Living in the Past - Stop talking about the Ex

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Living in the past is like visiting and re-visiting history hoping that the past can alter the present, or reminiscing on “what might have been.” Or chewing on plain, old-fashioned nostalgia.

If we told you that you could master control over your life today – over what is happening right now instead of over what happened before, would you be interested? Or do you prefer to linger in the past like industrial glue clinging stubbornly onto the surface?

“Live in the present, for it is the only moment you have. Keep your attention on what is here and now; look for the fullness in every moment. Accept what comes to you totally and completely so that you can appreciate it, learn from it, and then let it go. The present is as it should be.” (Deepak Chopra, 1993)

Shades of Living in the Past

One bachelor we met years ago entertained us with his memories of women he’s dated in the past. He genuinely likes women and enjoys the dating scene because he calls it his “training ground” for eventually picking out those qualities that he’d like his future wife to have. He had always admired his mother who shared valuable lessons – lessons he used to guide his decisions about money, education, career and of course, women.

His mother said, “Mike, enjoy the single life for as long as you can. Take your time. Don’t rush to marry the first woman you fall in love with, no matter how intense your relationship, because love changes with the years. You’ll know what I mean when you’re older. And when you meet the right woman, you’ll know it. That’s when you stop seeing the other women and dedicate your entire life to just her. But until then, enjoy your single blessedness.”

Mike always listened to his mother’s advice. She was a no-nonsense woman with the sharpest logical mind. She was this “cool” figure for whom he had only profound respect.

We asked him if he ever dated women who spent time talking about their ex. “Are you kidding?”, he shot back. “Most – I’d say 95% of them – talked about that almost exclusively. They don’t get it. They think men are intrigued and eager to know. When the conversation goes this way – that’s when I turn my antennas off and feign interest”, he said, shaking his head.

Mike said that judging from his experience, there are three types of women who liked talking about the past:

Lady X: he calls her the “positive talker.” She talks fondly about her ex, remembers clearly what he did for her and what a real gentleman he was. He was the type who surprised her with lovely gifts, wrote the most endearing letters, and earned a good salary. She’d only have glowing praises for him, and how more men should be like him so they’d hit it off with the girls.

Mike’s comments: Lady X is the type who would make any man feel inadequate. You wonder why she isn’t with him anymore since he was such a swell guy. By talking about her ex constantly, it’s like she’s telling her date that he should be like him – thoughtful, gentlemanly, considerate, a shining example of manhood and chivalry. It’s enough to scare the daylights out of any male who’s thinking , “I’ll never measure up.”

Lady Y: she’s quite the opposite of lady X. She’s the negative talker. She has an endless list of her ex’s terrible qualities. She vividly remembers each moment when he disappointed her and made her cry. He broke her heart, treated her with no ounce of respect, and was cheap. He never remembered her birthday or special occasions, not even Valentine’s Day. He would help himself to her car and return it with an empty tank. He’d borrow money from her and never pay it back.

Mike’s comments: lady Y is just as scary as lady X, if not more scary. You can’t deal with a bitter woman. When you find out how long she was with him, it makes you wonder if her self-esteem was that low to make her NOT want to break off the relationship sooner. Any decent, educated woman would instinctively know she was being taken advantage of. But some women have no self-confidence whatsoever, allowing themselves to be taken for a ride, hoping one day he’ll change.

Lady Z: she’s the tireless chatterbox. She spews out chunks of information – both positive and negative – with an utter disregard of the other person’s privacy. She’ll mention all the men she’s dated in the past: what they’re like, what they did for a living, what he’s doing now and on and on.

Mike’s comments: Lady Z is the type of woman who’ll say anything just to get the conversation going. She’s long on words but short on substance. She’s not the listening type, she prefers to monopolize the conversation. Now, it’s fine to monopolize the conversation if you have something intelligent and interesting to say, but if you’re rambling about your many ex-boyfriends the whole night, that’s not conversation, that’s plain gossip. People who talk about other people sound boring after awhile. It’s so much more challenging to talk with someone who can discuss ideas and events.

Reasons why People are Living in the Past

What compels people to cling to the past as though it is all they’ve got, with no future to look forward to? And why do men and women find pleasure talking about their ex to someone they met online or were recently introduced by a friend?

What is it about the subject of ex boyfriends and ex-girlfriends that make it so appealing to those who talk about it?

  • Romanticism – some people are natural romanticists or enjoy feating on nostalgia. They cling to the past as though it was some glorious era in history, talking about their knight in shining armor or their femme fatale as if they were extraordinary, celestial beings;
  • Lack of self-confidence – people talk about their ex because they’re still trying to analyze what led to the breakup. They engage in useless analysis until they get to the level of paralysis that they can’t think of their own future or for themselves;
  • Fishing expedition/comparison checklist – by talking about their ex, they consciously steer the conversation in the direction of ‘what’s your opinion on my ex’s behavior’ angle because they’re fishing for information. By saying something like “my ex expected to be wined and dined in expensive places – what do you think of that’ – they’re trying to gauge whether you would be a high or low maintenance person. Or else, they’d say something like “my ex wanted me to phone her everyday at a certain hour – it didn’t matter that I was in a meeting – did you ask that from your ex as well?”
  • Unresolved conflict, bitterness – people who talk about their ex non-stop have pent-up frustrations and bitterness they can’t quite purge. By talking about their ex, they want the listener to know that they are the wronged party, that they are the victim. But by talking about their sad past, they become immobilized, entranced about “what might have been”, unable to release the raging demons in them.

Live for Now and Tomorrow

What good does living in the past serve? How much more can we bore our dates by stories of our ex before they run away from us? When we meet someone who makes a habit of dwelling in the past, it raises our antennas, telling us what kind of conversations we can expect in the future.

What a dull prospect it is to have to listen to that kind of chatter…

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