The Ex-Files: Ex Boyfriends and Girlfriends from the Twilight Zone

The Ex archives and the archiving process–the meaning of storing, filing, classifying and communicating about exes and the final, ceremonial, cathartic exorcism. That could be a good subject of contemplation today.

Why do we keep returning to the Ex-Files in life and literature over and over?


In Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, for example, there is a big bonfire of letters and mementos from exes ceremonially burnt, albeit in mock-heroic fashion. Our culture’s more recent obsession, Sex and the City, is a whole series’ worth of testimonies to exes. More than one legal TV drama has had tension built through the Ex presence, both amongst lawyers and clients. To mention nothing  of a whole industry that has sprung up around exes–advice manuals, self-help books, dating forums. It seems like we haven’t “moved on” at all as a culture and we aren’t looking for “closure” anytime soon.

For the purposes of this piece, we leave out the obvious. The heart wrenching, painful separations that turn a human into an Ex. We will concentrate on our culture’s obsessive compulsion with listing, classifying, documenting and constantly talking about exes–a subject which, in many inward turning cultures, was, and still is, best left alone.

Why then, do we archive the Ex-Files and keep going back to the twilight zone of our lives?

A nice conversation starter? People attempt the ex conversation at potluck parties (when evening fades into the alcohol enhanced haze of the night), on first dates (with limited success?), even on long bus journeys. It’s often a bonding ritual for many–“my ex,” “your ex.”

Creation of the self through exes. Many people, it seems to me, like to think of themselves as starting at tabula rasa stage. The self as a blank slate. An illusion, a fiction, but real nonetheless. They are blank sheets that get written over by myriad exes passing through, so that their identities are a bunch of ex-experiences.

Excommunication through Exes? A whole bunch of people feel special because they have exes, especially if those exes were different in terms of ethnicity, geographical location or language affiliations. More points if they were ostracised by their own communities because of their exes. This is the new cult of the multicultural Ex-Files, the possession of which makes the owner feel rather cool and global.

Achieving complexity through exes. Many people will tell me that Carey is the most complex character in SATC. Why? She is a writer! Now, how are writers complex? By being able to perpetually analyze, write about, and infer things about their myriad relationships and exes, by going back and forth between exes.

Be with the crowd already. Of course, one has to be with it. It is my philosophy that most of us never really mature beyond high school. So, if you’ve had 5 exes so far, how can my Ex-File be lighter than yours? Hence, sometimes, that phenomenon that has mystified many a social thinker: the imaginary ex.

Aristotle’s Poetics. All theories, at some point, have to go back to Aristotle. The beginning, middle and end. The start, the climax and the denouement. How can the common person’s life have meaning, the drama, the epic quality without a few case files of exes consisting of characters, hubrises, meetings, expectations, complications and break-ups?


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