My ex is the worst. He lured me in with his playful flattery and witty banter every time he made a pass at me, only to leave my eye-contact overlooked, as if we didn’t bare our bodies to each other. I’m better off without him.
My ex is the best. He touched my heart with his soothing presence every time he ran his fingers over my skin, only to leave me reaching for more, as if I deserved his companionship. I am better because of him.
While the truth lies somewhere in between these two sentiments, I cannot pinpoint its exact proximity to either extreme. My judgment is impaired. But where does this post-relationship dichotomy originate? Is there even an expectation for either of these two reactions, or have I imagined their existence because of my inexperience?
I don’t date. Its appeal diminishes the more I ponder it. Take someone else’s opinions into account, accommodate his schedule into mine, grow fond of an extra set of family and friends? No thank you, please. I already struggle with my own opinions, schedule, and family and friends.
I find nothing wrong with developing a crush but I see nothing right about pursuing a relationship.
Or at least, I saw nothing right about it…until I met my ex.
After 20 years and one month of leading a date-less life, my own company ceased to be enough.
I’d like to tell you the lad who finally broke through to me has a brooding heart of ice that just barely thaws through his leather jacket, but he isn’t James Dean or even Gilmore Girls’ Jess Mariano. He’s actually quite nonchalant, if that’s the opposite of moody. Whatever provides starkest contrast against “brooding” is exactly what he is.
I’d also like to tell you he is poetically affectionate, disgustingly so, in ways that are only socially acceptable if you’re moderately to severely attractive, but he is neither Pablo Neruda nor the Notebook’s Noah Calhoun. He’s actually quite reserved about his affection, choosing to casually ask me to dinner while wiping down counters at work, rather than while hanging from a ferris wheel. His affectations, though evident, are not obvious.
No, he isn’t my dream man, but he’s better. He is real.
Since this isn’t about relationships but about our reactions to their aftershocks, let’s fast forward and leave it at things went well until they didn’t.
Once upon a time, Domino’s Pizza delivered melted cheesy goodness in thirty minutes or less. I can one-up that. We shared a conversation that delivered sorrow and confusion in fifteen minutes or less. Our beneficial friendship/relationship/relay lay/whatever ended.
I felt nothing. And by “nothing” I mean “a knot developed in my throat composed of knives or thorns or perhaps both.”
Yet I insisted on feeling nothing. I scoffed at my best friend for asking if I was okay. How could she doubt me? Of course I was okay! I don’t date! So we weren’t dating, who cares? It’s not like I picked up on his idiosyncrasies and catered to them to please him aesthetically and physically. And I definitely didn’t ache when he left. I don’t date so we never dated so not dating couldn’t hurt.
Oh, but we did date, and I did hurt.
Admitting I felt sad would be admitting defeat because it would be accepting that I harbored feelings, something I’d spent my life suppressing.
Somehow, I grew to embrace the trope that an ex-lover deserves hatred. When I say I embraced it, I mean I hugged the thing so tight we became one. Hatred became my resting expression when he was around or even mentioned.
I hated his smug face and the goofy spacey smile that spanned across it so often. When his voice rang in my ear, I felt my blood rise like Mercury in a scorching thermometer. He was scum. He was a Tony Montana-worshipping Don Juan with dainty hands and a rotten sense of humor and a minuscule, hard to maneuver, harder to find, insignificantly sized… foot.
But none of that was true. While my friends encouraged the rampant destruction of all the good I had ever associated with him, something within me did not sit well. Yes, it’s true that Elle Woods only got over Warner Huntington (the third!) once she realized he was a class-A douchebag, but that’s fictional and this is real. I can’t compare a living breathing human with twenty-three years worth of development to a one-dimensional stock character written in less than twenty-three weeks. I knew he was not worthy of wrath or hatred, or even dirty looks.
So the pendulum swung in the other direction. Misled by starry-eyed Beatles ballads and misty-eyed Taylor Swift anthems, I embraced the pining and whining trope. I wanted him back, nay, I needed him back.
The reassurance I once found in our late night conversations called my name in a needier manner than I called for his attention. When the hum of his voice lingered in my ears, I felt warmth return to my cheeks as they flustered to cover my nervousness.
Our friendship took on a new form as we playfully snapchatted and text-messaged away, completely void of any underlying pulse of attraction. It seldom crossed the threshold dividing friendly and flirty. It was not enough.
A good night kiss would’ve been welcomed, were it not benignly placed on my cheek. A good night text would’ve been appreciated, were it not casually worded “dale, I’m knocking out.” I didn’t want my friend back, I wanted my lover back.
And I got him back…for one night. Except it was all wrong. We both knew it and though we popped mints before kissing, I am sure he’d agree our mouths tasted more like regret and disinterest than like spearmint and peppermint. That which was once enjoyable felt eerily foreign despite its familiarity because what was once fueled by passion and intrigue was now fueled by boredom and desperation. We only knew each other in desire, so removing the lens of passion left both of us unrecognizable to the other.
With this, I realized it was over. We were not Chuck and Blair, lustfully finding their way back to each other time and again. Again, they were fiction, we are real. A relationship composed of a combined forty-three years of personal development could not be compared to a relationship developed over six seasons, even if it spanned 121 episodes.
So how should we face break-ups?
I still don’t have the answer but I know how we should not face break-ups. Like hard-liquor need not be chased by rubbing alcohol, relationships need not be chased with hatred or desperation. In moderation, hard-liquor and relationships can be fun. Left unchecked, both lead to dangerous intoxication. While rubbing alcohol comes from a similar process of production as liquor, it cannot be ingested in the same way. So too, do love and hate come from the same place but cannot be consumed in a single manner with the expected production of the same results.
Both alternative reactions to a break-up (hatred and desperation) operate on the assumption that relationships end because something is wrong with one of the participating parties.
She who chooses to hate an ex-lover clings to the notion that only someone with something fundamentally wrong with him could release or drive her away.
How many friends have we seen travel down this road?
“He only likes big girls so I guess I became too pretty for him when I lost fifteen pounds. He’s a freak for liking fat girls.”
“It’s not like his life is going anywhere, anyway. Forget that jobless loser.”
Suddenly, all that which was once endearing–his dismissal of conventional beauty standards or his stress-free approach to life–is now a devastating hamartia.
Then there is he who chooses to pine after an ex-lover, clinging to the notion that something must be wrong within him. He believes himself unlovable, unworthy, and undesirable.
Which neurotic friend of yours come to mind now? Perhaps it’s a cousin or perhaps it’s you.
“I wasn’t cool enough. Maybe if I’d just asked her to go clubbing more, rather than staying home on Netflix…”
“I don’t know how a five like me even landed a ten like her to begin with. I should lift more. Girls don’t breakup with muscular guys.”
Every choice you ever made becomes a neglected opportunity to diverge from the path that led your relationship to oblivion.
But here’s what no one told me: your break-up was not occasioned by a single fatal flaw. Relationships are organic and dependent on several factors, but innate evil is hardly at fault for their demise.
When Person A breaks up with Person B, Person A does not grow a villainous handlebar mustache. Nor does he join a Nazi faction. More often than not, he remains the same exact person, save his interest occupying his time with Person B.
As for Person B? Person B does not wake up with “undesirable” tattooed on her forehead the next day. She doesn’t even wake up to find herself in the midst of feline companions. Everything previously seen as attractive by Person A remains within her because she remains the same, save her reassurance that she will be accompanied by Person A often.
However, just as that which formed an initial attraction might remain, that which formed an initial rift will probably remain as well. So be weary while treading that troubled track of rekindled relationships.
Where do I stand in relation to my ex?
I don’t hate him. I doubt I could ever hate anyone whose grandmother I’ve met. But I do not pine for him either.
He maintains his too-cool-to-care demeanor but I know that dying dogs and disappointed dads bring tears to his eyes. As it turns out, his lack of romantic interest in me did not obliterate the kindness within him. As it also turns out, his is not the only kindness available to me, and it’s definitely not the only kindness I deserve.