October 21, 2014

The Trouble with Putting People in the Ex-Box.

grief, friendship, couple, sad, support, help

I see my ex-boyfriend almost every week at church, even though it’s been over two years since we broke up.

Today I initiated a conversation with him about our friendship—because just as we were friends before we began dating, we have become friends again in those two plus years since breaking up.

I needed to tell him how grateful I am for his love and acceptance, for his never trying to change me. He always trusted me, always believed in me. He still does. That would be obvious to me without him telling me, but he has changed in those intervening years too, and now doesn’t hesitate to tell me how much he still loves and appreciates me.

I wanted to make sure he knows that when we were together, right up until the end, I assumed he and I would spend the rest of this life together. We bought rings, even. It just always felt that way to me—until it didn’t.

The realization that we wouldn’t stay together, at that time, was more than sad—but apparently necessary.

And while we are both moving on, improving, changing our lives for the better, we still love each other. I needed, for some reason, to let him know that he will always have my love on some level.

I’m wondering if it will always cause me pain on some level too, as it does now—still.

I tend to think in black and white terms; it’s one of the things I like least about me—that instant, habitual way I have of putting things/people/situations into tidy little yin or yang packages so I can easily and conveniently file them away in my heart, my brain and life.

I like clarity and closure and certainty. I prefer the truth—even when it’s painful—to not knowing for sure. Most of the time it feels like some sort of curse—my kryptonite—to always be so needy for that. I feel weaker for it.

So when we broke up, I diligently began doing the usual, painful work of grieving that loss—of him, the relationship and my illusion of certainty that we would be together until death.

I grieved, I questioned my decision for a long time, I talked it out with girlfriends, I did my processing. I almost went back to him a couple of times.

And finally, after a several-week (month?) ride on the Grace Crazy Train that I call “processing” (meditation, working out, prayer, biking, time passing, taking responsibility for my crap, ranting, crying, doubting, talking it out with girlfriends, anger, sadness, etc.), I got my fix of certainty.

I put him in the ex-box—tidy and convenient.

The ex-box is mostly a bland, indifferent place. It could also be called the “over it” box. It is a final place back from which no ex has ever come—a lot like death that way, I guess. I think it might also be dark, cold and forbidding for some, depending.

I have always tried to make it as comfortable as possible for them though, always doing my energetic karmic duty by processing myself and them into a place of an indifferent sort of big, cosmic love—or so I tell myself.

I have never been one of those people that must find the next person in order to help me get over the last one. I operate on the far other end of that predictably either-or spectrum. I have always felt I must completely be over the last person before I can let the next one in. It only seems fair, right?

I have a friend who is completely opposite, though, and only breaks up with this one when the next one shows up to escort her up and out of this one. “I can’t break up with him yet,” she’s told me, “the next one hasn’t shown up yet.”

But what if the last one has somehow escaped the ex-box? Where does he belong now? How did that happen? I am normally so careful about that (read, OCDish). Because therein lies my certainty, right? I need that; it keeps me safe.

Because he is no longer in that box. He somehow has migrated back to the “friend” box again.

Or maybe he has created his own box, or maybe he is not even in a wanking box. He seems to be boxless—without a category, roaming freely inside me. It is not very comfortable for me, in my OCDness, my neediness for certain safety.

So it seems I must learn to live with this uncertainty, with this man, this ex that refuses to stay put in one of my convenient, confining bloody categories. It appears I need to stretch a little here, doesn’t it (cue the Grinch’s heart bursting out of its little box scene here)?

It seems like it might serve something greater if I’d just get over my damned self. I do admit to preferring a talkie Technicolor to the old black and white silents every now and then.

And how will that affect my next romantic relationship, I wonder, the ex not really but only kind of being an “ex,” not being where he is supposed to be?

Because while I am not attracted to him as a romantic partner anymore, it appears that if I want to be in a romantic relationship with someone else (I do), we both will just have to know that he really does, and likely always will, occupy a part of my heart instead of being in the ex-box—and maybe I will never be “over it” in the same strict, orderly (uptight?) way that I used to; I don’t know.

And I hope that my heart might be a big enough place now to hold an ex-as-friend while still loving someone else.


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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Daniel Zedda/Flickr 

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