Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 6, Issue 04, Tuesday, January 25, 2011



The ex- files

“I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don't mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don't think twice, it's all right”
- Bob Dylan

Dealing with your 'ex' is never easy. It's as tricky as it gets! And we've all heard of stories where the boyfriend becomes the stalker, and we've also heard magical tales where they become best friends. Your story probably falls somewhere between the two extremes, but there are always some issues in common.

The classic awkward moment
If you hadn't ended the relationship mutually (which, anybody will tell you, is a usual case), you've probably experienced the awkward moment. But you are not alone in this. Relationships end for a reason, and when they do end, a lot of hard feelings remain. When you meet your ex, those feelings return to haunt you, and a slight blush - to say the least - is almost inevitable.

“My ex-girlfriend and I study at the same university, are students of the same department and participate in the same student activity club,” says a private university student. “After the breakup, it was impossible for me to concentrate on class lectures. I guess she was probably feeling the same way, as she eventually changed sections.” Things may get even more emotional if either of the ex-es starts going out with someone else.

“Should an old acquaintance be forgotten and never brought to mind?”
Can a boyfriend and girlfriend be friends after they split? There is no simple answer, since there is a wide range of situations, from ending up being enemies to becoming best friends after the break-up.

Many will disagree that an ex can be a good friend. “I have been in two relationships so far, and neither of my ex-boyfriends are my friends”, says a college student. “You break up with someone because of some misunderstanding, or because you are incompatible. That generates a lot of bad blood and negative emotions. So how can I be friends with that person again?”

But that's just one side of the story. There have been cases when the ex-es make good friends. “Anita and I dated for some time during college. We then split up having hard feelings and didn't speak to each other for years. But now, those emotions no longer exist, and although we still have bad memories, we decided to move on. After all, as we were in a relationship, we understand each other quite well. Now we maintain a healthy friendship”, says another.

But a break-up does not only bring the friendship of two people in question, it may involve more faces. For example, Prianka and Adib belonged to the same group of friends; things didn't work out well between the two and they broke up. But this brought new tension in the entire group. One side vouched for the girl, while the other supported the boy. And that was it. Now, the entire group is divided into two subsets, with very little contact between them.

On the other hand, another couple that broke up decided not to let their broken affair come in the way of their friendship. The girl says, “I don't want to lose my friends, including my ex-boyfriend, who was a great friend of mine before we went out. Therefore, when we broke up, we decided to close that chapter entirely because friendship is much more important.”

Sayeed, a “ladies man” aged 29, who is now thinking of settling down, takes a somewhat wiser view on the matter. “If you don't want to lose someone as a friend, make sure you don't go out with him or her in the first place.” Indeed, most teenage relationships end up being distraught with all the fights and bad memories.

But for some people, nightmares start after the relationship is over. Natasha, a student of Dhaka University, complains that her ex stalked her for about a year. “He used to stand in front of my house for long hours. He would constantly dial blank calls to my home number. He would follow me wherever I went. I was very scared.” Indeed, some people do crazy things. And we have all read repulsive stories in the papers.

The verdict of your fate after the break-up, in any case, actually depends on how you break up. Therefore, no matter what, try to end things diplomatically and smartly. If you end a relationship, try to make it a mutual decision, and then move on.

By Mulder


Interpreter of maladies

Dr. Nighat Ara, Psychiatrist, Counsellor and Therapist

Dear Dr Ara,
I am 21 years old. I lost my father when I was 14. For the last one and a half years I have been going through immense trauma and it has turned my life upside down.

I had a close friend on whom I was dependent. We started liking each other but for some reason he did not want any commitment. Last year we became so close that our relationship even got physical. Whenever we met alone certain things happened between us. After that, I became very possessive but he didn't like it.

Obviously it hurt me because ever since we met each other, I was the most important girl in his life but suddenly new girls started entering the scene. It was painful.

I always thought sooner or later he will ask me out but he never did. A distance started to grow between us. So I finally decided to remain friends with him and not interfere in his life. But even that bothers him.

For some reason, he cannot stand me anymore. He just maintains a formal relationship. That hurts me so badly. How could he forget our friendship? He says he feels guilty whenever he sees me. What type of reasoning is that? His best friend is in trauma and it does not even matter to him?

I am so used to him that it has been one year and I still cannot think of any social activities without him. He says he thinks logically and not emotionally. And I do not understand why it is so hard for me to forget when I previously had a boyfriend and now am totally over it.

Regarding my friend, I think the problem is that we were always together and now he avoids me. He does not receive my calls or reply my text messages. At times I feel suicidal. I cannot live without the previous friendship that we shared. I do not want any relationship with him -- neither physical nor mental. I just want the friendship back and I do not know how it will happen. Please give me some advice so that I can become normal.

- Tormented Soul

Dear Tormented Soul,
It is apparent that you are hurting a lot. From a psychological point of view- I'd call it “attachment trauma” which your brain is destined to go through to finally let go and be more mature in relationships.

You have lost your father at the age of 14. What kind of relationship did you have with him before he passed away? Have you grieved your loss properly? How did his absence affect your relationship with the rest of the family?

What is the length of this present relationship? I understand it has been turbulent over the last one and a half years but how long have you been close (being friends) with each other? These are important questions that need to be answered.

There is a serious discrepancy in your statement- “I do not want any relationship with him -- neither physical nor mental. I just want the friendship back…” Friendship is also a relationship. I don't think friendship can happen without any degree of emotional connection.

It appears to me that you are actually fooling yourself by saying you just want the previous friendship back. It is obvious, you are not yet ready to let him go, you are hoping against hopes. It seems you have developed attachment to a person whom you now perceive as both good and bad. Good because you are still holding on to the hope that some day, somehow, someway he will be good enough again to give you the pleasure he once gave you. You are holding on to the good and exciting object that offered the enticing promise of relatedness.

Based on object relation theory, a child throws temper tantrums (out of frustration) if a “good object” (goodies!) is taken from him/her abruptly and tries to get it back by doing everything possible. The child believes that if she is good enough, she might yet be able to extract the “goodies” again. So the child remains intensely attached to a parent who gives hope (good object) but also lets her down (bad object).

Your so-called friend wasn't ready to commit, so you allowed him to be physical with you in an endeavour to be as good as possible to keep the “good object”. This is one explanation; you may or may not agree. Eventually you became possessive because you expected to be rewarded for that. Unfortunately your friend has a bad part in him too and was probably going to reject you anyway.

A seductive friend is a bad friend who first says “yes” and then says “no”. It generates an ambivalent response which is both libidinal (love) and anti libidinal (aggression) in nature. Now the seductive friend is both needed (because it excites) and hated (because it rejects). This exciting but ultimately rejecting friend is not going to bring any happiness to you in the long run. But like a child you are resisting grieving the loss and relentlessly hoping to find the “good object” in him. You are resisting the fact that your friend is not just good, he is bad too.

The anger from the rejection that lies underneath is sometimes very misguiding. It can lead to an abusive cycle (lashing out sadistically to punish the “bad object”) even if the relationship gets reinstated. It is not so easy to just forget and forgive. The inability to express anger in a socially acceptable way is a deterrent factor in self-growth. This anger turned inside (“At times I feel suicidal”) is a masochistic move.

Any relationship takes at least two persons to make it work. If one person walks out without any evident reason, it is hard to live with that rejection. However, it becomes harder if people have unfinished business from their past losses.

Feeling the pain of loss allows us to develop our frustration tolerance level and act more maturely at relational level. When someone emotionally invests in a relationship, they take the risk of being vulnerable. Humans do it anyway as “to belong” is a basic human need. In a mature adult relationship, one tends to take the risk feeling compelled by their desire. Then one has to take responsibility of their choice of action too.

Now that your friend has already walked out on you and is giving you clear messages that he wants to move on, it is not decent that you keep bugging him for “friendship” (to keep the door open for another chance!). After all excessive neediness unnecessarily burdens a friendship too.

Clinginess also repels some people and threatens their freedom. If one fails to let go of a failed relationship and continuously harasses the other person -- it can be called “stalking” which is a legal issue about personal safety and freedom.

Nobody can force anybody to be friends. It is a personal choice. I'd recommend that you go for therapy to someone who has experience of working in relational models. The sado-masochistic behaviour that can get unleashed by an attachment trauma needs to be addressed.


Happiness once

By Iffat Nawaz

I found happiness once in a slice of sunshine invading my veranda, stepping messily all over my bedroom and climbing up right to my toes. I woke up with the heat of happiness on my lap. I smeared her all over my body, ecstatic to see she found me behind the concrete buildings.

The same happiness had also found me once in a living room, mid afternoon. It was February and the trees were still leafless; happiness was in a piece of wood, rooted deep into history and laughing at the present, not mocking but humouring it. The laugh was so contagious that I laughed too, and twirled a little. Happiness made me put on music and watch myself dance in the mirror; only for a minute before, she made me want to lie on the carpet, silently loving her. Happiness is like that, possessive. It wants all.

I thought I had found happiness in the cry of a baby, or was it a cat. I am not too sure. They sound so darn similar. I couldn't see the baby or the cat, but I could hear the loud cries, no melody, no tune, just sharp sounds, not pleasant, yet happy. Made me smile.

Happiness stole a lot from me. The thing is when she comes I give her my utter trust, every time. I hold no boundaries, no shame, no inhibitions. And to my regret I also show desperation and happiness fondles with me like a new but used toy and after she loses interest I am left alone - groped and tired without happiness, dumbfounded, trying to recollect what really went on.

But the good thing is, happiness returns. She is disloyal but not forgetful. She comes back with one of those smiles that say, “Come now, serve me, show me how much you missed me.” It's not even a smile really, more a smirk. And despite that arrogance I still pamper her, love her like she is a part of me, whisper sweet nothings into her ear, hug her tight while I sleep knowing she might slip away while my eyes are closed dreaming about her. I fall for it every time.

It's a typical relationship really, give and take a few numbers here and there and a few incidents. When happiness meets me in random cafes, hiding behind a pillar holding a coffee cup, I flirt like there is no tomorrow with happiness. I give her rides when I find her stranded on the road, I hold her hand when she doesn't know which direction to go next in life, I even feed her colourful meals. She likes food, lots of it.

When happiness visits me even as a dark cloud about to fall all over me as rain, or as a whale under the ocean in the blue hole, I greet her with a big giant hug. Not the two-kisses-on-each-cheek type but a real opened-armed-heart-felt-tight hug.

Happiness likes that. I don't clinch her, I don't make her make promises, I know it's best that way, without any commitment. I know she will make her way back to me, even if it is as the last surviving tooth in my mouth in old age, or as the first melodious note on the tip of my tongue. My non-committal happiness, may you live long.


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