The only thing worse than your ex is an ex of the person you’re interested in. You know this, and I know this. So what do we do on a first date? We avoid mentioning our exes like the plague. But you, me, or someone we find ourselves on a date bringing up their ex does not, I repeat, does not mean the prospective relationship must go to shit.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” says Susan Winter, relationship expert and author of “Breakup Triage: The Cure for Heartache,” of nodding to an ex on a first date. “It’s good that you have relationship history.” Letting someone know you have an ex shows that you’re a human with human experiences who has human connections. No shade to people who have never been in a relationship but, personally, that makes me more nervous than someone disclosing information about their ex. Of course, there are better ways to share than coming in hot with, “Hi, how are you? By the way, I just broke up with my boyfriend.”
“The purpose of an initial meeting is [to determine], do we like each other enough to explore this?” asks Winter. Listen, we all have our own shit, but “you don’t want to present [as] a wounded person,” she says. “You want to, at [the very] least, show that there is space [for a] new person.” Whether a date asks you about past relationships or the topic comes up organically (which, a lot of the time, it does), respond with one or two sentences that give the person enough information without going into too much detail.
That said, there are a few scenarios where things get more complicated, because well, exes are complicated.
You just got out of a long-term relationship.
If you’re fresh out of a long-term relationship, you may even discuss the topic pre-meeting IRL. If not, there’s a fair shot it will come up on the date because it’s a major part of your current reality. Still, you need to be careful what you say and how you say it. “Always [try to] frame your experience positively,” says Winter. “It’s important to begin a new relationship on fresh soil. You [want to] relay the story of what happened in a measured, rational manner.” The “what happened” shouldn’t be a chronological breakdown of where things started to go south accompanied by spreadsheets and flowcharts. (Please, no spreadsheets.) Too much information too soon can be detrimental. Give answers, but don’t go into specifics, says Winter.
If it’s too difficult for you to edit down your story, consider where you’re at post-breakup. Are you still replaying your feelings of victimization, betrayal, and anger? “Harboring these unprocessed emotions serves as a red flag to any prospective partners,” says Winter. In that case, you may not be quite ready to start dating again. To get there, work through those emotions by getting closure (if you can), talking it out with people you trust, or giving yourself more time to heal.
You’re still hung up on your ex.
The fact that you’re pining for your ex isn’t an easy thing to keep hidden (people aren’t as dumb as we think they are). “We can’t be perfect. We’re going [on dates] because we want to find somebody new,” says Winter. “We still love our ex but it’s not going to work out, so we have to move forward.” If the conversation shifts and you start talking about relationships and why things ended, all you need to say is something like, “It was really rough on me, but the good news I’ve had some wonderful relationships in my life and I’m glad that I’ve learned how to be a good partner.”
You’re friends with an ex.
“It’s wonderful that you’re still friends with your ex, but this can cause unnecessary concern for a new person entering your life,” says Winter. If it were me, upon hearing this news, I’d spiral into another dimension. So, you need to be strategic about what you do or don’t disclose. Have you decided if you even want to see this person again? Is this piece of information crucial for them to know at this point in time? Is it absolutely necessary that they be aware that your ex comes to your pre-games sometimes? Probably not — at least right now. But if things do get more serious, be honest. Otherwise, you risk spiraling down an unhealthy track of secret-keeping.
…And some general don’ts.
- Do not call your ex by their name. I was recently on a date where we were chatting about exes, and the guy I was with casually included the name of his ex-girlfriend. I couldn’t get it out of my mind the rest of the night, and we both felt weird. This, according to Winter, is probably because it made her sound real and present, not past.
- Don’t voluntarily bring up that you’re going through a breakup because of the whole coming off as a negative Nancy thing.
- Don’t dwell on the topic, either. Say your piece and then move on.
- Be careful about including your ex in your stories. If your date asks if you’ve been to London and you have with your ex, you don’t need to mention who you went with — just say, “Yes, I went for a week a couple of years ago.” “The only thing that [giving those details] does early on is make the new person feel inferior,” says Winter.
Though we may feel awkward talking about the past, perhaps we shouldn’t. “It’s not a con that you’ve had a breakup [or have an ex] — that means that you’re available for a relationship because you’ve left one,” says Winter. People’s main concerns when it comes to discussing exes are how long it’s been since you were together and whether you still have feelings for them. They, quite understandably, want to know the coast is clear to minimize their chances of getting hurt. If you establish that the past is the past, you’ve done your part, says Winter.