The Ex-Factor


“And then there was Denise. She was even crazier than Shayla. She slashed my tires and keyed my car just because I failed to text her for a couple of days…”

Perhaps this speech sounds familiar. Perhaps you can picture the scene: you’re on a date, it’s going well, when suddenly, inexplicably, your date launches into a tirade about the parade of insane, abusive heartbreakers who came before you.

Perhaps you’ve even given such a speech. But we’ll get back to that.

You may have had any number of reactions at the time. Boredom, annoyance, suspicion, sympathy, righteous anger at all the injustices suffered by your hapless, otherwise affable date at the hands of these treacherous exes. But here’s what you should have been doing during that speech: taking notes.

Everyone has repetitive relationship patterns. You can learn everything you need to know about a potential lover by examining those patterns, and if they’re kind/foolish enough to compile and enumerate the list for you, I highly recommend you pay close attention.

Now, I don’t mean to say that you should automatically write off anyone who’s been through the wringer, romantically speaking. That would narrow down your list of potential partners to just about nil. But relationship dynamics are a two-way street, so whenever you notice that someone seems to have been through the same wringer multiple times, remember that the common element in each of those relationships is the person relaying these stories to you. So there is a very high percentage chance that if you enter into a relationship with said person that you will, at some point, find yourself on the pointy end of the same accusations being leveled against all those exes.

You may even find yourself behaving like those exes. It’s much easier than you might think to get sucked into someone else’s dramatization.

For example, I pride myself on being one of the least jealous/possessive people you could ever hope to date. I thrive on compersion, revel in sharing, and hold open communication and mutual trust as sacred foundational elements of any intimate relationship. So when an ex of mine relayed stories of girlfriends past who had hacked into his email, demanded to know why the passenger’s seat of his car had been readjusted since the last time she sat in it, given him ultimatums of the “stop seeing other women or else” variety, etc., I shook my head at those misguided, insecure ladies and looked forward to wowing him with my awesome poly powers.

  • Imagine my surprise when, months later, I found myself straining to see his phone screen from over his shoulder, demanding lists of names, sending messages through mutual friends to women I suspected were unaware metamours of mine, and even making ultimatums of my own.

This was a role I never expected to be cast in, but in looking back, it was clearly one I had signed up for. He had, after all, described it to me in advance.

And even if you manage to go against type and break the pattern, you may find that your partner is uncomfortable, suspicious, or bored out of their gourd without that familiar dysfunction at play. For example, if a girl goes out with you specifically because her last three boyfriends were volatile, violent, rageaholic womanizers, and you are a laid-back, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly feminist, don’t be surprised if she ultimately up and leaves you for someone… edgier.

Pay particular attention to the language someone uses to describe their exes. Someone who is willing to cast more than one ex as a “crazy bitch” or an “abusive asshole” is certainly not above filing you in that same category.  That isn’t to say that there aren’t folks out there who absolutely deserve those monikers. And that definitely isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with a person who somehow ends up with one of those folks. Abusers and psychopaths can be extraordinarily clever, charming, and manipulative. But when a person lumps multiple exes into these same extreme categories, take it with a grain of salt. There are, after all, two sides to every story.

Meanwhile, there is something far more important than recognizing the relationship patterns of potential partners: recognizing your own.

How do you talk about *your* exes? When you look across the spectrum of relationships past, what patterns and common themes emerge?

  • Maybe your last four partners cheated on you. Or maybe you cheated on them. Or both.
  • Maybe both of your ex-spouses were impossible-to-please control freaks. Or spineless yes-men who let you walk all over them.
  • Maybe you keep falling for drama queens who are fond of messy emotional scenes in public. Or emotionally unavailable engineers who are allergic to the “l-word.” Or emotional vampires. Or saps.

Whatever it is, take a long, hard look at it. Because unless/until you recognize and own it as YOUR pattern, and decide to take control of it, you will keep pulling in and playing out that same drama over and over. Guaranteed.

So the next time you find yourself swapping war stories with a date about your awful exes, ask yourself: am I willing to be cast in a similar light? And more to the point, am I able to keep myself from casting this person in a similar light if things go south?

Because the common denominator in all of your stories? Yep: it’s you.


YOU’RE SUCH A SLUT! (You’re welcome)

Recently, I stepped into the wrong kind of drama. The bad kind. The kind I like to think myself an expert at avoiding. Which is, in and of itself, a good reminder that things can go sour on anyone, at any time, without your necessarily having done a damn thing wrong.

It’s taken me a while to process everything that happened, and to decide how much, if any, of what went down I want to share here. Ultimately, my desire to turn my mistakes into public service announcements won out over my desire to save face. As per usual.

I mean, let’s face facts: I pretty much abandoned the idea of avoiding public humiliation in the second grade, after I peed all over the floor during story time (hey, it was a really good story!). And even if I hadn’t, having to walk down the hallways after getting caught masturbating to girl-on-girl porn (with toys!) at age 14, dodging taunts of “SLUT” and “LESBO” would’ve done the trick. Being an outrageous, outspoken, and just plain “out”  advocate for sex positivity, pansexuality, poly, kink, and so on, was never really a choice for me. It was my only means of survival.

So one would think that, after all this time, all this work, things like slut-shaming, name-calling, and lifestyle-baiting would roll off of my shiny red mane like raindrops off a duck’s ass.

Alas, one would be wrong.

And the crazy thing is, this onslaught of accusations came from a person who was–painfully obviously–jealous of me. A woman who felt threatened by the attention I was paying to a man with whom I had no idea she was involved. In fact, he still claims no romantic involvement, and it’s really irrelevant either way since I’ve permanently detached myself from the whole mess. The details of what she said are also irrelevant. The only thing that matters is how deeply, and frankly irrationally, her poorly-composed missive affected me.

As I brooded over this unforeseen emotional gut-stabbing, I came up with two share-worthy insights:

1. One of the saddest byproducts of patriarchal culture is the mistreatment of women by other women, the way we are taught to view one another not as allies, but as competitors for the ultimate prize: a man’s attention. I’m not the first to come up with this insight, of course, but when it happens to you it suddenly becomes a lot more than feminist theory. It becomes a personal truth.

2. If I was in a funk for days after reading a barely-coherent rant written by a woman I had never met, and who was about as far from objective as a person could get, what would such poisonous prose do to a woman who hadn’t come to terms with her sexuality, her desires, and her right to pursue them in peace? One who is more vulnerable, more easily destroyed by a casual comment or a cruel diatribe? Let alone from someone she actually knows and/or likes?

Which brings me to the reason I chose to expose my soft underbelly to the internetz: so that I could tell you, all of you, to please, PLEASE


Any women. All women. Every woman, ever.

If you’re a man, and you like sex with women, slut-shaming women is metaphorically shooting yourself–along with every other guy on Earth–in the dick.

Because every time a woman feels ashamed to enjoy sex, that’s one less woman in the world who is likely to be willing to admit she wants to have sex with a man. A man like YOU.

If you’re a woman, slut-shaming other women is even MORE counter-productive. Because every time you make another woman feel ashamed of her sexual desires/experiences/choices, the less likely YOU are to be able to embrace your own.

Soooooo, can everyone just stop using the word “slut” as a negative? Right now? Please?

  • Let’s all take a pledge to never ever, EVER use “slut” to belittle, diminish, discount, hurt, or insult ANY woman, for any reason, from now on.

Instead, let’s reclaim “slut” as a positive; the female equivalent of a stud/player/pimp/seduction master, etc. I want this trend to become so outrageously popular that while waiting for a cab in a strange city, I overhear:

“I am so in love with her. What an unbelievable slut.”

or read in a book:

“She was an earth-bound goddess with sluttish good looks.”

or just look in a mirror and think:

“DAMN, I look SLUTTY!” with a giant grin and not the slightest hint of a tongue in my cheek.

Can we all just commit to taking the sting out of “slut,” right here and now?

  • “Like” if you’re on board with Ava Maven’s slutty agenda!

And if not?

Well, good luck with your sex life. You’re gonna need it.


I <3 Drama

Drama. Games. Players.

These have practically become dirty words in the dating realm. And Drama is the queen of the dirty dating words.

We’ve all seen the righteous declarations/demands in online dating profiles and personals ads: “No drama!” “100% drama free.” We’ve probably even heard them on first dates. But what does it really mean to be “drama free”? What do these people mean when they say they don’t want any “drama”?

As a real live doctor of Drama (I got my PhD in Dramatic Arts), I know damn well that, in reality, people LOVE drama. At least, they love watching it happen to someone else. If they didn’t, there would be no dramatic films, no reality T.V., no daytime television of any kind. In fact, without dramatic tension there would be very little in the way of entertainment, period. Books, movies, video games, TV… anything that tells a story relies heavily on a problem to be solved.

Without a central crisis, there is no story.

And since we all like to tell stories, and to think of ourselves as leading interesting lives, it follows that we actually enjoy drama when it happens to us, too. In retrospect, anyway.

The same is true of games.People LOVE to play games. Yet, when it comes to dating, the same people who organize board-game nights and volunteer for intramural sports will earnestly declare that they HATE “game-playing.”

Trust me on this one: you don’t actually want NO drama, NO games, NO tension whatsoever. As a dating and relationship coach, I can tell you that a certain amount of tension is absolutely required to make a courtship feel worthwhile. If there are no risks and no stakes, then there is no sense of value to the relationship. There has to be some kind of barrier to overcome, some delay of gratification, however slight, in order for the reward to feel like a reward rather than part of the background to be taken for granted. If there are no lows, then there are effectively no highs, either.

In short, even if you manage to find someone with no baggage, no issues, no drama of any kind, I guarantee you that you would eventually either die of boredom or run off with someone who makes you feel more “alive.” But I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Because the truth is that

your odds of ending up in a genuinely drama-free relationship are about on par with your odds of ending up alive in the belly of a giant whale. Which, coincidentally, is almost as boring as being in a 100% drama-free relationship. Almost.

So what do people really mean when they say the don’t want drama or games? They mean that they don’t want abusive, fucked-up, dysfunctional people in their lives. 

We’ve all dealt with them. Some of us have even been them.

You know: the emotional vampires, the crisis-magnets, the guilt-trippers, the irrationally jealous ragers, the sexual sociopaths, the pathological liars, the stalkers, the shit-talkers, et al.

THESE are the characters, and the accompanying scenarios, people are really trying to avoid when they use words like “drama” and “games.” What they mean is that they want someone who is going to take responsibility for their own lives and their own emotions, who isn’t going to be a blame factory or a consistent drain of energy and resources. Someone who will give as much as they take, and who can offer security and stability in addition to passion and excitement.

Basically, when someone says they don’t want drama, they mean they don’t want so much drama that it overshadows everything else. They mean they don’t want the kind of drama that is toxic and will choke out and poison all other relationships and sources of happiness in their lives. And when they say they don’t want games, they mean the kind of games they have no chance of winning, the kind that are played without their consent, and at their expense.

So from now on, I hope you will no longer endeavor to be “drama-free.” I hope instead that you will seek out the drama that amuses and delights you rather than that which drains and degrades you. I hope you will endeavor to bring the right kind, and the right amount, of drama to a relationship.

And I hope that when you play games (and you WILL play games) that you make sure everybody walks away feeling like a winner.