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Empathy for an ex's girlfriend

November 03, 2012|By Homa Mojtabai
(Pete Ryan, For the Los Angeles…)

Hello Homa. My name is Laura and I just wanted to ask if you are or have been with Carlos? He's my boyfriend and we've been dating two yrs. He wants another chance and I just want to know to have peace of mind. Thank you.

The only thing to do after receiving a Facebook message like that is to climb into bed and take a nap. In fact, I needed three hours of stone-cold slumber on a Saturday afternoon before I could confront the awkwardness of my dating life (a distressing phenomenon that I believed had been safely banished during my 20s).

Laura had contacted me through Carlos' account. Thanks to Facebook and the wonders of the indelible Internet, the months-old messages from our fleeting romance were neatly laid out for her cringe-worthy inquiry.

I felt sadness at this girl's naivete and self-deception, followed by anger at Carlos for enmeshing me in the tawdry affair and then embarrassment at the association with such a cliche. And that's how the emotions rolled in for the next few hours — sad, mad, ugh.

I'd met Carlos at a house party in Santa Monica. My intention was to swing by only to show my face and say hello. Instead, I found myself embroiled in a heated political debate with an Orange County Republican. As we danced along the line of civility, the argument turned to the Middle East and immigration.

The rich, white boy from Southern California was indulging in what were, for him, distant academic concepts. But for me, a daughter of Persian immigrants, his statements were deeply personal affronts.

With every dig at the old country, the controls on my temper slipped. Eyes swiveled around the room to fix on me.

It was at this moment that Carlos stepped into the argument like a white knight. He was able to keep his composure as he deconstructed one argument after another and wore that Republican down like freeway asphalt.

Initially, I was a fan only of Carlos' intellect.

Physically, he was too small and wiry to be my type. But over time, and perhaps in acknowledgment of how the far side of 30 can change a woman's perspective, I reconsidered his potential as a mate. Carlos seemed to embody most of the criteria on my mental checklist: bilingual (check), smart (check), not only smart but good at math (check), liberal politics (check) and confidence (based on his ability to battle the OC — double check).

There was also the fact of his remarkable background. Carlos had pushed his way out of Central America and through a notorious L.A. public high school. He was the first in his family to go to college, landing in ridiculously prestigious places.

Plus, he was a friend of a friend — all the more reason to trust him. We moved in the same circles. I had a handle on him.

Except I didn't.

I came to the same realization as Laura, only it took me two weeks instead of two years. Carlos had a woman problem. Or an honesty problem. Maybe that hardscrabble background exacted more of a psychological toll than he let on. Who knows?

It took some time and alcohol, but Carlos fessed up that there were other women. After he formally apologized for his misbehavior, I came to view Carlos as an arms-length acquaintance-with-problems. My attraction to him disappeared as fast as it came. We were casual friends, and we continued to hang out in large groups, with minimal social trauma.

Then the Facebook message from Laura arrived. Carlos had been actively deceiving some poor girl for years — before, during and after we dated. This was far worse than hooking up with multiple people at the start of a relationship.

As I've grown older, I've also piled up experience, resources and confidence. I've stopped making excuses. Stopped trying to believe that anything I do or say can fix another person who doesn't want to be fixed.

At least most of the time.

Laura had left a cellphone number. I pulled out my iPhone and typed this text:

Hi Laura, this is Homa. I got your Facebook message and wanted to respond. I had no idea you guys were together. Carlos only mentioned an ex girlfriend. My heart goes out to you. Feel free to call if you want to chat. All my best, Homa."

Laura never called. The last I heard, they were getting married.

Homa Mojtabai is a Los Angeles-based writer and civil servant.

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