What's the etiquette for catching up with "exes"?
November 25, 2014 11:13 PM   Subscribe

Specifically if you are in a serious relationship with someone else. I'm sure this varies among couples and the best thing is probably just to talk to each other openly...but before I bring it up with my boyfriend, I wanted to get some unbiased advice to make sure I'm not stepping across a line because I do feel weird about it.

If it matters, I am a woman in a serious relationship with a man. We both live together, are in our 30s, unmarried with no kids. Generally speaking we both trust each other and give each other a lot of freedom and often do things without the other, and are in a pretty good place right now. He has a lot of female friends and also stays in contact with his exes on a semi-regular basis. So I'm not sure why I'm making it into a big deal and hesitating bringing it up to him.

The "ex" in question is not truly an ex, but someone I went out with a bunch of times and think of fondly. There wasn't like a break-up or or any clear-cut end point. I moved away from the city where he still lives. I had made a couple of visits back while I was still single to spend time with him or see him while in the city for other purposes. He recently contacted me (he does once a year or so via text and we leave it as "well, if you're ever in the city, let me know..." type of thing for the past few years) I haven't seen him since I started dating my current boyfriend - it's been about 3 1/2 yrs since I've seen him, and last thing he knew I was seeing someone else. So I was VERY surprised to get a message from him last week to see how I was doing. I'd like to see him but if it's going to be more trouble in my current relationship than it's worth I won't bother. Even though the "ex" is a nice guy with plenty of platonic female friend himself, I worry that he is just contacting me to see if I'm "available" again. I'm not worried about being unfaithful or anything like that, but having old memories being stirred up like this feels icky and disloyal, which is a sign that I probably shouldn't bother. BUT on the other hand it would be nice to just see him as a friend and breathe a sigh of relief that we've both moved on. When he and I met I had a lot of stress going on in my life with school, and spending time with him was a MUCH needed escape that I have always been grateful for.

So - are there unwritten rules about this thing that I should be aware of? Any advice to sort through my feelings on what would be best to do in this situation? What should I say to my boyfriend that doesn't make this into a big deal?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It might help to ask yourself why you feel compelled to see this dude. Sure, you guys had fun together, but that was in the past. Is a platonic meeting worth taking out points from your "relationship bank?"

At the very least, I wouldn't meet without explicitly telling him you have a serious, live-in boyfriend beforehand. Don't be surprised if he backs out.
posted by jessca84 at 11:26 PM on November 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I spent a week at my ex-boyfriend's house looking after his wife and child, so my rubric on exes is probably unlike that of others. But I would still be telling my partner that the person in question is an ex and I would very much be mentioning my partner to said ex.

That all said, you seem to be pinning a lot on 'closure' and 'moving on' that are somewhat unwarranted and make 'coffee with an ex' a really really big deal. What if the coffee proves you haven't moved on? Why is that the point of the meet? Those are the questions you probably want to answer.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:36 PM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

um? i'm not sure why this is an issue? your bf chats with his exes. you would like to chat with yours. just tell him, "hey carl's in town and wants to get together for lunch on tuesday. so i'm gonna do that." you're way over thinking this. if your bf makes it a big issue, then you need to discuss with him WHY he has a problem with it, given he sees his exes.

now, if you were going on a multi-day trip and staying at the ex's house, then that is a rather suspicious thing, and i wouldn't suggest doing that. you're leaving yourself open to temptations and your bf may assume you're going to cheat on him.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:37 PM on November 25, 2014 [14 favorites]

are there unwritten rules about this thing that I should be aware of?

Like, global, universally known rules that are applicable to all people?


Does your boyfriend have unwritten rules about it? Maybe!

Here's the thing: either a) you suspect your boyfriend will not like this because of the way he acts or b) you suspect he won't like it because you, yourself, aren't particularly comfortable with it. Or both.

In either case, it's worth mentioning and if you aren't comfortable mentioning it to him, you probably shouldn't do it.
posted by toomuchpete at 11:44 PM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

It sounds like contact from this non-ex ex has rattled you way more than it should, and you might want to explore why this is. If I had to bet, I would say that you have some unresolved feelings for him.

What to do about this? I'm not sure. You say that you are in a "pretty good" place with your current partner. Where you would want to put the emphasis? Is it on the "pretty" or is it on the "good"?

Either way, if you want to maintain your relationship with your current partner, I would encourage you not to meet up alone with this non-ex ex. Not because there is some general unwritten rule forbidding this (you know this because you know many people--including your own partner!--who regularly spend time alone with their exes), but because your current state of discomfort suggests that you might, in fact, carry a torch for this person.

Perhaps the best thing to do in this situation is invite non-ex ex to a group gathering at your home while your partner is present, or bring partner along for a weekend away and have a group dinner.
posted by girl flaneur at 1:04 AM on November 26, 2014 [10 favorites]

It's a big fat problem because he's contacting you to see if you are "available." You're right! It is a problem!!

You're going to get a lot of "I'm friends with my ex" in this thread, and this situation is not that.

Catch up with the guy via email or text and let him know you're living with BF and things are great!

That'll be the end of that, unless this guy is the type to talk you into cheating.

To your BF before responding to this guy....

"Hey, Guy From Past contacted me via X method, and I'm pretty sure he's only reaching out to find out if I'm single. I'm going to reply and mention up front things between you and me are great. What do you think?"

Or, if this is really sketchy because you know Guy From Past is open to cheating, just delete the message and forget he reached out.

You know in your gut what's going on. Stop playing games with yourself. If you are happy at home, don't buy drama or trouble.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 1:15 AM on November 26, 2014 [17 favorites]

Yes, this is a bit different from a straightforward ex situation, so even if rules existed for that then they wouldn't apply here.

Jbenben's answer seems pretty comprehensive. Be honest and straight and you won't go far wrong.

It may be possible to turn your relationship with this guy into a simpler, platonic friends-with-a-past thing, but that's not where you are just now, and you can't get there without following jbenben's advice.
posted by cincinnatus c at 2:43 AM on November 26, 2014

I think a lot of people are responding as if this is an ex of yours where there was a definitely ending and reconciliation into a friendship.

that isn't what this is at all. this is something that never really had any conclusion in the first place. there's still a lot of weird pent up tension here, and you yourself see it.

for what it's worth, i have seen weird what-was-that-relationship friends with benefits sorts of things like this turn in to legitimate friendships, both in my own life and others. But i don't think you're off the mark in assuming that he probably is looking for more than a friendly chat here, or at least thinks that's on the table.

i'm not in camp "cut off all contact now!!1!", but i do think you should be very up front with him and really consider if you believe his responses, and trust your gut on what it seems is really going on here.

i think a lot of the reason you think that hanging out with him would be some horrible dishonest thing to do is because you know he's approaching it that way. and i think another part is that you don't know if you really want to vehemently and instantly say no, because in a sense you miss that. this isn't some sinful awful thing, but be honest with yourself about why he wants to meet up, and why you'd want to. It seems like you're already pretty conscious of that, though.
posted by emptythought at 2:50 AM on November 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

There's one way to test your "ex" to see what his motives are - respond to his email and say this:

"Great to hear from you! I would like to catch up, but how about I bring my boyfriend? He'd love to meet you too, I'm sure!"

And then wait to see what your "ex" says. If he backs out or doesn't respond at all, then you know that he was trolling for a booty call, in which case fuck him. If he responds but says something like "oh, I'd much rather keep it just between us," then he's trolling for a booty call but is trying to be subtle about it, in which case fuck him.

But if he's up for it, then you can take him up on it. And bring your boyfriend or not, depending on what your boyfriend thinks.

But it sounds like the real question you're facing is not "what is the etiquette for catching up with exes", but rather "how can I get proof of my ex's motives". Mentioning the current boyfriend very prominently and monitoring his reaction is a perfect way to do that.

Oh, and definitely discuss the situation with your boyfriend, preferably before you get into this, just so he trusts that you're still being open with him. I know he is and he trusts you, but the best way to keep someone's trust is to keep proving that you are trustWORTHY.

Good luck. I got the same hunch about your ex as you, but the innocent "sweet, can I bring my boyfriend?" move is likely to spook him.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:38 AM on November 26, 2014 [13 favorites]

This guy's not exactly an ex; more like a seasonal event. He's the McRib of relationships. And when McDonalds announces the return of McRib, you don't go there and share a cup of coffee and talk about things unrelated to eating a McRib.

Tell him you're busy. He'll get the message.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:59 AM on November 26, 2014 [11 favorites]

Sounds like he's dipping his toe in the water for a freebie. Tell him about your bf.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:02 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find that just saying exactly what you mean to both men would be the best answer.

To your 'friend': Hey! Glad you got in touch. I'd love to meet you for dinner. I'm in this AWESOME relationship now, his name is Jorge and he enjoys photography and pre-code movies. Do you have a girlfriend?

To your BF: Hey Jorge, this guy I've known forever wants to meet for dinner. We used to date and we reconnect every so often. He's going to be in town on Tuesday.

But here's the thing. If this 'ex' you speak of doesn't know you're in a relationship, then how close are you really? I mean, it's in your social media status, and if you guys talk every couple of months...basically what I'm saying is that this 'ex' isn't really a friend if you have to catch him up like this.

As for your BF, why is this the first time he's heard of your 'ex'? I mean you tell stories about stuff you've done with other people in your past. He probably knows something about your best friend from college, right?

Frankly, I don't think 'ex' is important enough to be fussed with any angst let alone worth wasting a question on Ask Metafilter. Unless he is, in which case...this isn't really about an ex, is it?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:13 AM on November 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

Wait, so this ex doesn't know you have a boyfriend? Tell him and see if he still wants to get together.
posted by discopolo at 5:14 AM on November 26, 2014

I worry that he is just contacting me to see if I'm "available" again.

The "ex" is not contacting you to "breathe a sign of relief and move on" - he is asking you out on a date. If you do meet him, then you are:
1. Going on date with a guy, while involved in a serious relationship
2. Showing up on a date with a guy, so that you can "move on"

Seems to me, meeting the "ex" is playing with the mind of both your boyfriend and your "ex" - just so you can have closure on an issue that you already seem to know is closed.
posted by Flood at 5:22 AM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, like others have said, this guy is checking to see if you are available. This is basically a date. That's why you're uncomfortable.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:56 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd word things differently, but I like the essence of Ruthless Bunny's suggestion. The first step (if you decide to continue, of course) is to be honest with both your partner and you sort-of-ex and to see how they react. But before you jump to that, I'm in full agreement with everyone saying that this seems like a lot of angst and unresolved issues over an ex -- there's more going on in your feelings as you have expressed them here, and you need to get things settled for yourself before opening any doors.

For what it's worth, both of us are in low-key social-media-style contact with exes as well as occasional "hey, I'm going to be in your city next week, do you have time for coffee?" kinds of meetings, but going on a pseudo-date or exploring feelings and "closure" wouldn't be cool. That's individual and your relationship might be completely different, but it's how we have set our boundaries on this.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:58 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think a lot of people are making a lot of assumptions about your ex. You say he periodically contacts you, and this is just like the other times. Why the big concern that this time it is different? I don't think there is necessarily anything overtly worrying in his contacting you, and I don't think it is fair to assume he is trying to booty call you. Could he be? Sure. But I think he may deserve the benefit of the doubt. If you want to meet up with him, fine. I would casually mention your boyfriend in your reply and go from there, but as it stands I wouldn't necessarily assume the guy is trolling. He's just doing what you say he periodically does (ie. touch base with you).

The only thing that would give me pause is your getting a little worked up over this. I think perhaps this is a little more risky/exciting in your own mind than you're willing to admit to yourself.

Let me draw a real-life comparison of a message from an ex that SHOULD warrant a lot of doubt.

Last VALENTINE'S DAY (I kid you not) an ex of mine sent me a message on facebook saying how he saw in a recent post of mine that I was trying to make my own ginger beer. He said he had a bunch of his own homemade honey mead at his house and I should stop by to try some, and then gave me his address, his phone number, and a list of good times/dates for me to stop by. Now, this was an ex who I never talk to and didn't really keep in contact with. We were still friends on facebook because our "breakup" wasn't a big thing but more of a fizzle out.

So an ex I never kept in contact with messaged me on valentines day offering liquor at his house.

THAT is worthy of a whole hell of a lot of raised eyebrows. I looked back in my facebook history and saw that he "liked" my wedding pictures, so he knew full well I was married. And I mean, seriously, Valentine's Day?!

Anyway, after showing it to my husband I replied with something along the lines of how honey mead isn't for me and that I am more of a wine girl and that my husband makes his own wine that is really great, isn't homemade liquor fun, hope things are well with you. I never got a reply and haven't heard from him since.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:07 AM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

By default, this is not a big deal. But...

Your partner has demonstrated it isn't a big deal for him, and maintains friendships with his exes. You've demonstrated it isn't a big deal for you, by being a sane and secure person while he maintains those friendships.

So I am genuinely asking you why this FWBex of yours is causing such disproportionate anxiety. It reads a bit like your not really over him, to be honest. If that is the case, don't put your primary relationship in jeopardy and don't reconnect.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:18 AM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


I just had a look at my comment above, and wanted to clarify something:
If he backs out or doesn't respond at all, then you know that he was trolling for a booty call, in which case fuck him. If he responds but says something like "oh, I'd much rather keep it just between us," then he's trolling for a booty call but is trying to be subtle about it, in which case fuck him.
It is probably obvious that in this instance, I mean "fuck him" in the "to hell with him" sense and not the "have sex with him" sense, but just in case....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:43 AM on November 26, 2014 [13 favorites]

I'm friends with exes and I have other not-quite-exes who I am in this sort of relationship with who contact me now and then. As far as I'm concerned the ball is in your court now, so this is your thing to deal with if you want to or forget it if you want to.

I'm with DarlingBri, this is a sort of normalish thing that happens, particularly at the holidays when people might be "back in town" or in some other way in proximity, but you seem sort of worked up about it. The way you're framing it "Etiquette for dealing with current partners" seems less of an issue than you trying to figure out what exactly you want to do about this specific guy. And at some level the choices are: see him or don't see him. And it seems like what you are saying is that you'd like to see him but you'd sort of like that to happen in a specific way ("Hey we've both moved on and are happy about that, great!") but are concerned that things won't go that way. Which means either you have to deal with feelings of your own or possibly feelings from him that might make you ... feel awkward?

I think what I'd do first is talk about this stuff with your partner, just to give yourself some reassurance that you're actually handling this and not just being weird about it. Not like your partner has to give you permission but they might have some suggestions, might have gone through this, might have advice. And then if you want to meet the guy I'd just do it in as non-datelike a way as possible. Meet for coffee during the day, in public, with a fixed end time and stick to all that. To me the dangerdanger signs are having a date-like interaction that is mushy and could send the wrong messages. You are totally in control of the messages you send. Send one that says "I am in a happy relationship. It's nice to see you and catch up"
posted by jessamyn at 8:14 AM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Eh, I don't see any real evidence for this being something to be worried about. Go with your gut: If you really would like to see him, invite him to go for coffee and add something like "my BF would love to meet you too, but he can't make it right then." Personally, I've got exes that I meet for cocktails regularly with no weirdness attached and I've got exes who make my go-no-further spidey-senses tingle when I run into them on the street; the difference is usually much more obvious than you'd think.

a.k.a. the Jessamyn Method
posted by psoas at 12:21 PM on November 26, 2014

To answer your question directly, you tell your boyfriend that an old friend/flame/ex is in town and you'd like to grab coffee and catch up. If your boyfriend is chatting up his own exes, there's nothing more you need to say -- he should expect you will do the same.

However, I think you know the situation is a little trickier than that. Your unease over it has to do with the fact that there was never any closure to this other relationship that you seem to have such fond memories of. You speak positively of him (your 'ex') and still seem quite smitten over how much stress relief, at the time, your arrangement with him provided. But you initiated a fade, visited his city for sexytimes and closed your encounters/interactions with "well, if you're ever in the city, let me know..." ...which, as I understand it, just means "lets hook up again for sexytimes if you're ever in the city"

But, something that I find interesting is that this ex contacting you isn't a new development. You say he contacts you once a year or so to catch up/see how you're doing and that it's been 3.5 years since you've last seen one another. And more importantly, that the last he knew, you were already in a relationship (fwiw, I'm surprised that despite keeping in yearly contact, ex doesn't know your current bf and the bf from 3.5 years ago are different). So he contacts you, like he does every year (including the past 3.5 years), and suddenly, for whatever reason, this time in particular, it's only because he wants/is expecting a bootycall? Did he mention he was going to be in your city for one? If not, are you planning on being in his? Who's driving this face-to-face meeting that's got you so anxious about bootycalls to begin with?

FWIW, I think the icky and disloyal feelings may be coming from the fact that these aren't interactions with an 'ex'. He's a friend with benefits and you never officially ended that dynamic of your relationship with him. Perhaps you were thinking that time and distance would do it for you? If it didn't, it means potentially having that 'closure' conversation -- which is absolutely weird to have with another person if you're in a serious relationship with someone else. But it's also weird to assume this guy is still pining away for you or expecting sexytimes when he hasn't even seen you in over 3 years, knew you had a boyfriend over those 3 years, and has only kept in touch via text. I'm sure you're a lovely, attractive person...but it sounds like this guy is just trying to maintain a casual friendship and the assumptions that he hasn't moved on (from the FWB arrangement) are coming from you.
posted by stubbehtail at 12:59 PM on November 26, 2014

Ex are called ex for just that reason. They are the past and need to stay there. Your bf attitude towards his ex is more of an eyebrow raiser, than yours.
posted by jellyjam at 2:49 PM on November 26, 2014

"Great to hear from you! I would like to catch up, but how about I bring my boyfriend? He'd love to meet you too, I'm sure!"

And then wait to see what your "ex" says. If he backs out or doesn't respond at all, then you know that he was trolling for a booty call, in which case fuck him. If he responds but says something like "oh, I'd much rather keep it just between us," then he's trolling for a booty call but is trying to be subtle about it, in which case fuck him.

But if he's up for it, then you can take him up on it. And bring your boyfriend or not, depending on what your boyfriend thinks.

There's a possible response from old-flame that is left out of this and that is, "Disappointing! I was hoping that you were single. If that were to change, please let me know, but in the meantime, I wish you all the best."

I know this because I am available for the first time in a long time and I sent a message like this to a woman with whom I have some longstanding unfinished business. I am visiting her town soon, and have no interest, if she's not single, in either hanging out with her and her boyfriend, or stringing her along trying to talk her into sleazing around behind his back, or ghosting once I have the news. My message was somewhat more direct than your old flame's from what I can tell but I know that most people are less direct than I am.

But this is a situation where some directness would help and you can say, "I'd like to get together but just to be clear I am in a committed relationship with someone and I want to make sure, with our history, that this isn't a romantic get-together in any way" Then you can bring your boyfriend or not without relying on him as a wedge to force out the truth of old-flame's feelings. You can just ask old-flame and listen to what he says.

But on the third hand, something about the whole thing makes me think you still have Feelings. And you shouldn't see him, boyfriend in tow or not, if you still have Feelings--like I'm not convinced that you can say the thing that I suggested above and mean it? Like maybe you wouldn't want to see him if it was clear that you wouldn't be flirting or whatever or stirring around those Feelings again. Sorry if this is wrong and/or sorry that I keep capitalizing Feelings like a jackass internet hipster.

(I haven't heard back from my lady which probably gives me my answer one way or another, but there's still some time and she might be unsure or she might be anything...I haven't talked to her in a year or two. She might be a wizard now. But an attractive wizard, still, if social media is any indication. and also I sent the message a little early, I wanted to give her a little extra time in case I could be the straw that broke the camel's back on some lame boyfriend in plenty of time. "Oh Kwine is single, I have to get rid of Mike." Sorry Mike.

That is the level of confidence that I am swinging in this matter
posted by Kwine at 10:39 PM on November 26, 2014

Sometimes seeing someone you had romantic feelings for or intense chemistry with years ago can be valuable because it can make you realize how far you've actually grown apart, how little you find interesting or attractive about them now, how your values have shifted, how you don't really share the same sense of humor anymore, and how awesome your current SO is, how much more compatible you are, how much more in-line he is with who you are now. Do you feel, deep down, that you need this confirmation? It's usually best when this happens as a run-in, not in a pseudo-date situation... although I don't know if I would view this as a date or "booty call" as some are suggesting. Nevertheless, I will second the comments above that your anxious feelings about the whole thing probably indicates your answer. That you're posting this question seems to imply there is unfinished business on your end, but I don't think that means you are primed to jeopardize your current relationship. Not at all. You seem solid. But you're human, and one can go on wondering forever about what might have been. So you can either meet up and a) risk rekindling your feelings for him (really consider the consequences of this), b) realize he no longer does it for you and never worry about this ever again (especially if he continues with his annual check-ins - they'll lose their weight altogether from now on) OR you can simply not meet up and let "out of sight/out of mind" eventually do its thing.
posted by BestCoaster at 10:44 AM on November 27, 2014

Be honest and don't give him any reason not to trust you. If he seems insecure about it, reassure him. Perhaps invite the ex to meet him - not just the three of you because that would be weird but to a night out where he will know other people.
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