A reader recently emailed me a “Dear Lesbian” question.
This particular reader is in a new relationship, which she is very happy with, except for when her new lover:
“talks about her history of a gazillion former girlfriends, which is really beginning to annoy the hell out of me. Maybe you can write a post about that and what to do or how to deal with that?”
Of course, with limited information, I will have to speak in generalities, but since ex-girlfriend concerns are a very common issue, there is a lot to say about the topic.
Here are my thoughts on the ex-girlfriend conundrum, in no particular order:
1). It is actually quite common for many Lesbians to remain friends (or at least friendly) with our exes. I have known entire teams of Lesbians who have been connected for so long that there have been enough relationship interconnections to require a flow chart to decipher. (“Beth dated Susie, then Susie dated Jill, then Jill dated Cathy, then Cathy dated Beth, then Jill dated Beth, then Beth and Susie got back together, then…”). And somehow, in the midst of all of this, they all manage to play softball and eat chicken wings together. This fact is a peculiarity of dyke culture that many do not know or understand. Of course, this phenomenon isn’t true of ALL Lesbians, but it happens enough to be worth mentioning.
2). Whether to be concerned about ex-girlfriend(s) depends entirely on the situation. Based on #1, above, it is not uncommon for many Lesbians to remain on good terms with exes, or to stay in regular contact with exes. The main factor to consider in this scenario is the character/commitment of your partner. If the ex-girlfriend is being inappropriate/flirtacious, then it is the partner’s responsibility to set clear and firm boundaries with the ex. If the partner does not do so, or, much worse, flirts back, then there is an issue to be dealt with; and that issue is with the partner, not the ex-girlfriend.
3). If the issue isn’t that an ex-girlfriend is still in contact, but rather that the partner is simply talking about her exes, then the question becomes why. First, is the talking about exes above and beyond the “normal” amount expected during the getting-to-know-you phase of a relationship? Some talk of romantic history is necessary, even desirable, in the beginning stages of a new relationship. For better or for worse, we all have been influenced by our life experiences, and our former partners are a significant part of those experiences. Talking about what happened in former relationships not only provides context and history, but it also helps to learn what our new partner hopes for, needs, and expects in a relationship. If, however, the talking about former lovers is more along the lines of bragging or obsessing than “normal” sharing, then that would lead to many questions needing to be answered, such as: Is she insecure and needs to brag to feel better about herself? If so, why? Is she still obsessed with an ex and therefore not really ready to move on? Is she trying to make you jealous, and if so, why? Etc.
4). Perhaps most importantly, why does the situation bother you? How does it make you feel ~ jealous, insecure, angry, etc.? Do you feel threatened by the presence of (or the talk of) ex-girlfriends? If so, is this due to being unsure of the status of the new relationship, or is it primarily because of your own issues/insecurities? Have you had jealousy issues in past relationships and/or have previous partners cheated on you? In other words, how much of this issue is current-relationship-related, versus you-related?
5). Sometimes, jealousy can be mistaken for passion. When things become too calm/”normal” in a relationship, sometimes one or both partners mistake this for a lack of passion, and therefore may find something to argue about, or someone to be jealous of, in order to stir up some drama in an effort to recreate the “passion” in a relationship. Hot “make-up sex” temporarily satisfies this need, but usually, normality returns to the relationship rather quickly, leading to a repeated pattern of drama-stirring. If this is the case, it is time to examine the factors underlying this pattern.
So: considering all of the above, as well as any other factors that are relevant to your own specific situation, the best first step, as with ANY issue, is to figure out what is actually going on. Some of this assessment needs to take place before talking to your partner; to gain as much clarity as possible about your own perspective.
Then, when talking to your partner about this (or any other!) issue, it’s important to remember to try to approach the situation calmly, kindly, and NOT defensively. Always remember, it’s very likely your partner isn’t trying to hurt you. Make sure to treat her with kindness and respect, and make sure you are being treated with kindness and respect also.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This blog is NOT intended to be professional advice, nor to substitute for the advice of a licensed professional. The reader should consult with an appropriate professional regarding all mental health needs.