I suppose I should have expected it. The ghost of my ex has reared his (fill-in-the-blank) head – once again. Not so much in my conscious daily life, but surprisingly frequently of late – like a shadowy presence trying to steal my happiness – in my dreams.
He isn’t there exactly. It’s more like knowing he’s somewhere around, in the background, still close and still calling the shots. It’s hearing his name spoken in a dream by neighbors, even if he isn’t physically in the room at the time.
It’s not a scary feeling, but it is a little eerie – at times. Lately there have been dreams in which I realize we are no longer married, and the scene taking place isn’t possible. At other times we are still together and I’m merely slightly uncomfortable.
Now the metaphor of an ex as a ghost is hardly original, yet fitting in my case: There were many years of marriage when his travel schedule made him something of a ghost; in the years following divorce, he seemed worse than an unfriendly apparition (turning up like a bad penny, and interfering with my life).
All that is water under the bridge now, more or less. But I would be less than truthful if I said I wasn’t still paying for aspects of the maneuvers that took place over recent years – professional and financial.
Moreover, what isn’t water under the bridge, or so says my psyche, are the apparent comparisons taking place in my (sleeping) brain: my life now (in general) versus my life “then” (the marital relationship and home); the man I am with now (specifically) versus the man I pledged to love forever; the paternal nature of the man I am with versus the paternal actions of the man who fathered my children.
The Nature of Ghosts
It’s the ideal time of year to talk ghosts, isn’t it? Halloween is looming, and we delight in scaring ourselves with traditional tales of haunted spaces or, for that matter, haunted hearts.
But ghosts in real life – especially when they’re alive – are far less entertaining than a two-hour film or a series of hair-raising stories.
Ghosts in real life pop up when we least expect. They frighten us from their shadows. They remind us of harm that was done.
Now I can’t say that I think of my ex often these days. Certainly not as often as I did even two years ago when we still engaged in skirmishes over money (and other matters), always tied to the kids. Our long post-marital history made for a seemingly endless set of dirty tricks and psychological manipulations – setting me up, time and time again, to feel as if I was losing my grip. Thank goodness for the grounding power of parenting.
So here’s the thing. This sense of my ex hovering around the edges of my life has appeared as my relationship continues in its state of commitment. By that I mean – we live together, we talk openly about options, when we have our ups and downs (like anyone else), we listen and then engage in honest discussion to deal with whatever is an obstacle.
All good, right?
Dreaming Your Ex as a Shadowy Warning
And yet the questions (by others) persist: When are you going to marry him? (I hear that.) When are you going to marry her? (He hears that.) I am the one who is reluctant to even discuss it, and now we’re back to that ghost of my ex.
It isn’t only the divorce that was dreadful, it was the speed with which the marriage itself shriveled, however quietly; it was my willingness to live in denial for a decade; it was the issues of character and values that emerged during the marriage and crystallized during the divorce; it was the overwhelming disillusionment that resulted from the years that followed – he with the deepest pockets wins – regardless of what is “right” much less legal.
I still work at stopping the guilt.
And so I live with ghosts, powerful ghosts that whisper “don’t risk it again,” that snarl “don’t even try it,” and that sneer silently, wagging their long, bony fingers without a word, their message nonetheless painfully delivered.
To my annoyance, they dare to make their presence felt when I am asleep, and my consciousness puts up fewer barriers to fear.
Compatibility: A Learning Process
I took a little “love quiz” not long ago. Oh, it was just for fun – online and via a psychology site rather than a relationship site. I thought their angle might be different and interesting. It was – by virtue of the questions, the results, and my own realizations that followed.
We talk about compatibility largely in the sexual realm. We don’t tend to address it when it comes to temperament or character or communication styles. And aren’t all of these essential to resolving conflict? Aren’t they non-negotiables for having a relationship that keeps you both on the same page?
I’ve “compared the current to the ex” before, but in a different way and a different light. A brighter, more conscious light that shines on our dating choices.
This is something different. A deeper level of examining what I want and need; a deeper recognition of what it is that he wants and needs – and whether or not I can meet his expectations. I ask myself:
- Are we compatible in the ways that are important to him?
- Will our goals remain in sync?
- Can we continue to make our open communication a priority – as we do today?
And of course, I add this to the list: Can I chase away the ghost, or somehow diffuse his power?