Mar 22 2013 11:00am

Ex-Ray Vision: Meeting Past Loves in Romance Novels

Carrie and Big in Sex and the CityWhat's more awkward and anxiety-inducing than running into an ex-lover? It’s never going to be pleasant, and depending on who-dumped-whom, it can be downright painful. If it hits you like a gut-wrenching slap from the past, it’s not going to be something that you could easily brush off and forget.

We see this “meeting of the exes” in romantic comedies, and sometimes the television’s canned laughter can highlight the hilarity of the situation, while we’re cringing on the inside. In romantic dramas, we don’t need the canned laughter. Just leave us with the cringing and heartache. (Did anyone else go insane, during the Sex and the City series, whenever Carrie ran into Big?) Whether it’s running into your ex or running into your partner’s ex, remember that you’re supposed to take the higher road...unless you’re in a romance novel!

Romance novels can have extremely gratifying “ex” scenes, especially if the hero is meeting the heroine’s ex. In Romancelandia, the “running into the ex” situation usually looks like this:

  • Ideally, the hero is by the heroine’s side or within very close proximity.  (And he’s going to look like he casually strolled out of a Dolce & Gabbana ad.)
  • The hero will emphasize, with a clever subtle comment (in front of the ex) that the heroine is very satisfied in her new loving relationship, and her new-found corporeal pleasure knows no bounds.
  • If the ex starts to whine, be a jerk, or make rude remarks, the hero remains calm. He’s not threatened and he doesn’t overreact at all; the hero is confident that he is more secure than the ex.
  • Unless the ex starts to threaten or become dangerous, in which case the hero will do anything to protect the heroine. This could lead to a more drastic confrontation, and there might be some muscle flexing depending on the romance sub-genre, but this shouldn’t turn into a macho pissing-contest. For historicals, it could result in a nail biting duel scene, or a solid punch to the ex’s jaw, or a card game resulting in the loss of the ex’s fortune. If it’s a paranormal romance, the evil ex must be destroyed.

But what if the heroine is meeting the hero’s ex? It might look something like this:

  • The hero’s ex could appear two ways: Either really smoking hot with a charismatic personality or perfectly graceful and delicate, like a porcelain teacup. Never clumsy and never with frizzy hair.
  • Usually, she is desperate to have the hero back in her arms, or she’s just scheming to make him unhappy.
  • She might offer a back-handed compliment or a make passive-aggressive comment.
  • Or worse, she might “innocently” drop a “tiny fact” into the conversation, which ends up tormenting the heroine like lemon juice seeping into a cut.  (Oh, they used to be engaged!)
  • It’s important to remember that the ex is only stirring up drama. She means nothing to him.

Exactly why is the “meeting of the ex” scene so satisfying and entertaining? Yes, it can offer outstanding comedic relief, but perhaps it also offers a rare and safe type of closure. Unlike non-fiction drama, the reader can be in the socially uncomfortable situation, no matter how horrible the past relationship was, and still feel assured that the hero and heroine will walk away happy and emotionally unscarred.  It reassures us that the hero can, and does, support, love, and protect the heroine.

Do you have a favorite meeting the ex scene in a romance?

Night Pleasures by Sherrilyn KenyonOne of the best romances I’d recommend for a “running into the ex” scene is Night Pleasures by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Our heroine, Amanda, runs into her ex, Cliff (who is also a co-worker) outside of their office building. Luckily, our hero, Hunter shows up just in time:

“Stop calling me Mandy when you know how much I hate it.”

He looked over his shoulder and realized half the office was standing here, listening.  “Look, I’m not the one who had to stay home yesterday because I was so emotionally distraught over Saturday night.”

Her anger ignited.  Emotionally distraught?  Her?

Over him?

Amanda took a good look at him.  And for the first time, she realized just what a weasel he was.

“Excuse me, but I wasn’t home yesterday, either. In fact, you know where I was?  I spent the entire day in the arms of a gorgeous blond god.  I am so over you.”... Why had she ever thought they were compatible?  He was vile and rude.  Worse, he was judgmental! … Suddenly, every flaw she had dismissed about Cliff came to the forefront.  And to think she had spent a year of her life trying to please this jerk. ...

Amanda felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise an instant before she heard the revving noise of a finely tuned engine in the distance.

Cliff turned his head toward the street and gaped.

She looked to see what had captured his attention and froze at the sight of a sleek black Lamborghini heading up the drive and stopping at the curb in front of them.

A smile broke across her face. … Her heart pounded as the door lifted and Hunter got out. … Hunter stopped in front of Amanda and raked a hungry look over her body.  “Hi luscious,” he said in that deep, evocative voice.  “Sorry I’m late.”

Before Amanda knew what he was doing, he pulled her into his arms and gave her a sizzling hot kiss. … Then he dipped down and picked her up in his arms.

“Hunter!” she gasped as he carried her effortlessly toward the car. ...

With the toe of his boot, he opened the passenger-side door and set her inside. He retrieved her briefcase and purse from the sidewalk where she dropped them and handed them to her. Then, he turned and gave a knowing smile to Cliff. “You really have to love a woman who lives to see you naked.”


Jena Briars is a California girl living in D.C., feeding her brain one romance novel at a time...When she's not busy at work, or being distracted (sometimes ambushed) by her cat, she reviews romances on her website Throughout the Pages.

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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
Oh, yeah, I enjoy those angsty run-ins. I think I like 'em most because they always highlight for the characters why the person they're with now is a much better match, which just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy and feel that much more confident that their HEA will last.
2. anna-lissa
Don't forget Bride and Vane running into her ex - both times!
Jena Briars
3. CutMyTeethOnKleypas
@redline_ Right on about the highlight! It's truly in the past.
(And I won't even get started on the avatar with BSG and Starbuck's exes... that was another one that had me glued the screen going "AAAAAH!")

@anna-lissa OMG YES! Night Play with Bride and Vane is another amazing "running into the ex" romance. That restaurant scene! :D (and I wanted to include the quote about moving boxes and Vane showing up, but there was a lot of backstory re: the bite on the arm and how Vane is a were, etc.)
Christiana Pontier
4. jewelofthedarkx3
I love that you used Night Pleasures by Sherrilyn Kenyon as an example! I love that series! Plus Kenyon is an amazing writer. ;) I love when Sin from her League series sees his ex-wife again and Shahara goes crazy on here!!! Lol Best Part!
Patricia Wilkerson
5. Proofreaderpat
There is a great "running into the ex" scene in Shelly Laurenston's Christmas Pride (a novella in The Mane Event).When Dez runs into her ex at the department store and looks to Mace to help her out,they use secret signals between each other to communicate behind the ex's back. Mace initially gives Dez a hard time,suggesting she buy some racy lingerie,but he laughlingly helps her out. The ex is totally oblivious to the by-play and suitably put in his place when Mace passionately kisses Dez in front of him.
Jena Briars
6. CutMyTeethOnKleypas
@jewelofthedarkx3 - thank you! Sherrilyn does such a great job. I think Kleypas also had an ex-scene in Mine til Midnight (with the Ex villain), but Hunter's ex-scene with the Lambo is one I'll never forget!

@ Proofreaderpat - I'll have to check that one out. I love the zaniness and creative liberty - these hilarious insanse scenes that would never (or rarely) happen in a real life ex-encounter. :)
Carmen Pinzon
8. bungluna
The latest Ruthie Knox novel, "Along Came Trouble", as a good 'meeting-the-ex' scene, especially when the hero punches the ex but good!
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