Delete these pix of your ex!
September 23, 2009 10:02 PM   Subscribe

Keeping photos of your ex: how has this changed in the digital era?

I have had a few serious girlfriends over the years. I also maintain a well organized personal media archive, organized by year, month, etc. Is it creepy or natural to hold onto photos and videos of ex-girlfriends when I enter a new, serious relationship?

I mean, how does this compare to (back in the day) the new girlfriend finding that dusty shoebox of photos of the ex? I have heard dramatic stories about this situation, like "why are you still hanging onto these?!", along with requests to get rid of them. It often comes down to where that shoebox is stored: deep in the basement or someplace more easily reached. Compare that to my easy-to-use, readily accessible digital photo archive, complete with little videos and such.

My reaction would be "this happened to me and is part of my life...getting rid of them would be the same as deleting the neighboring photos of my family and friends". But then I think how I never saw any photos of either of my parent's ex's, along with just how readily available it is on my computer. Like, then is closer to now, due to the new technology.

Should I move them off of my day-to-day mac and onto an external drive and then down into the basement? Do couples have private areas on their computers? Am I being ridiculous? Have you ever had a discussion like this with your partner?

This isn't a pressing matter, just something I've been thinking about.

Thanks for your thoughts-
posted by cgs to Human Relations (44 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Manners says if they're dirty, you should delete them. As for this:

Should I move them off of my day-to-day mac and onto an external drive and then down into the basement? Do couples have private areas on their computers? Am I being ridiculous? Have you ever had a discussion like this with your partner?

I've been using computers forever, and I've always made my own account as a matter of practice, while my girlfriend or other housemates always get their own too. Even on "my" laptop I make one for anyone else who might use it once and awhile. Sure, anyone could hack into the other person's account if they really wanted to (physical access trumps all), but again: manners. I wouldn't rummage through someone else's personal stuff unbidden, ever.

People who share a single account confound me. Even without the privacy part, it's just so messy having to work around other peoples' files and preferences.

(I've never had a partner insist I delete or destroy anything from my past with other women, but I'm not inclined to shack up with jealous types, in the first place.)
posted by rokusan at 10:12 PM on September 23, 2009

I think it's different from the shoebox. I wouldn't delete that kind of photo from my computer, especially if everything is organized by date (as my photos are). However, if instead of being organized by date, I had a folder named "Photos of EX'S NAME," that might look a little weirder, since the organizing principle, rather than "chronology of my life" would be "dudes I have dated." Somehow, that makes a difference to me.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:14 PM on September 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

I have lotsa photos of my exes. They're on my hard drive backups and also burned onto DVDs along with all my other photos.

The thing about the digital age is that we have a lot more images because they're so cheap to have. Those old photos were so valuable because we had to take them to be developed at the pharmacy, but now we can just call it up and print out on nice paper any image we want.

I think it's completely fine to have private parts of a computer. even if it's shared. It's like having email be private. Now, if you were regularly trawling through your photos of old exes while dating your current partner and wistfully thinking back to those days, that might be a different matter. But I think it's unfair and inappropriate for a parter to ask you to delete those images. They really were part of your life.
posted by Sully at 10:15 PM on September 23, 2009

It wouldn't bother me in the least if the person I was dating kept digital pictures of their exes around. But then again, I think those old dusty sentimental shoeboxes are sweet.

I guess it might be weird to have a bunch of folders ("Betty" "Veronica" etc.) but if Betty is just part of 2006 and Veronica shows up from April-June 2008, then it seems like a natural part of the archive of your life. (Or, on preview, what ocherdracho said.)
posted by juliplease at 10:16 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I hadn't even thought about deleting mine. I'm in a relationship with someone now, and I'd never ask her to delete pictures of her ex BFs. I wouldn't delete pictures of ex GFs, because it's something I don't even think about.

It sounds like you may have dated girls who have been a bit jealous in the past? Photos of ex girlfriends is the last thing I would think of being a problem, if they are just part of your normal photo archive.
posted by santaliqueur at 10:23 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Should I move them off of my day-to-day mac and onto an external drive and then down into the basement? Do couples have private areas on their computers?

Taking a specific step like this would entail more thinking-about-your-ex than would keeping the photos as they are now.

I wouldn't behave any differently with the photos on account of your girlfriend than if you were single. If she objects to the fact that you have photos of exes -- mixed in with hundreds of other photos of lots and lots of friends -- then that would seem to indicate deeper underlying problems that aren't really about photographs.

OTOH, if she's seriously troubled by them, it could be worth it just to delete them. But if you're going to delete them, have the nerve to simply delete them and not look back. Don't create a secret grey area just for photos of your exes so that only you can see them. That would give them a dark, forbidden lure. Again, you'd just be thinking about your exes more, under the pretense of not thinking about them.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:23 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: two additional points:
- I also have a long-ish video of a trip to europe with an ex... I'd feel even more wierd about a new girlfriend potentially finding that. To actually see me being with that other person "in real life"... or is it all the same thing?
- Posterity is a goal: this is meant to be a record for my future kids and grandkids... will it be weird or tawdry for them to be looking at the girls I dated before I met their mom? I'm only basing this on my own parents who really didn't date much before finding each other, so my perspective is skewed.
posted by cgs at 10:25 PM on September 23, 2009

First of all, you should keep them if you feel like keeping them. If your boyfriend or girlfriend chucks a fit and asks/demands you delete them, that is what you call controlling behaviour and. It. Is. Not. On. Although I do agree that common sense says if the pictures are dirty pics, you probably should delete them out of respect for your new partner and the privacy of your ex.

Dirty pics aside, I say that generally speaking, I don't think its creepy to keep them. Your ex, and the time you spent with them, represents a time in your life that obviously meant something to you at the time. Your experience with your ex would have made you different person in one way or another, and as such the person you are now is a result of your time with the ex, and it's worth keeping memories of that time in your life for various reasons if indeed that's what you want.

I have pics of a couple of my ex-girlfriends on my computer. This is only because they exist in my My Documents folder which I back up as a giant zip file, and they're buried deep within the substructure of folders in the Pictures directory. My soon-to-be-wife has no issue with me keeping them although I am sure that she wouldn't be upset if I deleted them. I keep meaning to (and have resolved to on various occassions) but for some reason I never have.

But that's the basic point here. It's up to you if you want to keep them, no one else, and dirty pics aside, keeping pictures of a former flame is no bad thing if that's what you want to do.
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:25 PM on September 23, 2009

Following up on your two additional points, videos are no different than photos except that they may contain things you might not want your new partner to hear. For instance, a video that has you saying "I'll never love anyone else as much as you" might be something your new partner probably doesn't need to hear. But again, it's up to you and what you want to do with those memories. Keep `em if you want. Delete them if you feel it's inappropriate to keep them. No-one else has jurisdiction over you, your life and your memories.

On the second point about showing them to your kids, it's probably worth noting that just because your parents didn't show you pictures of their ex-partners does not imply there were no photos to show. They may have had pictures they didn't feel was right to show you as a kid (but may show you now if you ask and you can). That's their decision. Just like, as I keep saying, it's your decision if one day you ever show your kids pictures of your former partners.

Up. To. You.
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:35 PM on September 23, 2009

I wouldn't think it was creepy to have them around. I also think it's polite, not secretive and furtive, to have them stashed away just a little bit.

Photos of your daily life are very much nothing like porn, but let's roll with this a little bit. I don't mind at all if a boyfriend of mine looks at porn. Everyone does, including me. Not creepy at all, and a reasonably sized, neatly maintained section of their computer devoted to porn would not weird me out at all. Hell, I'd never find it. Compare that to a computer where there's always skeevy pop-ups bouncing up and a browser history chock full of every porn website ever and explicit videos sitting on the desktop. Porn is still fine and dandy and all, but now I have to look at it and think about it and you know what? I feel a lot better about it when I don't know the details.

Keep the videos and photos where your girlfriend doesn't have to see them or think about them, and what problem could a reasonable person possibly have?
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:14 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

It is up to you.

I certainly wouldn't insist on my husband deleting or throwing away old photos of his exes, but it would probably bother me a little if they were on his main computer rather than an external drive. I don't know why. Out of sight, out of mind perhaps? I guess because being on an external drive is the digital equivalent of being in a shoebox, from my POV anyway.

Then again, I don't go poking around on his computer, so I wouldn't know either way.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 11:16 PM on September 23, 2009

I agree with Rokusan; it'd be considerate to delete the dirty pictures. With the other ones, I think it's a safe bet to keep them on your computer. But to err on the side of caution, ask your S.O. what she thinks. If it makes her uncomfortable, then move them to an external drive.
posted by too bad you're not me at 11:18 PM on September 23, 2009

Part of your life, and no reasonable adult expects that his or her partner will come sans past. It's only as big a deal as you make it or let it be. Delete the racy pics and keep whatever else you want, perhaps in a subfolder somewhere a little out of obvious view, but not someplace where it looks deeply hidden.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:28 PM on September 23, 2009

I always find it a bit disturbing if people have no photos of other people with whom they've had a serious involvement - especially if the relationship has involved marriage and children. I see ridding yourself of any evidence of past relationships as just as dysfunctional as keeping your home as a shrine to a former partner.

While I don't want to see any home made porn you made with that person, I do want to see other things which document that part of your life. You may not be that person now, but nor are you the same person as you were in your childhood photos.

But I also think that technology makes it a bit too easy to be revisionist about our life histories. I still keep the important stuff in tangible form and only back it up to the computer in case something unforeseen happens to the originals - anything truly important, I'm not going to risk losing to failed technology or my impulsive use of working technology. I'm not sure that the fact something is stored on someone's PC is a measure of its importance - there's all sorts of crap on mine.

I also dislike how many people seem to think that electronic snooping is OK in a way that going through non-technological belongings would not be. In my universe, my private stuff is my private stuff until I choose to share it with you - I shouldn't need a password to keep it private any more than I should need to lock it in a safe deposit box.
posted by Lolie at 11:30 PM on September 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

pictures of exes go in a .rar with their name and years. the .rars get stored on the archive part of the computer. much like a shoe box at the bottom of a pile of boxes, you'll only come upon this every once and a while and when you do, if you want, unrar and poke through the pictures/videos/chat logs - much like if you find yourself coming upon the shoebox you could chose to open it or not.
posted by nadawi at 1:06 AM on September 24, 2009

When do you expect to look through the photos again, for what reason? If you're afraid that you'll later regret losing their pictures, that's worth considering. What's your policy about keeping their emails? I'm quirky about loving old-fashioned mail, and though I rarely get "real" letters, I have a harder time throwing them away than cleaning up casual email correspondence. Still, I reached the decision to throw away shoeboxes of letters this past year. The men I dated are with other women now: I let my mementoes go with a bittersweet feeling, respecting that we'd all moved on. It wasn't the same as throwing away the importance of the men in my life, or fond memories.
posted by woodway at 1:20 AM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've actually gone through this recently. Pictures in general are very precious to me, as I have a very poor memory and pictures help me preserve my past. I've started to realize that the only events from the past that I remember with any clarity are those I still have pictures of, even if I don't review them that often.

So the whole purpose of keeping pics is because losing them (or never taking them in the first place) is to lose that piece of my memory. It sounds funny, but it's proven itself true.

When my wife asked me to get rid of pictures of ex's, it was hard. Not because I was still attached to those people (those feelings are long-gone), but because they represent my memory, and throwing those away is like wiping out those memories in my head. It was a hard thing to reason out, but I finally decided to throw them out and I'm glad I did.

I was trying to reason if it was fair for me to keep them, but I started asking myself "What's the point of keeping these pictures?" It's to keep those memories fresh. So in that case, I'm not just keeping pics of ex's... I'm also keeping those memories of ex's. As much as I want to archive my memories and keep them forever, I think it's fair for my wife to ask me not to hold onto those memories. That part of my life has past, and my present is more important.

If pictures were more like sci-fi movies, and you could actually relive parts of your past like a hologram, it would be totally weird to say "No, I want to hold onto that hologram of the kiss with my ex, so I can relive it every once in a while." But in the same vein, why would I hold onto a picture of a kiss with my ex? The magnitude is very different, but the basic thoughts are the same.

So I threw them out, and let her throw out ones that bother her. I would expect that if there were things that she had that bothered me, she would allow me to throw them out and not insist on holding onto them anymore than she would insist on holding onto those experiences, feelings, or memories of ex's. There's just no need.

I think this will be different for everyone. I know many people would think more along the lines of "They're mine, and it's unfair for you to ask me to sacrifice these." But this is the thought process I went through, and once it clicked it was very easy to toss these parts of my past. I'm all for archiving the past as much as possible, but sometimes (for me) it's ok to let go.

Small PS: "hiding" the pics seems like side-stepping the issue. This is something that needs to be worked out between two people, and likely a compromise needs to be made. If the significant other is fine with things just being out of sight, then problem solved. But if they're still bothered, then "hiding" pics doesn't solve the relationship issue, it just... well, hides it. Hopefully if there is a difference of opinion, it can be reasoned out to a good compromise and not just swept under the rug.
posted by jumpfroggy at 1:35 AM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Password protect them so they don't blindside your new girlfriend, keep them, showing them to your kids (or not) will make more sense once you have kids and know them as wonderful individuals.
posted by kathrineg at 2:18 AM on September 24, 2009

- Posterity is a goal: this is meant to be a record for my future kids and grandkids... will it be weird or tawdry for them to be looking at the girls I dated before I met their mom?

Recently, my grandparents and I were going through their old photo albums from when they were young. For a moment, I was rather surprised at all the photos of the various guys that my grandmother dated. However, that feeling quickly turned to being rather impressed at gorgeous grandmom's popularity, and made me really think about her as a young person too. And grandfather appears in the photos. And then there's no one else but him in the albums after that. I found it incredibly beautiful and touching. They've been together for over 60 years. Photos of exes won't be an issue once you've found the real deal.
posted by Kirjava at 2:18 AM on September 24, 2009 [16 favorites]

If they're regular, every day photos, then they're of people you know/knew and there's no real motivation to delete them unless you're pining over them or worse.

If they're "dirty" pics, porn, whatever, they shouldn't be in your regular photo archive anyway but in an encrypted, password protected archive. If they're not, then someone only has to steal/fix or seize your computer and extremely embarrassing pictures of you are a step away from public knowledge, and that's never worth the risk.
posted by wackybrit at 4:16 AM on September 24, 2009

My husband and I share my computer with full access to each other's files, including photos of exes. My children don't find the idea that we dated other people odd, especially as the children have met (and liked) the exes. This works because we are both comfortable with it.
posted by saucysault at 4:25 AM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sounds like right now you are more uncomfortable with keeping them than your current girlfriend or any other future girlfriends.

That sounds like reason enough to at least take them off your computer. As far as what to do -- just get a thumb drive from Staples for $20 bucks and move them onto that, then just stick the thumb drive in your desk drawer.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:34 AM on September 24, 2009

Other ideas. I kind of ended up weeding out most of them and keeping a few representative pictures from each relationship deep in a file on my external hard drive.
posted by cachondeo45 at 4:50 AM on September 24, 2009

- Posterity is a goal: this is meant to be a record for my future kids and grandkids... will it be weird or tawdry for them to be looking at the girls I dated before I met their mom? I'm only basing this on my own parents who really didn't date much before finding each other, so my perspective is skewed.

For what it's worth, my parents didn't date a ton before marriage either, but I've seen pictures of my mom's first boyfriends and saw comments in my dad's yearbook that say things like "Don't get Marcia [his girlfriend before my mom] pregnant!" My dad passed away when I was young, and I've actually read his journal from the year before he met my mother, and it's all about Marcia.

I find it funny and sort of adorable. But then, I was raised to see my parents as real people, not as idealized "parents" only.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:01 AM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Asking someone to get rid of pictures of ex relationships is akin to asking them to rip pages relating to other relationships out of your diary. It's something that you might never look at again, but you might also be very glad you saved it 20 years from now.

Also, I can't ever imagine sharing a computer account with someone else.
posted by HFSH at 5:04 AM on September 24, 2009

As far as posterity goes, I think it would be awesome to have more pictures of my parents throughout their life, and if that includes previous boyfriends/girlfriends, great. One more thing to tease my parents about, plus interesting.

I'm in the "cannot imagine shared computer accounts" camp, and do not know or care what my partner has on his laptop or on his account on our shared desktop. There may be pictures or videos of previous girlfriends there, and that's fine with me. If we were looking at old pictures anyway I'd be fine with seeing them.
posted by Stacey at 5:39 AM on September 24, 2009

There's also the matter of size and recentness. How many exes are we talking about, and how many photos? And are they from 10 years ago or from last month?

If you enter a "new, serious relationship," will the size of your archives make them feel like the latest of a long chain? Photos from last month still feel intimate while those from last decade feel more like history.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:46 AM on September 24, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the input, everyone. There are no real dirty pix and it hasn't been weighing on me... I'm just curious how this plays out in real relationships. So far we have 24 nays and 1 yay ;-)

The only time I've ever really brushed against this is when I've wanted to show photos to a new gf (of my trips or something) while easily avoiding those w/ the ex... I have yet to organize an ex-free archive for such situations. If my current gf wanted to look on her own, then that is on her. But I'd feel wierd looking through her computer on my own.

That said, how is keeping a private computer account different than having a locked office in the house? If this is too divergant from the OP, I can save it for another time...
posted by cgs at 5:58 AM on September 24, 2009

I kept the photos roughly until I got engaged. Then they all got deleted.

I do not believe in privacy in marriage, which sets me apart from much of MetaFilter. He can go through my files anytime he wants (whether I let him or not, he's an IT security professional, heh). What could I possibly have to hide? That said, there's something to be said for discretion. If I chose to keep the photos, I would not have a shortcut on my desktop or something similarly easy to find.
posted by desjardins at 6:05 AM on September 24, 2009

I think a lot of it is all about approach. I have old photos, both print and digital of my exes (old boyfriends and my ex-husband) and I don't think I'd consider getting rid of them even if someone asked nicely. That said, I'm all for discretion and I'd happily put them far away on a high shelf in a place where no oe would stumble on them. And yeah I don't have any dirty pix.

It's a sort of amusing step to take, in the digital world, to use find/replace on Flickr to change the tag "boyfriend" to "ex-boyfriend" but I have done it.
posted by jessamyn at 6:17 AM on September 24, 2009

how is keeping a private computer account different than having a locked office in the house?

This does wander pretty far from the original question but what the heck: in our case it's more like keeping an unlocked office in the house. Where you can arrange your stuff however you want without interfering with your partner's life. Less about privacy than about convenience; I don't want to have to dig past her files to get to mine, or v.v.

My wife and I know each others' passwords, but I still wouldn't go reading her email or snooping uninvited through her files or photos any more than I'd consider reading her diary.
posted by ook at 7:35 AM on September 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is a non-issue. I put photos up on flickr and they're not going anywhere regardless of my relationship with the people in the photos. I'm gonna delete my photos from my vacation because my ex is in them? WTF?
posted by Wood at 7:51 AM on September 24, 2009

I recently threw away letters from my serious girlfriend from 9-10 years ago. I told my current girlfriend and wondered what she would think of me saving them after all these years. She thought it was sad I threw them away. Maybe she's right, but after re-reading them, they were written to a different me, and they were really really boring.

I don't think current or future partners will mind all that much.
posted by yeti at 8:22 AM on September 24, 2009

It's courteous to ensure that your new girlfriend doesn't have to see them unless she actively wishes to, but you don't need to hide them on a backup drive encased in concrete in the storage shed. The archive system you've got sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Personally, I got nosy about my husband's past rather quickly, so I've seen dozens of photos of each of dozens of women. I was kind of jealous and obnoxious about it for a while, but then I got over it because I am an adult. And I would have been horrified if he'd deleted them on my behalf.
posted by miagaille at 8:33 AM on September 24, 2009

I just had a commercial scanning service scan in all my hard copy photos (all the ones I'd found, anyway) and they include photos of me with my former husband. The hard copies of the photos have been in the house all this time and it's not like I look at them very often, but I'd feel bad about throwing them out, unless I were purging all the hard copy photos. It was a part of my life, and I'm not ashamed of my husband seeing them.

Add me to the "keep them in their usual place in the archives" column.
posted by immlass at 9:45 AM on September 24, 2009

Only responding to this question:
Posterity is a goal: this is meant to be a record for my future kids and grandkids... will it be weird or tawdry for them to be looking at the girls I dated before I met their mom? I'm only basing this on my own parents who really didn't date much before finding each other, so my perspective is skewed.

My dad has boxes and boxes of pictures he took in his 20s, many of which have old girlfriends in them. I find them fascinating. My mother's not interested in looking at them.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 10:14 AM on September 24, 2009

Context is everything...

I think people really need to be honest with themselves when deciding what to do in this situation.

If you are preserving memories, keep them.

If you are preserving a "look how hot my girlfriends were" archive, delete them.

Since my dating life was in the non-digital era, and the pictures only reminded me of how hot my girlfriends were, I threw them out when I got married.
posted by teg4rvn at 10:40 AM on September 24, 2009

I agree on teg4rvn's "context" statement.

Photos with your ex in them? Sure, they're photos of your vacation, of your party, of your life.

Photos "of your ex", maybe those you should delete. Or move to a CD which you can melt or keep as you see fit.
posted by aimedwander at 11:13 AM on September 24, 2009

I wouldn't think of them as 'ex' photos - I'd think of them as photos from 1998 or whatever. Archive them with the rest of the old photos, within the historical-social context of other photos of the time period.
posted by cobaltnine at 1:25 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Someone mentioned Flickr: I've deleted the vast majority of the pics of my ex from my Flickr account, but retain them on my computer and backups. My ex was a model and I've always been the designated photographer, so probably 85% of my old pics have her in them. In addition to wanting to keep memories for posterity, she's frankly not worth the trouble of paging through and deleting thousands of photos. Unfortunately, she loved nudes of herself -- I've managed to delete as many of those as I could find, but there are no doubt others lurking in the collection somewhere.

Incidentally, I deleted them from Flickr because I have a fairly extensive web presence, and female friends pointed out to me that new women in my life might not appreciate seeing the many, many images I had of the ex and I kissing or holding hands or whatever.

One of these days I'll start archiving my 5+ year-old photos into a .rar or truecrypt container with the password as the file name. This way no one will stumble over them by accident, but anyone with access to my computer (like the new gf) can still view them if they want.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:47 PM on September 24, 2009

Response by poster: re: those of you deleting photos from flickr... why didn't you just change their privacy settings to where only you can see them?
posted by cgs at 2:19 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Deleting selectively from flickr is faster than changing privacy settings selectively. Besides, I don't want ALL my pics hidden, otherwise I wouldn't have them posted to begin with -- I just want the ex gone. I don't mind deleting her from my online presence. To me, that's very different from deleting every pic of her from my home files.
posted by coolguymichael at 4:50 PM on September 24, 2009

Deleting selectively from flickr is faster than changing privacy settings selectively.

You can change privacy settings of multiple photos at once very quickly using "batch operations."
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:24 PM on September 24, 2009

It kind of depends on who you are dating... in my recent 4+ year relationship he had pictures of his 2 previous ex's and I didn't care. But he was upset if I had pictures of mine so I just deleted everything, it honestly didn't matter to me. When you get into a serious relationship it just depends what the other person wants and what you are willing to give up.

But now that he's gone, I have started recollecting all my old pictures and even ones of him and storing them online at photobucket(keep it pswd protected) or flickr(set it to private), or in a special folder buried in my docs to stare at occasionally. It's not creepy or weird to want to have pictures of special people/moments in our lives and if some of them were with an ex, well, what are you going to do? Mind you, none of these are remotely risque in any way! That's very different. Once you break-up with someone you should never ever keep those pictures. Seriously!
posted by dragonette1 at 10:50 PM on September 27, 2009

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