Friends with an Ex

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I walked hurriedly, but slowed to check myself out in the dark window of a restaurant. Making mirror-face, I pouted my lips and fluffed my hair. Then, I saw that this was the place. Into the door, I realized with slight embarrassment I’d been checking myself out in the window at the booth where he was sitting.  He stood at my arrival and heart beat like a butterfly’s wings. We embraced in a half-committed hug.

“My theory is that relationships don’t end, they just change. It is still in your head, that person is still out there living in the world, you still have the experiences, the  lessons learned.” This was Lissa Coffey, author of Closure, in a phone interview that morning. “And so if at some point you meet up with this person  whether by intention or accident,  it can go on in a new place, you are new people.”

Did I need to slide into a booth across from my ex in order to “get in touch”? We were different people now. There is a specific intimate friendship inside relationships. Relationships are this strip-tease of slowly uncovering another person’s soul, their “self”  and the myriad of other parts. This is protected, it takes time and vulnerability to gain access. That knowledge of other’s soul doesn’t fade. If there is anything a friendship with an ex could add, I think it lies here.

The night before, after a few glasses of wine, this project began spilling out. “It’s for a sex-love-dating column for a magazine, and the topic is ‘can you be friends with an ex,’” I explained.

Sam lifted his tumbler of whiskey to the light and explained that he was a proponent of being friends with exes. “It’s about admiration” he said, “these were people I respected. What drew me is still there.” Ned shook his head. “There are so many people in the world that you could be friends with, but if there is anyone you can’t–it’s your exes.”

As they went back and forth, I silently questioned my motivations.  On some level, I am looking for validation. For this person who knew my past self to say, yes you are doing okay, you are doing so well. I also felt some sort of need for sexual validation: you are still hot, still desirable. I downed the rest of my wine and wondered what outfit made me look thinnest.

“Okay, number one you have to have validation from yourself!” said Coffey.”You have to know that you are okay, you are successful and you don’t need validation from him. Seek validation from yourself. Prove it to yourself by saying it doesn’t matter what he thinks of me.”

I closed my eyes laughing, she was so right. But what about our shared history? It feels important. Like a mirror to evaluate present against past self. This other person has known me, seen the me in me. Maybe they can help me to see it as well.

“So you had this intertwining rope of experiences when you were together, but now your little rope is separate, his little rope is separate. You are going to look back at it and say, ‘this is what it meant to me’. But he will look back at it and say, ‘it meant something completely different to me,’” Coffey explained.

There is an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote I’ve found helpful and have altered to: the test of intelligence is the ability to hold in your heart two opposed ideas at once. I’ve been guilty of demonizing exes, but by only looking at their footprints in the tango-gone-wrong, I couldn’t move on. It is about my missteps too. If we refuse to see that, the ghost of ex-boyfriend past will continue showing up in dreams and haunting us in the faces of strangers on the street.

After a break up each party needs processing time. A time of cutting off completely. But the words “cut-off completely” often bring a belief that it must mean forever.

I get clean-breaks, but as we continually change and grow the only thing that stays solid is the Self. And the Self knows that you are okay, you are beautiful, smart and lovely. It is the Self that we must come back to for success in any relationship. Whether together or apart.

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