Dear Graham Norton: 'Should I let my partner keep saucy photos of his ex?'

Graham Norton
Dear Graham Norton: 'Should I let my partner keep saucy photos of his ex?' Credit: Andrew Crowley/Getty Images

Dear Graham

I am an Asian woman, 54 years old, living with a Canadian man of 62. We've been together for three-and-a-half years, off and on. For a year, we've lived together, half in Canada, half in my home.

Everything is good but one thing always makes us argue. He still has pictures, including some "sexy" ones, of an ex he broke up with 15 years ago. He said he'd delete them but I went snooping around his machine and found he hadn't. ​

This is a funny situation to be in at our age, but I feel disrespected by it. He has been so kind to me. I know he has a past, same as me - but I don't keep any pictures. Maybe it's a cultural thing, I don't know.

I love him and want to be with him but I feel really hurt by this. What should I do?

Shirley, Vancouver, Canada

'Men like to see things right in front of them rather than close their eyes to recall each detail', says Graham Credit: Andrew Crowley

Dear Shirley

As you rightly point out, we all have a past. Remembering it is not the same as living in it, so why not let him keep his photographs? He is with you now, not the other woman, and it is extremely unlikely that she still looks like she does in the photographs, so try to relax a little.

It's not as if these pictures are in silver frames lining the mantelpiece: in fact, you only saw them because you went snooping. Surely he is allowed to remember that time of his life - perhaps even fondly? You may not have kept photographs but I'm sure you have memories, so if he needs a little "aide-memoire", I don't think it is hugely disrespectful to you.

Old photos fade, but you still have the opportunity to develop

People continue to wear wedding bands from former spouses, others sport tattoos with the names of lovers scrawled on their body but, whether visible or not, we all enter into new relationships carrying the memories and baggage of past ones. If we simply forgot all those we had loved and lost then we would be doomed to make the same mistakes and fail in the same ways over and over again. Your partner looks at the photograph and, yes, may think about how attractive she was; but he will also recall what went wrong and why he has found his way to you. Rather than a cultural difference, I think this is a gender issue. Men like to see things right in front of them rather than close their eyes to recall each detail.

For now, be happy you have found a man to love, and focus on your future together. Old photos fade, but you still have the opportunity to develop.