I dated a lot in high school. I feel the need to clarify I dated, not slept around. I wasn’t a floozy; I was picky. Ridiculously picky, but not superficial. I broke things off when I realized their taste in movies sucked or they weren’t nice to their parents. My habit of wining, dining and not anything involving 69-ing earned me a reputation as a heartbreaker.
I have a lot of ex-boyfriends. But I think we all have one dreaded ex, the ex that no one dares to bring up because it would flood your brain with too many memories. The one that introduced you to Catpower and drove with the windows down every summer day. The one you shared your first movie marathon with and cried to when you tanked your first audition. It’s hard to write about exes, but my main challenge stems from two reasons: He’s going to read my article and be pissed I’m sharing intimate memories of our relationship, and everything I’m writing is messy, chaotic and completely valid.
When I run into people from high school, they ask me—without fail—about one specific person: my ex-boyfriend. I can’t escape him; no matter how far away I move or how successful I become, I’ll always be the girl who dated the guy two years younger than her in the theater department. For the past couple years, I’ve gone back and forth on whether I want to or can be friends with him, and it’s hard. It’s the most fucking difficult thing I’ve ever thought about.
I don’t even know if “friends” is possible with an ex. When I think of a friend, I think of someone I can call at 2 a.m. and complain about my exhausting day at work. Friend-ly might be possible, meaning you can run into each other at a Walgreens and not look around the aisle for something to hit each other with. You don’t want to be the dreaded ex-couple that can’t be in the same room without starting shit.
Before you make the decision to welcome your ex back into your life with open arms, ask yourself these questions to make sure you’re making the right decision.
1. How Did the Relationship End?
If the relationship ended badly, i.e. cheating, fighting or plotted arson, the chances of a successful subsequent friendship are slim to none. Even the friendships that make it past the first few months are doomed to be unhealthy and disconnected.
If you parted ways on a more peaceful note, a pleasant friendship is infinitely more plausible. My relationship didn’t end with cheating, but there is still quite a bit of bad blood, no matter how much time has passed. I left him because I got tired and fed up with his shit. I was sick of being pushed around and lied to and not made a priority. So, I left. I made the decision to leave, but I find it gets harder and harder to not look back.
A pleasant parting of ways means less jealously and condemnation, making it easier to transition into the post-breakup friend zone. Pro tip, don’t try to be friends with an ex you’re still sexually attracted to. Trust me, it’s hard to make small talk when your mind is still focused on his newly-chiseled abs.
2. Are You Obsessed with Winning?
Some exes look at breakups as a competition, who wins and who loses. Who keeps your mutual friends and favorite bar table and who is the flubby loser in the corner sipping day old ginger ale. But come on, keep it classy.
Clearly, it’s a small victory when you see their latest Facebook picture and they’ve sprouted a mullet and regained their baby fat from freshman year, but this can be a quietly celebrated victory. Mix Captain and Coke, turn on “Riverdale” and fantasize about sharing a milkshake with three straws between yourself, K.J. Apa and Cole Sprouse. Trust me, your fantasy is more rewarding than bragging to your mutual friends about your new workout routine.
3. What Are You Playing At?
You need to ask yourself a few questions: Why do you want them back in your life? What’s your goal in rekindling the friendship? Are you trying to keep tabs on them or make them so jealous they beg for you back? Are you pitying them or letting them polish your ego? Or, the most dreaded thing of all…are you keeping your ex around as a backup in case future romantic prospects don’t work out?
When your ex texts you about getting that first coffee after the breakup, resist the urge to respond until you think about your motive.
4. How Much Time Has Passed?
Clean or messy, breakups suck. Just like a cut, a fresh break stings more than a scar. The breakup needs to become part of your past before a friendship can surface in the future. Every relationship is different, so the length of time will vary from person to person. Bottom line, make sure you’re comfortable and have had time to process what’s happened before you jump into anything.
If time is passing by too slowly, speed up the clock by going out with friends or having a night to yourself. Some of my best nights have been alone, eating a wedge of cheese and watching reruns of “America’s Got Talent.”
Everyone said it would be hard, but I never knew it would be this hard. Relationships are about more than just sex and movie dates; they are support, codependency, family events, study sessions, motivation, belonging and passion. It’s difficult to be just friends with someone you’ve shared so much of your life and so much of yourself with.
It’s different for everyone, but for me, my ex will always be a part of my life. I’m not sure in what way, but he will always be there. We grew up together. We watched “Kill Bill” after one of our biggest fights. We skipped my senior prom to ride rollercoasters. We started dating because he made me a mixed CD that I still have in my car.
To be honest, I don’t know if we have a shot at being friends. Even after all these years, everything—every fight, every promise, every lie and every love—is still fresh in my mind. I don’t know if I’m mentally prepared for all of that, but I’m willing to try.