"Do you mind if I bring along Maxine*," my ex texted me, as I sat my desk. I was working as an editor at a small New York City fashion publication in a space that doubled as an art gallery. We were holding an exhibit that night, and I had invited him to attend, as he lived around the corner and we had maintained a friendship after our romantic partnership ended.
My gut reaction to his question about bringing a plus one — his new girlfriend, no less — was a "hell no, do you know the emotional bandwidth it's taken me to finally be capable of our friendship?" I don't stay friends with all of my exes, but this one, who I'll call Jay*, is an exception. While our breakup was dramatic at the time (mostly my fault), we split due to lifestyle differences, rather than ill will, and he was someone I was happy to continue to have in my life as a friend after I had gotten over the breakup. But meet the new girlfriend? The new "me"? At my place of work? That's next level.
Then, I examined my emotions. I'm guilty of keeping tabs on former partners' new relationships, as well as my current partner's former ones. While it's easy to assume my behavior is out of jealousy, upon further thinking, I realized that it is mostly out of curiosity (in this instance, at least). Maxine looked cool. She looked like someone I would be friends with, which both intrigued and intimidated me. Plus, I would be busy working the event, and Jay would need someone to hang out with. I knew any romance between us was in the past, so Maxine wasn't "competition." Why not let her come? After taking the time to think it over, I replied: "Sure, I'd love to meet her."
Maxine looked cool. She looked like someone I would be friends with, which both intrigued and intimidated me.
And I did love meeting her. Two years later, we continue to be wonderful friends, though she and Jay are no longer together for reasons personal to them. Through Maxine, I learned that someone your ex has dated could become one of your most treasured friends. Maxine isn't the first ex's ex I've become friends with, but she's perhaps the one I'm closest with. My initial fascination with her, which I used to experience as jealousy, reflects what I suspected: We have a lot in common. From our views on sexuality and relationships, to our passion for mental health advocacy, our interests overlapped and sparked engaging conversations that began that night at the gallery (albeit slightly awkwardly) and continue to this day.
At the time I met Maxine, I was going through a painful breakup from a whirlwind of a relationship. Shortly after our first meeting, she invited me to spend the day with her at the New York Botanical Garden. We made flower crowns and had intimate and healing conversations. We gave each other advice on dating, talked about our experiences with depression, and bonded over our similar taste in tattoos. While Maxine would eventually leave New York for graduate school, we maintain our friendship through text messages and phone calls, and make an effort to get together for brunch or drinks when she's in town. Beyond initially connecting over dating Jay, we continue to bond over our similarities and have called one another during difficult times, knowing those similarities make us well-equipped to help each other.
Beyond initially connecting over dating Jay, we continue to bond over our similarities and have called one another during difficult times.
I should probably mention that both Maxine and I have experience with open relationships and polyamory (although it ultimately wasn't the best relationship structure for me), which has likely made us more open to forming what some might consider an unconventional friendship. That doesn't mean I don't still struggle with jealousy when it comes to my current partner's exes. However, my friendship with Maxine has helped shift my perspective so that I can try to harness my jealousy into something more productive. If Jay had such great taste as to date two women as fabulous as me and Maxine (*insert hair toss*), chances are my current partner's exes are pretty awesome, too. And that doesn't have to be threatening.
Of course, that doesn't mean I want to start inviting them all to hang out and make flower crowns or attend my work parties. But it has allowed me to realize that they're not competition. They're just other women who probably have a fair amount in common with me (beyond taste in partners), and we'd likely get along rather nicely.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.