Catherine Townsend: Sleeping Around

Revenge is a dish best not served at all
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The Independent Online

There seems to be an unwritten rule that one runs into an ex only when looking like hell. So it should have been no surprise when, a few days ago, on my way home from the gym with my sweaty hair stuck to my scalp and my face devoid of make-up, I saw my ex-boyfriend S - who broke my heart 18 months ago - walking towards me.

There seems to be an unwritten rule that one runs into an ex only when looking like hell. So it should have been no surprise when, a few days ago, on my way home from the gym with my sweaty hair stuck to my scalp and my face devoid of make-up, I saw my ex-boyfriend S - who broke my heart 18 months ago - walking towards me.

There was no side street to turn down, so I took a deep breath and did the mature and responsible thing - hide behind a skip. Wedged between a crushed can and some day-old chips, I reflected on the absurdity of my situation. I'm well over 18, gainfully employed and pay my taxes. So why do I sometimes feel that my romantic development stalled sometime during high school?

Not that my ex was a paragon of maturity. Verbally abusive and unable to function without his friends, he ended up eviscerating my self-confidence and left me with a sick feeling for over a year. From the start, everyone told me that he was a womaniser, a 31-year-old version of the guy with the red Mustang I pined for in my last year at school. But I've always been attracted to a challenge.

I agreed to move in with him after a five-month courtship. Two weeks later, he sent me an e-mail to say that he "didn't feel that we were on the same path" and never wanted to see me again. Apparently, his path led to a petite blonde he had insisted was "just a friend". Clearly lacking a sense of irony, he suggested we meet at the Bleeding Heart pub, where he would explain why he wanted to split. By the time he got to the phrase, "It's not you, it's me", I felt nostalgic for my childhood boyfriend, who dumped me in the playground by yelling, "You're dumped! You smell!" At least he was direct.

I'd like to say that I maintained my dignity during the break-up, but the truth is that I cried and even begged him to change his mind. I thought about revenge, taking inspiration from a friend who, after her ex left her in a remote chateau with no electricity in Brittany for two days, buried his collection of shoes at various points in his garden. But in the end, I decided to avoid bunny-boiler tactics because I wanted him to feel regret, not relief, when he next saw me.

My embarrassing behaviour, however, continued. I drunk-dialled him at 2am and hung up. I hit on one of his friends at a party. I obsessed about when I'd next see him. Back in the Georgia suburb where I grew up, desperate girls would "do a drive-by" past their crush's home. I opted for the verbal equivalent: I'd "accidentally" run into him at his regular hangout and deliver a withering one-liner, in front of his friends, while looking stunning and reminding him of what he'd lost.

"I understand why you want to see him, but don't do it until you're sure you have no feelings left for him," said my friend Victoria, who once slept with an ex two years after the split just so that she could reject him. "The best revenge is living well." But what good was that if he couldn't see evidence of my fabulous life?

Even though I had largely forgotten him when I saw him in the street, my reaction made me think we may have unfinished business. So Victoria and I headed to his hangout to find out. My palms were sweaty, the adrenalin pumping when I saw him sitting with friends. Then something weird happened: I realised that I really didn't care. S seemed less like a rival, more like an old boyfriend I was a bit embarrassed about having dated. "God, what happened to him?" Victoria whispered as we downed our tequilas. "He looks like Matthew Perry - the fat years."

The spell was broken. But more importantly, I realised that my obsession with having the last word had delayed the healing process, and allowed him to have control over me. So when The Journalist, a guy I had a date with recently, texted to ask us to a party, we couldn't get out the door fast enough. I hailed a cab, happy with my decision to behave like an adult - no drama or public humiliation necessary. I didn't even have to mention his little bed-wetting problem.

c.townsend@independent.co.uk

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