How I became friends with my ex’s ex

I’m sitting alone at a bar in the heart of Boston on a regular evening in July. I had ordered a glass of wine and was alternating between taking sips and glancing at the door. By the second time the bartender asked me if I needed anything else, I assured him that, no, I was meeting someone. It wasn’t a date. It wasn’t a boyfriend. It wasn’t even an ex-boyfriend. It was my ex-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, and we had agreed to get dinner.

This is the moment in the movie when the record would scratch. This kind of thing doesn’t happen that often, so I probably need to back up a bit.

Four summers earlier, I was moving into my first dorm room at the top of a hill in middle-of-nowhere Ohio. When the bed was made and the Harry Potter posters taped to the wall, my roommate and I ventured out the quad and saw three boys playing frisbee. My roommate, more confident and carefree than I, dragged me over to say hi. One boy would be my friend, another a best friend, and the third my best, best friend, my boyfriend, for almost all four years.

But once again, I’m getting ahead of myself. While he and I had many late night adventures and trips back-and-forth and arguments over Skype ahead of us, in August of 2011, he had a girlfriend from high school.

“I don’t know, Kate,” my roommate said as she scrolled through their Facebook photos after I first asked if she thought they were dating. “It looks like they went to Spain together. That’s pretty serious.”

So I moved on. I would say hi to her when they were on the phone. I’d like her photos on Instagram. He and I were just friends. Until we weren’t.

You could call it a “mix-up,” a “mistake,” or a really bad case of “not being on the same page.” The short version is that we succumbed the inevitable, and on one October night, he broke her heart and it was my fault.

After it all went down, I messaged her on Facebook, filled with apologies and knowing they meant nothing. “You and [your roommate] are too nice. If it were possible I really wish we could stay friends,” she replied. “But I guess we’ll have to see what happens.”

To the surprise of no one, we did not stay friends. We had never met in person and there was no reason we’d ever see each other. We disconnected on social media. Kind of.

While we were no longer “friends” or “following” each other on our respective accounts, we were still checking in from time to time. At least, enough to know when the other was going through major life events. Then, eventually, enough to say something. “[I heard] you’re going to England for the whole year!” she messaged me one day before my junior year abroad. “That’s awesome, you’ll have an amazing time.”

“I was literally at that exact hostel a few days ago!” I posted a few months later on an Instagram photo she had taken in Venice. And then, “Favorite favorite favorite place” on a picture in Amsterdam. And then, much later:

It’s summer 2015, and I’m a real-life graduated adult sitting in an office in Boston when my phone buzzes with a Twitter notification. And then another:

I couldn’t pretend that when I found out I was moving close to my now ex-boyfriend’s childhood town, this thought hadn’t crossed my mind. Our relationship had ended, messily and in stages, but the almost masochistic curiosity about his ex-girlfriend hadn’t died down. How did she compare to me? How was she different? And then, the thought that had been there all along, doesn’t it kind of seem like we’d be friends?

While our initial relationship was one of occasional pleasantries, it’s the years when we weren’t talking that I learned the most about her, through both conversations with my ex and, more often than not, the times I went through her social media. We both devoured John Green novels. We were both watching Girls. We loved You’ve Got Mail. And Pride & Prejudice. And YouTube beauty gurus. The list got longer and longer, but we still had never spoken face-to-face.

That was, until July. After almost four years, we agreed to meet.

“IT FEELS LIKE I’M GOING ON A DATE!” I texted my friend as I waited at the bar for her to arrive. At the same time, she was sending this same text to her friend, as she walked down the stairs and into the restaurant.

We hugged and I said the only thing I could think of to break the awkwardness: “Do you want to just go through the timeline?” So, once again, we started from the beginning.

Although months had passed since the break-up, I felt pangs in my chest when heard her side of the story, when she’d recount the exact same lines that had also been said to me. And even worse, when she’d tell me things that I had never heard at all.

While our previous relationship was based on our ex, our new one, the friendship we were starting at a restaurant in Boston, was not. In the months to come, it would be sitting on a bench outside Quincy Market at 3 a.m., or seeing Paper Towns in a nearly-empty theater, or SnapChatting each other from halfway across the globe after we both moved, she to Japan and I to New York.

That night, however, it was honesty. It was our ability, after four years, to say the things we had always wanted to say, to talk about how we had been hurt with perhaps the only other person in the world who could understand. To finally, once and for all, close the book on that chapter of our lives in lieu of a new one.

We paused just once, and that was when our food arrived. We had both ordered the same thing.

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