First and foremost, congratulations on the decision to put your fuck parts together with another person's fuck parts in a more meaningful way than you were putting fuck parts together with others during the abysmal slog through Tinder you've been on since your break-up. Things are probably great: you two have stopped using condoms, you've saved her address in your Seamless account, and you're maybe even doing butt stuff already.
This is cause for celebration, but also caution. Because a new relationship often requires that you talk about your old one. Talking about your ex is not just how you account for your romantic history, it is how you communicate your emotional intelligence, your taste, and whether or not your thoughts about women are baseline civil and humane.
Chances are, your new piece knows a bit about your ex. Maybe you defended a decorative item when she came over for the first time, a ladylike bath towel or a Klimt print better suited to an undergraduate dorm at your safety school perhaps. "That, is my ex's," you said after your third date, pointing an accusatory finger at the print and leading the new lady to your chambers so that you might try your hand at second base, pun intended. You omitted, "Her elevated intellect was made all the more intoxicating by her low-brow taste," as well as the accompanying wistful chuckle, because you're smart. But even smart guys can fuck up some of the most basic rules of talking about their last relationship.
Because I am benevolent, I am going to get the hardest part of this out of the way first, which is that you must never, ever, under any circumstances use the word "crazy" in reference to your ex-girlfriend. I know, I know! It is madness, nay, heresy, to suggest that you never refer to that shrill lunatic of a sea witch with this perfectly apt adjective. "That bitch painted pentagrams on my car!" you might protest. I don't care. "It was with her own menstrual blood!" Period-phobia is so high school. "She used my cat's tail as the paintbrush!" And you don't see the cat calling her crazy, do you?
My hope is that this example has illustrated both how important this point is and the fact that your ex was probably not actually crazy. But it is important for two more key reasons:
1) It is lazy shorthand that signals you don't like lady feelings, and
2) It shows that you still care.
Men often call a woman crazy because she showed displeasure at a man's actions and did so without detached indifference, having emotions all over his mad chill. But having emotional responses to your partner's actions is more rational than the feigned indifference that men are forced to express because the patriarchy gives you a shit deal too. Just because you were conditioned to show only ambivalence or extreme anger when you're upset or jealous doesn't mean that your ex was crazy for responding emotionally. And the irony is that calling her crazy is you having an emotional response to her actions because you're still invested enough to disparage her.
If your ex did seemed legit crazy, it doesn't behoove you to dismiss it with this overused catch-all deployed against so many exes. This is a chance to use your words. Was her behavior sadistic? Manipulative? Obsessive? Before you answer, make sure you recall specific incidents when any of the above truly described her and weren't your knee-jerk responses to her own legitimate self-expression in a moment of brokenness between you. If you do recall such incidents, you can use those words or you can recount the incidents themselves and let the stories speak for themselves. You can say, "She treated me in X way," and give your new girlfriend the opportunity to call her crazy if she sees fit. Make sure you don't get worked up during this part of the conversation because that reads as angry and invested.
Next up is how to talk about her appearance. This inquiry is up there with how do you talk to an angel or solve a problem like Maria. Which is to say, way up there. Chances are, this won't come up unless your new girlfriend brings it up or you're a monster who thrives on making women feel weird about their appearance. If that's the case, stop!
If you're in a new relationship, you probably find your new dame to be a stone cold fox and might be tempted to say things like, "You're a lot hotter than her, babe. Seriously," and then touch her on the butt. Don't! The momentary rush of joy we feel at this validation dries up if we later peruse any and all social media accounts we're not locked out of and surmise that she is hotter than us. Then you're a liar. Even if your current girlfriend is categorically more attractive than your ex, she'll wonder about your standards or think you two had the most insane love of all time to be so ill-matched physically and feel bad. Just nonchalantly say, "I found her attractive." Don't belabor this point or be defensive about it.
If you feel that your new companion is not as hot as the ex you but are nice and don't want to hurt her feelings or just don't really care that much, don't overdo it. If your girlfriend mentions your ex's babeliness, you can agree with the similar, "Yeah, she's an attractive woman." Resist the temptation to add zingers and qualifiers like, "Yeah, and she knew it too!" that show a chip on your shoulder or "But that's not what's really important to me, babe!" which is just inner-beauty malarkey that usually translates to us feeling homely as fuck unless it's carried off with mastery you likely don't have. Just admit she was attractive. It makes sense that you've dated people you found attractive. If your new girlfriend remains intimidated by the ex, remember that this is the result of years of being inundated with messages about her inadequacy. It is not her being "obsessed" with your ex so don't you start pulling that "crazy" line on her, you.
Inevitably you will talk about the demise of your previous relationship because we are all addicted to our own pain and we can't help it. If you broke up with her, you're in a decent spot because you were probably long ready for it to be over and are therefore more convincingly invested in this new thing. You can tell your lady this—but, be aware that if you are always the one who does the breaking up, she might get scared that she's next on your chopping block of insane expectations. (Also, maybe think about why that is your pattern?)
If you got your ass dumped for some kind of fuckery, you must avoid the "...and I deserved it but have learned from my mistakes" bit. This spiel both makes you seem like you want a prize for self-awareness, and also makes you seem like you'd be open to getting back together if given the option. Instead, say something like "She realized we weren't right for each other before I did." I am sort of betraying my kind by suggesting stealthy options for expressing I was a fuck that wasn't right for her and didn't deserve her after that but after what I excused about your cat, I owe you one.
If there were dealbreakers that broke you up that you are 100-percent sure your new girlfriend doesn't have in common with your ex, some of them can be thrown about cavalierly, but others need to be decentered from your break-up story. For example, if you had religious differences that you don't have with your new girlfriend, she could still think you're closed-minded or an overgrown errand boy for your parents' false gods. Just mention it as a contributing factor in a sea of other incompatibilities.
Some exceptions are:
- If the dealbreaker had to do with the ex's family being rich and awful about it. Everyone who isn't rich hates the rich, so just shit all over them and bond over your shared peasant status.
- If infidelity was the dealbreaker, you can say that too. Even if this broad has eyes that wander every which way, people don't really think of themselves as cheaters because without cognitive dissonance we'd probably be way more suicidal.
And that's kind of it. "But that's not talking about my ex! That's just damage control!" you might be saying. And you'd be correct. If you feel the need to talk a lot about your ex's complex interior life or her hobbies to help you explain your new relationship better, then you need a new point of reference. Then you need to learn to talk about people as their own entities and not in relation to other people you've gotten your dick wet inside of, and I can't teach that.
I didn't even mention how to talk about your sex life, in all its gruesome detail! You know you don't want your ex telling her new piece that your load was more bitter than average or that you were pretty into age play. So, don't go blabbing to your new piece on the width of your ex's clit, either. Golden rule and all.
So take this in and then get back to your butt stuff and letting her replace that Klimt, because, real talk, that shit is unacceptable to have in a grown-ass man's apartment.
Adequate Man is Deadspin's new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.