The Ex Files

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May 31, 2000

"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Colossians 3:13 NIV

There's a scenario that repeats itself every now and then when I'm eating out with friends. Someone orders a dish that comes with fries, they struggle with the ketchup bottle, and I brag that I know the secret of extracting this condiment from its stubborn container. I valiantly take the bottle and (read closely now) hit the neck hard with the heel of my hand. Then I smile wide as the red stuff flows freely on my friend's plate.

"Where'd you learn that?" someone inevitably asks, to which I always respond, "I learned it from an old boyfriend. It's hands-down the best thing I got out of the relationship." Then we all laugh - and occasionally launch into ex-boyfriend bashing.

Let's face it, anyone who's been single for a number of years has experienced more than his or her fair share of pain and rejection at the hands of those we cared about, whether they meant to hurt us or not.

My friends and I laugh often about The Fence Breaker, the guy who drove into my friend Julie's fence when he went to pick her up for a date. To make matters worse, he never made good on his promise to fix it. I constantly remind another friend that she deserves someone so much better than her ex of four years. He had more issues than the magazine section of Borders, yet he dragged her to counseling for a little fixing up.

While these sometimes hurtful behaviors are so easy to see, what's harder to glimpse is the good in our exes. And it's there, whether we want to admit it or not. No matter how someone may have treated you, he or she is still one of God's creations and his fingerprints are in there somewhere.

Convicted by my funny, yet not-so-Christlike words recently, I started trying to see the good qualities in my exes, the things that drew me to them in the first place. With God's help I've come to realize the guy who undermined my self-esteem with his constant sarcastic comments also helped birth my love for travel. And the old flame who broke my heart by dumping me on my birthday - at a Christian music festival, no less - also made me feel beautiful for the first time in my life. Seeing the good in these guys, savoring the great memories of our time together, and thanking God for the positives amidst the negatives has led me to a less jaded, more hopeful outlook. And one that pleases God.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not making excuses for hurtful behavior - especially abuse, which is never, ever okay. And there are times we set ourselves up for pain by walking into relationships we have no business entering. But as pastor and author Lee Strobel once wrote, "Bitter, angry people don't hold a grudge as much as the grudge holds them." Looking for the good in a past relationship may seem like a Pollyanna-like exercise, but it yields amazing benefits: happier, healthier singlehood.

So the next time I'm the ketchup hero at dinner with friends, I'll simply say, "I learned that trick from an old boyfriend. He was really handy like that." I may miss a good laugh, but we'll all gain a more positive perspective about the opposite gender, relationships, and this strange world of singleness.

Camerin Courtney

2002 Christianity Today. Used by permission.