So anyway, I’m approaching this as ‘exes in general’ as opposed to one specific person.
Thing 1: ‘Partly it was you, you know that, right?’
Pretty much everyone who has broken up with someone in reasonably amicable circumstances has said something along the lines of ‘I’m just not in the right place for a relationship right now.’
This is always at least partly true, but sometimes what you don’t add into the equation is that there are things about the other person that contributed to that feeling. Is it useful to talk about those specific things at the time? Most of the time, no. Once when I did it got into this bizarre negotiation situation that made things even more awkward.
Also, I am acutely aware that I am partly responsible for tensions, conflicts and eventually the dissolution of every single relationship I’ve ever been in. But I know just as clearly that my partner was too. I don’t think everyone gets that though. Probably why those ones didn’t work out…
Thing 2: ‘Sorry I was focusing more on me.’
Specifically here I mean during sex. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I became conscious of my partner’s orgasm. That’s not to say that my partners weren’t, it’s just that I didn’t notice and wasn’t cognizant of it.
I’m not generally one for regrets – can’t change the past so why bother thinking about it. But when do I think of things I wish I’d done differently, this is right up there at the top. It’s sad to think how much better sex we would have been having if I’d made the effort to ensure my partner came at least as often as I did.
I guess this generally applies to all that time not thinking about what my partner about what my partner was experiencing.
Thing 3: ‘You were amazing, and you probably still are.’
I can’t think of one person I’ve had a relationship with that hasn’t been an amazing person, whether that relationship lasted three weeks or three years. The way some of my relationships have ended over the years, I don’t think I left the person with that impression.
Of course the end of an intimate physical and emotional relationship doesn’t often involve each partner affirming the other’s greater qualities, or thinking the best of them. Time though, especially when you’re committed to letting things go and moving on, gives great reminders of why you ended up with that person in the first place.
Thing 4: ‘I hope you’re okay.’
I’m still in contact with a number of my exes, thanks to the wonder of Facebook. That said, the depth of communication we have now is nothing like what we once had and we naturally don’t talk about things like we used to.
I once dated a woman, many many years ago, who’d had a string of really horrid relationships before me. Like a guy who had cheated on her with her best friend, twice. Then a guy who was a problem gambler and stole money off her. Then a guy who used to hit her.
Our relationship had problems, almost from the beginning. One of the main issues is that she was judging me based on her exes and expecting the worst of me at every single situation. She didn’t want me to have any female friends and got worried when I wouldn’t pick up the phone straight away.
We got physical and started sleeping in the same bed reasonably quickly, but I said that I didn’t want us to have sex until we were sure that we had strong feelings for each other and that the relationship would last. I knew sex meant more to her than just an intense physical experience. I didn’t want to be one more guy that had taken advantage of her.
In the end we didn’t last and broke up after about four months. It was a pretty rough break up, it was hard to move on and a few times we came close to hooking up after drunken nights out. Eventually it petered out.
One day, about a year after the last time I’d seen her she called me on the phone. She told me that she’d met a really great guy and they were engaged and really happy. She wanted to thank me, and said I was the first guy she’d been with that treated her like a human being.
When I look back on that relationship there aren’t a lot of positives in it for. I almost completely subsumed myself and what I wanted for somebody else (which I sadly carried over into future relationships). The non-sex was fun, but that’s generally the case. So I’m glad she felt I was a positive impact on her life.
Perhaps there’s not much more we can hope for in the end.