Every week people write to tell us that listening in makes them feel less alone.
Late last year, while parked in the relationship dread-zone that is the IKEA car park, I received a passionate phone call from my ex-fiance about his Next Great Idea – a podcast with the two of us talking about our relationship. I was slightly amused as three years prior, after realising the bookshelf we'd bought wouldn't fit into our car, we'd nearly killed each other in this very car park. Six months previous to this conversation, we hadn't even been on speaking terms.
I was immediately not fond of the idea; not because I was uncomfortable with the subject, but because I thought it would likely be several different breeds of droll that I didn't want to be associated with. But Peter and I had always worked on strange projects - once I'd plastered my university with posters of our genitals; another time I wrote and performed a song for him about his failed attempts to lose his virginity. We both (me in particular) had long since used each other's lives and our relationship as fodder for creative projects, so the idea that we'd publicly document this mending period made a lot of sense, I just wasn't sure people would listen to it.
In the first episode Peter revealed to me that I wasn't his greatest love. In the second episode, I told him that I didn't think he was sexy.
Fortunately there was another factor drawing me to the idea: I missed working with him. During our relationship, collaborative creative endeavours were always at the forefront. My creative confidence and projects were so immutably matched to our relationship that after the shrapnel of our breakup had found a home, my creative life still had a Peter-sized hole. As partners we were more co-producers than lovers, and as exes I wanted my co-producer back.
Honor Eastly. Photo: instagram/honor_eastly
After a short discussion about what we wouldn't talk about (which turned out to be not much), we recorded the first episode the following day, which is when Peter revealed to me that I wasn't his greatest love. In the second episode, I told him that I didn't think he was sexy. After that it was clear that "Being Honest With My Ex" was an apt title and now after four months and a lot of truth-telling, we're about to celebrate our sweet sixteenth episode.
The project has actually been a lot more therapeutic and teaching than I expected: this is after all, the first time I've ever had the opportunity to meticulously unpack and assign meaning to a relationship after it's ended with the other person who was in it. Usually those conversations are relegated to best friends or drunken 3ams and rarely if ever are they publicly shared. The process of mending in this way has taught me greatly about humility, my own failed memory, the potency of time, and the eventual obsolescence of anger.
Every week people write to tell us that listening in makes them feel less alone, helps them be more honest, or even motivates them to change their life. This response was completely unexpected. I knew my relationship with Peter was a bit left of the mainstream, but the success of the show has made me realise that our relationship is the kind of everyday reality that we miss out on in TV shows and media, where the ex is always deeply-hated or a constant source of romantic intrigue. My relationship with Peter is neither of those things (to the disappointment of some listeners).
If there is one great lesson to be found in this whole experiment – and I'm not totally convinced there is – it is that we have access to more freedom in how we relate than we often realise. As my idol Miranda July says "I continue to forget, and remember, and forget, and remember that I am free": before this project I had somewhat forgotten the freedoms around relating that I already enjoyed. Honesty, authenticity, and the ability to always be able to ask the question were doormats to my relationships, but seeing how other people appreciated them in the podcast made me realise how coveted these qualities really are. Relating publicly has reminded me that there are far fewer rules to how we can relate to one another than we expect, and many of them we can unpick or create ourselves.
That being said, the experience has not been solely rosey. This freedom is not easy to find or act upon and none of us are immune to the psychological pressures and realities of relating post-romance. After our break-up Peter and I spent most of a year decisively out of contact. From my side not only did we not speak, but I actively hated Peter. All the minor contact we had was imbued with deep, distrustful, even vengeful meaning. This anger was vindicated by all the other people I'd seen on TV, movies and real-life who also hated their exes. Society was not indifferent on this issue, it told me I Was Right, and this type of story was so culturally enmeshed that it became not only easy, but automatic.
Many dry mouths, tears, and fallen judgments later Peter and I were friends, and doing a podcast, but the unlearning of what our relationship should be is still very much active. In our 13th episode I confess to Peter that I am deeply, gutturally jealous of him. Our lives post-breakup look very different; Peter is self-employed and travelling the world on his new found lack-of-fiancée freedom and I'm in Melbourne, living in our old house and relatively chained to my geography. My life is nowhere near bad but I am magnetised to comparing mine to his. Exes, like siblings, can be afflicted with a unique sense of competitiveness, and is why most of us want to see our exes only when we exude unfaltering shit-together-ness.
But if freedom is the goal then vulnerability is the how. It does not feel nice or comforting to admit that I feel embarrassingly competitive, and worse yet, that I think I may be losing the unspoken post-relationship race. It would be much easier to detest Peter and paint myself as the victim of my own purity of character. But by putting my fears first I'm actually killing the invisible element we've spent years building: trust. By allowing myself to be vulnerable we're granted access to some secret extended director's cut of our own lives. And if my life were Neighbours, doing the podcast would be the bit where they'd plant a lemon tree on top of a grave; for us it is the new growth on top of the old thing we'd killed two years ago.
Many of us are privileged with the opportunity to define our rules of engagement, to test the boundaries of our relationships, and to challenge what has been handed down to us by generations of nuclear families and non-stop re-runs of The Notebook and High Fidelity. For me this opportunity comes in podcast form. But it isn't just for show, the podcast isn't a cookie cut example of the relational options available to us. For us it is a real-time document of the chances we take with each other.