To tell or not to tell: that is the beanplating question.
October 22, 2010 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Would you want to know if your partner talks to their ex regularly?

[Please skip to the summary at the bottom if you don't feel like reading all this.]

Got a call from the ex the other night, and we ended up talking for over an hour. Just chit-chat, catching up about family and work, etc., nothing dramatic or sensational or weird. We did this a couple of months ago too, though that time we also had to arrange a meet-up (first one since the break-up) to exchange some belongings that had been left behind. Both times, the ex was the caller.

I'm dating someone currently, and have been for a few months (between 3 and 5 months, depending on how you count). I met and started dating my current partner rather soon after the ex and I parted ways, though as far as I can tell after much introspection, this is for real and not a rebound. We are exclusive, and this person knows I was with the ex for 3+ years, and that it was the most recent relationship I was in prior to the current one. We haven't shared a lot of details about our past relationships -- just the basics. However, I did mention that the split with my ex was very amicable.

So, assuming the ex continues to call me once every few months, and we continue to have these rather long catch-up conversations, should I tell my current mate about it? I have absolutely ZERO intention of getting back together with the ex, and as far as I can tell, the ex (who was the one that initiated the breakup) is on the same page. I think the ex is a nice enough person, but I simply don't see a future with them. While I find the phone conversations pleasant, it also wouldn't bother me if I never talked to or saw this person ever again. I have (out of politeness/consideration) not brought up the fact that I'm seeing someone new, nor have I asked about any dating the ex might be doing. If the ex asked me outright, I would definitely tell them about my new partner.

Potentially relevant: Everyone involved is in their mid/late 20's. I had lived with the ex for a while before we split (current partner knows this). My current partner is not really one to talk about relationship-y stuff, and has only asked briefly twice about my past partners. In my view, the current relationship is good, but moving a bit more slowly than I'm used to (though I'm aware I may be biased because I've been so used to a long-term relationship). My current partner and I do most of our communicating over email and text or in person; we don't really ever talk on the phone. On the contrary, the ex and I used to spend a lot of time on the phone before we lived together.


1. If your new boyfriend/girlfriend was having long conversations with their ex once in a while without any kind of romantic intentions, would you still want to know about it? Or would you rather not know?

2. Would your answer change if phone calls became in-person meetings (e.g., coffee, lunch, whatever)?

Thanks, hivemind.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (41 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Reverse the situation. If your current partner was in your position, would you want to know? And do you think you should be told?
posted by serunding at 1:23 PM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

you and your partner should be in agreement about contact with exes. the only way to do this is open communication. you can ask your partner exactly what you've asked us - "hey, how much would you like to know about my friendships with exes?"

as to the face-to-face meeting, i think most people would think "if you're hanging out with someone who has seen you naked, i'd at least like to know about it."

finally, i think you really must tell your ex you're seeing someone new. to not is a lie by omission.
posted by nadawi at 1:24 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Would want to know #1. #2 the answer is the same but with more conviction (would be more hurt if in person meetings happened and I didn't know than phone calls.)

It would be unfair an disingenuous to hide conversations with an ex from your current partner. I think an important question is why it's even up for consideration. Is new partner not OK with it and unwilling to comprise (that seems unreasonable to me, and would be a deal-breaker personally.)
Tell, but don't make a big show of telling. Treat it as casual and insignificant as it seems to be.
posted by oblio_one at 1:25 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Although I like the idea of reversing the situation, there simply needs to be an open agreement. Some people want to know, others don't care, others will let you but don't want to know, others would feel that you were hiding something. Like I don't care that my SO talks to her ex's, but I don't want it hidden from me. But I'm weird like that, as is everyone.

What works for you may not work for them, and there is no one response. Ask them what they want to know and where they feel the lines are drawn.
posted by Mercaptan at 1:30 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

To me, deliberately not mentioning it makes it seem like a Big Deal. Like it's something that needs to be secret. Mentioning it makes it seem like Not a Big Deal.

But then, as a lesbian, being in touch with exes is normal/expected/not at all weird. My partner and I live upstairs from one of my exes. One of hers came to a birthday thing of hers recently.

Your relationship mileage may vary, obviously. Oh, and I would likewise tell the ex that I was seeing someone new.
posted by rtha at 1:30 PM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Having conversations with an ex is fine. Hiding them is weird -- or at least, it gives a bad impression.

Having an in-person meeting with an ex is also fine (or at least, I wouldn't care), but hiding that is worse.
posted by jeather at 1:31 PM on October 22, 2010 [9 favorites]

If I were you I would bring it up, making sure not to make it sound like a big deal (this won't be difficult, because it isn't), when the opportunity presents itself. There are a few reasons.

Pragmatically, if your current partner would flip out about this, it'd be nice to know that now so you can get the hell out. But in terms of things more actually likely to happen...

You should mention it in passing only because there's nothing suspicious or weird about the story you're telling, but if you deliberated over it long enough that you eventually had a lot of phone conversations with your ex and your partner didn't find out about it for a long time, I don't know, that would seem a bit off.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:31 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would want to know. I've been in your partner's shoes, and I found out on my own. It really hurt that he hadn't told me. It felt like he was hiding it all just in case he decided to make it something more than just friendly catch-up calls. He said he didn't tell me because he was worried I was going to freak out about it. That's not even remotely like me, so in addition to hiding something, he apparently thought I was a jealous control-freak. I would've been okay with an occasional how-are-you call if I'd only been told about it.

I'd feel a little weird about in-person meetings, but again - if I were told about it, I could work with it.
posted by katillathehun at 1:32 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, I would want to know. If there's nothing to hide, then there's nothing to hide.

If your relationship with your ex has become platonic, then at this point, he/she is just a friend like any other. You should be able and willing to mention the calls to your current partner. Especially if you plan to "continue to have these rather long catch-up conversations."

You said: "I have (out of politeness/consideration) not brought up the fact that I'm seeing someone new, nor have I asked about any dating the ex might be doing."

This tells me it isn't 100% platonic yet. There's no reason not to mention to your ex on the phone that you are seeing someone. "Politeness/consideration" is not a real thing here.

It feels like disingenuousness, in fact... you've had X number of hour-long phone calls with your ex, where X>1, and yet you've both intentionally not brought up your current dating status? Sorry, if you were my pal IRL, I'd be giving you the eyebrow of "uh huh, don't be selling that weak 'we're totally platonic! no really!' business up in here, girl."

And in fact, there's no reason not to be able to say to your ex, "You know, I'm seeing someone right now and he/she might not feel that these calls were 100% kosher, which I respect, so it's great to hear from you but I can only talk for about 10 minutes, is that cool?"

Because... it should be cool. If there are no remaining romantic feelings, right?
posted by pineapple at 1:32 PM on October 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

I was on it's ok not to mention it until you said you haven't revealed your current relationship. You're having an hour-long catch-up conversation with someone you have no feelings for, and you are not mentioning your current relationship? That is a problem.
posted by brainmouse at 1:32 PM on October 22, 2010 [14 favorites]

Talking to your ex is normal. Keeping it secret is pretty weird. What's the worst that would happen if you were to tell your current person that you had a phone conversation with your ex the other day?
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:34 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Since I tell my partner about conversations and encounters I have with people I have never been (and expect that I will never be) romantically involved with, it would feel weird to me not to tell him about a conversation with an ex.

Try turning it around and looking at it from the other direction: Why wouldn't you mention that you'd spoken with your ex?
posted by Lexica at 1:34 PM on October 22, 2010

I think some would want to know, and some would rather not. You should ask instead of trying to guess your partner's wishes. My wishes as a random internet stranger are irrelevant.
posted by grouse at 1:37 PM on October 22, 2010

I would want to know, and I would want to know that neither my partner nor I were uncomfortable about it.
posted by Decani at 1:38 PM on October 22, 2010

You're doing it wrong. No, really.

Next time you talk to Ex, you tell him that you have been seeing New Guy for a couple of months, things are great thanks, how'd your mum? and move the conversation along. Then you tell New Guy you've had a call from Ex, everything was fine, he knows about New Guy, and where do you want to have dinner?

Currently you are hiding facts from both parties. That's not what you do when you are acting above reproach. Sorry.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:38 PM on October 22, 2010 [33 favorites]

"but moving a bit more slowly than I'm used to"
My current partner and I [...] don't really ever talk on the phone. On the contrary, the ex and I used to spend a lot of time on the phone before we lived together. "

i've reread your question a few times and i keep getting stuck on these sentences - maybe you just did the thing most of us have done, included too much information in your question - but maybe you're using your ex as a sort of emotional surrogate while things hot up a little more with the new guy.

there's a few points in your question where i, like pineapple, wonder if you're selling yourself a story that isn't really true as it pertains to the platonic/not platonic nature of your prior relationship.
posted by nadawi at 1:49 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am of the camp if a persons an ex, its for a reason. A better question to ask yourself is why stay in contact, and what are you gaining from communicating with your ex, particularly for an hour on the phone.
I don't know, I am just a firm beleiver that keeping old doors open isn't exactly productive or healthy especially since you were fairly recently together. Most certainly be honest with your significant other, unless you want to raise eyebrows when it eventually surfaces.
posted by handbanana at 1:50 PM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

would you still want to know about it?

I guess technically I would want to know, but not because it would bother me. Personally that would just generate the warm/fuzzy that the other person is being open with me.

if phone calls became in-person meetings

Talking is talking, and I believe in the ability of adults to talk in person without ripping each others' clothes off, so this doesn't really change things.
posted by Phyltre at 1:54 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's very easy to do this. Often if I catch up with an old friend or talk with someone for a while I'll mention it to whomever I'm seeing as part of the day-to-day of my life. All you need to say is "I was talking with Joe Schmoe the other day, he's doing well, pass the peas." If they ask who Joe Schmoe is, you say "Oh, it's an ex of mine from way back, once in a while he gives me a call and we catch up."
posted by Anonymous at 2:00 PM on October 22, 2010

I actually think not telling the ex that you're seeing someone new is weirder. At 3 to 5 months, relationships are still a little new, I could see maybe not mentioning it, but you're right at the edge where it's weird if you don't. It doesn't have to be a big deal, it's an okay thing to just mention in passing you spoke to the person.

But not telling the old person about the new person, especially considering that they broke up with you -- that seems a little awkward.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:00 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

First of all, the whole contact with the ex thing varies A LOT between different people. Some people are creeped out by any contact what-so-ever, some are fine with a close friendship with an ex. It really really matters how this specific person feels about it. But I'll answer your questions for myself personally to hopefully give you a data point:

1. If your new boyfriend/girlfriend was having long conversations with their ex once in a while without any kind of romantic intentions, would you still want to know about it? Or would you rather not know?

I would want to know, and like knowing in my current relationship. As others have said, it's more concerning that you haven't told the ex about the new boyfriend. I could see how that could be weird to bring up, but it's probably better for everyone if he knows you are in a relationship if he's going to continue to have some kind of contact with you.

2. Would your answer change if phone calls became in-person meetings (e.g., coffee, lunch, whatever)?

As long as I trusted my partner that everything was purely platonic I would not care, but it would be a major red flag if my partner was hiding these meetings or even if my partner preferred to have these in-person meetings without me. If it's really just a friendship only thing, then it shouldn't be treated any different than any other friendship.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:01 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Leaving aside the fact that you appear to feel you have something to hide -

There are two types of people: people who would want to know, and people who would not want to know.

If you believe your partner is someone who would rather know than not, clearly you owe it to your partner to tell him or her.

If you believe your partner is someone who would rather remain ignorant -- presumably due either to unreasoning jealousy or to a general preference for keeping life simple even at the expense of dealing with reality -- then why are you with someone you have so little respect for?
posted by foursentences at 2:04 PM on October 22, 2010

More information is always better than less.

Open-ness and disclosure in a relationship is always better than secrecy if the goal is creating and maintaining trust. And why wouldn't it be?
posted by fivesavagepalms at 2:05 PM on October 22, 2010

OP Here:

Thanks everyone for your input so far. To respond to a few points:

- I really can't see new partner freaking out at all about this. Very even-keeled person, understanding, positive, wonderful, etc. It would be very much out of character for them to respond negatively.

- If anything, the ex is more likely to have problems. They are more the jealous type, and might take issue with the speed at which I entered the new relationship. Though I guess that's their problem, not mine. Ideally I'd like to spare their feelings (in the same way that I try not to say potentially hurtful things to any of my friends), but I definitely see now that this needs to be out in the open.

- As for why I haven't mentioned it to either party, it's mostly because I am super hyper averse to talking about potentially awkward things. Seriously my heart rate is increasing just typing this. I know this is my own neurosis, and I just need to get over it. But no, it's not for any latent/lingering feelings for the ex. And I realize introspection is a crappy method of data-collection, but truly, I'm not leaning on the ex for anything. My general chattiness / hatred of awkward leads me to prattle on more than I normally might. For what it's worth, I don't talk to anyone on the phone, really. ("The poster doth protest too much", etc. But really I don't know how else to convey my lack of interest in this ex. I saw photos of them on someone's facebook recently and was actually mildly disgusted.)

- It's easy enough to bring it up with the ex. Next time we talk (assuming we do), it's no big deal to do as DarlingBri suggests. But how to bring this up with my current paramour? Would appreciate any suggestions. I guess something like "Hey, do you ever talk to your ex's?" to get the ball rolling?

I know that once I actually have these conversations, they will in all likelihood go more smoothly and easily than I think. But I fret nonetheless. I promise that I'm actually fairly socially adept, most times. ;) Mefi is a godsend, and especially good at delivering a much-needed shake by the shoulders.

Truly, thanks again for everyone's thoughts so far, please keep them coming.
posted by MouseOfHouseofAnony at 2:07 PM on October 22, 2010

I just posted my own AskMe question having to do with the fact that my ex and I just got back together after 6 years apart in which I got married, had a child and divorced and he had a three-year relationship. We kept an emotional tie over all of those years mainly because we kept in phone contact. We only talked once every year or two, but I think that kept us both from completely moving on even though we obviously both thought that we had. So, in light of my own experience, I would definitely want to know if my SO was communicating with an ex.
posted by mudlark at 2:17 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the Update!

- I think the next time you see the ex's details in the caller id window.... Ignore & Delete.

The reason is this: "If anything, the ex is more likely to have problems. They are more the jealous type, and might take issue with the speed at which I entered the new relationship."

Emphasis mine. Look, right now you are being more loyal/considerate towards your ex than to either yourself or your new partner. That's weird.

- I don't like that your ex keeps calling you. That's weird, too.

- Tell your current partner that your ex has been calling and you find it weird. Be like, "The first time made sense because we had to exchange some items, but now I'm uncomfortable with it."

Then your partner makes some crack about how it is weird, but you're a super catch so they "get it," and oh, btw - pass the peas!

Bottom line here: Stop Talking Calls From Ex.
posted by jbenben at 3:06 PM on October 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

- If anything, the ex is more likely to have problems. They are more the jealous type, and might take issue with the speed at which I entered the new relationship. Though I guess that's their problem, not mine. Ideally I'd like to spare their feelings (in the same way that I try not to say potentially hurtful things to any of my friends), but I definitely see now that this needs to be out in the open.

Doesn't matter. Sorry, but your loyalty is to your new partner now. It certainly is not your job to manage your exes' emotions--that's one of the benefits of not dating a person!

If my husband, who is not a phone person, had chatted with an ex when we'd first been dating via phone and not told me, I would have found it suspicious and weird. In fact, he went on a coffee "date" with an ex a few months into our relationship, and told me all about it (including why he wasn't interested in her anymore) without my prodding. It helped me realize how he was genuinely serious about our relationship.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:07 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with those who say you should mention it, but not make a big deal out of it. Not telling them makes it secret, and being a secret makes it seem more important and significant than it actually seems to be. If the person you're currently dating finds out down the road, even an even-keeled type will wonder why you didn't tell them sooner.

If anything, the ex is more likely to have problems. They are more the jealous type, and might take issue with the speed at which I entered the new relationship. Though I guess that's their problem, not mine. Ideally I'd like to spare their feelings

I totally understand this, and you're kind to worry. But it's their responsibility to take care of their mental health in this kind of situation, not yours. If they can't deal with the fact that you're dating someone else, they shouldn't be calling you on the phone to chat. Your new relationship is a part of your life, and you don't owe it to an ex to tiptoe around it. That can set a bad precedent that'll make things more difficult later, honestly.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 4:23 PM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

#1. Would like to know.
#2. Would really like to know.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:45 PM on October 22, 2010


Just tell them.

I don't know if they want to know, and obviously neither do you, so tell them.

If they don't want to know any more information, they can tell you that, but I highly doubt they are so delicate that this information will make them unable to function.

If you're worried about the impact on your relationship because you suspect you've crossed a line, well, you can only conceal it if you STOP now that you've realized it's not entirely cool. Even then it's not the most honest move.

Otherwise you really, really do need to tell.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:29 PM on October 22, 2010

(That came across as snarkier then I meant...I know it's hard to tell your SO something that might upset them, but sometimes you gotta do it anyway.)
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:30 PM on October 22, 2010

I would want to know. The thing is, I probably wouldn't care that much, but think about how much worse a person would feel if they found out you were talking to your ex and they found out through some other way than you telling them yourself. I would become highly suspicious if I found out by accident rather than full disclosure. And I would absolutely want to know about a face to face, before not after.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 8:41 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

You need to be careful about the trajectory of this type of secret communication. Especially given your update, this probably means a lot more to your ex than it does to you.

In the situations I've been privy to, I don't think I've seen even one instance of exes remaining friends and only friends. It's always angsty, and you know why? One or the other will always view contact as a way to potentially get back together. I'ts just...a law of the universe.

Of course, in the case of my boyfriend, occasional emails with the ex escalated to daily emails with the ex, which escalated to (you guessed it!) the ex sending sex emails.

Every situation is unique, and I'm sure you've got the best intentions. But seriously, stop talking to your ex.
posted by pluot at 8:45 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, sorry, I gave background but forgot to answer your question - whatever you choose to do about communication with your ex, your current boyfriend deserves to know what's already been happening.

Please tell him, preferably in a "I just came to realization that I don't want to talk to my ex anymore, no matter how rare or brief the chat is, because it's simply not important and I'd rather be doing something with you" sort of a talk.
posted by pluot at 8:52 PM on October 22, 2010

Oh and another thing - a lot of people have posted really good advice for how to tell your boyfriend about the calls by casually bringing it up in passing.

Consider if that style of confession would work for the two of you.

It would explode in our faces if I or my boyfriend tried that.

If I was the one who was coming clean, doing it this casually would come off as weird and contrived. I'm pretty sure my guilt would shine through and just make it worse. For me and my speaking style, a serious and loving "Can I talk to you?" would work better.

I also know that if my boyfriend were to be coming clean about his ex, I would be suspicious about something too casual, or if he quickly changed the topic of conversation to something trivial like food.
posted by pluot at 9:13 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been in situations where current boyfriends were talking to exes via email, and yes, I always want to know. If he's been talking to an ex and not telling me, it just looks shady (even if there is no infidelity). I am not a jealous person at all, but I feel that there should be transparency with things like that. If there truly is nothing to hide, then there isn't any reason to hide it. Just say something like, "My ex and I still talk some times." It's always better to be honest.
posted by lexicakes at 10:54 PM on October 22, 2010

You'd be doing your ex a favor by letting him/her know you're seeing someone else. If they react badly, that's their problem. The fact that the ex keeps calling you suggests them are not truly over you. Learning that you are with someone else will help the ex get over you. And I'd wager that the phone calls stop once ex finds out you're not available.

But to answer your question, talking to an ex is fine, hiding it raises red flags. Talking to an ex and not telling them about your new partner is shady, even if you're doing it to spare their feelings, which I honestly believe that you are. It can be very difficult to hurt someone, but sometimes it is the best for all parties involved and you've just got to suck it up and do it.
posted by emd3737 at 3:31 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend is friends with almost all his exes. I am friendly with mine. When we see or talk to or think about our exes, we tell each other, not because we want to thwart secrecy or jealousy but because we talk about the things in our lives. The face that we used to suck face with those people ain't no big thing.

However, I have been in the situation (with one aforementioned ex who I am now friendly with) where he didn't mention talking to his ex to me. It made him uncomfortable to even casually mention her to me. Because he was madly in love with her and never told me and it ruined our lives for a short while. So I regard holding that kind of information as a BAD sign.
posted by custard heart at 3:45 PM on October 23, 2010

I tell my SO when I talk to my exes -- not in a "Now I have to tell you something..." way, but in a "You know who called me? X, that guy I dated back in..." or the "Talked to X today. He likes that movie we hate."

If my SO talked to any of his exes -- since he's not in the habit -- I would want to know because it would be out of character. I wouldn't freak out about it, unless I found out he did and didn't tell me about it.

Coffee/social activities would be weird. If I wanted to go for coffee with an ex, I'd bring it up with the SO before committing and feel like I'd explain why I'd want to spend time with him in person that I couldn't accomplish by phone.
posted by Gucky at 3:57 PM on October 23, 2010

I know that you want your questions answered, but I don't think it's very relevant how much someone on the internet would mind if his or her significant other talked to an ex-partner.

The only person whose opinion matters is your current partner. If your relationship with him or her is a serious one, and it sounds as if it is since the relationship is exclusive, then you should just talk to your partner. For example:

"I was wondering if you mind that I catch-up with my ex on the phone every once in a while. He/she always initiates the calls and they are only once every few months, but we actually met in person once before to exchange some belongings because of the breakup. I'm serious about you and I want to know your opinion about this. If you are uncomfortable, then I don't have to talk to him/her anymore, because you are infinitely more important to me than he/she is."

I think your partner's answer really depends on just your partner. I know that my significant other would flip out if I were doing something like that and would definitely want to know, but it really really depends on the person. If it were me in your partner's position, I would like to know because this ex was once an extremely important person in your life, and even disregarding whatever jealousy I might have, it would seem like an important matter to me. I would also trust you to have in-person meetings if you wanted to. I would prefer that you don't if you're neutral but are only doing it because you're asked, but if these meetings are valuable to you because your ex is your friend then I would squash whatever insecurities I had. But the most important thing is to just talk with your partner. Keeping this information from them would just make a bigger deal out of this than it is, especially since you don't really care about this ex anymore.
posted by hotchocolate at 8:06 PM on October 23, 2010

Secrecy implies significance. If catching up with the ex is just chit-chat, tell your SO to avoid any melodramatic discoveries down the line.
posted by citywolf at 11:22 PM on October 23, 2010

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