Dating Drama: The Ex-Boyfriend Blues

Since my breakup, I’ve not only been navigating single life, but I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of relationship to have with my ex. Are we friends? Acquaintances? Simply exes? Potential friends with benefits? It’s hard to say, and I vacillate between these possibilities. I’m grateful that ours was a long distance relationship, so I don’t have to worry about running into him at a club or the grocery store. At the same time, I’ll be honest — I miss him. Our once-daily talks and emails have dwindled to once or twice a week … but that doesn’t mean I don’t think of him more often than that. After so many months of him being the first person I turned to with good or bad news, I’m at a loss as to how to fill that emptiness in my life. I miss hearing about what he’s up to, even if it’s another World of Warcraft raid that goes over my head. I still have his photo booth strip tacked up on my cubicle wall at work. I called him when I was drunk on champagne the other night, feeling lonely and needing to share the fact that the room was spinning.

I haven’t gone totally crazy, though. When I find myself concocting increasingly elaborate sexual fantasies about him, I’ve been wise enough not to share them with him. The other day I started to email him about one of those fantasies, but then I stopped myself. Or, rather, I wrote it out, but I didn’t send it. I feel guilty, like I should be fantasizing about someone new, about the guy I’ve gone on a few dates with, who I like a lot, but my mind keeps going back to my ex.

I’m going to San Francisco, where my ex lives, at the end of this week to do some book readings, and we’re going to see each other along with mutual friends. I know that if I want to, we could have one final round of breakup sex which, as the new ad for “He’s Just Not That Into You” reminds me, “breakup sex still means you’re broken up.” Part of me feels like I deserve some kind of sex, and rather than have a random one-night stand or hook up with someone else too soon, we can have one final fling and be done with it. I’m not saying I think this is the healthiest move, but it’s probably what’s going to happen.

There’s an Elliott Smith song called “Somebody That I Used to Know,” and it’s a sad song, but also kind of cold — like you have to pretend your ex is some random person from your past in order to move on. I hate the idea that because a romantic relationship had to end, the person who was closest to you becomes a virtual stranger. Maybe that’s a necessary cutting of ties, but it doesn’t feel right to me. Excising my ex from my life entirely felt like I’d be giving up his friendship so I wouldn’t feel nostalgic or lonely. We didn’t break up because we hate each other or had a big fight, but because we didn’t have a plan for how to be together given the distance and that our personalities and politics are probably too divergent to mix in the long term. But that doesn’t mean he’s not still sexy to me, or that I don’t wish we could’ve worked as a couple.

I understand why so many people told me that it’s best to stay away from my ex and go cold turkey, but I’m not strong enough for that. My main problem with the no contact rule, aside from it being extremely difficult to maintain, is that it makes it way too easy to romanticize our entire relationship. Once someone’s not in your life in that daily, steady way, at least with me, I tend to forget about all their negative qualities and imagine that if we were back together, it would be nonstop hot all the time. Talking to him brings me back into the real world and reminds me that he’s still the same person, for better and for worse.

If I were seriously seeing someone else at this point, it would be easier to put my ex firmly in the friend category. I can be stubborn, and the minute people tell me not to do something, even if they’re well-meaning, it makes me want to do the opposite. I’m going to wait and see what feels right. For all I know, we’ll be totally awkward in person, but I hope not.

I like the idea of being friends with my exes, but it’s not always possible. Sometimes there’s too much pain between you, or, conversely, too much lingering attraction. In my case, there’s a little of both.