Today's ex is a new beast.
We have more of them than generations past did, for starters. Cellphones, texts, instant messaging, social networking and e-mail can keep exes tethered to each other, even if there is no intimacy left, or hope. And there is the new habit many have of keeping a small army of exes around as friends.
"What these cultural changes amount to is a lot of time spent on exes" and not on future prospects, write psychotherapists Heather Belle and Michelle Fiordaliso in their new book Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Ex.
The authors spoke with The Globe and Mail about how to manage relationships with exes - if you haven't written them off altogether.
You've coined a new verb. What's 'exing?'
Ms. Fiordaliso It means using a past relationship in an addictive way. You're exing when you can't stop Googling your ex, when you keep telling friends the story over and over again and just don't move on. And when you have sex with your ex - even though you've ended the relationship and ultimately want to be with somebody else.
You write: 'Nowadays the person who says she can't be friends with an ex is seen as unsophisticated and insecure.' You call it a 'cultural confusion.'
Ms. Fiordaliso We want to believe that we can make this seamless and sophisticated shift from being romantic partners to being Facebook friends and coffee dates, instant messaging and texting.
Ms. Belle I've dated men who made me feel very uncool because all these exes in their life made me uncomfortable. A lot of women say, "Well, I don't want to be insecure," so they accept all this intimacy in their partner's life that isn't healthy for the relationship.
Unless you share children, what's the place of an ex in your life? Is it an indulgence? What's the risk?
Ms. Fiordaliso When you don't have children it can seem a lot more innocent to keep exes in your life.
I have so many girlfriends who are now in their mid-30s and early 40s who spent the last 10 years having these casual interactions with exes, going back for sex or having them come over to kill their mice - getting little needs met. Ten years have gone by and they're not in the relationships they want to be in, and they're wondering what happened.
It can eat up a really critical part of your life very quickly.
You recommend playing a simple game like Bejeweled every time you feel an urge to Google your ex. That speaks to how compulsive exing can become.
Ms. Fiordaliso The Internet makes it so easy to feed obsessions. In an earlier time, if you wanted to stalk an ex, you had to resort to some pretty expensive and crazy measures like hiring a private detective or driving past their house. Now you can do the same sorts of things with the same intention but from the privacy of your own home. People don't realize how compulsive it is, how destructive it is to our life - and that we have a choice about it. We are so accustomed to acting on impulse that we don't realize the effect it has on us. Playing a game like Bejeweled or cleaning out your closet, it's not a distraction, but it gives you a time out to think about, "Why am I going to do that and how is it going to serve me and is it really going to get me to the end that I really want to be at?" Which is usually resolution or a new love.
How much of exing is a roundabout way of sidestepping grief?
Ms. Belle Addiction and anything that takes you out of the moment is usually about yourself. Nobody wants to feel pain: People tend to avoid it at all costs. Other cultures give periods of time for grief - our culture really doesn't respect it. With us, you should be able to get up, shake yourself off and go on to the next. It just doesn't work like that.
So how do you manage the ex? You write about erecting literal walls, like blocking exes from your Facebook and IM accounts, screening calls and e-mails and even changing your phone number.
Ms. Fiordaliso My son's father was calling me when my son was at school, but it was usually because he was going to pick a fight with me. So I stopped picking up the phone. Heather realized that getting e-mails from her ex felt like a constant intrusion and would throw her off her game at any point in the day. She set up a smart e-mail box which allowed her to funnel them all into one box, and she would look at those at a time of day when she felt prepared to do so.
What's the ASPHALT technique?
Ms. Fiordaliso ASPHALT comes from a common 12-step acronym, which is HALT: when you're Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired, you're more susceptible to your drug of choice. Other times when you're likely to reach out to an ex, or doubt your decision, is when you're Anxious, Sexual or Premenstrual because you feel vulnerable. In those times, we recommend that you sit tight and wait. People don't realize that they can sit with something.
Ms. Belle The biggest tip is to know what you want. If you want him back, at least be conscious of the fact that if you're texting late at night, you're trying to get him to love you. If you really want him back for healthy reasons, you have to consider whether this is the best way to reconstruct this relationship. Most people aren't willing to look at what's really going on.
Signs you are not friends
"Think about what a friend is," write Heather Belle and Michelle Fiordaliso in their new book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Ex. "A friend is a supporter, an ally, someone who's on your team. Does that describe your Ex?"
Here are 10 signs you might not be friends with your ex.
- You think about them all the time, positive or negative thoughts.
- They push your buttons.
- You hide your contact with them.
- You flirt even though you're not interested.
- You criticize their new partners.
- You engage their friends for information about them.
- You want to get back together.
- You're not in a new relationship and treat an ex as a go-to after an uninspiring date.
- You avoid introducing them to your new partner.
- You're still having sex.
From Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Ex by Heather Belle and Michelle Fiordaliso, published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2009
Signs you are friends
- Your interaction is based on a shared interest.
- You have good boundaries.
- You don't get jealous when they date someone new.
- You include their new partner in social outings.
- You don't know where he is at 10:17 p.m. (and you don't care).
- You don't have a physical relationship.
- Your friends don't raise an eyebrow when you mention them.
- Neither person has an agenda.
- You celebrate each other's successes.
- You help each other advance in life.
From Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Ex.