The results are overwhelming. A whopping 68% of those polled online would attend a dinner party at which the only guests were themselves and all their most significant exes. When this hypothetical gathering first occurred to me, I was convinced it was the worst party theme in the world. Once, I spotted two exes conversing at a party and my brain said, "RUN YOU FOOL," and I had to hide in the pantry until they left. And yet, the notional soiree stuck with me. I found myself drawing up seating charts and toying with the idea of sending out invites. I posed the query to every person I saw. Indeed, almost everyone I asked paused wide-eyed to consider before shooting back an unwavering "yes." So why, despite the high likelihood of awkwardness, tears, and perhaps fisticuffs, would people be so willing to RSVP?
As an avid watcher of both Rock of Love Bus
, I will readily admit that one draw is the promise of drama. Who amongst us hasn't rushed over to see a bar fight or shushed the table at a restaurant to better eavesdrop on an adjacent break-up conversation? If you haven't, stop being smug at me and go pick up your dry-cleaning or listen to fusion jazz or something. If you have, you'll agree that if the drama catalyst is yourself, the spectacle is even more enticing. Some cited the desire to check up on previous lovers. If you chose to date these people, they were probably somehow special to you. Also, it'd be nice to know which ones are miserable without you and which ones have moved on.
But a final, nobler incentive drives our desire to reunite with exes: the promise of self-discovery. I'd take a night with good friends over a first date any day. A small handful of my platonic friendships have produced serious spiritual awakening. However, I know that one day my spouse will spelunk his way into parts of me hitherto unknown to myself or my closest compadres. As much as I wish I could just marry my best mates and we could all live together forever in a house with a petting zoo and a fort and a waffle-maker, this arrangement does not produce the same deep intimacy as a romantic partnership. Sharing a sexual act, even one as innocuous as making out, opens doors between people that years of friendship might never broach. The exes we would invite stuck with us because some part of that person resonated with some lesser or greater part of ourselves.
So this terrible dinner party becomes a pageant of one's personality traits, mirrored back with graphic candor. Overall, I've made exemplary romantic choices. There's not an asshole in the bunch (well, there's one asshole, but he's a good guy, I swear!). Even my most tawdry hook-ups were built on some modicum of mutual respect. The ones that stuck could all be brought home to mamma. However, my dinner party would be an absolute disaster. A total, unmitigated wreck. No seating chart permutation could result in desirable conversation. Everyone would fight everyone.
Thus, I was smacked in the face by the frying pan of self-realization. I am drawn to big, combative personalities. Since my first high-school boyfriend, I have picked boys who fight me. Years of scouring for mates have resulted in a half-dozen pugnacious dinner guests. I have always been analytically minded. Now, after four years of private liberal arts education, my conversation only comes out in theses, supporting statements, and rebuttals. To keep me interested, boys have to do more than nod listlessly at my theories (which are all brilliant). As a result, those who confidently dissent grab my attention. They pose a challenge. Some of these guys were genuinely engaged; most just said the opposite of what I said by default. A few were habitual button-pushers, making for one ugly potential get-together. However, as one particularly antagonistic fling pointed out to me with unnerving acuity, I continued to see him because on some level, I liked being antagonized.
Had my choices not been as exceptional as I thought? Had I been indulging some inferior instinct as I collected these partners? Was I a masochistic drama-monger? I drew up another foreboding seating-chart. Then a new thought occurred. Craving a challenge is no crime. I was aware which mates were interested in my well-being, and which enjoyed pissing me off. Now, thanks to my hypothetical dinner party, I can be more alert when choosing a serious partner. So write up your own guest list. Ask yourself what that party would be like. Even if you'd rather hide in the pantry than attend, you might learn something.