Friends With An Ex

Published on July 1, 2017 by   ·   1 Comment

Adult 01

Adulting is hard; I get it.

You bust your ass every month hoping to cover all of the bills that you have coming in (after your habitual trips to Sephora and late night online Pin Up Girl Clothing binges over a Long Island tea, of course – or is that just me?) just to see the exact same bills come dragging their sorry asses back to your mailbox the next month.  Nobody’s there to make sure you go to the doctor or the dentist or to get your eyes checked.  There might be someone who asks about it (or lovingly nags), but there’s not really much they can do about it.  The only person who’s going to actually get you there is you, kiddo.

Adult 03I’m certainly not the poster child for adulting.  My finances are always a mess (but my makeup stash is on point, yo!), and basic health and hygiene maintenance is limited to fancy toiletries and googling “How to make sure you’re not dying” a couple of times a year.  I have a lot of really stellar qualities, but behaving like a serious for real grownup?  That achievement is still, sadly, locked.

But my recent adventures in polyamory have opened up more than just my experiences around consensual non-monogamy.  They’ve also given me the opportunity to explore a type of adult-like activity of which I have absolutely no experience.

Regular readers of this blog might remember my post earlier this year called Holding Patterns where I talked about the end of my two-year journey in consensual non-monogamy.  That experience taught me a lot about what I’m looking for in a relationship – and what I’m not.  I’m still a firm believer in non-monogamy as a relationship style that’s just as valid as any other choice, but I’m not sure whether or not that choice is one that works for me.  The radical queer in me says that I’m just reacting to the end of a relationship, and that my next relationship will happen – and be negotiated – organically.  The small town prude in me says that the last two years were an interesting adventure, like some sort of lapsed Methodist Rumspringa, but that it’s time to get serious.  I’m somewhere in the middle, still sifting through all of the lessons and “personal growth” moments and realizing that I’m on the verge of a new adventure, one I have never before attempted and for which I feel wholly unprepared.

I am actually remaining friends with an ex.

Adult 06This is definitely new territory; honey, when I’m done with them, I’m done.

I still haven’t spoken to my ex-husband since we had “the talk.”  I guess you could say that I haven’t seen him in person either, unless you count watching his striped purple hoodie retreat down a busy hallway at the Alerus Center when he literally ran away from me (in fear?); he panicked when he realized I was about to turn the corner by a table full of antique furniture and depression glass at the annual Anything Goes Sale.  We were supposed to get together for a reunion of sorts, an interview for a documentary project I was involved with; when that project dissolved there didn’t seem to be much point.  I’d worked through my feelings about the breakup the way I do most things – by writing about it.

And the relationships before that…well, they hardly seemed worth the effort to maintain when the spark was gone.  I spent a good part of the late 90s and early 2000s exploring the division between the men who wanted to fuck me and the men who wanted to slow dance in a dark ballroom at the Westward Ho.  The fuckboys (as much as I disparage millennials, the coining of that term almost excuses wholesale the weight of their transgressions) were fun, and I’ve had some adventures that would put a flush on the cheek of even the most libertine North Dakotan.  Don’t worry: I’m sure a spicy tell all book is lurking somewhere in my future.  And the slow dancers…well, they were sweet but while they managed to prop up my vodka-soaked depression for a few minutes while Madonna was being crazy for you and Celine was assuring us that her heart would go on, they disappeared like apparitions before the harsh light of morning ushered me into my next hangover.  Men were generally either disposable or unattainable, neither of which contributes to a long-lasting friendship.

Adult 02But with my last fella, things are different.  There was no big scene, no tearful accusations or cold indifference.  We shared a nice meal and talked, held on a little bit longer when we said goodbye, and then it just sort of felt…over.  But not over.  A bittersweet paradox.

I retreated, as I tend to do; emotional vulnerability is just one of those “adulting” behaviors that doesn’t come naturally to me.  For reasons that don’t really matter for the purposes of this post, I decided to unfollow him on Facebook…at least for a while, until I had my bearings.  I was sad, and I missed him, but I was also content.  I decided to write about it, and I did.  When it was done, I still missed him.  Not in a desperate “what have I done?” sort of way, or a “maybe I can get him back” kind of way, but more the way I imagine people feel when their child moves out to go to college or pursue a career – you’re happy and excited for them, but you can’t help but notice the quiet, feel a little bit sorry for yourself, and think about how they feel less “yours” than they did just a little while ago.

And then I realized I could just tell him that.

That was the part that was new.  This strange notion that I could just reach out and tell him how I was feeling.  And even if I wasn’t brave, if I wasn’t ready to say a lot of the words directly…well, that’s why it’s convenient to be a cowardly blogger who can send a link to a post that explains all the feels and just let him react.  And I did.  And his reaction was very supportive, not that I had any reason to doubt that it would.  It was a perfectly grownup exchange, and everyone survived.  I even joked about how I was going to miss getting regular pictures of his cat, and he sent me a particularly adorable one.

Adult 08When I got a frame for the lovely owl sketch his mother had given me as a present when she came to see Hairspray, I messaged him.  When I was cleaning and found the missing goldfish cat toy that Tariq had “lost” on one of his visits to my house, I messaged him.  He messaged me to tell me about a show he thought I’d like on Netflix.  Mundane exchanges, but symbolic of something different.  I realized that I didn’t want him to be disposable, a chapter in that colorful memoir.  For once I actually liked knowing that there was a person out there who was a part of my history in that way that I could still reach out to, still connect with.

I’m a survivor, and I’ve always lived by the code that “the best offense is a good defense.”  But lately I’ve realized that while I can be hard, and I can survive, sometimes I want to be soft.  I want to be vulnerable.  I want to be open.  I want to be happier.  And one way of working toward that is to allow relationships to grow and evolve without forcing them to end.  It’s unfamiliar territory, but I think it’s worth the exploration.

And that’s all just part of growing up.

Adult 04

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Readers Comments (1)
  1. Lisa Shanklin says:

    I loved this essay. Thank you for being willing to share with us.

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