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posted: 9/10/2013 12:04 PM

New relationships take time for 'big stuff' to develop

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Q. Last night, my boyfriend of seven months introduced me by his ex-girlfriend's name, then hurriedly corrected himself. I stated very calmly, "You just called me 'Rhonda,'" and he denied it. I left the bar and began to walk home.

He feels bad, but says it means nothing. He does not seem as contrite as I feel like he should be, making it worse.

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A few days ago, I asked him to remove the 100-plus pictures of her on his Facebook page and put one of me up. They have been broken up for quite some time. He put one of me up but didn't delete the pictures of her. He has since deleted them, but it feels like it is too late.

Some of my friends think this happens all the time and I should just get over it. Others think it clearly shows that in the back of his mind he still considers her his girlfriend. She has been a point of contention in our relationship for a long time.

Although he was initially sorry, hours later he fought with me about it. I feel like he should not only not be fighting with me, but also making some sort of gesture to show me how much I mean to him. A cheap card or flowers would suffice. What should I do?

"Lori"

A. Marry him. Then sit back and relish his calling you by your kid's name, your dog's name, and occasionally just "Hey." Or marry a divorced guy and every time he accidentally uses his ex-wife's name buy yourself fabulous shoes.

Obviously I think your "get over it" friends are wiser than the others, but, well, if only that were all there was to it.

His denying it, your stomping off in a huff, his later fighting you, your photo counting, and the whole idea of "cheap card or flowers" as proof of devotion just give the advice lobe of my brain a throbbing pain.

If he's good to you in ways that matter -- listens to you, shares with you, takes your feelings into account before he acts, treats you as an equal, stays true to his word, is kind to you even when he doesn't want something from you -- then quit the stomping and just trust him.

Make sure the big stuff is there, yes, absolutely, but recognize that takes time to develop, and will come to you as-is for you to take or leave.

Also recognize that each of us has many ties, and even severing them completely doesn't render them unimportant. Not all ghosts are threatening.

Also recognize that if the big stuff in your relationship isn't there -- the respect, the intimacy -- or if the ghost is truly disruptive, then no amount of photo-deleting or carnations will fix it. You can't insist on respect, you can only give it a reasonable amount of time to develop mutually and break up if it doesn't.

During that time, what do you do? Like each other. If you "feel" that part "should" be better, then why are you sticking around?

• Email Carolyn at tellmewashpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

2013 The Washington Post

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