Lately I have been keenly aware of the collective experience of relationships, ranging from the desire for the perfect, easy or “right” relationships to the inherent obstacles that arise from seeking those ideals. My personal encounters, those of my closest friends and family, as well as the books, films, and podcasts I am consuming consistently portray this fundamental, often dominating theme for our species. I suppose it is natural that I notice what I am attuned to—and it is hard to escape the topic of relationships when they are as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. After all, we live on a relative plane in which our identities are shaped by who we are in relation to our external world, wherein interactions with other people figure quite centrally. In simple terms, I AM relative to what I AM NOT. 

It is no wonder, then, that we tend to make dramatic declarations about the other actors playing in the theater of our lives through our language and actions, not the least of which is via the labels we assign to them. I am particularly fascinated by the term “ex” and the stigma that is commonly attached to it: ex-boyfriend, ex-husband, ex-friend, etc. When I look up the word in the dictionary, it literally means “is without or excluding,” suggesting that I am in absence of a relationship that was once present. More often than not, the social implication of that expression is one of finality, loss and/or brokenness. Even the intonation of “ex” has a harsh vibration to it. For me, it evokes other words with similar undertones like expelled, excommunicated, and excluded.

True to form and certainly not coincidentally, the Universe reflected outwardly what I am contemplating inwardly through a recent encounter with my own ex. Despite having spent significant time processing and integrating the unravelling of that relationship, I momentarily felt like the ghost of exes past came back to haunt me. I recoiled—not so much at the memory of what he did, but at the reminder of who I was with and to him. Having quickly recovered and checked my ego at the door, as I write this, I have a deep sense of peace as I acknowledge the beauty in that interaction. I witnessed my own response and subsequently chose to release the familiar and even habitual feeling of regret it invoked when I thought about that period of my life. Instead, I embrace its role in constructing who I am today. The book Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch powerfully describes the purpose of relationship as a decision about “what part of yourself you’d like to see show up, not what part of another you can capture and hold.” Reading this line revealed to me that throughout the last couple of years, I have held myself hostage to the notion that I was supposed to preserve that relationship. Another “ex” meant failure and loss, but now I see that I didn’t lose anything. Conversely, I gained a greater understanding of my identity, including an awareness of how and when I think, feel and act from a place of love versus a place of fear.  

On my most emotionally mature days, I view relationships as the stage upon which my life unfolds. Objectively, they are the primary domain for my growth and evolution to the extent that I can bear witness to them instead of remaining stuck in my character’s drama. Furthermore, I am learning that I cannot conflate longevity in relationships with success. The present and past is a matter of semantics – time is just another construct through which we relate to our experiences. Although I had to process through an extended period of emotional turmoil when this man became an ex, I see clearly now that a relationship that has changed form is not broken, nor is it final. It is part of the infinite play in which my soul has a starring role. Relationships are the creative force that breathe life into this mortal domain. My heart is happy as I recognize that all of my exes were of my own construction—my ex-pression—in service of revealing and exonerating my spirit. And I dare say, that is ex-traordinary. 

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