Ex-boyfriends are the most powerful mutants because they know what your skin tastes like and how it feels when you hate them. Plus, they are just boys. Provided they aren’t officially terrible, the historical romance of an ex, especially if there is just one The Ex, remains perennially liminal, shifting in his (or her, but we are speaking primarily about ex-boyfriends because that is my area of expertise) position only according to your own emo-machinations and subsequent, better secret-agent-lover-men. Still, my dumb formulation for love is that once you’ve been in it with someone, they will live in miniature in a small corner of your heart forever and ever.
Also, TIP: Next time you are breaking up with a dude and want to keep your cool, say “I’m not crying, I’m allergic to jerks!” Right? I got that from TV.
First, OK. What do we consider exes? How come some girls say “this guy I dated” or “my ex” in reference to some rando with whom they spent more than a minute, or possibly kissed? I object! It offers up way too much of that good power stuff for a girl to call a guy she went out on less than, say, ten dates with a “boyfriend.” No, wait. It has to be someone with whom you were in an explicit relationship, with specific expectations and rituals and limits. That’s an ex. Not someone who bought you an ice cream and you saved some of the minty kind to blow him with.
The reason I am basically best friends with all my ex-boyfriends (and at least bros with the remaining, kind of difficult ones) is because not being buddies with someone who knows you so well, who met your mom and dad, and has seen you frustracrying in track pants and your old glasses is Crazytown. This is just basic stuff.
ALTERNATE HISTORY EX-BOYFRIEND
Let’s say you just went along with the terrible shit that he was into and now you were leading a life that was about scrambled tofu and homemade beer and acoustic guitar Sundays (love you, Brent) and probably not a lot of cortisol-pumping ambition or demands, ever. How weird, right? I’d definitely be living in Vancouver with babies named after BSG characters if that one didn’t have enough good sense to dump my ass. EW WOULD I HAVE WHITE DREADS? Those are illegal in Kate County.
Do y’all have an ex-boyfriend who you forget exists, or who you legitimately forget that you dated, until they appear in your Facebook feed with their head tilted a certain way and you remember their splay of chest hair just exactly? How “…….” that it’s even possible for someone to be your primary person for any length of time and then, with nothing more significant than a few years in-between, to not even think of them, or remember them? It’s not so much “fucked” as it is spiritually confusing.
Mine was and remains perfect so I won’t even talk about it and threaten the shell of pastel candy-coating. Just shhhhhhoooosh, let me keep it nice.
This dude is a perpetual option in the it’s-good-half-the-time sense; you are probably having sex with him when you need to; you can email him “Can you fly here and hug me for 12 hours” on a whim and it’s not psychotic, it’s adorable. I give this ex !!!!! out of !!!!!
Trigger is a lavish, important psych word (versus a “SIKE!” word) that has an important function of defining what your feelings-poison is, which might be a certain way of being touched or a certain packaged carbohydrate which will lull you into a multi-day, druggish dumb-time. (Just not even buying bread at this point; toast is too crumbily dangerous when I am tired and sad.)
Ummmm why am I… right. So ex-boyfriends, when allowed to re-enter your sphere, can act as shampoo-smell-like triggers of whatever era they were part of, and/or of who you were then (probably an embarrassing parody of yourself?) and usually this is going to be a terrible idea because at the very least it will unseat your sense of personal narrative, which can feel like bad acid and also like you’re in a small box and can’t breathe. Experiencing the world (and sex) through something you know, have had, and can predict is a sometimes-wantable position to be in, considering how horrific it is to be thrust out onto your Life Porch all naked and freezing and alone (Life Porch…. solid, also, I am looking at my porch), further evidenced by how I have to have a separate Facebook account for all the girls I know who married the same guy they went to prom with.
But when you date a guy from a pre-you-now era, a) you are expected to still be that person, and you are definitively not, and b) they’re not, they’re worse, and c) it’s only romantic if you were apart in a romantical, timing-distance-The Notebook fashion and not because you are not the 10/10 version of yourself when you’re with him. D) You aren’t just being creepily nostalgic for an easier breezier version of yourself that is long-dead and appearing as a ghost in your Facebook albums.
Related: Any and all songs, books, movies, and experiences that are too closely associated with an ex-boyfriend to enjoy are your responsibility to get over. Superchunk are really good, but I can’t not listen to them. That is on me.
Romanticizing one’s own coming-of-age era as though it wins is stupid and for stupid people, which is something you should say to your step-dad. But I think that if you fell in love before you had an email address (199…7?), and therefore have a cache of hand-written love letters, and like letters, and sticky notes and postcards and scrap paper opuses, it was better. I mean, I also have the printed-out emails that are pornographically specific about what I like, which I would never throw out, but obviously the Hotmail email account from whence they came is burning in a pile of 0-and-1 embers somewhere. I really recommend printing the good stuff also because if you look it up in your Gmail guess what? Every hideous thing you ever wrote is there, too. Your spine is crawling with electric shame-lizards now, right?
HIS NEW GIRLFRIEND
She’s not your business. You are her business, a little bit, but that is also not your business. You are not to think about/care about/Google her ever. Don’t be 12.
Once upon a time I stayed home from school, watched Crash (car crash Crash, not racism Crash), came four times in two hours, and fell so in love with James Spader even though before that he was just a corny creepster in Pretty In Pink, an inconvenience on the way to the weirdest kissing any of us had ever seen, and a tongue shot that was rewound and rewound at sleepovers. After that I watched Less Than Zero, White Palace (secretly, the most severiously hot Spader film), Sex, Lies and Videotape and Secretary constantly for several years. Then he was on Boston Legal (unhot) and divorced his wife (unhot) and by the time he was on The Office I was like “BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZORING.”
“Babe, I Googled ‘feminism.’” Like, I’ll have that one forever.
THE ONE WITH WHOM IT IS IDEAL AND EFFORTLESS BUT YOU CAN’T GIVE INTO IT BECAUSE HOW WOULD YOU ENDURE SUCH PERFECT LOVE WITHOUT IT KILLING YOU?
"Women are expected to educate men…. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future” are some bits and pieces from a killer Audre Lorde quotation that I saw today at a Glenn Ligon exhibit. For some girls, every ex-boyfriend is also an era of selfhood folded back into itself like a cootie catcher, and a man who has changed. Not like we’re fucking trying, grossies, it just happens.
Is having an ex-boyfriend tattoo good or bad? I don’t have any but I doooo find it hysterical that there is a man with a doctorate and a collection of work shoes who has to think of me, wearing his sweatshirt (still have it) and holding his hand, every time he sees his own pierced nipples. HAHAHAHAAA but also, nice dude.
Unless you are a dry paper napkin of a 25-year-old virgin or a sand-crusty emotional-shell of a girl (just kidding?) you will have one ex-boyfriend who, owing to his cheating on his girlfriend or his being your boss or his being inappropriate in another retarded way will have been your secret boyfriend, which is verra verra verra sexy, but supes brutals when you “break up.” (You don’t actually “break up” with this kind of dude, since the relationship didn’t really exist in the first place.) The only people you can tell about this one are the one friend who is distant/disinterested enough not to judge you forever or tell people, slash, your therapist. Therefore this one gets buried a few feet underground, only to resurface when your emotional sewage system is compromised and there’s pale, naked bodies floating everywhere. AAAH, LIFE! Pale, naked bodies all up around your Life Porch.
THE MARRIED EX
Related: having one (just one) ex-boyfriend who would come back to you in 30 seconds even though he built his life around another woman is a mythic-level personal power that you have to keep in your knapsack like the Dark Crystal. Never pull it out. Got that?
My tolerance for/interest in latter-day No Doubt should be more embarrassing than it is. Instead, I don’t care, and want lessons from Gwen in her post-Tony and mid-Gavin era (my friend SWEARS she knows a girl who bj’d him while he was dating Gwen). Her pain seemed so simple, so unencumbered by theoreticals and self-protection. She’s probably Catholic, right?
Tumblr does two things really well: aspirationalism and nostalgia. Unfortunately both of these things are emotional murder weapons. If there is a clearinghouse for ex-boyfriend (or future ex-boyfriend) nostalgia materials it is Tumblr, with all of its vague slogans and 90s magazine scans and its poorly reproduced text-art. (Tracey Emin must hate the ways in which her work is punched into the utterly banal contexts on Tumblr.)
After fighting with a fully tattooed guy on the sidewalk outside of a bar ON MY BIRTHDAY, WHICH IS IN THE PIT OF WINTER, and without our coats on but with two illegal road beers in my pockets, my friend Erik looked at him walking away from me (it’s fine now, we’re fine, but:) and was like “What, do those sleeves keep him warm or something?” HA. Oh, sidenote: The detailed histories of one’s ex-boyfriends are useful for your friends, who will crave specific ways to show you they know you. If nothing else, a snakes-and-ladders worth of relationships is good for your pals.
Previously - Girls and Staying In
Follow Kate on Twitter @KateCarraway