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It’s OK to be Facebook Friends with an Ex

In 1983 my then-boyfriend David picked me up from work at Davison’s in his yellow truck and proceeded to drive to the other side of the Augusta Mall, stopping the vehicle in front of a dumpster. He grabbed a large shoebox from the floorboard and opened it so that I could peek inside. I noticed an amalgamation of photos, notes and cards. He looked me in the eyes, the hint of a smile emerging on his serious face. He then shut the lid, got out of the truck, and ceremoniously tossed the box into the garbage. What looked to be a valuable assortment of sentimental memorabilia was now mixed up with discarded Corndog-on-a-Stick cups, Spencer gift packaging and J Riggings hangers.

He returned to the truck and proudly announced that the box contained his entire collection of mementos from past romances. Now that he was dating me, he said that he saw no reason to keep any physical evidence of these relationships. He wanted to boldly demonstrate his commitment by destroying any connection to those who came before me. He was three years older than me and quite a ladies man, so the gravity of his gesture was not insignificant.

All these years later, I do not recall what I said, but can distinctly remember what I thought: That was a foolish mistake. It was foolish because the sacrifice made me more uncomfortable than happy. I also hoped that he didn’t expect me to reciprocate. Although my box was considerably smaller, I was attached to my collection of poems and love notes, and wanted to keep them forever. I saw no reason to discard a part of my short life story. I was not a jealous person, so I wasn’t worried that any of his exes would resurface in his life, and knew that he had no reason to be concerned about my former crushes. The whole affair made absolutely no sense to me.

I don’t recall if I gave in to the pressure to toss my small box away, but because I no longer have my early notes, I assume that I did. I don’t know if David ever regretted that audacious moment; we lost touch after our break-up and I only heard bits and pieces of his life after Angie. He has since passed away, so I am happy that I still have a few notes and pictures from my three years with him. He was my first serious boyfriend, and we were even engaged for a short time. I like to think that if he were alive today, we might even be Facebook friends, clicking the “like” button on one another’s family vacation photos.

I’m just not one of those people who think it is necessary to pretend a past romantic relationship didn’t happen. As a happily married person in my late 40’s, I am proud that the collage of my former connections has made me into the person I have become. I am 100% certain that I wouldn’t be happily married if I didn’t have a gloriously diverse combination of experiences to inform my perspective of a healthy relationship. The memories should not be dwelled on, but neither should they be tossed; I cherish my personal history.

Although I missed the chance to connect online with David, I have become Facebook friends with quite a few members of the Angie ex-boyfriend club. Networking with someone on social media is not an overly serious matter to me, and as a PR person I prefer to accept most friend requests. I find it is an intriquing way to get to know people and peek at glimpses of their daily lives without necessarily having to invest any meaningful time. So, in my mind, the fact that about 1% of my Facebook friends are past boyfriends is not a big deal. Seeing their political rants or pet videos on my newsfeed is no more consequential that the postings of say, a former co-worker or my next-door neighbor.

Every once in awhile, though, one of them will offer a thumbs-up to one of my cat photos, and I like that because I’m sure they remember how important my cats are to me. Sometimes I will click “like” on a post about an ex’s favorite baseball team, acknowledging my recollection that he was a fan. In fact, it feels quite evolved and mature when I can keep small casual connections like a Facebook friendship with these guys from my past. For example, when I see one of my exes on Facebook with his posse of small kids, I am thrilled to witness his happy, full life. I also know in that moment that the two of us were never destined to be together, since a large family was never my dream.

With a few exceptions, I am connected to almost all of my past loves and brief flings. There is only one guy in my history to whom I would be reticent to befriend, because of some borderline stalker behavior after our break-up. I confess that in my most paranoid moments, I assume I am already Facebook friends with him, imagining that he has created a fake persona to connect with me. That’s how the mind works sometimes. In reality, he likely never thinks of me and could care even less about social media. I know I cherish my past more or less than others cherish theirs, and that’s ok. We all have different stories.

I did have one ex who friended me and then un-friended me, and my hunch is that he was forced to do so by a jealous person in his life, or maybe he still harbors hard feelings about our decades-old awkward encounter. Another ex-Ron- refused my request outright, messaging me that it “wouldn’t be in the best interest of his family”. While I certainly respect the response, it is clear that he certainly gives more weight to friending than I do. At 1,300 friends, I am obviously connected to people I have never met. And, like David with his box, Ron has clear ideas about dividing his emotional past and present into different segments, cutting out the parts that are painful or tricky.

I, on the other hand, embrace the tapestry of my romantic story, a varied one filled with a wide range of personalities and difficult lessons. I look forward to the day when I am retired and can sit in my rocking chair and periodically peruse the online posts of past contacts, smiling at all the wonderful accomplishments of people who briefly crossed paths with me before I found the love of my life. I might even bring out my old shoeboxes filled with the notes and photos we all collected before the days of social media, happy that I am married to the type of person who appreciates me despite my crazy past and would never ask me to throw the boxes away.