It’s a quiet Sunday night when dinner is interrupted – not for the first time – by my housemate’s phone buzzing on the coffee table. A cursory glance and roll of her eyes tells me it’s him again.
Though Google searches lean heavily towards the prevalence of unhinged ex-girlfriends, ex issues are certainly not bound by gender or sexuality. I don’t know any girl who doesn’t have at least one ‘crazy ex’. And in a couple of unfortunate cases, it’s been me.
Let’s be clear. I’m not talking about violent or abusive levels of crazy. That’s a whole other thing. I just mean the misguided, last-few-scraps-of-self-respect crazy.
The wake of a relationship is tough to negotiate, regardless of circumstance or who broke up with whom. You can’t just flick a switch and expect to instantly become friends or, better yet, indifferent strangers.
In those first few months it’s near impossible to distinguish between your newfound loneliness, bruised ego and the nagging fear that you’re fundamentally unlovable. Do you still have genuine feelings for your ex or just nostalgic echoes of what you once felt? All this gets bundled into one big muddled sense of injustice, robbing you of all perspective and rationality.
What follows tends to be pretty cringeworthy.
It might start with apologies (for everything, ever). Then comes the bargaining for “just one more chance” (not like all those other chances, obviously. Look, let’s just… we’re boyfriend and girlfriend again startinggggg now!). When that doesn’t work – and it shouldn’t – it’s time to move onto the grand romantic gesture.
For the sake of full disclosure, some of my efforts include an exhaustive handwritten essay on why we should be together, belting out a meaningful song on YouTube with a ukulele (I know) and an expensive first-edition book as a gift, six months after the relationship ended.
Of course, none of these had any impact except for further indicting me as a ridiculous person. What I didn’t realise was that they were mere afterthoughts. And kind of patronising. Not only was I reaffirming our relationship as largely a showcase for my complacency, it implies the girl can’t be trusted to make her own decisions. Sure, she said she didn’t want to see me anymore, but what would she know? Here, this token gesture should swing it.
Another common play is when an ex tries to cosy up to a girl’s family and friends. This serves a few motives. If the girl severs all communication, you no longer have an avenue to justify yourself. You don’t just feel like you’ve been broken up with, but quarantined – a toxic influence.
So to get around the embargo, you endear yourself to her inner circle. If they see you’re a normal, kind-hearted person, word might spread to her, restoring you to regular human status. If nothing else, it might stop the immediate spread of anti-you propaganda. Only, it won’t. Because she’ll just be wondering why you’re trying to usurp her friendships, compounding whatever errors you’ve made by being a creep.
For me, I didn’t notice the absurdity of my behaviour until my friends described their own ex sagas and the parallels became clear.
By virtue of being trapped inside our own consciousness 100 per cent of the time, we’re doomed never to fully grasp the wisdom of a third-person perspective. Clouded by bias and grappling with cognitive dissonance after a breakup, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. You’ll think about it a lot without many of those thoughts being constructive.
There’s no simple solution, but it’s worth remembering that relationships rarely end without reason. Desperately trying to resurrect them is just clutching at shadows.
Things will improve. Just try not to embarrass yourself in the meantime.
This article was originally published on Live4.