I stood over him in quiet agony. Though the car door separated us, my slight height advantage allowed me to see easily into his lap. My eyes scanned the piece of paper lingering in his grasp. And I quickly deduced what I had feared: It was a letter—from her.
“Hey it looks like I’m going to be at least forty minutes,” I stammered over my words, though I doubt he noticed. And if he did notice, he couldn’t know why. “Ugh, the lady is giving another test. That’ll be twenty minutes and then my test will take 20 minutes. So you can go home.” The words took it upon themselves to form and make sense. My mental energy was elsewhere. I thought he told me he was over her?
Walking back to my class, I suddenly felt tension in my shoulders—the natural anxiety roused by a pending bartending exam, replaced by the first test of my freshly rolled off the press relationship. As early as our first date, Mr. Right-For-Now and I found it necessary to discuss our various pasts (see “Commitment Issues? Me? But Women Don’t Have Those” http://tinyurl.com/3ydpzy8). The then comical conversation turned into a much more serious one. Since (whether you want to admit it or not) the past shapes us, I’m always curious to know what ex-lovers have molded the person now before me. So he told me. His rundown of their life together finished with many assurances that he was over her. And I believed him up until I found him in the car re-reading a love letter—from her.
So the questions started. Why did he even still have this letter? And why was it in his car? What could he possibly be reading it for? Why would he be going back down memory lane? Did he want her back? And when he came to pick me up, it never occurred to me that maybe those were the wrong questions to ask. What I really wanted to know, what I really needed to know, was why her life and their relationship had any bearing on my life and our relationship?
In comparison with men, American society tends to assume women act far less competitively. According to psychologist Anne Campbell, author of “Female Competition”, since the 1980s, more psychologists have taken a real interest in female competition. Using an evolutionary perspective, they found that although women do not have to compete for short-term sexual partners, they do compete for the best long-term mates. And men compete for the same thing. When vying for Mr. Rights (or Ms. Rights), women compete on the basis of physical appearance (no surprise there), sexual reputation, and intelligence or competency. (For more information on female competition please read Anne Campbell‘s “Female Competition” http://tinyurl.com/2an67wl)
Suddenly, I understood why I knew exactly what Mr. Right-For-Now’s ex-mate looked like before I even knew her name; why I’d spent countless hours of conversation and Facebook searches digging up information on her—on them; and why it was even important for me to know in the first place. One word—competition. In essence, the case of the ex becomes good old-fashioned survival of the fittest. I had to know I was more attractive, less whore-ish, and more intelligent. And if I happen to fall short in any of those areas, I must face the question of doom: why is he with me?
I concluded that competing with her and making comparisons could only turn out one of two ways. She’d be crowned the better woman or I would. Only thing is, even if I won the title, it wouldn’t change the way he’d once felt about her. And her winning wouldn’t change the way he felt about me. Winning “Best Girlfriend Ever” also didn’t exempt me from undergoing the next woman’s scrutiny. So in the grand scheme of things, did exes really matter?
My friend Confidence once told me the hardest part about dealing with her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend was that she “…might have seen her [the ex] as a lesser woman who didn’t deserve his love. But at the same time he still loved her and who am I to say who deserves one of the greatest things on earth?” And in that same respect, who was I to deem her unattractive? Or a slut? Or worthy of a dunce cap? At the end of the day, no substantial degree of idiocy or any insurmountable amount of slut behavior would ever make his ex-mate less deserving of love. And none of her inadequacy would ever make me more right for him.
After feigning happiness for most of the day, I finally rounded up enough balls to ask him about the letter.
“At the job fair we went to last week, I was cleaning out a notebook for [my brother] Thomas, the letter was in there so I ripped it out and threw it in the glove compartment real quick,” he’d responded, “and when you came out to the car I was preparing to throw it away.” Just like that, he solved the mystery. Case of the ex closed. My own thoughts had filled in the blanks, placed feelings where they no longer existed.
***Please enjoy the song that I named this piece after!