Ghosts of Girlfriends and Boyfriends Past

Unlike most people who start a committed relationship, I didn’t come with a past. If there had been an award in high school for “most likely to join a convent”, I would have won hands down. I wish I could report that undergrad was any better, but most Saturday nights were spent alternating between watching re-runs of Dallas and volunteering at the seniors’ residence.

So when I finally met my husband-to-be in grad school there was no awkward negotiation about whether I could remain friends with an ex. The situation has been trickier for some of my friends who had more interesting histories than my own. There are many reasons their  new partner may have taken a dim view of them continuing to hang with their ex. Among the most common are feelings of jealousy and vulnerability.

So, if you are a new partner experiencing any or all of these emotions, I get it. You’re human. But, in my experience (my husband had a more interesting past than my own, but then who didn’t?), a smarter strategy is to keep your partner on a long leash – and let them have some fun.

Relationships are about trust. And unless you live on a desert island without wi-fi, your partner will continue to connect with other human beings. They will no doubt experience sexual frisson with some of them. So what? I have been known to blush and stutter in the presence of other men. The fact that my husband can tease me about my little crushes reinforces my belief that he is confident in himself and in us. That makes him pretty darn sexy. Personally, I wouldn’t last two seconds if he was needy and controlling.

Trust is a two-way street. My husband and I spend most anniversaries apart because it conflicts with a running event he loves on the east coast – his team includes many fast women who have 50% less body fat than me. Sure, I could easily put him on a shorter leash – but my insecurity and suspicion could create problems where none existed before. It would be insulting to him if I did not trust him when he has always been steadfastly loyal. His justifiable resentment could be the very thing that destroys us.

When it comes to seeing an ex, there is a natural concern that a dead romance may be re-kindled. The passage of time can make people forget why a break-up happened in the first place. And, less-attainable people are always more attractive. All of this poses risks. But I would argue that finding out that your partner wants to be with their ex (rather than you) early on in your relationship is a gift from the universe.

We spend too much time worrying about stuff we can’t control- like our partner’s attraction to other people. Perhaps the smarter strategy is to dedicate more time to stuff we can control.

Once trust is established, nothing will faze you. And if there is a little bit of competition? I say, “bring it on”.

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