Ex-etiquette: Advice on common complaints

Over years of working with couples, both dating and no longer, there are some common complaints I hear every day. So I’m passing on a little good ex-etiquette in the hopes that this will help everyone who will someday find their special someone.

“I recently met someone online and we were having quite a good conversation but when talking about something, in every reference, he’d bring up his ex-wife. And he’d use her first name, ‘And then I said, Carolyn, your labor pains can’t be five minutes apart…’ After about the fifth reference to Carolyn, I asked him how long he had been divorced. ‘Well,’ he said jokingly. ‘If she was here, I’d ask her because I really don’t remember. I think about seven years.’”

It’s OK to occasionally refer to an ex. That’s our frame of reference, particularly if you were dating or married for a long time. However, if you want to impress somebody new, your ex can’t be your reference for everything, especially on the first date.

Another thing I would like to caution first-time daters about: talking too much about your past. Mentioning the intimate details of why you broke up is not going to impress someone as much as talking about what you aspire to in the future. Talk about what you look forward to and how you want to build that with someone. Your date will then feel included, not excluded. First-name-basis birth stories are intimate stories meant for family and best friends, not dates.

“I was out on the date with someone when her ex called. She saw it was him on her caller ID and said ‘Ooh, it’s my ex. I have to pick this up.’ There was a lot of honeys and sweeties and yes you can borrow the car. I figured, if they were so close, why am I here? So, I asked, and she acted like it was no big deal. It made me feel stupid.”

If you’re flirting with someone else on your date, your date is going to feel as if they can be replaced. If you want another date, make a date feel special, not like one of many. You may also want to consider not picking up the phone unless it’s an emergency. Have a safe word for family members (co-parents, included) that means, “Get to the hospital! Jack swallowed a Lego.” Otherwise, don’t return texts until after the date.

For the record, polite cordial interaction toward an ex when you have children together is impressive. It demonstrates respect—and if they respect their ex, they will be inclined to respect you.

But then there’s the red flag …

Flip or cheeky behavior is not impressive, especially in a potential partner. I would use behavior like this as a reference for the future, similar to being cognizant of how someone treats their server in a restaurant. If they are arrogant and condescending, it says something about their basic personality and it could be an indicator or how they will eventually treat you. If they are kind and genuine, you have a keeper.

Kindness is good ex-etiquette.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.