I stole the idea from Kelly and am doing this for Blogging4Books. Blogger won't let me do a link in the word and so I'm just going to do the link Stone Age-style, like this:
The connotations of the word 'ex', when you consider it, are quite diverse. The first, and most pertinent to me at this particular moment, is the word 'ex-post'. I can apply this to my situation today, because this is my third attempt at starting this post. I keep pressing the 'Escape' button on my keyboard. By accident, you understand. Maybe the previous posts just weren't meant to be, you know, but I quite liked them, and there is no doubting they are a heavy influence on the way I am dealing with this right now, but I am trying to move on and treat this as a brand new post.
There is a benign sort of an ex. There are certain situation where the little prefix signifies a reduction in power and diminished ability to harm. Sometimes, if you add these two little letters, the word you add them to gets smaller, becomes less forceful and important.
Two examples of this are the phrase 'ex-boss' and also 'ex-lecturer'. Your boss can fire you. You boss can reduce you to a whimpering heap of please-I-need-the-money-to-feed-the-family snot and tears. Your boss can stumble across your blog and fire you for it. Your ex-boss, however? Your ex-boss you can mock whole-heartedly. Your ex-boss is the fodder for anecdotes, for stories involving scandals in offices of yore, featuring the persecution of the innocent (you) and the tyranny of a cruel and heartless witch or warlock who will stop at nothing to make your life a sizzling hell (your ex-boss). Because it goes without saying that, and I think this applies particularly if you're English, stories of your own, hilarious misfortune are enough to perk up any social gathering.
You lecturer or tutor has the power to fail you. FAIL YOU. We live our lives in fear of failure and here is someone who can write it down in Satanic red pen and hand it to you, at the same time branding it onto your heart for ever and ever amen. Incur the wrath of a lecturer and you have to do extra classes, extra exams, extra reading, extra ANYTHING just so you do not fail in their eyes, and therefore the eyes of the Educational System To Which You Are Enslaved. But an EX-lecturer (can you see where this is going?) no longer has the power to brandish his or her red pen at you. Once you have got your degree in your back pocket and have spent a whole day of your life trying to balance a square black plate on your head, they can't hurt you. They can't get to you any more to demand that you read Ulysses whilst standing on your head and dancing the tango. Again, one for the anecdotes, for the amusing dinner parties and for chuckling knowingly to yourself at the mean law lecturer in Legally Blonde.
Harmless. Benign. Innocuous.
The other type of ex, however, is far more dangerous. This is the situation in which, at the same time as adding two tiny little letters to a word, you are adding so much significance to a person. I am, of course, talking about when somebody becomes an 'ex-boyfriend'.
It is difficult to know where to begin. I can honestly say that some of my most traumatic experiences have involved ex-boyfriends. "Crikey!" I hear you cry. "What a very sheltered life you must have led!". I might reply to you thus. Well, actually firstly I would take a moment to congratulate you on your use of the word 'crikey' for I feel it is underused. But then I would reply that yes, perhaps I haven't experienced real trauma, in comparison to others. I am not, however, overplaying the depth of pain I have felt in relation to ex-boyfriends.
I could start at the beginning. I could tell you about the first boy I loved, who, despite being quite dull and really 'into' Geography, had me entranced for years. I went out with him, finally, after years of me longing and him kissing other girls at parties where I had dressed for him and only him. He was nice to me, we talked on the phone about Geography, then we broke up. Which was fine.
(This isn't the traumatic part, in case you were wondering. I'm not that sheltered.)
I could tell you about my first six months of university, in which an ex-boyfriend made my life so difficult that I started to doubt my own sanity, and was moments away from transferring to a different university, until a true friend stopped me going and helped me believe in myself.
I suppose I could list all the boys/men I have counted as 'boyfriends'. Two have been six foot four, one South African, one half Gibraltan, one half Lebanese. One born in Belgium, but who claims he's Welsh. Three pure Brits. Most around about or just under six foot. A snowboarder, a skier, a singer, numerous students. Most have been really, really nice people. I wouldn't say I 'go for' bastards.
Three have lasted for longer than a year.
Two made me cry for what seemed like a lifetime.
One, just one, broke my heart.
I think that my heart was broken in retrospect. It was broken, not by a boyfriend, not by someone close to me. Not by someone next to whom I woke up every morning, whose lips I kissed and who gazed at me with affection and love. Not by someone I adored. Whose jokes I laughed at and who was blinded by love enough to laugh at my jokes. Not by this person who I would have defended to anyone was my heart crushed.
It was done by a stranger, by someone unfamiliar to me. Someone who, when he adopted that tiny prefix, not big enough to even be a word in its own right, lost everything he felt for me. He was no longer someone familiar, someone who cared, but in the space of time it would have taken to draw the curve of the 'e' and the final, decisive stroke of the 'x', any love he had for me just fell away from him, like he was shedding a particularly heavy skin.
So when I say my heart was broken in retrospect, I mean that my heart broke when I looked back and realized in a startled epiphany that the transition from 'boyfriend' to 'ex-boyfriend' meant that there was no obligation to care anymore. He wasn't expected to wonder about me, to think or care about me, so he just, didn't. He just stopped. Like that. Easy.
By having that 'ex' in front of his former title he stole power from me, he handed me humiliation, rejection and confusion in a pretty little bag, just the right size to be slotted neatly into the hole in my chest where my heart used to beat. I didn't want to be with him anymore, I knew that. I could not, however, cope with the fact that he simply forgot about me after he put down the phone.
I hated it. I hated every single moment of knowing how little I meant. I am, and will always be, an excessively proud human being. It is not something I count as one of my better traits, but I am competitive and pig-headed and very, very proud. I get annoyed if someone mocks my short-comings. I don't like people teasing me. I wish that were not the case, because I am fairly sure I am able to laugh at myself, but it just has to be when I want to, when I say so. I like to win. If I feel humiliated or embarrassed, I take it very, very badly. Even if I pretend not to, I do.
The fact that someone else had made a decision to stop thinking about me, to reject my offers of friendship and break my heart with silence upon silence, was almost too much to bear. I hated having all my power stripped from me, I hated always wondering why, why I wasn't even worth knowing, and yet knowing deep within myself that there was no possible chance of finding out.
I hated having to resign myself to the fact that there are some people who can just switch off caring about someone else. I am not one of those people. Sometimes I wish I could be. Think how easy it would be. Admittedly this would probably mean having no meaningful relationships with anyone except the face looking back at you from the mirror, but it would protect you from the worlds of pain you risk whenever you love someone. The hold they will have over you as soon as they become an 'ex'.
Perhaps it's only my particular make-up that forced my hand in this. My pride, fear of humiliation and propensity to overthink things all put their heads together and come up with the idea that to be an ex of mine means you can drain me for guilt, worry and confused pain.
This is something that ex-bosses and ex-lecturers rarely do.
I cannot, however, think of anything I would change about my relationship history. Luckily my first ever 'love' means that no man will floor me with his knowledge of landslides and contour lines. If I hadn't ever been with the one who made my first year of University so very difficult, I wouldn't have made the educational decisions that I did and so wouldn't have met certain people and had various opportunites that I am so grateful for. If my heart hadn't been broken I wouldn't have been able to re-build it the way that I have, the way that I like it.
Perhaps this, seemingly malignant version of 'ex' is not so harmful after all. As much as I have my heart broken and break hearts myself, I will never be able to stop myself falling in love, or in like, or in my-God-you're-hot-can-I-kiss-you-now-please situations. To have a team of exes, none of whom are very much like each other, is to have have felt things, and felt things deeply. These things last with me, they are part of me and who I am.
I am grateful, very grateful, to be someone who doesn't stop caring about people and thinking about people once they are no longer directly within my line of vision. I know that my pride and my propensity to overthink things will mean that I am always asking questions and fielding doubts about myself and my relationships, but I don't mind that so much. I won't fight it, it is who I am and I am proud of it.
I want to be someone with exes, ex-boyfriends, ex-lecturers, ex-bosses. Because to have exes is to have experiences, and I happen to think that they're quite good things, really.
I would end this post with a terrible pun, but I fear that it would result in an ex-readership. Which, you know, would not be so excellent.
(Get it? Ex-cellent?)
(I'm sorry. I just ruined it, didn't I?)