I hate your ex. You know the one. I don’t care that she’s a “really cool girl” and you think if we met at a party we’d be friends. I hate her, and I want to hate her on an even deeper level, so I have to know everything about her. When I’m bored at work I’ll google her and decide she shouldn’t wear orange ever, or really anything that clings (and everything clings). That her roots need touching up (all six inches of them). That her current boyfriend looks like a less hot version of you. That she doesn’t look that smart in pictures. I will google deeper, like a hate tourist, to find that her comments on friends’ Facebook pages are neither insightful nor funny (“Cute pic,” “Thinking of you”). That she uses the same birthday line for everyone: “Have the best birthday ever!” Why even bother? I will know from her local Fun Run Turkey Trot time (very slow) that she is not right for you. That you clearly had a lapse in judgment when you entered into a relationship with her. This kind of “research” fills a special dark part of my heart that also enjoys seeing someone in a really fancy car get a parking ticket or someone slip on ice (and be uninjured—I’m not a total monster).
I once dated a guy who had a big cardboard box in his bedroom closet labeled, in black Sharpie, DO NOT OPEN: WILL INDUCE SUICIDE. After dating him for a couple of months I got up the courage to ask about its contents. (My guess was it was full of either expired winning lottery tickets or chocolate-dipped cyanide pills.) It turned out to be a lot more ordinary but a lot more interesting to me. It was a box of stuff from his previous long-term relationship. She was the ex I hated. I’d seen only one blurry picture of her, in which she wore ill-fitting long shorts, a questionable fashion choice to say the least. So one drunken night, in not my best moment, I asked my boyfriend to open the box. (As you can imagine, I did not ask nicely.) He resisted at first: “Not a good idea.” “Sleep on it.” “You can’t take it back.” But eventually he gave in and opened it calmly with his X-Acto knife. The blade made a crisp noise as it cut through the year-plus-old tape, and the scent of vanilla filled the air. There were a lot of photos (she was okay-looking in nonblurry shots but not suicide inducing). A vanilla candle (vanilla says it all). Some books of poetry (boring). Some love notes (rhymes are for babies). Anniversary cards (trite). A stuffed animal (she didn’t know him at all). They were your basic relationship souvenirs, and I had him explain every one. He was a goodish sport about it. Eventually we broke up too and he got a box of his own in my closet, until I handed it over to 1-800-GOT-JUNK. You probably think I regretted my decision to open my ex’s ex’s box, that I realized I’d allowed my hate to go too far. I don’t blame you for thinking that—you’re a guy, and guys just don’t get it.
Guys don’t really want to know about our past. You don’t want to think about us having sex with someone else. But that doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t care about your sexual liaisons before you met me. I don’t even care if Alanis Morissette went down on you in a theater. I don’t care about that barely counts threesome you had freshman year (you basically watched two soon-to-be-living-together-in-Vermont lesbians hook up). I don’t care about the friends-with-benefits relationship you had in your early 20s that was “the best” until she went “crazy.” Essentially I don’t care where your dick has been (or hasn’t, in the case of that threesome). I care only where it’s going. But I do care where your heart was. Opening that DO NOT OPEN: WILL INDUCE SUICIDE box filled with the ashes of my boyfriend’s old relationship was absolutely practical. The contents revealed what Google and Facebook couldn’t tell me but what I really needed to know: the details.
Digging up info on a boyfriend’s past is like doing research on a used-car website. If you’re buying a car, you want to know what accidents it’s been in. What repairs have been made. You want to know if potential hazards lurk beneath a new coat of paint or pair of designer jeans. Your ex helps me with that. She’s like one of those bomb robots that are sent into dangerous situations first. She can report back from beyond the relationship grave: “Did you like her cutesy nickname for you, Pookey / Honey Bear / Babycakes?” “Why was that road trip so terrible you ended up calling it quits afterward?” “Did you mind her dog sleeping in the bed with you? What if it had been a cat?” “How did you feel when your ex made you go to dinner with her and her mom on Valentine’s Day?” Your ex is a “you” gold mine, a treasure trove of information about you! So I will continue to hate your ex, because it’s a useful hobby (also free!). I can’t help it. I just absolutely, totally love hating your ex. And I know I’m not alone. I’m sure one of my ex’s current girlfriends is out there googling me right now. If it helps, my middle name is Elizabeth.