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Carolyn Hax: Ex-girlfriend intrudes on relationship

Dear Carolyn: I’ve been dating this guy for several months. A couple of months ago, he starts talking about his first love all the time, date after date. He has told me every moment and detail of their 16-month relationship. How much he loved her and what is going on in her life now.

It has been 5ø years since she cheated on him and moved on with the new guy. I told him it’s obvious he’s still in love with her and not over her. Of course he denied it, but I don’t want to be with any guy who is still carrying a torch for an ex. Your thoughts?

– M.

A: Even if there’s no torch, there’s still the problem of his talking in great detail, “date after date,” about someone you don’t know and, I’m guessing, don’t find terribly interesting.

If he were nattering on about the root systems of deciduous trees, you wouldn’t try to figure out if he’s hung up on tree biology; you’d be saying to yourself, “Wow, I just had the most boring dinner of my life.” Then you’d be having the we-ahem-aren’t-the-greatest-fit talk.

Why try to make it dry and objective when the emotional component – that he’s clueless, thoughtless or rude enough to dwell on an old girlfriend during dates with you – is the whole point?

Here’s why: You’ve been enduring these first-love monologues for “a couple of months”(!) and instead of drawing your own conclusion and breaking up with him, you asked him to draw the conclusion – apparently not expecting honesty. And you don’t believe his answer, and you’re still with him.

In other words, the is-he-or-isn’t-he-hung-up-on-the-ex thing tends to freeze people in place while they try to figure out what it means. It’s not just you for sure.

So what I’m suggesting is that you look at what you have, face value, no tea-leaf reading: date after date after date talking about something that you don’t want to talk about and that ignores you and your interests.

One way to do this is to imagine the ex topic as something neutral, like those tree roots. Let that ground you and bring you back to this date and this moment, where the relevant question is: Why am I here?

If you value his companionship enough – companionship now, not the memory of it from before he went all ex-ish on you – then by all means, give him a little time to shoo away this ghost. But stick to the plan of replacing charged with neutral, and don’t pursue the you-still-love-her truth. Instead, simply change the subject: “You’re over your ex, I’ll accept that – so can we please talk about something else?” Then see if he’s able to do it.

The person who says, “Listen to me ramble on, I guess I’m not over her yet,” is a far better bet than the one who denies the story his own behavior tells and tells and tells again.