The Ex Factor

A page from Leanne Shapton's book "Was She Pretty?"

Exes. They're curious things because they make you curious. You want to know, but you don't want to know. And, if you're not careful, even knowing one "fun fact" about an ex can lead you down a rabbit hole of self-invented illusions. I know because I've fallen victim to this in the past. 

Years ago, when I moved out of my little West Village apartment and into my then-boyfriend's Upper East Side pad, I came across a picture of his Japanese ex-wife in a pile of random things on his bookshelf. It was a traditional portrait of her posing in a kimono. She had a prominently crooked nose and crooked teeth and, as much as I wanted to think that she was ugly, she seemed to look more beautiful the longer I stared at the picture. Her face had character, which made me want to examine my own face in the bathroom mirror, wondering if I had that kind of character. 

It was my fault, really, for asking him about her. I don't know if I was ever capable of being responsible with the information that he happened to give–I'd only retort with an insult. For example, when he revealed that his nickname for her was "Momo" ("peach" in Japanese), I told him was the stupidest nickname that I had ever heard. When he told me that she was terrified of planes and was constantly homesick for Tokyo when she lived in New York, I rolled my eyes and said, "Seriously? She needs to grow up."

My idea of who she was and what their relationship was became a thorn in my mind. I consciously avoided doing anything that I thought would remind him of her, even if it was something I would naturally do. It was both this strange, secret obsession and an imaginary competition, like a mold that kept growing in the deepest darkest corners of our relationship.

I remember one night when this manifested itself in the real world in a real way. We were having dinner at a Japanese restaurant and he poured me a glass of sake while telling me that, in Japan, the women usually poured the sake. I became irrationally offended by this cultural tidbit. "I'm sorry but I'm not a subservient little geisha!" I said angrily, before storming out of the restaurant. 

I had created my own monster and it took on a life of its own. For some reason, it was hard for me to let go of a past that he had already moved on from. Curiosity killed the cat, that's for sure. Everyone has a past. It's better to leave it there than to dwell in it. No, nothing beneficial comes out of talking about exes. In the end, it doesn't really matter, does it? The only thing to do is to live in the here and now and celebrate the time that you have together. As my boyfriend says to me, "I'd like to think of you as a virgin and that I'm the first man you've ever been with."