It’s that time over coffee or a meal. You sit opposite each other, having teased out bits about the other’s personality. You know she likes cars or he likes gleaming tabletops. There has been some talk of work and holiday. And possibly, there has been a strong or slanted reference to a past relationship. So, there you are. You gaze down and you hesitantly ask about that ‘ex’.
“Were you in a serious relationship before?”, “Why did you break up?” And then, because you really want to move into the next part of the conversation, the question wafts up: “So, what was your ex like?”
It’s a simple enough question. Yes, it’s a part of the past we are all so keen to leave behind and correct, if it has been bad. Or hey, maybe the end was peaceful. One came to terms with the fact that two people had drifted apart and the distance was just too much to cover again. May as well start the journey with someone new.
People respond to that question in so many ways. “It was a long time ago” or “It really doesn’t matter” or “I don’t even want to think about it” or “Why rake up the past!” or “Let’s talk about something else.” Essentially the ex will not be discussed because the person has moved on.
I’ve always found it a little odd. In my experience, people have never had a problem talking about their childhood or college days even if that time was way back in the past. People share their misgivings about their families even if it’s difficult. They will even talk about their parent’s death though it has been traumatic. But what is it about their opinion of someone they have loved before that is met with such resistance? Could it be that we take the highest risk, make the most individualistic choice, and go through our deepest unguarded journey when choosing a partner? Which is why I think the question, “What was your ex-like?” is more likely to be perceived as, “What were you like when you were with your ex?” If you said, “My ex was a cheat”, do you collapse into the silent belief, “and I was a pushover for taking it.” Or perhaps, “She was so hot-headed” makes it hard for you to reconcile to the memory of the time when you abused her back. Maybe when we outline our ex’s traits, we refer to that chapter again – the one we thought we’d closed for good, except that the page was neatly dog-eared and bookmarked.
I remember asking someone, “What was your ex’s name?” He’d waved his hand and said, “What’s the point? She’s not here anymore. It doesn’t matter.”
But, really, doesn’t it? Or let me put it another way – is this really moving on? That you seek to wipe off all traces of a past (if that is even possible)? I mean, even if you haven’t completely gotten over your past lover, is that such a bad thing? Sure, no-one wants a partner who still secretly harbours hope of reconciliation with somebody else. But, if there’s still love there, isn’t it okay? Speaking for myself, I know that I can love again because I have loved in the past. There is still a lingering, tender affection for a past one that assures me that the future relationship will be safe too. The way I see it, if a man still had love in his heart for his ex, that heart would be a more fertile place for something else to grow – even if that love wasn’t for me yet. I understand the concern, “How can you be sure that the past won’t impact you or the current relationship?” But think about it. We (and our relationships) are bent out of shape by so much – our fears, our crises, our environment, our resistance to good, our conditioning, our allegiance to society. What’s wrong with being influenced by love then and carrying its imprints all over our newly, freshly moulded partnership?
When I’d asked the gentleman about his ex, he didn’t even want to utter her name. I agree it’s a completely personal and valid choice on his part. Yet…I just imagine what would have happened had he told me her name. Had he let it tumble out that she loved black nail-paint or had a thing for parrots and doves.
I’d have felt more of a connection, perhaps. Connected jointly by that quirk that no matter how differently our past loves have pained us, we still somewhere retain that folly – to do everything for a look, or maybe to lose everything for a smile.
Move on, yes, but why?