Editor’s note: This post is a little more personal than usual, in that I directly refer to my relationship instead of cloaking it with transparent hypotheticalisms. To prep you: I have pulled up my big-girl panties and begun to drop the B word instead of “this cute boy I know” or “the boy I like” which I have done for the past, oh I don’t know, four months. Perhaps you thought I was referring to a slew of different men because my life is that exciting. Nope. Hopefully, this will stop my mother from emailing me going “why don’t you just call him your boyfriend,” by which I know she means “why can’t you be normal? WILL I EVER GET GRANDCHILDREN?!?!?” I digress…
On the first day of 2012, I stopped at a crosswalk in NYC with my boyfriend (!!!!!), shielding the wind so he could light a cigarette (I’m a shameless enabler) when his ex girlfriend strolled by. She stopped and they made polite small talk—I had been good friends with my boy when they were dating, so I knew her. It was no big deal.
Regardless, I mentioned it to a friend later because, well it is sort of weird that in the entire city of New York, his ex would walk by the same corner we stood at, boroughs away from where either of them live. Immediately, my friend asked to see a photo of the ex. So after .2 seconds of Facebook creeping, I pulled up a photo from a few years back of my man and the ex, looking very handsome together indeed.
Immediately, my friend started attacking the girl, saying pretty awful and untrue things. “Actually, I think she is quite lovely…” I said, closing out the photo. I then went on to explain that my boyfriend and I have been friends for nearly a decade, and that I was very excited about his (now ex) girlfriend when they started dating. I thought she was pretty terrific and I was very happy for him. I remember having conversations with mutual friends about what a foxy couple they made and how they would have really deliciously caramel colored children who would also probably be incredibly talented and smart, because both of them are incredibly talented and smart. As I went on about this, my friend was looking at me like I was pulling a long strand of partially digested string out of my intestines (I once had to do this to my cat…).
It was then that I realized that I wasn’t supposed to stick up for this ex-girl. I was expected, according to the code of female HIS-EX-IS-A-SKANK ethics, to verbally slaughter her.
Why do women do this? There have been many times when I have felt the pressure to trash a woman I don’t know because a friend expects me to. “Look at my ex’s new girlfriend,” a friend will say, showing me a photo of a smiling blonde. There is tension in the air. The silence is stretching around me and I know in a moment it will be awkward. I know I am supposed to say something horrible about her. I want to support of my friend, who I know is feeling vulnerable and upset, but I don’t know this girl, and she looks lovely, and I don’t know what to say. “She is half-naked in January,” or “Her shirt is fugly” or “You’re better” is all I can muster. These are truths aimed in the right direction.
I would like to say this type of trash-talk dissolves with age and experience, but I know it doesn’t. My boy’s mom asked about our run-in with his ex in a fashion indistinguishable from the tone of my friend, 30 years her junior. “How did she look? Fat?!” I was taken completely aback because one, his ex is nowhere near fat and two—what!? Did I really just hear that?
I think this type of bashing is supposed to show an affinity for womankind—for the woman you’re supporting by breaking down the enemy. But in reality, we have all been that ex in the photo who gets called fat or ugly or slutty for no other reason than that we are, or were, threatening. So wouldn’t it be better if we all just stopped?
Additionally, isn’t the type of woman my guy has chosen in the past at least somewhat a reflection of what he sees in me? If he only dates bridgetrolls, then what does that say about me? NO YOU CANNOT PASS.
As I contemplated all of this, I wondered how it is possible that I feel so calm about the situation when it seems normal to dislike those who have come before. Why don’t I get all riled up about seeing my guy’s ex, the way I am clearly expected to? Why don’t I get pissed when they meet for coffee? In fact, why do I feel some sort of warmth toward this girl, left-over from the days when I was the friend and they were the item–she made him very happy, and I appreciated it.
And then it hit me: This is the first boy I have ever dated who has an ex-girlfriend. What!? How can that be? I am nearly 24 and have had three “serious” relationships and a gaggle of fleeting ones. However it happened, this is the first real relationship I have been in where I adore someone who at one point was adored by someone else in the same fashion.
So if loathing or being threatened by an ex is a learned behavior, then it is a behavior I have not yet learned. I don’t know what it’s like to habitually sleep in a bed someone else has habitually slept in, or say the words someone else has already spoken. I have always been a pioneer with the men I love, and so I never felt the need to compare myself to someone who came first. I was the first.
I can only imagine that if I had been in a relationship with someone who was not over their ex, or who had an ex that was still sniffing around, or who went back to an ex or cheated with an ex, then I would become uncomfortable and begin to bare my teeth at all exes. So I suppose I am lucky to have come this far unscathed and with one less neurosis to deal with—because goodness knows I have others.
So what about you? How do you deal with exes? Why do you think women trash each other? Any juicy stories? I don’t have an ex who cheated with a past flame, but I do have an ex who cheated with his boss which makes me wary of work functions that include drinking. Wanna talk about that?