Dater X: Rethinking The Ex-Factor

To say I was shocked when I saw my ex-boyfriend Don’s name pop up on my phone last month is an understatement. But since then, we’ve been casually chatting, exchanging text messages here and there and rekindling our friendship. As difficult as it was not having him around for a while, I can now sleep easy knowing that his heart is no longer shattering into cookie crumbles every time we speak.

Last week, I was so concerned when I found out about my new guy Andrew’s hot, dancer ex-girlfriend, that the potential threat of my own ex resurfacing hadn’t even dawned on me— at least not until Don called me and suggested a visit. Realistically, Don is the only one of my ex-boyfriends who could jeopardize one of my relationships. Patrick Bateman is married (and nuts), Officer Handsoming was bland, GQ ghosted me, and so on. So, obviously, just as I’m getting to know Andrew, Don would come back in the picture. Hesitantly, I asked Don if he was sure about getting together since he’s spent the better part of the last year trying to get over me.

“If I wasn’t ready to see you, I wouldn’t have suggested it,” he replied matter-of-factly, and that was that. I knew I wanted to see him, too.

Before Don’s visit, I wanted to tell Andrew that he was coming. I don’t consider Andrew my boyfriend at this point, but we’ve been seeing each other for over a month, and I knew that if the situation were reversed, I would have appreciated a heads up. My other option was to completely omit the topic or lie about my weekend plans, then feel guilty for having done so— neither of which seemed very appealing. Andrew assured me he was 100 percent cool with Don visiting, and thanked me for considering his feelings even though he would never tell me what decisions I can and can’t make; yet another reason I’m beginning to think Andrew might be boyfriend material. (To be continued.)

A few days later, Don was at my doorstep. We spent the day together, walking around the park and talking about our families when he mentioned that he’d been dating someone during the time we weren’t speaking. After seven months with this girl, Don realized that he loved her, but didn’t see himself marrying her and subsequently ended it. In that moment, I was jealous. But not of her. I know that Don loves me more than anyone else he’s ever been with and that I will always hold a special place in his heart. I was jealous because she had a chance to date the new and improved Don; the guy who’s communicative and knows what he wants, even if it wasn’t her. When we dated back in college, Don was loving, but closed off emotionally; affectionate, but sexually insecure; commitment-phobic, stemming from years of being shuffled around in foster care. Our love was very real, but our relationship was a constant struggle. I’ve tried to move past the battles I had with him back then, chalking it up to his upbringing and lack of relationship experience at the time, but I still resent him for making it so hard for us to be together. When I started thinking about how far he’s come, I started crying. In that moment, I knew deep down that as much as I wished I could make it work with Don, I could never move past the challenges we faced and experience a relationship with the confident man he’s become. The gamble I would be taking if I tried isn’t worth the friendship we have.

He consoled me, explaining that I helped him turn into the person he is today and that I should be proud of how far he’s come. And I really, really am. But then he said this:

“I value our friendship more than anything in the world and I don’t want to jeopardize that. But I also love you more than anything and anyone in the world, and wouldn’t be opposed to discussing the possibility of ‘us’ again. If you want…”

With that proposal lingering, I knew I could have kissed him or hugged him or brought him back to my place and slept with him, but it would eventually lead us down the same road we’ve always traveled: a discussion about getting back together, and the conclusion that we wouldn’t work. I told Don that I’ve been seeing someone great and that I want to see how things play out, but that if I ever feel like I can get to a place where I can let go of the past, I know where to find him. But I can confidently say that I don’t foresee that happening.

At the end of the day, we parted ways knowing that our friendship will always be complicated, but that it will always be there— even if we take breaks from it every once in a while. There are real, justified reasons our relationship didn’t and won’t ever work, which made me realize the same goes for Andrew and his ex. People may look at Don and I and think we’re perfect for each other, but there’s more to our story than meets the eye. He and I both deserve to start relationships with a fresh slate and fall in love without old obstacles popping back up. And so does Andrew. Sure, he may have dated a seemingly perfect, limber, blonde dancer, but things aren’t always as they seem. They have history, too. And the thing that’s great about history is that you can’t rewrite it— you can only study it and learn from it.