I am sure that I have written about this before, but it bears repeating: don't tell suitors/the girl you are pursuing about your ex-boyfriends/ex-girlfriends.
Obviously, don't deny that they ever existed. If (IF) you are asked about one, then talk, but be brief and as positive as possible. I am cudgeling my mind for a memory of some suitor desperately wanting to know about an ex-boyfriend, and I can't think of any. But I do remember wanting to talk about ex-boyfriends, either because they made for good anecdotes or because I wanted to process the leftover pain with a sympathetic soul, and this always drove the future ex-boyfriends insane. By the way, never, ever, EVER discuss an ex on a first date.
This is by no means solely a feminine failing. Some men can talk endlessly about the women who broke their hearts into a trillion pieces, and I know of one woman who put up listening to a man vent about me for months and months. Finally she told him that if he didn't stop, she would walk. (I'm afraid she was otherwise a doormat: she gave him years of devotion, and he never married her. When he left town, he didn't take her. Very sad.) Obviously I heard this story secondhand, but I'd bet the grocery money it is true. I have listened to other men go on about other women who got away.
I cannot stress how important it is when you meet a new person not to sound off in a bitter fashion about an ex. You might feel like the new woman is a kindred soul who understands you like no-one before, but many women are startled when you inform them that your last ex-girlfriend was a cheap, money-grubbing, psycho-bitch from hell. And if you mention the rest of the harpies it was your misfortune to date, the new woman may very well reflect on the long list and conclude that one day she, too, might be described by you in such unflattering terms. Buh-bye.
Even worse is telling your new flame how perfect your old flame was. I remember feeling very miserable as I listened to how smart and how sensitive my predecessor was. I heard about her child (from another relationship), her dog, her job, her work rivalries, her skin cancer scar, and on and on and on. It was rather foolish to have been so surprised when he went back to her, but I was. Now, of course, I thank my lucky stars.
The time to mention pain from a last relationship is when you are having a fight in a new relationship. If the girl of your dreams is demanding why you do X, Y, Z, and it dawns on you that this is because of your last relationship, you can tell her that. ("I'm sorry. It's not you. You're wonderful. It's her.") A woman in love, and a woman who has grown to trust you, is perfectly willing to believe you when you say your ex was bonkers if you provide examples of her bonkertude. Women almost always take their man's side when it's him versus another woman.
So women feel wary or sad when men trash or extol their ex-girlfriends. Men, I have read, throw another wrinkle into the dynamic. Men take their cues from other men, and so if you tell them that other men have treated you badly, they subconsciously get the message that they can treat you badly, too. Therefore, if you keep finding yourself being treated badly over and over again, ask yourself if that might not be at least partly because you keep telling men how badly other men have treated you.
I can't remember if this is in the Rules or the book I used to hide under my bed, but the idea is that if you want a man to treat you like a queen, you have to give the impression that you're used to being treated like a queen. And by that I don't mean some spoiled brat of a prima donna. I mean a real queen--like the Queen of England (Scotland, Canada, etc.) when she was a young thing like yourselves. Gracious, smiling, lady-like, and a wonderful listener. Feathery hats optional.
A NCB left a comment in yesterday's combox about an ex-girlfriend who keeps a scrapbook of all her ex-boyfriends. What blows my mind is not that she does this (although it does seem a bit weird for a woman to emulate Don Giovanni) but that she let him know about it. It is just not very smart or healthy to lead a man, especially a marriage-worthy man, to believe that he is just another man in a long, never-ending list of temporary boyfriends.
So this morning I encourage all of you to remember that your past is your own, and you neither have to nor should necessarily share it with the objects of your affection. If asked about a former relationship, sum it up briefly and kindly with, "A nice man/girl, but we had different interests/there was no real spark." The fact that s/he was a raging alcoholic can wait for the day you have a fight because your beloved got drunk, took his/her shirt off and sang the national anthem on a park bench.
And, girls, I beg you. Stop telling people how badly you've been treated. If it's become a compulsion, consider therapy. I know some people take it as an insult when I suggest therapy, but I was in therapy for five years and say so without an ounce of shame. I found it very helpful. I have two caveats:
1. Freud and most of his disciples hated and hate Catholicism, so make sure your therapist is a practising Catholic or at very least Catholic-positive. I've heard of therapists assuring their clients that their problems stem from Catholicism. If your therapist tells you this, find another therapist.
2. Therapy is a business. Your therapist, like your hairdresser or trainer, has an interest in you returning to him/her. Be clear with yourself how long you wish to work with a therapist, and when you feel done, be clear with your therapist that you feel done. Don't expect your therapist to tell you when you're done. And sometimes they are done. If they start asking you for advice, or make inappropriate revelations about their lives, they're done. Say good-bye.
If you cannot afford therapy or find a Catholic-positive therapist, spiritual direction can also be a great help. Usually spiritual directors are not qualified psycho-therapists, but they can help you develop a closer relationship with God, the great Healer.