The VICE Guide to Self Improvement

I Asked My Exes for the One Thing I Could Have Done Better

"Sometimes you didn't have the most pleasant breath."

by Thomas Moore
11 September 2017, 1:27am

Shutterstock

Would you like to know how to embrace your pessimism? Could crystals be the secret to happiness? Read the rest of the VICE Guide to Self-Improvement here.

Like a shabby and more frugal version of John Cusack in High Fidelity, I contacted all my ex girlfriends and asked them for feedback. To my surprise, all four were willing to participate—and they didn't hold back.

Uncomfortable? Yes. Masochistic? Probably. But the exercise has made me feel slightly less anxious and guilt-ridden when I squint back at the indefinite vista of my past relationships. And there were some things (oral hygiene) that I can take immediate steps to improve.

A clear picture of me has emerged as a flawed and unremarkable ex-boyfriend. On average, I'm a 6/10—a lover hampered by bad breath, erratic behaviour, and communication issues. Without further ado, here it is in their own words:

Jessica

[Dated for six months in 2014 after a drunken hookup at the races. Her initial reply to my questionnaire was: "I wouldn't even say for sure we were in a relationship, though?"]

How would you rate your relationship experience?
Honestly, like a 4.

Looking back on the relationship, what are the prevailing emotions/feelings?[ Respondents were asked to choose one or more emotions on a spectrum that included nostalgia, fondness, anger, disgust and indifference.]
A little confusion, but also fondness.

What's the one thing I could have done better?
I think, looking back the thing I struggled with is that I had no idea where I stood with you, like whether you were actually that interested in me or not. We very rarely saw each other and it would go days or longer between messages from you. Mostly I just felt like I was someone to have sex and drink red wine with. [ Note: This is accurate.]

Abigail

[Dated for six months in 2013 after a drunken hookup in an Irish pub.]

How would you rate your relationship experience?
I'd rate the relationship 8/10.

Looking back on the relationship, what are the prevailing emotions/feelings?
I look back on the relationship with fondness.

What's the one thing I could have done better?
When we were dating you were smoking a bit, partying a lot, and sometimes didn't have the most pleasant breath. I vaguely remember you saying you sometimes only brush your teeth once a day. I think one thing you could do better is brush your teeth twice a day, every day. [This is fair. At the time of writing, I still only brush my teeth once a day.]

Rachel

[Dated for six months in 2015 after meeting on Tinder.]

How would you rate your relationship experience?
I'd give it a 5.

Looking back on the relationship, what are the prevailing emotions/feelings?
I would say there are aspects of nostalgia but mostly indifference, although thinking about it can make me sad.

What's the one thing I could have done better?
I think that the main issue I had, and something you could have improved on, was your [lack of] honesty. I don't think this was necessarily a problem at the beginning, or maybe I just didn't pay attention, but especially when things were ending—there was no transparency.

I felt like you had things going on that you didn't want to disclose and that really affected the tone of our relationship for an extended period of time. It's not as though you had to discuss everything with me but it just resulted in me resenting you for leaving me out of the narrative entirely. I would have preferred to be included, whether or not I liked what you had to say.

[This relationship ended quite suddenly after I realised I didn't want anything serious, but I didn't have anything else going on. I think this is simply another example of how ineffective communication can foster resentment in the people you ostensibly love.]

Ruby

[My longest relationship. Two years in 2010/11. Met at high school.]

How would you rate your relationship experience?
A solid 7.

Looking back on the relationship, what are the prevailing emotions/feelings?
I'd rather not choose any 'emotions' if that's alright. [Ruby would not be persuaded otherwise.]

What's the one thing I could have done better?
I can't really remember anything that specific ha ha... I do recall you being a bit hot and cold though, I guess. Like one extreme to the next; all-in versus MIA.

Honestly I think we were just very young and that's when you have to make mistakes. We had a lot of fun but we also were dicks to each other occasionally. Wasn't one person's fault. Sometimes things just end. [This is fair. Shortly before we started dating, I suffered a significant personal loss that seemed to tarnish the rest of the relationship. Ruby put up with a lot of shit. I'm grateful she took the time to complete my survey, even if she left some gaping holes in it.]

---

Overall, this process was a bit like handling radioactive material. It needed to be cool and regimented. Get in, get what you need, get out… before either of you has time to humiliate themselves. I'm 26. In the past I've viewed speaking to my exes as an opportunity to make spectacular mistakes: regressive sex, bitter finger pointing or, God forbid, rampant what-could-have-been sentimentality.

But I now realise my defunct relationships aren't as embarrassing or emotionally charged as I thought. They're just, well, fine. Rather than rekindling old passions when I made contact, the experience was surprisingly mundane. Or maybe "mature" is the better word.

My current partner was understandably nervous about the project, but she really had nothing to fear except my shaky first steps toward honesty, emotional consistency, and personal hygiene.