The Exit Interview: A Conversation with My Ex-Boyfriend

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At first, I loved Dan from a distance. Judging on a bell-curve, I was attractive for my high school debate team, but otherwise, I was far from his type of girl. And yet, that one day on the quad, he saw me, sat next to me, picked me. Few get to date that one person they deify, the person they hold above all others.

I never thought I’d get over him. I was sure we’d marry, have vision-impaired children, and one day, I hoped, stop hurting each other.

After promising never to speak to each other again (no, but really this time), I contacted him for this interview.

***

Dan: You know, we did a decent job of not talking for a long time, so I hope this doesn’t ruin our record.

Elissa: This doesn’t count. Shall we begin? I have lots of questions stored up for you.

Dan: Yes, but I am nervous. To be honest, I am a little worried that I won’t be able to perform to your expectations…

Elissa: Dan, you fail to perform to my expectations every time. So, take comfort that it’ll be my expectation.

Dan: That reminds me…I left my phone out on the table at one point at some party, or someone was looking through the pictures I have stored on it, and they held it out to me, “Hey, you just got a text message from someone named…Garbage.”

“Oh, that’s just Elissa. What did it say?”

Elissa: I guess this interview has started. One thing I’d like to say is that I hate you the most for corrupting my grammar. You know about our inside joke of making fun of people who don’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re” by intentionally misusing them? Now, because of you, I mix them up unintentionally. It’s made me a nicer person though. And my pool for dating has widened.

Dan: So you’re settling?

Elissa: Or having different priorities.

Dan: [I’m editing a paper and this kid], in the same sentence, confused tactical with tactful. And intimidate with intimate…

Elissa: Same in my book.

Dan: …the verb, intimate, not the adjective that you’ll never know.

Elissa: Ha! Since I turned 22, I’ve become less of a virgin.

Dan: Oh. Well. I fucked up fewer/less the other day.

Elissa: I sent a professional email saying “their” instead of “they’re.”

Dan: NO. Really?

Elissa: Yes. Yes! I swore never to tell you.

Dan: I am glad that you swore to never tell me. Historically, any promise made between us is a sure failure.

Elissa: Dan, I promise we’ll never not love each other again. Oh wait, you never loved me in the first place…which is something I would like to address.

Dan: I don’t know why I didn’t love you. I just…didn’t.

Elissa: Is this why we never had sex? Or was that because I was crazy?

Dan: I mean…

Elissa: You made me that way? Correct.

Dan: We didn’t have sex because it was clearly a trap. When you were a virgin, it was a mega-trap.

Elissa: Not if you actually cared about me, but your logic is your logic.

Dan: And you might be thinking, “The second mouse gets the cheese.”

Elissa: Definitely not thinking that.

Dan: This is all related to the love thing. Despite everything that I have put you through, it was just not ok to have sex without actually caring for you, caring about you, and loving you in the way that I should have. It seems like a double standard, to sleep with some idiot chick, and then refuse to sleep with someone who’s actually a real and great person, where there is a lot of chemistry and feeling. But viewed through my eyes, there was too much on the table with you. The stakes going into the bedroom were too high.

Elissa: So why not make it all easier by just being in love with me?

Dan: Some of it might have to do with the circumstances surrounding the first time we hung out, specifically that crazy bitch who came up and started yelling [Ed. note: on our first “date,” a hurt young woman interrupted what would be our first kiss by yelling, “Fuck you, Dan! Fuck you for fucking me and never calling!”].

Elissa: I think that’s a copout.

Dan: Regardless, things didn’t really get started on the right foot. The embodiment of our relationship would have been a horrible dancer, with two left feet. Anyway, I really don’t know why I never loved you. I think you pissed me off too much. For example, when I first met you, you prided yourself on being really good at flirting. Only…you weren’t good at it. That’s annoying.

Elissa: No way! I am super good at it!

Dan: What you considered flirting seemed to be confused with touching and overt(ly naïve) innuendo. Although, your flirting provided a nice counterbalance to your attractive traits.

Elissa: This clarifies a lot about my life in general. What if maybe you never loved me because we never lived in the same city for more than three months? Because that’s something I like to tell myself.

Dan: That could also have to do with it. I also think that flirting with you sometimes felt like playing with a puppy. Lots of energy without any particular direction, light wrestling, and you’d have no idea what to do with the stick if I threw it for you.

Elissa: I’d know what to do with the stick—

Dan: No, you wouldn’t. I felt old around you. I felt like I did drugs. I felt like a person who got drunk. I felt like an Adult. The problem was that I said shit like, “I won’t sleep with you.” This is maybe important because right then, you are freely allowed to compare yourself with other girls that I HAD slept with.

Elissa: I will forever hate those women. Also, this only explains the first few months of knowing each other.

Dan: Yeah, but every time after that, it was the same conversation over and over, only with another story added to the shoddy foundation. Not being in the same state sucked. Not being in the same grade sucked.

Elissa: Here’s where I am/was coming from: everything you’re saying revolves around your thoughts. According to Zen philosophy and my many years of therapy, thoughts aren’t “real.” All this information is new to me. Maybe not the first time you dumped me or the second or the third, but maybe before the fifth, I thought we could get over the past and be in a relationship based on the facts: chemistry, sexual tension, and Judaism. On paper, we were perfect for each other. And you’re only six months older than I am in real life.

Dan: I think you need to include grammar among the “facts.”

Elissa: I’m continually perplexed as to why you kept talking to me, for what turns out to be nearly five years. That fact alone made me think you loved me, or could love me, circumstances permitting. I wish you’d just cut me off the first time. Because I spent years, actual years, crying tears, actual tears, over you. Like the innocent girl you thought I was, I loved you innocently and deeply and fantastically. You knew this. And you knew how much pain I was in. And you let it go on. I thought that was you loving me. I was always begging you to let me give you a blow job because I was sure you’d love me soon enough.

Dan: And eventually, I came to love the blow job you gave me.

Elissa: As a feminist, this is all the stuff I’m against, how I turned against myself. There’s the idea that being in love makes you a better person; then there’s “I want you to be a better person, and then I’ll love you”; or, worse, thinking “I need to be a better person so then you’ll love me.” You helped me destroy me.

Dan: No, see, I disagree. No one you care about was strong from the start. No one made it through life without learning along the way. Do you think there is any room for a reinterpretation of destroy as galvanize?

Elissa: You can’t honestly think letting me give you a blow job and then handing me my coat two hours later, WITHOUT CUDDLING, is just you throwing me some hard knocks to be a better person.

Dan: Hey, you’re not the only one with regrets.

Elissa: Oh.

Dan: Also, you consistently freaked me out. And trying to gauge whether or not I was freaked out also freaked me out, in a really solid cycle.

Elissa: Oh.

Dan: Here is the thing: Everything that I have ever said or written to you about our past, and why we never fell into our destined love was, and will continue to be, speculation and theorizing. But I think the hurtful part of it is that I have never consciously been searching for an explanation that satisfies me. I have been rolling these ideas around and around through so many painstaking iterations with you to see if there is one that will ever satisfy you. Human behavior — you and I are no exceptions here — is too obnoxiously complicated to explain with simple energetic conservation equations or a set of rules of conduct. So I don’t know why I never loved you. I know why I never slept with you: it was a bad idea. And I know I always liked you. Even when I hated you, I liked you, and I still do. What’s there not to like? Seriously, what is there not to like? So chalk our failure up to timing, distance, me, my penis, you, your hymen, our history, or anything else. I think it’s probably all those things and none of them, which is SO FUCKING ANNOYING to write and actually mean.

Elissa: This is the first time you’ve moved me to tears without “I hate you and your stupid vagina” running between the lines.

Dan: That was some sort of horrifying catharsis for me, and I am sorry.

Elissa: What if we’ve had two separate relationships, and in the relationship I thought we had, I thought you needed to apologize, and I needed to forgive you and feel genuine release and understanding and transcendence? What if in my version of the relationship, all that just happened? I think we both know I constructed an elaborate fantasy love with you, á la Gatsby. You are Daisy. I fed our “love” all the time, decking it out with every feather you floated my way. So when you say you didn’t love me, I understand that on many levels. Because as much as I thought I loved you, I didn’t. Couldn’t. Because it wouldn’t be loving “you” but a made-up you. And sometimes we played equal parts in the fantasy, and you just balked when it got real. While you saw yourself as an Adult, I saw you as an Ideal. I often think I’ll never feel the way about anyone like I felt about you. And that’s probably true because you existed in my head. But it’s also probably true because it’s true.

Dan: Do you think we ever came close to understanding each other?

Elissa: Not even close until now, years later. This is something I suggest all people do with their exes: conduct a professional interview about why it all fell apart.

Dan: There are a lot of things that I learned from you.

Elissa: “Don’t date crazies.”

Dan: More like, the hubris to really truly believe that you will change the world in the way that you dream (also, having those ambitions in the first place) is a very, very important quality. Have we hit 650 words yet, by the way? [Ed. note: our original interview is over 6,000 words.]

Elissa: I have one final interview question for you. It’s two parts. 1) Why did you shower with my best friend? and 2) How could you not anticipate at the time of said shower that she and I would become best friends one year later and that you and I would date in the future and that I would be the type of person who would obsess over the whole situation for years to come?

Dan: I decline this question on the grounds that it is too hilarious.

Elissa: Fine. Do you think now maybe we can be normal to each other? Or is that too much to hope?

Dan: That is maybe the funniest thing you have said all night. It’s not too much to hope, but let’s not be too ambitious.

**

Original art by Ilyse Magy.


Elissa Bassist edits the Funny Women column. She teaches humor writing at The New School and Catapult. Follow her on Twitter, and visit elissabassist.com for more literary, feminist, and personal criticism. More from this author →