Exes are not just deal-breakers in the game of Scrabble, nor consonants that proliferate embarrassingly pleasurable science fiction. Nay, exes are also the term for what most accurately, if unkindly, can be referred to as romantic detritus. To be an ex is to inhabit a living limbo: no longer your sexual partner nor dead—neither heaven nor hell, in other words. Sadly, the word ex also provides ample opportunities for bad puns, a temptation I find irresistible in the best of times. And as discussing exes more closely approximates the worst of times, I bring to you exiquette—the etiquette of dealing with, and being, the ex.
Let us be clear. Ideally, your exes would live roped together in an enormous stable, where you could occasionally swoop in, let them nuzzle your hand, and occasionally take them out for a ride before you sailed back into the great yonder where better partner units anxiously anticipated your arrival. Short of that, the ideal interaction with an ex would be one in which you inform her that you recently sold your book/soul/rock collection for a million dollars and are pregnant, regardless of your gender, with Jude Law’s child. In turn, the ex would announce that since your breakup, she has lost, in no particular order: her money, her apartment, her mind. But because reality has a terrible habit of intruding on your love life once you put your dirty magazines back in their special drawer (or go offline), dealing with one’s exes often proves a bit more complicated.
The Great Relationship Ex-qualizer
For those in Relationships—the relationships that actually merit capitalization as opposed to the NYC-style dating accidents that fill many of the hours between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.—exes are at worse an ex-cema and at best a reminder, when your current partner is waning where waxing is preferred, that there exists someone with whom you once enjoyed having sex. In some situations, the ex is even befriended. However, this aberrant behavior usually occurs in communities so small that everyone must engage in the age-old practice of Sucking It Up—or more irritatingly, in Relationships so healthy that the ex is happily tolerated by both parties. Such parties are clearly too well-adjusted to consult such an untoward etiquette column as this and therefore shall not be referred to again. In fact, all members of Relationships shall not be referred to again, save for this handy tip: Simply by substituting an a for its e, one’s ex can easily be transformed into a tool for decimating one’s partner’s ego or achieving Relationship leverage. As in, It’s just that (insert ex’s name here) never really got headaches…
Ex-travaganza, Fellini style
For myself and many other single people I know, the image in 8 1/2 of Marcello Mastroianni bathing in a pool of exes who both torture and tantalize him, is less fantastical than mundane in its accuracy. Rather, the old country honk, "All my exes live in Texas," is just another dream. In fact, I was forced to flee my Park Slope rent-controlled apartment to avoid tripping over all the boys of my misspent youth who now push strollers down Seventh Avenue. In order to rein in the herd of exes that thunder through the single person’s life, then, I suggest nicknaming them as one does all one’s pets—for the trick is to put exes in their place, and to know which place that should be.
Sexing the Ex
The word trick raises an interesting question: Which exes are advisable to bed, and how? I have one ex, known as the Creature, who proved too wild and wooly to maintain as a venerable boyfriend but far too appealing to completely resist—at least until the Creature gave me smaller creatures (bugs, not babies). Through him I learned the sexiquette of bedding the ex, which can be summarized in three handy, hard-earned rules:
1. Only sleep with exes who you don’t secretly wish to date again, and who don’t wish to date you again. Creatures are invariably hurt if this rule is not heeded.
2. Lie, lie, lie. When in the presence of the sexually activated ex, pretend he is the only object of your desire. To date, the only women the Creature admits to dating are ones with my name or birthday.
3. Always use condoms.
Exculpation is recommended for all exes with whom you broke up because of a failure as romantic partners but not as friends or sexual partners. My first kiss, otherwise known as HTH (Hometown Honey), and I have had each other’s backs—even occasionally in bed—for 20 years, and we always will, so long as we never date again. The rule is that if you still can make each other laugh or enjoy fucking each other (translation for those in Relationships: making love), no matter how awkward it may sometimes be, it is best to remain in each other’s lives—for we single people need all the friends we can get. However, exculpation does require that, should you ever become a member of a Relationship, you select a partner who is one of those well-adjusted parties no longer reading my column.
Ex-changing the Pets
Other exes prove thornier to exculpate but still necessary. The Artist Formerly Known as My Boyfriend, a man I dated for five years, is also known as the Father of My Cats, and therein lies the rub. Though we broke up for acrimonious reasons, the two cats we rescued together were far too cool to divest as if they were just another Run-DMC album. So we’ve learned to be friends, albeit with a great deal of teeth-gnashing, in order to achieve an amicable joint custody. Initially, we communicated all kinds of Relationship residuals through our pets—à la What We Talk About When We Talk About The Cats—but now when I tell The Artist that our cat Ruby misses him, she truly is the only pussy in discussion who’s registering her master’s absence.
Sadly, some exes require excommunication—or even execution, particularly if you want to attract any future exes. Excommunication tends to occur when you unwisely extend your Relationship so far past its expiration date that your partner’s innocent inquiry about the weather incites you to scream, "God! You’re just like my mother." For this reason, I do not care if I ever see Generic College Boyfriend again.
Then there are the exes who inflict such serious wounds that not even my all-time favorite Ex-Man, Wolverine himself, could heal from them—let alone reduce the ex in question to a clever nickname. With such people, it is best to do what is always best when the going gets tough: Make like the Beatles, and just Let It Be. And with that, dear reader, I will do something I almost never do, and that is take my own advice.