I ran into an ex on the beach once. And I’d say I remember that day like it was yesterday, except yesterday was a pretty kickass day and the day I saw my ex on the beach was basically misery bathed in lemon yellow sunshine.
The afternoon started well. Eight of my college friends and I were roasting on a blanket beside the Atlantic Ocean like we were rotisserie chickens. The scent of the ocean air mixed perfectly with the coconut from our sunscreen as we laughed about those easier days and then flipped over in unison so our tans would be uniform because sometimes when you’re twenty-six, that’s all that matters. At some point, I decided to wade to the water’s edge and it was there that I ran into my ex-boyfriend’s father. I adored this man. For four years, he had been a part of my family and I missed him after I’d broken up with my boyfriend. That boyfriend? Well, he was gorgeous and he played guitar and we had gone to the same high school and college but had only gotten together after graduation, a coupling that stunned us both. But then I’d started to wonder if my twenties were maybe meant for something more or if there were better guitar players in the sea so I ended things and we hadn’t had much contact in the six months before I ran into his father on the day I’d finally achieved the perfect tan. He and I hugged hello and he told me the family was just up the beach and before I could make a wiser decision, I found myself sitting in a bikini on a blanket with people whose last name I almost shared. Everyone was there except my ex. His sister and his brother and his sister’s boyfriend greeted me warmly and all seemed right in the world until, through flares of sunlight I now recognize might have been a mini-stroke, my ex appeared with his brand new girlfriend. I flipped my sunglasses down over retinas I knew screamed panic, hugged them both hello, and then, in a moment of awkward silence that everyone gamely participated in for well over one agonizing minute, I realized I had me a few options: I could bury myself headfirst in the sand, strangle him with a web of seaweed, toss myself into the cold ocean and pray for a blackout, or wish them all a great day and walk away with just a teensy bit of grace.
I did none of those things. I just stood there and told his new girlfriend that her swimsuit was pretty – because it was – and my ex stared at me in a way I couldn’t read and finally his sister’s boyfriend stood up and poured me a glass of wine and offered to walk me back to my own blanket, my own friends, and the vicinity of my own sanity. My friends saw me walking on the beach with some older man they’d never seen before, both of us clutching wine glasses. I thanked him for saving me, took a last gulp of comfort, gave him a hug, and sank down on a blanket that felt like home base. I just saw Dan and his new girlfriend, I announced, and I felt like part of my brain had dribbled out and pooled at my feet in a pattern so abstract that even Jackson Pollack would have scoffed.
But here, my sweet readers, is what I didn’t do:
1. I didn’t start screaming at him for all the ways he’d once disappointed me or for that time he told me that it would be perfectly normal for us to one day inhabit separate bedrooms.
2. I didn’t trot out stories of the new guy I was seeing so I could maintain some semblance of even ground.
3. I didn’t disparage his girlfriend because she had nothing to do with our breakup and, honestly, she seemed sweet and I really did like her swimsuit.
4. Though there coolers aplenty, I didn’t heave anything into the face of any person because, well, I don’t have a ton of upper body strength, but also, appearing like a lunatic is just never a good look.
It doesn’t matter that it was me who had ended the relationship. Running into an ex unexpectedly is f*cking odd and having it happen on a beach when you’re half naked makes you feel extra vulnerable. But what I don’t see when I’m watching Ex On the Beach is vulnerability. No, what I see is the desperate craving for more camera time and the unfettered desire to cause physical and emotional harm to someone you used to spoon with. What I see are people fully willing to put their worst selves forward and I’m just not quite sure why they are doing it. I realize that shilling skinny teas online can pay well and keep one rolling in alcohol and thigh tattoos for at least a year or two, but are these people even considering what is being lost? What about dignity or decency or a future public persona not defined by hysteria? What about the possibility that one’s life can be lived without reality show cameras? What about the chance that there are men out there who are not douchebags, men who do not refer to themselves in the third person? And what about the likelihood that there is even the smallest chance that this show is not even real and is instead a very vivid hallucination occurring only in my own mind because what I suffered on the beach that day was actually a stroke and I have been living in a fantasy ever since, one that is hosted by Romeo?
But in case all of this is actually real, let’s get into episode two of a show scientists will surely one day watch on tablets that have yet to be invented as they attempt to pinpoint the moment civilization just stopped trying. Where last we’d left off, three exes has emerged from the sea, love triangles had formed, two women somehow deemed Chase-from-The-Bachelorette a catch, and zero blood had been drawn. Tonight we begin with Faith, Chris and Taylor sitting on the shore as their exes show up. First to arrive is Malibu Princess, Chelsko. Who is Chelsko? She’s a girl who immediately announces that girls find her wildly intimidating because she’s just so amazing and though I am not intimidated by strangers who appear on my television set, I am basically paid to psychoanalyze them, so here’s my read on Chelsko. She was clearly weaned on MTV shows and has been waiting for her shot to be pretend famous since she sprang forth from the womb, so welcome, Chelsko! I have officially told my spellcheck that your name in fact exists so now let’s just sit back and witness the carnage you’re so proud to inflict! We don’t have to wait long. She announces that Chris cheated on her on New Year’s and he responds that she hooked up with his uncle and if you’ll all just hang on for a sec, I’m going to quickly call every member of my family to thank them for not getting any of my exes naked.
Taylor’s ex Andre shows up next. Apparently he met her on Are You the One and now he’d like more exposure. Oh, he’d also like to apologize for cheating on her. Nobody shows up to annihilate Faith – maybe the guy drowned – but there’s still a bunch more episodes left so she probably shouldn’t let her guard down. Left on the beach, Chris and Chelsko fight immediately and Taylor is horrified that Andre will not apologize for treating her like garbage, but those conversations are like unicorns and f*cking sunshine compared to what Angela is dealing with in the Shack of Secrets. She’s stuck there in a tight space with Derrick, his filled-to-the-brim-with-sexts phone, her own inner terror, and a few cameras. (See, we mustn’t ever forget about the cameras since we know the cast never does.) He claims he never lied or cheated on her. She claims she has no feelings left for him, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t still hurt when she sees that the girl he swore was just a friend recently complimented him on the amazing sex they had. I would love to have no idea what Angela is going through in this moment, but eliminate the bullsh*t Shack of Secrets set and the pedestal the phone sits atop like it’s the holy f*cking grail and this is a scenario I think a lot of girls who tend to fall for liars have dealt with and I’d maybe be okay if Angela stuck just one of her sharp fingernails directly into this guy’s scrotum.
Angela eventually ascends from the bowels of heavily-produced Hell to inform the others that the Shack of Secrets sucks while Derrick stays below to perform a monologue I think is entitled This Is My F*cking Shot At Glory. The crux of his piece is that he’s single so it’s not like anything she found on his phone should be incriminating and he waves his arms about because he once heard the best actors emote with their bodies. Then he climbs back into that sad little elevator, walks outside, and throws lawn furniture into the swimming pool. Aaaaaaand scene.