Dating Someone who Constantly Talks about Their Past Relationships?
Taking Out the Ex-Files
Awhile back, I was in a relationship with Claire, who believed in Being Open With Each Other. Over the course of being open, I found out how many sexual partners she’d had, why it didn’t work out between her and most of her ex-boyfriends, and lots of other trivia about her pre-me romantic life. On a couple occasions, I asked why she talked about her ex’s so much.
Her response would be usually either: “Those experiences shaped the way I am so it’s important to ackowledge them” OR “You should be secure enough that it won’t bother you.” With the first answer, I never quite understood why it was so important for me to acknowledge these guys. The second answer I found outright obnoxious since it both ignored my question and was a totally random jab at my self-esteem. But I believe there was a third answer, a far simpler one, that never crossed her mind.
She enjoyed discussing it. That’s all there was to it. Which was understandable, of course, since just about everyone likes to discuss relationships. It satisfies the ego and for whatever reason, we find the stuff fascinating. (Millions of dollars and countless hours of human life are spent scrutinizing Tom and Katie, Brad and Angelina, Jennifer and Vince, Reese and Ryan, Britney and K-Fed – it’s not just because they’re celebrities, it starts with the fact we’re obsessed with relationships in general.)
But while it may be fun for one partner, it’s not fun for the Listener. In fact, for the Listener, opening up discussion of ex’s can be akin to opening up a slow burn Pandora’s Box. First off, there’s the fact that the Listener cares about their partner and has an interest in relationships as much as the next person, so they’re naturally going to have a major interest in their partner’s relationship experience. And because of this major interest – and the fact that the Open One is constantly willing and eager to blab all about it – the Listener will head down these conversation paths, which they’ll justify using such noble declarations as “I need to know this stuff” or “It’ll bring us closer together.” The reality, though, is that it’s merely humankind’s gossip impulse acting out in them, the impulse that says: we want the juice, we want the inside scoop.
It’s important to not jump onboard this curiosity train because a lot of the time this train’s headed for the Land of Resentment and Insecurity. This happens because, with each conversation they have about their partner’s past, the Listener’s curiosity will only fester and grow stronger. The reason is because the nature of this curiosity is much different from the “What’s the capital of Alaska? Oh, Juneau? Thanks. I was curious about that”-type of curiosity. This one actually picks up steam. And by having one conversation about romantic history, both sides have unknowingly R.S.V.P.’d themselves to having another similar conversation in the future.
Another consequence is the Association Effect. I’ll give a personal example. Claire used to talked a lot about her ex-boyfriend Mark, a wrestler guy who’d gone to Harvard. After I learned this, for awhile (longer than I care to admit), I winced whenever wrestling or Ivy Leagues came up in totally unrelated discussion with totally unrelated people. To make things worse, I naively and stupidly pressed her for more details, and learned that they’d once had bathroom sex at the Dallas airport and that they used to call each other “babe.” After learning that, I didn’t watch Mavericks basketball anymore and stopped referring to Claire as “babe.” In addition to all this, I had a tendency to despise anyone named Mark.
But for the duration of our being together, of course, Claire got to have her openness. And although I could have asserted more how much it bothered me to hear her talk about her past, I didn’t; probably because she was such a great girlfriend in every other way. I just hope she really, really appreciated getting to be so open.