It happens the way these things always do: On the couch in an exceptionally hot man’s apartment—the kind of man who lets you wait out the Sunday Scaries at his place over takeout and TV—when you get a text from the one who used to politely walk you to the subway shortly after morning sex and lox bagels (even though you always found some excuse to linger stupidly at the door just in case he happened to remember that he was in love with you and actually wanted you to stay forever).
You haven’t seen him in five years, and when his name flashes across your phone, it feels like an optical illusion. It takes your brain a second to catch up, to remember why those 12 letters are making your heart pound so hard, you’re sure Mr. Exceptionally Hot can hear it from across the room.
It happens this way because, of course, it was never going to happen any of the ways you’ve imagined it would over the past half-decade—most of them involving you looking effortlessly glamorous and sipping a classic cocktail in some impossibly chic bar where he stops dead in his tracks at the unexpected sight of you.
Instead, you get a text that says, “First day back on the apps. You’ve got to be kidding me,” accompanied by a screenshot of your profile on The League.
For 12 hours, you’re pretty sure you can ignore this text—except obviously you can’t and obviously, he winds up asking if you guys can catch up over a “friendly, platonic drink” sometime.
This is the kind of thing you know your best friend would tell you not to do under any circumstances. As my own best friend put it when I showed her a certain text from a certain ex-situationship that crash-landed in my life last month: “Lol, get fucked, Aaron*.”
But I am not your best friend. I am a borderline delusional romantic with a mean case of main character syndrome who subsists almost entirely on chaos and questionable life choices. So clearly I couldn’t fucking help myself and I let my ex-something-or-other buy me a friendly, platonic dirty martini (or three) at a Midtown bar a few weeks ago. And should the opportunity present itself, I think you should too—you know, with your own ex, not mine.
Why? Because guess what? There actually are no rules when it comes to exes, despite what the Greek Chorus in your girls’ group chat may have you think. Also, time is an illusion and life doesn’t make narrative sense. Our life stories aren’t always strictly linear—just because the past is in the past doesn’t mean you can’t revisit from time to time. Because reconnecting with an ex is also a way of reconnecting with a past version of yourself, one who may have had a lot to learn but who might also have a thing or two to teach you about who you were and who you became.
In any event, I think there are worse things you can do than indulge in a little romantic nostalgia with someone you once cared for deeply. I think it’s okay to rip out the stitches for a night—to press on the sore spots of your heart just to make sure they’re still there, to remind yourself that your older, wiser soul hasn’t fully frozen over. It’s not illegal or anything.
Anyway, here are some things you can do when you get drinks with an ex.
You can dig out the half-empty bottle of since-discontinued perfume you haven’t worn since 2018, and when he says, “You smell exactly the same—it was the first thing I noticed when I hugged you,” you can reveal that you did that on purpose just to fuck with his olfactory memory—and it worked, bitch!
You can not quite finish each other’s sentences but rather talk over their endings so your conversation doesn’t flow so much as it spins and sparkles, its glittery tendrils winding and overlapping like music. In any other context, this is rude. It’s not rude when it’s chemistry. It’s not rude when it feels like the past five years never happened but you have five years’ worth of things to catch up on. It’s not rude when you’re sharing a brain.
You can glance up at him as you debate whether you had sex on his rooftop on your third date or your second-to-last date and he’ll say, “Don’t look at me like that. I know that look.”
You can listen patiently while he explains that, five years ago, when you said you loved him and he said, “Don’t worry, you’ll forget about me in a month,” he didn’t mean it that way—he wasn’t really feeling as casually cold and condescending as he came off. And you can assure him that you knew that—that even in that moment, you knew he was only trying to protect you from your own feelings and his inability to reciprocate them. The problem was just that you didn’t want protection. You wanted to put your heart on the line.
You can realize that maybe this really was something. Maybe you didn’t just love him in the flighty, first-time kind of way you’ll fall in love with anyone when you’re 21. Maybe it really was the once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing you thought it was, the one nothing else has quite managed to live up to since. Maybe you knew your own heart better than you’ve given yourself credit for.
You can say, “Let’s be friends,” and almost mean it. Because, hell, clearly you get along so well and after all, you say, “How else do new friendships between adults happen? You fucked once and then you can’t fuck anymore because one of you fell more in love than the other, but you still like each other so why shouldn’t you stay in each other’s lives?” And he’ll flick up his eyebrows and say, “It was more than once,” in a way that leaves you blushing into your martini. Because, of course, you can’t be friends.
Because, of course, you’ll try to kiss him when he walks you to the subway afterward, just like you kissed him for the first time five years ago on the corner of 5th and 10th and it felt like a fresh pour of champagne glittering away in a glass—effervescent and inherently fleeting, like all the beautiful things. It felt like, This is going to destroy you in only very gorgeous ways. It felt like, This one’s gonna scar.
So yeah, maybe don’t do that last part.
Then again, you’re an adult—you can do whatever you want.
*Name has been changed.
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