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A Generation Of ‘Forgive & Forget’

I went to lunch with a beloved aunt, last week. She is one of my role models, having blazed the corporate path in the 70s and faced racial and gender prejudices. She has also had a ‘love marriage’ to a wonderful but non-Tamilian man. We spoke of work (hers and mine) and relationships (mine). She asked me about someone from my past that she knew. I shrugged and said,

“He’s well, I hear. Doing some great work. We don’t talk often but I get the news.”

She looked out of the window for a long minute. I waited for the nugget of wisdom or keen observation I knew was about to come (from so many other such insightful conversations with her). She said,

“I think it’s a generation thing. I can’t imagine any of my peers being able to do that.”

She was referring of course, to how ‘okay’ we are with our ex-es. She told me about a friend who studiously avoided a certain couple, because once, years ago, the man had been discussed as an arranged matrimonial prospect for her.

Forgive and Forget

I didn’t need time to respond because it’s something I’ve pondered and experienced, especially this last year too. It is a generational thing, sort of. I don’t think that we are any more ‘mature’ or ‘strong’ or any of those adjectives that people use to make themselves feel superior. It is true that we don’t cut our failed/thwarted relationships off as much as the previous generation might have. Sometimes, we even seem to achieve that miraculous state of being friends with our exes. But I think it is necessity rather than virtue that drives us.

We live in an even more populous but much more connected world than the generation before us. The matrix of human experience is comprised of multiple and multi-layered connections. While there are more of us, we are also segmented a lot more rigidly and closely. Everybody knows everybody within our segments.

Take my case, for instance. All my associations are with people who are in cities, digitally savvy, in professions like management, communication, marketing, publishing. These are people whose lives overlap with mine because of the place we are in, the professions we follow, the hobbies we enjoy and the activities we pursue. There are bound to be several people who know us – colleagues, friends, acquaintances, partners, clients – people who are one thing to one of us and another to the other (my friend is his classmate, his neighbor is my colleague etc).

In order to truly cut a person out of this, I would have to snip off all the other connections. And for each of those connections, there would be numerous others to be severed. I’m not even counting all the possibilities that I’d be saying no to. (“I can’t work in that company because his best friend works there”, “I can’t go to that party because his current girlfriend is an event sponsor.”) Completely severing one relationship means tearing the entire social fabric around me and limiting my own existence. Is any one person worth that effort?

I think most of us don’t actually feel the same trusting, affectionate friendship for our exes that we feel for people that we don’t share a romantic history with. But we manage to tolerate them, put aside strong emotions in favour of dignity/political correctness/peace. And over time it gets easier and almost real. I’m not great friends with anybody who has hurt me in a relationship before. But I don’t wish them harm. And mostly I’m enough at peace with it to not put our common associations through inconvenience. And as weeks, months, years pass, other people and associations take priority.

Which brings me to, the fact that we have more choices. Even in tradition-bound, family-values-strangled urban India. Widow remarriage, divorce, break-ups – these are realities that we don’t like but find ways to accept anyway. Having options for the future is the surest, easiest way to keep from clinging to the past. Who has the time and energy to stay upset over a five-year-old association when the demands of the current are so pressing? Not my generation.

*Image courtesy nuttakit on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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Another Ex-factor

As we shuffled into the room, looking for our seat numbers, I was distracted by an excited voice calling out my name. Across the room was a bright-eyed girl waving. I flashed her grin and gestured that I’d talk to her after the exam. Buddy-girl wore a quizzical frown as she took the seat next to me and said, “Who was that???”

“Oh, the ex-girlfriend of my ex-boyfriend” I said airily. Both of us laughed for a good minute at that. Then she said, “She seems to be abnormally thrilled to see you.” “And why not?” I agreed, “After all we have a lot in common now.” I guess we always did. Your ex’s exes are probably the most sympathetic group you’ll ever find once you’ve broken up. Nothing bonds women as much as having a common point of male-bashing. I suspect the same is true of men.

Kidding apart, it has been a thing with me always…a zealous interest in the ex-es of my (now-ex) boyfriends. If I had my way, I’d interview all the exes of the person I was about to enter a relationship with, especially the most recent one. It doesn’t strike me as an odd thought at all. Consider that most companies like to check up with the old employers of a candidate they are considering. It provides a perspective on someone you don’t know that well and are having to form an opinion on, based on face-up impressions only.

When I think about it, I’ve always had a lot in common with the ex-es of whoever I was with. We do after all gravitate to a certain type of person and repeat that pattern in all our close relationships, mostly so in friendship and love. In fact, getting to know the ex-es of your current flame can tell you a whole lot about them. What they look for in a relationship…you can see that from what you have in common with all the others they’ve been with.

One guy had a string of ex-es who were all bright, friendly and fun (“over-excitable” is how he described them). Sure then, that was flattering that I was being perceived that way too. It did lead to some odd situations. When he broke up with his first girlfriend, a couple of us from his ‘gang’ rallied around and tried to make peace between the two of them. Then he ended up dating the other girl. So of course I had to endure his ex’s bitchy catharsis, while playing “I’m so thrilled for the two of you” to my other friend. And then they broke up and I had an overgrown baby (HIM!) to take care of, soothe his injured ego and get him to make peace. Then it was my turn and of course the other two (now –exes) took over my role. I wonder what they bitched about me. As it turned out, I hung onto him the longest but I’m the only one of them who didn’t forgive him in the end. I was speaking to one of them a couple of days back and she said…”I didn’t see you at his wedding”. “Certainly not, I don’t want to ever see him again” I replied, “What about you?”. She said (a tad defensively, I thought) “I don’t’ feel that way. He’ll always be my buddy and I wouldn’t miss his day for anything.” Don’t ask me why that hurt.

It leaves a positively foul taste in my mouth, the saints whose ex-es speak so glowingly of them. At least my other ex- was universally deplored by anyone who had once been close to him (and I uphold that truth now!) That’s about the only thing I have in common with his other ex-es as I discovered that he tended to like girls who were ‘tall and looked XYZ’. Superficial, asisine dunderhead…I’m so glad the other girls also had the same good sense to let him go.

I will admit that it always makes me feel a little better if my partner isn’t all that friendly with his ex-es. Aside from the green-eyed monster, it gives me a chance to play my martyred mommy role and ‘heal old wounds’ by making peace. Yup, I’m one of those hypocrites who advocate the ‘forgive and let go’ policy while not being able to do so myself. Ah, I guess we teach best what we most need to learn.

On the other hand, I am hypocritical enough to hate the idea of my current boyfriend getting too pally with my ex-es. As it turns out that has never happened. All the men in my life seem to hate each other on sight. I don’t know if I just attract such explosive characters or whether men are just naturally more territorial.

Of course there is that all-time nagging curiosity over what did go wrong in the earlier relationships. In my experience, most men don’t want to talk about this at all. It could be that the men I’ve dated have just had guilty consciences or perhaps they’re just the ‘leave your brains behind’ type. Why then, were they with me? Attraction of the opposites perhaps? Meeeooooowwwwrrrr….

I think an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend can reveal some pretty insightful things about a person that wouldn’t otherwise come to light. Certainly you have to discount any residual resentment or jealousy that may be festering in old wounds. However the question, is what your newfound love has done to evoke such sentiments in the other person. And useful to understand the shortcomings that he/she has that could hurt other people…after all, you’re going to be coming up against them yourself and forewarned is forearmed.

I certainly wouldn’t say that an ex’s sentiments should stop one from getting involved with a person one likes. That’s the ridiculous standpoint of someone who demands the truth but can’t handle it. If you’re as obsessed with seeing the real picture as I am, then you’ll have to prepared to uncover some nasty truths as well. And well, no one is a better source of truths, nasty and nice (but mostly nasty) than an ex.

Ever heard of the adage about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer? I’d say “Keep your love close and their exes closer”.

Let's talk about EX, baby!

I’ve written so much about my exes…mournful ramblings, sorrowful poetry and nasty comments in between posts. Now here’s a post dedicated to the people who were once close to me. After all, I keep making snide references to them as an undesirable species but well…some of them were human….almost.

There is family that you are born to and can’t do a damn thing about. There are friends you choose of your own will and discard or grow away from. And there are those your heart beats for (or more likely your hormones delude you with) and whom you rip your life away from. Ah….the world of ex-boyfriends and girlfriends.

I think friendships apart, a person who has shared something with you romantically/sexually, has known you in a way that others just haven’t. Everyone who has ever been through a break-up knows just what a mix-up of emotions it leaves behind. But of course. How can you suddenly become indifferent to someone you have been really close to? It is hardest to forgive people you have loved; it is also toughest to forget them.

My first-ever boyfriend is friends with me today. We meet for a coffee every few months, catch up on each others’ lives and laugh over silly things. Today I can say that he is a great guy. Well, I’m a great girl too. Its just that we’re great as friends and not anything else. And it has taken us five years to get to this point. But I’m so glad we did. It is a long way to stop feeling bad and then another ardous journey to get to where you can actually feel good about the other person.

Then there’s the boyfriend from hell who is now thankfully the ‘ex-boyfriend-and-hope-he’s-in-hell’. I’d lie if I said that I don’t think of him. I have several fantasies about him, none of which involve him being happy. *smirk smirk* Well, I never thought of myself as vindictive or vicious. Ah, I have so much to learn….and experience is a bloody good teacher.

And not all exes need have been officially designated ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’. In these years there are several people who have swung alarmingly close and then for various reasons just faded out of sight. It isn’t necessary to sleep with a person or have a long-term relationship, for them to impact your life in a way that is different from the way your friends do.

The other day one of my friends told me that one of the guys I had dated had got married. I wasn’t sure how to react for a minute. I wasn’t jealous…not even the faintest bit. What I was, was mighty curious…about what sort of a hare-brained girl would want to do more than just idle with this guy, let alone actually marry him. With some people you just can’t help being absolutely vile and this guy was one of them. I rationalize my own cold-heartedness saying that he was a creep anyway. Still, I think he cared for me more than I ever cared for him and so with some lingering guilt I hope he has a happy life (just so long as it doesn’t cross mine!) Indifference is a novel experience for me…one that I could use some more of.

Then there was this funny situation in my last relationship. His friends liked me and I got along like a house on fire with them. I don’t even know what all of us were doing with a character like this guy….for all purposes he was just the common link between people who bonded at a certain level that didn’t include him. Of course he hated it but that’s a different story. I suspect that half the time I enjoyed hanging out with him because his crowd was so much fun…it felt more like my crowd than his. He tried quite a bit to fit in with them (us?) but somehow he stood out while I blended right in. I think what I was doing then was akin to a guy who likes women who challenge him but somehow still prefers a partner who is less in some way. Possibly the only difference between me and a male chauvinist is that I’m female.

I mostly like meeting someone who I’ve been close to this way, once upon a time. There is a savage delight in seeing that you’ve done better than the other and that he’s thinking of words like ‘comeback’. But I jest of course….there is more to it than that.

There are the jarring experiences, the ones where if you never saw the person again, it wouldn’t be a day too soon for you. But mostly, I guess people are just people. Time is a healer and once the initial fireworks subside and you are able to look at the bigger picture of life, it is even a good thing to catch up with a person who has known you so intimately and then hasn’t been around for awhile. It gives you perspective. I was 24 before I realized that my unpredictable mood swings are not so much my vulnerability as they are a reason for people to be a little scared of me. I’ve had good friends all my life and I always thought they didn’t understand me completely. People in my life who care enough are possibly reluctant to ‘rock the boat’ with the unvarnished truth. Only someone who had lost me for good but still had some sentimentality left could point this out to me. And that someone indeed was an ex-boyfriend.

There is closure too. Sometimes you don’t even realize how much baggage you are carrying until you meet the person who gave you all that garbage to tote around in the first place. Then you realize that you may as well put both him and your memories back where they belong….in the past. Occasionally, very occasionally you might realize that there are more ways than one that a person can be a part of you life. That is rare. But you never know. You just might get lucky. In a different way from when you were dating.

I have come a good, long way. For all my tomboyishness I had a naive fairytale dream of meeting my one and only true love and settling down with him in the suburbs and having 2.5 kids. Well there have been more than one, hardly any of them true and none I suspect, were love. I don’t think it is a bad thing anymore, no matter how it sounds. Each one of them has been an experience, a learning about myself and about life. How many would-be feminists realize that they’re almost worse than the men they battle? How often does a strong person realize how weak he is? Or a weak person, how strong she is?

My heart is a scrap-book of mixed memories.

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