Relationships

The Day I Called All of My Ex-Boyfriends

Was it them, or me? It was time to find out.

Here's the ugly truth: I'm 50 and single. I mean, it's not the end of the world, but it's not how I want things to be.

I started dating a boy in ninth grade—once I stopped resembling a boy myself—and you'll be stunned to hear that my ninth-grade romance didn't work out. I never quite know whether to feel sorry for or envy people who met someone in high school and lived happily ever after. I mean, it seems sweet, but I think I'd also be dying to know what it was like to fall in love at some dark college pub, or at a happy hour after a day at your first real job, or to discover passion in middle age.

Anyway, it doesn't matter, because forever-since-high-school so wasn't me. I dated a lot, on into my torrid 20s. I kept moving, like a nomad, hoping to find "the right person."

Finally, I met him, and at 33, I married Mr. Right.

Twelve years later, we got divorced.

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Since then, I've had one more torrid relationship, and that didn't work out so well, either. He was also not "the right person," although I dearly wanted him to be.

That one ended almost a year ago, and I've had some time to myself. I've been able to mull over how many not-right people I've dated in this lifetime.

So I did some writing about them (using the word "journaling," like it's a real verb, is even worse than never finding true love), looked for their similarities (They all remind me of Dad in some way. Hey, Miss Marple! Good mystery-solving, there!), and finally I came upon one common denominator in all my relationships: me.

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Maybe it wasn't that everyone else wasn't right. Maybe it's that I was wrong.

And that's when I decided to call all my old boyfriends and ask them what they thought.

Not that I'm on speaking terms with all of them. There's one I went out with for two years in the '80s who's fallen off the face of the earth. Another one has a wife who'd rather I didn't, and that's cool. But the rest? We're civil. My favorite of the phone calls went like this:

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Old boyfriend from 1988: Hello?

Me: Hey! It's Karen! I'm calling all my exes to see what I did wrong! How are you?

OBF1988: Well, I was fine …

Really, though, if you know me, you know not to be surprised by such a phone call. Everyone took it in stride. And here's the thing—what they all told me really pissed me off.

"I never cheated on you," OBF1988 said. "Why would I? I had everything right there that I wanted. Plus, it's just not how I operate. But you were convinced I was cheating."

He's right. Even as I write this, I think, Oh hell, he most certainly did too cheat on me, even though it's been almost 30 years and he has a wife and would have no earthly reason to lie anymore.

"I never cheated on you, but you accused me of it constantly," my 10th-grade boyfriend said to me. Well, of COURSE I did! Didn't he … well, what about the time he …

Oh, hell.

I heard over and over again how I never trusted anyone. Every time an old boyfriend brought it up, I bristled and felt convinced I was still right all these decades later. By the fifth time I got the same damn answer, I thought, Well, shit.

Maybe everyone isn't lying. Maybe I really just don't trust men.

So there I have it. It was painful to learn, and made me feel like a giant nutbar that I went around doing this mistrust thing over and over again, and never once felt like maybe I was in the wrong. Hearing basically the same thing from each old boyfriend made it kind of undeniable.

I'm not sure this is something everyone should do, but it's saved me a fortune in therapy bills, and once I stopped being defensive, it was a pretty enlightening experience. I mean, at least I know what my pattern is, right?

Now I just have to fix it.

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