Getting Past the Past

This conversation between Miles and Melissa was bound to come up as she flipped through one of his photo albums on a slow December Wednesday night after a bottle of Cabernet and Chinese food…

“So, tell me about her,” Melissa asked as she pointed to a photo of a familiar girl snuggling with him at a chilly Hunt tailgate from yesteryear.

Miles’ gut told him that this discussion would lead to a whole bowl of wrong, so instinct told him to sidestep the question.

“Nothing really to tell,” he replied as if asked about the outcome of a Jets game. “We went out for a year, things didn’t work out, and I’m with you.”

This pseudo-answer didn’t satisfy Melissa. Couples are supposed to share everything, she thought. And by him pretending this time in his life didn’t exist wasn’t helping satisfy her curiosity.

“Look, it’s not like I’m gathering ammunition to use against you if and when we get into a fight,” she explained, her sentence dripping with anxiety. “But you did date this girl for a year; you did go away with her if these other pictures are any indication (flipping), and at our age any relationship that goes beyond nine months usually means an engagement ring was on at least one of your minds.”

“I’m just uncomfortable talking about it with you,” Miles, 33, replied while doing the whole “nine months” formula in his head. “I’m not sure if anything good could come out of such a conversation.”

Miles had experienced this before: Present girlfriend asks about a past relationship. He, in an attempt to be completely honest and build trust, tells her the details, sort of: How he felt, a review what was good and bad, and top it off with a cryptic explanation as to why it ended.

On cue, the present girlfriend proceeds to evoke the ex-girlfriend’s name every time she feels inadequate, angry or defensive. He then tells her to take a deep breath and count to ten, stating in no uncertain terms that whatever issue present girlfriend is feeling has nothing to do with whatever went on with the former Mrs. Almost. From that moment on the ex—despite body build—is the elephant in the room…hardly ever spoke of, but an ominous presence nonetheless.

But Melissa was rolling now. She wanted to know how Miles became who he was and more importantly, who may have helped shape that fragile mold.

The old saying is that with every goodbye, you learn. But Melissa only wanted to learn what made a relationship end when it came to Miles’ thought process. In short, she needed to know where the sensitive land mines were in his head, what mistakes to avoid and where his baggage came from.

“OK, her name was Elizabeth,” Miles slowly explained as if talking to a four-year-old. We met through mutual friends. Things were fine for the first few months but then her ex-boyfriend, whom she oddly stayed friends with, was popping up in too many conversations and he seemed to conveniently be at too many places we hung out at.”

His face pained like trying to hold in a fart on an elevator with his boss on board. “They always made a point to never touch each other when around me, you know? Never a hug hello or peck on the cheek goodbye. If he called, and sometimes it would be after 11, she would look at her phone, roll her eyes that it was him, and let it go to voice mail. It seemed like she was trying to make things look too platonic between them, and those contrived mannerisms felt even worse to me than if they still flirted once in awhile.”

“Did they go back to each other?” Melissa asked.

“Right after we broke up? No,” replied Miles. “But they are back together now. That news was the most unsurprising thing I ever heard. My only question to her was, ‘What took you so long?’”

Melissa could see the combination of ire and perplexity in Miles’ eyes when telling the story, but before she could feel remorse for making him feel that way, he flippantly uttered—no, chuckled—the type of statement one should never be flippant about around a current girlfriend when talking about an ex:

“Well, at least the sex was good.”

Melissa quickly went from repentant to repulsion. “How could he just brazenly mention something like that?” she thought. “And what exactly was he trying to say? That sex between them—Melissa and Miles, supercouple—wasn’t good, or as good? When he is climaxing with her looking down on him, who is he thinking of when he makes that nonsensical look she used to think was cute?”

Because of what ostensibly was an innocuous inquiry, these questions were now ones flashing like a neon sign on the elephant in the living room. Melissa knew that she had no one to blame but herself for feeling this way because she broached the subject, but curiosity is a funny thing. A quote from the Scottish actor Gerard Butler says it best:

“If you just tell the story of what the story’s about, then it sparks curiosity, but I think it also arouses suspicion, as you say, that can be overly sentimental.”

Jealousy is a powerful thing. And those powerful emotions are only exacerbated when it involves the verboten subjects such as an ex’s clothes, physique, happiness or pleasures of any sort. You may think you’re being honest when talking about past love, but in this case, taking the 5th amendment is not only encouraged, it is mandatory.

Do you think Brad talks to Angelina about Jenny A?

I don’t think so…

Later that night, Melissa and Miles climbed into bed, mentally exhausted by re-living a past that would periodically haunt Melissa and annoy Miles.

As they both stared at the ceiling with Christmas lights flicking through their Hoboken apartment window, each wondered if the grass really is always greener…if the good ‘ol days are always remembered in a more positive light than they actually were.

The lesson: When it comes to ex-anything, it’s always wise to let sleeping dogs, or elephants, lie.