Those who have been single for a long time will know that you gather up exes. The significant others who actually, in the grand scheme of things, turned out not to be so significant. Things didn’t get serious for long enough to cause a full-on heartbroken split from when things end, and most of the time you don’t meet the prerequisites to be banished from each others lives.
I used to meet boys via work, friends, parties and so on, so there would always be some tangible connection for us to bring up awkwardly in the morning or fill the gaps with on slow-moving dates. Rarely, if ever, did a romantic interest just spring out of nowhere, untethered to any other part of my life.
The problem with this, is that those I have dated tend to crop up later down the line in a similar scenario to where we first met, and consequently, there are exes everywhere. At a friends birthday; at the opening of a show; depping in my band; acting alongside a friend; even living in my house: the boys from bedrooms past are inescapable.
You’ll bump into people in the most unexpected places; on dates with new beaus or gigging round the country. It’s always a shock to find the scene unchanged; the past alive and kicking. There’s a mutual shock when our very separate lives momentarily cross again. Who has intruded on who? We scurry home, bruised from confronting the past and suffering the shock of having to remember who we used to be and what we used to do.
The worst are the ones no longer on your side or in your corner, or even on your radar. The ones you wholly forgot about, dredged up from the archives of youth, seeming no longer to be a real living person you might run into, but more of a passing feeling long resigned to history. These are the ones who haven’t been able to move on; so you glimpse them stuck in the same jobs, same prejudices, same flaws, same relationship-defying problems. They don’t move on and it’s harder for you to do.
I’ve learned the best policy is to stay friends, and I learned this from another ex who made sure to stay friends with me. We gained more in the aftermath of our relationship than we did being together. The best kind of ex turns out to be the one who still cares. They remain in tune with your work. They still want you in their band. They’re keen to know what you’re up to.
You can’t negate the time you spend with somebody, and even if you leave each other so thoroughly and completely that you can’t remember a single thing, it doesn’t mean the other person forgets. Sometimes the exes become an army, all jovial nicknames and knowing covert glances, laughing off the awkwardness at parties and comparing notes on how late you are to dates. It’s ok, they say through winks and hugs, there’s no repressed animosity – the teasing is light-hearted and we’ve all got your back. We’re pals now. Mates.
When a new beau arrives on the scene, the pack are keen to sniff him out: what’s he like? Does he make you happy? Can he handle the fact that you’re late for everything? Will he look after you better than I could? It’s easy to imagine oneself Ramona-like, with a League of Evil Ex-Boyfriends, but in reality we’re all just people fumbling our way through whatever we find. Trying to grow, and learn, and progress: sniffing out the tracks of others to see if such a path is possible.
The best you can hope for is an army where each fallen warrior taught you a little bit more, made you a little bit braver, and got you a little bit further to that far-off triumphant destination – whatever that destination looks like to you. And at the end of the day you can still go home to the new world, proudly recalling the briefly-used nicknames and fond first kisses; memories becoming tiny medals for an act that happened a long time ago.