The Case of the Ex

You know what they say about men – can’t live with them, can’t live without them. However, over the centuries women have perfected the art of cohabiting with their Martian-like brothers. Unfortunately, we haven’t quite figured out how to live without them. If I had a shilling for every sad case of the ex, I’d be a millionaire.

Conventional marriage vows have it that only death should set asunder what God has put together but recently, we’ve began to hear about women with no respect for the finality of death. Believe it or not, there are some women who are still so enamoured by their dead husbands/boyfriends/lovers that they hold fast to their memories even at the expense of a new relationship.

“I’ve been with Mark* through everything. Even when he left me and got engaged to someone else. In fact, when he died he was still engaged to her. But his family understood that I was the one who had always been around so much so that you would have thought I was his wife during the funeral. I even travelled to the village. I still have his pictures on my wall. My boyfriend doesn’t get it but I’ve told him that if I have to choose between him and the pictures, I’ll choose the pictures. Mark* was the love of my life.”

That’s the gospel according to Daphne*, a 35-year-old events organiser. Nowhere within her frame of reference does she realise that it is ever so slightly odd to choose a dead man’s image over a living, breathing and willing specimen. It almost sounds like an addiction; the question is what are we addicted to, love or men? Psychologist Judy Makori prefers the word “instinct” over the term “addiction”. “Men and love are a package deal that a healthy woman seeks out because an instinct within her drives her to do so. It may be worthwhile to note that it is only after a person has been able to answer the ‘who am I?’ question that they can move on to seeking lasting relationships. Once you know who you are, you need to manage your expectations. For example, if you were keenly aware that you are in a relationship heading nowhere, moving on will be easier however, if you were in it for the long haul, probably even foreseeing wedding bells, children and old age with this person – moving on will be extremely hard.”

Grace* is a 30-year-old professional in the banking sector. She is as successful as they come but none of her success is translating into her personal life. “Julius* and I were together for one and a half years and it was such a perfect relationship. Communication was good, sex was great. He was such a good guy and everybody liked him. Women loved him. At first I wasn’t bothered by all the female attention he got but I found out that he was giving some of that affection back. To cut a long story short, he was cheating on me, so I left him. We’re not together but he’s still single. I know he still loves me but I guess he’s just afraid of commitment. I love him too and I know he can change. Sooner or later, he’ll come around. I know he will. He’s such a good person.”

Here’s something I can tell you for free, not being an expert myself, finding a man who will change to meet your specifications is like a finding sea salt in a pile of sand. That’s why Mama always told you not to fall for potential. Love the man you’re with not the man you think he will become. But before you can love him, and even leave him, you need to love yourself. Judy identifies strong sense of self as a key factor in relationships and critically, moving on from failed encounters. “It is possible to love someone and be totally committed to them without losing yourself. The biggest mistake women make in a relationship is allowing their individuality and uniqueness to get swallowed up by the union. Their lives become about the relationship and the relationship alone. If you don’t identify where you end and where your relationship begins you will feel completely lost when it ends.”

But sometimes a woman’s relationship has become so much a part of her life that it defines her. Meet Moraa*. She’s almost 40 and is married with a son. Three years ago, she and her husband separated but have not yet filed for divorce. “He was very violent. I never knew what it was that set him off but when he got into a temper, all hell would break loose. But when things were good, they were really good. Finally, after a particularly bad fight, I packed up and left with my son. He really hurt me, but I still really love him. He was a great father, such a great father. And he was my first love, the only man I’ve ever known. Even three years later, I find myself comparing other men to him. We meet often because of our son and I know he wants his family back. I can’t trust him but I still want him.”

Marriage is a bond that binds. Classically defined, it is a union where two become one. It’s not a scenario where one plus one makes two, it’s a case of two people coming together to form a new creation that is utterly and completely intertwined. How is a person supposed to get over that kind of commitment? According to Judy, “Every human mind has been created with a capacity to love. We all depart from our mother’s womb wired for love; it is life that messes us up. But a woman with a healthy self-esteem and a generous dose of self-respect will hurt once a relationship comes to an end. She most probably will cry, feel low and even get slightly depressed but in due time and with the support of good friends, her inner strength will help her pull through.”

So it seems that all of us are created equal when it comes to love. We all instinctively search for it. But do women have a stronger compulsion for affection than men? “I don’t think it is just women who have a hard time moving on from their ex’s,” Judy says. “I think everyone in a genuinely committed relationship will find it hard to move on. But I will say that women are wired to be nurturers and relationship builders. By our very nature we tend to be more ‘touchy feely’, more affectionate and definitely more emotional. It is the way we were created; even a two-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl do not present the same needs. While the boy will be pulling away from affection and engaging in rough games, a girl will be moving towards it.”

So there you have it ladies, I have identified the problem and the problem is us. It seems only strong women can have good relationships and only stronger women can move on from bad ones. As Judy says, before you even enter into a relationship you need to, “…have a keen sense of who you are, understand exactly what your expectations are and work hard not to appear too desperate – never let a man disrespect you because when he’s done he will walk away.” And whatever his reasons may be for dumping you remember that there is nothing you cannot get over as long as there is life still in you. “Every measure a woman should take to get over a man involves self-esteem. There are many ways to move on but most importantly you should engage in positive self talk, ask for help from good, solid friends and guard your dignity – you can moan in private but in public, use every ounce of your will power to keep your head up.”