My ex-boyfriend called the other day and said he was passing through, so I invited him over. My husband came home, in the dark, to me sitting on our porch with another guy. He waved. “Hey, Joey,” my husband called. “I’ll be right back out.” He rinsed off from fishing and reappeared to offer us strawberry milkshakes, then disappeared again to put the kids to bed. Joey stuck around until I kicked him out at 10:30. “I have to write in the morning and you have to work,” I said. “I’d tell you to stay over but Blaise has transformed the guest bedroom into his own personal hangout. So be careful driving. Love you.” We hugged, and he left.
My ex-boyfriend? He’s also my BFF.
And Joey is not a “we dated for a week” ex. Joey and I dated for like a year and a half or something. He could give you dates, not because we’re still in love, but because he has a stellar memory and I have none. He regularly reminds me of things that happened when we were twenty and I say, “Oh yeah, that,” and it’s probably part of the reason I keep him around (I’m kidding).
Of Course We’re BFFs
Joey and I talked about being friends for a long time a few weeks ago (our conversations tend to span hours). “How many of your ex-boyfriends wouldn’t you be glad to hear from?” he asked.
“Like two,” I said. “One tried to gaslight me and the other’s an asshole. The others I’d be thrilled to hear from. What about you? How many of your exes would you be glad to hear from?”
“All of them,” he replied.
This was because, we decided, we’d always dated our very, very good friends. Things might have gone sideways, but we never wanted to lose that person. So when Joey and I broke up (my fault, though he’d say it’s his because he’s too nice to see my blatant personal failings), we made an effort. Yeah, it was weird as all hell on my end, considering that I was dating my now-husband and felt super-guilty. And weird on his end, because he was still processing everything. He was in law school; I was in graduate school; we had no need to see each other. At all. Ever. But we kept with it. We kept seeing each other.
Bye, boyfriend. I’m going to hang out with my ex-boyfriend now.
But we made it work.
Ex-Boyfriend Doesn’t Mean Ex-Friend
Joey and I decided that since we’d always dated such good friends, we never wanted to lose them. And that very little was worse than needing an ex out of your life. “It sucks,” I said. “I mean obviously I get it, since I have ex-boyfriends I wish would drop off planet Earth — remember how Brandon threw glass bottles at me? But even Coyle, we had that horrific breakup, and I’d probably break into happy tears if he called me. Not like, creepy I’m-in-love-with-you tears. I-missed-you tears.”
“I think people think relationships have to stay one thing,” he replied. “And once you pick that way you’re like, locked in. It took me a while to figure out I could love you a different way and it could be just as good.”
That’s our secret: we can love each other just as much as best friends, and we can love each other better like that. Ex-boyfriend doesn’t have to mean ex-friend. Some people work for a time or a season, but outgrow whatever need or desire or reason brought them to a romantic relationship. They don’t outgrow that person. But they change. Change happens.
We don’t usually accept change as anything but final in our personal relationships. And it’s a terrible shame. I can’t imagine my life without Joey — just like you probably can’t imagine life without your BFF. I call him when life sucks. I tell him secrets. Our phone calls can last way too long. We have stupid inside jokes.
We shared so much for a while. Then we decided, let’s not chuck the baby out with the bathwater.
My Husband Supports My Relationship With My Ex-Boyfriend
Admittedly, Joey is super-easy to like. But it takes a super-secure husband to know he can leave his wife on their front porch, in the dark, with her ex-boyfriend. But my husband gets it. He also mostly dated good friends and keeps in touch with his longterm ex-girlfriend. But my husband sees that when I hang out with Joey, I feel better about life. He sees that Joey helps me. He also sees that I’m clearly not in love with Joey. I’m in love with him.
And they became friends.
They aren’t as close as Joey and me. But they’re definitely really, truly friends, not friends-because-my-wife-says-so. We all hang out and talk together when we can. Joey has stood on the altar at our wedding, visited us on vacation, stayed in our guest bedroom, seen our house at peak mess, and passed out drunk on our couch (in our younger and more vulnerable days, pre-children). He buys my husband birthday presents.
My husband laughed when I told him Joey and I are getting matching tattoos from the novel “Look Homeward, Angel.” It fits us. I said I wanted a particular quote, and Joey said he did too, so we decided we’d get matching tats. I found the font and when he said left bicep, I bargained for the right one: then we could get them in the same spot.
No, we don’t go shopping or share makeup. I sort of miss that part of BFF-hood. But I know if I call him, he’ll get in his car and start driving, and that’s what’s most important anyway.
He might have been my ex-boyfriend once. But Joey’s so much more. And though we may not have succeeded as a couple, I got a damn good friend out of the deal.
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