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Ask Brian: Ex-Factor

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“Dear Brian…I am still friends with most of my exes, and hang out with them from time to time. The person I’m seeing now doesn’t understand it, and doesn’t speak to any of their exes.  We argue about it all the time and neither of us can understand the other side. What are your thoughts on staying friends after breaking up?”

I really admire people who can stay friends with their exes. I think that it shows a real maturity to be able to separate what didn’t work in a relationship from what did and keep a little bit of the latter while moving on to something else. Obviously there was something cool about that person… why lose it just because a relationship wasn’t in the cards?

george strait

Mine is more of a “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” approach to dating.

That said, I hate all my exes. Okay, I don’t really hate all my exes. But I certainly am not friends with any of them and couldn’t really imagine how that would work. At all. I could try to justify this in saying that I think it’s healthy to leave some things in the past and move on to new experiences with a clean slate but the truth of the matter is that it’s just weird to me. It’s weird!

I think the difference of opinion here comes more from how we view relationships, not how we view exes. For some (at least me and George Strait), a relationship is something you give everything you have to. It’s like… oh man, am I about to make a sports analogy here? I think so? It’s like playing in a championship game. You give it everything you have because if you lose, you go home. And if you lose, you probably never want to see that other team again because that would be weird and hurtful and what’s the point? Who wants to be friends with the other team?

I’m guessing your significant other is like a football player when it comes relationships, if you get what I’m saying. Relationships fall apart spectacularly and everyone is drained and there’s no point in revisiting that. Or maybe relationships just kinda fizzle out but the ex still remains a reminder of something that’s failed. That’s not a good feeling to have around.

football tackle

A rough approximation of what a relationship is.

Perhaps you’ve got a different outlook. Maybe you count people you’ve dated casually in your pool of exes. Or maybe even a friend you hooked up with before deciding it was a bad idea. In any case, you haven’t poured your heart into these relationships which obviously makes it much easier to move on from. These people aren’t reminders of some big mistake or misstep. They’re just people you dated and aren’t dating anymore. They’re friends.

So you can imagine how hard it would be when these two philosophies meet. In the eyes of the person you’re with now, each of the exes you hang out with is someone who meant a lot to you. They’re people who you were obviously attracted to (and may still be?), for whom you cared deeply, and someone who may have broken your heart (or whose heart you may have broken). Maybe they’re people who wish that you were still together. For a new person who doesn’t know the full story, this could be a very scary thing. Who wants that hanging around while you’re trying to build something new and awesome?

Even if I’m wrong about your different outlooks on relationships, I think that it gets even scarier if these exes are people you’d fallen in love with or who broke your heart or were anything more than just a casual thing. They represent memories and experiences that anyone new may feel like they have to compete with and be better than. That’s a lot of stress, especially if these people are still hanging around as a constant reminder of how awesome they were.

So what’s the solution? Well, I think you just have to be sensitive to your new SO’s feelings. I would never suggest that people can’t hang out with their exes (seriously, though… stop it) but I think it has to come with an understanding of how uncomfortable this can be for future relationships. So don’t let conversations about this turn into fights. Understand where the anger and confusion comes from and do your best to assure this new person that they’re the one for you. Reiterate that these other relationships are in the past, and maybe even highlight what it is about this new relationship that works better than the other ones. Invite your new SO along on some of these hang outs to show them that there’s nothing worth getting uncomfortable about. Whatever it is, just treat the situation with care and empathy. Not getting into a fight about it over and over will go a long way towards making it far more comfortable for both of you.

Or, I guess you could both just move to Tennessee

click on images for sources.

Got a question for Brian? Send it to subject “dear brian” – and read more of Brian’s awesome relationship advice on the BLDG 25 Blog.


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Anuschka -July 6, 2012, 11:52AM

This post was a total revelation to me. I love this column, keep it coming!

Anna -July 9, 2012, 10:37PM

This was a accurate and effective expression of my feeling towards my boyfriend hanging out with his ex. Couldn’t have worded things better, thank you!

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