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The Ex-Files
In a world of social networking, the rules for interacting with your former flames have changed, writes Twanji Kalula.

I don’t believe in holding grudges. I may be wrong, but I think I’m on relatively good terms with everyone I’ve dated. I would like to think that if I bumped into an ex while going about my daily business we could mutter a friendly hello and feign interest as we enquire about each other’s wellbeing – while secretly hoping that we look better than the other remembers.

Many exes forget why they never got along

I was reminded that some exes are beyond cordial as I chatted to a friend who is at breaking point. She has an, “I don’t chase them, I replace them” philosophy when it comes to dealing with troublesome men – so, needless to say, she has burnt her bridges with most of her exes. However, having finally found the man of her dreams, she has given her philosophy a rethink – and endured a little more than she thinks she should.

Her boyfriend is good friends with many of his exes – and being the gentleman that he is, he struggles to set boundaries. This has meant that an army of crazy-acting women are constantly in contact with her boyfriend, obsessing about him, testing the boundaries and irking her to no end. In an effort to keep the peace and be the nice guy he maintains friendships with them. They interpret this as permission to engage in behaviour that borders on disrespectful.

Can you be friends with an ex?

While I still find it doubtful that one can truly remain friends with an ex, without offending their current – it seems that these types of friendships are more common than we think. I know of another guy who frequently sees a number of his exes for coffee dates, lunches and even weekends away – with his girlfriend’s permission.

I recently informed my partner that we would no longer discuss our exes. It’s not that I’m insecure (because I know that I’m the bomb dot com), it’s just that I think that after a certain point in time you should let go of the past, focus on the present and dedicate the limited time you have with your loved ones to more relevant matters of the day.

The 21st century problem

Chatting to my friend about the fact that she feels disrespected by her boyfriend and his has-been girlfriends, I realised that the playing field has changed. 30 years ago breaking up with someone was as easy as never calling again, and with some luck you would never see them again.

These days with Twitter, Facebook, email and instant messaging, keeping in touch with former lovers has never been easier. We can be ‘friends’ with our exes online and get notified when they change their relationship statuses. We can see who they’re dating, confirm the rumours that they’ve downgraded, and even plot to ignite new flames from the cinders of a failed relationship.

I was reminded how complicated the online domain can become when a friendly acquaintance sent me an unwarranted, unsolicited lewd image. While I ignored it as pathetic and awkward, my significant other had a panic attack about the violation our relationship had just endured. And despite the fact that I was merely the receiver of this smut, my nonchalant response only served to make it worse. With all this potential for vast grey areas to develop online, we’re faced with the difficult challenge of defining rules for navigating the inter-web, while in a relationship.

What are the rules?

Moderating your exes in a world that is always online does not have a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s up to each couple to decide what’s appropriate for their relationship, and what isn’t.

I choose to keep animosity to a minimum, maintain a friendly distance and limit online interaction. I don’t mind if my beloved is Facebook friends with an ex, or receives an annual birthday text.

On the other hand, my friend believes that unless there are children involved, you should cut exes loose. For others it’s totally acceptable to allow their partner to meet an ex once a week and allow them to forge a new kind of friendship.

What is important is that the feelings of your current partner are taken into consideration. It is crucial to communicate openly about what you are comfortable with, and truly hear what your partner’s boundaries are.

And for those confusing situations that fall into that grey area – Oprah has a great rule of thumb: “If you wouldn’t do it in front of your partner, you probably shouldn’t be doing it at all.”

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