DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I (29M) recently started dating a very caring and intelligent guy (25M). We have been together for about three months.
Shortly after we started talking, he told me that he had recently ended a long term relationship. From what I have been told, it seems like this relationship had been heading downhill for quite a while before it actually ended. My boyfriend has been very upfront and transparent about it. His ex is part of his circle of friends, and he would like to remain on friendly terms with him. When he initially brought up this situation, he told me that he spoke with his ex and said that while he’d like to be friends, he would like to take a break from communication to focus on our relationship and allow things between the two of them to cool down. His ex asked him for an exact date when they could resume communication, clearly not understanding that it’s not possible to put an exact timeline on these sorts of things.
Recently, I have seen his ex’s name pop up in his messages. I want to be clear that I haven’t been snooping, I’ve just noticed occasionally while he is showing me something on his phone. Seeing this picks at my worse insecurities. It’s very intimidating to know that he is communicating with someone he had such a long and recent relationship with, and it makes me worry.
Besides this issue, I am really enjoying our relationship – and while it is new, I feel that it is strong. I absolutely trust my boyfriend. He is someone I have known for many years, and I do not believe that any cheating is going on. However, my anxious brain often takes over, and it makes me feel like there is no way that I can compare to his ex. I want to talk to my boyfriend about how this communication makes me feel uncomfortable, but I don’t want to come off as controlling or overbearing. I don’t want him to cut off communication unless that’s what he truly wants to do.
Should I just let it go? Should I bring it up?
Ex n’ Effects
DEAR EX N’ EFFECTS: You should let it go, EnE. But in the process of letting it go, it’s a good idea to ask yourself just why your boyfriend being in contact with his ex is bothering you.
One of the things I’ve noticed is how often people get hung up on the fact that their partners still have relationships of one sort or another with their exes. More often than not, it tends to stem from a feeling that nobody would want to be in contact with a past lover if they didn’t have ulterior motives. Maybe they’re still hung up on their ex, maybe they’re hoping to get back together… the reasons are various and honestly, fairly irrational. While yes, there are folks who can’t let go of past relationships — I doubt I would get all that witch doctor love spell spam if there weren’t a market for it — the fact is that having a solid post-breakup relationship with an ex is a good sign. Somebody who has a positive relationship with their ex — whether it’s just cordial and respectful or a close friendship — tends to be someone who treats their current partners well and with respect. It’s a reliable indicator of someone with strong emotional intelligence, who was able to stick the dismount on the break-up and hold on to the core of respect and affection that he and his partner had, even when things didn’t work. A lot of times, they also tend to be the ones who were able to hash out whatever issues caused the relationship to end and move to the next stage of their relationship without having those lingering resentments and conflicts hanging around in the background.
Those are all qualities you want to find in a partner.
The ones who never have good relationships with their exes, who never have a good word for anyone they dated or seem to have nothing but a string of “crazy” or “evil” exes? Those are the folks you should be giving the side-eye to. The way they talk about their ex is a fairly reliable indicator of what they’re like in a relationship.
Just as important though is the fact that the length of a relationship isn’t a measure of feelings. Yeah, your boyfriend was in a long-term relationship with this guy… but from the sound of it, the quality of that relationship wasn’t great, and hadn’t been great for quite some time. That’s going to be a bigger influence on how he feels about things now than the fact that he and his ex had been together for X number of years. A ten year relationship is one thing, but if six of those years were lousy, then the odds of his wanting to go back to it are slim at best.
And of course you don’t compare to his ex. That’s kind of the whole point: you’re not his ex. With the exception of certain f
ked up individuals who were rather proud of ranking their friends’ qualities on spreadsheets, people don’t pick who they date by ranking their qualities and picking the person who has the highest overall score. They date the whole person, with all the pros and cons that come with them. One ex may have been the most amazing cook, another might have had sex drive and imagination to make Caligula blush, another might have had a singing voice like a choir of angels… but each of those people were chosen on the strength of them as an individual, not points on a graph. Your boyfriend’s ex may have a whole lot of entries in the pro side of the column… but the con is that he’s not you.
The more you can recognize that and hold onto that, the more you’ll understand that you’re not in a competition, you’re in a relationship. Letting your anxiety create conflict where there isn’t any is just how you borrow trouble from the future.
Your boyfriend’s been pretty upfront and transparent about his break-up with his ex and the relationship they’re likely to have going forward. That’s all this is — the beginning of the next stage of their post-romantic relationship. It’s only going to be a threat to you and your relationship if you let it be one… especially this early on and with no reason to worry.
Take a deep breath and just let this one go. And if you’re feeling a little insecure, ask your boyfriend for a little sweetness and reassurance.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com