Ex why?
September 25, 2017 8:26 AM   Subscribe

I've gone out with this guy a few times, and I cannot make out if my general..bemusement with how he talks about his ex is warranted or not. Details follow.

We met online to start with, and hit it off pretty well. In our country, it's a bit of a minefield with respect to admitting to past relationships, and I was relieved that he was totally upfront about having gotten out of a serious relationship about 18 months prior. Cool, great, me too. We had a few conversations about how stuff went south with our respective exes, by which I mean I said my ex and I had different ideas about the future and he...said he cannot bring himself to talk about his breakup. Okay then.
The curious part is, his ex features prominently in his conversations, and in a complimentary, admiring way - she was beautiful, lovely, hot, accomplished, had great taste, etc. It comes up in many varied contexts, none of which I bring up my ex in. I know they're still in touch. He's told me her name, where she works, all in fairly exhaustive detail. In all this, he absolutely refuses to discuss any cause for breakup.
I'm not jealous. I am barely even emotionally invested, yet. He's friendly and affectionate and an interesting person, but it's okay, we can both move on relatively painlessly, if we have to. I'm just curious if my slightly tingly spidey sense means anything. Do you think so? I haven't dated much so I dunno how seriously I should take it.
Additionally, if we do part ways, do I need to tell him why beyond the generic 'no sparks/not feeling it' explanation?
posted by Nieshka to Human Relations (38 answers total)
This sounds a bit odd to me. I'd probably cut things off gently and move on, there are plenty of people who won't set off that kind of alarm bell.
posted by Alensin at 8:31 AM on September 25, 2017 [12 favorites]

Maybe there are cultural factors I don't know about, but I don't really want to have lots of conversations about exes with someone I'm dating. It's totally a good enough reason to break things off after a few dates and you don't owe him a specific explanation.

Probably he's hung up on her, or maybe he just thinks she's an appropriate and interesting topic of discussion with someone he barely knows? Doesn't really matter - unless you're desperately interested in this guy for other reasons I say let it go. You don't need to be this guy's therapist.
posted by mskyle at 8:31 AM on September 25, 2017 [23 favorites]

I'm just curious if my slightly tingly spidey sense means anything.

Yes. Even when it's wrong, as long as you listen it will help train and fine tune the radar. It's one thing to talk about an ex if you're, say, talking about a big project you worked on together, but outside of really relevant references I'd find this off-putting at best.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:36 AM on September 25, 2017 [13 favorites]

Discussing an ex in glowing terms while not wanting to discuss the breakup means that he doesn't fully believe that they're broken up. They're just on hiatus in his mind, and you are just a rebound / sidepiece until she comes to her senses.

posted by Etrigan at 8:46 AM on September 25, 2017 [58 favorites]

I wonder if you know anyone who's been dumped, for reasons that are not flattering. I suspect those people would not like to announce "I was dumped because I treated someone badly", not on the first few dates, when they are presumably trying to put their best foot forward.

Sure, if he continues to evade, it might be a bad sign (either because he's so horrible, or because he can't admit to past weirdness/bad behavior), but I wouldn't immediately count it as a black eye. People usually don't share their character faults and and past transgressions until trust is earned.

Finally, most guys I know, know that "OMG my ex is a psycho" is itself a red flag to many women, so maybe he's trying to avoid that.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:48 AM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

GIven how complimentary your boyfriend is about her, it sounds like she broke up with him, and for whatever reason, he doesn't want to admit it. I think it would be hard for a lot of people to admit someone that they had feelings for didn't feel the same way about them, which is fine, but it also tells me he's not over her and therefore not ready to date.

I mean, there may be a whole song and dance behind what really happened, but all you need to know is that if he's finding a way to fit her into every conversation, and he's still in contact with her, it sounds like in his mind, you're just a placeholder until he figures out how to get her back (regardless of how SHE actually feels about him.) Sorry. He sounds really immature.
posted by Jubey at 9:03 AM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ohhhhh, man, my "the one that got away" ex would do this all the time, with someone he'd been married to - and whom he'd divorced ten years prior. Literally any time she came up in conversation, after he said whatever he said, he would then launch into a flurry of "but I'm over her, it's in the past, it's all good, everything's fine" disclaimers. And I mean every time.

After a while I started to be suspicious that he was trying to reassure himself rather than me. And then when he finally dumped me, I did the math of all his subsequent relationships between his divorce and me - and realized that he had been going from girlfriend to girlfriend with barely a month in between ever since his divorce, and that was the final piece of the puzzle: he WASN'T really over her.

This is sounding like a similar rote script, although I'm not certain of the reason he may be going into it. He's been dodgy about the cause of the breakup - but I'd maybe gently inquire as to why he is trying to praise her so much all the time, in almost exactly the same language each time. You don't need to know about the breakup, but I'd want to know why he is triyng so hard to give her a good review?

And, he may not know. He may not even know he's doing this. But in my experience, if there's that kind of a knee-jerk "every time she comes up in conversation, cue this line" kind of thing, there's something funky going on.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:06 AM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

My first thought was that she didn't exist.
posted by coldbabyshrimp at 9:06 AM on September 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

If it's been that long (18 months), I would guess he's just overcompensating for the "my psycho ex" stereotype. Basically trying to prove that he is capable of having a healthy relationship, and having it end without a lot of hard feelings afterwards.

Specifically not wanting to talk about how it ended... could be something to keep an eye on. But I don't think you need to walk away from this, assuming it's a predictor of issues in the future. Walk away if it's a turn off to you right now.
posted by danny the boy at 9:13 AM on September 25, 2017

Not to threadsit, but as an amusing example, I was talking about my workplace (which is admittedly staid in the way big corporate-ish offices are), he suddenly started talking about her lovely, quirky workplace and how amazing and fulfilling her job was, to her. It was such an abrupt pivot that it took me a few seconds to come up with an appropriate response.
My point really was, surely after 18 months one figures out a way to talk respectfully of ex but with a sense of closure, however the actual split might have gone? I mean, my ex threatened to bash his own head in when I first wanted to end things, and I have managed to steer clear of the psycho ex stereotype in explanations, myself. Is it too much to expect? I'm genuinely curious.
posted by Nieshka at 9:26 AM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ehhhhhh. He doesn't sound like a bad guy by any means, but this all (especially your update) screams "not over it yet" to me.

I think what you do maybe should depend on where you're at in life - are you just looking to casually date, or are you seriously looking for a partner? If it's the latter, this is definitely riskier than dating someone else who is in a clearer-headed place and I would likely move on now to save time and pain down the road.

If it's the former, I might set an internal time limit (2 months, 3 months, whatever is appropriate for your age/relationship goals/etc) and keep having fun, but monitor the situation. He may knock it off in time and share more about his past in a way that feels relevant and appropriate to your relationship. If he doesn't, or if you feel yourself becoming more emotionally invested in the meantime, I'd reevaluate and seriously consider breaking it off.

Additionally, if we do part ways, do I need to tell him why beyond the generic 'no sparks/not feeling it' explanation?

If he is otherwise kind and not given to fits of temper, I might gently say that you're ready for a partner who can put themselves wholeheartedly into a new relationship, and he still seems like he could use some time moving on from the last.
posted by superfluousm at 9:30 AM on September 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

After that update, I'm rolling my eyes so hard they almost rolled out of my head. I'd be tempted to snark back that you're really enjoying getting to know his ex, but is he actually planning on showing up on your dates anytime soon...?
posted by Jubey at 9:39 AM on September 25, 2017 [32 favorites]

Depending on how long he was in the previous relationship, this reads to me that he was wrapped up with his ex's life for such a period of time that he's having a hard time having discussions without mentioning her. Like, the stereotype of men leaning on their partners as their only emotional support? But for everything. Has he mentioned things he's done or experiences he's had over the course of their time together withoit mentioning her? It's like when he goes to his memory bank to pull out a piece of data for your conversation, a large number of them are connected to her because that's how he experienced them.

I mean, this from a bored armchair psychologist on her lunch break *blows bubble pipe*.
posted by theweasel at 9:54 AM on September 25, 2017 [16 favorites]

Your second example (him talking all about his ex's cool workplace) would be odd and rude even if it wasn't his ex, but was his sister, or his friend. It's weird and antisocial that he tops everything you tell him with a story that is so much more FASCinating -- whether it's about his ex, or not. Is that behavior you would choose in a friend, much less a romantic partner?
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 10:09 AM on September 25, 2017 [7 favorites]

Your update example is rude no matter who the person he was talking about is because it's competitive and a put down of your workplace!

He's involved (at least in his mind and heart) with his ex and not with you. 18 months? He should be over that relationship already, or not be dating.

Tell him you are not feeling sparks and move on.

PS - This is a huge red flag, it's a bad sign when someone brings up an ex this much and out of context, like your example. He changed the subject away from you, to her. Just FYI for when you see this again in life.
posted by jbenben at 10:24 AM on September 25, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm friends with several of my exes and talk about them casually with my girlfriend, just so you have a baseline for where I'm coming from: this guy's behavior and apparent fixation on his ex is a huge red flag. He's not over her, he wants some kind of emotional labor from you about it, he's not dealing with his own feelings, and he is ultimately not that into you.

Go and find someone who is.
posted by bile and syntax at 10:36 AM on September 25, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'd dump him and tell him why (just because I'm compulsively truthful and it's less trouble to me than being evasive.) "It's clear you're not over your ex. She's on your mind constantly. You may not realize it but you talk about her ALL THE TIME."

(I say this without any judgment of his timeline. Plenty of people remain hooked on their exes for a long time. Doesn't matter why. For whatever reason this guy is focused on her, not you.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:40 AM on September 25, 2017 [7 favorites]

There is a person in my past who probably is still wondering why I didn't choose him. We got on well. We had things in common that neither of us had found in others. We were madly in love. And I was his second choice. I knew it from the beginning but I assumed it would fade. It didn't. This man you're seeing isn't ready to date anyone seriously. You deserve someone who is looking forward, not someone who has at least one foot stuck in the past.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 10:47 AM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Are you looking to date casually, or are you interested in a long-term relationship? Because I agree with many others that he still seems to be emotionally invested in his ex. That could be fine if you're not interested in anything serious. But if you are, I don't think you'll find it with this guy, who doesn't sound self-aware enough to recognize how invested he still is.
posted by socialjusticeworrier at 11:18 AM on September 25, 2017

Oh my god no

The next time he does this look at him dead in the eye and say as gently as possible, “It doesn’t sound like your heart is single yet. You need more time to put the past in the past, and I am not the right person to do that with. Best of luck to you.” Then get up and go.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:19 AM on September 25, 2017 [16 favorites]

I'm a bit surprised that no one else has said this, but before you take any big steps such as ending it, it might be a good idea just to have a gentle conversation with him about this and explain why you find it a little concerning?
posted by inner_frustration at 11:39 AM on September 25, 2017 [5 favorites]

Like Etrigan says there is an oxymoron between talking about his ex in glowing terms AND saying he cannot bring himself to discuss the relationship.

Rule of thumb for me on early is: does the guy talk about his ex? Is it because she comes up naturally or is he trying to shoehorn her in there somewhere? Is it because he's in such present emotional pain that he can't help spilling his guts to you?

If a guy I was dating couldn't bring himself to discuss a past relationship I would consider that a red flag. I'm not wild about my ex but it's no longer painful to talk about him. I think you should tell this guy he may not be aware of it but it seems like he isn't over her. You deserve a guy who will be fully emotionally present with YOU, not hung up on someone else. So put this down to a disappointing loss and move on. Good luck.
posted by Willow251 at 12:18 PM on September 25, 2017

Is it clear from what he's said that his ex is alive? Sorry to be morbid, but grief seems like one of the more parsimonious explanations of the constant, glowing descriptions of her plus not being willing to discuss how it ended. Grief might be especially complicated given a culture where admitting a past (non-marriage) relationship is difficult. (This doesn't bear on whether it's a good idea to keep dating, but maybe be gentle if you push him on what happened.)
posted by cogitron at 12:51 PM on September 25, 2017

NEVERMIND he's in touch with her. (Unless this is very elaborate!) I might not be getting much sleep.
posted by cogitron at 12:53 PM on September 25, 2017

she was beautiful, lovely, hot

ha ha ha ha ha no. I don't trust men who don't stay friends with any exes and it is normal and nice to talk about your friends from time to time. but not their LOOKS. unless he thinks the two of you would get along so much better than you and him, and he wants to talk her up so you'll say yes when he tries to set you up with her.

but I somehow doubt that. he is probably just hung up on his ex. or else she's the only person he's friends with. you don't have to mind if you're not jealous, but it will get tiresome.
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:21 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've read this a couple times and jumped to assumptions in different directions. At first, I was sure you're both of an age where you've had some relationship experience and he's still getting over something with someone and it ended for complex reasons. An example would be a long-term relationship where they differed in life goals (one wanted a kid and the other didn't, one was ready for marriage and the other wasn't, etc) and he's still unable to let go for that reason. Or he got dumped and it was "amicable" so he hasn't emotionally moved on.

After your clarification, I'm wonder if this guy has only had the one relationship, and doesn't have close friends he's able to relate experiences to. Some people never want to be reminded of their partner's past, other people are cool with listening to the occasional story from their partner reminiscing about an event that happened when they were with someone else. No one really wants to be with someone who sees the entire world through the lens of their last serious relationship.
posted by mikeh at 2:27 PM on September 25, 2017

Next time he brings her up. say "I'd love to meet her! Let's text her right now! Let's go to her office. Give me her phone number!"
posted by at at 2:56 PM on September 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

Speaking kindly and openly about your ex when relevant because you had a shared life together for a long time is not a red flag. Speaking about your ex in glowing, reminiscent terms, (including how hot you still think she is) whenever your new date mentions anything because everything reminds you of your ex while simultaneously refusing to discuss why the relationship ended and why you no longer wish to be in that relationship is a huge red flag.

He could be doing this for a number of reasons but none of them are good or healthy.
posted by Polychrome at 3:16 PM on September 25, 2017 [11 favorites]

If he's talking about her this much, he's thinking about her even more. Like all the time. The office example is very odd and rude, and seems to indicate he's just bursting to talk about her. Even if he's unaware of it and you ask him to stop talking about her constantly, it won't change the underlying fixation. The behaviour could indicate any number of things, but top of that list: he's absolutely not ready to date yet.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 3:53 PM on September 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I'm not sure it's ever a good idea to talk about one's ex much in early dating, or late dating for that matter.

This guy drags his ex around with him everywhere he goes and pays more attention to her than to you!

And all this about how she glided around in a state of perfection in a workplace which was perfect, not like your workplace? Her workplace, where he didn't even work, was better than yours? I bet her feet didn't even touch the floor. I bet when she walks, cinnamon and roses fall to the ground. I bet she sings with the voice of an angel. I bet she has memorized the complete works of Shakespeare.

I bet she doesn't exist, even if he dated her for 18 months. This guy's bananas.
posted by tel3path at 3:56 PM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seriously though. I commented earlier about her not existing. Do YOU know her? You've seen her online? In person? One of my close friends started dating a person that talked nonstop about their ex, compared my friend to their ex, was IN LOVE with their ex. Turns out, they had never dated, my friend was their first romantic partner, and the "ex" was just a random person picked from Instagram.
posted by coldbabyshrimp at 4:43 PM on September 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

When my husband and I first started dating I was often nervous and would prattle on a bit. One night he told me quite seriously that he thought I talked about my ex too much. At first I was defensive, but I realized he was probably right and I dialed it way back. That was 20 years ago and all is well.
So you might tell him, and see how he takes it. I was so into my husband that I didn’t want to jeopardize anything for the sake of a story to tell.
posted by Biblio at 7:17 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've dated this guy. From my experience, its a way of putting someone on a pedestal and also signalling that hes a nice person, rather than someone who would routinely bad mouth a woman he had dated. However, in my example there was also a chunk of immaturity and eulogising which was unhealthy plus the possibility that he is trying to make you feel inferior to his amazing non girlfriend. Its a low key form of negging. Each of the things you mention, on their own might be a small thing but combining it all together paints a fairly unhealthy picture. It was 18 months ago and he can't bring himself to talk about it but he can happily talk about her? The fact that they are still in contact is the cherry on the cake. I'd cut your losses and look for someone who sees these things in you, not in some semi mythical goddess.
posted by RandomInconsistencies at 6:18 AM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you so very much for all the input! I truly appreciate it. I'll let myself go on one more date, but honestly, I think I'm coming down on the 'cut him loose, but kindly' side. And I think I will let him know why. Hopefully, if it's on the cards, he and Excellent Ex can have a reunion and I'll have credit in my karma ledger!
Coldbabyshrimp: well, I've seen an fb profile. Make what you will of that!
posted by Nieshka at 7:31 AM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm just curious if my slightly tingly spidey sense means anything.

In superhero terms, this is Doctor Octopus, the Green Goblin, the Sandman, the Vulture, and Doctor Doom (not really a Spidey foe, but big enough to have more than the accursed Richards as an archenemy), drawing straws to see who gets to crash through the skylight first. I agree with RandomInconsistencies that this is stealth negging, that he's letting you know that you're who he's settling for. And you don't need to settle for someone like that.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:10 PM on September 26, 2017

I was talking about my workplace (which is admittedly staid in the way big corporate-ish offices are), he suddenly started talking about her lovely, quirky workplace and how amazing and fulfilling her job was, to her.

Looks like you've already figured out your course of action, but in case anyone else is reading this in the future for a similar situation... This conversation sounds like he was interrupting what you were saying to tell you about how his ex had a much better and more enjoyable job than yours.

What a jerk.
posted by yohko at 1:40 PM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

The sorta-ex I spoke of upthread? He used to make me hide in the back of the house when 'the one that got away' would call. I DID THIS MORE THAN ONCE. Don't be like me. Don't hang around just to see where it goes. Whatever his deal is, he's not ready for anyone else.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 4:13 PM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

I once got into a (brief) relationship with this guy who would tell me all about his exes (about one woman in particular, and how she was the only one he'd ever loved, until - you know, wink wink - hopefully someone else came along). The impression of course was that "I" could be that Someone Else, if I played my cards right. But it felt weird and icky, and the way he spoke about his ex would always stick in my mind, such that I felt like I wasn't just dating him - I was dating them both.

Of course, in exchange, I told him all about my exes, too, to make him jealous (put it down to youth and insecurity). Right before breaking up, of course.

So your guy may or may not be doing this to get your attention, e.g. "look! I can break up with a woman and still be totally respectful about her! I'm a decent guy!" or he may just be bringing up his ex for other reasons, e.g. to make you jealous, or he may just not be mature enough to have something sufficiently interesting to talk about other than his ex.

Either way, it doesn't sound right. Your tingley spidey sense may have caught on to something.
posted by Spiderwoman at 3:46 AM on October 6, 2017

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