Do you like your boyfriend only because he is the opposite of your ex?


I wrote this a few years ago, and and dug it up when the perennial topic came up in conversation with a friend. Incidentally, the last guy I dated said our dynamic reminded him of his ex-wife (doh!), and he brought up in me a bunch of bad memories about Mr. LastDude, mentioned below.  One hint of emotional chilliness and I spiraled into presumption that the new guy would be a neurotic mess, too. I’m not gonna lie: I’m stuck in the cycle of comparing each guy I meet to the last one who broke my heart! Gah! But isn’t that life? After all, there are only so many human characteristics … everyone you meet will remind you in some way of another, whether good or bad, toxic or intoxicating. And if you’re like me, and have been out there dating for more than a minute, the web of comparison grows and can get entangled into a steaming hot mess of reasons to bolt. 

The takeaway? Be forgiving of yourself and others. If you’re inclined to run for the hills of freedom, it is likely a sign you just don’t want to be in a serious relationship, and that is a-OK! Take it as an opportunity to pick apart your own tangled web of heartache, lick your wounds, heal, and know that when you are ready for a relationship, you will overlook those triggers of heartaches past.  


Do you like your boyfriend only because he is the opposite of your ex?

I recently dated a guy I would joke is a Vulcan. You know – no emotional reaction to, well, anything — much less me. If it were anyone else it would be safe to say that his lack of enthusiasm to see me, sleep with me, or express interest in much of what I had to say meant he simply wasn’t interested. I’m not a moron. Even though he talked about a future and introduced me to his loved ones, I couldn’t connect.

It was frustrating, hurtful and lonely, as I wrote about here, and here (posts for which he thanked me for being “honest,” “touching,” and “classy,” if you’re curious).

Enter the new guy. Man, right from the start he was a dream. He has lots of sexy qualities of his own, including that he cracks me up, is smart as shit and is really, really, really hot. But the thing that sings in my heart is that he is so, so OPEN. Exactly the opposite of the last guy.

On our first date over steaming bowls of Thai noodles he leaned in and ask about my work projects. Unlike the last guy he was really interested! He didn’t seem intimidated by my success or ambition! Yippee! I could have talked all day. But it was more complex than typical first-date feigned interest. When I shared my business plan, he challenged me. He teaches academic courses related to my field. He explained why my plan would’t work.

I argued back.

So did he.

“You’re crushing my dreams,” I said, smiling.

“I’ve never messed up a first date so bad,” he said, blushing. We’re laughing now.

“This is horrible,” I said. He’s adorable, I think.

“I’m a little nervous,” he said, looking away, laughing more. “I went a little ga-ga over your online profile.”

And that is how it has been over the past few weeks. He’s just open — not just that he’s interested (“I like you a lot and I want to do all kinds of things with and to you. I’m willing to wait. I don’t want to mess this up.”), but also sharing his own passionate opinions, and not backing down for a second when they differ from mine. The irresistible frosting on this delicious cake is his natural inclination to share his vulnerabilities while steering totally clear of neediness (Lord knows I run for the hills at the first sniff of a clingy man). After our first date he found me online, and read about the last dude, whose very nice biceps I’d mentioned in a blog post. “I stopped reading right there and got down on the floor and made myself do 50 pushups,” he said.

Guys compare us to other women they’ve dated, too!

It’s charming and fun just like the beginning of a relationship should be. But I can’t help but wonder if the sparkle isn’t extra-glittery because the compare-contrast with Mr. LastDude is so stark in the one category that destroyed that relationship.

I’ve compared every person I’ve been involved with to the person I dated previous to them. When I met my husband I gushed about how comfortable I felt with him — we had so much in common, such similar backgrounds. I was comparing him to my previous love, a dashing European who’d swept me off my feet. Ultimately, though, our different histories and personalities were incompatible. After my divorce, I marveled how my new boyfriend had such excellent argument skills and how much sexual chemistry we enjoyed,  both diversions from my marriage. And the guy after that was a breath of fresh air since he was of similar age as me and also had young kids — unlike the post-divorce lover who dumped me because our 20-year age gap wasn’t workable.

One of the journeys of dating — just like the rest of life — is learning about yourself. Everyone has their issues, and everyone has qualities will and will not jibe with yours. But it is tricky business to accept each person for who they are while learning from your past. The pendulum can swing both ways in this regard — you can find your current lover doesn’t add up to the last one, or you can be blinded by delight that the new person’s qualities so compliment your ex’s faults to the point of being blind to their other, even dangerous, qualities.

Do you over-correct when dating?

One friend got out of a long-term marriage with an alcoholic, and fell into a devoted relationship with a teetotaler. She was so relived to date a non-addict that she overlooked the fact that he did nothing to help around the house and had such a toxic personality that he drove away most of her friends and family. Another woman I know was so intoxicated by the white-hot sex she had with her first post boyfriend after a sexless marriage that she overlooked that man’s chronic unemployment.

Mr. LastDude actually left me very much missing my ex-husband, and the many ways we connected so effortlessly and intimately. It would be a tidy story indeed if I were now  back in my former husband’s arms, bringing my dating saga to a pretty little ending. After all, if you date enough, they’re all going to start to remind you of someone — there are only so many human characteristics. But life is not a rom-com, and I’m dating the pushup guy, who sooner or later will certainly will reveal his imperfections, as will I. And I hope I have the wisdom to judge them for what they are — and who he is.

Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

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