Navel Gazer

Published: Saturday February 28, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday March 16, 2015 MYT 7:14:05 PM

Bad break-ups suck, but learning from love's loss – what an experience

One best friend, one ex-boyfriend, his new girlfriend, and Phantom Of The Opera teach Alexandra Wong about getting over a bad breakup.

My obsession with Phantom Of The Opera dates back to my teens. I memorised the lyrics to All I Ask Of You, Think Of Me and Point Of No Return. My best friend and I used to sing the songs to each other over the phone. I dreamed of watching it in a West End theatre, though I had no idea when or how I could afford to visit Europe.

So when I heard the play was going to Singapore, I jumped at the chance. There was just one catch – the invitation came from Freddy, my ex-boyfriend. We broke up a couple of years ago at his insistence that – at 10 years younger – I made him feel like a cradle-snatcher.

But I’ve always believed in maintaining a cordial – if not warm – relationship with my exes. Besides, he’d seen the play before in London. I thought it would be nice to watch it with someone who was clued in. And if I were to admit it to myself, perhaps I was harbouring the hope – no matter how minuscule – of a reconciliation.

Two weeks before the show, he told me over Instant Messenger: “Oh, by the way, Jane will be coming along, too.”

The girl he mentioned casually that he was dating? I was furious. We had bought the tickets in December. Now was March. I can handle this, I thought.

Days before the show, he IM-ed me again to tell me that he couldn’t get a car and give me a lift as he promised. But he assured me, “Alex, you have to go by MRT and walk through the Esplanade and Citylink Malls to get there.”

My apprehension increased, but okay; it sounded easy enough.

Arriving in front of Harry’s Restaurant at our appointed time, the first thing I saw was a short-haired girl in a wrap-dress standing next to him. Her make-up was visibly thick, but upon closer inspection I realised she was quite dewy. That’s when the he-dumped-me-for-a-younger-woman bitterness hit me like a sledgehammer.

I pinned on a smile so bright it could have ricocheted off the Esplanade roof and dropped into the South China Sea. I introduced myself.

“Alex, why don’t you pick the restaurant? Jane and I have eaten something already.”

Seriously? They were going to make me eat alone? The waiter recommended fish and chips in masala batter, but even dragon meat would have tasted bland given the situation.

Outside the St Pancras transportation hub featuring a sculpture of a couple, in the month of love.
Outside the St Pancras tube station in London, photo-bombed by a sculpture.

Jane mostly kept quiet while Freddy and I talked, but there was no mistaking our positions. She touched his thigh lightly from time to time, tugged at his forearm, and there was a constant soft-eyed exchange of lingering glances that brought me dangerously close to snapping, “Do you want to get a room or something?”

Inwardly, I began to feel the pinpricks of regret. Maybe I should have been brazenly rude and just told him I couldn’t make it, and asked him to sell off my ticket. But there was another shock in store.

When we were seated and waiting for the curtain to rise, I asked him for the ticket stub. I gasped out loud when I saw the price stamp. “Is the price of the ticket S$162?” He laughed self-consciously.

“Yes, I suppose so.”

I was sickeningly aware that I only had S$130 in my pocket, and I was certainly not going to empty my wallet as I still needed to get back. I told him precisely that. He shook his head.

“It’s OK. I just thought I’d get better seats, that’s all,” he said, as he turned a loving look at Jane.

All the better to cushion Jane’s delicate derrière, no doubt, I thought. I told myself resolutely: you’ve waited all your life to watch Phantom and you’ve paid a bomb to get here, so the least you can do is enjoy the show, dammit.

I could barely wait for the play to be over. As the curtain was raised, I extracted some notes from my wallet and pressed them grimly into Freddy’s palm, eliciting a raised eyebrow from Jane. Drawing myself to my full height, I shook her hands.

“Nice meeting you. I’d better go off before the MRT stops operating.” I walked off without waiting for their reply.

Threading through the graffiti-covered corridor leading to the City Hall MRT, I realised there wasn’t a soul in sight. A bunch of teenage boys directed catcalls and wolf whistles, reminding me that this may be Singapore but it was way too late for a woman to be out alone. As if to rub more salt into my wound, the only other passengers in my coach was a canoodling couple.

Lost in my misery, I was only vaguely aware of a disembodied voice announcing sepulchrally: “This stop... Noveena...” This was where I was supposed to get off! I vaulted out of the MRT in seconds before the doors slammed shut.

“How was the play?” Mariean asked, opening the door. I tottered unsteadily towards the sofa.

“Terrible. He didn’t even bother to walk me to the MRT station.”

“I ask you about the play and you tell me about your ex. How many years have you broken up?”


“You guys have broken up so long, you can’t expect him to behave the same way anymore.” Mariean had never been one to mince her words. “People now got girlfriend already. Besides this is Singapore; he knows you will be safe.”

“I am still a stranger in a strange land!” I exploded. “Let’s see whether he sends an SMS to check if I’m OK.”

Obviously he never did. They are after all exes for a reason. Bitter much?

For the record, I wrote that nearly 10 years ago. Re-reading it, I still reel from the anger in those words –or as a friend put it, “More potent than Wong Lo Kat (a bitter medicinal tea).”

But you know what? Last week, I saw the Phantom poster on the walls of a London tube station – yes, I did make it to Europe! – and I got excited again and asked my friend, “Hey, I’ve never seen it in a proper West End theatre. Wanna go?”

In celebration of the month of love, I would tell my younger self and everyone who’s had a bad breakup: get used to goodbyes because they’re just as much a part of life as hellos; treat your friends well because one day they’ll do what Mariean did: take you out for dinner, drinks and dancing, leave you with such a bad hangover you can barely remember your name, and you’ll love them for it; and someday, the real thing will walk into your life and make you realise everyone else before that was just rehearsal.

Alexandra Wong ( knows that sometimes life can be a cruel joke. Enjoy the drama anyway, because one day you may share the experience for a laugh – and it won’t even sting.

Tags / Keywords: Navel Gazer, Alexandra Wong, relationship, breakup, ex, West End theatre, Phantom Of The Opera

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