The Dating Nerd is a shadowy figure whose whereabouts and identifying details remain unknown. What we do know is that he is really, really good at dating. He’s been on more dates than you can shake a lengthy bar tab at, and he’s here to help the average guy step his dating game up a notch — or several. Need his help? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi Dating Nerd,
My girlfriend’s ex is in town and she wants to go for dinner with him. They dated for a long time and she says it’s all cool and there’s no romantic feelings anymore but I feel a little weird about the sitch. What should I do?
– Exed Out
Exed, my opinion will be unpopular. But I think you have every reason for concern. I don’t think you’re being ‘jealous’ or ‘controlling’ or ‘possessive’ or ‘toxically masculine’ or ‘acting like you have a tiny dick’ or anything you might be accused of for feeling a little wigged out by this situation.
This is unpopular because we’re in a time where the fashionable view of relationships is that you should be ‘chill’, which is to say acquiescent to the point of total zombie-like catatonia. Being chill involves practicing total unconcern about your partner’s behavior as long as they’re not actually murdering you or sleeping with your cousin. Being chill involves pretending you don’t have needs or vulnerabilities at all, so you can be more like, I don’t know, Jason Statham, or Jason Statham’s corpse, or something.
I take a very dim view of all this. I think having emotions is okay. I think it’s not being ‘controlling’, necessarily, to voice concerns about your partner’s behavior, unless you voice those concerns abusively.
I also take a somewhat dim view of your girlfriend having dinner with an ex. Because, unfortunately, your girlfriend is a human being — and no human being can be trusted in every circumstance. Unfortunately, there’s a non-zero chance that she’s a dimly lit room and three fancy cocktails away from destroying your relationship, with the help of some jerkwad she once called “baby.” (Let’s just assume that all of her exes are knuckle-dragging scumbags who contribute little to the human species. I assume you do this already.)
When people talk about cheating, there’s a very special bullshit thing that they often say, which is, “it just happened.” As if, until the very microsecond before they took their boxers off, they were totally faithful straight-and-narrow monogamists who never entertained a thought of infidelity — but, in a spontaneous neurochemical catastrophe, their brains suddenly went all Anthony Weiner. Obviously, this is an attempt to lessen the severity of the transgression — they’re implying that their infidelity was just a momentary mistake, rather than the consequence of some longer-term shit. Like it was an accident, not a result of some meaningful character flaw.
But they’re lying. Sure, in some sense, cheating “just happens,” in that there’s a very brief moment when two people’s faces illegitimately collide for the first time. But the actual event of cheating, like so many other things in life, is a journey composed of a hundred tiny fuck-ups.
Like, think about what circumstance would make you cheat on your partner — let’s say it’s doing molly with Emma Stone in a candle-lit penthouse in a five-star hotel. If you were magically transported to that very moment, blaming you for cheating would be difficult. But you weren’t magically transported — you made all sorts of little choices along the way. First, Emma Stone’s eyes met yours over the crab meat at Whole Foods. Then, gingerly chatting each other up, she suggested you might hang out with her on the set of Incredibly Generic Romantic Comedy, the film she’d been shooting in your city. As you shared a cigarette outside her trailer, she mentioned that she’d been feeling lonely and friendless in your town of Cityville. You somehow failed to mention your relationship. And so on.
In other words, you got there. You knew that hanging out with Emma Stone was a little dangerous the whole time. But you went along with it. Whether or not you told yourself that you were just engaging in a little harmless extra-relationship flirting, or whether you were actually entertaining the prospect of an affair, you said, who cares, it’s no big deal. Then it became a big deal.
Returning to your ex: if she’s going out for dinner with this guy, she got there. She’s been chatting with him over Facebook occasionally — he sent her a nice little message after she got a promotion and apologized for some dick move he pulled after they broke up. She followed him on Instagram, and has been liking his selfies. There’s been a little back and forth already. And, while, probably, she doesn’t have any intention of cheating on you, she can’t help but remember the warm feelings she used to have when this mouth-breathing douchebag took her to the circus, or whatever dumb thing they did together.
This doesn’t mean she will cheat on you. But it means she’s entering a slightly dangerous situation. Don’t freak out. After all, I assume you’ve accidentally seen some super-freaky Internet porn, but you’ve somehow avoided sex with goats. I assume you’ve dabbled with drugs but are not actually a struggling heroin addict. There are many many situations in life where we peek off a metaphorical ledge but don’t actually jump.
However, while you shouldn’t freak out, you also shouldn’t be shy about voicing your concern. My suggestion is that you ask your partner whether she might go out for some sort of midday friendly coffee with her former beloved snookums, rather than do anything that involves alcohol. Coffee dates, for the most part, are wonderfully unromantic — nothing says chastity like becoming more jittery in a brightly-lit room full of cardigan-wearing ectomorphs having meetings about their startup ideas.
You might something along the lines of, “babe, I trust you, but I still don’t like the idea of you drinking a bunch of fancy Cabernet with something you used to be in love with — just like I don’t like the idea of you drinking a bunch of fancy Cabernet and then going for a drive.” Do mention how much you love her (assuming you’ve dropped that fateful four-letter word already) and that you’re just looking after the health of the relationship.
Most probably, she’ll understand, her ex will quietly fume about the shrinking probability of the end of her new relationship, and life will continue as before. But if she doesn’t — if she blows up at you, and calls you controlling, or insecure, or anything — then you should probably wonder whether she’s really a loyal partner. Because she’s made it clear that going out for a night on the town with her ex is more important than your feelings. Proceed with caution.