Note To My Ex: What To Do With All That Stuff

Bitter Twitter: On August 22, the highest trending tweet was #NoteToMyEx. Thousands of tweets spewed across the Twitterverse with such as:

I can be happy without you and I’m doing so much better then when I was with you.

let’s clarify: you were LUCKY to have me. I was the one settling. So shut up.

when you see me I want you to recognize what you had, regret what you’ve lost, and realize what you’re NEVER getting back !

You always told me I deserved better, so I finally took your word for it :))

I never get jealous when I see you with someone else, cuz my parents always taught me to give my used toys to the less fortunate.

The flavor of the tweets was decidedly bitter. A major venting moment for many. Why? My observation over the years is that relationship endings, divorces particularly, leave a trail of ooze – much like a snail does as it moves from one moist green leaf to chew at another – that is hard to remove. And my impression is that the oozing isn’t only from those who were left, but also from those who did the leaving. In other words, relationships may end, but if they were powerful the remnants often remain twirling around in the brain for years to come and may provide fruitless hours of rumination and self-justification that lead nowhere, just recycling old refrains.

A Purification Process: There needs to be a process that purifies the heart’s brain or the brain’s heart, when a meaningful Coupledom comes to a halt. Like a fast car or a speeding bike, you need to slow down first, then stop. Otherwise it is quite jolting to the system when you end the ride. Yet it is the rare Coupledom that finds the mutuality or the means for a gradual slowdown. So you are left to decompress either with friends, therapists or hosting numerous interior dialogues with the absent partner in the mind’s theater, attempting to set the record straight, redeem your dignity, readjust the ego, or examine the self: “Am I really that bad or was it they who screwed up the whole thing?”

A Ritual of Goodbye: In a previous post entitled A Divorcing Option: A Gracious Ending I referenced an article by Abby Ellin in the New York Times Untying the Knots, and Bonds, Of Marriage in which the author describes rituals of goodbye designed for the terminated relationship, ceremonies that mark the finality of a marriage or a relationship with grace. Does it do the work of an exorcism that many seem to long for, a ritual designed to drive the evil spirits out of the individual, which in this case are the poisonous and bilious leftovers of a failed Coupledom? Does a ceremonial goodbye put a halt to flashbacks, regrets or hurts that smear a formerly cherished bond with the mucky stuff that clings and stains…the stuff that got spilled onto Twitter? A format such as Twitter invites you to write a “Note to My Ex,” and wow, an explosive venting in an abbreviated format ensues, inspiring a vision of a mob event at Grand Central Station, its vast floor space and domed ceiling filling up with venting hordes screaming out “note to my ex” all with the accompanying syncopation of a live band. According to Ms. Ellin’s article, a shared ritual of untying is a means to find closure by dignifying what you once had and together releasing its hold. Can a tweet do that too?

What Do These Tweets Reveal? The question someone raised with me is this: were the tweets a venting of never spoken words or were they spoken words that were never heard? Or both. Tweets are clearly not conversations yet they may speak volumes. What would those tweets have looked like as a conversation between partners before the relationship dissolved, a tweet cleaned up a bit and earnestly delivered as a “Let’s talk”? My hunch is that many tried to talk but weren’t heard. That others kept their feelings close to the chest, did not have the tools to convert emotion into communication, or didn’t even know what they were feeling and instead turned to “acting out” subconscious feelings into behaviors such as affairs and addictions that seemed to say it all and take it all away.

Venting Is Fun: It is great to vent. Venting is necessary, and Twitter is probably a venting free-for-all that doesn’t cost much, materially or emotionally. But unless you learn something new, something that shifts you out of stuck and into free, you will just have to vent again, and again, and again. Sometimes a new love that really takes and settles in for several years can actually ease the venting need. Happiness is a great antidote to unhappiness. Everyone hopes for that solution to the dilemma of what to do with the bitter leftovers of a failed love. But that takes time, too, and has some risks: the potential new love may not want to hear the vent. Or the new lovers may initially bond over their mutual venting about ex-spouses, but beware the bonding of perceived victimization. It sours like old milk.

A Proposal: I would bet that a significant number of women hunched over their iced teas or Pym’s Cups, lattes or beers at any number of coffee shops, bars or bistros around the country are talking about their exes. And a somewhat smaller number of guys are alluding to the trials, tribulations and financial losses from their previous wedlock too. A good number are venting and blaming; an equal number are probably grieving and being comforted. But none are really getting anywhere soon. My proposal, which I have offered to divorcing couples in my office, is that at any moment, now, later, next week or next year, they, the separating or divorcing team, can talk, listen and grieve together about what was once their family, their puppy, their apartment, their friends, their life that they have made together and now have to mourn and say goodbye to. Some have agreed to do this work with me. Most say, “No, if he’s done, I’m done.” Or, “No, I can’t be in the room with that person again.” Except when they have to appear in court. Or, “It is too much money for something that has too little value to me now.”

Someday they may change their minds. And my office doors are always open. Or they may wish to do what Abby Ellin’s article suggests, design a ceremonial goodbye, maybe along the Great Wall of China, or on the banks of a river, where words can finally be spoken, and threads of a former life thrown into the current, to pass alongside rocks and rapids that replicate the not-so-smooth journey of that shared life. Tweeting and venting are fun. But saying goodbye to the good, the bad and the ugly takes more than that. It takes some mutual cleansing too.

Just a proposal.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012

2 Responses to “Note To My Ex: What To Do With All That Stuff”

  1. john b

    it seems that the tweets reveal that we should never tweet. just like writing a letter to the editor, write it, edit it, and perhaps, never send it. once our thoughts are expressed in most cases thats all that is needed. i might sound like a technophobe here but there is something cleansing about just putting our thoughts down on paper (or a screen) with a tweet, its said and gone….

    • jilledelmanlcsw

      Do tweets go anywhere? Is the ex receiving them or is this truly just a vent? And if so, and in fact, no one significant in your life reads this, then what? I place no value judgment on this process. I agree and advocate the process that you refer to of putting one’s most intense emotions in written form, and then, and only then, deciding if you sharing those feelings makes sense. Thanks John.


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