You Bad-Mouth Every Single One of Your Exes? That’s a Red Flag!

A black and white draw image of an open mouth is on the right. On the left, there is a twinkling gif of the words, "...that's a red flag!"
That’s a Red Flag! is a miniseries about the warning signs we look for in queer dating & relationships.

One of my red flags in dating is the incessant bashing of former partners. In ghosts of partners past, I’d been told the conversations arose because of the trust they’d felt with me. In reality, they just liked to talk shit. Queer communities (especially queer communities of color) are notoriously small, which makes the ex-bashing especially dubious.

A previous partner of mine took any opportunity to drag their ex all the way across the street and back — without provocation. One, two, three years into our relationship…the name-calling and character-bashing continued with the same veracity, with no new insight, self-awareness or end goal. Needless to say, I ignored the red flag for entirely too long, and I was shown that this was just part of how they operated in relationships.

Like the late Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

If your partner bad-mouths multiple exes, what trends have you noticed? If you’re dating someone who always portrays themself as the wronged party in the trials and tribulations of past relationships — red flag.

What happens in public when folks bring up their exes? Do they immediately go into a roast session because they’re “among friends?” Red flag.

Or maybe they engage in the shit-talking equivalent of a humble brag, which might sound like:

“I mean, I’m not trying to talk down about them, I just…”
“Listen, I don’t usually bring this up, but…”
“I don’t like to badmouth people when they aren’t around, but I trust y’all…”
Red. Flag.

Sometimes there’s the facade of anonymity, but again, regardless of where you are, queer community tends to be small. There’s a good chance we all know who you’re talking about.

Consistently hearing your partner say negative things about their exes can lead you to question how they’d behave if/when your relationship ends, creating some anxiety about things you may have shared or mistakes you may have made. You should be allowed to relax within a relationship or share personal things without fear of being dragged through the mud or having your secrets spilled if it ends.

We all know people who have had a slew of bad relationships, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that your partners should never mention any details about date-mates past (and honestly, that’s a concern in itself). But if your boo is trash-talking all of their exes and conveniently never mentions mistakes they’ve made or if you hear only positive things about them in their retelling or if they’ve said something like, “She told me that I was mean, but I think she was just a sensitive person,” but five different times? That’s a huge red flag.

We’re not accepting a lack of self-awareness in 2022, y’all. If every single situation-ship they’ve been involved in has a similar result and similar narrative but they remain the exact same with “no changes needed” — scurry.

Of course, there are extenuating circumstances when being cordial isn’t necessary, like when you’re talking about abusers (to me, an abuser is someone who has caused harm — not hurt — to someone else through abuse that is emotional, verbal, mental, physical, sexual, financial, etc.). But you being salty about your relationship having ended is not an extenuating circumstance.

Again, queer communities are small, and if your partner is looping in multiple people’s intimate or personal details into conversation, that’s a cause for concern. This further exemplifies a lack of care and concern for other people’s privacy.

Have you experienced hushed voices when someone in particular enters the room during a party or event? It’s often shrugged off as shade or pettiness — which is accurate — but it can also go deeper than that. Tiny fractures lead to the entire structure being unstable, and this can (and does) have lasting effects on queer communities.

If you’re dating an ex-basher, don’t make excuses for your partner if they’re disrespecting other queer folks in public spaces — there’s no need. And don’t assume you’ll be the one who’s exempt from bad-mouthing if your relationship ends.

Feel free to share your own red flags in the comments!

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Taneasha has written 2 articles for us.


  1. Oh snap. When I hear straight men do this I assume they are straight up misogynist. When it’s not a man maybe it’s not misogyny but it still seems like entitlement and supremacy of some kind.


    Also, I think same goes for making new friends. If they bond with you over how shit everyone they’ve ever had in their life is and how you’re their first and only true friend, run. I sincerely doubt that anyone making friends by badmouthing strangers to you and trauma-bonding is going to do you – or themselves – much good.

  3. This is such a thing I look for in both romantic and platonic relationships. I’ve moved a lot as an adult, and every time I enter into a new queer community, it never fails that one or two people will seek out my unfamiliar face and talk endless shit to try to “warn” me about all the “toxic” people to avoid, and it never fails that they are actually the toxic one who has managed to burn so many fucking bridges that they need to latch onto newcomers who don’t know any better.

  4. I cannot believe I missed this article! This absolutely was my story with my ex a few years back, and I shrugged off the red flag – even with a pinch of pride, like “oh hey, well at least I’m not like them!” Of course with time, I came to realize that hearing shit-talk about exes (because it literally was) is NOT healthy. I confess that after I broke it off, I got super curious about one of those exes and reached out to her to hear her side of the many stories I’d heard. Bonding (emotional!) ensued and I think we all know what happened next.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!