There was also a time, I am told, when staying in touch was difficult. All my exes live online, and so do their exes, and so do their exes, too.
Exes were characters from a foreclosed past, symbols from former and forgone lives. I carry the population of a metaphorical Texas in a cell phone on my person at all times.
They can jump into your pants whenever they want by sending text messages that land in your pocket.
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(Are you sure you don’t talk about him incessantly?
) The ex whose name appears as an autocorrection in your phone.
Cutting ties is no longer so easy—nor, I guess, do we really want it to be. The ex who appears in automated birthday reminders. Even if you only have sex once, you will spend time with your hookup when he finds you on Facebook, appears in a mutual friend’s Instagram, or texts about a weird bump he found on his penis.
We gorge ourselves on information about the lives of our exes. Older generations didn’t have a word for this kind of thing—they couldn’t have. Even casual dates have expansive biographies to plow through and life narratives you can follow for years.
The ex you follow so you know how to avoid her in person. My peers and I have all these exes, in part because we have more time to rack them up before later marriages, because we’re freer about sleeping around, because we’re more comfortable with cross-gender friendships and blurring sexual boundaries, because not committing means keeping more love interests around as possibilities, and because the digital age enables us to never truly break up. Which is good, because shutting the door on something is not something we ever want to do.
) The ex who finally took your advice, after the breakup. Word recognition suggests otherwise.) The ex whose new partner blogs about their sex life. The ex who untagged every picture from your relationship. The ex you watch lead the life you’d dreamed of having together, but seeing it now, you’re so glad you didn’t.
You hear about their hangovers when you check Twitter for the morning news.
You see their new apartments when you browse Facebook at work.
I have 700 friends on Facebook, 36 of whom I consider exes. Alarmists fret that casual sex discourages intimacy. When you share your bed, your toothbrush, your sexual hang-ups, and the topography of the cellulite on your butt with a stranger, the intimacy is real. You are privy to information his family and friends are not; you know what he sounds like when he orgasms and when he snores.
Not all are ex-boyfriends—in the eleven years that “boyfriend” has been a name for men in my life, I have referred to nine as “boyfriends.” The rest are men I dated casually, guys I dated disastrously, make-out buddies, one-night stands, vacation flings, and a few boys I never touched but flirted with so heavily they can no longer be categorized as “just friends.” These people aren’t ex-boyfriends but they’re ex-something, weighted with enough personal history to make my stomach drop when they message me or pop up in social-media feeds. There was a time, I am told, when exes lived in Texas and you could avoid them by moving to Tennessee. You may never see this person again, but he will always be your ex. Like “dialing” a cell phone or “filming” a digital video, “one-night stand” is an anachronism.
Etiquette can’t keep up with us—not that we would honor it anyway—so ex relationships run on lust and impulse and nosiness and envy alternating with fantasy.