Should you try to be friends with exes?

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I was just reading an article where someone was trying to be “best friends” with their ex. I’ve always found this concept puzzling. Maybe its a sign that all my relationships end spectacularly badly and I’m terrible at it, but I’ve never had even the slightest inclination to hang out after we’d broken up. It’s not like they’re a bad bunch – most of them were and I’m sure still are great guys, although like most people, there were a couple of embarrassing toads that I try to pretend never happened and will deny strenuously if asked. So why no ongoing friendship with the normal ones? I think I just had no interest whatsoever in pretending that I was okay with the demise of the relationship and hear about the other women they were now dating. I also discovered early on that if I spent any significant time with an ex, I’d blow the gasket in the memory part of my brain (the one that recalls why we broke up) and think it was a good idea to microwave the relationship. In that way, relationships are a lot like lasagne – it’s still okay after the first reheat but after you’ve zapped it three times, it becomes hard and rubbery and completely inedible.

Once you have kids though, you have to try because you’ll be having to interact on a regular basis for years and years. There a quite a few divorces happening at the moment and some are doing better on this front than others. The ones where they only speak through their lawyers makes you want to cry for both them and their kids. Because it doesn’t necessarily get better with time. I went to a wedding a few years ago where the parents, who had only been married for five years in total and broke up when their child was three, still could not be in the same room with each other thirty odd years later. They had literally be fighting six times longer than they had been married. It’s easy from the outside to say that you’d be one of those people who put aside their anger and sense of betrayal and do everything they can to make it easier on the kids, but given my history of inability to be friends with exes, it doesn’t look good.

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Still, I have never stooped to revenge (not yet anyway. I’m leaving my options open though. Never say never and all that). Growing up with brothers and all their friends, I saw the results from the male perspective, which made me realise that it really didn’t change anything. No matter what the girls said or did, there was never an “oh my God! I made a huge mistake! I thought I wanted to break up but I just realised now after your brilliantly executed revenge plan how amazing you are and that I love you and want to be with you forever!” moment. I don’t know one instance outside a romance novel where this has happened (correct me if I’m wrong and you have witnessed this). Generally people know if they don’t want to be with someone and you should be worried if they suddenly do a 180 because there’s something you don’t know. I’d recommend checking your Lotto ticket and the health of your elderly relatives before taking them back. While revenge serves little purpose for the couple involved, it is greatly entertaining for those in their social sphere. My favourite revenge stunt though was the one who barged into the guy’s apartment brandishing a 2 litre bottle of milk. She headed straight for his bedroom and poured the whole thing into his mattress. It wasn’t long before it started to stink. What she hadn’t factored in was that he was a guy in his early twenties and didn’t really care and slept on it anyway. He waited out the sink, because it does eventually go away, and wore a lot of aftershave.

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Another called the council and reported that his car (a trusty and still working bright orange seventies Volvo) was abandoned. So he woke up one morning about to head to uni and found that they’d towed it away. The cost of retrieval was more than the value of the car, so it was never reclaimed. There were quite a few in the strings of girlfriends who slept with their ex’s best friend, which is a sure fire way to ensure that you never get back together, rather than make them jealous. On the flip side though, was the guy who was devastated when his girlfriend, who he thought everything was going incredibly well with, broke up with him because he made her too happy and she’d gained 5kgs.

So maybe there is something to trying to be friends with exes. If we all had that skill, practiced when we were younger and had nothing to lose but our pride, then it might make things a lot easier if later on we got divorced, when the stakes become a lot higher and children are involved. Clearly this wouldn’t work in every case, but it might be something that is worth more thought if our kids ever come to us asking advice. I don’t think it’s likely either, but one day they might be desperate enough and I’ll be ready to go!

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Confessions of infidelity (not mine!)

Having written a book about infidelity, it is amazing how many people have approached me with stories of their own or others close to them. One of the commonalities, amongst all the differences in who, how and where, is that their partners were usually blindsided. Whether it was the husband or the wife who went looking for something outside their marriage, when they announced they were leaving, their partners had no idea it was coming.

For anyone who is married or in a serious relationship, this is obviously scary. While we like to think that we know our partners and how everything is rolling, it seems that the people who were on the receiving end also thought this and were wrong. You can never know what chance encounters or events conspire to leave yourself or your partner open to the suggestion of others. Maybe it has something to do with our age, as most people I’m chatting with are around the same age as me, nearing forty with all the kids at school, but a lot of marriages are breaking down. When I ask why, partly for research and mostly because there might be something to learn from it, the reasons seem to be something that is resolvable (he/she never listened to me) or that was present from the beginning of the relationship (I don’t like his friends/family). No one has said because they fell madly in love with someone else, though a someone else is generally there in the background.

Given the level of difficulty managing new partners and extra children of blended families, especially around holidays, you’d have to really want out to put yourself through the aggravation and negotiation stretching for years ahead. Which begs the question – was the choice of partner wrong in the beginning or do people change? Or does what we want out of relationships change over time and if your partner doesn’t flow in the same direction is it largely inevitable that you will one day look across the table and feel nothing but the desire to flee? Maybe the couples who stay together are mostly lucky, and any smugness felt at not getting divorced has less to do with any conscious decisions you have made, but that you were fortunate that events outside your control went in your favour. There, but for the grace of God, go all of us.

The Ill Winds of Rumour

I seem to be on a bit of a roll – first secrets and now rumours – but it is particularly topical, given my day today. Luckily for me, I wasn’t the one being talked about, but there’s nothing to stop it happening to me too, or anyone really. The facts were scanty but the words being thrown around were worryingly harsh.

When your kids go to the nearby public school, you encounter people regularly on a social level that are different to you in many ways – race, religion, ideas on how to raise kids and the importance of vegetables. Though I have to admit, where I live doesn’t have a vast amount of racial and religious offerings on the school smorgasbord, I think this makes the small differences seem far larger. The people being talked about would have a fairly similar social and educational background to me and work in traditional fields. So far, so good. They went through what seems to be a bad divorce though and I’m not sure if this is where the trouble started or if something had happened prior to this, but of the many people talking about them, not a good word was said about either. And that’s enough to make other people who might otherwise have been friendly, stay away.

Obviously, getting divorced is harrowing and unpleasant and it is the rare person who is able to set aside their weapons and endure it with grace. The people around them may only see the worst side, particularly when the former spouses collide in public and small children are involved and emotions high. Because most people will not be taken into their confidence of both, they know one side or the other or merely observe the strained relationship and come to their own conclusions. This, I think, is where the worst of the rumours start. Not being close to either party, there is no obligation to hold back and with each subsequent retelling over the day, the details became more scandalous. What is worse is although I saw the evolution of the rumour and recognised that the lack of detail was getting filled in too quickly to have had any verification done, I had to keep a firm hold of the part of me that really wanted to join in. Why, when I knew I had nothing to base it on, did I want to contribute something? I gave myself a mental spanking, but I’m still thinking about it and whether I have been on the receiving end of similar treatment but just don’t know about it. To write means that you expose parts of yourself, cleverly hidden amongst other details in the storyline of course, and you never know what people are going to assume about you after reading your books. There is no way to prevent it – even if you hide out in your home people will still talk. If what people say about you is none of your business, why should you still have to deal with the fall-out?