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The Positive Side of Negativity

August 5, 2013

My dad recently wondered out loud how my ex-boyfriend was doing. “He seemed so lost,” my father mused. “I wonder if he got it figured out after he moved.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “I think I still have his number on my phone,” I said. “I could give it to you if you want to call him up and ask.” And I would have, if my dad had cared that much. If for no other reason than that I know the sound of my 6’1″, 190-lb. father’s booming voice on the phone would cause my ex’s sphincter to fail him, and I am a horrible enough person that the thought tickles me in ugly places.

I wonder why I should be so inclined to sourness. After all, I didn’t have to go through a lengthy divorce, and I still got to keep the apartment, cars, savings, and cat.

Then I remember who my role model was. In her last years, my mother couldn’t find anything nice to say about my father. The best she could come up with was a story about her first date with him.

“It was fine,” she said, and there the niceness ended. “He was polite. He opened up the car door for me, but then he went around the BACK of the car, which I thought was bizarre. He didn’t show up again for another two minutes, so I turned to see what he was doing. He was behind the car, bent over, hands spreading his ass cheeks, FARTING! And I still went on a second date with him!” she said, her breathily high voice creaking in disgust.

“That’s nice, Mom,” I murmured, knowing any mention of the seeming genetic obviousness of my paternal relatives’ flatulence would be sneered at, also knowing worse awaited if I said what I was truly thinking: This is the man you apparently loved enough to marry and have a child with, and that’s the least profane story you have to tell about him?

Granted, my dad’s reaction when confronted with the story was, “I had to fart! Was I supposed to wait until I got in the car?” Still, one expects to hear tales about one’s father taking one’s mother (pardon the heteronormativity, but American society largely fell in with Ronald Reagan’s view on gay people in the eighties when my parents were still together–namely, they either didn’t exist or shouldn’t have) to dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town, showering her with flower petals, every other romantic cliche you can think of, not ushering her into the car so he could have a moment to pass gas in peace.

But of course, my mother only lived through the first year of my own and hopefully only long-term romantic relationship and so only got to see me through the doe-eyed puppy love phase that can only be depicted with animal terms to accurately reflect the absence of higher reasoning that goes on during its tenure. She didn’t see the decline and fall of my romantic empire (might’ve only comprised two people, but it felt like a BFD to me), nor did she get to see me in the aftermath. Which is just as well, because evidence shows she’d have rightfully sneered, “I told you so!”

Because I get it now. I don’t know if it’s universal or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if other people who broke up with their long-term significant whoevers also tended to only reflect on the negatives in their prior relationships. Certainly if I had not, I might have flip-flopped on the issue of breaking up worse than a Massachusetts politician facing an incumbent during a presidential election.

Plus, as much as I hate to admit it, I still get occasional pangs of…something. Regret? Longing? It would take someone with more overall emotional awareness than I possess to figure out what it is exactly, but suffice to say I’ve had my moments where, in spite of the sheer substantive knowledge that I’m doing much better now than I was at most points in the previous seven years, I almost miss the little bastard.

Don’t get me wrong. If he were to show up on my doorstep now and beg for forgiveness, I’d spend a full hour doubled over with laughter, hand spastically slapping my thigh as tears rolled down my face and I turned blue from lack of inhalation. Then, once I’d gotten it together, I’d calmly explain that he had ten seconds to get off the property before I called the cops and alerted them to a trespasser on the premises.

But I do miss the man I knew back when we were both nineteen, had a whole bright, beautiful world ahead of us, and were only dimly aware of how cliched and presumptuous that notion was. The man I’ll find in pictures when, piqued to secondhand curiosity by my father, I turn to Facebook and Google searches. 2007 is the last year he’s had a visible internet presence, so what I see after I hit “enter” is that devious grin and mischievous sparkle to his eyes that I fell horrifically in lust with.

But since he has fallen so far off the charts that even Google can’t find him, those searches never turn up the man who was clearly struggling with issues that were beyond my ability to resolve and beyond my desire to address. And so, just like my mother after her separation and, years later, divorce, I mentally fill in the gaps, blocking off access to the warm fuzzy memories by dredging up instead all the idiotic things he said or the things he failed to do that drove me to whispering things like, “Now, now. He’s not objectively a bad person, so no jury in the world would go for nullification if he turned up dead.”

Hence the break-up. But because there is so much history with beauty and promise written into its early pages, all I could manage after the words, “I need my space,” were, “There was a time when I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you.”

Which I realize in retrospect is a fine example of a backhanded compliment. It was sort of like when I had to tell my community college students, “Your essay doesn’t have a thesis, you don’t so much present a counterargument as contradict your own argument, your ‘sources’ are E! Online and right-wing blogs that are too much for Fox News, and your grammar and punctuation are nonexistent. But hey, you changed Office 2007’s default font from Calibri to Times New Roman, and I am a sucker for the old font!”

So now, even though it’s too late to tell her, I finally understand. It’s much easier to focus on the structural and ideological issues in a relationship, not only because they’re so overwhelming and overarching, but because if you stop and focus only on how much you like the superficial qualities, you’ll never make progress.

And I do plan to progress to the stage where I can simply say, “Oh, him? Yeah, we dated for a while. We even lived together for a few years. Nothing remarkable.” But in the meantime, if I take my dad out for a few celebratory drinks when he’s finished a long hospital shift and then hand him the phone with my ex’s number dialing away, I hope I’ll be forgiven for indulging in an evil cackle.


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  1. Ashley permalink

    I like to think you get to a point where apathy replaces any disgruntlement… I used to call my ex “Voldemort.” but now he’s less than spectacular in memory– an aimless muggle, like so many.

    • I remember Voldemort! Well, not the man himself, but the stories. I don’t even know what clever nickname I could come up with for mine–Tyrion Lannister? Nah, that wouldn’t work…that fictional little bastard is one of my favorite characters in the series!

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