On Facebook, Where Do You Draw the Line With An Ex?

So recently (with Is It EVER Okay To Be Facebook Friends With an Ex? and The Radical Immaturity of True Romantic Love), we’ve had some fun (and even a little drama!) talking about whether or not a married person should ever be Facebook friends with an ex. I asserted that Facebook-friending an ex is never okay (assuming there are no children between you), on the grounds that doing so means either lying to your spouse about it, or asking your spouse if they’re okay with it, which (I think) puts them in unfair position.

Seemed simple enough to me. But then I learned that a surprising number of you do, in fact, maintain, via Facebook, open lines of communications with one or more of their exes.

It’s for you folk, then, that I have a sincere question. When it comes to communicating with your ex on Facebook, what’s too far? Where (and how) do you draw the line between what’s permissible, and what’s not? Presumably your husband or wife has told you that it’s okay with them if you keep an ex of yours as a Facebook friend—they trust you enough to, essentially, give you that permission. That means that in the fluid, real-time dynamic of either email or instant message communications, you have to decide what is and isn’t proper.

How do you do that? Do you have rules of engagement going in, or do you just track the rules internally as you go, or … what? When does whatever you’ve said or typed to your ex become flirtatious? Is the rule that you set for yourself (or maybe agree upon with your spouse?) that you can email your ex, but not instant message them? Is it that you can email and IM your ex all you want, but can’t physically meet with them? Can you e-communicate with them a certain number of times per day, week, or month—but no more? Can you communicate with them for only a certain amount of time at a time? Can you phone them? Can you meet with them? Can you follow them on Twitter? Can you list them on Twitter as one of your favorites? If they have a Facebook fan page, can you join it? (To my exes: the answer to this one is yes.)

How do you establish those sort of boundaries for yourself, in your life, with your ex? Share!

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is co-founder of The NALT Christians Project and founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here). His blog is here. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://minoritythinker.blogspot.com Shannon

    I have one ex on my Facebook friends list — someone I dated only briefly and not very seriously. We communicate rarely, and it hasn't become a problem. (I had checked with my husband before friending him because he had specifically asked me to deny a friend request from another ex I had been serious about.)

    On the other hand, I once found myself having a flirtatious conversation on Facebook with someone I had NOT dated (though I'd had a crush on him), and I wound up turning off the instant message for a while so I wouldn't be tempted to do so again.

    It seems it's hard to establish boundaries ahead of time, partly because the temptation doesn't always appear when and where we expect it to.

  • textjunkie

    Ok, I wasn't going to respond to this because I'm not really a Facebook fan–I use it more as a place to run up a flag and let people know how to find me than as a place for mutual interaction. Also, I'm one of the folks for whom ex's are not sexually or romantically interesting; they are in the "been there, done that, got the t-shirt" category. They are a known quantity. (And it is the unknown quantities which are alluring!)

    But that said, I just got an email from an ex asking if my hubby and I will be in town over the holidays, 'cause he and his wife and baby are coming out to see their families and would love to get together with us. Which I am thoroughly expecting we will do, for coffee or a stroll in the park with the pram or something. Ex's are just part of the network of old college buddies, for me. Everyone's been keeping in touch for the past 20 years via emails etc.

    Independently of Facebook, too, we've all used emails to flirt and build relationships with new friends since email first became available–heck, my husband and I started our relationship over email, so we know how powerful it can be.

    So really, your question is much more general, whether it's about ex's or a new flame: When is ANY relationship a threat to the marriage, whether it's over Facebook, email, carrier pigeon, or the water cooler at work?

    I would think the same general rules apply in all cases: When you would be uncomfortable having your spouse along for the interaction–reading your emails to or from, or chats with the person over your shoulder, e.g.–when you wouldn't be comfortable signing off on a letter as being from you AND your spouse, or when you wouldn't want your spouse along for whatever the get-together is–When this is something you can only do alone–then you need to stop, put the relationship down, and back away.

    If just saying hello to an ex falls in that category for you, then hey, don't do it. If you wouldn't mind your spouse watching while you poke them on Facebook, but you'd be embarrassed if the spouse saw your Twitter favorites list, that's the limit for you. Etc.

  • FreetoBe

    Excellent answer at #2.

  • Meredith

    John, I appreciate the tone in which you are asking this question. Thank you.

    I'm not a big fan of lots of rules. I prefer a broader approach. Loving your spouse means wanting what is in their best interest and considering their needs and preferences as a higher priority than your own desires.

    So any behavior of me or my spouse has to have that as a starting point. That means I ask my husband what his comfort level is and how he feels about *any* friendship I have with a guy–whether that guy is an ex or not. He does the same with me in return.

    Through our conversations, we've come to the point that your second commenter came to–if you wouldn't be comfortable allowing your spouse to see what you've written, hear what you've said, or witnessed your behavior, then you shouldn't do it. If you know that your spouse would be uncomfortable with something you want to say, write, or do, then love and your marriage commitment mean accommodating that and honoring it to the extent that you are able to do so. In order to know what those areas of discomfort are, though, you have to bring in your spouse as a partner and give them a chance to tell you how they feel.

    I also voluntarily include my husband in a lot of my correspondence with other guy friends. I read their emails to him and I read him my responses. I often ask him what he thinks about whatever it is my friend and I are talking about. I actively look for ways to include him as much as possible in my friendships so that he feels and experiences and can trust that I'm being honest and open with him. I value his trust, so i do all that I can to be deserving of that trust and to foster it.

    I also don't flirt with my guy friends. To the extent that it's possible, when I make choices in how I interact with them, I ask myself "Is this how I would behave with my own brother or a female friend–where there's no sexual undercurrent?" If i can't honestly say yes, then I censor whatever it was that I was about to do. I've never been much of a flirt anyway, so this hasn't been a difficulty for me.

    I prefer encouraging couples to navigate this together–to talk and work through any discomfort they have and try to understand each other and themselves better–instead of simply drawing an arbitrary line somewhere. That way, both partners have the opportunity for personal growth as well as to foster greater honesty and depth of communication in their relationship.

  • textjunkie

    Excellent point by Meredith–would you behave this way with a sibling or someone with whom there was no sexual undercurrent? If not, censor it. (Can't say I always achieve it, but it's a good bar to set.)

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Aaaarrrrgggghhhhh …. trying not to rebut …. remaining quiet out of respect for commenters ….

    Okay, does anyone but me notice that the "You have to stop when you feel that you've gone too far" rule of thumb leaves completely out of the picture what (in this case) the HUSBAND'S judgments might be?

    What that says is, "I will decide what's too far. Me. It's my call. I'LL DECIDE." But it's not about what works for you. Of course YOU'RE okay judging what's acceptable. Not the point.

    And you'll say, "But he trusts me. That's the beauty of it!" Again: not the point. The point is, why would you ask him to allow you to let your conscience act in full proxy of his about something that's the most important thing in his life? Under what other circumstances would that even come up, except if you were talking to a doctor about him if he were in a coma?

    oops. dinner's on. carry on. Sorry. seriously. appreciate your thoughts/input, always.

  • Melissa

    My husband has several exes on his Facebook and I could care less. In fact, a couple of his exes are very good friends of mine. I mean, really now, we're in our 40s and I'm to worry about a relationship he had 20 something years ago? Are most of us so insecure in our relationships? My rule is that I MUST be able to trust him. I cannot carry on a relationship with a man I cannot trust. I could not be in a relationship with a man who did not trust me. I am always amazed at those women who routinely go through their husband's or boyfriend's mobile and email records to see if they can "find" something. It's not that he's given them a reason to look most of the time either. They are putting out fires that haven't even begun to burn. I refuse to spend time worrying about some old girlfriend on FB. He is married to ME. We have a child and a great life. If something is going to happen, it will happen whether it's on Facebook or somewhere else. As far as ground rules go, I feel no need to talk about them. He's smart man and he knows what they are – and he knows what will happen if he crosses the line. (Same for me by the way!) We discussed all this at the altar before God and our friends and family.

  • textjunkie

    John, nothing in what we said indicated it wasn't a two-way street. Nothing is being done in secret or by the one person only, therefore the other party's judgement is always in play. I don't know what you are picturing, but it isn't pretty and it isn' t what any of us have described. If you don't trust your spouse and you to be of the same mind about these things, then don't do it.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    But the other person's judgment is only in play AFTER the fact.

    Anyway, who cares what I think? If what you're doing works for you guys, that's wonderful. For real. Every couple negotiates their own way through these sorts of things. Of course I'm glad to hear you've worked out something good for you.

  • wantstodowhatsright

    I find this conversation very interesting John. Thanks for getting it started. It's more interesting to me since I *just* became fb friends with my ex only 2 days or so before your post.

    The reason being, that I felt I should apologize to him for treating him terribly (when we dated 6 years ago) and yet I called myself a follower of Christ. (He was not). I talked w/ my husband and he confirmed my apologizing, so I sent the ex an email. *whew* Huge relief. THEN the email came back as an invalid address. =P I didn't have any way to communicate with him so I searched on the web and came up with nothing. So I tried fb and sure enough… So I sent a fb message, he got it, accepted my apology and friend requested me. I didn't want to be rude or even more hurtful, so I accepted. I talked with my husband about it and he's fine. I'm still debating about whether I should "unfriend" ex or not, but we haven't communicated since the apology, acceptance, and general inquiring after each other's family's health messages, so it' not really an issue.

    Anyway, I'm trying to do what God wants here and want to keep him central in all things going on in my life. I don't want to say "Hey God, how far can I walk away from the line of what's right before I'm walking the line of what's wrong?" But at the same time, I don't think God wants us to close ourselves into little boxes of safety and ease, so I don't want to say "Hey God, I am totally closing myself off to anyone that isn't following you, isn't that great?!" Gah. If only there were some guidelines or something that just plainly says what I should do or not do here… oh wait! *scampers off to read Bible*

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Well, if you've read my other two posts and comments on this matter, you know what I think best to do. If you need to apologize—which is always a good an honorable thing to do—my advice (not that you asked for it—so forgive me) is to write the guy, apologize, and then add that he hopes you understand that, out of love and honor for your husband, that will have to be the final word between you two. If he writes back, don't answer him. You apologized; you did the right thing; it's over.

  • heather

    lol john how did you come upon this blog? I wonder what experiences you've had that makes you so opinionated about this subject ;)

    I came here looking advice and got alot thank you people!

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    I wish I had an interesting story to tell you about myself and any of my exes on FB, but, alas, I don't. I have no idea why I wrote this blog. It's not an issue in my life at all; I'm not (believe it or not) a person inclined toward jealousy of any kind. It's just not … part of my emotional make-up—to a degree that's actually, I know, kind of weird. Anyway—no story here. Sorry!

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Oh, I remember why I wrote this: a friend of mine told me that an ex-girlfriend of his asked to friend him on FB, and he wasn't sure what to do.