There just aren’t enough opportunities to talk about your exes once you get married.
It starts with the embargo on mentioning them during wedding speeches, and then continues throughout the rest of your days together.
Sure, they may pop up in conversation from time to time, but it’s usually greeted with eye-rolling, sighing, or even some suggestions that if Ms Ex was so great why don’t I go look her up and see if she wants to give it another go now that I am such a catch dressed as I am head to toe in Tesco F&F brand clothes.
Really, there should be an armistice one day a year to acknowledge the existence of exes and the impact they have on the paths you chose in life. It should be like the Mexican Day Of The Dead, where you get to break out the dusty parcel of letters from the attic or shoeboxes stuffed with old photos and reminisce for a bit.
Fortunate, then, that my teenage son recently asked me about my single days. Delighted to be given a legitimate reason to set adrift on memory bliss I told him to clear his schedule and to please save any questions or applause until the end of the talk. A good 40 minutes into my TEDx-style DADex talk I realised that actually he wasn’t that interested and really his question was more about timeframes.
He didn’t want to know about any of my romantic misadventures, but rather if he was falling behind in his progress as a bloke, because sadly he is now at the age where this stuff matters.
My first clue was when he asked me if the word ‘fridget’ was used ‘back in the olden times’.
I greeted this word as one would an old friend, having heard it plenty when I was a bookish, socially malfunctioning teenager. It obviously still holds its power today as at least one of my son’s friends is thinking about changing to a co-ed school as he blames blessed Brother Ignatius Rice for preventing him from meeting members of the opposite sex and is worried he will remain a fridget for life.
It’s all alien to me as I’m at the point in life where I aspire to fridgetdom, and would love to skip off to The Lake Isle of Innisfree and live all alone in my wattle and daub hut like that other noted fridget, WB Yeats.
The second clue was when he told me about some boy he knew who went to a teen disco and shifted (that’s a culchie term for kissing which, like fridget, still gets used today) a dozen members of the opposite sex.
When I pointed out that this claim was most likely completely false, he countered that it wasn’t because said lothario had his friend walk around the disco with him filming each encounter. I probably shouldn’t have been that surprised or horrified by this information, but the thought of someone roaming around an underage disco with a videographer like they’re hunting tax evaders for an episode of Prime Time feels like a mildly dystopian update on how it was back in the late-80s and early 90s.
At least back then everyone lied about their prowess or progress or powers of attraction; everyone lied about the disco, or had the default mystery girl or boyfriend who went to a different school or who they met in Irish college. ‘You wouldn’t know them, they’re from Tipperary’ would buy you some time. Now it’s ‘pics or it didn’t happen’.
I tried to tell him that in the great expanse of a life, your teenage years are short, and that there is no pressure to do X or Y with anyone. Things happen when they happen and feeling the need to get out there and start racking up encounters with the opposite sex as though you are catching Pokémon, especially if it’s to find validation with your peers, is a deeply unhealthy way to approach life.
But this is masculinity; so much of the uglier side of it is generated by our need to fit in with other men. I’m not saying men can’t be toxic weirdos when on our own, but in packs we engage in behaviour towards the opposite sex that is largely motivated by our need to demonstrate to other men just how manly we are; it doesn’t matter if it’s cat calls from the scaffolds or bants from a gaggle of lads down the pub, we are often far worse in groups than alone.
He will figure that out eventually, hopefully sooner than it took a lapsed fridget like me.