I Watched My Ex Marry Another Woman

Photo: Courtesy of Julissa Catalan.
Last month, I flew from New Jersey to San Francisco to attend the wedding of my ex-boyfriend, Jack*. I wasn’t someone’s plus one; I was a proper guest. And that made some people uncomfortable and judgmental. I got ready in a tiny hotel room with some of my girlfriends who had also been invited. It wasn’t until I gave myself a final look in the mirror that I realized I was nervous. En route to the cathedral, the girls asked me multiple times if I was okay, reminding me that it was perfectly normal to be nervous. But was it? I wasn’t the one getting married. I had never felt anxious over someone else’s wedding before. Ordinarily I would just be excited about the open bar, fancy food, and getting dolled up. Yet there it was — an unmistakable feeling of jitters. It was not sadness. I had already mourned that loss when Jack moved to California a few years prior. I skipped his going away party because I was feeling overly nostalgic, and opted to send him a sentimental email instead. I watched him smile adoringly at his bride as she walked down the aisle toward him. A calming wave came over me in that moment. He was exactly where he was supposed to be, and so was I. At the reception, our friend — another of his ex-girlfriends — suggested we take an ex-girlfriend photo. There were three of us at the wedding, and I presume a total of five had been invited. I laughed off the suggestion and didn’t participate, out of fear that his now-wife might be uncomfortable if she saw it. Jack and I danced at the wedding — to fast-paced music, and always with other friends around. It reminded me of our trip to Puerto Rico a few years prior; we had already broken up but went with friends and slept in separate rooms.
Photographed by Winnie Au.
I returned from San Francisco to friends and family asking if I was okay, asking how I handled it. We often hear partners refer to one another as best friends, so why was it so unfathomable that Jack and I remained best friends after we ended our five-year relationship? We made a choice, a decision to remain friends because we still liked each other as people. We simply took the romantic component out of the equation and went about our lives, sharing thoughts and experiences with one another, just as we had during our relationship. When you are in love, in your mind you have a list of reasons why you like that person. Those traits don’t always disappear just because you decide to uncheck the boxes next to romance and sex. While I was proud of our redefined relationship, others seemed uncomfortable around us. Some just didn’t believe in the concept. Surely you must be friends with benefits, they would say. Others speculated that we were just trying to have a peaceful breakup by saying we’d remain friends, when we really had no such intention. From the moment our relationship ended, Jack and I haven’t so much as held hands. We do the types of things that friends do: hang out in group settings with other friends, go to concerts together, celebrate each other’s birthdays, and always refer to the other as a friend, not an ex.
I was 19 the first time we met. His band had a local gig, and I was friends with one of his bandmates, who had asked me to come along. He wanted me to write the band’s bio for their website. Jack played the lead guitar, but had the stage presence of a lead singer. He played with such intent that mid-song, three of the strings on his electric guitar snapped — right before his big solo. He turned to the others with an uh-oh expression, before spinning back around and reaching for the microphone. He proceeded to hum his guitar solo in an awful high-pitched tone, while the tiny bar erupted. I knew then that I needed him in my life. We bonded over music and a shared passion for life, spending much of our early 20s living the hard-partying life of a rock star and his groupie girlfriend. While the first few years were magic, the final two were more off than on, until eventually there was little left. I moved on with another love interest, and Jack would pair off with another woman soon after — though neither of those relationships lasted, and both ended in far worse heartbreak than our own relationship had.

When you are in love, in your mind you have a list of reasons why you like that person. Those traits don’t always disappear just because you decide to uncheck the boxes next to romance and sex.

Still, when Jack started dating the woman he would marry, for a long time, he seemed hesitant to introduce me. If we were invited to the same party, it seemed that they were always leaving just when I got there. I finally met her when she decided to take matters into her own hands. After another incident where they left a bar when I was arriving, she came back specifically to talk to me. “I need to know you,” she said. “His friends are your friends. His mom and sister talk about you all the time. How am I supposed to be comfortable with that as his girlfriend?” To me the answer was simple: I respected her as his girlfriend. I didn’t want to be his girlfriend; I didn’t even want to be his ex. I just wanted to be his best friend. We both realized that night that neither of us was going anywhere, and decided to consciously learn to coexist in his life.
Jack had a reputation for remaining friends with women after they broke up. I don’t know if there was a method behind that for him or not, but he managed to stay friends with a majority of ex-girlfriends. Perhaps it is just that he is so damn likable that we all made an exception to the rule for him. Of course, I do have ex-boyfriends that I dislike; ex-boyfriends I now realize I had nothing in common with. But Jack is different, and what we share is a different type of unconditional love. While we were on the dance floor, at some point Jack leaned over to me and whispered, "I am so happy you are here for this," to which I replied, "Where else would I be?"
Julissa Catalan lives and writes in New Jersey. She shares a home with her boyfriend, who will be meeting Jack and his wife for the first time later this year. To read more of her work, follow her on Twitter @Julissa_Catalan.
*Name has been changed.

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