The X Factor

Dating experts will tell you that the one topic of conversation you should always avoid when out on a first date is your ex. Nobody, goes the conventional dating wisdom, wants to hear you bang-on about the horrors or, worse still, the wonders of your ex. But guess what? I do!


When I’m out on a first date with a woman I don’t want to talk about her work, her favourite books, films or songs. And I would like to skip the bit about her dog. Her cat. Her kids. Her mum and dad. The horrors of her teenage years. No, we can do all stuff later.   


I want to hear everything about her ex. And I mean everything; anatomical details, curious psychological quirks, mother issues, fears and fantasies. I want to hear all about his bad habits, bad jokes and bad breath. And please don’t forget to mention why he was bad in bed!  


Am I weird for wanting to hear this stuff? No. We all secretly do. Why? One reason is that we’re always a little bit competitive with the previous partner. In moments of self-doubt we wonder: were they more attractive/successful/sexy/funny/sweet/kind and loving than me? 


Does he/she love me as much as the ex?


I know it’s silly and a sign of insecurity to compare ourselves with former partners but hey, who isn’t sometimes silly and insecure?  I like hearing about how awful the previous man was because it makes me feel better about myself. Sad, isn’t it?


But what if her ex was wonderful? What if she were to spend the evening talking about how her ex was super kind, sensitive, generous thoughtful and brilliant in bed and so on? How would I handle that? The honest answer is I would take it like a man i.e. get pissed and spend the rest of the evening in a sulk.


No man or woman wants to hear about the wonders of the ex. We may not want to hear all that, but you should hear it because it suggests that your date is still in love with their ex.   


And that’s why hearing someone talk about their ex is so rewarding. When someone is telling you about them, they’re really telling you something very intimate and truthful about themselves. 


There’s often a gap between how we like to present ourselves to other people and the way we really are. In other words: what we say is not always what we do. People say they want certain things from a potential partner – love, kindness, companionship etc. – but they actually spend years with people who provide none of these things. 


I remember going out on a date with a smart and sexy woman who had a very successful career in the City. In her on-line dating profile, she said she was looking for a man who was handsome, sexy, tall, funny and kind. 


On our first date she told me about her ex. He was short. Bald. Bad tempered. Self-obsessed. Rude to her and her children. And guess what? She was crazy about him. They were together for three years! I knew straight away that this woman didn’t need to see me – she needed to see a therapist. And thankfully she did!


I sometimes imagine what one of my ex’s would say to someone on a first date about me? For a piece I was writing I actually asked my two ex-wives and various girlfriends to describe what it was like going out with me. 


I got some nice comments and compliments but it was the critical things I’ve been bitterly ruminating over ever since. Things like “he’s so neurotic!”/” too needy!”/ “over sensitive”/ “hopelessly immature”/” prone to nigh time sweats”/” snores horribly” and “drives like your granny”. 


Thanks ladies! Still it’s nice to know hearing about me will make some bloke very happy and hopeful.


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