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Carolyn Hax: Girlfriend treated to detailed tales about his long-ago ex

DEAR CAROLYN: I’ve been dating this guy for several months. A couple of months ago he starts talking about his first love all the time, date after date. He has told me every moment and detail of their 16-month relationship. How much he loved her and what is going on in her life now.

It has been 51/2 years since she cheated on him and moved on with the new guy. I told him it’s obvious he’s still in love with her and not over her. Of course he denied it. He told me he loves me, and maybe he does, but I don’t want to be in a relationship with any guy who is still carrying a torch for an ex. Your thoughts?


DEAR M. Even if there’s no torch, there’s still the problem of his talking in great detail, “date after date,” about someone you don’t know and, I’m guessing, don’t find terribly interesting as a conversation topic.

If he were nattering on about the root systems of deciduous trees, you wouldn’t try to figure out if he’s hung up on tree biology; you’d be saying to yourself, wow, I just had the most boring dinner of my life. Then you’d be having the we-ahem-aren’t-the-greatest-fit conversation.

Why try to make it dry and objective when the emotional component – that he’s clueless, thoughtless or rude enough to dwell on an old girlfriend during dates with you – is the whole point?

Here’s why: You’ve been enduring these first-love monologues for “a couple of months”! And instead of drawing your own conclusion and breaking up with him, you asked him to draw one – apparently not expecting honesty. And you don’t believe his answer, and you’re still with him.

In other words, the is-he-or-isn’t-he-hung-up-on-the-ex thing tends to freeze people in place while they try to figure out what it means. It’s not just you. for sure.

So what I’m suggesting is that you skip the whole meaning issue and look at what you have, no tea-leaf reading: date after date after date talking about something that you don’t want to talk about and that ignores you and your interests and contributions.

One way to do this is to imagine the charged ex topic as something neutral, like those tree roots. Let that ground you and bring you back to this date and this moment, where the relevant question is: Why am I here?

If you value his companionship enough, then by all means, give him a little time to shoo away this ghost. But stick to the plan of replacing charged with neutral, and don’t pursue the you-still-love-her truth. Instead, simply ask to change the subject: “You’re over your ex, I’ll accept that – so can we please talk about something else?” Then see if he’s able to do it.

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