What Actually Useful Things Did You Learn From Your Exes?

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The relationship was what it was — maybe it was good, maybe it was terrible, but either way, it’s over now and that’s that. Still, you learned stuff, right? Not like stuff about yourself and your heart and how to be a person who exists with another person, or how to have feelings or whatever.

I mean like… you learned how to make a really incredible salmon dish or how to ski or how to change a tire or were introduced to an author who’s your favorite author now. We’ve got some exes and we’re wondering: what did we learn from them?


Kayla, 25, Staff Writer

My first girlfriend taught me how to put on eyeliner (after years of other girls trying to teach me how to put on eyeliner, but I think when I was younger, I just pretended to still be bad at it so that they would do it for me, which I liked because it was intimate yet still innocent). I have another ex-girlfriend who taught me how to use Instagram, which I guess was pretty crucial, because I love Instagram. My ex-boyfriend taught me like three words in French. He also introduced me to Whataburger, which isn’t technically a real learning experience, but it still feels very important. I also learned about asthma from him, which was good, because he was the first in a very long streak of me only sleeping with people who have asthma.

Tiara, 31, Staff Writer

Ever since Monica’s The First Night music video came out in 1999 I’ve been wondering why certain parts of the clip look “faster” than others. Was there something to it or was I just imagining things? My most recent ex (and fellow AS reader, hello!) is a filmmaker, and when I asked her about this last year she explained the different effects that different frame rates and analog vs digital film can make on video quality. a 17 year mystery FINALLY EXPLAINED.

Laura M, 30, Staff Writer

My first girlfriend taught me that trick where you can slip your arms out of your bra straps to take off your bra without taking off your shirt. I had never seen it done before, it was a magical moment, and it 100% changed my life for the better.

For your reference:

Erin, 31, Staff Writer

I learned a lot about endometriosis from one of my exes, which was helpful because it turns out a lot of people experience it on some scale. Another ex taught me how to not burn garlic. This is a skill that seems small but is actually Very Big.

Carrie, 28, Staff Writer

My ex taught me a trick for getting every last bit of lotion out of bottles: once squeezing/using the pump stops producing anything, cut the bottle open with scissors and scrape the remaining lotion off the sides. Ruins the bottle, but you’re getting rid of that anyway — and now you have an extra 1-7 days’ worth of lotion you would have otherwise thrown out! As someone who likes to maximize every cent at the drugstore, I was forever changed.

Molly, 31, Staff Writer

My first girlfriend taught me how to sail. No joke. We fell for each other at a summer camp for girls (natch) when we were both counseling, and she took me out and sailed on the summer waters. I learned about knots, I learned the lingo, and I learned how to actually pilot a boat on my own. I didn’t get a patch for it — which is bullshit, frankly — but it’s nice to know my way around a boat. Plus: boat shoes are great, don’t let anyone tell you any different.

KaeLyn, 34, Staff Writer

My college ex was the first person to introduce me to pot. I never did learn how to roll a joint, but I can make a sploof and pack and smoke a bowl with some level of dexterity. It comes in very handy for pretending to be cool and hip even though I have a 2% interest in weed now.

Riese, 35, Editor-in-Chief

I’m still not a good cook, but I learned so much about cooking and got so many new meal ideas from a few of my exes. Honestly before Marni made me brussels sprouts I did not even know that they were a delicious thing that real people ate and not just a thing protagonists complain about in children’s books. My first serious girlfriend — disturbed by the fact that at the age of 26 and with a legitimate writing career, I still lacked basic grammar and “Omit Needless Words” skills — edited me and taught me things until I achieved significant competence. (Yes I realize the sentence I just wrote is not a great example of said competence.) She also introduced me to Kathy Acker, Rilke, Don Quijote, David Foster Wallace and The Bible. Prior to dating [Autostraddle co-founder] Alex, I did all my own design for my internet projects, apparently totally clueless that I had no real visual art skills and that design was an actual profession. Working with and existing with Alex didn’t make me a good designer, but she definitely gave me a basic proficiency and awareness of how things ought to look. Various ex-girlfriends including the aforementioned have also supplied me with a basic repository of knowledge on topics including but not limited to gender dysphoria, Type 1 Diabetes, drug addiction, Judith Butler, bipolar disorder, home decorating, ghosts, mental hospitals, petroglyphs, which famous musicians are Canadian, and how to roll a joint.

Alaina, 26, Staff Writer

All of my exes have taught me how to roll a blunt. Unfortunately (and part of the reason why it’s a skill all of my exes have taught me), I’m still very, very bad at it, and unless I’m forced, I still won’t do it in public.

Laneia, 36, Executive Editor

The only ex who taught me something useful is the one other woman I’ve dated — a man has never taught me anything I didn’t already know — so this was all her and I’m eternally grateful. She taught me how to cook an egg-in-a-basket, [my son] Eli’s favorite form of egg. Because we live in the goddamn desert, she also taught me how to cool down quickly: wet your head, apply (and then remove) wet washcloths to the bends in your elbows and knees, your armpits, the inside of your thighs, and your neck. This has actually saved many lives. And most importantly, this ex introduced me to the concept of cheese plates, how to build them, and the fact that they could be your entire meal. Reader, I have never looked back.

Rachel, 28, Managing Editor

I forget which of my two computer scientist exes showed me VLC and told me it was the best media player, but they were correct. This girl I dated for a few months taught me that you can drink kava for stress relief — she worked at a natural foods store — and how to make this drink she called a “brutal hammer” that was just a shot of vodka poured into a glass of red wine, which you would then chug. Was that useful? Sort of, honestly, yes.

Reneice,28,Staff Writer

My ex taught me the art of drinking La Croix. I’d never seen or had it before her and made fun of her relentlessly for drinking it at first. She finally got me to try it after a while and I was totally hooked. I became obsessed with making wine spritzers for weeks and tried every flavor. She really upped my hipster lesbian credibility.

Priya, 27, Staff Writer

One of my exes was the one who introduced me to sushi! It may seem like a minimally important thing, but as someone who still loves Spicy Tuna and Philadelphia rolls, I remain eternally grateful for this gift. She took me to dinner with her friends one night, and I was filled with the anxiety of meeting her peeps and trying to make a good impression. She cunningly (and perhaps unintentionally) distracted me with a lesson in salmon rolls and how to properly dip them in soy sauce. Having previously attempted to eat sushi and being overcome with raw food phobia, my victory that night was having the time of my life eating fantastic food—oh, and meeting her friends of course.

Heather, 38, Senior Editor

One of my earliest girlfriends gave me her copy of Stone Butch Blues and I can honestly say that I would not be who I am today as a writer and an activist if I’d never read that book. It wasn’t what Stone Butch Blues was about, really, the plot and the characterization. it was more about what Stone Butch Blues represented to a larger queer culture I’d never been a part of. It was coming to a realization and then stepping outside the realization. It was about dismantling every binary I’d been brainwashed by. I dove into LGBT literature and non-fiction after that with a tenacity and curiosity and longing I’ve never felt about any kind of reading since. “I felt as though I was rushing into a burning building to discover the ideas I needed for my own life,” you might say.

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60 Comments

  1. My first boyfriend tried to teach me how to drive stick (wocka wocka) but my skills were apparently so bad that I gave him an actual migraine and we had to go home.

    My first girlfriend taught me that if she introduces you to all her friends on the second date, she may be dating you to prove something.

    My last boyfriend taught me that if you go to Restore every single day early in the morning you can find housing materials for cheap! And that vaginal orgasms are indeed possible for me.

    And my last girlfriend reads Autostraddle, so…hi! lol.

    • definitely it was the 27-year-old i dated when i was 18, because we went to bars a lot

      anyhow clearly i’m getting senile MY AGE HAS BEEN FIXED also there was another post where i said i was 36 and it took me like a week of editing it to notice the error, and even then i had to count in my head like “am i 35 or 36?” (i’m 35!)

  2. My last boyfriends taught me that I actually prefer women!

    Still haven’t dated a lady type yet (hey y’all..), so I’ll let you know all of the wondrous things I’ll learn at a later date

  3. I learned from an ex that frozen vegetables are so handy for a busy person who also wants to eat healthy. No more worrying about added salt in canned veggies or wondering if that fresh spinach or zucchini is still edible after 2 weeks in the fridge!

    I taught them that you don’t have to eat those veggies plain. A little rosemary, garlic and lemon juice isnt going to add many calaries but makes brussel sprouts and broccoli so enjoyable!

    Also, Hi! If you’re reading this and thanks for that.

      • I’m not Gwen, but I’m a huge fan of roasting vegetables, and for that you can just get some rosemary branches, pull your hand down them so all the needles come off, and throw the needles on top of the stuff in the roasting dish (or break up the branches into smaller pieces and put those in, which is easier to pull out/eat around).

  4. I love this idea!! I also learned how to make eggs in a basket from my ex-girlfriend, a lot of our relationship consisted of us making eggs for/with each other. She also taught me that Crocs are actually a great shoe to bring backpacking because they’re super lightweight and they dry out almost instantly!

  5. My first serious girlfriend taught me how to make eggs pretty much any way (I hate eggs but have proceeded to dazzle all beaus with my egg-cooking abilities) and my last serious girlfriend taught me how to parallel park.
    They also taught me loads of unfortunate life lessons, but I’ll keep it positive~

  6. My first boyfriend taught me that I do not do well in a long distance relationship, and shouldn’t ever date someone I can only contact online. And maybe this doesn’t count because it’s current but my present boyfriend taught me that I really really want to date women now and I might be a lesbian, not bisexual.

  7. An ex friend lent me Just Kids by Patti Smith and I was in love with her writing instantly. That friend actually introduced me to a number of books and movies that I’m thankful for. I hope she got something out of Fried Green Tomatoes which she never gave back (at least it was my back-up loaner copy).

  8. I’m grumbling as I’m writing this, because, yes, still angry.
    Anyway, both of my exes introduced me to entirely new worlds.
    My first gf, to the world of classical music, because she was part of a family of high profile opera performers.
    The other to the passion of the thing itself and the performance, because she played.
    She also introduced me to avant-garde art and the world of politics, and more importantly, she taught me how to make a homemade latte.
    How to whip the milk with a whisk and how to operate one of those cheap but effective espresso stovetop moka tops.
    I still use those.
    And I guess, this has been therapeutic after all.

  9. i have this whole carefully written thing from years ago about what all i learned from my first ex (including the extent to which i love avocado), but these days i’m just like man, i wish our relationship coulda held on long enough for me to pick up her magical gift of perfectly folding bottom sheets. in theory i know how to do it, but i never can get them right.

  10. I’m in the sciences and my ex is in the humanities, so I had a great time learning about his side of the world. Local art scene, great music, literature, political blogs and podcasts, comedy. He also was a ninja at finding improbably rad restaurants. He didn’t teach me how to find spot good restaurants, but I do appreciate that this is a legit skill, hahah.

  11. “before Marni made me brussels sprouts I did not even know that they were a delicious thing that real people ate and not just a thing protagonists complain about in children’s books.”

    Ha! Same here! Cook them once a week. So good.

  12. One ex gf taught me how to fold a fitted sheet. Watching her felt felt like I was being given a master class on how not to be a savage impatient non-adult because before that I would get so frustrated that I’d fold it any kind of way just so it would fit into a drawer or I wouldn’t even try and it would sit in a laundry basket until I needed it.

    I dated a woman for a while (never made it to the gf stage) who showed me how to give thorough self-breast exams (she was a PA), literally not figuratively. I’m glad she did because a year ago, I found a small lump which turned out to be nothing but I don’t know if I would have found it had she not taught me.

  13. This is going to sound terrible, but my ex-boyfriends made me realize that I was actually dateable (I was a late bloomer who had a million unrequited crushes until towards the end of high school, so I developed a bit of a complex about that back in the day). They helped me to realize that I could own my sexuality and still be myself, if that makes any sense.

    We never dated but my ex-roommate made me realize that I was gay (yeaaahhh I fell for my roommate in college and had to live alongside her for a year while being hopelessly in love with her, 0/10 would not recommend), so there’s that. She also got me into a ton of awesome music and taught me how to relax, be more spontaneous, and never apologize for being myself, all of which I am forever grateful for. She was pretty rad.

  14. My ex taught me that I prefer women who aren’t straight. Plus, I learned shouldn’t pine for women and that I can be accepted as queer and trans(thank you autostraddle for acceptance here).

  15. Full disclosure: this is in reference to my middle school best friend who for all intents and purposes was basically an ex (we shared a super dramatic joint diary and her parents were very concerned about us sleeping in the same bed).

    She taught how time how to play softball–how to catch with a mitt and bat. I mean honestly, does it get any gayer?

  16. Full disclosure: this is in reference to my middle school best friend who for all intents and purposes was basically an ex (we shared a super dramatic joint diary and her parents were very concerned about us sleeping in the same bed).

    She taught me how to play softball–how to catch with a mitt and bat. I mean honestly, does it get any gayer?

  17. My ex taught me which way dinosaurs’ wrists are supposed to go (and lots of other fun zoology facts) and introduced me to a number of folk songs I had previously been unaware of.

  18. My ex taught me how to talk to other people with privilege using “we” language, to help them feel supported/build community/demonstrate shared responsibility and modeling of owning one’s privilege when calling them out (i.e. “we as people with cis privilege must work together to dismantle transphobia in our community” rather than “you as a person with cis privilege need to work on dismantling transphobia”). Since the ex taught me this, I feel like more people have been willing to hear me without getting as defensive when I point out microaggressions.

  19. All the eggs story remind me of “Runaway Bride” where Julia Roberts always says she prefers eggs the way her boyfriends love them. And in the end she makes herself all the kind of eggs to explore what kind she really likes. My favorite scene in movies, eggs are important!))
    My first love taught me to love classic music again, especially Chopin, and Tori Amos, the genius. And some things about Jewish culture and food. My second gf taught me how to watch art-house movies and rewathcing “L word” with smb can have bigger influence on you then the first time watching alone. My latest ex is great at camping and sirvival skills, I never was taught it, but I am sure if some doomsday will come I would prefer to bring my current gf to the tribe of survivors where my ex will be a really good leader with archery skills and horseriding.))

  20. I was in a relationship between the ages of 18 and 26 so I learnt a lot of things in that time, most notably how almost everything on a car or motorbike works, how to make curry (the English way, at least), how to drive a manual car, how some things on a plane work, how to optimise your path to win a race…

    The ex before that taught me how to eat artichokes and edamame, and introduced me to a lot of bands I still listen to, like The Postal Service and Bright Eyes and Tori Amos and Ani. She also taught me that I could have relationships with women and not just silently find them attractive. That was an important one 🙂

  21. One ex taught me the word “scansion,” and I was instantly mortified that I had graduated college with an English degree and a few years of performing Shakespeare on my resume without ever having heard of scansion.

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