The Ex Factor

Photo by John Fraissinet via Flickr

When I broke up with the last guy I was dating, I tried to be polite about it. I told him he was nice, cute and fantastic—and he replied with a low blow about my “lack of stability.” Eww. He hurt my feelings, especially since I had tried to be amiable. I reacted by doing what I swore I would never do. I told him all the awful things I’d thought about him over the last month since it first occurred to me that maybe I didn’t want to date a guy who wore white shoes hiking and complained about them getting dirty.

I’m not usually such a bitch, but early on in our discussions, he’d said he didn’t see any point in staying in contact with the girls he dated once he’d broken up with them. So I felt I didn’t have anything to lose. If I’d thought we could be friends, I would have acted differently. Typically, I’m at least friendly, if not friends, with most of the people I’ve dated, a fact that he wasn’t very comfortable with. In his opinion, women are more likely to cheat with an ex because it doesn’t affect their “numbers.” In other words, sleeping with someone you’ve already slept with doesn’t change the number of people you’ve been involved with. I disagree. If I can’t trust the guy I’m dating with his ex, I can’t trust him with anyone. (And if I can’t trust him, I don’t date him.)

While during the relationship, I did find a sense of security in not having to compete with any ex-girlfriends, I realized the reason he didn’t stay in touch with his exes was that he wasn’t really friends with them in the first place. I want a friend as well as a boyfriend, someone who will always be a part of my life even if on the fringes, someone I can trust long after the romantic relationship has crumbled. This last guy I dated didn’t need to be friends with the girls he was dating, because he already had enough friends of both sexes in place to go out to dinner with and do fun activities with. The women he dated seemed simply necessary to take care of his other needs, but not to incorporate into his life, although this wasn’t immediately obvious to me.

Of course, I wouldn’t want to date a guy who was best friends with his ex either. One of my sisters dated a guy who still hung out with his ex-girlfriend, whom he had dated for several years. While the guy was dating my sister, the ex-girlfriend bought him a dog, baked him cakes, and the two of them went to lunch and dinner frequently. This became an area of major contention between him and my sister.

As relationships change, boundaries need to change too. I recently told one ex that if he wanted to continue being friends with me, he had to stop talking about my boobs. I don’t care if he talks about boobs in general, just not mine. Sometimes it takes time to adjust. I didn’t mind flirting with another ex with whom I’d had an amiable split, until I started dating someone else and he was still sending sex texts. He agreed to stop the flirting in favor of preserving our friendship.

On the other hand, just because we are now friends doesn’t mean I want to hear about the sex life of any guy I’ve dated, kissed, or even had a discussion about sleeping with, let alone actually slept with. I will genuinely be happy for him if he’s joyfully dating someone new, or commiserate with his dating failures.  However, when I had a guy I’d had feelings for tell me about the apartment-shaking sex he’d had with a one night stand, it just made me feel dirty and embarrassed.

In the future, I will consider a guy’s relationship with the previous women he’s dated more closely. If he can’t relegate his ex to the backseat, then maybe he’s not ready to move on yet. However, if people come and go too easily from his life, it’s likely that I will be in and out of his life just as quickly and with just as little impact. Ideally, the guy I date will have an amicable, but not inseparable, relationship with most of the people he’s dated. That way, even if the romantic relationship doesn’t work out, like Humphrey Bogart’s character at the end of Casablanca, I can look forward to “the beginning of a very beautiful friendship.”

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  • So, is it just me or does anyone else get a strange sense of victory when 8 months after an unfriendly break up with someone they drunk text you about how much they miss certain awesome aspects of the relationship. Especially when you don’t recognize the number and have to ask, “Who is this?”

  • Good article, it touches a few sensitive points for me. I’ve always wondered how people can be in a relationship and claim to love each other, and after it’s over they can be downright cold or even hateful towards their former partner. I believe that they didn’t truly love (or care about) each other in the first place. Granted, sometimes a relationship ends because of a deep hurt (like cheating) and of course that’s bound to leave some resentment in it’s wake (to put it gently), but many other times it just ends: the infatuation part is over, they discover they are not really compatible and so on.
    My point is, people who truly love each other, OR who at least had a meaningful relationship, don’t stop CARING about their (former) partner after the relation is over! If that happened, then that relation was a fake, something they did not because they wanted to be with the other person because it made them happy, but because they wanted a constant, easily available sex partner, or because they were feeling lonely, or because all their friend were in relations and they felt left out, or because “it’s the normal thing to do” etc. etc. etc.
    I mean, come on, if you are in a relationship that’s not just about sex, then automatically you should be friends with your partner, and enjoy being friends with them even after the romance it’s over, right?
    Also, very good point with the “boundaries” part – after having a romantic relation with someone, you can’t just go to being regular friends with them, you have to take steps to ensure that your old relation doesn’t hurt your new friendship or haunt your future romantic relationships.

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