*Image (without text) via audfriday13 on FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I love him. I love her. He loves her. She loves him. They both adore me. We’re not a threesome or anything as radical as that. We’re three people who know each other from different times and places. There’s love and loyalty and warmth and sparks, some romantic, some platonic.
She’s the newest entrant into this nexus, new to him as well as to me. But oddly, I think she actually balances us. Not balances each of us individually (that’s so ‘You complete me’) but balances the entire structure. We’re like a three-legged stool in that sense, teetering uncertainly with the first two but perfectly solid and steady as three.
It’s not because we have that much in common, I think. Well, there is stuff but it’s what started our conversations, not what’s keeping them going. He and I are more similar than it appears. And we drive each other nuts when things are imperfect as they usually are. Something about her presence has a way of running our respective electrifying natures to ground and earthing them. And there’s light instead of short circuiting.
Of course it’s more complex than our current natures, being that human nature is constantly shifting. He and I have a history, a long, long time ago, a complex one where attraction charred into hurt, froze into loyalty and solidified into friendship. We also have a history of anger, of heated words, of dramatic declarations and of intense closeness. She’s not part of that history. Maybe because of that, she clears the space of its high voltage intensity and makes it possible for him and me to be regular human beings again.
It hasn’t always been that way. It only got this way after the two of them became a couple. I would never do anything to hurt her. He wouldn’t either. And because inflicting wounds on each other would mean bloodying the space that she is now a part of, we sheath our poisonous words and put away our tears. Then we all go out to dinner together and laugh about mundane things, like regular people do.
Three is company indeed.
You take a look around and mentally divide everything you see in half. You color code, (all in your head of course) what’s indisputably yours and what’s their’s. And finally, you get to what’s yours collectively and groan mentally at the difficult conversation you’re going to endure. They’re very likely doing the same thing too. Or one of you may just throw up your hands in despair and say,
“Whatever, you take it all.”
…which makes the other one seethe at how indifferent that is so they throw out something equally noble sounding like,
“No, I don’t really care about it.”
…leaving the ‘either’ unsaid.
More deadends. It does all get divided up somehow, even if it’s just a matter of who manages to pack what and to hell with the packers who found a few bonus gifts with what neither side had the nerve to discuss.
Yes, I went through that. I sucked in my breath, pulled back my tears and dove in in the manner of pulling off a band-aid. And when it was done, I told myself, I’d let myself feel the pain of it all. I completely forgot (again) how life resists systematic inventorying.
Do you know what’s the most difficult thing to divide? It’s also the most precious thing and subsequently the cause for the most unresolved ugliness. The worst thing to have to fight over after a relationship breaks, is other people’s affections. Divorce gets all its scare-power from the ugliness of child custody battles. But what about other relationships and well, everyone else? Our relationships exist within a larger network of friendships, other couples and social circles. The disintegration of a single relationship tears the larger social fabric. It’s painful on everyone concerned and there’s no easy, clean way around it.
There’s enough of pop wisdom floating around, that’s liberally mouthed by every person caught in this situation, the warring exes, their families, friends, colleagues. But the truth of the matter is, they’re inadequate, which is why the problems happen in the first place. I think it’s completely impractical to try and stay friends with two people who’ve parted ways. One or both of them is going to feel slighted. You will become just one more thing they fight over. If you really care about each of them, pick a side and stick to it.
I know this will seem unfair, but consider this, it’s not. Human relationships are not factory-produced goods. Each one is unique and relevant to you in a different way. This is a situation where two such relationships (friendship with each estranged partner) cannot co-exist. Forcing them to do so will bring poison into both relationships. So figure out which one is more important or relevant or easier for you and go with it.
I’ve been on both sides of this obviously, the estranged partner as well as the friend. As a friend, I admit it’s been a difficult experience. I once set up two people together – one was a close friend, the other as good as a brother to me. When they broke up, I could see both of them were in pain and I knew if I tried to juggle both friendships, I’d only be causing both of them even more pain. So I picked one, the girl, on the premise that she and I had known each other longer. I don’t know whether the guy saw that as betrayal on my part or not but at least I took a stand. I spared him the agony of wondering, of questioning whether what he shared in confidence might not be betrayed to someone who was now a bitter foe, of thinking I might not always firmly be on his side because my loyalty was divided between him and someone who was on the opposite side now. That is the poison I’m talking about. I believe that whatever friendship we had was pure as long as we were friends and ended before suspicion, accusation and bitterness could seep in. I believe that was being a good friend.
The past three months have been rife with such situations for me, post-breakup. The saving grace is that most people were easily sorted into ‘his friends’ and ‘my friends’. As a conscious act, I put a barrier between his friends and me. I deleted them from my social networks. One of them called me to tell me how sorry she was to hear about the break-up and that she’d be willing to provide a listening ear if I needed it. I (very) regretfully declined and told her that would make it just too messy. That was hard, it really was because I liked her so much. It was hard for me letting go of his best friend too; we got along so well. But fair is fair and a best friend is a best friend – a relationship not to be touched.
I wish things could be done as cleanly by everyone else but I’m not the only one in this whole situation. Xion and I didn’t speak for weeks because of this. We’ve sorted out our differences now. But still, I spent the first, most painful and vulnerable times post-breakup without my closest friend during the relationship.
I had a painful conversation with another friend last week. My conversations with her in the last few months have been about her telling me not to be so bitter, not to say such things and how it made me appear to other people. She said,
“It makes me wonder whether, if tomorrow you and I have a fight, you’re going to go out and say bad things about me.”
That hurts, it really does. I’m fond of her. My solution is this – I’ve promised her that I will never talk to her about my relationship again. I will say what I want about whoever I want to, when I like but to her, it will never broach the subject of my lost relationship. She sounded offended when I told her this but what she thinks offends me. Perhaps I’m being irrational, maybe I’m adding too much drama. But I’d expect a friend to accept all that as what makes me, me. I’d do that for her. But she is a different person from me and if the way she is a friend is not the same, then I will have to revise how I am a friend to her as well. Which means, no sharing what’s upsetting me the most at the moment because she doesn’t want to see that side of me. Tough but true.
A break-up does change the social fabric of your life. No one said love would be easy and that includes everyone else you’ve loved beyond your lover too.
There is the family that you are born to and can’t do anything about. There are friends you choose of your own will and from whom you grow away. And there are those your heart beats for (or more likely your hormones delude you with) and from whom you rip your life away. Ah….the world of ex-boyfriends and girlfriends.
I have come a good, long way. When I was a kid, I had a naive dream of meeting my one and only true love and settling down with him in a fairytale life. Well, there have been more than one, hardly any of them true and none I suspect, were love. I don’t think it is a bad thing anymore, no matter how it sounds. Each one of them has been an experience, a learning about myself and about life. How many would-be feminists realize that they’re almost worse than the men they battle? How often does a strong person realize how weak he is? Or a weak person, how strong she is?
There are the jarring experiences, the ones where if you never saw the person again, it wouldn’t be a day too soon for you. I was in a relationship with someone who was not at all good to me, in every way that it is possible to be so. But he had great friends. I shared their love of books and could spend hours talking about them. I suspect I actually got along better with them, than he did. Looking back, I think I had more fun hanging out with his crowd than him. We did not part on good terms and I don’t think I will ever feel happy about the fact that he was once in my life. After the pain of break-up subsided, I was sadder that I had to let go of a number of nice people because they were his friends first.
Friendships apart, a person who has shared something with you romantically, has known you in a way that others just haven’t. Everyone who has ever been through a break-up knows just what a mix-up of emotions it leaves behind. But of course! How can you suddenly become indifferent to someone you have been really close to? It is hardest to forgive people you have loved; it is also toughest to forget them.
The other day, one of my friends told me that a guy I had once gone out with, had got married. I wasn’t sure how to react for a minute. I wasn’t jealous…not even the faintest bit. He wasn’t Dr.Evil but he was just a little desperate. The slimy way. I couldn’t get away from him fast enough. But some girl thought he was good enough to spend her life with. Really, really weird feeling to imagine your rather undesirable once-admirer as the husband of some woman.
Time is a healer and once the initial fireworks subside and you are able to look at the bigger picture of life, it may even be a good thing to catch up with a person who has known you so intimately and then hasn’t been around for awhile. It gives you perspective. People who have been a part of your life for a long time may not always be able to tell you the truth about yourself. But someone who has known you for at least awhile closely, and now doesn’t fear losing you, just might.
There is closure too. Sometimes you don’t even realize how much baggage you are carrying until you meet the person who gave you all that garbage to tote around in the first place. Then you realize that you may as well put both him and your memories back where they belong….in the past. Occasionally, very occasionally you might realize that there are more ways than one, that a person can be a part of you life. That is rare. But you never know. You just might get lucky. In a different way from when you were dating.
My first-ever boyfriend is friends with me today. We meet for a coffee every few months, catch up on each others’ lives and laugh over silly things. Today I can say that he is a great guy. Well, I’m a great girl too. It’s just that we’re great as friends and not anything else. It’s taken years for us to get to this place and I’m glad we did. It is a long way to stop feeling bad and then another arduous journey to where you can actually feel good about the other person. I can’t say that this is possible with every single ‘ex-‘, which is why this friendship is remarkable.
My heart is a scrap-book of mixed memories.