Why Is He Intimidated by His Boyfriend’s Ex?

By Harris O’Malley

Dear Dr. NerdLove,

I (29M) recently started dating a very caring and intelligent guy (25). 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

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 fucked 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.

Good luck.

Dear Doc,
I started seeing this girl after a month of talking and we saw each other for about two weeks. Everything was going good until her ex came back into the picture out of the blue.

She told me that she isn’t interested in pursuing things romantically because she still had feelings for him and needed time to be by herself, but she also said that she really enjoyed spending time with me and still wants to but just as friends. She has been texting me almost daily, though not nearly as much as we used to, and she is usually the one to start it.

I heard from a co-worker that she has said she is basically friend-zoning me, but gave no inclination why. My question is where do I go from here? I really like this one and haven’t felt this way about anyone before. I asked her if she was back with the ex because she seemed to distance me more and if I was being left on the back burner. She basically repeated her original statement without any clarity and it felt like she was attacking me for trying to make sense of things, yet wouldn’t say I am not that interested in you, and that she doesn’t want to be in a relationship with anyone currently.

Is all hope lost, and I should let that ship sail or is there anything I can do to get back the girl I fell head over heels for?
Friend-Zoned 3000

Here’s why you’re having a hard time with all of this, FZ3k: what you’re asking for is for her to tell you that she wasn’t actually breaking things off with you. No amount of asking her for more information or clearing things up is going to satisfy you because the problem isn’t that there’s any misunderstanding here. The problem is that you don’t like the answer.

You’re not being “friend-zoned” or backburnered because a) there is no friend zone and b) she’s not just trying to keep you around for the yuks or the attention. She’s told you exactly what going on and what she’s doing: she doesn’t want to date you but likes spending time with you and would like to be friends with you. So, not surprisingly, this means that she’s going to treat you like a friend, including having text conversations with you.

There really isn’t anything to “do” for getting her interested in you again. Your next step is to decide whether you want to be friends with her… or even if you can be without hoping that this is going to turn back into a romantic relationship. It’s fine if you decide you don’t want to be friends; there’s nothing with that. Just don’t stick around in hopes that you’re going to revive things and get her to change her mind. That’s not fair to her and it’s a waste of your time, when you could be out trying to find someone who is ready to date right now.

Good luck.

Hello Dr. NerdLove,

Should I join social media and create an online dating account?

I have never created an online dating profile or signed up for a social media platform (not even a MySpace account when that was cool), because I prefer to completely rely on going out and meeting people and keeping in touch with people via phone calls and texting. Now with that being said, I periodically feel pressure to get one because of my recurrent feelings of FOMO and the nagging voice in the back of mind basically telling me I am crippling myself dating-wise (I am on the dating struggle bus).

In the past, some women I have approached or talked to have either told me that not having any social media makes me mysterious in the creepy way, or have reacted with an awkward pause and pondered on whether they should give me their number or not. Am I just not taking the wake up call and realizing that social media and online dating are super vital to finding someone special or making connections with people my age (I am 26)?

Lastly, are there any conceivable benefits to dating or forming relationships without social media and online dating that I’m missing? Or, am I crazy for asking this question?

Living Under A Rock (On Purpose)

I think you’re putting a little too much importance on the people who think that not having any social media accounts is weird or creepy. It’s a little unusual in this day and age, but it’s not unheard of. I suspect that you may well be letting your sense that you’re doing something wrong by NOT being on Facebook or Instagram or CuriousCat or what-have-you color how you interpret people’s reactions. But if, for argument’s sake, we accept that yes, they thought it was creepy, then it’s likely dependent on their beliefs about people who don’t use social media. They may associate someone not using social media with having something to hide, with being excessively paranoid or security conscious to an outlandish degree. They may see it as being the 21st century equivalent of “I don’t watch TV” or “I only listen to music on vinyl” — something that’s often associated with snobbishness or self-indulgent hipsterism. Or it could just be that they can’t really wrap their heads around the fact that there’re folks who don’t live their lives online the way almost everyone they know does.

And honestly, if they’re going to have an issue with that… well, then the big question for you is going to be “Would you want to date someone who can’t accept that side of you”? It seems to me that this would be a sign that they’re just not right for you.

Now with that having been said: while yes, you can meet people and date without a social media presence or an online dating profile — people have been getting together without the benefit of Facebook Dating or Tinder, after all — you are choosing to limit your dating pool. It’s not super-vital, but you are cutting yourself off from a valuable and growing resource for meeting people. More and more people are meeting their partners online — not just on Tinder or Hinge but on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, even MMOs like Final Fantasy 14.

I don’t think there’re any notable benefits to dating without having any sort of social media presence; it’s just a quirk, not a hidden advantage. The biggest drawback to NOT having social media accounts is, ultimately, the fact that most people have them, and they’re increasingly the way that we stay connected with each other. Not being able to take part in those conversations just means that you’ll have cut yourself off from that resource. If that’s a price you’re willing to pay, then hey, more power to you. You’re just the one who’ll have to decide whether it’s worth it to you.

Good luck.

Previously published on doctornerdlove.com and is republished here under permission.


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