Where does the past end and the now begin?

In my quest to find myself my Forever Person, I’ve spent a decent amount of time dating. Consequently, I also have a few exes in my past.

Now, because I don’t consider all of my exes to be horrible, awful, no-good people/mistakes that must be forgotten and removed from the face of the earth, I have a few exes in my present, too. And therein can lie the problem, or so it would seem.

See, I don’t mind having exes in my present; in the past, I had a horrible time keeping exes as friends, because I was often the one getting dumped and having a hard time dealing with the inevitable hurt feelings that resulted. Even in situations where the breakup was at my initiation (or through my fault), I couldn’t seem to let go of the hurt feelings or ‘what ifs’ and so friendships were difficult at best and nigh impossible at worst.

In more recent years, however, I’ve wizened (or at least aged), and I’m able now more frequently able to end things on good terms. Not only that, but my taste in guys has improved greatly over the years, and I’m less interested in cutting all ties completely – as a rule, I date good people and I like to still hang out with them, even if I no longer want to provide them with access to my no-no parts.

However, not everyone can appreciate this method of thinking, and I can imagine it might be a little … daunting … to a potential suitor to meet friends of mine who all get to claim the title of “ex-“; so as a result, I tend to default to referring to everyone as a friend, rather than any other moniker. After all, it’s accurate, and doesn’t lend itself to the inevitable, “And why did you two break up?” line of questions – that even if perfectly natural and valid, could possibly lead someone to becoming nervous about the potential long-term suitability of the current relationship. That is, if the reason I give for the breakup was x and the current boy is quite prone to doing x, I don’t want him to think that’s going to lead to me breaking up with him because of x as well. There can be much that this loquacious one keeps to herself, believe it or not.

Some friendships are more difficult to form than others. When the reasons for the breakup are less clear, or because of difficult circumstances, sometimes it’s more challenging to draw the new boundaries distinctly; is hugging still acceptable? What about cuddling? Touching legs, arms, stomachs? Where does one decide what the current is allowed to touch but the ex- isn’t?

Or, how much information to reveal? I’m notorious for trying to protect peoples’ feelings, believe it or not, and as a result I don’t always tell an ex-, especially one who might still have feelings for me, that I’ve started seeing someone new – especially if I don’t think the current relationship is going to last for a long time, but might’ve had certain advantages that the past one didn’t. Some friends I’ve asked suggest that when a boy becomes an ex-, they no longer have a right to any information from your life; that is, it’s none of their business if you’re dating someone new or not. Obviously this is different of the reason for the breakup was “I’ve met someone new,” but when a new person isn’t the reason for a breakup – maybe they were a catalyst, maybe not – at what point are you obligated to tell your ex(es) that you’re seeing someone new?

I’ve figured out this formula in some form with one long-ago ex-. Of course, it took us some time to get there, including a few friends with benefits situations that kept getting feelings-murky, but we’re now able to hang out as just friends and even discuss people we’re seeing without difficulty. I have other exes where we didn’t have to do the benefits route; we were able to transition seamlessly to friends; and I have one ex- I can think of who tried a booty call one evening, and then I haven’t heard from him since. I’ll admit, it stings a little that he doesn’t have much interest in maintaining some kind of friendship with me, but honestly, do I feel like I’m missing out? Not overly.

Some people will say there’s no point to staying friends with an ex-, that when the relationship ends, that’s it, they’re done. I can respect that, but my perspective is that some of my exes are genuinely nice people – flaws and all – and why should I give up on that friendship or support? Hell, one ex- of mine talked to me until about 3:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve from three provinces away when I was stressing over a boy I was involved with – that’s friendship, and that’s fantastic. Sure, I don’t date boys expecting or hoping to wind up with just friends afterwards, but what kind of jerk would I be if I dismissed a potentially awesome friend just because I already had enough friends? Different people become support nets for different issues, and someone who’s dated you knows you in ways that regular friends don’t – for better or worse for them, and possibly you.

Do you need to go around pointing out your exes to your current? No, I don’t think so, especially if the relationship was long ago or amicably resolved. Maybe if it would help explain a weird dynamic between you, like if you don’t speak to one another in group situations or something, but otherwise, it’s the past, and there it remains. Do I want to know everyone my current has slept with? Not usually, but I find in the beginning of a relationship is usually when I want to learn more about the boy’s past, and what it involved. Granted, there’s nothing worse than an entire evening of, “My ex-girlfriend X this” or “My ex-girlfriend Y that,” but a tale now and again isn’t the worst thing in the world to me, especially before I get heavily emotionally invested and start getting less interested in knowing who else’s no-no parts he may have enjoyed.

Ultimately, I always say that my exes have helped, either positively or negatively, make up who I am today. Sometimes that’s something to be admired – and sometimes it’s just baggage that needs to be explained.

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