I recently ran into the mother of my sons at a music festival, despite my best efforts to circumvent both her and the past and enjoy the California sunshine. It's been 12 years since our split; the marriage was painful and I have been happy to move on and create my new reality day by day.
But saw me she did, and snag me she did, pulling me into her circle. I was polite and shook hands. "This is my ex!" she chirped to one new friend. "Here's my ex!" to another, with touching but, to me, unwarranted glee. And again and again, "My ex!" "My ex!"
That phrase -- "My ex." Wow.
That lasso of a phrase yanking me back into hopeless, oppressive days. That retrograde, strangling repo-truck of a phrase felt not merely unwanted, but like a double-bladed offense to my happy sensibilities.
First, I bristled at being described by her as "her" ex.
Or really "her" anything, anymore.
For 17 long years, I had been her husband, her champion, her distorting mirror. I had been her head cheerleader -- at first cheerful and voluntary, then later forcefully conscripted and dutiful. I had been her woefully untrained therapist. Her daily complaints window. Her resume-writer, her career counselor and ultimately, as it turned out in the end, an unknowing and deeply resented stand-in for her deceased father.
I had long ago thoroughly depleted my appetite to be "her" anything.
It seems enough that I am our children's father and she, our children's mother. I am eternally grateful for that fortuitous jackpot pairing. And to me, that sufficiently summarizes our current mutual positioning upon this spinning globe.
Now let's look at the other half of her phrase, "ex." In my eyes, it's a verbal land-grab on my tender and hard-won independence.
I do not identify myself as her "ex." When I look in the mirror, I don't see anything "ex" about me, save for a few patches of exposed scalp. I feel, in all ways, utterly current.
Despite her relish in marking me as her "ex," that menacing stubby hatchet of a word feels to me as if it wants to fell something autonomous and dear and well-earned of mine.
Namely, myself as merely, solely and wholly myself.
It also feels inaccurate after several years of being single. I have, over the past decade, enjoyed durable relationships with many wonderful women. Traveled with them, cooked with them, grown, danced, sang, learned and cried with them. They are all "exes." Los Angeles has become kind of an "Ex City." Many a palm-lined neighborhood is redolent to me not only of the sulfur of smog, but also of the lingering perfume of cherished amours.
She is neither "my" ex, but rather "an" ex -- albeit a significant one.
Let's all let go of the past, as surely as the future will let go of us. I, for one, would rather be introduced by my name, with an addendum, that "we were married once." Or as "the father of our children."
Or better yet, I prefer to be allowed to walk on by, eyes facing forward, rather than directed, through a language of constraint and possession, to the past.
Adam Gilad is an innovator, author, teacher and coach in the areas of intimacy, success and service. He is the host of www.stateofdating.com. His work for men can be found at www.ApproachConnectInspire.com and for women at www.TheRightManForever.com. Follow Adam at http://www.facebook.com/AdamGiladToday