Dear Pepper: Wooing Your Ex’s Parents

Dear Pepper is a monthly comic strip of advice from Liana Finck. If you have any questions for Pepper about how to deal with difficult situations, please contact [email protected]. Questions can be edited for brevity and clarity.

Dear pepper,

A few months ago, my seven-year-old boyfriend broke up with me to be with someone else. We started dating when we were seventeen, and he was an important person in my early adult life. That being said, I honestly think it was the right thing to do as we’d slipped apart for a while. The dilemma I faced has to do with his family. His parents live in another country where we lived for a few years and spent a lot of time with them. Because of this experience, I feel a certain bond with his parents.

Here’s my problem: I know my ex hasn’t told them about our breakup. He told me that he doesn’t want to because they would be incredibly upset and angry. My ex doesn’t see a problem with this and has lied to his parents before. Maybe it’s a little irrational, but I worry that he’ll end up telling his parents that I was the one who broke up with him or, worse, that I did something terribly wrong that justified it, to break up with him – all right for him to save face.

I thought about reaching out to his parents to tell them “the truth”, but is it my place to intervene in his family business? Is it worth defending my reputation even though I will most likely never see her again? Pepper, please help me!

With best regards,


Dear H,

There are details you could tell me about your ex’s parents – for example, that if they knew he broke up with you, and not the other way around – they would cut your ex off forever – that could change my mind about it but based on what i know here is what i think.

Your relationship is over, but you still share a past with your ex. He had the right to end things and you each have the right to cut off contact with the other, but neither of you have the right to do that Dictate each other’s connections to people from your seven years together. You have a long, meaningful history with your ex’s parents and are entitled to a warm relationship with them that isn’t undermined by lies, or at least a true and honest place in their memories – if (a pretty big if) interests them are in it.

Assuming you’re still in contact with your ex, you could alert them that you are planning on reaching out to their parents so he can have a chance to clean up with them himself first.

Next, make a small gesture – a note or a phone call. Mention the breakup without saying too much about it, or even admit that you know your son didn’t tell you about it. Say you want to keep in touch. Then leave the ball in their field.

I understand that you’re not necessarily looking for a future friendship with your ex’s parents – you just want them not to remember you as a monster. But I think – at least in my experience – the two things are interchangeable. Perhaps the value of friendship for me is an agreement between two or more people not to see themselves as monsters. They want your ex’s parents to like you. They don’t want to be unfairly clouded in their memories.

Other counselors might say, “What’s the big deal when these random people in another country start hating you? You don’t want to keep in touch with them anyway. “These imaginary counselors might be right. But to me, devoted dog that I am, it would be profoundly important. I know better, but I still believe that in the gut we only exist in the eyes of people who know or have known us. And if you care too, then I think that you should defend your existence in a small, polite, and legitimate way against these people woven into the fabric of your past.

On the other hand, if what I’m telling you feels overwhelmed and weird, this could be a sign that you don’t have to take my advice at all. The advice I have given here is based on what I think is fair rather than what I think is necessary. It doesn’t have to be your job to maintain old connections or make sure everyone knows the truth. So if it sounds like something that gives you more pain than pleasure, leave things as they are. And see if his parents get in touch with you. You could.

To new beginnings. Good luck.

With best regards,


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