‘I Want a Relationship but…I HAVE to Maintain Friendships with My Exes’

Grant Langston, Vice President of Brand Marketing for eHarmony, is back with another guest post.

I know a woman, Madison, who has indicated in her online dating profile that she “must be able to maintain her opposite sex friendships,” and let’s just say she’s having a little trouble meeting a great new guy. I wondered if there was a connection between this profile statement and her difficulty, so I asked her about it. “Most of my opposite sex friends are exes,” she told me. “AHA!” I said. “You tell your potential new loves that you have ongoing relationships with your ex-loves and that you insist on seeing them?” she nodded, and in an instant I knew why this beautiful woman was batting .000 in the online big leagues.

When I explained to her that many, many people don’t want their partner to maintain a relationship with ex lovers she was indignant, “Why do I want to end a great long-term friendship because I’ve started dating a new person who doesn’t like it?” I explained, “Can you see that a man doesn’t want you to go have dinner with someone whom you’ve seen naked?” “But NOW WE’RE JUST FRIENDS!” she yelled. “HOW MANY MEN ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?!” I yelled back. “IT’S ONLY SIX. WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?” My jaw hit the floor. She wants to maintain close friendships with SIX ex-lovers? What person is going to be okay with that?

I’m not totally blind to Madison’s point. I have old girlfriends who are now friends of mine. We might have a chat online occasionally, or exchange a Facebook post. They aren’t my best friends, but I value them and the small place they have in my life. Madison is a great person who decides early on in a relationship that she isn’t that interested in a guy and typically ends it amicably. Because she is a good “breaker-upper” the men don’t hate her and they quickly move to the friendship stage. It makes perfect sense.

The issue isn’t the old relationships and whether those friendships are wrong. The issue is “What can a new love reasonably ask you to do for the sake of the relationship?” Can she/he tell you who your friends should be?

Years ago my modern, liberal, cool guy response to this question would be “of course not.” Aren’t we all adults? Can’t two people of the opposite sex be friends without any residual spark? How dare a person tell me who I can see? But the years have taught me a few things:

1. Extinguished fires have embers.

If you’ve been intimate with a person, even if it was years ago, there is some kind of connection between you. You may know that this connection is dormant and unlikely to ever come to life, but you must acknowledge that it has come to life many times for many other people. It’s so common that it isn’t unreasonable that your new partner has some concerns about it. After all, he/she is putting his/her heart into this new relationship. They may love and trust you, but chemistry and sex are mysterious and powerful forces. People who never thought they’d cheat end up deep into something they cannot control.

2. Emotional affairs are more likely to happen with people whom we’ve had a deep connection.

I think there are many people who have their physical selves in check. They would never “cheat”, but when you meet your ex for dinner do you talk about your new relationship? Do you talk about the pet peeves you have for this new love? Is an emotional affair cheating? I say it is. Giving yourself a confidante of the opposite sex to hear your relationship woes is courting trouble.

3. You have a commitment to put your emotional energy into your partner.

There are certain responsibilities that come with relationships, even new ones. One responsibility is to channel your emotional energy into your new love. If you’re giving away parts of that energy to others, you’re not putting your all into the new relationship, and again, this new partner has reason to be worried if there’s a good chance you’re going to be sharing this emotional energy with six other people. In my opinion, one of the causes of our high modern relationship casualty rate is a cavalier attitude toward this aspect of love.

Of course Madison just sees a man trying to tell her what to do. What he’s really saying is, “If you want to do this, I can’t be with you.” In fact, dozens of men are saying this to her and she can’t understand what’s wrong with them. “Don’t they trust me?” She asked. I suggested what I thought was the easiest solution to the whole dilemma. “Take your new guy to these lunches and dinners with your old boyfriends. Introduce him. Bring everyone together and show him that there’s nothing to fear.” I could see she wasn’t buying it.

In the end, I suggested a simple test, take this pronouncement out of her dating profile, and mention to men only after they’ve had a couple of dates. Let him see her charms before she reveals her demands. At least that way he might think she’s worth the frayed nerves.

What do you think about Madison’s position?