When do you bring up your ex?
With me, ‘bring up’ is too accurate as I get so jealous I can physically choke on the emotion. I have two reaction when a current beau brings up the ex: I’ll fix what I imagine is a careless grin on my face, and freeze it there till I can nip in and change the subject, or I flounce out of the room, shouting ‘well, why don’t you just marry her then?’ (This latter backfires somewhat when they say ‘we are married.’) No, I can’t be mature about it; I hate ex-girlfriends.
So, should the man be open and forthright about the ex, telling you how long they were together and why they broke up? If so, then there’s the danger you turn into his agony aunt and he starts to get a wobbly lip. On the other hand, if he never speaks her name does that suggest it’s too painful and he’s not over her? What’s the best approach?
Well, I’ll tell you what’s not the best approach. Shug’s.
We were having dinner in Bibi’s on Dumbarton Road in Glasgow, sipping at our frozen margaritas. It was our third date and I was liking Shug a lot. We fitted well together and could talk about anything: nuclear war, strap-ons, Tommy Sheridan, and – yes – Shug’s ex-wife. He mentioned her on our very first date, saying they were still friends and often go on holiday together. As friends, Julie, as friends. Oh yes, indeed. Me and Sandra. Good friends. I remember smiling up at Shug as he told me this, thinking how mature and honest and decent it was of him to say that. No grubby secrets: he has an ex-wife. They go to Majorca. Fine.
But he should’ve stopped it at that. However, he talked about her on our second date, too, about how the poor dear is studying an Open University course and is so tired. She’s such a trooper! I smiled, but it was getting harder to keep that smile fixed in place. (Oh shut up, Shug! When he mentions Sandra I just picture a frumpy fifty-something. At least when I mention my exes I have stories to tell, and you can be damn sure they’re not about how they’re getting on at night school.)
So, there we were at our table in Bibi’s. I was all set for a night of rich smoky food, good conversation and hearty sex when Shug burst my bubble good and proper. As I lifted my fork to tuck in, he suddenly started more ramblings about his precious Sandra. He didn’t mean any harm, and he wasn’t bringing up anything sinister, he was just burbling on about her. I put my fork down and could feel my temper starting to rise like a snake. (Stop it, Shug, or this snake will spring for you!)
‘So, Sandra always slept on the right hand side,’ he said. ‘The side nearest the door.’
‘She always liked to sleep nearest the door. Maybe it was a safety thing, you know. In case there was a fire.’
‘So I’ve just noticed, you prefer to sleep nearest the window.’
I grabbed my fork. ‘Why are you telling me where your ex-wife slept?’
Shug just smiled. ‘She’s my frame of reference.’
She’s his frame of reference? Not the most romantic declaration. Not ‘I am Heathcliff’. Not ‘take her and cut her out in little stars’. Simply, ‘she’s my frame of reference’ and, as long as I know Shug, he is going to refer to her, and compare me to her.
So, can I accept this? Thinking back to my ex-boyfriends, maybe Shug’s approach, albeit irritating, is the healthiest because nothing is being concealed. I once had a boyfriend who never breathed a word about his exes (though he did say one night, whilst stoned, ‘I’ve shagged between fifty and a hunner’) and this would drive me crazy. The closest I got to finding anything was when he got a new mobile and I was transferring his numbers across from the old one. As I scrolled though the names one leapt out at me. A tantalising, glamorous female name. I put the phone down on my knee and said, calmly and sweetly, ‘Who’s Coral?’
He didn’t look up from the cigarette he was rolling. ‘Lassie I used to go out with.’
‘Oh right. Where did you meet her?’
He licked the cigarette paper. ‘Club she worked in.’
‘Was she a barmaid?’
He struck a match. ‘Stripper.’
Coral the Stripper. That’s all I ever found out.
There was another old boyfriend called Terry Boy. I knew of his ex as there was a photo of her on display in his flat (until I moved in and binned it). I didn’t mind too much as she had rather prominent teeth and her roots were coming in something awful. But Terry was my first love and I was a daft 21-year-old so of course every feeling was magnified to an absurd degree. I could feel quietly superior to the buck-toothed ex until the day I found an old and very well-read copy of the Kama Sutra under his bed. It was a gift from her, signed ‘all my love, Belle’. I almost strangled with the jealousy. His ex gave him love. All her love. And a copy of the Kama-freakin- Sutra. Belle! The insecure, wobbly 21-year-old me couldn’t handle that appalling literary discovery. At this time, my sister and her husband bought a dog and, by coincidence, called it Belle. When Terry Boy asked what they’d decided to call it, I actually couldn’t bring myself to say that name. So I lied and said the mutt was called Trixie.
So, is it better to be like Shug and declare to everyone that you and your ex are best buddies, or do you hide your Coral Kama Sutra under the bed?
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