About a year ago, I got a text from an ex telling me he wanted my advice on something. Given that we'd broken up in 2013 and this was the first I'd heard from him in months after sending a text he didn't ignored, I was livid. Normally, when someone pisses me off like that, my MO is to try to have as little to do with them as possible. But that day, for whatever reason, I was in the mood to confront him, and I'm so glad I did.
Over the course of the next few days, through several texts and an emotional phone call, I aired my frustrations — not just with him ignoring me then getting back in touch when he wanted something from me, but also with our whole two-year relationship. I told him he'd behaved in ways that were emotionally and financially abusive at times. And he actually listened.
While I still look back on our relationship as an unhealthy one and feel he's wronged me in many ways, the fact that he's equally aware of this has allowed us to maintain a friendship. We still exchange occasional emails reflecting on our personal growth, which is great to be able to do with someone who knows you so well.
Here are some things I've learned about relationships since getting back in touch with my ex.
1Don't Wait For People To Change
At the end of our relationship, I kept confronting my ex about his pushy money-borrowing habits, bad listening skills, and the lack of direction in his life, and he kept saying he'd change. When I broke up with him, he was angry with me for not giving him another opportunity to change. He gave the impression that if I'd just allowed him one more chance, we'd be able to work it out.
This made me doubt whether breaking up was the right decision. But when we reconnected, I learned he'd struggled with the same things with his subsequent partner. It was a relief to know I was right not to wait.
Of course, it's possible for people to get their lives together. But waiting on them to do that is a gamble. Staying with them gives them tacit permission not to change, and if they don't, you could regret the time wasted. I'm glad I didn't waste time giving him yet another chance and being disappointed yet again.
2Just Because A Relationship Ended Doesn't Mean It Failed
Too often, we think of relationships in a really black and white way: If it lasts until the day we die, it's succeeded, and if not, it's failed. We don't think of other things this way. If we end up quitting a job eventually, we don't conclude that it was a mistake to accept it. We move knowing we'll probably move again.
Getting back in touch with my ex made me view our relationship as a success. Our romantic relationship may be over, but I've gotten a friend, a lot of self-discovery, and the experience of loving someone — which is kind of what life's all about — out of it. Even if we're not in love, having any kind of love for somebody is worth celebrating. Our dynamic is exactly right for where we are right now.
This gives me a great perspective on my current relationship, too. I know that even if we break up, I'll still probably be glad it happened in the end.
3It's Not Your Responsibility To Make Your Exes Look Good
About two months after reconnecting with my ex, he found an article I'd written about how I recognized that he was manipulative and got out. I'd been hesitant to even write it, since it depicted him in a negative light.
The reason he found the article was that another person he was dating accused him of being manipulative, and he was googling information on that topic. He admitted that everything I'd written was true. This helped me get over my fear that I was being unfair by speaking honestly about my experience. The real wrongdoing, after all, is being abusive, not talking about someone's abuse. Discussing a negative experience you've had in a relationship isn't gossipy; it's helpful for your own healing and for others in similar situations.
A few months later, another ex I hadn't spoken to in years IMed me just to tell me it was "bitchy" of me to write about our relationship without asking him. My other ex's response gave me the reassurance that this one was wrong. We own our stories.
4Who You Want In Your Life Up To You
As I'm writing this, I'm wondering if people might accuse me of being anti-feminist by maintaining contact with someone who was abusive. And I'm certainly not implying that anyone else should. That's a personal decision, and some need to cut off all contact. But I also don't think anyone else gets to decide that for us.
Intimate partner abuse doesn't always fit the stereotype. It exists on a spectrum. There were even times when I acted toward him in abusive ways, like trying to seduce him after he said he wasn't in the mood and criticizing his physical appearance during a fight. I think many relationships contain some abusive behaviors. It doesn't mean the people in them are bad people or that we have to never talk to them again.
It did mean, for me, that I didn't want to continue a romantic relationship. But because he was able to own up to it and let me hold him accountable for abusive behaviors in the future, a friendship wasn't off the table. We all have to make that decision based on what's best for us, not what's supposedly best for feminism.
5Confronting People Can Be Worth It
As I mentioned, I'm extremely non-confrontational. I abhor spending time processing feelings when I could be getting things done, so I usually just distance myself from people who hurt me. But on the day my ex got back in touch, I decided to stand up for myself. I expected that he might get defensive, but I decided it'd be worth it.
If I had just done my usual thing and ignored the text, I never would have had all the realizations I'm writing about or mended our relationship.
I'm not advocating that everyone go and text their ex now. In fact, I still stay away from some of my exes (including the one who got back in touch after years to call me "bitchy."). And it's often too confusing to be close right after the relationship ends.
But just because you're no longer dating doesn't mean you can't have any relationship at all. Sometimes, even after you've broken up, there's still a lot you both can learn together.