Why you should talk about your ex on first dates


Earlier this year I dated someone for a few months. Even though there were so many things I liked about him and wanted so badly for it to work, we never really connected. Part of the reason was that intangible chemistry that just wasn’t there, no matter how much fun we had when hanging out, or how good the sex was.

It took me a half-dozen dates to realize that one of the big things standing in the way of feeling close to this man was that I knew little about his romantic past. I knew that he had never been married, and after some probing on my part I eventually pieced together his history which included several relationships that lasted a few months, and one 15 years prior that lasted a few years, but was mostly long-distance. All his relationships seemed to have “fizzled out” at the end (his words). Eventually, the thing with my summer lover fizzled out without a word from either one of us.

That is not how I roll. I like to get stuff out on the table, I despise lingering, lose ends. I also find it enormously frustrating to not understand — at least a little — the person I am with. I want to know what men I date think about their past relationships and the kinds of women they’ve been attracted to. What kind of partners are they? What kind of fighters are they? How do they deal with conflict?

Aside from coupling with men for years and years, the best way to learn these critical things about another person is to listen to their accounts of past relationships.

That is why I urge you to bring up divorce and breakups ASAP when dating. First dates are a great place to start.

Dating experts will tell you never to mention exes on first dates. That is too negative, too much information. Well, shit. At this stage of life we are all adults with histories. You have baggage, I have baggage and he has baggage. Why pretend to the contrary?

Before I developed this rule, I came realize that the topic comes up naturally anyway on first dates. After all, your last major relationship is the point of reference for the activity at hand. You are seeing the other party through the filter of past men and experiences — both good and bad, from positions of both avoidance and hope.

Plus, as I’m fond of saying: Every relationship has a mistress: Timeandplace. Chatting about your divorce helps both parties understand where in the healing process they are.  Sharing about your breakup is really sharing about your emotional availability.

Case in point: Last spring I went out with a recently separated media executive. When I met this dad of three at the rooftop bar of the Gansevoort he blurted out a canned statement about how the emotional grieving was over, and we’re great co-parents and friends. We just have to sort out the logistics. Everything you’re supposed to say about your divorce to someone you’re trying to connect with.

Sure enough, a few G&Ts later, he lays it all out. How pissed he is and he stopped respecting her so long ago. “I told her: “Driving a Mercedes I pay for to pilates every day, living in Lululemon. You’re a goddamned cliche’!” Vitriolic, he was.

All good. That is where he is in his divorce. I’ve been there, and you have been, too. And right there on the first date I got the whole picture and moved on with my life. Which is exactly what first dates are all about.




Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, 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, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

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