“It was embarrassing,” Xander said, averting his eyes. “I thought I was stronger than I was. But when it came down to it, I needed more than he could offer. So I told him this. And you know what he told me? He told me it was fine for me to go and fuck other people. As long as there were no feelings involved, it was fine. As long as I came back to him, it was fine. It wasn’t fine, though. Because even though he doesn’t want a sexual relationship, he’s just like everyone else. He got jealous. I got mad. He got mad. We broke up. We didn’t speak to each other for almost two months. But he was my friend first, so I made sure I got that back.”
“I don’t know what that has to do with me,” Gus said when it looked like Xander had finished. “I’m not you.”
“No shit,” Xander snorted. “You are the furthest thing from me there is.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“The problem,” Xander said, “is that eventually, you’re going to want to fuck. He can’t give that to you, and so you’ll look elsewhere. And it will crush him.”
How to Be a Normal Person by T.J. Klune, Chapter 17
Some aces do not want to have sex. Some aces who do not want to have sex trying dating a non-ace person. Sometimes they do not have sex, which is a problem for the non-ace person in the relationship. Sometimes they do have sex, but the non-ace can tell that the ace character is not into it, which is also a problem for the non-ace. Sometimes, the non-ace character has sex with someone else, which upsets the ace character. Sometimes, the ace and the non-ace character break up because they cannot make it work. Sometimes, they agree to remain friends, or to at least maintain friendly relations because they are still in the same social circle and still care about each other’s well-being.
And then, when the ace starts dating somebody else, the non-ace character has to intervene. Because they are still the ace character’s friend, and after they had broken the ace’s heart, they cannot let anybody else break the ace’s heart. And since their single dating relationship with an ace ended with a break-up, they know that any dating relationship with the ace character will end with a painful break-up.
That non-ace character is the Concerned Ex.
Sometimes, the Concerned Ex approaches the ace, and offers the friendly advice that trying to date while ace Is A Bad Idea. Because they already tried dating each other, and, as a friend, the Concerned Ex doesn’t want to see the ace character get hurt again.
Sometimes, the Concerned Ex approaches the ace character’s new date, and warns them about dating an ace. Because they don’t want their ace friend/ex to be hurt again.
This trope has something in common with the “Allo Savior Complex” – a non-ace character explains what is ‘good’ for the ace character because they want to help the ace character. Just as the “Allo Savior Complex” sometimes carries the connotation that aces are helpless and cannot manage their own (a)sexuality, the Concerned Ex also assumes that the ace character cannot manage their own (a)sexuality. In short, both the Allo Savior and the Concerned Ex runs a high risk of being patronizing.
However, there is a major difference between the way the “Allo Savior Complex” trope and the “Concerned Ex” trope tends to be used. Most (though not all) stories which use the “Allo Savior Complex” depict the Allo Savior as being an especially nice person because they helped the confused ace character. By contrast, every story I’ve read which has a Concerned Ex depicts that character as being a jerk (even if the word ‘jerk’ is not used). Sometimes, the ace’s new dating partner suggests to the ace character that maybe they would be better off not being friends with the Concerned Ex.
In every instance I’ve seen of this trope, the ace character ends up having wonderful dating relationship with their new partner. This proves that dating while ace can work, and that it was not the ace character’s aceness which caused their previous dating relationship to end in a breakup.
The Concerned Ex is clearly Someone Who Is Not Suitable for Dating the Ace, which contrasts with the ace character’s One True Love.
I like this trope. I generally find the Concerned Ex to be an entertaining character. They bring more drama to the story. I like that the Concerned Ex is neither a purely good or bad character – they are sympathetic in some ways, yet clearly need an attitude adjustment. And I enjoy watching the Concerned Ex being proven wrong.
Xander in How to Be a Normal Person by T.J. Klune
Devon in Blank Spaces by Cass Lennox
Aimee in All the Wrong Places By Ann Gallagher
1. Is the behavior of the Concerned Ex realistic? What are possible motivations for the Concerned Ex’s behavior?
2. Let’s say that you were friends with both the ace character and the Concerned Ex. What would you say to the Concerned Ex?
3. In all of the examples I’ve found in fiction, the concerns of the Concerned Ex turn out to be misplaced (i.e. the ace is compatible with their new dating partner). But what if the ace’s new dating relationship turns out just as the Concerned Ex feared? What kind of story would that be, and would it be worth telling?