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The dos and don’ts of handling past relationships

How to indulge in your most slippery fantasy and not slide off the slope.

brunch Updated: Sep 03, 2016 20:10 IST
As cynical as I may be, an ex can become a dear friend, a confidant even, but it takes two very mature minds to pull that off.
As cynical as I may be, an ex can become a dear friend, a confidant even, but it takes two very mature minds to pull that off.

On the TV show Sex and The City, Carrie Bradshaw broke up with her boyfriend. Then she found a new boyfriend. Then she started cheating on him with the old boyfriend. Then broke up with him. Then she got back with him. Then she broke up with him again. And then got back with the first boyfriend.

I loved the show but Carrie’s back and forth stressed me out. It made me think of a road accident where instead of just stopping and getting out of the car, the driver keeps backing up and running over the person he hit over and over and over again. Interestingly, in the case of Carrie Bradshaw, or anyone who keeps an Ex around to this ridiculous degree, the driver and the victim are really the same person.

Platonic, really?

An Ex can go in a couple of different directions. You may have absolutely no feelings above or below the belt for one another, your philosophy being what’s done is done. Or you could hate the sight, sound or the very thought of the person, which while not the healthiest response, can’t always be helped. Or you may have the unicorn of Ex relationships – a deep, platonic bond.

As cynical as I may be, an Ex can become a dear friend, a confidant even, but it takes two very mature minds to pull that off. After all here is a person that at some point you were emotionally, physically and, in many cases, financially invested in, some people even have kids with an Ex. Regardless of how long the relationship lasted and whether or not it was documented in the court of law, it meant something to you both. So now, though there are no strings attached, there has got to be some baggage. This baggage can manifest itself in many ways and falling back into old patterns, or into the bed for that matter isn’t that far off the charts. It has happened to the best of them. Heck, it happened to Carrie.

Personally, I am not a fan of beating a dead horse and I think that is what an old relationship is. You both, or at least one of you, ended it for a reason. Unfortunately with the distance that a break-up provides, you start to forget why. And depending on the circumstances – loneliness, disenchantment with your current relationship, or just plain, old boredom – it isn’t that difficult to imagine that your Ex is actually quite attractive. It’s like being in a bar with beer goggles on – all sorts of people start to seem appealing. Look, if you are both single and there is an itch you need to scratch, by all means go for it. All I am saying is make sure you don’t read more than you need to into the proceedings. The last thing you need is a re-match of something that didn’t go so well the first time.

And for this reason, most of us shouldn’t even be in regular touch with an Ex. Back in the day, the undue amount of effort it took just to reconnect with an Ex was enough to make one feel a little icky – today it’s almost impossible to not be in touch. Facebook is flooded with ghosts from your past and it is always fun to get a friend request from someone you have fond memories of. But keep the contact to stalking his or her photos or status updates and stay as far away from messaging as possible. Maybe an initial ‘oh hey there, you haven’t changed, good luck with your life, your wife is lovely’ can’t do too much damage. Mild flirting with someone who you legitimately loved and who loved you back isn’t the worst thing, but do not dig up any past memories. No ‘remember when we did this or that’, no reminiscing about private moments at all! You are in a danger zone of familiarity mixed with novelty – a slippery slope if ever there was one.

ExWhyzedd off!

But of all the angles an Ex can take, the Secret Ex is the worst one. A couple I knew well in college broke up because the young woman said her family would never approve. As with all college romances, there was high drama involved, but eventually we all graduated and went our separate ways. Years later, I ran into her completely out of the blue. She was seated at a table with a man and she hurriedly got up and came over to where I was standing. After an awkward hug, she quickly whispered ‘don’t mention ExWhyZedd – I am with my husband’.

It took me a moment to even register what she was saying because I had completely forgotten about her Ex and wouldn’t have brought that up even if she had been on her own. To be honest, I was extremely annoyed that she would think I were that unsophisticated! Nonetheless, I made some small talk with both of them and left. But that encounter led me to make one decision – I would never entangle myself with a man who had a problem with my past. It doesn’t matter if a woman, or man for that matter, had zero or a hundred Exes. It doesn’t change who they are, and for it to be a dirty little secret isn’t worth the tension! Especially because you never know when Mister Current will in fact become Mister Ex.

The writer is a standup comic and author of Unladylike: A Memoir

From HT Brunch, September 4, 2016

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