Many months ago, I went through what a millennial sociologist may define as a relationship (me? hung up?). At the fling’s conclusion (if you use more casual terms, the memories feel more frivolous!), she spoke of wanting to remain friends. I soundly objected. Of course, I caved because who am I to decline friendship? And I still had feelings for her (having a heart? Another fallacy!).
Without surprise, the charade failed. We suffered several trials, extinguished by either she or I for various futile reasons that tiptoed around “you can’t be friends with your ex.” This was always my view and what she denied. I am a Taurus. I insisted she learn what I knew.
For a long spell, we did not speak. I count this as my small victory because she instigated it. During the desert, I met someone else, which I correctly surmised was a temporary ploy to distract myself. Nevertheless, I embarked on another doomed fling, though this one seemed destined for failure based on much triter terms like compatibility, ambition, and intelligence.
What are one’s late twenties for if not the lessons never acquired in school or during early twenties dating? We date for the stories that we can tell our friends at brunch and then for our nieces and nephews when dating proves the sourest and a lesson to just never date again.
My new fling and I experienced many days of Tinder bliss interwoven with several abrupt breakups. She initiated these (four times to be exact), and I was fazed by none primarily owing to my own preeminent presumption that our union would be short-lived (which it was, obviously). I assumed our imminent expiration based on the aforementioned incompatibilities and the haunting emotions I had felt for my ex. You find that if you have previously felt something that is special, then you judge future entanglements by that metric, and when they fall short, then you know the entanglement will not last the year if even a lunar cycle.
At each breakup, my fling suggested we continue hanging out because I’m such a cool person. My ex said similar things when she thought to retain friendship (though she employed more elevated vocabulary to describe the benefits of my companionship). Under principle, I should have said no: exes do not remain friends, or so I preached, bellowed, and tweeted. But my fling and I were hardly exes when measured in history and depth, and I, out of malice, also saw a unique opportunity for an experiment (and blogpost; this one in fact!). After all, it’s an ages old question that even Harry and Sally failed to address: can former romantic partners be friends?
I already had my hypothesis: our friendship shouldn’t work. However, what if it did? What if it was possible for me to stay amicable with someone I had been with and would not date again? What say my ex if I was able to maintain a friendship with another ex, the thing she desired (supposedly) and the thing I refused to grant?
This experiment went wonderfully for a time: my (ex-) fling and I would hang out. We would go to the movies. We grabbed dinner twice. We drank wine in my garden. We watched TV on her couch. We even made a couple’s costume for a friend’s party. But we were just friends!
The thing with relationships is, it’s all a power play. Someone is always in charge—and that’s the person who cares less. In healthy relationships, this is an exchange of power that balances out. In dating and unhealthy romance, this is a teetering battle where someone is invested and the other person holds the puppet strings.
While my fling kept breaking up with me, it turned out I actually cared less. This isn’t a surprise when considered holistically: that’s why I was willing to remain friends with her post-fling. But why did she want to remain friends? Because she did care.
This was a creeping suspicion that I all but confirmed by the costume party. While she kept ending things, our breakups seemed be part of a larger conspiracy to entangle my feelings and desires for the long term. My qualified thesis is, exes do not remain friends unless they seek to keep each other in stasis. Unfortunately for my fling, I had no interest in stasis or her.
At said party, she kept putting her head on my shoulder. She slipped her hand into mine as we walked home. I recoiled on all spectrums. My only interest in friendship stemmed from spite toward another, and now I felt nothing for or toward her except alarming disinterest if not actual disgust - most likely misplaced disgust toward myself at my now failed experiment.
I began to respond less to her hourly text messages. I became busy when she asked to hang out. Only after a few drinks would I entertain the idea of seeing each other. Even then I found myself abruptly conjuring excuses for why I had to go (read: flee). At my apartment, I ranted to my roommate about my U-turn in feelings.
After three cycles of these regrets, I resolved to end the experiment. She fell from my top Snapchat friends. I stopped including her in inside jokes with other friends. I even accepted I would not finish a TV show we had started together.
Here we reach the frightening, anticlimactic conclusion that we – reader, author, and scientist –always knew: you can’t be friends with your ex. Surprise! If you wanted to be friends, then you wouldn’t have broken up. Certainly, friendship and romance are not so similar that they can be confused that easily, but that’s foresight. Hindsight is not so precise a lens. What you learn to dislike in your romantic partner will surely exist in them as a platonic partner, to not even encompass the ugly, bittersweet history that might exist if there was a breakup or the fact breakups are rarely mutual, at least at the time of terminus. Friendship post-feelings may only be possible in a utopia with no sad songs on the radio.
What haunted me post-experiment more than this reality was the apathy I felt toward my fling. While for my ex I felt pangs of memories and sensitivity like lingering appendicitis, I felt total disregard and even revulsion toward my fling’s memory. I knew I had been manipulative to prolong our Frankenstein friendship for my selfish reasons, and maybe this played into my sentiments, but I also wondered if my more significant ex felt this same antipathy toward me. No one wants to be viewed as only someone’s footnote. If I’m going to be an ex, I want to be far closer to “the one who got away” than to “six weeks of regret and WTF, oops.” That’s what my fling was.
I hadn’t known, or had not yet learned, people who had once been so close to my orbit could become so trivial in retrospect. But some people are moons, and others are asteroids. Science is exact until new science comes along. Just like Pluto was once a planet and is now friend-zoned, sometimes we mistake asteroids for moons. That was my lesson learned. Maybe it wasn’t a failed experiment.