This past weekend, I sat down on my partner’s swivel chair to finish an article when I noticed the pile of photos next to his monitor. It had been lying there since we first got together a year ago.
I’d looked through them two or three times before so I already knew what they consisted of, but that morning, I thought I’d give them another once-over, anyway.
I first looked at the two large photos on top of the two of us, which had been added in recent months (one from when we went camping and another by a lake where we’d rented a house with some friends). Next were two photo strips of him and some male friends.
And then came the two I knew I didn’t really want to see, but sort of like when you stalk your boyfriend’s ex on Instagram, in an act of masochism, I lingered on them, anyway.
One featured him and his ex-girlfriend with another woman. And another, a small polaroid (just to rub in the fact that it was taken in one shot) was just the two of them, he and his ex, the only woman he ever lived with, smiling directly at the camera. She was behind him with her arms wrapped around his chest, her long brown hair flowing beautifully, both of them looking excruciatingly happy.
Finally, I swiveled around towards him lying in bed next to where I sat. “Why are these all here?” I asked.
“Well, I was thinking of hanging them up,” he said through a yawn.
“All of these? You want to hang up a picture of you and your ex?” I confirmed holding up the polaroid so he could see it.
“Well, I don’t know…I hadn’t really thought too much about it, but maybe.”
I looked at the picture, then back at him again.
He got out of bed and walked over behind me. He looked over my shoulder at the shot I still had in my hand. For a few seconds we stared at it together in silence.
As I waited for him to say something, maybe along the lines of, “Just kidding. Why would I put up a picture of me and my ex, silly?” my blood started to heat to a light simmer.
Still, he didn’t say anything, and I didn’t know what to do, so I just said “okay” with a hint of attitude. It felt almost like he was purposely fucking with me. I got up from the chair, turned to face him, and handed him the photo.
“I don’t have to, if you’re not comfortable with it. I just thought, it’s a nice memory, so why not?” He tossed the photo back into the pile.
I walked over to the other side of the room and turned again towards him. “Well yeah, but you guys aren’t really friends anymore, so I don’t see why she’s meaningful to you? Why does she deserve a spot on your photo wall?”
“Well, I’m not really friends with these people either,” he said. I walked back towards the desk, and he grabbed one of the other photos, of him and a few others I didn’t recognize wearing silly hats and fake mustaches. “I don’t talk to any of them anymore, but this was still a nice moment I want to remember.”
My blood heated a little further as I realized his logic was sound.
It was time to pull out the last stop I had — one I’d avoided saying because I’d thought it would sound immature, but now I was desperate for ammunition.
“How would you feel if I put up a picture of me and my ex?”
But he was ready for it.
“I’m not sure, maybe it would make me feel a little weird, especially if that was the only picture you had up. But if it was just one of many photos then I think I would be okay with it.”
I sighed. What more could I say?
Most people in my situation would also be uncomfortable with their partner putting up a picture of their ex, but the fact that others would not like it either did not justify my frustration.
I considered the idea of putting up a picture of my most recent ex and me, and decided I wouldn’t do the same. But that was largely because the wound of our breakup didn’t feel 100% healed.
But maybe other exes? I thought about the ones from further back.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so crazy to put up pictures of more distant exes. I liked stumbling upon old pictures of us on Facebook and Instagram. Why not put some up on my wall?
I don’t regret the experiences we had together. Quite the opposite. Even though I’m not in love with these men anymore, I still respect them, care about their well-being, and feel grateful for what we shared.
Similarly, just because Flo loved this woman doesn’t mean he’s still in love with her. Actually, the fact he is able to put up the picture in the first place and not feel sad, probably signals he doesn’t have very strong feelings for her anymore.
And even if he were still in love with her in some way, there’s nothing wrong with that either. It means he cherished his relationship, and maybe I can try to feel happy for him for that.
In the end, lingering feelings for an ex doesn’t have to signal any problems between us. His love for her doesn’t have to mean he loves me any less.
Maybe it was time to give up. Raise the white flag and accept there may be no real good reason for him not to put up those photos, except for me and my own insecurities.
“Like I said,” he added. “If it bothers you, I don’t have to put it up.” He pet the side of my curly hair as he looked in my eyes.
“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with it, but I think I understand.” I gave him a little half smile as my blood cooled back down. “How about in another year when you actually get around to hanging up those photos, we can have this discussion again?”
This piece first appeared on the author’s website.