For a self-proclaimed, grouchy asocial, I’m big on friendship. I’m even bigger on politeness and being civil. In love, and out of it too, I strain to maintain dosti above all.
Every one of my romantic relationships has started with an earnest friendship. And, in all honesty, that was far harder to let go of than the ‘love-love’. But how do you manage to remain friends with someone you once had such intense feelings for, especially if it ended badly?
With the first boy I ever loved, the breakup was terribly messy, with my feelings remaining strong and his waning. As with most cases of first love, it took a few years for the heart, brain and muscles to align (basically not wanting to punch him every three seconds). It took a few more years for it to get close to anything remotely resembling civility. But we sort of got there. Now, nearly 15 years later, I still remember his phone number by heart and take pride in his success. As does he.
We talk barely twice a year, but it’s a relief to feel good things if and when I think of him.
That set the precedent for the rest of my breakups and what happened after. Not all have remained friendly or in touch. But most of those barely mattered, even when the relationship was on. The most important post-love-love relationship came about in my mid-20s. We’d been friends for nearly a decade before we started dating and because we thought it was going so well, big changes were thought of – moving continents to be with each other, etc. As happens with the best-laid plans, it didn’t work out. And I was distraught. There was hatred, anger, resentment and bitter, bitter sadness. And somewhere along the line, it didn’t feel like we could be anything but ex-es to each other ever again. Which just shows that every time you emphatically say, ‘never ever’, the universe snorts and decides to mess with you.
Related reading: Can we be Friends with our Exes?
One coping method I strongly endorse for healing, is shifting your focus. Grief and loss have a way of taking over your whole world and it helps to take on a new drama – I mean hobby – sometimes. I went and had a fling. I went out more, laughed occasionally and spent a little less time mourning. I also met my current partner then and we became the best of friends. And, slowly, very slowly, I could talk to the ex-person again. A few months later, I could laugh with him. It helped that I had plenty of positive male attention and it definitely helped that the ex-person and I had always had amazing conversation. Either way, we crossed a line.
The word ‘ex’ is rarely used with affection or indeed anything pleasant. And once you’ve been through that kind of hurt and anger, it’s difficult to see them as anything BUT the Ex. That they can still make you laugh, that they have qualities that you would want in a friend, become secondary. And sometimes, there is no going back. Especially if there was abuse or violence of any sort. Or even otherwise, when you just don’t feel it. And that’s fine. But for me, the possibility is always open. If they’re a really great person with whom romance didn’t work out, it’s a pity to limit them to the Big Bad Ex box. Maybe you won’t be best friends, but you can keep a tiny piece of affection and good feeling aside for whenever you think about them.
Which brings me to the second point – do you tell your current partner that you’re still friends with an ex? It’s an easy choice for me.
With friendship so high on my list, I tell mine nearly everything. But, more than that, I feel very strongly that one of the tenets of relationship etiquette is absolute honesty, especially when it comes to meeting an ex or inviting them over, etc.
I don’t go into details, but my partner knows where I’m taking an ex, when I’m meeting them, etc. It’s just good manners not to hide it, not to mention all the severe trust issues it could bring up if a partner finds out.
It’s not easy sometimes to hear it, though. I wouldn’t say I’m overjoyed when my partner meets an ex and I’m sure he feels the same. We’ve had a few issues over it through the years (it was TOTALLY his fault!) and somehow managed to come to a place where we’ve learnt to trust one another on this and definitely how to be more open.
The space where we love will nearly have a memory bank. It’s up to us to be kind to the past, even if we’ve let it go.