"My ex was absolutely mental." How many times have you heard a man say that?
Intrigued, we'll press for more. Did she camp outside his house at night? Did she call him repeatedly? Did she get drunk and convince his housemates to let her in so she could pass out in his bed?
And yet, the older I've got, and the longer I've known certain men, the more I've started to see that for every "crazy" ex-girlfriend story, there is another side which, sadly, the ex is not around to tell. Just how crazy is it at 28 to expect a boyfriend of three years to have a conversation about whether moving in together might make financial sense? And how "insane" do you really have to be to expect a man who has stood up in front of his family and friends and professed his commitment to you not to put his penis in the vagina of your best friend Laura?
Certain men LOVE the "crazy ex" trope. It's their get-out-of-jail-free card. Their lazy way of closing the door on their last relationship, no blame to themselves, and their chance to move on, having learned absolutely nothing.
Outdated stereotypes of women being "overly emotional" and "pre-menstrual" have helped perpetuate the crazy ex. And unfairly so. If someone I love and respect is treating me like shit, I will get upset. And while I have been known to make some more-than-slightly irrational decisions when I am due on my period, two to three days later, normal service is restored, apologies in place.
It was because of the concept of the crazy ex that the first series of the BBC's fantastically successful drama Doctor Foster was such a breath of fresh air. Gemma Foster was accomplished, beautiful, a breadwinner, socially adept, intelligent and well respected. She had friends, a career, a caring husband, a great sex life, a smart son and a lovely house. At least she thought she did.
Sadly, her husband Simon turned out to be a narcissistic sociopath who was cheating on her with a 23-year-old and had ploughed all their money into a ridiculous business idea that was on the verge of collapsing. Oh, the 23-year-old was also pregnant and all of Dr. Foster's "friends" knew. They had even socialised with Simon and this girlfriend of two years, Kate.
Quite rightly, Dr. Foster went full Red Ross. Quietly at first, while she gathered her information using covert sources. Then loudly, when she drove to her surrogate mother's house and almost killed herself. Then, when she'd had an epiphany, she came back, took herself to young Kate's parents' house (Kate's dad was the main investor in Simon's business, ha) and revealed the truth in a manner that secured the ruin of Simon and Kate, saved her finances and managed to kick those so-called "friends" in the proverbial bollocks along the way. She also managed to drop the unforgettably jarring line, "Bitch is right, I'm a wolf tonight!" Incredible scenes.
Simon, in response, punched Dr. Foster in the face and knocked her out. Crazy ex and domestic abuser, all in one.
That was season one; Dr. Foster wore being "a woman scorned" like an expensively tailored suit. It was exquisite.
And now it's season two. Simon and Kate move back. They've got a daughter. A big house. The inexplicably open arms of the town for which Dr. Foster, still recovering from being punched in the face, has been busy caring these past two years.
But right off the bat, Dr. Foster is like a different woman. She's drinking more white wine than all the women in Big Little Lies combined, she breaks into Simon's house, shows up at his housewarming party with a new date who inexplicably accompanies her, exploits the few friends she has left (causing a divorce!), drunkenly and coquettishly invites herself into the living room of a 15-year-old friend of her son's in an attempt to extort information and, to top it off, hate-shags Simon. Her son Tom, by the way, is suffering from crippling anxiety and has attempted to rape a classmate (really). Simon and Dr. Foster, though, are too busy playing Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un; they're using him as a pawn in their game of mutual destruction.
It goes without saying, by the way, that Simon has been a crazy ex and worse from day one. He violently assaulted Dr. Foster. He sent her flowers saying "bitch". He's got a bizarre plan to get Dr. Foster to leave town which involves getting an old uni mate of his to poach Dr. Foster's job. The man is dangerous. He's a shit. Consider him judged with the strongest of contempt. He's bottom-of-the-pile, off-the-sale-rack fodder who doesn't deserve any woman, let alone two. He was a waste of space from the beginning.
But Dr. Foster wasn't. Which is why it's so disappointing to see her falling into this favoured male stereotype of the crazy ex-girlfriend. She's become a textbook caricature from those locker room tales of "bunny boilers" and "psycho bitches" and it's a shame, because men feel like it gives them the right to say, "I knew she was unhinged all along", Simon included, thus expunging him (in his head) of any wrongdoing.
Towards the end of the last episode, Dr. Foster seemed to have recovered some. She realised her son was more important and left town. No doubt the final two episodes will see her exact some glorious revenge against Simon and come out on top once again. But at what cost? She's lost the power she once held by being the bigger (wo)man and has detracted from the atrocious actions of one of television's most recognisable villains against women.
Sadly, women and men across the country watching the programme will no longer see a dangerous narcissist (who exists far too plainly in real life) get his comeuppance and be forced to learn a lesson. Instead, they'll see that yeah, he was a dick, but so was she. His abuse will be overshadowed by the fact that she falls neatly into a box that men understand; that of the crazy ex. Phew, they might think, Simon wasn't that bad; it was the woman that was mad all along.
And so the crazy ex trope stands strong. And isn't it disappointing?