We Didn’t Date, But You’re Still My Ex

This article takes inspiration from Maureen O’Connor’s All My Exes Live in Texts: Why the Social Media Generation Never Really Breaks Up, published at NYMag in July 2013.

There’s a difference between an “ex-boyfriend” or “ex-girlfriend” and just an “ex.”

An “ex-boy/girlfriend” is somebody you dated seriously for an extended period of time. You had the talk. You defined the relationship. You probably told them you loved them. And then you broke up, affixing the word “ex” in front of their former title forevermore.

But what about everybody else? What about the guy you only went out with a few times? What about the girl you used to drunkenly make out with on the regular? What about the guy you were hooking up with until he started dating someone else? What about the girl you had a fling with when you were in Mexico on vacation? What about the guy you never actually even did anything with, but still flirted with enough that you might as well have?

These people are just exes. That guy you casually dated for a month isn’t an ex-boyfriend, but he’s an ex-something. And that something is enough to stir up feelings inside of you whenever their name inevitably appears in your social media feed.

Jealousy when he posts a picture of him and his new girlfriend together. Bitterness when you notice she’s starting to take your advice and make changes in her life now that you no longer see each other. Pride when he likes your new profile picture (because it obviously means he still thinks you’re hot). Frustration when her name immediately pops up as the first result when you start to search for someone else. Hilarity when he shows up in your OKCupid matches and you notice he lied about his height. Resentment when you realize she’s untagged herself in all of the pictures you have together. Uncertainty when he pops up on Tinder (do you swipe right in hopes that he’s an instant match so you can not only feel validated but maybe strike up a conversation? But what if he’s not an instant match? What if already swiped you left?). Confusion when she appears in one of your friend’s Instagram photos (they know each other?). That’s the thing about these exes. They’re inescapable. Even if you only had sex once, chances are you’ll run into him or her again online in some form. There’s no such thing as a one-night stand in the digital age.

Some people — especially those from different generations — do not believe these experiences count as “relationships,” that they lack intimacy, and that they shouldn’t be considered an “ex” as such. But just because you didn’t officially date someone doesn’t mean you weren’t intimate with them. That guy you slept with a handful of times? You know things about him that his family and friends don’t and never will. You know how his body feels against yours and what his bedroom looks like at 2AM. You know how he sounds during sex and the face he makes when he orgasms. That girl you went out with once or twice? You know her life story. You’ve likely talked for hours about her past experiences and what potentially lies in her future. There are questions you could ask her, and a life narrative you could easily follow. That guy you dated for a month? You could have had real feelings for him. You could have been imagining a future with him before he threw it all away, and nobody should be allowed to discount how you felt about him because it was only a month. You may never see any of these people again, but they’re still exes. The intimacy was real; it just came without any sort of commitment.

And that’s the way we like it, isn’t it? We’re young, we’re unattached, and we’re free to do what we please with whomever we please, so why not keep as many love interests around us as possible? I mean sure, if the right person comes along, then by all means, settle down with them. But until that moment comes, there’s nothing wrong with having enough exes in your phonebook to populate a small town. They’ll live on forever in your text messages and Facebook feed, because thanks to social media we can never really say goodbye to our exes — which is perfect, because if there’s one thing we enjoy, it’s keeping our options open. TC mark

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