The Ex factor: is raking up the past a good idea?

If you've ever wondered what went wrong with your former lovers, a new website offers a way to find out – without all that emotional drunk-dialling

"He did feel the same, Elinor – for weeks and weeks he felt it. I know he did, and nothing but the blackest art employed against me can have done it, I was as dear to him as my own soul could wish." The words spoken by Sense and Sensibility's Marianne Dashwood are just as relevant today as they were 200 years ago in expressing the confusion many of us have felt after being dumped with little or no explanation.

If Marianne was a) not fictional and b) alive today, she could seek solace in searching her e-reader for self-help books, scrutinise her ex's Facebook page for coded insights into his feelings, or, from this year, turn to the website wotwentwrong.com, which claims to offer a "socially acceptable" way to find out why past relationships have failed.

It works by sending a questionnaire asking about the reasons for the break-up to your ex-partner or a one-time date, essentially giving them the power to criticise the relationship and you. In the month since it launched, the site has had 50,000 visitors. Its creator, Audrey Melnik, says it's useful for people looking to move on from the past. "Many people are scared to find out what went wrong, but when they do they are relieved that it's not their worst fears," she explains.

I am not good at relationships. At the age of 28, a number of my friends are settled, yet I haven't ever even got to the cohabiting stage. Perhaps it's because my relationships have been, at worst, a sly form of psychological warfare in which each party attempts to undermine and ultimately destroy the other, and at best, moderately dysfunctional. Fun though this is, it might be time to confront the horrifying concept that the reason I can't manage to have a proper grown-up relationship is that it's not them, it's me. So I've used Melnik's website to contact my exes and ask them what went wrong.

It's a reassuringly formal, almost corporate approach to a break-up. If you're on the receiving end of the "feedback request" you get an email saying, "so-and-so is hoping to understand what went wrong with your dates." You'll get to see how your ex rates your kissing technique, sense of humour and other aspects of your personality. To encourage a reply, you only get to see their answers once you've filled it in. I'm sceptical; can you really work out the reasons for a palimpsest of relationship failures using a few tick-boxes? I swallow my pride, send off some requests, and wait.

The first to reply is Peter*, my ex-boyfriend from school, who I'm still friends with. Nervously, I click the link to his response. He has ticked "I don't feel like I'm a priority" and written, "I think the theme of priority fits in with the change of life we were going through. We were teenagers." Then there is a separate message, "My mind is firmly trained on the laughs we had: our attempts to dye my hair (and my shorts), trying to print fake IDs on your printer, taking you to the ball and feeling all grown up!" and a long list of ticked attributes, designed to cushion the blow of the feedback, such as, "you are creative", "you are adventurous", "you are funny" and so on.

So far, so good. On a high, I send out some more requests that I'd been putting off because I was worried the answers might be more brutal than Peter's. I feel fairly sure I'll take their criticism – I mean, "feedback" – in a balanced way and not crumble, sobbing, into a ball of recrimination and self-loathing. But even so, is your ex really the best authority on why things didn't work?

Susan J. Elliott, the author of the blog Getting Past Your Past and the book Getting Past Your Breakup: How to Turn a Devastating Loss into the Best Thing That Ever Happened to You says, "asking your ex what was wrong is actually the opposite of what I recommend. Closure is something that has to come from inside you." But what if you obsess over a break-up and you can't move on? "You have to train your mind. Say to yourself, 'I'll think about it for 20 minutes and then call a friend or go for a walk.' Also, people can sift through the remains of the relationship and decide what was wrong or right for them. A person who's either angry or sad will polarise and fixate on the things that justify that feeling, so you have to look at the good and the bad together to get over them."

Jay is the next to reply and it's not pleasant reading. We were together for eight months in a volatile relationship. Jay has ticked "inflexible", and "not flexible enough" and also "too inconsiderate". He hasn't written anything to explain, but there is an automatically generated advice box saying: "Perhaps you've read one of the many dating books that encourages you to be b**chy if you want your guy to stick around... but it has more to do with standing up for yourself and refusing to put up with B.S. than it does with being selfish, unkind, thoughtless, or rude."

I tell Melnik I found her site's advice a little bit harsh. "Thanks for your feedback," she says, "some of the advice is from products and some of it is from our relationship counsellor."

I spend the next few days trying to demonstrate my flexibility and considerate nature to workmates, friends and anyone who'll put up with it. Jay has hit a nerve.

Victoria Alexander, the programme leader of the MSc in therapeutic counselling at the University of Greenwich, makes me feel slightly better. "If your ex has said you are inflexible that's your ex's perspective. Perhaps he or she was highly controlling," she suggests. "Any relationship advice that's one-sided and supports one person's judgment over another feels rather unhelpful. In a relationship where one partner is controlling and the other is compliant or submissive, for example, it just colludes with the difficult patterns that were already in the relationship and probably caused the break-up." So this journey into the past might actually do me more harm than good. But I plough on.

Another reply says I'm inflexible! This time from a guy I went on a few dates with years ago. He got together with someone else, whom he is now about to marry. "I was looking for 'too flexible' but it wasn't listed," he writes and follows up with a Facebook message, "By the way, I wasn't asked to rate you with numbers. Too obvious to say I'd give you one?" I'm quite relieved he didn't take it too seriously, but it didn't resolve my curiosity about him.

On Twitter, I ask about other people's reasons for breaking up, and get a deluge of replies – everything from "too tall" to the eye-wateringly honest: "It was because the way you licked your lips during sex made me want to be sick" and the downright worrying: "I'm just grateful I didn't have a pet bunny!"

I'm beginning to see that there isn't anything I can do to make myself into an ideal girlfriend. Trying to work out a formula is just too simplistic. One overriding theme, though, is that there's nothing particularly wrong with me or them – but that we didn't work well together.

An email from a Twitter follower sums it up: "The reason I gave was the usual, 'It's not you, it's me'," he writes, "the actual reason was – I needed you for companionship until somebody more suitable came along. And now the right person has come along: if I don't take this opportunity now, I know I'll regret it."

I suppose I knew it wasn't working in each of those relationships – and the reasons why don't ultimately matter. What's important is moving on, and you don't need a website to tell you that.

*Some names have been changed

wotwentwrong.com

Suggested Topics
Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Life and Style
tech

Company says data is only collected under 'temporary' identities that are discarded every 15 minutes

News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Life and Style
health

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior Pensions Administrator

    £23000 - £26000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    KS2 Teacher

    £21000 - £34000 per annum + Excellent rates of pay, CPD, Support : Randstad Ed...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse required for ...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: I am currently recruiting level 3 n...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album