Thursday, 24 May 2018

The (Crazy) Ex-Girlfriend

I came to a realisation the other day, that I am someone’s crazy ex (well probably more than one person’s if we’re honest.) I have never considered myself a particularly clingy or needy person, I barely even consider myself monogamous if we’re honest. Yet these slightly basic people who I have previously dated have sent me spiraling off the deep end when I inevitably get bored and leave them.
I'm not talking about the American movie cuteness of drinking a bit too much tequila and rebounding onto someone who just so happens to be ‘the one.’ We’re talking ‘I can live on sour skittles and five-pound red wine for a fortnight’ (it's a skill I promise). We’re also talking about the fact that I keep my exes, they must stay in my life, they are mine, casually collecting them like some weird hoarder.

In this sense, we’re talking about their perception of me. They definitely consider me crazy here, even though I have invariably left them and hurt them far more than they have me. They express concern to mutual friends, ask when I last ate concernedly (why this morning I had six green skittles thank you for asking), or think I am sleeping with everything that moves (I am.) They are assuming that this is as destructive for me as them.  

I’m not exactly trying to justify any of this as sane, my questions in examining the ‘crazy ex’ trope are twofold. First of all, why am I, and so many intelligent women who have it all (stop I’m blushing), so destroyed by the occurrence of a break up that is so obviously inevitable? Secondly, why has this crazy ex-girlfriend trope grown to such an extent that the demonisation of an ex now extends to the whole of the relationship, the warning signs at the beginning and the crazy eyes etc.

Let’s start with justifying and owning our own brand of crazy, by us I mean, us crazy exes (though admittedly tinged more with my own experience). Not just justifying, but understanding why the loss of a person who was never really ours or right for us necessarily to start off with, hurts so much. I had so many ‘false start’ breakups in my last relationship that by the time it actually came around I thought I would be immune to it. More fool me. Instead, every insecurity, every jealousy, every fight and perceived slight suddenly echoed in the void he has left. I think the reason the crazy comes out is that of this aforementioned void being the primary reason.

People craft habits with us; mealtimes, in-jokes, texting habits or patterns and so on. In fact, yes texting patterns are the perfect example of this habitual use of another person, the ex-addiction if you will. When you check your phone and see a person’s name on the screen, someone you want to talk to, endorphins are released in your brain. The more often you text this person and receive texts back the stronger the causal link in your brain between this person and happiness gets. That's why, for a while after a breakup, the same happiness can be achieved by cyberstalking or indeed sending drunk texts and getting ‘go to bed Tash' texts back. These are also both ‘crazy’ behaviors. Yet there’s logic here, there’s science. Your brain takes a while to rewrite its causal link paths (I’m sure there's a science word here but my pseudoscience only extends so far).

Now that we’ve clarified I’m not completely nuts for wanting to keep people I’ve broken up with in my life we can address the real issue. If we’re all crazy, or rather if we all react in the same predictable, slightly obsessive, slightly sad way, then why on earth do we feel so guilty? Why does the crazy ex-story elicit universal sympathy for the ‘non-crazy party’ when told in groups? Why does it become a female issue, it's always my crazy ex-girlfriend?

Is it a pseudo-macho thing about men expressing this pain differently? Is it that men’s behavior in these situations is more threatening and therefore not entertaining enough to be a trope? Or is that just it and straight men do exactly the same thing but are not demonised into a trope in the same way as women. I say straight men because A) I do not have much experience of relationships as a gay man and B) the tropes in social consciousness and media indicate that gay men are equally victimised by this crazy ex-trope, probably in much the same way as they are overly feminised in TV/ fiction.

Indeed a lot of the ‘previous pointers of crazy throughout the relationship are shared by men. Obsessive jealousy about one particular person? Done. Playing it cool then suddenly super needy? Done. Liking things in a certain way and sulking when they don’t get it? Done. Again, more my personal experience, but I’m sure you have your own examples of this hypocrisy.

It annoys me, to go back to the relationship and claim it was never right, that she was never sane, that you were never happy. Trash talking an ex is trashy unless it's among close friends. These intimacies: who they were jealous about and so on, that’s between you. Indeed, to an extent, jealousy, clinginess, the occasional post-breakup drunk text aren’t proof of insanity so much as the intensity of a feeling. So don’t trash talk someone’s feelings for you.

I say all of this within reason, if they’ve broken into your house and murdered your dog and used its entrails to write their name on your front lawn, then, and only then, may you call them crazy. Not just because they have cried down the phone to you on a night out because they found out you moved on. Some people find habits harder to break after all.

Tash is a writer hailing from London but now making her way north.  Living in York, she spends her days in culinary delight; despite relying on getting her sustenance from toast as an artist, writer and cook she truly is a renaissance woman. As a firm believer in the healing power of food and a strong drink, her effortless air both inspires and excites.

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