Joanie [doesn’t] love Chachi

Unless you marry your first love, there is a good chance that you will have a story to tell about an ex: an ex-girlfriend, an ex-boyfriend, an ex-lover, an ex-I-have-no-idea-what-the-hell-we-were-anyway. And if you have not had an ex, you have probably been exposed to the wide range of break-up scenarios anyway. Media and entertainment thrive on it. What exactly makes the topic of breaking up and the embodiment of “the ex” such a prominent one? Let’s unfold this:

According to Steve Duck, a professor at the University of Iowa and an avid researcher in communication studies, there are four major steps involved in the dissolution of a romantic relationship:

1. The problem is recognized. One or both partners may recognize it.
2. The problem is discussed. Negotiations occur in attempt to save the relationship.
3. The relationship has transformed. The break-up is made public and involves stories of face-saving and blame.
4. The break-up must be dealt with. Physically and psychologically, the relationship ends here. Each partner comes up with his or her own version of what happened and they each engage in activities designed to “get over it.”

Without a doubt, the last step is the hardest. I don’t care if you were the one who decided that you were better off without him or that she just wasn’t good enough for you. It’s tough.

Joan Knihnicki, a Carnegie Mellon graduate student studying social psychology, described breaking up as the separation from an attachment figure. “[This is] a figure from whom we get lots of our needs met, including a secure base from which we can explore the world and a safe haven to turn to in times of stress,” Knihnicki said. “When we break up, we are losing this and it is completely natural to be distressed.”

However, Knihnicki emphasized that the multitude of emotions and behaviors associated with a break-up are different for everyone. The emotions and behaviors include distress, jealousy, blame, control, coping, and decision-making. What determines your pathway beyond the break-up has a lot to do with whether or not the break-up was mutual. Were you the one who was dumped? Or were you the merciless dumper?

Chante Cox-Boyd, a Carnegie Mellon social psychology professor, examined a typical pathway the “dumped” might experience. “Usually, people come up with their own version of the break-up in order to make themselves feel good about the relationship. For example, if someone broke up with me, I would tend to selectively remember the times when I was unhappy [so that I could] feel as if the break-up was a good thing for me too.”

And naturally, being dumped hurts your self-image. Cox-Boyd said, “Having someone in our lives tends to reinforce the view that we are worthy, desirable people.”

The depth and length of the relationship, in addition to your options following the break-up, come into play. Cox-Boyd said, “If I break up with a guy, but there are three others waiting in the wings, I tend to let go of the relationship more easily than would someone who has no other alternative partners.”

You are hurt. You become jealous. You become bitter. How healthy is it to be overwhelmed with the idea of failed relationships? Cox-Boyd believes that society focuses too much on break-ups, and that this “makes people believe that the option for a bad relationship is a break-up rather than working on keeping it going.”

But the entertainment industry does bank on happy reunions too. Think Ross and Rachel, Carrie and Big, Joey and Pacey, Marissa and Ryan, and Seth and Summer. Celine Dion just needed to be kissed like that to know that it was all coming back to her now. And Mariah is going to let you fly because she knows that you’ll always be her baby. It’s cheesy, but there is always that hope of it working out again. This person knows you inside-out. This person was once your partner, your confidant, and your best friend. You shared moments of intimacy. You shared ice cream. You were together for a reason. And sometimes, on a Friday night, it seems all too easy to slip into the comfort of what once was. There is a chance that the spark will return, that you will embrace passionately and wed soon after.

There is also a chance that you will never see your ex again. And that’s fine too, because all relationships provide us with immeasurable lessons and insights. They define for us what a relationship is. Cox-Boyd explained, “The way in which we judge all of our relationships is based on a comparison level which is composed of the average expected outcome in a relationship.”

Above all, the first relationship holds a special place in our hearts and in our minds. “Due to the primacy effect, the first information we have on relationships can have a stronger impact on how we view later ones, because they can set up the schema regarding relationships in general.” Lesley Ridge, a sophomore creative and professional writing double major, agreed: “After dating someone, especially your first boyfriend or girlfriend, you have a better idea of what you want out of a relationship from the other person as well as what you need to do to make a relationship work.”

Bearing in mind my own experiences, I have decided that the role of exes in our lives is a significant one. Whether you still think of them fondly or not does not matter. What matters is, at the time you were with them... you were getting laid. No — you were growing as an individual. You were preparing for your future relationships. You were learning to love.