Welcome to Ms. Opinionated, our weekly advice column dealing with questions of life, love, feminism, and pop culture. Submit your anonymous questions here.This week, Nicole Georges talks a reader through their thoughts on an ex who’s maybe still a friend.
Dear Ms. Opinionated,
So, I have this ex-girlfriend—we started dating in college when we lived in the same co-op, and maintained a mostly long distance relationship for about two and a half years afterward. It was challenging, to say the least. We probably were better suited to be friends than lovers in the first place, and the distance didn’t help.
Toward the end, she became emotionally abusive: manipulative, dishonest, and then blaming me for being upset… that kind of stuff. Finally, she cheated on me with a mutual friend even after I specifically asked her not to sleep with this person, said it was my fault for being depressed and that’s why she cheated, and then was mad that I broke up with her. Ugh! It has taken me four years and therapy to feel like I’m over this bad sad situation. I broke off all contact, blocked her on Facebook, and haven’t seen or spoken with her since. I’ve also been in a great, committed relationship for a few years with a partner who is supportive, communicative, and understanding.
But here’s the thing. My ex and I still have a lot of mutual friends and every now and then they’ll mention something about her, or I’ll just ask (“casually”) what she’s up to, and… I miss her. I know she’s a good friend, even if she was a terrible girlfriend to me. I’ve thought about getting back in touch, but it’s only recently that I’ve been able to imagine it without just being furious and thrown back into a lot of self-doubt and terrible feelings and wanting to punch her in the face. However, this summer one of my best friends was visiting her and later told me that she (my ex) said she wanted to reach out—in part to say sorry—but didn’t, because she wanted to respect the fact that I might not want to hear from her. Of course, this consideration made me want to contact her even more.
Best case would be: I contact her, she apologizes, we don’t really stay in touch but I don’t feel like I have to avoid gatherings if she’s going to be there or something (we don’t live in the same state so this wouldn’t be frequent anyway).
Anyway. That’s my whole long story. Short version: is it nuts to think about getting back in contact with this person?
Moved On (Maybe) in Massachusetts
Dear Moved On,
I’m proud of you for taking care of yourself after an awful situation.
You’ve gone to therapy, you’ve moved on romantically, and you’re a better person for it. I am also proud of you for having enough forgiveness inside of you to even consider this option. Please accept this image of a hippo wearing a party hat as my personal note of congratulations and esteem.
I do not think it is an awful idea for you to get back in touch with this person. I am in friendly touch with just about every person I’ve ever dated—even people who smashed my heart to pieces and left me with nothing but a house full of dog hair and mistrust.
Do you still want to make love to her? No.
Are you looking to be super-close bosom buddies? Absolutely not.
I think the goal of being in touch, extending an olive branch, and being “Hi, Bye Friends” could be very healthy and healing. It takes a lot of energy to hold a grudge and hate on someone who you see around town. Believe me.
It is not easy.
Is your friendly acquaintanceship contingent upon her apologizing? If so, I’d hold your horses. You have no control over whether or not she apologizes. And even if she does, what if she doesn’t apologize for the *right* things, or in the way you want her to? Then you might get mad all over again.
Acceptance can offer you everything you need. Can you accept her as she is? Can she make amends to you by being kind and a friend from afar? I think the answer is yes, and I think that might be all you can get. Anything above and beyond is gravy. It’s bonus. It’s great.
And what about you? I recommend that you do a little soul-searching before you get in touch. Are there things you did in your relationship that you are not proud of? Are there things you said in the heat of the moment, or when you were feeling especially tweaked, that you wouldn’t say or do today? If so, apologize. Apologize apologize. You be vulnerable. Be kinder and “more magnanimous” (to borrow a phrase from Dear Sugar) than you thought you could. Offer what you miss about being her friend, and let her know you’d like to get in touch. Let her know you aren’t some perfect victim, sitting atop a hill and waiting for her to crawl to you. Give her the opportunity to meet you on level ground.
You don’t need to fear her any more. She can’t hurt you. She isn’t your emotional support system,
she is just an imperfect person who really fucked up at one point, and now she wants to be your acquaintance. Maybe she’s mellowed, maybe she hasn’t. You get to assess that from where you are today and see if she fits in your life. As an acquaintance, as a friend, or as a pen pal.
If not, oh well. At least you tried.
p.s. Confidential to readers: Don’t forget to say “Thank You” for things. It’s rude not to.