The other day I was chatting with two colleagues and friends–one engaged, the other recently married–when we somehow started talking about the persistent trickiness of dealing with ex-es.
One of them brought something up with which I, and I’m gonna guess most of you, can relate: he said that, practically everywhere his wife goes, she runs into an ex-girlfriend of his. They don’t really know each other, but they know who each other are, and for some reason constantly see each other places. Especially, he said, those that are uncomfortable to begin with: locker rooms at the university, waiting rooms of gynecologists’ offices.
My other friend and I both winced in empathy.
I immediately thought of the girl, an ex of an ex, who I seem to cross paths with all the time–not in quite such painful circumstances, but still with substantial awkwardness.
Once, when I was dating that tall, highly Anglo guy last semester, we ran into her at a coffee shop. I’d been waiting for him to meet me, and after he came in and sat down, he said he had to get up and say hello to her. They chatted for a few minutes, hugged, and I recognized the distinct look on her face of a girl with a lingering crush.
That night I found myself next to her in the tea aisle of the local supermarket; both of us tried to look absorbed in the Oolongs and Chamomiles and pretended not to recognize each other. My roommate was with me, and on our way out I tried to point her out for the requisite assurance that I was better looking. There was a good hundred yards between the checkout where we stood and the produce aisle where she was examining Braeburns, but my roommate–good girlfriend that she is–did the job.
“She looks short,” she said.
“Totally!” I agreed, as though everyone knew men hate small women.
“She’s really skinny,” I moaned to another friend later that evening.
“They always are,” she replied, wistfully. “They always are.”
For a while, though, I valiantly kept my mouth shut with the guy: there’s nothing less attractive, after all, than jealousy. But eventually, after we’d run into her a second or third time, I couldn’t resist.
“So, how was your girlfriend?” I blurted out in bed one night. I know.
“Here it comes,” he sighed, ribbing me immediately. “How long you been sitting on that one?”
Of course I got defensive, but in a rare moment of communicative skill he encouraged me:
“What else you got?” he asked. “Bring it on.”
I told him I didn’t have anything else to say, but that she did–in case he was wondering–look like she was twelve.
He and I are broken up now. Like, really, truly broken up. I have no doubt in my mind that we should be. But still, running into that girl at the coffee shop–as I do, still, all the time–stirs up a bitterness and resentment in me that feels eerily primal. As though if I look away for a moment too long she’s going to steal my eggs, or something.
I know this is ridiculous. Completely and totally irrational. I don’t even want to be with this man who I was once, sort of, with and she she was once, sort of, with too. She is probably a nice person–despite the fact that she is underweight and wears a choker. We were both drawn to the same guy: we probably have other things in common, too.
But I’m sure she demonizes me the same way. I’m sure she shares this same irrational, paranoid hostility, despite knowing as much about me as I do about her: next to nothing.
It’s the unfortunate way we tend to relate to the “other women” in our lives: women with whom, truthfully, we should share nothing but compassion and solidarity. Maybe someday she and I will find it: maybe one day one of us will spill coffee on the other and we’ll bond over our mutual klutziness and the way we both, probably, got hurt.
Until that happens, though, I’m going to stick to my usual stubborn aloofness when our paths cross. And I’m going to be grateful that so far, they only have in places where everyone is clothed.