Life Lessons: When the Bad Ex Comes Back

“I should have killed you when I had the chance.”

That’s what I should have said when he got in touch with me. I only wish that  I had. I thought I was being very Zen and compassionate and all those other character traits people are so smug about having and displaying, but it turned out I had just missed an opportunity to deliver the bad-ass line of the century.

Like a lot of people, I have had a terrible, terrible relationship in my distant past. The Bad Ex. He was brilliant, analytic and wildly jealous. The power dynamic was greatly in his favor. To keep the jealousy in check, he worked very hard to destroy my self-confidence and to make me doubt that he loved me.

When it broke up in the most venomous manner imaginable, I was destroyed. Damaged goods. I was angry – so, so, angry. Humiliated that I had let him treat me like that. I used to imagine killing him. Maybe I’d have to go to jail for a few years, but I was young and comforted myself that, in all likelihood, a jury wouldn’t convict me of murder. Maybe of manslaughter or something lesser. I figured I could do a nickel. While in there, I’d write a book, get my PhD, and maybe make some new friends. (Yes, yes, I know. But it was a fantasy.)

But I was young, and life kept happening. I met someone else, fell in love, married him, and went along with my life. However, when I went into therapy, I began to see how much damage that earlier relationship had done. And years later, when Bad Ex got in touch with me out of the blue to explain and make peace, I thought I could see things in the big picture. I thought of a Rumi poem:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.

I wondered if I could possibly achieve that sort of understanding with him. Wow, I would really be evolved, I thought.

He gave his explanation. I forgave him instantly, proud of myself that I could feel this way. We exchanged a few more emails, until I got  one discussing things I had done deliberately to upset him when we were together. He accused me of making fun of his stammer (I had never noticed that he had one). He talked about how he’d watch me flirting with other men and all the mind games I had played. (I hadn’t. I was still very new to the” interacting with men” thing.) But in his point of view, I was this calculating seductress who enjoyed toying with him and other men. The list went on.

The light bulb went off: throughout our relationship, he never saw me as a human being. I was some two-dimensional character he had created and then viewed through a warped prism. Years later, he still thought I deserved what he did. And I had forgiven him.

Oh God. My first love was with someone who had never seen me at all, who was in all likelihood mentally ill. Our “love” never existed. That was hard to wrap my head around.

I talked to my friends about their epic relationship fails, the ones where they were left wondering how someone they loved could have possibly been so cruel or unfeeling.  The ones that tainted every relationship after. The Bad Exes. I started to notice a pattern. They would be in a terrible relationship, it would end, and they would  slowly heal. Years later, long after they moved on, the person who hurt them would get back in touch to apologize, or more likely, to explain their behavior. Initially, they were pleased to have this closure. Maybe something good could be salvaged – not all of their memories needed to be poisoned. Then they thought about it some more, and invariably, the explanations that had seemed so satisfactory when first heard were actually insufficient. The explanations ended up doing more for the apologizer, not the apologizee.

The bigger reality is that if you have a Bad Ex, you might find yourself getting the explanation you wanted. You might hear the apology you deserved. It’s much more likely, though, that you’ll allow your ex to feel better, while you get next to nothing. You might even get angry or sad again.  You might hear some things that get under your skin. Bad Ex has done it again.

So, here’s what I’ve learned: Prepare for the worst. Practice your devastating lines. Deliver them. Don’t forgive too quickly, and don’t ever, EVER, take the high road. Don’t be like me, sadly imagining saying something supercool, but then not doing it in the name of compassion and maturity. Let me be your cautionary tale.

(Bet you didn’t expect that ending, huh?)

By Moretta

Moretta will take that applause. Her Twitter is

3 replies on “Life Lessons: When the Bad Ex Comes Back”

I don’t have a real Ex, but a Bad First Kiss who still manages to make me cringe when I think of him. I’m happy that I can easily keep him out of my life and don’t expect (nor hope) that he’ll ever show up again. No matter that it was only a couple of months of teenager love, it simply wrecks you.

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