Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Ex Games: Growing, Living, and Forgiving

This article started with several #M3HotTopics dealing with exes and talking about it in our weekly hangout. It was interesting to hear how different people answered the questions, and it got me to think about how we approach our past relationships and the people we once called lovers. Some of us can’t be friends with an ex while others wouldn’t give it a second thought. Some wouldn’t let a friend date an ex while others would wish them well. No one seems to have a consensus on how to feel about our past relationships. What all these different answers led me to realize is that we each must navigate the complicated emotional landscape of our former relationships in our own way. While I can't make that journey less difficult, I hope that this article can shed some light on the possible peaks and pitfalls of such tricky terrain.

I love that we have such open and honest conversations about relationships in our groups and hangouts. I’m often surprised at how much we’re willing to reveal to each other. None of us seem to agree on the discussion topics, but sometimes it’s amazing just how much we disagree over such fundamental aspects of relationships. I, for one, am conflicted about friends dating an ex while many others are not. I think it can be acceptable in some circumstances, but I would prefer if it didn’t happen. I’m not going to stand in the way of my friend finding love, but at the same time I’m going to feel a certain way about a friend finding success with a partner that I could not. I date attractive men and so I know that others will find him attractive, but it can be disheartening to learn that a friend had eyes for your man the whole time you were together. At the same time, I would appreciate that my friend cared enough to respect the boundaries of my relationship to keep their distance while we were together. These two conflicting ideas would have to be hashed out in some deep and sobering conversations. I would need to know about my friend’s attraction to my boyfriend during my relationship. I would have questions about his sincerity when the relationship ended. Was he really sad for me when it ended, or was he happy that his crush was now single? In the end, it seems like a violation of our friendship. I don’t like people keeping things from me. I don’t like people who are sneaky and feel like they have a need to hide things from me. It’s not attraction that is the problem; it’s the secrecy about it that bothers me.

This isn’t as much a problem as it once was. I haven’t always had such honest friends as I do now. I have had the experience of a friend talking to my boyfriend behind my back while we were together, and even going as far as to sleep with him while we were together. Given that history, I am very selective about who I call a friend and am very cautious about the information I share with them about my relationship. Still, I try to not let my history with betrayal make me a bad friend. It has made me have better boundaries and standards. Not everyone has had a  history of betrayal in the way that I have, and it’s why we approach the subject differently. I think I have learned a lot from my troubled history of friends and exes and I'm much better off because of it.

I’ve noticed that some of us don’t have the highest standards for our lovers and friends, especially early in life. It’s not that we can’t do better; it’s that we don’t know better. If your friend is talking behind someone else’s back you should expect them to treat you in much the same way eventually. I’m friends with people who have integrity, but even then that doesn’t make me immune to betrayal. Part of being a good friend is accepting a certain amount of vulnerability. The foundation of any good relationship is a solid friendship. Observe the way your friends treat other people because those personality traits are independent of your relationship to them. He might be your best friend; he might be your lover; it doesn’t matter who he is to you, he is who he is. His attractiveness might throw you off; your feelings for him might cloud your judgment, but when considering someone to be your friend or lover nothing is more important than the way he treats other people. You need to have observed him making decisions that express his values. Does he value honesty enough to make himself uncomfortable? Does he treat others with kindness even when he would be justified in being nasty? Values dictate his behavior. Believe what he does, not what he says he believes, because no amount of good intentions matter  when you're being stabbed in the back.

Our Personal History
We would like to think that our exes don’t say much about who we are, especially if we’re on bad terms with them, but they do. It doesn’t mean that we are who our exes say we are, but when we reflect on the people we once loved, if it doesn't say anything about who we are now, it certainly says something about who we once were. Whatever reason it ended, whatever time in your life you chose that person to be with you, you shared your body, intimate moments, secrets, and if your exes have nothing else in common, they have you. It can, at times, be painful to think about them, especially if it ended badly, but there are themes among the stories you tell about your past lovers if you’re open to see the story. Within the complications, heartbreaks, and choices is a map of your emotional landscape. It's not a story you necessarily need to share with anyone else, but It pays to know as much as you can about yourself.  Ultimately, happiness comes from accepting yourself, and that process starts with self-awareness.

Exes as friends
I try to remain friends with my exes as much as possible. They help remind me of who I was when I dated them. They will still see me in the way I was when were together, and they give my life perspective that I may have otherwise lost in the process of growing. Sometimes it’s hard to remember who I was at different times in my life. It helps that I now keep a journal, but there was a long time in my life when I did not. I'm also blessed to have a video record of who I am now because every weekend I discuss the issues of the day with a group of friends live on YouTube. Even now with all the exposure I get from writing and producing videos for M3, there are many things I would only reveal to my partner. I would never wish it on myself, but if Breeze and I were ever to break up, I would hope that he would remain a part of my life.

I've heard it said, and I feel that, it makes no sense to date someone you couldn't see yourself being friends with after a breakup. Friendship is the foundation of any good relationship. It doesn't mean you have to wait to build a friendship with a lover before you can be an item; it means that you have to like them outside your emotional and physical attraction to them. I have mostly been successful in that area in my life. I make no exaggeration when I say I'm dating my best friend, and if there were some reason we couldn't be together I would expect that friendship to last beyond our relationship.  I would wish that for everyone. If in the past you have not been able to remain friends with your former lovers, I would ask myself why. Was it because the betrayal was too deep? Or was it simply not a substantial friendship to begin with?

I found myself conflicted when thinking about my relationship history and talking about the subject of  exes, but I hope that I've inspired someone out there to take a journey of self-discovery.  The answers you find from digging around in your past may not be so clear cut, but own them regardless. I'm not trying to guilt anyone who felt that they needed to cut off contact with their exes in the past. I've done that myself for many reasons, but after some time has passed it was constructive for me to give them call and catch up. Even if it's just a former friend who you've fallen out with years ago, it may not be a bad idea to remind yourself why you were friends to begin with and give him a call. Forgiveness is first a gift you give to yourself and then pass it on to the forgiven.  Finally, be kind to yourself when you think about the mistakes you've made. The only real mistake would be failing to learn from them.

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