
So choose peace, Switzerland, and make the necessary changes.