Why It’s Okay To Be Friends With An Ex – And How To Do It

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There’s an unwritten rule that tells you you’re not allowed to be friends with your ex. You’ll never actually be friends. You’ll fall for each other again. There’s a hidden agenda.

I used to believe those things to be true, too, until I found myself in a strange place. Actually, a couple of strange places: On the other end of a phone call with one ex, and in a bar on the Lower East Side with another.

If you would’ve asked me months ago if I’d ever speak to them again, or see them again, my answer would’ve been no. But at some point between then and now, I got that feeling in my stomach. The one that extends straight to my brain, and then back down to my heart, probing my mouth to open and say something that needs to be said.

Wes’ father passed away not too long ago. I heard about it through the grapevine and instinctively felt the need to text him. I’d known his father, and I’d know they were close. I had no idea the news was coming.

I didn’t have his number. I’d deleted it years ago after I delivered my final line to him: Please don’t try to contact me ever again. I don’t ever want to hear from you. Or something along those lines. I didn’t think I’d ever find a place in my heart to forgive him, until this.

I found his number. I texted him. Hey, it’s Chelsea. I heard about your dad and I just want to say that I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. I know I’m probably the last person you’d ask but if you need anything, I’m here.

I didn’t expect a response. I knew he’d be busy with everything, and I was sure he wouldn’t want to take the energy to get back to me. And that was fine. But just a moment later, I heard back. Thank you so much. I can’t believe it. We lost our everything today.

It was like no time had passed at all. Like I’d just spoken to him weeks ago, or something, and he was ready to bare it all. And I surprisingly didn’t mind at all. I wanted to hear how he was doing. How he was coping. How his mom was doing.

There was still a gaping hole in my heart from Wes. A brightly painted picture of our past engrained in every future relationship I had. He was my first definition of love. He would be the one who put my walls up. He was a big part of who I was, just like I was a big part of who he became.

I didn’t think we would progress beyond that conversation until I found myself wondering more about what had been going on in his life. How was work? How was his girlfriend? Was he liking his new home? Was he making new friends? How were his old friends?

So, a couple of weeks later, I checked in on him again. Was he doing better? He seemed to be doing okay. Back to work. Occupied. I didn’t want to continue asking about the sore subject so I changed it. I asked those basic questions.

And, soon enough, we were texting every couple of days. Eventually, we were brave enough to have the conversation of us.

He didn’t like it. He didn’t like that I still had as strong a voice on the subject now as I did then. He didn’t like feeling like he was being lectured. He didn’t like that I told him I forgave him, but couldn’t forget. That I found trust difficult because of him. That he hurt me. He broke my heart. And I didn’t blame him. The conversation wasn’t meant to be hurtful, just honest.

I’d also acknowledged that I’d made mistakes too. I certainly took his actions and words straight to the heart. I made them count for more than they were worth. I put him into a future that he never wanted a part of in the first place. And, to his defense, I exposed him when he didn’t fulfill that fantasy.

We’d made our mistakes. Both of us. And there just simply came a point when we both decided to look beyond them. We made our way back to the way it once was. Not totally the same. Somewhat the same. As normal as it would be. And that’s where we now stand. Happily and comfortably, at that.

Then there was Jason. He was not the same sort of ex that Wes was; years had not gone by in which we hadn’t uttered a single word to one another. Months maybe, but not years.

It was usually always me who reached out. They were random texts. Apologies, sometimes, when I’d be emotional and regretting the way I’d treated him for breaking my heart. Questions, others, when I’d wonder about the way I was, or the way I could be. They were scattered and irrelevant. Never meant for much pondering.

I saw that he’d moved back into the city, and I figured it may be a shot in the dark, but why not ask him to grab a drink? I truthfully just missed our friendship and our conversations. And, maybe, he did too, because he said yes and there were were.

At a bar on the Lower East Side. My heart pounding through my chest. I walked in, searching the place for a familiar face. Psst. My head shot right and there he was. I gave him a quick hug and sat beside him. Ordered a beer. And then the conversation flowed. Awkward at first, yes, but after a few more beers and a shot on the house, we were just where we needed to be.

We talked about freshman year of college, his family, his new job, our past, our memories. We laughed about the time I used his roommate’s pink toothbrush, thinking it was mine. Joked about the times he ignored me standing just feet away. I nudged him about how quickly he found a new girlfriend. It was all fair game.

We left that bar laughing. I struggled through a couple puffs of his cigarette as he tried to catch me a cab. It just felt so easy and calm – the way our friendship always was. And when that cab finally pulled over, we hugged just a bit tighter this time before I hopped in.

We texted briefly on the way home. How great of a time it was. About my cab driver. About the M train. I couldn’t help but feel so happy. Happy at where we’d found ourselves but also so happy for him.

He was happier. His head was on straight. He had a girlfriend he was, in his words, “quite fond of.” He was calm. Had a great job. Had an ambitious view of the future.

I wasn’t envious. I was just…proud.

Wes and Jason both came back into my life when the time was right. Time was necessary. Becoming civil with your ex, or becoming friends for that matter, does not happen just months after breaking up. Maybe not even a year. I wasn’t fully heeled from both of them until years had passed. Years.

But a day came where I woke up and realized I wanted to see them and talk to them not because I longed for them, but because they were people in my life who once meant everything. I say it often, but you cannot punish someone for not wanting you. You can’t shut someone out of your life and hate them because you are not the one that they chose. You can’t scold and ridicule and condemn. You have to accept and move forward and understand. You have to learn.

Soon, it’ll be a year that my most recent ex, Connor, and I broke up. It’s strange to think that much time has passed. A year after Wes and a year after Jason, I’d forgotten all about them. Connor is different, though, and I don’t think I’ll be able to wrap my head around the reason why for a while.

But one day, I know that I will wake up and realize that it doesn’t need to hurt anymore.  And it will be from that point forward, but no sooner, that I look back and see how far I have walked away and the distance that separates us. And maybe, then, I’ll turn back around and see what sort of friendship we can restore.

Maybe there won’t be one and maybe there will be. But all I know is that it’s possible, and it’s okay. It’s okay to put someone you once loved back into your life. You loved them for a reason. And if you can see into those reasons and beyond them, I think you’ll find yourself in a much happier place.

I know I have. TC Mark

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