Okay, so first off, when I say “old” I mean actually old. The old boyfriend in question is forty and when we dated he was twenty. This is old-old boyfriend material. This is not some Lena Duham we-dated-in-college-cand-broke-up-last-month-in-Starbucks old boyfriend scuttle. This man and I have grown, though not together, and been in one another’s lives two decades. Old, man. Old.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all had that ex who we hear is getting married and react with, “Oh thank god. I mean, that poor woman” or, “That’s a divorce waiting to happen” or some other “Bullet dodged, The Universe spared my ass” thought. Twenty years ago, had I heard Mr. Not Mine was getting married, that would have been my sentiment. In fact, even five years ago, I would have felt sorry for the new Mrs. Grumpy Pants. But today… not so much. Today, my old boyfriend is actually a kind of a good guy. Yes, he is still prickly and self-absorbed and shallow and loves, loves, loves money! but he seems to have worked off the sharper edges he once had that caused him (and everyone around him including me) problems. He seems to have grown up. And she seems great. It’s weird.
Naturally, the successful coupling of your ex turns one’s mind to oneself. And this one’s self unfortunately turned fifty a few weeks before The Newlyweds wedded. This one’s self did not wed before her ex. This, along with the surprise nature of the marriage of Mr. Used To Be My Twenty Year Old Boy Toy got me reflecting. Have I grown as much as my once socially retarded ex? Why don’t I have a boyfriend? (Even a crappy one. Like, why don’t I even have a lame boyfriend?) And why am I not married? What’s he got that I haven’t got? I mean, other than a wife, which I am pretty sure I would just about kill for. Someone to help with the chores is worth her weight in gold. More than gold. Platinum, she’s worth platinum. Even if she limits her contributions to picking up dog hair and telling me I look nice, I would marry that woman in a heartbeat.
And this is a man who was a bad boy and I mean a bad boy by anyone’s definition. No one’s parents thought, “Gee, I hope they stick it out and end up having kids.” No one’s. He was violent and drunk and abusive and nasty and punishing. And I loved him with all my dumb heart. When we separated, I cried for a year. I left the state just to get away from the mess we had made. None of my friends were sorry to see him go. Half of them never got why we were a couple to begin with. His parents hated me. My parents couldn’t wait to forget him.
And now, he’s a home owner. With a boat. He’s thinking about running for office. He got a second degree and has an obsessive hobby that he is very good at. He’s lost some hair and gained some weight, but he quit smoking and drinks like a gentleman. It’s impressive. When I heard he had gotten married, I thought back to that time of loud bars and cheap apartments, that time when everyone seemed free and nothing was a big deal so we milked the drama out of everything we could. It’s like he walked out of the night and into the day and that transformed every part of him. He is, for all intents and purposes, unrecognizable.
Your fourth grade math has held you in good stead if you’ve figured out that when he was twenty, I was thirty. Meow. It was a problem then and a sore-ish spot now. Shouldn’t I be the more together one? I certainly was when we were living at my house and his dad paid all his bills. I was happy and on My Path. I had friends and looks and a career that mattered. Somewhere along the way, I fell back and he surged forward. It’s not that I begrudge him happiness, I don’t. He had two crazy ass parents and who coming out of that doesn’t deserve to be happy? But I had two crazy ass parents and have ended up not happy. I have ended up isolated and kind of lost. While Sir Personal Growth went on his Jack Kerouac journey to self-realization (funded by Mommy and Daddy), I went down the rabbit hole of sobriety. I turned my life around, quit drinking, became a respectable member of society. I own a house and an apartment. I have two dogs and grey hair. I buy health insurance.
Along the way, though, I lost my dreams. I lost the essential part of me that made me tick. I lost Art. When I was thirty, I was cool. I was an actor. I took to the stage like I was born to it. I made tv commercials and had small parts in films. Photographs of my hands were used on the cover of books and my portraits hung in art shows. I drove a 1964 Corvair. I smoked Lucky Strikes and drank Pimm’s. I always had a jar of caviar in my refrigerator which was painted fire engine red to match the cabinets in my sunflower yellow kitchen. Hell, I had a Chinese silk settee in my kitchen and it looked like it grew there it fit so well. My friends were writers and painters and vintage clothing vendors and musicians. My friends were artists. I was an artist. And now I am just confused. I moved to LA to get away from him and failed to see I was moving away from everything that made me me. The blood supply of my hometown was more essential to me than I ever knew. He stayed and I forgot to go back and now he has spouse and I have a Schnauzer. It doesn’t seem fair. Although this is a very good Schnauzer, I have to admit.
When he called to catch me up on Life Post Wedding (it was a City Hall affair) I almost didn’t want to talk. It’s not like he doesn’t know I’m floundering, but there was something so league shifting about his marrying his girlfriend and me still not having it figured out. Married people do Married People Things. Single people wait to fit into their schedule. I’m sure they’ll have a kid and the chasm between us, will grow wider, the marked differences in our lives more profound. They’ll take a honeymoon someplace fabulous, like the Dalmatian Coast, and I’ll worry about the fat on my thighs. I’ll think about where I should bury the dogs when they go while they buy this year’s Christmas ornaments. It’s embarrassing. Not for him. For me.
So, what is a woman supposed to think when her long ago ex gets married? How is she to shear off the times she spent with a man, albeit a young man, who had her time, her body and the key to her house and be happy to see his current life, which is completely removed from her, be a life fulfilling and enviable when she sees her own as lacking and small? It’s odd to see him as someone’s husband when he was a partner I wouldn’t have let take care of my plants. It’s like watching the sun set: it’s spectacular and yet it’s going to happen no matter what I want or feel. I have no control over it, it has nothing to do with me. What am I supposed to think? Is it bad to just think about the nice gift I have a year to get and wonder what in the hell happened or is that not normal?