The "ex" factor...
WHERE WERE WE?
On an episode of "Felicity" (a show I really, really loved), Felicity is chagrined to find that the love of her life, Ben, is cheating on her. Not ready to face another broken heart, Felicity convinces her Wicca friend, Meghan, to cast a spell and set her back in time. As with all television shows, any mention of "Wicca" and "spell" will guarantee a time-travel episode, and so Felicity, armed with the glory of hindsight, chooses Noel over Ben. If you've ever watched television, you'll know that Felicity isn't happy with Noel, or, in other words, not as happy as she knows she could be. To make matters worse, Noel bumps into his old flame, Hannah (played by a pre-Bennifer Part II Jennifer Garner), and they rekindle a fire of sorts. Now Felicity isn't with Ben, and her second-choice fellow is off canoodling with his ex.
On an episode of "Sex & The City," Carrie hooks up with writer Berger. Things are going well, until she sleeps over and finds that he still has ex-girlfriend related things strewn around the apartment (the woman was apparently his interior decorator). When Burger receives a message on his machine from the ex, Carrie becomes alarmed that he gives the machine the middle finger. She knows that his issues lie deeper than an unfriendly hand gesture, and after hemming and hawing throughout the episode, she sets out to open the can of worms.
While the point of all this might seem to be that I watch too much television for my own good, there is another theme going on. Both these fictional women have, at one point or another, faced the dreaded "ex" word. As we all might have at one point or another.
The laws of probability tell us that chances are, the person we're currently seeing has an ex, and that we might have an ex too. Also, the laws dictate that if we have exes, then we have become exes ourselves. We know that we're good exes, set upon this earth to enlighten the lives of others, and then leave in a light mist of early spring breeze, never to be heard of again, but always lingering like a fond memory. And if we're good exes in every sense of the word, other people can be good exes too, right?
When Bee and I first started dating, I knew about the Ex. Through the mill that propagates all rumours, I had heard about their situation well before I had really known anything else about him. "He's just gotten out of a five year relationship," my friend said by way of explanation. "Oh," I said casually, my imaginary head alarms going off. While knowing that Bee and his ex had stayed together for half a decade comforted me in the knowledge that he was able to do commitment, I also wondered what kind of baggage could come with five years. Then I asked what people naturally ask when they hear of a five-year relationship circling the toilet bowl. "Do you know why they broke up?"
My friend didn't know, and I wasn't about to take an informal poll through our other mutual friends. The only way I would know for sure is by asking Bee. But as one of my exes once kindly advised me, sometimes ignorance is bliss, especially when it comes down to the matters of the heart. "Do you really want to torture yourself in this way?" he reasoned. "No," I pouted. But, of course, I did.
One of the dating rules of thumbs is that one should never talk about exes on the first date. But by the third, and about a hundred late-night tête-à-têtes, I was ready to find out what made him tick. We talked about the Ex, and I was satisfied in knowing that things were really over. "Are you ready for this? I mean, for us?" I asked. "I wouldn't be here if I weren't," Bee simply said, and I smiled.
But by the next day, I was a wreck. "Why do you torture yourself?" my smirky ex said in my imaginary head bubble. I silenced him with a drink, and thought. Bee had said things were over, and yet I wasn't sure that I fully believed him. As it turns out, the Ex was actually quite evil and did evil things to his poor, tortured soul. In all honesty, and to expound how bratty I can be sometimes, I relished in the thought that I could be better, that I could be the one to show him that not all women are wicked. But I knew my neuroses stemmed deeper than that. I was the one who wanted something proven to me, not the other way around. Human nature works in silly ways; you always want to be the best, and in this case, I wanted to be it.
The Ex, as I soon noted, might have been out of sight, but it didn't mean she was out of mind. Like Berger and the middle finger, I became alarmed when all distressing relationship stories went to the root of the Ex. She was the Ghost of Relationships Past, and every time we went to bed, she would take her place between us. After an especially rough fight, Bee turned to me and said, "See, this is exactly what she used to do."
I put my ego back together after the fight, and Bee and I were able to sort things out. But I couldn't let go of what he said, or how that made me feel. There was nothing inherently wrong with his sentence, and yet there were so many things that were wrong to me. I didn't want to be her; I didn't want him to be reminded of her; and most importantly, I didn't want to be compared to her.
That's the strange thing with exes, though. They will inevitably creep into any relationship, and especially when you least expect it. It's a cycle of life and love, and anyone willing to take a chance will have to realize it at some point or another. But this still didn't explain the green-eyed monster that overcame my good judgment in all the wrong situations.
I grew up in a world of Bridget Joneses and Carrie Bradshaws. They are the heroines of our times, the ones to guide us through this confusion that is relationships. We are lead to believe that being neurotic and clumsy and cute will win you a good man every time. "I'm allowed to be selfish, anxious, and fixated," we think, "because he'll see through my self-doubt and fix it." But it's an illusion: Bridget and Carrie are not real; they may speak for all of us when they act insecure or are anguished by their own needs to be assured, but they sometimes don't teach us a lesson we all should learn: they look for reassure outwards, but reassurance is an inward phenomenon.
When was the last time Bridget had a pimple (or more fittingly, when was the last time any of us were unwitting drug mules, sprung out of jail by our dashing and handsome boyfriend-attorney)? Carrie was broke for all of one episode, and by the next she was sipping $15 martinis with her girlfriends while sporting some Manolo Blahniks. So when Carrie and Bridget worry about men and their exes, it isn't as clear-cut as the media would like us to believe. It never is.
Comfort is a big blanket we all wrap around ourselves, and when it comes to exes, we need a huge comforter. There is nothing worse than having your boyfriend run back to his ex-girlfriend, unable to resist whatever charms existed before you (speaking from first-hand experience). You want to know what they did, where they went, and whether his adorable nickname for you is used goods. Every time you pick up a frame or pillow, you wonder if she gave it to him. When he stares, slack-jawed at the television screen, you wonder if he's really watching or if his mind has wondered to what went wrong.
I'd be lying if I said that I still wasn't jealous or bothered by the Ex. I understand that she took a big chunk of Bee's life and shaped his adolescence. I still go back to the conversations we've had about her, and try to read between the lines. But I can't read much more into it unless Bee tells me that there is something. I can't keep fueling an obsession that I conjured up in my mind any more than Bee can do something to magically make it go away. I can't pretend that exes don't come back and create a big mess, but it's just something that would have happened inevitably. And sometimes, they don't. The chips lie were they will.
I think it's time for me to go grab my shovel and finally bury that ghost. ¤ C.Ho.
Next month: Christine tries to read He's Just Not That Into You while trying to keep her blood pressure low.