Action Potential: The Ex Factor
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(aka Why It’s OK You’re Still Sleeping with Your Ex)
Editor's note: Using personal experiences as a guide, this column seeks to advise and entertain its readers on the ever-complicated topics of love and sex. The anonymity of the column provides our contributing writers the freedom to recount completely and honestly even the most sordid tales. If you have any topics you would like to see covered, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll find someone who's done the "dirty" work so you don't have to!
We’ve all sat in front of our TV or computer screen watching this show or that movie, completely enthralled by the unfolding drama of a relationship gone sour.
Suddenly, some incident occurs — a night out at the same club; a run-in at a mutual friend’s party; assigned seats next to each other on the same plane — and the exes find themselves talking and wind up waking up the next day sharing the same bed.
If you are like me, this either made you fist-pump the air a few times in celebration or shake the screen in frustration at the idiocy of it all, while silently telling yourself that you would never fall into that trap.
Nowadays, I would be a hypocrite to do the latter. I have become one of those characters I used to criticize. And despite the fact that I mentally berate myself time and again for falling into the trap of his embrace, I am unable (maybe unwilling is the better word) to stop, no matter how much it hurts each morning — after which he leaves me again. Which causes me to ask, “Why?”
After discussing my slip-ups with friends, my question is no longer about my lack of willpower, but about why I was so critical of the practice of hooking up with an ex in the first place. The most common response I receive is a shrug and the super-sympathetic statement, “It happens. Eat some chocolate.”
Maybe I am just trying to justify my actions to assuage any lasting feelings of guilt, but I’d like to play devil’s advocate here, and say that, as long as neither of you are tied to someone new, hooking up with an ex is an acceptable source of pleasure and stress relief — if certain things are discussed beforehand.
I truly believe communication is the problem and not the act itself. Due to the —ahem — extremely passionate and spontaneous nature of most hook-ups, the pre-coitus discussion is usually zero, or about everything but the one topic that really needs to be hashed out: the aftermath.
I know that there is a reason we are not together, I know we are both lonely and horny and that the familiar is all too easy to fall back on, I know it is for comfort and pleasure alone and not meant to mean anything.
I know these things and yet, because we haven’t discussed the implications of the act directly, I find myself wondering throughout: “Does this mean he wants to get back together? Are we FWBs? (Or Friends With Benefits, for those not in the know.) Is this the last time I will get to be with him?” All distracting thoughts that only serve to decrease my overall enjoyment of said hook-up.
These thoughts also bring up the problem of the multitude of labels available for use on the relationship spectrum. Aren’t FWBs actually “dating”? Their dates just happen to be regulated to private quarters and not dinners out. When does “dating” become “official”? What’s the difference between hooking up with the same person multiple times and an FWB?
Bottom line: One, labels are stupid. Two, if you are going to hook up with an ex, you need to understand the exact nature of the hook-up before you engage. You need to talk about what you each want this to mean (or not mean), to determine if this is strictly a one-time thing, just for fun, or the beginning of a fresh start.
Understanding may not stop it from feeling like your heart got bitch-slapped by a body builder afterwards, but it will stop you from having unrealistic expectations, and maybe give your willpower the boost it needs to turn your ex away if you know for certain that it will only end up in one of you being hurt.
Yes, I know it’s nice to be with someone who knows your body and who is safe and familiar (trust me, I know), but it’s just a short-acting anesthetic for your inability to be happy with your single self (which, let’s face it, is an impossibility for most, since even when you’re not in a relationship, you use your friends for all your social, if not sexual, needs).
If the possibility of a hook-up with your ex comes up, and you have a discussion beforehand and know that it will lead nowhere and that you will feel like crap afterwards but you still decide to go for it anyway, then I have one thing to say to you: (Shrug.) It happens. Want some chocolate?