In a society that tells us to hate our partners’ exes, this friendship is an oddity.
After the first few months of dating, we become entirely enamored with our significant other. We can comfortably begin to shed the masks that we wore just to make a good impression. Soon enough, however, past relationships inevitably cast a shadow of curiosity. We are just wired as human beings to wonder about our predecessor, to compare, and even compete.
Whether it be the one who got away, the deranged ex, the mother of his children, we wonder. Naturally, we are supposed to despise this particular person classified under the undesirable “ex” category.
A singer mentioned this very thing at a gig I attended recently. “I ran into my boyfriend’s ex and gave her the evil eye. I sized her up and down. I was cuter.” We are supposed to dislike this stranger just for existing, merely for being part of his life before he met you. Possibly for being his first time, or his best time, or worst time, for introducing him to the best curry joint in town and taking him to a sweet music show.
Last year around this time, my boyfriend said his ex-girlfriend, J., was coming over for guitar lessons. I thought that sounded innocent enough. But then that little voice of insecurity nagged at me. The voice that told me to hate her—but I could not.
I was home when she came over on that blustery Sunday afternoon. I introduced myself cordially and conveniently finished brewing my cup of tea. I kept a respectful distance in the nearby guest bedroom. She had long, wavy blond hair that flowed daintily down her back. She had a sweet, young face with skin as smooth as ceramic.
In the adjoining room, I imagined possibilities: a rekindling between the two, my boyfriend’s musical stylings inspiring her to love him again. This is ridiculous hogwash, I told myself. Our relationship was solid and pure. She was now happily married.
I sauntered to get myself a mid-afternoon snack and to offer her one. We began talking, she had her degree in nutrition and was interested in holistic health. She was fascinated by my description of cutting lactose out of my diet to prevent inflammation and relieve my symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. We both liked to read, write, and she even worked at the library.
We talked for nearly an hour straight, with my boyfriend strumming on his guitar and looking somewhat bewildered. I developed a friend crush. We exchanged information.
I hungrily perused her blog and I asked my boyfriend if he thought it would be weird to email her to ask her to coffee, to friendship. I felt giddy with excitement at the possibility of a friend that I could connect with on an intellectual, spiritual, and holistic level. He consented, with the caveat that the basis of our friendship not be discussing him or their past relationship. I agreed.
I trembled as I emailed her with the nerves of asking someone out on a first date. Upon receiving her reply, my heart leapt into my throat. She compared her excitement about our friendship to the anticipation of planning a slumber party as a 12-year-old girl.
We bonded over chai tea and pastries. There was scarcely a lilt in conversation and the only reason we stopped is that I had another obligation. Otherwise, I’m sure we would have continued talking until the sun sank into the horizon.
We started going to Saturday morning yoga classes together, then we signed up for a memoir-writing class.
I welcomed the new friendship. I had sifted through a fair amount of friends between graduating college, switching jobs, and quitting drinking in the last few years. Close friends moved or had other endeavors, such as marriage, babies, grad school, or the Peace Corps. I remained in Fargo and felt somewhat stagnant on the friend front until I met J.
We communicated on a cosmic level. We simply were two bleeding hearts with an affinity for books, holistic health, playing bass, and surviving seasonal depression. We just happen to have dated the same guy.
In a society that tells us to hate our partners’ exes, this friendship is an oddity. People gape at us when we tell them how we met, baffled at how the enemies could possibly unite.
It’s fun to challenge the relationship paradigms we are supposed to live by and create ones that work best for our own lives.
Otherwise, I’d be missing out on one of the best friendships of my life. And a good friend—a friend of the soul—is damn hard to find.
Tessa Torgeson is a social worker by day and aspiring writer, yogi, friend and cat lady by night. She works and freezes her bones off in Fargo, North Dakota.