I’ve written about them before, I’ll write about them again. Hometown exes are difficult. Here is the most recent, purely hypothetical as always, iteration of the issue. You return home expecting to catch up with a summer fling. The fling was fun, certainly, but in many ways no more that: geographical impossibility meant that you both agreed to move on. There was no ways around it, and so you go home with a combination of anticipation and reluctance: how will it be to see them again? Will something have been lost? Will you realize, suddenly, that the gentle break-up at the end of the summer is completely unfeasible? There’s no real way to tell. After all, the initial relationship had such immediacy and urgency to it, that there was no way to project it beyond that period. The fling is localized, both spatially and temporally.
You receive a message a few days before the reunion. More specifically, they send a voice message, just in case you’d forgotten what they sounded like. Four minutes of audio will summarize as follows:
“Hi, I love you. I’m sorry I haven’t messaged you much. I’ve been sad, lately, it’s true; but I’m so glad to be seeing you soon. I love you.”
The situation, as you may tell, has changed. You hadn’t really considered that they hadn’t moved on; you’d been away and busy and it had felt very natural to box off the relationship. Suddenly, you have this responsibility towards them when you see them, to reciprocate their feelings or tell them to move on. Both sound daunting, because both sound like a commitment: After a few glasses of wine, anything can happen and old friends can get very friendly, but that obviously means much more to one party than the other. If you tell them no, you break their heart, and you lie about the ambivalence that you’d been feeling, since you feel responsible to protect them in the long term. Out of stress, out of anticipation, you give up on sobriety.
The reunion occurs. Their body language is forward and glowing, out of fear of miscommunication you lean back in your chair so that you’re leaning at parallel angles. Maybe, also, you cower to hide the waft of wine that floats on your breath (it is the evening, after all). Small talk is easy, although it’s hard to remain engaged with it, as you see the kitchen table be swallowed under their inclined chest. They ask to kiss you.
At this point, the situation is very clear. If you say yes, regardless of what half-assed preface you begin with, you’ll be leading them on further than you have already. If you say no, it sounds like you never really cared; you become cold, heartless for not harboring these feelings. At this point, you decide to lie.
It comes out very quickly.
“I’ve got a boyfriend. It’s super recent, which is why you don’t know. I still care about you so much, but we discussed move on, and I’ve tried hard to; the logistics were never in our favor.”
Was there any other way? Although you’ve lied about not being single (because boy are you single as fuck), you’ve been able to convey your ambiguous feelings in a way that kept him safe. Something came between you, but the bond remains; you’re telling them to get over you, but it hurts you just as much. Whereas they think they cannot kiss you because someone’s come in the way, at least you know that you’re not letting them sink further into an impossible situation.
A lot of people could call you out at this point. Honesty is the best solution, on paper, but in the heat of that moment you were weak. Even though you lied, at least you did so in a way that tried to preserve their emotions in the long-term. After all, they were younger, and in many ways still a child; not that you’re done growing up but you had that extra year of college under your belt.
In the end, they cried, they cried through a tin of biscuits (home baked, mind you), a roll of kitchen towel and a bottle of wine. You sat through all of it, out of necessity and distress. You haven’t really spoken since, which is probably for the better. You’ll get there eventually, but today you’re not there yet.
Are these situations avoidable? Could you have done something differently? I, for one, am unsure. I’m still confused about what happened in those months of silence. I’d feel bad, certainly, but I understand I needed room to mess up as well. Regardless, if the hypothetical ex happened to read this, I apologize.