i’ve not mentioned it before, but i went through two breakups in 2006. perhaps “experienced” is a better way to put it than “went through,” but you get the idea. one was the breakup of a long relationship, the other of a short one that happened during the summer. by the way, if you were thinking about asking me for advice on relationships, don’t. i’m apparently not very good at them.
i ran into the second 2006 ex at a party over the weekend. this has happened from time to time since the breakup, as we travel in similar social circles. it’s usually a bit awkward, but he and i have established a system that works. we do the obligatory hey how are you good how are you fine thanks, and then we avoid further talk unless we end up in the same group conversation.
the group conversations are interesting. sometimes i wish i could watch them on television, with audible dialogue and subtitles that outline what we’re carefully not saying. when you know a lot about another person, you can read quite a bit of subtext into their words. sometimes i’ll tell an old story that i know he’s heard me tell a bit differently before; sometimes he’ll mention something he’s done recently that gives me insight into his current life. nobody else hears it, but to both of us i’m sure the subtext is awfully loud.
when the second ex left the party last weekend, i was talking to some of our mutual friends. he came over to say goodbye, and hugged a few of the people near me. i prepared myself to say “see ya!” and wave, but when he got to me he stuck his hand out. i was so taken aback that i stared at his hand for a second, frozen, before i came to and took it. as we shook hands, i think i may have laughed. i didn’t know what else to do.
a few months ago i went to see an old boyfriend’s band at a bar here in austin. his band is really good, so i brought two friends with me. when i arrived, my old boyfriend said hello but seemed rather uncomfortable. when the show started i figured out why; his girlfriend was there. this wasn’t something that bothered me in the least, especially since it’s been over three years since the breakup. in fact, i’d have liked to meet his new girlfriend, but it was clear he didn’t intend for that to happen. in retrospect i shouldn’t have been so surprised; he always shied away from potentially awkward social situations.
at this austin bar, it’s customary for someone from the band to pass around a tip jar after the set. so when it was over, my ex’s girlfriend came over to our table with the jar. if we’d been properly introduced, she would have known that i was the girl who’d maintained the band’s website for free for four years. if she’d known that, she probably wouldn’t have come over. but she didn’t know. as she held out the jar i froze, eyes wide, mouth slightly agape. it wasn’t her fault, but my ex’s girlfriend asking me for money was so weird i didn’t know what to do.
in that situation, i’m not sure what the subtitle would say. perhaps something like OH HOLY SHIT. but i’m fascinated by the former-boyfriend dynamic. time and lack of contact turn exes into too-familiar strangers; people about whom you know everything and nothing simultaneously. the nothing is outlined in careful small talk, the everything is never, ever mentioned.