Imagine walking into your living room and into a phone conversation that your wife is having with your ex-girlfriend who dumped you in 1999. Imagine they are seriously discussing your shortcomings as a significant other and, specifically, a lover. Imagine knowing that your wife has two more of these calls to make afterward.
“He really wants me to talk about this with you?” Kelly replied when my wife asked how I was in bed. And yes, after listening to the recording later, I was correct: This is not how a rave review typically begins. The reason for submitting myself to this torture was to measure how I far I’ve evolved as a significant other in my life not by my own delusive yardstick, but according to a consensus of my wife and my three most serious ex-girlfriends who still think highly enough of me to cooperate.
Robin (1989), Julie (1994-95) and Kelly (1998-99) are all happily married with kids now, by the way, so getting over me was obviously not difficult for them.
“I just think he wasn’t what I was looking for but that’s probably because I was kind of shallow back then,” said Robin, who rated me a 6 out of 10 as a boyfriend. “He was overly honest, which was good and bad,” said Kelly, who rated me a 7 out of 10 as a boyfriend.
I still think that watching yourself in a sex tape is the most uncomfortable playback experience possible in this lifetime. But now I have a definite answer as to what comes in second. If you’re a reasonable person, you probably think this entire experiment sounds masochistic. After all, conventional wisdom is that once a relationship is over, it should exist permanently in the past. You shouldn’t even be Facebook friends with your exes, much less convince your wife to interview them. There’s even a thing called “ghosting,” where the moment you cease sleeping with a person, you cut off all contact, treating them like they’re dead and gone.
Some research suggests that maybe we should be spending more time dwelling in the past. In a new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University and University of Arizona, recently dumped people who reflected on their respective break-ups, and talked about it repeatedly over the course of nine weeks, were more likely to make a faster emotional recovery than those who didn’t. But it’s one thing to lick your own wounds after a breakup. What could actually be accomplished by tracking down exes I haven’t seen in years?
Dr. Jane Greer, Ph.D., a New York-based relationship expert and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship, thinks this could “potentially be a healthy experiment, depending on your wife’s response. If she doesn’t find it upsetting and threatening, then there’s potential for learning and growing.”
Juliana Breines, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the Health Psychology lab at Brandeis University, also thinks I might not be completely crazy. “I think there is value in reflecting back on past relationships and learning from the mistakes you may have made,” she says.
On paper, it’s all incredibly healthy and mature. But in execution, well . . . we all are generally aware of our shortcomings, but it’s another thing entirely to hear them evaluated, one by one, by your wife and the women who once actually considered becoming your wife and then decided against it.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Kelly rated me only 5 out of 10 in bed. But it’s a good 5, I’m pretty sure. “With all his neuroses, it was a whole production,” she said. “Everything had to be just so, It just killed the moment. Who cares about the condom and the lubricant and what kind it is? Big deal.”
Julie had better things to say about our sex life, rating it a 7 out of 10 and remembering how great it was until she started reminding me of my mother and it stopped. Robin (1989) was the kindest by far: “I really don’t remember how he was in bed, I’m sorry,” she told my wife.
There was some genuine agreement on the strides I’ve made on my path to significant-other acceptableness. One was prompted by the dog barking that interrupted Kelly’s interview. “He has a dog?” she asked my wife. “No, stop it! You have to be dog-sitting, because there’s no way he would have a pet. He was so easily grossed out by everything, the idea of a dog and all the germs that a dog would bring into the house would just be so offensive to him.”
That’s actually true. A dog came in the package with my wife. So I had to force myself to learn to live with this thing licking me after eating his own poop and bringing dead rats into the apartment. (My wife was also the one who wanted to have a child, which I didn’t feel either way about, but I’m certainly happy I went along with because we have a beautiful daughter who I love.)
“So I guess he’s evolved quite a bit,” Kelly told my wife. “I’m going to credit you with that. You have worked some miracles there.”
Forcing four women to spend 30 minutes talking about nothing but you does not go very far toward disproving how self-obsessed you continue to be. However, for me, it reconfirmed the work I know I still have left: How I should be considering my wife’s feelings more, listening to her problems instead of trying to solve them, and being more liberated in bed.
But even so, I’m not necessarily getting all the answers. “You can’t evaluate your past behavior in a vacuum,” says Breines. “What you’re like in a given relationship depends a lot on what that relationship is like and what your partner is like. For example, you may have seemed needier in a past relationship because your partner happened to be more distant, or you may have been less talkative because your partner usually did all the talking. “Maybe this was just about getting some solid closure with the past. Unlike those idiot ghosters, who just pretend the past never happened, I gave my wife full access to all the embarrassing details. There’s something freeing about that. It’s the polar opposite of an Ashley Madison membership. It’s over-sharing all your secrets.
From now on, my lingering memory of these important females from my past will be them laughing about how inadequate I was, not fuming about it. It’s almost enough for me to recommend this technique to you. (That’s almost.) “I wasn’t surprised he settled down and had a family, because deep down, his biggest fear was dying alone, having someone discover his rotting body somewhere,” Kelly said.
“Well,” my wife replied, “he might still die alone.”