Becoming Friends With The Ex-Girlfriend

"You really have to leave my ex alone," said a college boyfriend bluntly. "She has no interest in being friends with you and she thinks your friendliness is weird. Creepy, even." Oh.

I come from a family in which my dad's ex-wife is one of my mother's closest friends, and various former live-ins and lovers from their single days make up a large and un-self-conscious part of their social circle. Maybe this is a legacy of the 70's, but jealousy was never a part of the equation: the openness precluded it. And as a result, this seemed normal to me: that anyone you'd loved and who'd been a big part of your life sort of automatically joined a large extended family. You know, like in a Woody Allen movie!

So when I began having boyfriends, it went without question (for me) that their exes would be in their lives, just as mine would. Mind you, not every high school girlfriend or college fling, but those with whom one had lived and shared a lot, and with whom one stayed in contact. As a rule, the people with whom my boyfriends had enjoyed this level of intimacy were not psychos. And indeed, I always took the view that they were, for the most part, a pretty self-selecting population. The guys to whom I was drawn were always so idiosyncratic and peculiar that the fact is I felt a tacit bond with anyone else who appreciated them, and felt pretty sure we'd get along.

It seems they didn't feel this way at all. Indeed, it seemed I was crazy. Also, naive. It seemed it was not the done thing for current and ex-girlfriends to get drinks together, and that the exes often found these overtures strange and creepy. As did the boyfriends. Further, it developed that my exes' new girlfriends didn't, naturally, want to meet me - which I found baffling and obscurely hurtful. I understood, intellectually, that this was new terrain we were navigating: that a few generations ago, no one had to navigate a landscape populated by the living ghosts of multiple pseudo-marriages, where no intimacy is really new, where comparisons and minefields and Google searches lurk. So often, you know things about these people, and it had always seemed better to me to strip matters of their mystery than live in some kind of Rebecca-style hall of mirrors.

And yet, I was resolutely insensitive to anyone else's feelings on the matter. And my boyfriend's words came as a shock: creepy? I, in my openness and friendliness, was creepy? I wasn't stalking or obsessing or hating like some people I knew; I just wanted to be friendly and normal! But then, as I was to learn, there is no "normal" and if there were, I probably wasn't it. In my hubris, I had been imposing my own feelings on these poor women. (Although, that said, when someone's girlfriend tracked me down, we had a big commiseration session on why people are so weirded out by this sort of thing.) I have since schooled myself sternly in empathy. Although there are, I think, situations when friendliness is apropos: if, say, the two of them have a functional, friendly relationship? Talk? Get together? It would seem to me very odd that you never put in an appearance, for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with my deeply held creepy ones. And the truth is, I recently watched Hannah and Her Sisters and Everyone Says I Love You in quick succession, and, seriously? What is with Woody Allen's character just hanging out with his ex-wives all the time? Why doesn't he grow up, learn boundaries, and get his own life? There really is nothing wrong with that.