Should I tell my boyfriend that we're friends with a long-ago ex?
November 5, 2010 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Should I tell my boyfriend that we're friends with a long-ago ex? My social circle includes a guy that I dated 10 years ago for less than a year. He is now married to someone else, and there's no lingering unresolved business between us. He and his wife are part of my main group of friends, but as they are kind of busy, I don't see an awful lot of them, maybe once a month. Of course my current boyfriend (of 1 year) is always invited and often comes when this group hangs out

. I have never seen a reason to tell my current boyfriend that oh by the way, so-and-so and I dated in college. It's never come up in the group setting and it's simply not relevant as far as I'm concerned. At this point I've been friends with him for so much longer than we dated that *I* can barely remember we were an item for a few months. The ex and I are not super close anymore, either.

I would be fine with my current boyfriend knowing, but I think it would be making it way more than it is to go out of my way to point it out to him. I'm just a little concerned that one day he'll find out and be alarmed that I never told him. If it were relevant in a conversation, I'd mention it, it just never has come up.

Am I obligated to make a point to tell him, or is it fine to let it go unless it comes up later?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total)
You're not obligated to tell him, but these things have ways of coming out and the longer you neglect to mention it, if he finds out some time from now, it might impact your boyfriend's trust.

If you don't want to be straightforward, or if that approach is too awkward - tell a story about college involving you and the ex, but not a romantic one. Mention that was when you had your short thing together before realizing you made better friends.

My boyfriend knows that one of my closest friends is a guy I dated in high school over a decade ago. It's all out in the open and clear, and my boyfriend has no trust issues as a result.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:45 PM on November 5, 2010

I don't think you're obligated. A few months, ten years ago? I wouldn't feel upset or surprised if I were in your SO's place and found out about that kind of ancient history— assuming it doesn't feel like there's still something going on between you two.

On the other hand, it's so easy to just say, "Hey, did you know so-and-so and I went out for a while back in the day?" and then you just don't have to worry about it any more.
posted by hattifattener at 12:45 PM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't see any reason not to tell him. Not that it's likely to happen, but if it ever comes up from anyone other than you, it'll look pretty bizarre.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:46 PM on November 5, 2010

If you are close with your BF he should know about it. Someone else could randomly bring it up when you arent around and then he would sit and wonder why you didn't tell him.
posted by lakerk at 12:47 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I treat relationships like debt. After 7 years, they're discharged.
posted by geoff. at 12:48 PM on November 5, 2010 [9 favorites]

I'd say just this:

"This feels stupid because I didn't mention it earlier, but So-and-so and I went out back in the day. I just realized the other day that you didn't know about it, and that it might seem weird that I'd never mentioned it if it were to come up. But honestly, it doesn't feel like a big deal to me and I was worried it would seem otherwise if I didn't mention it."

Then prepare for any reaction -- from him not caring to him bean-plating that there is some secret reason why you didn't tell him. (You haven't really given us much to play with as to what type of reaction he might have.) If he is concerned, respect that but also laugh it off. Don't make it a bigger deal by making it super-serious.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:49 PM on November 5, 2010 [16 favorites]

Wait until they come up in conversation again, and then just force it in. "You know, X and I used to date for a few months."

Depending on what you like, you could make in into a joke, or just be blunt and tell him that it's no big deal but you didn't want him to think you were keeping secrets if it came out later.
posted by twirlypen at 12:50 PM on November 5, 2010

I'm just a little concerned that one day he'll find out and be alarmed that I never told him.

A reasonable person free of jealousy issues would not be alarmed at the fact that a group of your friends includes a dude you briefly dated a decade ago. On the other hand, randomly going out of your way to inform him would be a little weird.
posted by griphus at 12:50 PM on November 5, 2010

obligated? no. should you anyway? yes. i just think it's kind to let your partner know that you're sharing beers with someone who has seen you naked.
posted by nadawi at 12:51 PM on November 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

I think you should only disclose it if it comes up, and make it seem as insignificant and possibly funny as it truly is. If you sit him down and have the "I want you to know that me and Billy dated ten years ago" he may wonder what prompted it. If the entire group is hanging out and someone mentions it, make it a joke and say something like "Good thing I got some common sense after dating him, that's how I found you."

This isn't a big deal but thinking of it as a secret may make it into a big deal.
posted by _DB_ at 12:51 PM on November 5, 2010

Just work it into the conversation when your ex does something you don't like.

"Wow, did you see how drunk/obsessive/silly/off-key/badly dressed Ex was tonight? Just ONE reason I had to stop dating him ten years ago!"
posted by mikepop at 12:58 PM on November 5, 2010

I'm in the tell-him camp. A variation of this happened to me, and I was really annoyed that I wasn't told until I had hung out with the ex a few times over a few months. I trusted that there was no unresolved business, but... damn, he's seen my gf naked and done naked things to her. And given that I was expected to interract with the ex on a regular basis, it seemed disrespectful/discourteous somehow to not tell me. I understand that so much time had passed that my gf didn't think of the guy in question as "an ex" so much as "my friend Bob", but I felt like I should at least have had a heads-up.

Have you guys had many conversations about exes? That's how the topic came up in my situation. I also like McMikeNamara's and twirlypen's ideas. Casual is good.

But to not mention it... imagine how awkward your bf would feel if someone in the group made some joke involving how you and the ex had dated, and your bf was the only one who didn't know.
posted by MouseOfHouseofAnony at 12:59 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine dated another friend, like TWICE, when she first came to town. They did not sleep together.

Five years later I was recounting the story of how we met in front of her and her husband and mentioned that. She'd never told him. And BECAUSE she'd never told him, it was a HUGE stink, mucho awkwardness, and suddenly her husband was no longer comfortable hanging out with the 2-date guy. Which is weird on his part, OK, but man did I feel bad about it.

So please tell your boyfriend in a low-key, it's-no-big-deal way.
posted by cyndigo at 1:17 PM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would tell him simply because it's weird that your friends all know this and he doesn't.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:37 PM on November 5, 2010 [8 favorites]

Ahh, this recently happened to me. I went to the wedding of a good friend and my ex-boyfriend and his new wife were also attending. To complicate matters, I was invited to stay with the bride and groom and the ex and his wife were invited to stay in the house as well. Because our break-up (after a 1.5 year relationship) had been somewhat strained, but it had been about 5 years and we had finally resolved things to a more cordial place- I told the bride that as long as they were ok with it, I was ok with the living arrangements.

Ex assured the bride that his new wife was completely ok with it and that bygones were bygones. I ended up picking ex and wife up at the airport with groom because I was the only guest with a car. Within about 30 minutes of chatting with them, I came to the realization that wife had no idea who I was. She didn't even know that we had all gone to the same college. This was especially worrisome because I knew our relationship would come up at some point or another because our circle of friends knew us before, during, and after our relationship. We dated during a tumultuous part of his life when he got kicked out of school, and we all have stories to share about that time.

Long story short, I pulled him aside and told him I was worried about her reaction. I also told him that it was up to him to tell her because it was none of my business. He assured me it was no big deal. Our past relationship did eventually come up during that weekend and her eyes did bug out a little bit, and that told me that he hadn't told her. Because it happened after a couple days of hanging out, I think that helped her know that were wasn't anything between us. Plus, she is a really awesome chick who understood I was trying not to rock the boat. But until the revelation I was in an awkward position where I felt like I couldn't talk about certain things.

I'm not sure if your ex in your circle of friends knows you haven't told your current boyfriend, but I was advise you to do so soon. You don't know how that information will come out and what his reaction will be, so better to do it in a low-key kind of way rather than in a room with ex and a bunch of people.

Seriously, you don't want to deal with this kind of awkwardness.

Wow, that was really long. Sorry. /college-dating-drama
posted by Mouse Army at 1:49 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

"I'm just a little concerned that one day he'll find out and be alarmed that I never told him."

"Dude, I thought you knew. Just slipped my mind."
posted by klangklangston at 1:50 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have been in this situation. A mutual, casual friend of ours is someone I had a relationship with.

I have no desire, and feel no need, to mention this. If it comes up, it comes up, and I will deal with it (not sure how).
posted by Danf at 1:52 PM on November 5, 2010

I've been in your boyfriend's shoes. I could not have cared less that we were hanging out with my boyfriend's ex, but I didn't know about it and everyone else in the group did. When I found out, it made me wonder what else I didn't know. Just bring it up, casually. It's up to your boyfriend to decide whether it's a big deal or not.
posted by donajo at 1:57 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

This depends on your boyfriend and on what sort of tone you two have set about exes in general. Personally I couldn't give less of a crap who my wife was involved with in the past. Didn't care when we'd been dating a week, didn't care after five years, don't care now that we're married. My wife likes to live in some sort of eternal now when it comes to our personal histories - not a problem that we have em but she'd rather not talk about it.

I think there's a million different outlooks on this sort of thing. You probably have some idea about your boyfriend's attitude about this. That should be your guide, providing it's not inappropriate ("I must know everyone you ever kissed, EVER!") or insane ("We must pretend we were both virgins when we met, despite my prodigious sex toy collection & advanced moves").
posted by phearlez at 2:35 PM on November 5, 2010

Oh just tell him. It doesn't sound like any character in this story is prone to crazy jealousy. He'll probably grunt and fall asleep.
posted by boghead at 2:53 PM on November 5, 2010

Agreeing with others that while the information itself probably (hopefully) isn't important to him, how he finds out about it might be. I'd let him know in a pretty offhanded way what went on.

I really can't see it being a deal at all unless your boyfriend is superinsanejealous.
posted by elder18 at 2:57 PM on November 5, 2010

Is he generally weird about this sort of thing? If he is you might as well have it out now because it's likely to come out someday and "you've been hiding this for twenty years" is a hell of a lot worse than "you've been hiding this for a year" although both are dumb.

If he is not, forget about it. If it comes up and you are asked why you never brought it up you shrug and say "I guess I never think about it, it was only a few months back in college and it was never serious". That would do it for me in a similar situation.
posted by nanojath at 3:11 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Dude, I thought you knew. Just slipped my mind."

There's no reason for him to know. You can try "I didn't think it was a big deal", but "I thought you knew" is a load of crap.

I agree with McMikeNamara. In fact, I'd probably go with that phrasing near verbatim.
posted by ymendel at 3:24 PM on November 5, 2010

The next time you're going to go out with your friends, just bring it up. "So I think Bob & Carol are going to be able to make it tonight. Did I ever tell you that Bob & I went out a million years ago? He's a nice guy and all, but I am soo glad I ended up with you."

Or what McMikeNamara said.
posted by dogmom at 7:02 PM on November 5, 2010

If it's irrelevant, it's irrelevant.

If it were to somehow get referenced casually, I'd react exactly as nanojath mentions above, shrug and note that I never really think about it.

Good lord, if everyone I know who dated each other for a few months in college required full disclosure to all new mutual friends, all we'd do is talk about who we dated in college. And the expiration date for the entertainment value of that sort of talk has loooong since passed at 10 years. Of course, there are those people who just can't help but rehash the once-juicy details of ye old college days, but they're generally being tiresome about all sorts of long-since-hilarious stories.
posted by desuetude at 7:45 PM on November 5, 2010

It sounds like it's important to you in some way, OP, so I would just tell him. Preferably in one of the casual ways suggested. Otherwise your boyfriend might well freak out that you felt the need to tell him. Incidentally, whether or not you two share a lot of information with each other about your pre-relationship lives would also be a factor to consider. If you know about each other's other exes and it's just this one that you haven't told him about, that's kind of strange. If you don't talk about exes at all anyway, then it seems much less important.

But as I said right at the beginning, it seems like it's important to you, and that it might therefore be a good idea to plan telling him, otherwise you might have trouble being casual about it if/when it comes up unexpectedly.
posted by bardophile at 12:03 AM on November 6, 2010

To say you dated someone for "less than a year" suggests you dated them for close to a year, which is a significant length of time. And dating someone for that long is a rather significant event in your life. It would be weird to not mention it. Imagine any other thing you did for close to a year (say, the year you spent in France). Surely your boyfriend would know about that. So why would you not tell him this?
posted by jayder at 7:50 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

With regard to an expiration date on the obligation to disclose this type of information ... Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I don't think it's fair to withhold from your boyfriend the fact that you've also had sex with this other person in your social circle, no matter how long ago it was. There's something about that sexual intimacy that gives you and your ex a continuing bond, no matter how insignificant you think it is. Your boyfriend deserves to know.
posted by jayder at 8:11 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was in a somewhat similar situation that turned out to be hurtful even though nobody did anything clearly unethical. This is an especially extreme example of what can go wrong if someone doesn't mention these things and should not be taken as typical.

A coworker and I dated for a couple of months; it didn't work and we broke up and remained friends. A couple of years later he went on to become engaged to another coworker, a wonderful woman I like and admire, until his mental health problems got very bad and they broke up. And a year or so later he killed himself. I was one of the people involved in finding his body, and in the police and coroner's reports I was identified as an ex-girlfriend of the deceased. That was how his ex-fiance found out, and it was a bolt from a blue sky for her. She didn't know if we had dated for a long or a short time, what it had meant, anything at all, and she had to deal with it in the midst of terrible grief. When she talked to me about it, I could only say how sorry I was that he hadn't said anything, and that I had had an uncomfortable feeling that he might not have mentioned it, and that I had considered mentioning it to her to make sure she knew but decided it would be inappropriate. In hindsight I wish I had urged him to tell her. Like other people have said in this thread, the thing that was hard for her was not that he and I had dated, but that she had been left in the dark.

One big difference between that situation and yours is that it had only been a few years since her fiance and I had broken up. Not to mention that just about anything one finds out on a freakin' coroner's report is going to be more charged than normal information.
posted by jillzilla at 12:57 PM on November 6, 2010

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