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Let’s face it, when it comes to the question of whether guys and girls can be friends, there will always be a lot of room for debate. No matter which side of the argument your boyfriend is on, he still might view your “buddy” with some suspicion—even despite your assurance that there is, and never will be, anything there.

But guess who your boyfriend worries about way more than your guy friend who may or may not ever make a move? Your ex-boyfriend. That’s right—compared to your ex, your totally platonic guy friend is as threatening as a mouse.

When I came face-to-face with my fiancée’s ex, I’ll admit it gave me pause at first (at the time we were dating). When I say face-to-face, I don’t mean I saw an old picture of him on her Facebook. I mean literally seeing him in the flesh because my fiancée and her ex are still friends. It can be hard enough to try not to compare yourself to a mystery man, but I wondered how I would feel about my girlfriend’s ex being part of her life.

So, yeah, my girlfriend’s ex got to me for a hot second.

But it’s not just me. I talked to a bunch of guys about how they feel about The Ex, and many admitted that—whether they have met the guy or not—when the ex-boyfriend is still in the picture, it can be pretty hard to put him out of their mind.

How Much Has She Moved On?

Several of the men I spoke to explained that they think about their girlfriend’s ex as much as she lets on that he might still be impacting her. Meaning, if she exhibits behavior that signifies she hasn’t fully moved on, then it’s very likely that The Ex will be on their mind, too.

“I’ve had past relationships where it seems that the girl still has feelings for an ex,” Rob says, “even if she’s totally into me as well.” Rob explains that in those situations, he thinks about the ex far more. And ultimately, every one of those relationships ended, usually in a lousy way.

Isaac agrees. “There was one girl who had some baggage. She was all bummed one day, and it was because one of her ex-boyfriends got married.” This threw Isaac off a little bit and created a divide between him and his girlfriend. “It’s not all the time. It’s not like you want to think about her exes, but it kind of gets forced on you at times.”

Men can also have an issue when they don’t have an open and honest discussion about the role your ex has in your life. This does not mean that they get to dictate your ex’s role, but if they are not allowed to express what will make them comfortable, it will likely cause problems.

“My early girlfriends typically had more experience than me,” Wes says. “So the girlfriends typically expected me to go about things at a speed way more in line with their exes’ approach. This put me at a loss.” Even when his girlfriend’s ex was seemingly unthreatening, Wes still felt uncomfortable because he wasn’t given the opportunity to share his feelings regarding the situation.

Her Ex Is Her Ex for a Reason

There are some guys I spoke to, however, who didn’t struggle that much with thoughts of The Ex or realized pretty quickly that worrying about their girlfriend’s feelings for her ex was their own problem, not a problem with her.

I know that for me, while I had some initial anxiety about The Ex, my fiancée and her ex-boyfriend set me at ease very quickly. There were three main factors that made accepting and even having a real friendship with my fiancée’s ex easy.

  • We had a transparent relationship. In being open about our true feeling and thoughts, we were able to express ourselves freely, and she was able to alleviate my fears that he was still my competition.
  • We established appropriate boundaries. By agreeing upon both physical and emotional boundaries with the opposite sex (including her ex), we protected our relationship from outside influence.
  • Her ex put in the effort to become my friend. It would have been a lot harder for me to believe that my girlfriend’s ex wasn’t still harboring feelings and a desire to be with my girlfriend if he had been standoffish and cold. Instead, he assured me that he supported our relationship by making an effort to be friends with me as well.

In fact, other guys, like Josh, also found that having a healthy relationship and a strong foundation of friendship with his girlfriend helped him see her ex as a non-threat. “My girlfriend and I had such a strong connection and instant chemistry from the beginning that it never crossed my mind that another guy could impact our relationship,” Josh says. “When you have a strong relationship and there’s a good foundation, then what do you have to worry about?”

Some of the other guys I spoke to shared similar sentiments, pointing out that it’s helpful to enter into a romantic relationship with the mindset that he is her ex for a good reason. Which is a good point! “They’ve never been much of a concern for me,” Theodore says. “It didn’t work out for a reason, so why should I worry? Worrying only makes it worse.”

To have so much confidence and self-control in a relationship, especially early on, is a really great quality for a guy to have. However, many guys still struggle with comparing themselves to their girlfriend’s ex, and it takes some work on their part, and maybe even some patience on the girlfriend’s end, to put the former flame to rest.

I’ve Learned to Not Let It Affect Me

More often than not, men have to train themselves to not let their significant other’s past relationships affect them. They know that if they obsessed over their girlfriend’s ex, it would ruin their relationship and make them upset.

“Of course, the topic of The Ex is going to come up every once in a while,” Bobby says. “However, I see zero benefit to obsessing over a past relationship.” Overanalyzing is a common occurrence for Bobby, and he knows from past relationships that he is better off staying focused on more important things.

Alex feels similarly. He would prefer to focus on stability and making sure he feels secure in his relationship. “I have always felt better about my girlfriend talking to her ex when I know that everything is good between us, so I would rather worry about our relationship than her relationship with her ex.”

Learning better communication skills is also a way that guys can learn to adequately deal with negative feelings toward their significant other’s ex.

“Before getting married, especially, I struggled a lot with jealousy,” Scott says. “Oftentimes I would compare myself to her ex-boyfriends. Not knowing how to communicate these feelings well to my wife would often result in arguments.”

However, once Scott became more secure in his relationship and started to properly communicate, things changed. “As a result, she started to understand me better, even if she did not think any jealousy was really justified.”

Men will deal with exes in a variety of ways. Some of those ways are healthy, and others not as much. But when you’re not sure how much they think about your ex, then it will be difficult for you to prevent any resentful or jealous feelings from festering. So what’s really important is that a guy is able to openly communicate how he feels about your ex and that you respect your current relationship enough to make sure your ex doesn’t come between you.

Photo Credit: Taylor McCutchan