• Relationships

Girl Talk: Do Your Parents Have To Break Up With Your Exes, Too?

This story begins with an answering machine. Which means that, yes, it happened a long time ago—I believe in 2003. I was at home in North Carolina visiting my parents, and on the second day of my stay, I plunged my key in the lock of the front door, dropped my bag on the table beside it, and hit the play button on the answering machine—autopilot reflexes I’d perfected years before when I’d actually lived in this house. The first message was obviously for my parents—skip. Ditto for message number two. But the third message contained a familiar baritone voice—Liam*, the guy I’d dated my senior year of high school through my junior year of college. We hadn’t spoken in the two years since we’d broken up.

Oh, that’s nice, I thought. I haven’t heard from him in forever. We should really meet for a cup of coffee while I’m here. Wait a second. How did he know I was home?

“It was wonderful seeing you two last week,” Liam said, his deep voice echoing through the foyer. “Thanks for the advice.”

And that’s when it hit me—this message wasn’t for me. It was for my parents.

Meeting the parents is one of the yardsticks we use to measure, “Is this relationship serious?” And yet, we are not a generation that tends to marry our first love. In fact, with the average marriage age being 26.5 for women and 28.4 for men—many of us will go through several serious relationships before we put a ring on it. What is supposed to happen to all those hours spent laughing around the dinner table with someone’s family?

When Liam and I had broken up and exchanged the proverbial boxes full of the books, clothes and CDs (I repeat, this was a long time ago) we’d left at each other’s houses, I’d just assumed it meant his relationship with my family was terminated, too. It never occurred to me that Liam and my parents could, gulp, become friends. Really? My parents had hung out with my ex last week? And given him advice? I was livid. How could my parents go behind my back like that?

I decided to confront my parents and make it 100 percent clear that they were not to interact with Liam in any way.

But after an hour of fuming, it occurred to me—was this really a case of “you’re either with me or against me?” I’d brought these three people together over countless dinners and movie nights. So they felt connected to each other—was that really a bad thing? And was it so surprising that Liam had bonded with my parents? After all, he was so estranged from his own mom and dad that, in the four years of our relationship, I never met either of them. He often told me he only talked to them every few months, and would mention in passing how amazing he thought mine were. Meanwhile, since our breakup, I’d moved to New York City and started a new life as a writer. Did I have a right to dictate whether the people at home could still talk to each other in my absence?

By the time I saw my parents, I had calmed down. They explained to me it wasn’t as if they got together with Liam once a week—they’d simply happened to invite him to a hockey game because they had an extra ticket, no one seemed to want it, and they remembered that he was a huge fan. And the advice they’d given? It was about applying for a new job.

In the end, I chose to let it go.

When you run into an ex unexpectedly, the first thing that invariably pops out of one of your mouths is: “You look great.” Take stock—one of you will say it. It’s a cliché that’s impossible to avoid. Soon after, though, one of you will ask: “How is your family?”

Meeting the parents is one of the yardsticks we use to measure “Is this relationship serious?” And yet, we are not a generation that tends to marry our first love. In fact, with the average marriage age being 26.5 for women and 28.4 for men, many of us will go through several serious relationships before we put a ring on it. What is supposed to happen to all those hours spent laughing around the dinner table with someone else’s family? Is that relationship just supposed to end?

I don’t think my parents and I are the only ones who have gnawed on this question. Just last night in an interview, Kurt Russell was asked how he felt about Matthew Bellamy, his step-daughter Kate Hudson‘s new fiance and soon-to-be baby daddy. Here’s what he said:

“I’m loving the process of getting to know Matt more and more, and I wish them well. He’s an interesting guy and a fun guy to be around. I’m just happy that once again, she has someone that the whole family can feel confident in and close to. I think he’s terrific … I got to say I love Chris Robinson, loved him, still do. I loved Alex [Rodriguez]. We had a tremendous time together. I think Kate has been fortunate with all the men she’s gotten close to.”

Sure sounds like Kurt wouldn’t mind throwing back a cold one with Chris or talking batting averages with Alex, does it?

At this point, it’s been 10 years since Liam and I broke up. Even though we were a huge part of each other’s formative years, we still don’t talk much. He called maybe two years ago to congratulate me on publishing a book and we had a nice 10-minute conversation. Earlier this year, I saw on Facebook that he had a baby. I clicked on the picture and marveled at his adorable baby boy, who already looks so much like him. He and his fiancee look so happy—simply beaming—in the photo. They look as happy as I feel with my new boyfriend, who I know is a much better fit for me.

Later that night, I called my parents. “I saw on Liam’s Facebook page that he had a baby! Isn’t that crazy?”

I expected jaws dropping. Instead, I got silence. “We actually … knew that,” my mom said.

I’d totally forgotten that they were still in touch.

“Oh,” I said, confused. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“We thought there was a chance you might be upset,” my dad responded. I explained that I was excited for him and was planning to mail off a gift soon.

My parents told me that all these years later, they still hear from Liam on occasion. Apparently, Liam still writes a letter to my mom every Mother’s Day and one to my dad every Father’s Day. When he wrote my dad’s last Father’s Day card, he’d apparently just found out his girlfriend was pregnant. “I want to be a loving, supportive parent,” he evidently wrote to my dad. “Just the way you are.”

What an amazing sentiment, I thought.

As my Dad told me this, I felt so glad that years before, I hadn’t made a big issue of the fact that they still have a friendship with Liam. It’s hard to truly appreciate your own parents. I’m not proud of it, but even at age 30, nothing can turn me into a whiny, angsty teenager the way being around my parents can. So many of the little things they do can work my nerves and sometimes it’s easy to interpret their concern as nagging. I’m glad that they are in touch with a person who doesn’t see the annoying layer in the slightest and only sees the truth—that they are incredible parents and such positive forces in my life—because that’s what he’d always wished his own parents could be.

In the end, I’m glad my parents didn’t say goodbye to Liam when I did. And I know that he will be a great parent, just like mine.

*Name has been changed.

Want to contact the writer of this post? {encode=”kate@thefrisky.com” title=”Email her”}!

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