Butters of South Park fame knows heartbreak all too well. Bereft of his first love, Butters faces the grim future: "I'm sad, but at the same time I'm really happy that somethin' could make me feel that sad. It's like, i-i-i-it makes me feel alive, you know? It makes me feel human. And the only way I could feel this sad now is if I felt somethin' really good before. So I have to take the bad with the good, so I guess what I'm feelin' is like a beautiful sadness."
The part of my brain that's still logical, the itty-bit I inherited from my mathematician father, applauds Butters for his lucid evaluation and his ability to straightforwardly confront his loss. The part of my brain that's entirely irrational thinks Butters is simplistic: nothing, not even the good past, can erase the sadness that inevitably accompanies a breakup.
If bad sex and gender stereotypes are the by-products of intimate involvement on multiple levels, exes are the ultimate consequence. They're not laughable-unless, of course, you witnessed my roommate's former lover announce to a line of people waiting for the keg at Sigma Nu how happy he was that he and my roommate love sex. Exes are unavoidable. Nearly every person you get involved with-from casual sex to serious relationship-is going to wind up being your ex.
Exes aren't just the ultimate consequence: they're the ultimate trade-off. Once you get romantically involved with someone, there's no going back. You'll never be friends the way you might have been otherwise. You may not ever be any kind of friends at all. Yet it's a natural instinct: nobody wants to let go of what they've lost. So we try to do the next best thing and be friends, never mind if we know better.
It would be hard enough if strict definitions of love and casual sex existed. If we knew what love meant, maybe heartbreak would happen less often. But as love is a highly abused word, we often confuse our feelings and sex (much as I hate to admit it) and wind up facing ex-syndrome more than should be legally allowed. Ex-syndrome hits when you dodge that former fling at Tasti-D and knocks you over when you see an ex-lover flirting with someone at the bar. It sits in the back of your mind as you try to decide whether or not to go abroad and leave your lover behind; it bothers you incessantly as you wonder about life post-graduation.
Of course, dealing with exes in a sane and rational manner is easier said than done. Call me naïve, but I always thought I could be friends with my ex. I expected it to be difficult, but not impossible. Minus a few rough spots, I was pretty much right. Two years away from the breakup, I even thought I could be friends with my ex's new girlfriend.
Scratch calling me naïve; I am the epitome of naïve. Thinking I could be friends with my ex-friends who shared their hopes, anxieties, and new lovers-was plain stupid. I want nothing more than to erase the images of my ex and his new girlfriend together; hell, I want nothing more than to find every nook and cranny of my brain that contains any ex-data and delete all of them. I know I never want to be with my ex again. I don't know why seeing them together made me cry.
I've often thought how much easier it would be if love were linear, if our feelings had start and end points. If love were linear, we would move on quickly and painlessly from every person we were ever intimately involved with. If love were linear, we would never second-guess ourselves when we were intimately involved. But the truth of the matter is that our feelings aren't anything close to linear: half the time we don't know whom we have feelings for or how much we actually feel for them. This makes knowing when to end a relationship extremely difficult and gauging a relationship's worth next to impossible.
Stupid may not have been the best way to describe my expectation that I could be friends with my ex. I am close friends with my other ex, after all. No, I wasn't stupid-ambitious, maybe, and unable to recognize when I was pushing myself too far. Because even when we think we've moved on, even when we think we no longer care two shits about someone, we can still break down and lose it. There isn't anything wrong with wanting to be friends with an ex. There's also nothing wrong with realizing that may not be possible.
Heartbreak doesn't have rules. Sometimes it takes us years to get over someone; other times it's a matter of days. Sometimes we pine over long-term lovers; other times we waste away thinking of casual hook-ups. Now that I'm thinking rationally again, I can say it: Butters is right. It might be the worst trade-off in the world but it also might just be the best. You may still resist getting involved with somebody for fear of facing another ex (I know I will), or you may learn to face your fears every single time you meet someone new. In Butters' words: beautiful sadness.