Why Do You Still Talk To Your Ex?
This isn’t a trick question, though we often treat it like one.
I’m not gonna front, this piece came out of a few obnoxious rants I went on in the past few months, directed at friends who had expressed frustration over recent communication with an ex of theirs. The time they spent together was fraught, tense, anxious. Maybe something weird was said. Maybe there was just a general environment of unbearable awkwardness. Maybe there was a dancing around of the general issues that led to the breakup in the first place. Whatever the reason was, the interactions had not gone as well as my friends had hoped.
All of these friends had willingly entered into the communication. This wasn’t a chance run-in or anything like that. These were, like, plans and stuff. Like let’s go get coffee and hang out. My friends totally needed to be called out on it, though maybe not by me, and probably not by drunk me. And I guess I could’ve been nicer about it. And less obnoxious. Definitely less obnoxious.
Anyway, the question I opened with was “Why?” Why are you still talking to your ex?
Well, because they’re an important person to me and just because we’re not together anymore doesn’t mean that they have to leave my life. Ok. Fair. But why are they still important to you? What do they do for you now that none of your other friends can do for you? Why do you need them?
It was around this point where my friends gave me stellar side-eye that clearly stated, “I think it’s about time that you shut the fuck up now.” So I did. Message received. I’m done.
Ok, so maybe I poked them about it one or two more times, but then I totally let it go. There was only so much progress I was gonna make, you know?
Drunken sense of entitlement to berate my friends for their life choices aside, the question remains: You are talking to your ex. Why are you doing that?
Well, maybe because we commit to it. Often, when we break up we say, “Oh no, yeah, I definitely still wanna be friends. You’re a great person and just because togetherness is over doesn’t mean I want you out of my life completely.” It’s probably a defense mechanism at the time, to alleviate the sting of the end of something you may have enjoyed, until then you realize that it is a thing you actually want. To still see this person, even without the whole kissing and dropping L-bombs (I’ll give you a hint, the word rhymes with a kind of soap) part.
So you both insist on, yeah, it would be nice to get lunch or something! To catch up. Just to see how you’re doing. I’m still interested in your general being. I’m not a bitter asshole. See how cool I’m being?
“Friends” right away is definitely impossible, especially if this was a serious thing that lasted for any significant amount of time. I’m a strong advocate for excommunication from the Church of Pals, at least for the now. Relationships are intimate as fuck, and we tend to build our lives and sense of okayness around having this person there to be an emotional support beam. Any disappointment life can throw at you is softened by having somebody there to hold your hand through it. You need to get used to not having that hand there, to existence without that other person so that you can firmly reestablish how you are going to get through life as a single being. If you’re constantly going back to the well for the specific brand of emotional support that only this person gave you, then you haven’t actually broken up, you’ve just stopped kissing. Or maybe you haven’t stopped kissing but you’re still “broken up” and shit’s just gotten complex. What the fuck even is that?
It’s tempting to go back to that place. I know it is. Trust me, I know. But if you know in your heart that it was a good idea to break it off, for whatever reason, yet still feel a strong urge to, I don’t know, “reach out” to this person in anyway, it ain’t because you want that person back. It’s to fill the hole they left when the relationship ended, and it’s rarely even a specific them-shaped hole, because the fact that the hole exists was never about that other person to begin with. It’s more of a general nebulous-shaped hole. General life emptiness. It’s because you’re lonely and you’re making the decision that having this person there, even if it’s anxious and fucked up, is better than loneliness.
Here’s the hard truth, though: It’s not. A fucked-up not-quite-relationship-anymore, that’ll only bring you down. Yeah, loneliness does suck balls, but it turns around. It gets better. Fucked-up does not. Fucked-up just sits in your gut like a weight. It’s a time bomb that is going to go off (and it will go off), the question is just when. This shit isn’t working, but I’m not willing to change it because the dark scares me. Fucked-up comes from a place of fear, and few good decisions ever came out of a place of fear.
If friendship is a thing you truly want, you gotta get past the immediate aftermath. Just take a complete break from the other person. Make sure that the ensuing fall out from the breakup didn’t burn down your village and plunder its citizens for treasure. A relatively not-messy breakup. Still painful, but rational, bereft of insanity.
On the other hand, if doing friend stuff with your ex ever makes you feel in anyway not-good, you need to seriously consider whether you need this ex in your life. I’m not talking want. I’m talking need.
Friends are nice, and getting to a place where you’re over a breakup enough to be able to actually be friends and spend time with your ex in a healthy capacity is great. If you can do it, more power to you.
But if you can’t, that’s okay too. You’re not “losing the breakup.” We act like there’s a maturity in being cool with people you used to bone, and there is, but there’s also a maturity in deciding “I really don’t think I wanna talk to you anymore, and I’m not gonna put myself in a position where I feel bad just because I want to seem like a big adult person.”
Growing up is about being able to take care of yourself in a way that is not actively destructive to the people around you. Learning to let people go who only ruin your soul is a part of that process.