From Ghost To Ghost: What It's Like When Your Whole World Is Haunted By Past Relationships

by Benjamin Ritter
Universal Pictures

Welcome to the Ex Games: a content series about love lost. Whether it's the realization things need to end, the act of rejection, the reality of being single, or the resurrection that is moving on, the Ex Games has every stage of a breakup covered.

And to really bring these stories to life, we've launched the Ex Games podcast, where we delve into the two sides of a break-up story with a new couple each week, and aim to end up somewhere near the truth. Because when it comes to affairs of the heart, everyone plays, but does anyone win? Let's find out. 

We're trying to make our way to the front of the bar on a crowded night. I give a hug to a friend I once casually dated. “Oh who's that?” the girl I'm with asks.

I reply, “Just a friend.” We keep walking and per usual I see a couple of familiar faces from dating app conversations. Suddenly, I make eye contact with my last serious ex. As I try to move quickly away, she comes up to talk to us. Why do these occurrences seem to happen more than ever before?

The term "dating" was coined around the 1900s. It defined a formal, parentally supervised, in-home event, and it was solely a process for getting married. Today, dating is broadly defined, taking into account everything from hookups, friends with benefits, partnerships, exclusive-but-not-together, to long-term relationships.

It has become disconnected from the intention of marriage, which may also be part of the reason people are delaying marriage, or not getting married at all. The broadening of the definition of dating and access to more people has created the opportunity to date more, and often less seriously.

Naturally this creates more exes, and potential friends that are exes, which has caused a new, lasting dynamic for relationships.

Not only are you prone to have more exes in your life than ever before, but all of them can haunt you at any time through social media.

According to Statista, 81 percent of the population is on social media in the United States, and due to the opportunity to date more than ever before, it's fair to say that you will meet people, date them, date more of them, but then also stay connected.

In terms of actual exes, YourTango conducted a survey of 1,000 people and discovered that 59 percent remained Facebook friends with an ex, and 50 percent admitted to contacting an ex even though they shouldn't have.

This leaves us in a little bit of a conundrum when we start dating someone serious.

You will be connected with a variety of people with whom you have a history -- or present -- run into people both of you may have dated, and you probably both have friends that at one point weren't just friends. You'll have questions of your partner, the dreaded, “Who's that?” and you'll likely get asked how you know your friends too, jealousy and insecurity may run rampant, and can ruin some of your relationships.

What's the best way to handle this situation?

In reality, you're going to have to learn how to deal with the ghosts of past relationships, and the solution isn't an exorcism, it mostly has to do with your mindset. Everyone has a past, and the older we get, the more of a past everyone will have.

If you're over 30 and can't bear the thought of hearing about or being around someone your partner was once “talking to,” then you need to take your partner and move away to an isolated hut in the middle of nowhere. Good luck with that.

The big three investments of people above 30 are work, trying to stay in touch with friends, and dating. There's not much time to make new friends, especially friends of the opposite gender.

Taking the time to develop an intimate relationship of any kind when you're older means that you at least think the person is worth your time, so when it doesn't work out, why wouldn't the person stay in your life?

Your partner's decision to commit to you, and your decision to commit to your partner, trumps anything that has happened in the past. It's harder when the past is right in front of your face, but you need to remember that the past, in essence, is not reality.

The best way to minimize the effect of the ghosts of relationships past is to give your relationship more respect and attention than anyone else. Your partner comes first when dealing with exes. This can mean just listening to their concerns, or avoiding situations that make your partner uncomfortable, and not ignoring or telling your partner to deal with it, which implies that other relationships are more important.

A great idea is to introduce your partner to people who are important to your life before spending a lot of time with them on your own.

Also, if people from your past don't really matter to you, but they are negatively affecting your relationships, just get rid of them. If you can't respect your partner's concerns, valid or not, then you shouldn't be in your relationship.

What about honesty? You see someone from your past when you're out with your partner, or you have a close friend that was much more than a friend, and then your partner asks, “How do you know each other?” aka “Did you f*ck them?”

I've actually asked and been asked that direct question. Now, honesty is the best policy -- but, in a perfect world, sexual history and friendships wouldn't bother anyone, but they do, and that information could really affect your relationships.

What does your partner really need to know? What do you really want to know? If you do decide to tell your partner your sexual history, and vice versa, remember that it doesn't take an ex to cause someone to cheat. There's opportunity everywhere. Both of you have chosen to be together, it shouldn't matter what's in the past.

The one sure way to avoid ghosts from past relationships is to delete social media, change your phone number, and move away with your partner. If that doesn't seem reasonable then you're going to just have to learn how to accept them and trust your partner.

You can make this easier though by putting away your Ouija board until your partner feels secure in the relationship. Let your past relationships know you're off the market, cut ties from the people who are still disrespecting your relationship or have impure intentions, and focus on your current relationship.

You don't have to change your life, just keep in mind which relationships are most important to you, and your partner. Do you want to live and focus on the past, or build a future together by focusing on the present?