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Friday, October 05, 2007

Ex-pert Advice

This Life column from Day and Night magazine in today's Irish Independent

I have a pal who's chronically fixated on remaining friendly with his exes. In fact, he becomes positively, genuinely miserable if the break-up doesn't lead to a new acquaintanceship with his erstwhile flame. And to my utter horror/wonder/envy, he manages to pull it off.

This guy is obviously a student of that freakish Bruce Willis-Demi Moore school of keeping the ex in your life, whereas most of us — notice how I'm grouping you all with me? — would go the Jennifer Aniston-Brad Pitt route of totally ignoring one other, and, if called upon, communicating solely and passive-aggressively through the tabloid press (admittedly not an option for most of us).

I've written about the topic of keeping exes on the payroll before, but feel compelled to return to it, as it's becoming harder and harder to avoid these days. The exes are everywhere of late: there they are starting in your office or moving into the apartment across the way. And look, there’s two of your exes hooking up in a club. Aren't they cute? What's that now? An ex is now marrying into my family? How wonderful! I'm just waiting for my Empire Strikes Back moment when an ex reveals to me that he is actually my father (welcome to the dark recesses of my mind. I should remind you at this point that there are no refunds).

So considering all of this, maybe my friend is onto something by strenuously maintaining diplomatic relations with former squeezes. The world - nay, Dublin - is too small a place to accommodate any major wars between exes and their respective allies. If you localise such 'Exes of Evil' conflicts to the infinitesimally small gay scene, you can get total carnage.

However, I’m not a total disaster in this field, having managed to keep on good terms with a few exes over the years (while still photoshopping others out of existence). I even have one shining, unqualified success story. One of my best friends in the world also happens to be an ex. We saw each other for a little while about three years ago. It ended, but we got on really well, so after a few months, we got back in touch and here we are today. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

So, as much as I joke about it, it is possible to salvage something fantastic from a break-up, but certain conditions needs to be met first. The most crucial ones are:

1) There has to be a time gap between the break-up and the start of friendship. Even if it was just a casual fling, there still needs to be a respectful period where you don’t see each other, where whatever feelings that there were can be played out and where you won’t throw a hissy fit if you see that person scoring someone else. We all know that last one in particular stings. This hopefully will then lead to a situation where…

2) There is zero attraction left between the two of you. This might seem thunderingly obvious, but very often two exes decide to go the friends route when one party still fancies the other one rotten. This is a recipe for disaster of immense proportions (which is why you can never really be friends with someone you have a crush on either). When it comes to my best friendly-ex, I know that in terms of attraction he sees Maggie Thatcher when he looks at me, and vice versa. But until you reach that stage, successful friendship is out, out, out.

Believe me, it can work. But as for the next major diplomatic push – establishing d├ętente with the sour-experience exes – I’m not sure I’m fully there yet. There’s being friends, and then there’s just being plain stupid.

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