Alison Taylor on relationships: 'Exes are a bit like burnt coal...'


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The Independent Online

Sometimes you have to clear the decks. And high summer, with all its giddy weather and hedonism, is the perfect time.

It was something my dad said that brought everything into sharp focus for me. He'd been looking through some old photos and told me about a Fifties ritual from his childhood where, each summer, he and his siblings were tasked with 'fettling' (that's Yorkshire for cleaning) the fireplace out ahead of the hotter months.

"You scraped off all the stubborn black clinker, swept out the coke and ashes and then scrubbed it spotless," he said.

It's how I feel about my current love life and its associated emotional debris. My mind and heart have been occupied by a couple of old flames and it's time for a clean-out.

It's inevitable, especially in the digital age, that people linger. If an old flame isn't stealthily making sure you don't forget about them with a 'casual' retweet or a comment on your Facebook wall, they're telling you they read your book while they were on holiday and quoting your column back to you in a text message.

Something about still wanting to know me, apparently. Wanting to be "friends". The sketchy rhetoric of modern romance: all ifs, ishes and inverted commas. It's confusing. And stifling.

Then there's the ex from before that; the one that really got me. The one that I just can't let go of, because "you never know". There I was, merrily texting him through World Cup games and placing ridiculous bets, or exchanging daft local newspaper stories about the jacket potato that was used as a weapon because – whisper it – our senses of humour are so compatible. He's the 'if only' one who's never going to change, but I just can't seem to leave alone.

Guess what? There comes a time when you have to move on. All those remains of what was just stop you moving forward, and starting new fires.

There's the ambiguous notion of 'friendship', which keeps some people forever welded once the romance has burnt out, but I'm with Harry– who famously met Sally – on that (Nora Ephron's film just turned 25, by the way), men and women can't be friends, not when they've been more, before. I can't anyway. I've realised this.

"It was sad, in a way," continued my dad, about the fire. "Because you knew you wouldn't have that warm, that glowing grate for a while to come. But you wouldn't want to get all dirty again, so you stayed well away."

It might be a metaphor too far that, but, you know: perhaps we ought to think on a little.