William Quincy Belle has a hysterically funny take on Shape‘s annual sex survey, which (among other things) looks at the impact of technology on our sex lives. Here’s my favorite part of his blog post:

72 percent of women admitted in the survey to looking through a current partner’s ex-girlfriends’ Facebook pages. What? Men have a list of ex-girlfriends? Now there’s a recipe for disaster. Never admit to anything. The current one is the only one and any previous ones were just insignificant lead-ups to the right one, that is, the current one. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

There’s a serious point behind the joking around. You hear a lot about reputation management in conversations about social media marketing, and you hear a lot about the idea of a permanent digital footprint in conversations about the things that teenagers may (indiscreetly) post online.

But our love lives are affected by that permanent footprint, too. I’ve always felt it is good form for an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend to simply cease to exist once we break up, but you know how it is, people have a way of continuing to live their own lives in my absence. And as it happens, some of those exes have in the fullness of time become my good friends, so I can’t really begrudge them their continued existence…

…offline. Online is a different story. Online they are there in my Facebook friends list, my e-mail inbox and (if I were a bit younger) you might see old pictures of us together in online photos. The net result is that in this day and age, we all have to come to terms with our partners’ romantic histories in a way that we could previously avoid through a careful mix of discretion and denial.

That’s not all bad news, however. My own marriage is to a man I knew and was good friends with for several years before we got romantically involved. In fact, for the first year we were friends, Rob and I double-dated with our then-partners almost every weekend. This fact always strikes people as weird, but in a strange way I think it’s one of the success factors in our marriage: because we each knew (and liked) the other person’s ex, and had seen each other in the context of those relationships, there was no mystery about this previous person and previous relationship. It’s the mystery, far more than the reality, that makes exes such a focal point for anxiety and insecurity about your partner’s previous love life.

Thanks to the advent of a digital footprint for each of our romantic lives, that demystification is increasingly available to all of us. Look at that ex-girlfriend’s Facebook profile and you might discover she’s funny, and likeable, and also neurotic and a bit mean: a real person you could imagine your sweetie not wanting to date anymore. Look at that ex-boyfriend’s Flickr stream and while admiring his biceps you’ll see all the photos of pretty women, and understand why your honey complains about her ex’s roving eye.

So the next time you catch your significant other checking out your exes on Facebook, don’t take it as warning sign. Take it as a signal that your sweetie needs a little reassurance that — as Belle puts it — you’re now with the right person.