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The Ex Factor

By Alison Henry

Posted: Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009

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Photo by LGray Photography

In "Miles From the Aisle," former CB editor Alison Henry takes you on an irreverent trip down the often rocky road of relationships. She can be reached at alisonghenry@gmail.com.

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A few months ago, I attempted to be friends with my ex. A good amount of time had passed since the split - eight months to be exact - and it seemed I had finally reached the point where we could co-exist and enjoy each other's company without the threat of messy, leftover feelings or blatant bitterness.

After talking to him on the phone one evening, he invited me over to check out his new house, which he finally purchased after nearly a year of looking. As he walked me through rooms and down hallways, I caught glimpses of things that reminded me of when we were together. My eyes briefly welled as I couldn't help but wonder that if in some parallel universe, this could have been my house, too.

I motioned for the door, but he told me to stay and relax awhile. I settled down on the couch I had sat on so many times before, and we talked while he played Mr. Fix It with a new set of hardware for the front door. As I sat there watching him, all of his previously annoying quirks now seemed endearing.

Something incredible happens when you see a man standing in his very first home. I imagine it's the same as when he holds his first child. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I was overwhelmingly proud of him.

The next week, The Ex and I went wakeboarding at Lake Wylie with some mutual friends. As the sun went down and the temperature dropped, The Ex offered me his towel and asked me if I was cold - just before accidentally calling me "baby." I knew he had no idea what he said, but it was just enough to make me wonder.

After the lake, I headed home to grab my dog and met The Ex back at his house to help out with some painting. We stayed up until nearly 1 a.m. laughing and working side-by-side, listening to some chill indie rock and feeling a bit too much like family. I'm pretty sure I cried almost the entire way home.

At this point, I had come to terms with the fact that I still loved The Ex and never really stopped loving him, even with all the things about him that drive me bonkers. Given a few of the signs I thought I had picked up on over those last couple of weeks, I would have bet my dog he felt the same way. Then, he started talking about sleeping with me.

A few days after the lake, I asked The Ex to come with me to the opening night of the Charlotte Film Festival. He went to film school, and I knew he would enjoy mingling with other people in the industry before the screening. While waiting to get into the theatre, The Ex again brought up the idea of us sleeping together.

"Why are you doing this?" I asked him, to which he replied in some kind of bizarre, cryptic man-speak that he was just joking. He knew I would be an emotional mess if we did. I agreed. He said it would be easy for him because he's good at separating emotions and logic, and added that he has had lots of no-strings-attached shenanigans with many ex-girlfriends in the past, who apparently could handle it.

I wasn't buying it.

Neither was one of my girlfriends, who, after seven months of dating her most recent boyfriend, had found herself back beneath the sheets. She soon discovered, however, that these momentary lapses in judgment meant very different things to the two of them. Being one of the strongest women I know, she immediately told him this behavior had to stop. She was endlessly hoping they would get back together. He, on the other hand, just viewed it as something casual - something fun that he had done with many of his ex-girlfriends. Despite his inclination to believe otherwise, I'm sure these women - much like my friend and me - were anything but OK with this.

As women, we often find ourselves misinterpreting friendliness as something more, losing ourselves in daydreams of reconciliation while he misinterprets the meaning of friendship as a free trip around the block. To us, it's hurtful. It's appalling. It makes us wonder how we could have been so stupid. But ultimately, men and women are just coming from two very different places - sometimes planets - when they attempt to navigate the waters of post-breakup friendship. And it often leads to a pretty murky definition of the word.

Which leads me to believe that it really is impossible to truly be friends with your ex. Unless you were friends years before you crossed the line - as is the case with the only ex I am still friends with - I feel pretty confident that it just can't be done. We're not talking about reconnecting with your hopscotch buddy from second grade, here. You know this person because you dated. You temporarily merged your lives. You have seen this person naked. Which is why The Ex and I - like so many exes before us - just cannot be friends.

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