Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Ex-Files

They exist as stories. Legends, actually. Whispers on the wind of times long gone. Or sometimes, grumblings under the breath. And like a kid at camp, while you shudder to hear their sordid tales, you can't seem to turn away. Who are they? The guy with the hook? The creep who was calling the babysitter from inside the house? The boogeyman?

Nope. Even more frightening.

The Ex-boyfriend or Ex-girlfriend.

If you're over 16, you've dated someone with an ex. And it's never fun. If they were good, you feel bad. If they were bad, it makes you question your honey's judgment. Either way, you don't want to hear about ‘em.

Everyone wants to think they're the first. The first to kiss ‘em. The first to take ‘em to a fancy dinner. Heck, the first to split a cheeseburger with them at the bowling alley. It makes you feel good. Special, even. Because, in your head, no one else could do this for your significant other. Wrong.

Sorry, Charlie. You're not first. Heck, sometimes, you're not even the second guy to win her a stuffed animal at the fair. And ladies, you're not the first one to get him to dress up in a nice suit. Sad part is, the older you are while you're dating, the smaller your chances get of being someone's first (or best) anything.

Makes you mad, doesn't it? It's like getting a car that's a lease buy-back. Someone else got all the good miles. Someone else took it for its first oil change, road trip, and tune-up. Someone else pre-set the stations. Now the A/C doesn't work and it leaks oil.

If you think about it that way, you're not getting a new car. You just have someone else's old car.

Yeah, just the mention of the ex is enough to have you grinding your teeth and balling your fists. And the ex will come up more often than you think, and more often than you'd like. During arguments, mostly, which just isn't fair, especially if one partner doesn't have as extensive a library of ex's as the other to draw from. You look like a real monkey if you keep referring back to the one bitchy girl you dated back in high school.

Anyhow, you'll eventually find the love letters he got from her. Her friends will compare you to him, often in your favor. She may wear his old flannel shirt to bed, never having a second thought. Or he may wear her old bra around the house. (Hmph. Well, that's a whole other rant.)

First of all--keeping stuff is just a big mistake. For one thing, one of the only redeeming parts about breaking up or getting dumped is burning, breaking, trashing, or giving away all the stuff you ever shared with them. But some people hold on. The best is when you're looking through photo albums and hit the "Ex Boyfriend Memorial" page. Then one of two things happens. You're rushed to the next page, or you're then regaled with stories about "Todd the Great." This mostly depends on how serious you are.

And, of course, nothing is worse than the baggage that a bad ex leaves behind. I'm not talking about the matching American Tourister set they bought together for their trip to Aruba, either. Is there anything more disturbing than being accused of doing something that the ex (who she refers to as "the jackass" used to do? What is that about? Is that something to keep the current beau in check? A little way of saying "if you do this, too, I'll break up with you just like him?" Look, Joanie, I channel surf. He channel surfed. It's a guy thing, not a jackass thing. So, quit it.

Rest assured, though, guys are just as guilty. "You know, Janice used to talk to me like that, and I hated it." "Oh, well Cindy used to iron my shirts for me while cooking dinner and rubbing my feet. (sad eyes)" You know what, Gomer? If she did, and that's a BIIIG if, I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that's why she left you.

But on the upside, exes provide a valuable service. They work the kinks out. They learn the hard way that your girlfriend doesn't like to be addressed as "the li'l wom'n." Or that your boyfriend simply will not be spoken to as if he were a child. Thanks to them, you hear all this in the first couple of dates instead of over the first couple of years. And if you're a good one, they'll appreciate you that much more.

You know what? Forget that car thing, and think about it this way. It's like sending someone through the (emotional) minefield before you show up. Or beaming down to the planet with a guy in a red shirt. You're safe. It's the other one who will end up legless, eaten by the Horta, or ultimately not get an invitation to your wedding. Hmmm--maybe everyone should be required to have a couple of really crappy, dysfunctional relationships before they get married.

No matter what you do, though, the exes will be there, haunting you like the dates of Christmases Past. So, just accept your station in life. You were not the first.

But you could be the best.

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