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‘My new girlfriend won’t talk about her exes. I worry she still loves one of them’

Ask Roe: ‘Surely if she was over them, they could be a causal conversation topic?’

Dear Roe,

I’m a 28-year-old man and I’ve been dating a woman for a few months and it’s going well. One thing we seem to have hugely different attitudes on is talking about our exes. I’m on relatively good terms with two of my exes and had one pretty terrible break-up due to some horrible behaviour from my ex.

I don’t avoid talking about any of them – the good ones naturally come up when I’m sharing life stories, and the bad break-up taught me a lot about what I need and don’t want in relationships so I talk about her, too.

But my girlfriend never mentions her exes, and when I ask she says that they’re not relevant to our relationship. This makes me feel self-conscious about talking about my exes, and also makes me feel like she might be hiding something or even still in love with one of them. Surely if she was over them, they could be a causal conversation topic?


I think that these questions should be directed at your girlfriend, and that at some stage you are going to have to accept her answers lest you drive yourself mad.

I have never bought into the “never talk about your exes” rule, which can perpetuate ideas that your current partner has ownership over you, and that it’s somehow unsavoury to acknowledge that you have a romantic and sexual history that doesn’t include them.

Maybe stop analysing what your girlfriend isn't saying about her exes, and instead focus on how she speaks to you about your relationship, now

How people talk about their exes can also be revealing, especially if they are needlessly disrespectful or dismissive (it’s a cliché for a reason, but if a man calls all of his exes “crazy”, see that as a giant red flag.)

Talking about exes can also be, as you note, a helpful way to discuss what you have learned from previous relationships, your attachment patterns, and what values, boundaries and qualities you want to bring into a new relationship – and what you would like to leave in the past. For people who have had particularly bad experiences or trauma, it can also be important to provide new partners with that context, to ask for some extra care and attention in certain areas.

Make sure you don't lose a good woman because you're busy digging around for her exes

However, that doesn’t mean everyone must specifically mention their exes, nor do you ever have a right to demand a partner’s entire life story. Some people deal with bad experiences by wanting to move beyond them, some people simply enjoy living in the present, and everyone has a right to privacy.

Maybe stop analysing what your girlfriend isn’t saying about her exes, and instead focus on how she speaks to you about your relationship, now. Is your girlfriend open about what she wants this relationship to look like, what her values are, and what she needs? Is she able to talk about how she’s grown and evolved over time? She could be communicating the same important messages that you are, but simply isn’t mentioning other people.

Of course you can express that you feel self-conscious sharing details about your previous relationships when that isn’t reciprocated and see what she says, but eventually you may have to choose to respect her decision to stay quiet, or leave.

Make sure you don’t lose a good woman because you’re busy digging around for her exes.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at