One of the best books I have ever read is "Just Kids" by Patti Smith. "Why should I care about that?" you are probably asking yourself. And what does that have to do with the intriguing topic of "what human relationships could be, if only we had the guts"? Allow me to explain.
Back to, only briefly, the story of "Just Kids" (which will segue us into this topic of the place in which there lies potential for extraordinary human relationships). I am not particularly a fan of Patti in terms of her music. Instead, I picked it up because I had seen it splashed all over the bestseller lists for months, the "winner of the national book award" badge stamped boldly on its front, and finally thought to myself why the heck not see what this one is about.
I was mind blown.
The book tells the story of her arrival in New York City, destitute, alone, homeless, yearning to become an artist. Her chance meeting with Robert Mapplethorpe, which happened shortly after her arrival in the city, was a game changer. The two connected immediately. Something silently drew these two together like magnets. They moved forward and became romantic, falling very much in love. Their friendship quickly became a close one. Where one went, the other followed. Something about these two just clicked. Their souls just connected.
However, majorly shocking moment, Robert comes out as being homosexual fairly shortly after they have become romantic (by Patti actually catching him in an affair), which obviously blasts a hole in their relationship. Their romantic relationship ends. Patti is disoriented, heartbroken and angry. For a period, they go their separate ways. Robert begins sifting through the confusion of his sexuality, intermixed with his love and intense feelings of attraction to Patti, all of which he is struggling with at the moment. Patti is searching and piecing through her shattered illusions and deep hurt over this betrayal and major shift between them.
Most people, in the aftermath of such a relational change, would go their separate ways. The majority of people would break up and not speak much further afterwards. They would hold on to hurt and anger for a while, if not permanently, towards this person. They might allow this heartbreak to taint future relationships. Ultimately though for the majority of people, something like this would absolutely signal an ending to the friendship/relationship.
Patti and Robert do go their separate ways for a while. But. Both come to realize that, despite the ending of their romantic relationship, this does not refute there being something special between them. They decide that, even though the nature of their relationship has changed, that they both find worth and meaning in the shared history, genuine liking, and depth of connection that lies between them. The key word in there being "decide."
Most people do not, or cannot, choose to come around to this line of thinking. Most people decide that a breakup inherently means this person should be extricated from their life in every way and as soon as possible.
I want to challenge that line of thought to all of you forward-thinking and open minded people. To everyone who automatically decides that a breakup means erasing that person from your life forever, I would come back with the question: Why?
Because with regards to many exes, when we strip away or can set aside our relationship issues, we are left with two people who potentially possess the facets for an incredibly beautiful friendship.
Lets consider for just a moment. If this is a person (your ex) whom you loved deeply, with whom you likely had a close friendship and with whom you share a storied history, why just because the nature of your relationship has changed does that mean it needs to cease entirely and forever? Might this person be someone worth maintaining some semblance of connection with? You found them worth loving, worth being emotionally close to and worth spending loads of time. Is all of that now refuted because the romantic part has ended? Might it be possible that, far down the road, having thrown this person out of your life entirely might be a mistake?
Sure, to play devils advocate, on the one hand its highly likely you will go forward and be fine without them in your life. The hole initially left by your loss of them will cover itself up, eventually with another love. With hobbies. With friends. The size of the hole will recede and you will be absolutely alright.
But might there be other possibilities that could be just as good? Or maybe even better?
Of course, there are exceptions. If your ex has been revealed as a bad or toxic person (as in, they were abusive, a drug addict, subjected you to genuine maltreatment or have a bad character/values), then of course you would not want to maintain a relationship with them. Absolutely. Some people are toxic. In which case, they should not be a part of our lives.
However, if your ex is actually a person whom you believe is pretty awesome and with whom you had a great connection and friendship, this could very well be a treasure that you are extricating from your life. Someone who cares for you, understands you and would be a special connection to maintain.
Yes, after a breakup both people should have time in which they are able to heal. There will need to be a cooling off period. This might take a few months. It could also take more time, depending on how long the two were a couple and how emotional the breakup was. Also, I am not saying that being friends with an ex would come without challenges. It wouldn't. These challenges could include still having moments of feeling attraction. Another challenge might be ones current partner struggling a bit with your maintaining this connection. However, neither of these things need be problems, as long as they are handled with maturity, good communication, and courage.
Often times, the greatest things in life are the ones that do present some challenge and require us to push ourselves a bit. These can be the aspects of life that result in the greatest amount of growth, self improvement and additional richness to our lives.
Patti and Robert had (from the book "Just Kids" that I described), over the course of their life, one of the most awesome relationships I have ever heard of. They had an extraordinary and storied friendship/relationship. They are soul mates in the truest sense of the word. And their relationship absolutely did not come without challenge. It was also absolutely worth the struggles. And no, they do not end up together romantically. Someone can be your soulmate and not be the one you end up with (in the romantic sense). In fact, often times we do not end up with our soul mate.
Patti and Robert both go on to have romantic relationships with other people. There are a few sporadic moments sprinkled throughout the years of their friendship when they do come together again physically. But for the most part, their romantic relationship has ceased. They are incredibly close though. The partners and significant relationships they have throughout the years are aware of this connection, of the history that Patti and Robert share. They respect it and accept it.
When Robert passes away at the heartbreaking young age of his late forties, Patti says she can feel the very moment when his presence is no longer within the world. Part of her breath is knocked out of her. However, she didn't officially receive the call that he had passed away for another hour or two. But she had already known.
(The two had spoken recently on the phone, within the last few days prior to his death. At this point in their lives, they lived far apart, across the US from one another. Robert with his partner, Sam and Patti with her husband, Fred and their child. However, Patti and Robert remained in touch and were still quite close up, from when they met at the age of 18 all the way until his death. Robert knew her husband, Fred and had met Patti and Freds child, and Patti knew his partner Sam).
The point is: this is what a relationship between two people can be, if people were not so afraid. If they chose to challenge and stretch themselves more. If they decided not to give in to societies rigid and judgmental scripts of what romantic relationships (as well as relations with exes) "should" look like and "should" be.
Reasons to maintain a connection with a wonderful past love:
1. Your ex may be one of the people (depending on the depth of closeness you shared with this person and your history with them) who understands and knows you the best. The world is full of people who will not get you. In fact, most people
wont. Most people will not be "your people." Just as with dating, the
same goes for friendships. It takes a lot of sifting and searching to find your tribe. So, dont give up on someone just because the
romantic part of the relationship didnt work out.
2. Your ex still knows your greatest strengths (as well as your weaknesses). They dated you because they thought you were awesome, knowing all of this. Just because the romantic part of the relationship ended does not mean they no longer think the world of you. Its a powerful thing, to stay in touch with the people who really know you and care deeply for you.
3. They may be long-term friend material. Assuming you connected closely with this person and that you liked one another deeply, thats already a majorly solid start. However, putting aside the drama and hurt feelings over the romance ending, is this person someone who inspires you? Are they smart? Do they have good morals and character? Are they a person who, while being in their company, bring you joy? Do they have a good sense of humor? Are they open minded? Are they a great listener? If yes to these important qualities, it might be strongly worth considering keeping this person in your life.
3. Your ex will challenge you. Its difficult to put aside egos and to work through challenging feelings following a huge change in the nature of a close relationship, such as a break up. However, once the dust settles, a relationship with an ex can challenge you in worthwhile ways. There will be moments of experiencing complicated feelings. They may test your patience or unintentionally push some of your buttons from time to time. Working through these difficult moments can mean growth, increased self awareness and a really special, unique friendship. Many of lifes most worthwhile things are not easy.
4. Life is short and very fleeting. Life passes quickly, and its a one time deal. Having a long, storied, deep history with someone is a rare and special thing. Especially if you still like that persons character a lot and care for them. So again, just because the romantic part of the relationship doesn't work out, this does not necessarily mean the person should be axed from your life completely and forever.
5. If we can strip away our relationship issues, or set them aside, that generally leaves two people who possess the potential facets for what could be a beautiful relationship/friendship. If the anger and hurt can be overcome, there can be great comfort and joy in remaining connected with an ex.
Side note: again, its absolutely true that there are many instances in which exes cannot and should not be friends. However, there are also many instances in which, after some time has passed and the dust has settled, that two people could be missing out on the potential for something pretty special.
All of this aside, on a separate but related note, absolutely read the book "Just Kids" by Patti Smith. Her writing is some of the best I have ever read, and that is a bold statement coming from me. (I read a LOT. I have read hundreds of books within my life thus far). The portrait she paints of NYC during this time period is vivid, electric, totally absorbing and fascinating. And the story of her and Roberts relationship is extraordinary. Its unconventional, so unique, gripping, deeply touching and moving. Its incredibly inspiring and eye opening. I have read this book three times. Its one of my favorites ever. If you read just one book in the next few months, make it this one.