I found my ex-boyfriend on Facebook.
Did you raise your eyebrows? What did you assume was going on? Do you think this is a good idea? How do you imagine this story will end?
Would it change your mind if you knew that we broke up in 1978?
I met John when I was 13; we dated briefly when I was 14 and then seriously from just before my 16th birthday until I graduated from high school. My mother still calls him “Jay’s first love”, and he was. He was also my best friend. We were friends before and after we dated, and when I lost touch with John in my mid-20s I missed him terribly. He was the first person I looked for online when I understood that such a thing was possible, but he keeps a deliberately low profile and I never did find him – not until Facebook.
I don’t know what I expected when I friended him, but it wasn’t what has developed over the last year. John and I have an ongoing Email conversation; we talk on the phone a few times a week; we check in with each other when we’re traveling. We’ve written volumes about what happened way back then – about the choices we made, the places we went, the ways in which we hurt each other and helped each other and taught each other and loved each other. We’ve dug up old photos and traded new ones. We’ve had lunch together, alone, and we’ve visited each other’s homes. We’ve even visited each other’s mothers, who both still live in the houses we grew up in. John’s mother started to cry when she saw me walk in the door. My mother keeps asking when he’s coming back to visit her again.
And many of my friends are astonished and skeptical. Not my husband – Sam is unconcerned – but my friends. I didn’t expect that, either. “Playing with fire”, they observe. “I could never do that”. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” “Are you still attracted to him?” Well, yes, actually, I am, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to end up in a hotel room together.
I’ve always been friends with men; until I was 35, most of my closest friends were men. Nobody ever seemed surprised by that. It’s clearly the idea of being friends with someone with whom I’ve had a sexual relationship that bothers people. I wouldn’t want to have sex with someone who wasn’t my friend. I’ve had three major relationships in my life, and I was friends with each man for a while before anything else developed. I’m monogamous, and I’ve been married for 25 years, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt attracted to anyone else. I don’t see attraction and friendship as mutually exclusive.
There’s a lot buried under the shock I hear from my friends. There’s a fear that sex is a potent, toxic force that can destabilize relationships, and I suppose that might be true if my marriage weren’t sexually satisfying. There’s also a model of hetero marriage in there that troubles me. My feminist, egalitarian friends don’t buy into the idea that men don’t talk – they expect to have intimate, emotional conversations with their husbands, just as they expect to share parenting and housework. And with that expectation comes the assumption that all of our physical and emotional intimacy needs are supposed to be met by our partners.
That’s a lot to ask, especially for an extrovert and external processor like me. I want to talk about everything. A lot. Sam needs time and quiet to sort out what he’s thinking and feeling. For years, I felt like there was something pathological about me, or something wrong with Sam, because he couldn’t meet my need for intimate conversation. After a lot of therapy, I’ve come to see it differently, and we both know that our marriage is better when I have some of my needs met by other people.
My life is richer because it includes both Sam and John. That’s the best benefit of all.