Elements of Style

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Lately I’ve been wondering about the term ex. If you are divorced there is someone in your life that has assumed this moniker. There are men in my past that fall under the title of old boyfriend; which sorta connotes residual fondness, a cherished memory. Perhaps we outgrew each other but I still think of that person as some integral charater in a chapter of my life. Ex is different. It not just a former somebody from another time in your life, it encompasses a whole life you built with someone. And that someone and that life are ex.

I’m not sure if I remember when I started using the word ex. I know for a long time during our separation that I was still calling my husband, well, my husband. It was this in-between time when some decisions had been made and other decisions were yet to be determined. There was still a valid marriage certificate which legally defined him as partner even if we did not share the same address.I remember when he called me ex. It was said in an off-handed way about something completely unrelated to the status of our relationship. As I am prone to do, ever the English major, I felt the weight of that word in a way that was heavier that the actual use of the word at the time. It meant that despite everything I was no longer a present, in the moment life partner. I was his past. I was his ex.

Ex. Ex husband, ex wife , ex partner, ex spouse, exit, extant, ex leaver of underwear on the floor, ex nag, ex sleeper in the recliner, ex housewife, ex unhappy person ( two negatives make a positive!)

Soon, I too found myself using the word ex. For a while ex was the nicest thing I could say about my ex. Always conscious of watching my words around my son I would take the opportunity to malign this man I once loved over long telephone calls to friends and family. Anger is one of the five stages of grief. Since I had used up more than enough fruitless denial, anger was not going to prosper for very long. But for a while I could not use his given name without following it up with a string of words best not used in a public setting. This was the pain speaking. Acknowledge the pain, process and move on. Staying in this stage of grief serves no one for very long. There was still a lot of work ahead of me. I still had bargaining (known as court mediation) depression (weep over the diminishing bank account) and acceptance (also known as signing the final agreement) to work through.

Soon, I too found myself using the word ex. Here is the thing about using the word ex. Ex is the past. Yeah, it defines the status of our relationship and is a more efficient way of saying, “former spouse” Using the word is an acknowledgement of something that has ended. However, prolonged use is holding on to a singular event as though it is what defines you. It is not like I am holding on to the pain of the divorce three years out. I can forthrightly state that I am content and happily divorced. I’ve grown in ways that I did not think were possible as a result of this happening in my life. Why would I want to use a term that keeps me in the past?

So I am trying to come up with a different name. I could call my ex a spirit guide who unwittingly freed me from the constraints of past lives. I could call him the kick in the ass I needed to let go of old habits. I could call him forgiven. Unfortunately, I can not call him friend; that is a word that was edited out of our arrangement by the dictionary of our dysfunctions. I would not say these are his only label. We do have a a son. He is “your dad”, ” my son’s father”. “Co-parent”. These are labels which define his role and when all other words fail me there is still the one thing I can call him–his name. Because that is who he is.

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