Q. I’m in a wonderful relationship with a sweet guy who makes me laugh. He’s 30 and I’m 26. We’ve been together for a year and a half, and my life has never been so cheerful and complete. We’ve spoken seriously about marriage, likely within the next year. The other night I asked him about something we’d avoided talking about since we met: past relationships. After all these months, I wanted to finally be open and honest with him about it, and to understand a bit about this missing piece of his life before I knew him.
To be clear, I didn’t — and still don’t — want details about his former significant other(s). I just felt like we should get rid of whatever skeletons are in the closet once and for all, and, together, put these other relationships behind us. Well, he didn’t answer my question, explaining that he’d prefer not to talk about either of our love/dating histories. I wasn’t surprised, given that he’d never once brought up the topic before and because he’s a private person, in general. However, I’d hoped he’d say something like, “Yeah, I dated around/had a few girlfriends before I met you, but I’ve never loved anyone as much as I love you.” Maybe that sounds sappy, but I thought it would have been nice and reassuring, even if he didn’t want to divulge details or dig up past feelings. Instead, he simply said that unless I really wanted to discuss it, he’d prefer never to talk about this at all.
My reaction was relief (at first) because I was afraid of getting jealous or insecure if he spoke about previous girls in his life — as if they’d haunt me and our relationship (though rationally, that wouldn’t happen, right?). So I made an agreement with him not to speak about our exes, as a matter of trust and respecting his privacy. But part of me isn’t OK with this agreement. As we consider a lifelong partnership, are we wrong to not be at least a little open with each other? How could we be open and honest without hurting one another? Or is the past truly the past and all that matters is what we’ve created together? I’d appreciate some perspective from those who’ve successfully had “the ex talk.” Is this a conversation worth bringing up with him again? Since you guys are not my boyfriend, I’ll tell you that I’ve only had two relationships prior to this one. One left me pretty heartbroken for about a year before I met my current boyfriend, and then he changed everything. I guess I’d like to be able to give him these snapshots of my past relationships to let him know the only value I hold in them is that they helped me realize how completely great I’ve got it now.
A. He said he’d prefer not to talk about it unless you really need to. As it turns out, you do – so tell him. Just make sure you’re clear about why.
You want to talk about past relationships because you don’t like that there’s a missing piece. You want to talk about exes so he understands how he fits into your life, and why you’re so confident about the relationship.
You also want to avoid finding out about his past from other people. As you meet more friends and family, someone’s bound to mention an ex or lack thereof. You’d rather get that information from him.
Let him know that details aren’t required — you’re not asking for a narrative of his dating life (where he’s had sex, how many times he swiped right, or psychical descriptions). You just want to know the basics, and that he trusts you with his past. You also want to know that you can talk about anything without it getting weird. If you pass a restaurant and say, “Ugh, I had a terrible date there six years ago,” it shouldn’t be the end of the world.
I have to wonder whether he’s avoiding this conversation because he doesn’t have much to say. Make sure you let him know that you don’t care how he got to you. The important part is that he did.
If otherwise things in your relationship are going well, I can’t imagine why you’d want to open this can of worms.
Honey, your guy understands on some level that you’ve been with other guys before him. He doesn’t want to think about it and he doesn’t want that visual in his head. Once that visual is in his head, it’s always going to be there. Always.
He probably doesn’t want to talk about his exes because it isn’t relevant to the relationship. You want validation that this is the best relationship he has ever had. The past is the past. He wouldn’t be with you if you didn’t make him happy.
You asked about people who’ve had the ex talk: My husband and I did talk about past significant exes with one another. We both decided we wanted to without much fanfare, it was a part of telling our stories to one another. It wasn’t to gauge our commitment or to use as a measure for how our relationship is going. So I don’t know, don’t make unnecessary agreements about never talking about exes and don’t force conversations. Just be in your relationship. And try to stop comparing it to your past and to your boyfriend’s past.
I’m not advocating that the two of you schedule some sort of sit down and cite every gory detail of past relationships but I do wonder how this type of information doesn’t come up in conversation naturally over the course of 18 months. That’s the part that seems off to me.
It’s inherently wrong to consider someone having past relationships as “skeletons in the closet.”
Remember that curiosity killed the cat. Just in case your were wondering; I’m using cat as a metaphor for your relationship.
boston.com/loveletters. Send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.