It was a blistering hot Saturday afternoon, I found myself at a local lakefront festival surrounded by the who’s-who of my town that included the mayor and a local political party leader who probably peed in my childhood pool at some point when we were both kids growing up together. I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencing that definitive moment as you age, when you realize that the small town you grew up in has now become a (peed-in) suss-pool of people you went to high school with, reminders of failed relationships, ex’s of your ex’s and old friends who probably forget all about that time they threw up behind the dumpster of the club and hooked-up with that guy who we still only know to this day as “Hotty McBartender”. You two end up catching a glimpse of each other from a distance, nod and smile politely and pretend that you can’t still hear the sound of Rihanna’s Pon da Replay pounding in the back of your mind. Those are surprisingly known as the best case scenarios, if you happen to find yourself actually having to endure a fake conversation with one of these ghosts of millennial past, you’ll begin to feel the sudden overwhelming urge to pack up your life, move to some remote island and start rebuilding a much simpler life as a recluse, like Tom Hanks in Cast Away. I mean, at least Wilson and I don’t have to suffer the awkwardness of both having dated the same guy! Why do the conversations with someone from your past usually start with some ridiculous catechism like, “have you been staying outta trouble?”. What does that even mean? Like, are we speaking through a telephone handset behind a sheet of plexiglass right now? I’m obviously not in prison, so I guess the answer is, YES, I’ve managed to stay out of trouble since we last spoke. You force yourself to do the polite thing and proceed to ask them questions about their wife/husband/kids/dog/that recurring rash they’ve always had and listen to them talk about a bunch of other bullshit you could really care less about. Pretending to lend your sympathetic ear while listening to them rant about the contractor that screwed them out of $5,000 on their grandiose backyard garden waterfall feature, you begin to try and think about a captivating story on the fly that would be considered remotely relatable even though the only contractors that you come into contact with these days are the ones you match with on Tinder. You try to lighten the mood with a joke like, “I guess we’ve both been ghosted by a contractor this week…HA!” – and followed by the sound of crickets you can almost physically see the conversation go up in flames right then and there like a California forest fire. It always ends with someone saying, “we should really get together sometime”, which never happens and then you both go on with your lives until your next awkward run-in, which will probably be in the junk food aisle at Costco, so you better remember to ease up on the Smartfood.
Seeing someone you’ve dated or had any kind of romantic history with out in the dysfunctional jungle known as your hometown, has to be the absolute worst though. As soon as you sense their presence in a crowd, your whole demeanour starts to change, and you don’t even really know whats happening. For some reason the peacock in you starts to flex its feathers in hopes that you’ll be noticed from across the room and caught mid joyous laugh, and all the longing and regret will start to flood their body and make them realize how stupid they were to let you go. Ok granted, it was 9th grade and you only had a whirlwind half a semester romance, but I’m sure that guy still regrets the day he asked Carly Poleski to the semi-formal instead of you! You revel in the fact that Carly got fat and moved to trashy outskirts of town with her beer drinking husband and 3 boys, and you’re currently enjoying your freedom out and about at an event that you didn’t have to pay a babysitter to attend. If you can get through a public event not having hooked up with one of the performing band members, then you’re already one step ahead of me. Trying to avoid eye contact and also resisting the urge to swing your hips back and forth to his catchy-ass rendition of Brown Eyed Girl, the mortification sets in when he catches a glimpse of you in the crowd and you suddenly start to pray for the second coming of Christ to happen just so you can avoid any of this diabolic awkwardness. Thankfully you took the time to curate the perfect insta worthy outfit and your hair is on point because, lets face it, looking cute is the always the best revenge.
Of course its Murphy’s Law that the one time you’re hung over, don’t wash your hair, put make-up on or do your laundry for 3 weeks, is the day that you’ll run into one of your ex’s at the grocery store. I’m fortunate enough to be on good terms with most of mine, but I still want to make sure that I come out on top and appear to be “winning” the break-up at all times. Why? Because I’m (adorably) passive aggressive and he should regret every bouquet of flowers he didn’t buy me. Donning baggy Roots sweat pants with un-plucked eyebrows, left-over eye glitter from the night before and Pinot Grigio oozing from my pores, I pull my oversized RayBan’s down over my eyes in hopes that I can run into the store to grab my almond milk, rye bread and tampons all while still managing to go unnoticed. After squeezing what feels like 11 avocados trying to find the best one, you hear your name being called in a distance from the back of the deli section and cringe when you look up to see your Blue Jays ball cap wearing ex boyfriend holding his bag of cold cuts. You make up some excuse for your outfit, in hopes that he’ll actually believe that you are staring as an extra in Ke$ha’s latest music video and that you’ve just been doing fantastic since moving back home with your mom and 2 cats at the age of 33 and that deciding to stay single until you figure out who you really are as a person has been the best decision you’ve made since dating him all those years ago. As you listen to the load of bullshit spewing from your mouth, you suddenly remember that you’re also out of toilet paper…
Having lived in the same town since I was 6 years old, going to any restaurant, public event, or any local bar has become my own personal version of the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon. I find myself surrounded by people who know me directly, by association or worse, those who associate me with my asshole ex, who by the way, didn’t even grow up here, so just to clarify, I didn’t date HIM, he dated ME and now he won’t leave! Everywhere you go, you’re reminded of bad Bumble dates (sometimes even while you’re out on another bad Bumble date!) and the woman your ex dated after you who just so happens to be your doppelgänger, clearly he has a “type”. There’s no such thing as a one night stand if you live in a small town, you WILL see that person again and you all know the same people, so you might as well just add them to your hotline bling list and call it a day. Just to be clear, for women, this doesn’t necessarily mean an archetypal booty call, it actually sometimes is just a list of people you text when you need a ride home from the bar, or if you need a date to a wedding you don’t even want to go to in the first place or someone who will just take you home to family dinner because you spent all your grocery money at Sephora. Quick side note though – if you are frequently attending family dinners at your booty call’s parent’s house, it might not be a booty call anymore, you might actually be in a relationship (I hate it when that happens). You’ll probably come to this realization if it’s a pot-luck situation and you find yourself baking up your grandma’s famous casserole dish to bring. Don’t be booty-call-casserole girl, you’re better than that.
The invention of the internet and more specifically, social media, has single-handedly cut the degrees of separation of living in a small town from 6 to about 2. With every mutual friend you share on Facebook, the chances of you having dated their brother, boss, ex or even one of their parents is extremely high and mostly everyone is connected in some way (typically in the shape and form of too many tequila shots). I will say though that receiving information that both of your ex’s are now Eskimo brothers because apparently there’s a shortage of eligible singles in your area, is a really tough pill to swallow. If you do ever have this happen to you, I guess you’ll just have to chalk it up to first world (small town) problems and try not to let it bother you that literally the two worst people in the world found each other (lucky them!). In the day and age of social networking, it’s become even easier to stalk…oops, I mean, stay connected with the people from your past all while making you accessible and vulnerable to encroachment in the form of “pokes” and DM’s from people you really wish you never had to live in constant fear of seeing again. Social media also gives people (ok fine, mostly just women) the enhanced ability to put their armature private investigator skills to work in order to find out every single thing about another person, from who they’ve been with, what vacation they took in 2012 and even what they had for lunch that day. You’d be extremely naive to think that the ex of your current boyfriend hasn’t creeped you 6 ways from Sunday on every social media platform on the wonderful world-wide web just so they can find even one juicy detail to report back to their girlfriends, like how dry your split ends look in most of your car selfies. They’ll also be searching to see who links you back to them and what commonalities you have in the form of business connections, overall life experiences and of course, mutual friends. You can’t really say anything about it either, because you KNOW that you’re doing the exact same thing (and probably better since you practically invented that shit). Isn’t it just so considerate of Facebook to show you all the mutual friends that you and the new guy you just started dating have in common? (AKA all the friends and acquaintances of yours that he’s probably already hooked up with). Thanks Mark Zuckerberg for that in-our-face reminder to get our yearly STD test.