Ace Tropes: The Concerned Ex

Sara K. blogs at The Notes Which Do Not Fit, and has written a number of book reviews of asexual fiction.  She is continuing the ace tropes series, albeit with more of a focus on books.

“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.

Examples:
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

Discussion Questions:
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?

About Siggy

Siggy is a physics grad student in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and makes amateur attempts at asexual activism. His interests include godlessness, scientific skepticism, and math. While not working or blogging, he plays video and board games with his boyfriend, and folds colored squares.
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11 Responses to Ace Tropes: The Concerned Ex

  1. Writer Ace says:

    I find this concept cringe-worthy, though that’s mostly because I hate the idea of people getting involved in other people’s relationships like this. Particularly in fiction (I don’t know how this skews in real life) this tends to manifest in male exes interfering in their female exes’ love lives under the guise of being “helpful” or “a good friend”, or “looking out for them”. To me it mostly just perpetuates the idea that women can’t be trusted to know how to make good decisions in choosing romantic or sexual partners and that men need to get involved for their own good. Even if they’re wrong, they tend not to be called out on it, or the relationship that works is presented as “oh, that one worked” instead of “this character actually is capable of making good decisions and so can be trusted with their own autonomy.” To me, this trope does the same thing (with similar implications) to ace people. Particularly in the case of the Concerned Ex talking to the new love interest, it presents this as well meaning if (in this case) incorrect rather than intrusive, demeaning, and patronizing.

    • Sara K. says:

      Actually, I like this trope partially because, when I have seen it used, the Concerned Ex is shown to be intrusive, demeaning, and patronizing in the narrative itself (as opposed to the Allo Savior Complex, which, when it is used, more often than not ignores the problems of someone acting that way). The Concerned Ex does get called out at some point. Also, FWIW, whenever I’ve seen this trope used, the ace character(s) involved are men, not women.

      If I started to find examples where the Concerned Ex’s behavior is not seriously questioned, my feelings about this trope might change.

      • Writer Ace says:

        That’s interesting that they’re, from what you’ve seen, ace men. This may be just me being that person who blames everything on the patriarchy or whatever, but I feel like I basically never see them called out in the (straight) women cases, and I’m wondering how much gender has a role to play in that (as opposed to the ace vs straight aspect).

        • Sara K. says:

          In How to Be a Normal Person and Blank Spaces, both the Concerned Ex and the ace character are men. In All the Wrong Places, the Concerned Ex is a woman, and the ace characters are men.

        • Writer Ace says:

          Actually now that I’m thinking about it more I’m wondering how much I hate it just because I hate the weird possessive protectiveness that shows up in stories and real life when it comes to someone dating someone new (whether it’s threatening that new person or trying to warn them off or getting in the way or whatever), particularly though not exclusively with man being warned off etc from a woman. This just feels to me like an extension of that. That might be my issue more than with this trope in particular.

  2. Rachel says:

    Oy. I find some elements of this trope frustrating, while others I find somewhat resonant.

    On the frustrating end:
    – As an aro, I find the One True Love angle eye-roll inducing.
    – While it could be argued that the Concerned Ex “warning” the new flame about the relationship collapse to be well-meant and protective, I can’t help but wonder… Did the ace give consent to the Ex to talk about their failed relationship and sex life? Is the Ex outing the ace without consent? Since when was it the Ex’s business anymore who the ace dates?
    – Just what is “inherently suited to dating aces” vs. “inherently unsuited to dating aces” supposed to mean? Beyond crude reductions to “allos universally wanna screw and aces universally don’t?”

    On the resonant end:
    – This manifests a lot of the fears that I have about pursuing relationships as a repulsed aro-ace. Call me cynical, but I really am not counting on allo partners to be willing to stick it out in a relationship with someone like me, not when there are plenty of other people who are willing to do sex and romance with them. Sure, they say that they understand and accept my aversions right now… but what about in sex weeks? Six months? Six years?
    – This scenario also captures why the “just let them sleep with other people” work-around is not universally desirable or acceptable for aces, especially since aces are primarily women (it carries the hint of men-are-entitled-to-sex-and-if-his-woman-isn’t-putting-out-then-she-ought-to-let-him-sleep-with-other-women-instead.

    • Writer Ace says:

      I very much agree with your second point. I think the consent issue is one that’s too-frequently overlooked.

    • Sara K. says:

      I agree that the consent thing is one of the biggest problems with the Concerned Ex’s behavior, at least in examples where the Concerned Ex approaches the ace character’s new dating partner.

  3. Carmilla DeWinter says:

    I can see both Rachel’s and Sara’s points – it is entertaining, but somewhat problematic given the consent issue (I’ve been outed by people who obviously had no idea about the etiquette). However, despite that, I can find the trope entertaining, because I do consider the scenario highly unrealistic – how many people are still friends with their exes IRL? I know very few of those …

    • Writer Ace says:

      I’m still friends with one of my exes. I don’t see him much, mostly because we live in different states, but we get together when we’re in the same area. At least for me, I think it’s in part that we were friends beforehand and in part because it wasn’t a particularly messy breakup.

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