Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Future Is the Past

New York City circa 1965? Nope. Tehran. Yes, that Tehran.

[Note, this post inspired by the latest Cosmocking by Holly Pervocracy. Express written consent was given. Read it! Cosmocking is something that, when I see the link for it, I squeal! It's that good! ]

Rowdy has a theory that this "it's normal and funny to despise all exes" attitude comes from a particularly limited view of monogamy, in which it isn't enough to only love one person--you have to only love one person ever. In order to maintain retroactive monogamy, you must declare that all previous relationships were false loves, and thus despicable.

My own theory is different. My theory is that a breakup hurts, so (if you're a little perspective-deficient) you see the person who broke up with you as an attacker causing you pain. Never mind that the only way to avoid this pain is to date one person your entire life--they're still a jerkface for making you unhappy, and concepts of "painful for him too" or "painful but necessary" don't enter into it.

I actually think Holly and Rowdy are both right about exes.

If your breakup was one sided or, for whatever reason, turned especially ugly, it colors the entirety of the relationship.

If the breakup was mutual and not based in angry feelings, then you may simply be telling your new partner "Oh, I never felt this way before!" to make them feel special.

Part of it is the emotional distance of memory, as well. If I ask you about a pain you are feeling right now, you'll give me adjectives aplenty: searing, fiery, electrical, tearing, ripping, broken, etc. If I ask you about a pain you felt one year ago, I'll get "it really hurt". Memory provides distance.

It's the same for love. If I ask you about the love you feel at the moment, I could be listening to your reply for an hour. If I ask you about the love you felt a decade ago, I'm likely to get "Oh, I loved zie with all my heart" delivered in a rather neutral tone of voice. So today's love, by virtue of its immediacy, might very well feel like the specialest love ever.

But the thing is, the way monogamy is set up in our culture for women, it's risky to tell men your real "number", and it's risky to tell men you every really enjoyed sex before them or that you were ever really in love because orgasms and love are for one man and one man alone. And if you don't believe me, watch movies (Twilight), read books (fucking Twilight) and watch some TV. I love you, I have always loved you, I have loved no one other than you as if love were oil rather than wind energy.

Which is funny, because my mother, back in the 80s, used to write for Harlequin's Second Chance at Love line, which were romance novels in which both protagonists had been in love and married before, happily, at least for a period of time. The stories were about people finding love again, presented in a natural "of course you can love more than one person in a lifetime" tone.

And prior to Prop 8, I don't really remember such open frothing rage about gay people. I'm not saying everyone in the country was attending gay pride events, but it definitely seems more out in the open now.

And this abstinence only thing? I got comprehensive sex ed in high school. I was forced to put a condom on a banana more than once. Meanwhile, all of my nieces and nephews got religiously motivated speeches about crumbled up cookies and licked lollipops delivered rather pointedly at the girls in the room.

Abortion was a given when I was in high school and college. It was a right. You didn't send out abortion party invitations, but nobody questioned that it was an option. These days they're trying to defund Planned Parenthood.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, that though nobody seems to be noticing, we are, as a society, getting more conservative, in a religiously motivated way. The numbers of atheists and nonchristians might be growing in our country, but the fundamentalists are, to a large degree, winning. They're shaping the culture and shaping our minds. To such a point where admitting your have loved before, truly and deeply, is a dangerous admission to make.

And before you dismiss my concerns, consider one thing: Prior to 1979, Iran was a forward thinking, happening place. It's a little different there now.


  1. I agree with everything you said. However, I'd suggest that another potential reason for minimizing the love experienced in a past relationship is to bolster one's certainty about one's current relationship. "Yeah, I know my relationships with X fell apart, but the love that I share with Y is so much more powerful and totally different. I know we can make this relationship work."

  2. That's a good one, Jarred. I didn't think of that. It ties right into people I know who just don't seem to understand that if you have one crazy ex, that happens to everyone, but two is a pattern and three or more is you, you like to date crazy people for whatever reason.

  3. I'd argue for a slight difference from Holly's approach. Since most people have great trouble admitting they were wrong, the more so the more time they've put into something (see your own post from last month, "Heads I Win, Tails You Lose")... I think it's just easier to deem that everything which went wrong in a failed relationship was the other person's fault. That way such a person don't have to ask hirself awkward questions. This often means that the history of a breakup, and of a relationship, gets rewritten to make the other person the offender.

    But this isn't particularly gender-biased: I've known plenty of both men and women who made everything the ex's fault to the point that I wanted to ask "so why did you two get together in the first place".

    Fortunately, the abstinence-only thing hasn't been very popular in the UK. Particularly after we noticed that the people who do these pledges have at least as high a rate of unwanted pregnancies and STDs as everyone else.

  4. I never did get the "you must hate your ex for all eternity" trope in movies and other places. I'm still really good friends with a lot of my ex's, and at least Christmas card and facebook post on birthday's with the rest of them. Some relationships end- but everything you loved about that person is still there.

    I almost wonder sometimes if we do things because we're expected to. Like, we have cultural scripts that we're supposed to play out even if we aren't really feeling it, like ice cream after a break-up. But, I could just be the weird one.

  5. I think part of it may also be due to the idea of "love conquers all." (You may recognize this idea from such Hollywood movies as every one, ever.) In the real world... not so much. The painful truth is that you may genuinely love someone, but you still can't be with them, for any of a number of reasons.

    We're not programmed to accept that, though. The world isn't supposed to work that way. So it's easier to tell ourselves it wasn't real (and demonize the person in the process) than to accept that the love we have for this person (and that they have for us) just wasn't enough to keep us together.

  6. I'll repeat here what I said at Pervocracy: sometimes there's no friendship going into a relationship and that's why there's also none coming out.

    When I was younger I kinda thought of guys as an alien species; my interest in a guy didn't come from a feeling of intimacy and understanding with him, it came from him being cute and funny and flirting with me and stuff. So any relationships that I had were built on wonky foundations and after a breakup we kinda had no more reason to talk to each other.

    Also, my first few boyfriends were abusive, so I guess that accounts for me (still and always) hating them and hoping they suffer...but my initial point still applies. :P

  7. oh..................

    too much. you've been reading my mind again, PF.

    do you know how terrified i am of the future? when i was 21, i was totally confident that by now, things would have continued, that sex-ed would be getting BETTER, that BC would be the NORM [i mean, it *IS* the norm for everyone including some fundies, i mean, it would the NORM for everyone to calmly go and get their BC at the pharmacy, as a group even, without even needing to go to a doc, that we'd see commercials for it all day LONG, and it wouldn't be BS "if you have PMS/PMDD or acne or... then take this pill that we AREN'T calling BC"] that abortion would be easier to get, but MUCH less necessary - that gay marriage would be, if not UNIVERSALLY accepted, than legally enshrined. that women would be at least 30% of CEOs of fortune 500 companies, that we'd have a woman president [i'm accepting a black president in leiu of a female president - but sometimes it seems like i'm the ONLY ONE] and more women diplomats, lawmakers, judges...

    that, in short, progress would CONTINUE.

    not regress.

    on to relationships: i only have 3 exes i hate: the first one [who abused me] the 6th one [who poked holes in condoms to get me pregnant] and the 8th [who *really believed* that anyone who looked at me wanted to fuck me, and BECAUSE they wanted to fuck me, if he wasn't with me every second, of COURSE i'd fuck them all. i've never been so insulted in my LIFE, on a daily basis. just... *shudder* at first it was nice to have a guy who actually cared enough to be a little jealous - the first 2 days. after that... i should have broken up with him, but i can be stupid when it comes to hormones. sigh]

    the rest? even my ex-husband and i are friendly, if no longer friends [mostly cuz his new wife thinks it's weird, and you know what? if she feels that way, i'm gonna chill. i'm sure it DOES seem weird to her, and she seems very nice and they have kids. no skin off my nose.]

    but i don't get why it's bad - in general, if i like a person enough to DATE them, i like them enough to be friends afterwards. may take some TIME first - but that's what time is for. right?

    also: Cosmocking is A Reason To Live, damnit!


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