Leaving Out the Gory Details
August 21, 2009 7:43 PM   Subscribe

DatingFilter: Should I leave ex-boyfriends out of the story of my life when dating new people, even if the exes figure prominently?

Most people have a standard story about how they got to be where they are, and I'm no exception. I live in a big city, and on nearly every first date I go on, I'm asked, "So, how did you end up in the city?" and I tell this story. A significant (but not overwhelming) aspect of the story is that I had already made the mistake of moving someplace to follow a guy, and how it became obvious within a few days of that move that I'd made A Really Bad Decision, and after that Really Bad Decision, I resolved to move to the city I'd wanted to live in for a long time. I don't tell it quite so directly as I did just there; while the ex-boyfriend doesn't dominate the story, he shows up a few times.

It's occurred to me that talking about ex-boyfriends on first dates might be off-putting, no matter the context. I don't always have a great sense of what's appropriate first date conversation and what isn't. Should I modify my story (sort of glossing over the episodes that involve the ex), or, as long as I'm not going on and on about it, is it fine to leave it in?

Anonymous email: phoebe.meryll@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Just gloss; permit yourself one mention of the ex. "Well, I moved here to follow my partner initially; I got into [job] and now I live in [area] and I'm having a great time [conversational tangent]." That's a totally natural explanation.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:48 PM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Ditto Countess Elena. Nobody expects you just fled a convent. Mention it and move on.
posted by adamrice at 7:51 PM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

I had already made the mistake of moving someplace to follow a guy, and how it became obvious within a few days of that move that I'd made A Really Bad Decision, and after that Really Bad Decision, I resolved to move to the city I'd wanted to live in for a long time.

If you said it just like this and left it at that, I'd think it would be a perfectly tactful response.
posted by hermitosis at 7:56 PM on August 21, 2009

"Partner" sounds serious. I'd say "So I moved to Junction City for a guy [eye roll] but that didn't work out, so... [rest of story]"
posted by moxiedoll at 7:57 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

A significant (but not overwhelming) aspect of the story is that I had already made the mistake of moving someplace to follow a guy, and how it became obvious within a few days of that move that I'd made A Really Bad Decision, and after that Really Bad Decision, I resolved to move to the city I'd wanted to live in for a long time.

I'm reading this as two moves: City A to follow a boyfriend, then City B on your own, and you still live in City B.

If you're in City B because you always wanted to be in City B, why not say just that? Don't bother mentioning City A and the boyfriend. This shouldn't be some huge secret -- it's the kind of thing you talk about with friends and boyfriends -- but you're under no obligation to give a full backstory on a first date.

But if you do talk about, be brief and breezy, as advised above.
posted by maudlin at 8:09 PM on August 21, 2009 [5 favorites]

I think if you're at the point of sharing the details of your life history with someone, then yeah, you shouldn't omit an ex. Because those experiences are part of the individual that you're sharing. As long as you're really over the person, I don't see the problem in talking about it.

I do think first dates are too soon to really talk about it, though. Start out painting in broad strokes; you can fill in the personal details once you know each other better.
posted by Zorz at 8:13 PM on August 21, 2009

You're only 24? Nobody expects a long story when you're that young. So why not skip the first part and just leave it as "I just always wanted to move to [CITY], and when I turned [21], I decided it was time to try it. I love it here, because...."

And then you're already moved on to what you like to do. Easy. The intermediary guy(s) don't seem to have anything to do with it, really. You don't have children or anything?

Skip it, doesn't matter.
posted by rokusan at 8:16 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I was dating 30- and 40-year-old women, I was worried when they didn't mention exes. I mean, you're (we're) this old, and you don't have a significant dating history? That's weird. I wanted to know why she was this old and looking--most worrisome to me was that she's just now looking, that she'd never looked before. Talking about exes (briefly, and not in too much detail) was a comfort to me.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:18 PM on August 21, 2009

I dunno...skipping the part about living in another city, ex or no ex, is sort of weird if you're life story-ing. Put me in the "mention it casually" camp. What if you end up hanging out with this guy for awhile? At some point, you're going to have to talk to him about it. If he has a hang-up about trust/being lied to/people hiding things (which a lot of people do, and for good reason), it could upset them, at least mildly, whereas I can't imagine anyone being upset by hearing about your moving somewhere with an ex.

Then again, sometimes I am probably a little too open about my life with others, so who knows? It probably depends on the person you're going out with, so in the end, do whatever makes you feel the best.
posted by nosila at 8:23 PM on August 21, 2009

"I moved here after getting out of a relationship that took me to City A. I really like it here and bla bla bla bla. So what brings you here?"

I agree totally with MrMoonPie, it's weird when people don't mention exes because you know [hope, actually] that they've had them. I figure if someone mentions their exes in neutral-to-slightly-positive terms, that's a good sign. Really bad ["my crazy ex wife"] or really good ["the amazing woman who dumped me"] or really-not-over-it [going on and on and on] are all red flags. This is the sort of thing, really, that doesn't even need to show up on a first date, so you can sort of follow your date's lead if you're uncertain.

I wound up in the small town that I live in because I was dating a guy that went to law school two towns over. It's almost impossible to explain how I'd be here otherwise, so it's a necessary part of my story. I also used to be married a long time ago. Both of those (recent exes, past marriages) are important to some people, so it seemed like a good idea to mention them and then move on.
posted by jessamyn at 8:47 PM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, yeah, like how I was married for 10 years? And how I have a daughter (in whose life I'm involved)? Second date. It needs to be discussed, but, yeah, second date.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:12 PM on August 21, 2009

I agree that mentioning the ex can wait until a later date. Just fumble around it tactfully, if at all possible... one mention at most if absolutely necessary. I would keep the first date focused on just you and the person you're meeting.
posted by gushn at 10:14 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

My answer to "Why did you move to New York?" is "To be with a girl." If I'm on a date, the next question is almost always "How long has it been since you were together?" (subtext: Is it possible she's still a major force in your life?) I answer briefly and honestly. And then that's usually all the questions I get on the subject, at least for a while.

It does matter, because it says something about me that I am (or was) the kind of person who would move to another city for someone else. Not just in terms of my views on relationships, but in terms of the sort of priorities I have, the haphazard way I plan (or don't plan) my life, etc. And anyone I date for very long is going to figure that stuff out, so they might as well know.

Even if you don't want to reveal as much as I do, I think that hiding the basics, when they're asked for, is a really bad idea. Because if one date turns into your new boyfriend, he'll eventually learn the truth, and then the fact that you were less than honest with him at first may turn into a trust issue.

Just tell the truth, simply. It's not an unusual story, and you are not likely to be judged for admitting to it.
posted by bingo at 10:55 PM on August 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

I've been with Mrs. Morte for seven years now. Our second child is on the way. I don't know very much about any of her exes, and she knows very little about mine (except a few minor details mentioned in passing). She knows I moved half-way across the country to be with my previous girlfriend, but that probably didn't come up in discussion until we'd been 'an item' for months. We were both fairly careful, I think, not to cross any boundaries until they were fully open.

Some people are a lot more open about these things. But on a first date, my advice would be to avoid any mention of previous relationships; it's too much detail, too earl, and it's likely to give misleading impressions to someone you barely know. Tell a small lie if you have to... or do a bit of hand-waving ("it's complicated"). If you set a precedent for total openness right from the start, you may be putting yourself in a position where everything else about you has to come out much faster than makes you comfortable.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:31 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

To me, the people I've dated are an integral part of the general story of how I got to wherever I am today. It has occurred to me, however, that the details therein are roundly considered a Huge Overshare by whomever I'm trying to woo. Your New Potential Boyfriend doesn't want to hear the tale of The Dude(s) Who Came Before.

Edit the story.
posted by girlstyle at 11:34 PM on August 21, 2009

Depending on how you phrase it, it could be a positive thing.

"I initially moved to pursue a strong relationship. I quickly realized that I wasn't getting what I wanted out of it, so I moved on immediately. I've always had a desire to experience this city, and it seemed like a good time."

Here you're relationship-oriented yet not weak, you have a strong sense of your own needs, and you demonstrate a sense of adventure. What's not to like? :)
posted by dualityofmind at 12:29 AM on August 22, 2009

I would leave out the part where you say, "I resolved never to " etc. Simplify. This is the version you tell to a new friend, not on a date.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:34 AM on August 22, 2009

"... Should I modify my story (sort of glossing over the episodes that involve the ex), or, as long as I'm not going on and on about it, is it fine to leave it in? ..."

Whenever anybody tells me Their Story, I just sit quietly, until, eventually, they do, too.

Sometimes, that takes 2 minutes. Sometimes, it has taken 2 days. Over a long life, I've found that you can learn a lot, if you have enough patience, and self-control, just to wait, when somebody is telling you something they think is important, but isn't sure when to shut up.

When would you think it would be the right time to shut up?
posted by paulsc at 2:57 AM on August 22, 2009

how comfortable or uncomfortable would you be hearing their ex stories?

To me it would be fine to hear about, but I am also ok with the possibility of polyamory so I'm a bad guide for a normal relationship. The point is, you should go with what makes sense to you, because this person is going to be dating you. If they're put off by the things you talk about, you won't be a good match, but it's just as well you figure that out earlier rather than later.

You should have compatible sensibilities, or be able to adjust to one another's sensibilities enough because you like other aspects of each other enough to put in a little extra effort.
posted by mdn at 4:55 AM on August 22, 2009

> My answer to "Why did you move to New York?" is "To be with a girl."

Same here, and I never had any hesitation about including it in The Story. There are good responses here from two equally valid points of view: 1) It's an important part of your life that might seem dishonest to omit, so mention it briefly and lightly and move on, or 2) It's TMI for the first date, so save it for later. Either way you go is fine; you have no way of knowing which approach your date would prefer, so just do what feels comfortable. But really, bingo nails it:

> It's not an unusual story, and you are not likely to be judged for admitting to it.
posted by languagehat at 6:35 AM on August 22, 2009

"Oh, I've always wanted to live here. A couple years ago I was a point where I could move or stay and I decided to follow my dreams and move here. It's been great so far. How about you?"

No one wants to hear about baggage on the first date.
posted by water bear at 7:36 AM on August 22, 2009

As long as you're not one of those people who subconsciously brings up exes to self-affirm their attractiveness, don't worry about it. I've met the male and female version of this... "Moved to NY for this guy in this band...I guess I just always liked bad boys and pretty boys, but I'm over that now..."
posted by teg4rvn at 7:59 AM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

In your specific circumstance, it reads to me as if your ex-boyfriend has very little to do with your moving to the city you live in now. While I agree with the general advice that casually mentioning exes within the course of conversation with new dating partners is completely normal, in this particular case I think mentioning the ex would be gratuitous to the degree his involvement in the story is only tangentially related. Bringing him up in response to a simple, "Why Did You Move Here" question might make me wonder if you were still hung up on him since it's a bit of a stretch to say he was involved in a direct way with the decision making process. It would seem like you were just looking for an excuse to bring him up, regardless of whether or not he was relevant to the story.
posted by The Gooch at 8:42 AM on August 22, 2009

Tell however much feels best / most comfortable to you. It will help you select for someone who has a similar comfort zone around these sorts of things. You can see from the variety of responses here that people have a lot of different preferences as to openness about this kind of thing, and it's better to find someone whose default setting is close to yours if you can.

Really, if you prefer to be open about things and don't want to spend a lot of time analyzing if he's 'ready to hear about' x, y, or z, wouldn't you prefer to date someone who wants and appreciates that kind of openness? Or if you were the type who preferred to keep the less relevant details of your life private, wouldn't you rather be with someone who didn't feel like that meant you were closing yourself off or hiding things from them? If they aren't happy with the level at which you like to communicate, it's just not a good fit.
posted by polymath at 1:52 PM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

No one wants to hear about baggage you on the first date.

Fixed! Or at least, fixed by what I've gleaned from several people on this thread.

I think you're worrying too much about this. Some people will find your mention of an ex a bit weird, and some people will think it a bit weird if you don't mention the ex. But really, if anyone is so put off by whatever you do that it ruins the date with you, then screw that, eh? So just do whatever feels right. ("Be yourself", in other words.)
posted by Casuistry at 3:26 PM on August 22, 2009

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