There are some things in life that are just naturally painful. Root canals. Cute shoes that are unfortunately too tight. When your friend pinches you to shut up after you say too much. Spider bites. And talking to your exes about your current relationships.
I may have been clear in the past that just talking to your exes in the first place is probably painful enough, as you've got some colorful history, and sometimes, it's just easier to pretend it (and that person) doesn't exist. But there are some exes that you can't just wish away or out of your life, because, let's face it, at one point, you loved this person, and even if you've since fallen out of love with them and/or moved on, you still bump into them, or you still have mutual friends with them and still occasionally wander through each other's social lives. Or they still keep showing up on your cell phone's screen.
A few weeks ago, I was riffling through the kitchen cupboards on a raccoon-like rampage at 2 AM for something sweet when I heard my text ringtone go off back in my bedroom. Thinking it was the current boy, as we share insomniac tendencies and are prone to late night conversations, I grabbed a chocolate chip cookie, and ate half of it in the time it took me to take my sweet time getting to my room, grabbing my phone, and sauntering back into the kitchen to prepare a response. When I flicked the screen's lock up and saw my ex's name instead, I froze. Cookie crumbs dropped from my hand, as well as the pit of my stomach, not to mention anything about my previously ravenous appetite. I texted back, more incited with his extremely casual text than anything else, and had to take a seat when I realized I was dizzy from this sudden turn of events. Our conversation quickly boiled down to him asking if I'd come over (and believe me, SOMEONE wanted to enjoy some cookie that night other than me), but other than establishing the loss of desire to finish the rest of my cookies and being saved from my sweet-tooth, it also established some odd revelations:
1.) I was able to turn my ex down, something I previously did not know I was humanly capable of. I deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor for this. You may not think so. You don't know my ex.
2.) This meant I liked the guy I am currently seeing a lot more than I previously realized. Oh. OH.
3.) In the moment of having to explain to my ex that I would not be coming over this time, or any other time in the foreseeable future, I felt a sudden wave of extreme tenderness and empathy toward him. It can't be easy, I thought, to reach out to someone you haven't seen or spoken to in awhile, let alone slept with, and admit that you need them for one of your basest desires. I certainly know how hard that is for me, and knowing that I was about to be turning him down made me feel incredibly caring toward him, in a totally platonic way. It made me wonder, what is the least painful way to talk about your new relationship with your exes?
It feels odd to be sympathetic with your ex, and nearly even protective of their feelings again, especially if you haven't interacted with them for awhile. But there I was, finding myself asking how he was after telling him I was seeing someone else, wanting to make him feel like it wasn't a total loss to go out on a limb, wanting him to know that even if he lost the girl, he hadn't lost the friend, instead of saying, "I wasted a year on you, to have to cheat and lie and use me, and now, NOW you expect me to roll over from a guy who's actually treating me like a princess, just because you finally decided on your own accord that you want me?" like I would have wanted to a few months ago, when I was still raw and fresh and sure that I would never heal, that I would never find someone to right the wrongs. Surprise.
A half hour after his initial text and being turned down, he surprised me by texting back and asking if my new S.O was a good guy. I told him he was, and thanked him for asking. I thought this was a good move. I thought it was classy. And then I got another text from him last night. And this time, I had to be firm about it and tell him clearly that I was currently monogamous with someone else, even after he offered so gentlemanly to pay for my cab fare over to his place (the first time he ever offered to pay for anything in the last year and a half we've known each other in a romantic sense). "Well, if you wanna take me up on that let me know. Anytime, probably," he told me, and it was suddenly like I was back in Italy and had to be very straight-forward about the fact that nothing was going to be happening, while still being polite as to not start an international incident.
"Thanks for the offer, but I'm pretty happy right now."
Strange, as he used to be the person I was thinking of while gently turning other men down. I was caught in a sudden kaleidescope of time fragments, thinking about how I used to hold out on other guys for him; how he and I had our own falling out; how I was now holding out on him in favor of another man, while at the same time learning how to put aside my feelings of disappointment and disgust about our dissolution in favor of seeing him as a real person again, a real person who went out on a limb with no promise of a safety net, whose feelings could be crushed, who was trusting me to at least let them down gently-- which, to my surprise, I found myself doing as I thought of him as my friend and the man I once loved for reasons I once knew well, and not just an X in a box for "been there, done that." Oh, how times change. And how YOU change.