Queer Dating Stories: Can You Really Be Friends With Your Ex?

Ashtyn Britt
abritt@lc.edu

 

*Coming to terms with one’s sexuality is at times a long and exhausting process. It took me many years to completely accept myself, and try to venture into the dating world. Over time, I have ended up collecting stories and lessons learned from my dating life, which I will now be sharing every month for roughly the next year. All names will be changed to protect the privacy of everyone mentioned, as they deserve anonymity and respect- no matter how bad the stories may have ended. Instead of telling these stories in chronological order, I will be telling them by order of importance of their morals.*

It has been an age-old question about whether or not previous lovers whose flame has burned out could remain friends afterwards. There are people who will use this idea as a tool to manipulate an ex-lover to hopefully rekindle the lost romance, and others who genuinely miss the fond companionship of a person they still care for (although in a different way). I have a few friends now who could be applied to in this way, a couple even being previously mentioned in other Queer Dating Stories, but I’m not talking about brief flings and casual relationships this time. I am talking about being friends with someone who you were once in a serious committed relationship with, someone who has met your parents and seen your baby pictures. Believe me, there is a world of difference.

Everyone, meet Josette. Josette was the first and only really serious relationship between my first and second time dating Big. I met Josette at a nightclub in Saint Louis, her having been prettiest girl there that night and the most pleasant to talk to. Josette had been having a last hurrah with friends before returning to college in the Northeast for the next year, so I made a point to get to know this intelligent and pretty woman. By the end of the night, I’d made to leave with her phone number and a kiss goodnight. Within the next week, we had two wonderful dates together and found ourselves able to talk for hours, something she wasn’t used to. For the first time in a long time, I found someone’s companionship to be wonderfully pleasant.

We would spend the next four months trying to maintain a non-exclusive long-distance relationship. We would text roughly once a week, have a phone call or video chat every few weeks, and made plans during her school breaks when she returned home. We bonded even more when I became sick and housebound for a time, and anyone else I’d been involved with disconnected from me. While Josette and I may only have texted a few sentences over the course of a month, our calls were able to last all night. She would tell me about school, the animals she took care of, and her major: French. Every time she spoke French to me, no matter what she said, it would make my heart feel light and my wanderlust yearn for the City of Lights. Josette was one of the few things that got me through that terrible and too-long-untreated case of tonsillitis. I had decided by Thanksgiving that I wanted Josette to be my girlfriend, and that while she didn’t knock my socks off the way Big had, she was kind and made me feel safe. I wasn’t unhappy with Josette by a long shot, and I knew I wanted to be with her. Josette was supportive of my ambition and dreams, she cared about the issues going on in my life, and I knew I could trust her even with all of the distance between us. Right then, I couldn’t have asked for more.

I waited until New Year’s Eve, after us spending a night in matching pajamas making Christmas sugar cookies, to ask her. I specifically asked after our New Year’s kiss, making it the very first action I made in 2019. Much to my joy, Josette said yes and we would spend the rest of Winter break happily celebrating and meeting each other’s parents. When I ice skate, I shall always remember Josette’s smile as she was able to skate around me with ease on New Year’s Day. (I am a terrible skater.) Even now as I’m very happily in love with Big once again, I know to treasure those memories for what they are. I always knew that Josette and I were most likely temporary, but I was allowed to hope I could be pleasantly surprised one day and find myself believing in more for us.

The source of trouble for Josette and I was by far communication. To my dismay, the texts and calls became fewer and farther in between. This left me wondering if I’d done anything wrong or how many times was too many times to try to reach out. I knew Josette had her own life and schoolwork to finish, but I hadn’t realized until later how I had been invalidating my feelings in hopes of avoiding confrontation. After all, I really didn’t want to fight with my girlfriend over not being texted enough. We still had good moments together, like Valentine’s Day over video chat or watching each other’s favorite show. I had figured that in time what was meant to be would be, and so I kept quiet about my unsettled feelings of neglect. I knew in my heart Josette wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings, but I also knew that I wasn’t asking too much from her.

By spring, I had begun to wonder what the summer would bring and wondered about plans with Josette. Would we go to Forest Park to enjoy a Shakespearean play together? Would we go to the Zoo, one of her favorite places? Before I ever had much of a chance to think on it too hard, the day I knew was coming finally happened.

Josette had called me, her voice shaking and bordering on tears, to tell me that she had wanted to break up. Nobody lied, nobody fought, and nobody cheated, but we just weren’t right for each other. Josette had expressed how differently we view love and the ways it affected her without me knowing, how despite the fact of how well we worked together, she knew in her heart that I wasn’t the one for her and she wasn’t the one for me. Josette said something to me during through her tears that I will never forget, “I want you to go find the love story you deserve.”

While what she said still hurt, I knew in my heart she was right. Despite the fact I enjoyed Josette in my life and found her company delightful when I had it, I couldn’t see myself in her future. We wanted very different futures, we had different ideas about expressions of love, we had issues with continuous communication, and eventually we would only grow to resent each other if we didn’t stop then. While I was sad to face another breakup, because breakups are never easy, my heart wasn’t broken. Perhaps I felt more hurt over the fact it had hurt less, because despite how much I wanted to love her the way I had others before her, I didn’t really. Josette made me feel content, and was a mostly healthy dynamic overall, but there was a deeper spark missing that couldn’t be ignored. I loved Josette as a person, but I wasn’t in love with her the way I was supposed to be.

While we were in agreement that breaking up was the right choice, we also decided that we did want to try to still be friends, but only after we’d had adequate time apart. I have learned from previous experiences that you can’t rush into a new arrangement within any type of relationship, and that includes platonic. While my heart may not have been broken, I was still sad for the peace I had lost, and wanted the proper time to mourn it.

Josette and I made a point to stay apart for about a month in order to have healthy space to get over each other and move on. I was shockingly back to being my usual self after about two weeks, which I take as a serious sign of my growth when it comes to relationships.

Once we got back in contact and started spending alone time together again, things were a lot easier. We went to fun places like the mall, the zoo, and even a sunflower field to take beautiful pictures. Even though we were broken up, I found myself not thinking about any pain I had once had with Josette and instead enjoyed my day with a dear friend. We weren’t ever carnal or impulsive with each other, and we didn’t expect things out of each other more than what was necessary. We would have a fun time together, and generally enjoyed each other’s company. It at times was almost like we’d never even dated at all. In fact, when Big and I had gotten back together, Josette was one of the most understanding and kind friends I had about the situation. She expressed nothing but happiness for me having found my great lost love. It brings me joy to know Josette really does only want my happiness, just like I only want hers.

I’m telling you this because it is important to be honest with yourself and others about what you want in a relationship, whether it be platonic or romantic. Lying to yourself or to others won’t ever get you what you want, and it certainly won’t ever make you happy. So, can ex-lovers still find a way to be friends? Well, it depends on what the other person wants in the situation. If there’s still residual feelings and hope for getting back together, and the other person doesn’t share those feelings, trying to force a platonic situation would be toxic for both involved. However, if both are on the same page and wish to take some healthy time apart to heal and then slowly move towards a normal friendship, it can actually be done. It’s probably rarer because most breakups aren’t mutual, but friendship isn’t impossible. I am very lucky to have Josette as a good friend, and for the time we’re able to spend together. Sometimes, we date people who aren’t meant to be our forever, and that’s okay. Josette wasn’t my forever, but she is my friend, and for me that’s enough.

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