Last week, it was raining exes in our lives. A close friend and I were paid surprise visits by our pasts. My friend woke up to a text from his ex, the big love of his life, telling him that she was in town and wanted to meet for coffee. I know my friend enough to know that his going was a foregone conclusion; the prevarication came from nerves not indecision.
A few days later, my own blast from the past arrived in town. He was the man I almost agreed to marry—twice. And now he had found somebody, a somebody who is going to have his baby very soon. The conversation ebbed and flowed politely. We discussed work, mutual friends and movies—the three biggest banknotes of social currency. Thanks to this column, he knows everything he could possibly want to know about my love life. And since babies are the most popular flavour on Facebook, I was equally well informed about his special somebody’s advanced state of pregnancy. But we studiously avoided bringing them up. It was like neither of us wanted to be the first to admit that we’d moved on with life. When it comes to an ex, there are very few rules of behaviour, you figure things out as you go along, but somehow the first coffee didn’t seem the right time or place to talk about the happiness we’d found in other people.
And then I made a mistake. Encouraged by the success of our harmless coffee date, we decided to meet for a drink the next day. That was my first poor judgement call. The second was going to a place filled with our history. And the third was continuing the evening in his apartment.
There’s a reason it’s called coffee and not wine spritzer or sangria with an ex. Coffee with an ex is about closure, about laughing at the good memories, letting go of the bitter ones and writing the last line of that chapter. Coffee with an ex can be a final goodbye or a hello to a friendship. But alcohol makes you turn the page, it makes you write a bold ‘to be continued’ instead of the last line…
I knew I’d made a mistake the moment I took my place opposite him. It was all too familiar: the place, the person, our order. We’d spilt up a while ago, and yet I remembered him so well. There were so many little details about him filed away in my brain, information I didn’t know I possessed or had any idea what to do with.
That evening, I also realised how much I’d missed him. We’d ended abruptly. One day we were planning a wedding and the next I was returning his ring. He’d never gotten the chance to say his piece and I’d been too chicken to explain and apologise. He’d needed me to love him a certain way, and I hadn’t been able to; but in my own incomplete way, I’d loved him the best I could. Maybe it hadn’t been enough for a marriage, but it had been enough to make our time together beautiful.
Many times that evening, I had to stop myself from falling into the role of his girlfriend. But it was tougher than I thought. It was the only way I knew to behave around him. For too long, that spot had been mine. And after a few drinks, it was easy to forget that it belonged to someone else now.
The night concluded in his house. It was selfish of me. I wanted him to myself for just a little while longer. I didn’t want to lose him to the propriety of coffee. I knew we’d wake up in separate beds and with our clothes on, but I know I shouldn’t have gone. Our fragile new friendship wasn’t ready for that kind of proximity. Sitting in the house that I’d thought was going to be mine, we shared an undefined, unexplained moment. I call it the ‘maybe’ moment. Maybe if he didn’t have a baby on the way, it could have led to something. Maybe if I wasn’t in love with someone else, we could have tried to see if we’d be third time lucky. That’s the difference between coffee and wine. Coffee helps you remember the reasons it didn’t work, wine brings back memories of all the reasons it did.
We said good night and I headed to the guest bedroom. The next morning, I left without saying goodbye. Twice before, the time hadn’t been right for our relationship. We weren’t third time lucky. Maybe some day we’ll be friends again, but until we reach that elusive space, I want to say, “Thank you for the memories.”