Being on friendly terms with the ex girlfriend, now one of the best friends, of the guy you are dating can be both a blessing and a curse. You wind up getting more insight about this person you think you know fairly well. It can be helpful when you are worrying you’re overreacting about an issue in your relationship but a quick chat enables you to realize it’s an issue that he’s had before with others—it’s not just you. And with a really sweet and open ex, you can hear the nice things the guy is saying about you when offered unbidden.
Then, sometimes you get more than you bargained for. You may ask what you hope are innocent questions but the answers leave you reeling. You learn what he’s said about an ex from his past is not true. You discover that he’s left out critical details about a former relationship. Thus ultimately, you find out what he really thinks about relationships, how he really views women and inevitably, what he really thinks about you.
Hearing about their past relationship, you know you have to take any detail with a grain of salt. Of course there are two sides to every story. Yet you start to question the veracity of your sources when while describing their period together romantically, one cites a bland haiku and the other speaks of a wandering epic.
To him, they took the boat out for a couple months but said there wasn’t enough fuel to keep things afloat. After some recon and prodding from me, he admitted that afterward, sometimes they’d take the boat out every now and then for nostalgia’s sake but mostly they kept their feet on the calm shores of friendship.
To her, they took a bumpy, hazy flight across continents. While there were plenty times of fun and joy that kept her hoping for more, he would got lost in the clouds of the past and was often a short-sighted wingman. She was looking for a more permanent co-pilot, and he was not up for that position.
Most recently, I found out that she grounded their multiple flights a couple of times, and that he was the one more recently who had been asking her to go for repeated joy rides….even though his constant refrain was that he didn’t have a real strong desire for flying. Her story became more and more believable as I realized that was something he often said to me, though we flew constantly, sometimes multiple trips in a day.
Hearing their completely different versions of their journey together, I realized why I felt like he and I were speaking different languages. We went from feeling like we were in a full-blown relationship to him pulling away. I found out after some prodding that, despite behavior to the contrary, he did not consider me his girlfriend. He told me he wanted to continue seeing each other just as we had been, spending weekends together, hanging out with his friends and family, but without labels or expectations.
After the most enlightening conversation with his ex yet, when we discussed his odd reaction to her having finally moved onto sleeping with someone new, I decided to confront him again. I informed him that I felt he was taking advantage of our “situation,” that I wasn’t feeling much reward from it, and that I was moving on. The next day, I informed him I would be considering my dating options again, but unlike his ex-wife, I knew how to keep my legs together. “That was your real concern before [the last time we had the “relationship discussion]—sexual exclusivity, wasn’t it?” I asked.
He finally came out with, “Yeah, I guess.”
It embarrasses me to admit how much I have been seething with all this anger and frustration that I have been played by this guy, who in all honesty, really wasn’t worth any of the fuss. It hurts that I had actually been concerned for his wellbeing, which above everything else—the humor, decent company, things in common—had kept me in the game, while all he was thinking about was ensuring he could keep having sex with me…and have someone with whom to watch his favorite shows.
I admittedly flipped out on him. “Why weren’t you honest with me? Why did you tell me you specifically didn’t want to be friends with benefits? I told you that was the last thing I wanted in my life right now, and that if that’s what you were looking for, no thank you,” I said. “You told me, you’d rather we just be friends and have no sex. You said, however, what you most wanted was for us to keep seeing each other as we had been doing, without the labels.”
He first claimed my ignorance, then his ignorance. I almost laughed at his third reaction of confusion—he was telling his ex-gf we were no longer seeing each other after he just told me we hadn’t just been seeing each other. We were all IMing simultaneously, to his ignorance. I asked him, what is the truth: were we seeing each other, or weren’t we? Do you put on a show for everyone? Your ex? Your grandma? Your friends? Your mother?
Finally he says, “I’m sorry…Will you still be my friend so we can continue to watch Battlestar Galactica together?” W.T.F.?
Ironically, it was at precisely this time that I was charged with writing up an article on forgiveness in relationships. Yep. While I was envisioning punching his smug big head into the television screen while it was playing Battle-fracking-star Galactica, I was supposed to be waxing poetic about the healing graces of forgiveness.
My good friend @thecrazymagnet of And You Thought You Had It Bad reminded me that any anger I harbor towards another hurts me more than it hurt anyone else. I’ve always known that anger is a mental and physical toxin that just eats away at our insides, paralyzing us from moving forward in our own lives. Yet here was this person, this man I thought I knew at least to some extent, who was just acting like any other guy who takes advantage of a situation physically, financially, emotionally and frankly, taking up my time, as much as he can because I am being too much of a giver—okay, a pushover—and not protesting loudly enough or frequently enough.
I just couldn’t get over the fact that I, such a wise and intelligent, mature and seasoned woman, had let this happen. That’s when I realized that the person I was most upset with was myself. The person I needed to forgive the most in this equation was yours truly.
Far too often in relationships-gone-bad, we blame ourselves for not being smart enough to see a steady stream of lies, for ignoring the fishy text message cover-ups, for not asking the right questions or for accepting the answers full of holes. We blame ourselves for being a bad judge of character, for thinking someone genuinely cares for us when he has only really been acting in his own self-interest and personal gratification. We mentally bang our own heads because we dared to believe the best in others—and were wrong.
Unfortunately, this only further poisons our thoughts and our actions. We start behaving unkindly toward ourselves, adding to the wrongs others have already done to us. Blaming yourself only pushes you further backward. Blaming myself only made me hurt more than I already was. It made no sense when I needed my own love and self-care the most.
Hopefully I, you, we learn from these hurtful experiences and take the time, space and wisdom to get to know the next person more clearly before jumping in heart-first. And we listen to our guts when they tell us a few weeks in that things no longer feel right, that something smells fishy in the water—and it’s not us. There’s no shame in throwing a rotten one back in that ocean—that rip current will take care of ‘em. Nor is there any shame in getting out of the water completely for a while, simply taking time to rejuvenate, rediscover and relearn to love yourself.