It actually perplexes me when the question is asked: can men and women be friends?
I dunno. Can you keep yourself in check enough to not slather yourself on someone? Do you have enough self restraint? (I’m laughing saying this; you can, too.)
A few years back, I met the wrong guy. I did. There’s no two ways about it. He wasn’t “life partner” material. He didn’t “bring anything to the table”. He was a self-proclaimed asshole, with a love of live indie music (from bands you’ve probably never heard of), covered in naked women tattoos, and a foul mouth.
And I loved him.
And no one ever actually hated him. But rather, he and I didn’t make any sense. I’m a goal-driven, type A with a desire to keep pushing myself, and those around me. He was content to be who he was, where he lived, and enjoying the life he was living. I’m a parent; he has no intentions for kids. I wrangled up the laundry every two days; he was more likely to wait till the end of the month to head to the laundromat. There weren’t a lot of parallels between us outside of matching converse, vinyl records, and ink.
One could simply predict that we wouldn’t work out. And we didn’t. Not, despite our best intentions. And not because we didn’t try. And not the way we wanted to.
Because even after the hurt, and the failed attempts, I still love him. And he’s still very much a part of my life.
Can men and women be friends? Can they remain friends after a break-up? Is conscious uncoupling, as termed by Gwenny & her man-friend Chris, really a thing?
For me, and for him, the recognition that our relationship was never meant to be a long-lasting romantic story is what gave us permission to be friends. In some capacity, anyway. Distance prevents us from seeing one another in person. Life interjects the space in which we get a chance to call. But catching up where we left off seems to be a natural progression and evolution from where we’d started.
Many of us move off of former flames and relationships with the hope of just leaving it all in the burning dumpster fire behind us. Far be it for me to try and encapsulate a meaningful friendship with every dude I’ve dated. Some were just supposed to be blips on the radar, other’s were meant to be a chapter in a rapidly filling journal, and some have stood the test of time in just being super good pals, ready with an ear and beer should the moment call.
In this particular case, with this particular partner, in this particular time, his and my relationship reached far outer limits than a typical boy meets girl pattern. He waltzed into my life – probably with a boom box playing Rick Astley over his head – during the critical season when I’d made a major, and significant decision in my life. And as I juked and jived my way through the unending barrage of changes that came with it, he was there. He was there packing boxes of things that weren’t his. He was there sorting through messes he didn’t make. He was there answering questions he didn’t ask, and he was there when I was a teary mess in a dollar store aisle, grieving over three little toothbrushes.
And no one will take that from me. No one will be able to say – okay, you two broke up and now it’s time you never speak to one another again. Despite how many times it purportedly seems that he and I are finished and it’s time to walk away with our records, our selfies, and our former memories, I’m not buying it. I don’t want to exist in a world where he doesn’t. And for all intents and purposes, he the same.
Because, people can be friends, if they want to be. And just because this person may have been someone you’ve seen naked in the past, it doesn’t equate to being someone you want to get down with in the future. And that’s all we’re ever actually worried about, right? That because some people do move friendship into relationships (ahem, Jan and I), it somehow means everyone will. And I call bullshit on that.
Fortunately, part of the beauty of mine and Jan’s relationship is that our security is strong enough to not be intimidated by the friends the other holds dear to. I’m not about lay down some law with Jan to dictate who he’s “permitted” to be friends with, and same goes. I don’t look through his phone for messages, and he the same. I can leave my laptop open to my Facebook messenger, I can flip to a new song on his phone and you know what it means? That we respect one another enough to make the right decisions for ourselves. And once we knew that was in place, that we’re solid – any external factors (friendships with previous exes included) are no longer threats. I am happier with this person being in my life, and Jan would rather me happy then to dwell on fictional insecurities, or made-up scenarios that plague new relationships.
In short, I’m old enough, smart enough, self-aware enough to know when a friendship is a friendship. To decipher between “hey – wanna grab some beers?!” and “we should get a drink together sometime”. <insert eye roll> Having autonomy of my own body means simply that I’m the one in charge. Good relationships succeed in remembering that.
And as for this ex-turned-friend and I, the maturity in our friendship came when we finally conceded that our relationship was being forced. That our differences were driving us apart. That we fought, and kicked and screamed and tried to change one another for something we already had – friendship. We’d built that when we’d relied on one another for the tough times and sad times, changing times and high times. And the time that we finally said: this isn’t going to work, but I love you and I want you in my life somehow – that was when we became friends. It took months; months of bucking back at one another, inevitable silence, and finally a crack in the ice. And since becoming friends, I wouldn’t take back a moment of the insanity that lead us to this path. And neither would he.
Only you know the value of your friendships.
And in the end – that’s all we really have left.