I dated a guy once who, post breakup, went on to be the host of a show called Idiotest on the Game Show Network. Appropriate, since many of my friends – and my mom – called him an idiot for letting me go.
After we broke up, I cut him out of my life. I've never believed that exes can be friends.
But after years of not talking, a mutual friend put us back in the same room again. As time passed and my head cleared, I was able to recognise my own faux pas in the relationship. (Although I still contend that his transgressions were worse!)
Shortly thereafter, I agreed to appear as a guest on his game show. To prepare, I watched a ton of former episodes and played an online version of the game. But I found that underneath my competitive nature, I was just trying to feel as comfortable as possible with the formulaic aspects of the show. Because I also knew there'd be a "witty banter" portion in between the puzzles that would be far tougher to ace. Would I be able to speak about the reasons we had broken up (geographical distance, general incompatibility issues, lack of communication) without sounding like a shrew? Should I even bring them up – or should I be completely jovial, only reflecting on the positive moments we'd shared?
The more I thought back on our relationship, the more I realized we had a lot of good memories that meant a great deal to me. Leading up to the show, Ben kept telling me that I'd have the opportunity to poke fun at him. Which made me wonder: Would it all just be an amicable good time? Or would I be falsely painted as a vindictive ex based on how or what I chose to reveal? It could go either way.
I could have never expected that I would get the chance to publicly roast a guy I dated in front of a delighted studio audience, but I highly recommend it. Mocking him about things that had previously hurt me and seeing the pained reaction it generated from him – and the gasps from the audience – reinforced that my original response while we were dating had been valid. And in a way, the experience openly eradicated any sense of the crazy ex-girlfriend trope that dogs women no matter what the circumstances of a breakup.
When the show started, "Tell me why I'm an idiot" was the first question Ben asked all of us – four of his former girlfriends – with a nervous yet disarming smile.
Even as I revealed things that used to be a strong point of contention – he both deleted and purposely cropped photos on social media to hide evidence that we were dating – I truly felt no traces of resentment anymore. Perhaps my satisfaction also had something to do with how the studio audience reacted – laughing and clearly siding with me as I innocently said, "Hey, remember that time you cropped me out on Instagram?"
After listening to his other exes talk about the time they shared with Ben, so many other moments – some sweet and fun, others aggravating – flooded into my head. I recalled how he comforted me and helped keep my debilitating anxiety at bay when we flew together from Seattle to Los Angeles, which made the audience swoon. But because of time constraints I couldn't also mention how he used to always leave me sweet notes to wake up or come home to; or the time he took me ice skating in Central Park. It's funny how many things I had let slip out of my memory bank once he was no longer in my life. And how, without the pall of hurt feelings cast over everything, they were now just things I could smile about – and entertain an audience with.
Hearing what the other women in his life had to say about him filled me with mixed emotions. Even though they too found him to be caring and considerate, I couldn't help sensing he had been more committed to them than he had with me. But the other women and I bonded in agreement over his tendencies toward neurotic behavior, hoarding and how he always took too long to get ready.
When Ben asked me to tell the audience why we had broken up, I was reminded that we had ended things mutually. We loved each other, but we probably weren't in love with each other.
I used to believe love had to be devastating to be real. I wanted drama, life-changing moments, knee-weakening kisses and grand gestures. But if it didn't work out, I wanted to lean into the pain and completely shut that person out of my life. In glamorizing the extremes, I was ignoring how every relationship teaches me something about myself and about what I need.
Being on camera put us both under a microscope. In a breakup, it's so much easier to be the injured party than it is to admit you, too, might have carried some of the blame. At the beginning of our relationship I was very honest and communicative, but as our relationship evolved and I wanted more of a commitment, I hesitated to have some of those deeper, necessary conversations.
Going on Idiotest reminded me that Ben was not perfect. And neither am I. But we shared something once that was meaningful, now making it possible for us to be friends. Even if we are both a little idiotic.
* Sepulveres is a freelance writer based in New York. She is the author of Losing It: The Semi-Scandalous Story Of An Ex-Virgin and co-author of Too Old To Have A Major Too Young To Have A Minor.