The Importance of Remaining Friends With Exes

Have you ever been at the cusp of dating someone and felt the sharp insistence of a deal-breaker, without being able to quite put your finger on why you're upset? (*she asks, talking to Microsoft Word, her only real friend*) It's like the subtle symptom of an allergy you never knew you had and thus didn't know to look for its weird signs. But you know something has suddenly and invariably changed.

The first guy to tell me that he made it a point never to speak to his ex-girlfriends again snipped a small wire in me. I think in some capacity he intended for it to be a positive, hey-look-no-need-for-jealousy-here type of statement, but my mouth moved to object before my brain could quite catch up with what bothered me. On the one hand, this methodology towards his romantic history meant he always approached human interaction through the lens of categorization, i.e.: “That One Chick Who Always Went Through My Phone,” or “The Girl Who Cheated on Me First.” My initial thought was the obvious image of me, projected 6 months into the future, and cast into the new role as Giggly Psycho #2, or however his bitter future self would choose to encapsulate me. Even if he had dated crazies of the “Carrie” variety, he had at one point in time seen them as worth dating and therefore had seen something admirable in them. Why should I risk becoming a mystery character of his choosing when I was perfectly content where I was, still flopping around aimlessly in the vast legroom of the Admirable category?

Gif by Catherine Mehringer

Gif by Catherine Mehringer

It falls along the same grain as why you should never speak ill of a former employer in a job interview. The bitterness puts a bad taste in everyone's mouth, and demonstrates to the new potential boss your capacity for burning bridges and placing blame. No one wants to get too close to the unresolved-baggage of shit-talkers and avoiders.

That said, having heard some horror stories from workplaces and having known some pretty explosive romances (all, thankfully, from the outside looking in), I took pause after this dispute. My reasoning for why this philosophy initially upset me still had considerable holes poked through by sympathy and anecdotal understanding. And more so than that, the benefits to cutting ties with something as emotionally significant and powerful as a former romance also popped into my head. (Notice how I alluded to human beings as things there, bringing me that much closer to my point, but I temporarily digress). With faceless ex no longer in the picture, no need to ever wonder if there remained any unresolved issues. No need to ever wonder if something the ex girlfriend may say or do or remind him of will unleash a time bomb of buried feelings. No need to ever feel compared to her. Or fake comfort around her at social gatherings. She need not have ever existed at all.

The disconnect that kept bubbling to the top anytime I believed to have wholly framed my opinion and mini-speech on this matter arose from the fact that I kept seeing it as an issue of presentation. “You shouldn't speak ill of a former employer.” “A guy shouldn't speak ill of a former girlfriend to me.” In reality this has nothing to do with me, or with communication at all. The person he once fell for, after scrubbing off the tired paint of timing, context, and relationship statuses on Facebook, is still the same core self. Whether or not her existence is preferable or convenient, she does exist. Just because she no longer fills a role he knew her as, wishes she was, or discovered she wasn't, doesn't mean she can't take on a new role in his life. Imagine if you stopped being a student and all your former favorite teachers forgot your name. Imagine if you stopped being a neighbor and your friend made no effort to get to you in a new way. Immediacy and status quo should never be the only ties that bind. Imagine if you stopped having sex, fantasizing about the future, and cuddling into the nest of couple-hood and you were not allowed to be a person independent of that love.

Though a couple is often referred to as a unit, it is singular only in its active decision to be. You, ex-girlfriend who I have never met but am vividly imagining for the sake of what I'm about to say, are still funny as all hell. You are still weirdly well-read on obscure foreign literature, you still draw amazing cartoon renditions of people who've never existed. You are still the only warm place inside loss. You are still the snarkiest drunk. The sassiest dancer. The only person who understands the off-kilter appeal of that one underground punk band. This injustice of erasure, it isn't about a lover's perspective, or a new girlfriend's insecurities. This is about you, every lover who has ever been filtered into a small, stripped-down summation of his or herself through the harsh colander of how things eventually didn't work out. News flash: things often don't work out. Circumstance is a bitch. Failed expectations are a bitch. Conflicting ambitions are a bitch. Thesis statement, there's a lot of bitches out to get you and tear your familiar world down. It doesn't mean every ending needs a neat, explainable bow, especially not when that means sacrificing the company and friendship, or even just the general well-wishing of someone who you once cared for, and likely still care for in some capacity.

I'm not saying everyone should hold hands and skip down brick roads with their exes. I'm not even saying they should hang out with them. If someone gets hurt (when does someone NOT get hurt), maybe any sort of contact is too painful. That's okay. It's all those bitches I was talkin' about, they will haunt the goddamn hallways of our hurt, whether or not we choose to allow them. I'm just saying it should never be easy to write someone off as past tense who was once so vivaciously important. To all lovers, ex, present, and future, I promise to fight off the bitches as best I can, because I respect you. Because I have loved, do love, will love you, in any expanse and definition of that word. Because I wish you all good things, and it would be nice to see them come to you. To get the chance to still know you, before the bitches, in spite of the bitches, in the absence of any bitches at all, and see you be well, from whatever seat I should choose to sit in now.

Feature photo VIA Unsplash.