At this point in our collective dating lives, I imagine we’ve all accumulated enough horror stories about ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends to fill a two-volume novel. Whether it’s the psycho stalker, the asshole who locks you—and your stuff—out of the apartment, or the blackmailer who posts naked photos of you on all of their social networking channels, there’s nothing worse than a butt-hurt former lover with an axe to grind. Luckily, I have had the pleasure of keeping most of my exes as friends. Some of which I still email with, joke with about old times over the phone, or share the occasional happy hour libation. I’ve only had one ex who really lost the script after our breakup and behaved so badly I had to change my phone number—twice.
Back in 2005, I was a full-time student and struggling freelancer who had no time to socialize and even less time to date. I was tired of using the same circle of friends as a conduit for romance, so in a bold attempt to rekindle my love mojo, I signed up for an online dating site. And not one with the “measure your long-term compatibility” bullshit. No, this was the era of Nerve.com, the notorious online dating destination known for its hot hipster singles, most of them looking for no-strings romps. Perfect. After I created my profile, added a coquettish picture, and filled out the requisite information with as much humor as I could muster while writing back-to-back papers on Spenser and eight record reviews for the music mag, I sat back and waited for the eligible man-dolescents to start lining up. And virtually line up they did! I was literally going out four nights a week on dates thanks to my Nerve profile.
Max was a seemingly normal guy—at least for my standards. I had gone out with about everyone in San Francisco, most of them were way out of my age range (Electra complex, anyone?) had major issues, and only wanted me because I was 25 and a not-so reformed party girl-cum-student. Max and I liked the same obscure indie bands, he had a deep voice, and an adventurous nature that was refreshing after all of the aloof and “over it” scenesters I used to roll around on unmade beds with. And just like that, it went from a casual phone call to pint-sized margaritas at Casanova to a marathon make out session in the dark corner of the bar while the DJ played obscure ’70s rock and Northern Soul. Coincidentally, I had a date scheduled with the DJ the very next night. It’s safe to say that date never happened.
I never wanted a boyfriend. Or, I guess I should rephrase that. I never wanted him as my boyfriend. But our chemistry was right on—well, that’s an understatement. I realize that I was completely hornswaggled into a relationship because of our incredible sex life. That coupled with the fact that summer was drawing to a foggy close with the fall semester looming like a dark cloud in the distance. So there I was, suckered into a union with a guy who looked like a deranged monkey when he smiled and used improper grammar. But he knew how to satisfy me physically, and that was my weakness.
So I quickly went from fun, flirty, and single to attached and confused about how I got there in the first place. But I was blinded by lust, and he kept me content by buying me pretty things, like naughty Wolford stockings, Led Zeppelin records, and expensive bottles of Pinot Noir. I was hooked on being worshipped, but this was far from the basis of a stable relationship. Looking at this time retrospectively, I also recognize that I spent very little of this period sober (I said not-so reformed party girl, remember?), and what we had in common was our consumption of top-shelf spirits, premium cocaine, and the mother of all drugs—sex. The more time that went on, the more I began to realize that our relationship was founded upon our sexual chemistry—it was a temporary fix, a moment in time, and somehow it managed to last three years. By the beginning of our second year, I started to have serious doubts. I slept with two men behind his back and fantasized about breaking up with him every single day as I rode the train to my cushy magazine job. Between his lack of ambition and his hopeless devotion towards me, I lost respect for him and with that my sex-drive. Without the lusty haze keeping us glued together, I knew that the end was imminent. I also knew that, because Max was so addicted to me, this breakup wouldn’t be an easy one. So I put it off eight long months.
With the realization that it was time to break it off with Max, I also recognized that I had gotten too comfortable in my current life and surroundings. It was time to shake things up. I did the most extreme thing I could think of. I decided to move from San Francisco to New York City with no plan in mind and no place to live. So with idealized visions of city life dancing in my head, I broke the news to Max. I told him that breaking up was the best thing I could do for him, and that it would light the fire under his ass to make him figure out what he wanted out of life. Because worshipping me had become a full-time gig. He sat in my room and cried and cried, wondering why I wasn’t upset about losing him. I walked him out, as he staggered to his car he looked at me like a puppy through the cage at the pound and I knew I was doing the right thing. As my astrologer so aptly put it, “Pity is not love. Let him go.” And so off he went into the damp Bay Area night.
But of course that wasn’t the last I’d see of him. He wrote me numerous love letters, painted me things that were symbolic of our relationship, and he broke into my house in an attempt to talk to me. That was the first time I changed my phone number. Frightened as I was, I knew he was just maddened by love and needed some time and space to heal. Or so I thought. As my plane touched down at JFK there was now a whole country between us. I began my life on the East Coast, and quickly forged a new relationship with a man I had been pining over for three years. Who would have thought that Max was living mere blocks away from my sublet in Brooklyn? Not heeding the wise words of my sage astrologer, I felt bad for the guy and emailed him back on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. That’s how I quickly learned that he too was living in Clinton Hill and fled California shortly after I broke up with him. “It was mere coincidence, right?” I wondered as I met him for lunch at the small café around the corner.
One lunch date seemed to rekindle a tentative friendship, which gave way to the dysfunctional dynamic of our recently terminated union. He took me out to dinners in the West Village when I had no money, or bought me glasses of wine when I had a hard day scouring the job boards. Soon I realized that it was like we were dating again—but without any of the lust to cloud my judgment. It became obvious to me that I really didn’t like him enough to be friends. And not to mention I had a new boyfriend that I was quickly falling in love with. The whole thing was flawed from the get-go. Again, my sympathy for him overruled my rational thought. The whole ambiguous friendship thing came to a head one night when he came over to my West Village apartment to use my Internet before I went off to meet my beau. As I emerged from the steamy bathroom I could tell the energy had shifted. Something was different. I asked Max what was wrong and he admitted to reading my emails while I was in the shower and came to the conclusion that I had no interest in ever getting back with him. I screamed at him, shocked by his idiocy and his disrespectful snooping and told him I never wanted him to contact me ever again. That was the second time I changed my number. That was also the second time he tried to break into my apartment.
That’s when the emails started. According to Max, I owed him money for the time he generously took me out to dinner when I was unemployed. I knew he was fishing for drama, finding some way to be able to write me off and call me a bitch. Fortunately, my boyfriend wasn’t having it. He emailed Max and told him that if he really wanted his money back, he would come and meet up with him in place of me. That settled the issue, and my boyfriend and I were back to domestic bliss while Max silently fumed in a dark apartment in Williamsburg. That was the end of the saga. Until two-years—and two awkward serendipitous street run-ins later—I got an email from my friend Kate.
“Hey, long time no see,” it read. “I wanted to ask you about your friend that’s on OKCupid. You’re in his photo. My friend is supposed to go out on a date with him and I figured I’d ask you about him. Is he a nice guy?” As I read the email I had a sinking suspicion that it was an old photo of Max and I. Probably the uber-flattering photo taken at my 27th birthday party. I emailed Kate, and she confirmed my suspicions. It was him—and me—in that profile photo. Not only that, the photo was at least four years old. I don’t even have that haircut anymore! It dawned on me how incredibly creepy this was on a multitude of levels—to use your ex-girlfriend as a “look I’m not crazy” device on a dating site, or even worse, to feature an out-of-date photo that neither reflects your current post-20s physique or your post-20s hairline. But as they say, how you find them is how you keep them. I met Max online, so in a strange way it’s pretty fitting that I would end up on his profile as a way to lure in a new wave of dates, our fate strangely entwined in the ether of the Internet.