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AUGUST 7-13, 2008

“It’s sad when someone you know becomes someone you knew.” —Henry Rollins

I read that quote online the other week, on a day when I hadn’t been able to stop myself from thinking about him. Actually – more accurately – I hadn’t been able to stop myself from thinking about several hims (“him” sounds better than “ex,” doesn’t it?), two or three of them in particular, masochistic memories circling my mind incessantly, like that awful tune “This is the Song that Never Ends.” (in your head now, isn’t it? sorry.)

It had been more than a year for one, six months for another, and as I mulled them over for the 400th time, analyzing what went wrong, what I could have done differently, how men who were my best friends had turned into total strangers, I thought – when does it end?

And so I posted a question on my blog, the question every woman and man wonders at some point in their life: How the hell do you get over an ex?

Rarely have I received such passionate emails, which basically said, “I know, right?!!” At least I wasn’t alone. Not that I thought, honestly, I was the only one pining over loves long lost, but I did wonder how normal it was, exactly, to think about them months and even years later. Very, if my readers are any indication.

“As I write this,” recent law grad Laura, 26 emailed, “I have salty tear marks on my face, crying over an ex of ONE year! I mean, seriously, how long does this fricking take?? He has a new gf, on a flight to paris as we speak (note: we were supposed to go to paris together). Seeing pictures of them on facebook makes me want to vomit. And so my question is: why do I still care about him? Why does it make me sick to think of him being with another girl? Why am I so terrified of losing him? Or maybe the better question is: why can’t I face the fact that I’ve already lost him?”

Oh girl, been there, wondered that. Why it helps to know that other people are wondering the same thing is beyond me.

“I just don’t understand where all the love is supposed to go when it’s all over,” she adds, “What do you do with all that love?”

Exactly my question! It seems that the ex-memories (exories?) which torture me most are those in which we just quit, cold turkey – 60 to 0, best friend to more distant than strangers. You would think that distance would provide finality, closure – and it does, in a sense. It’s certainly hard to move on if you’re still sleeping with the guy. But it’s also hard to move on if you wonder endlessly about how they’re doing – and have no way, save Facebook, of finding out.  The harsh reality is that the love and memories don’t go away, even if your relationship does.

But maybe, says reader Morris, a 26-year-old graphic designer, those memories shouldn’t go away. He contends that trying to force yourself to forget makes it worse.  For him, there’s one ex – despite breaking up over two years ago – he still thinks about. “She had it all … how do I find closure to the future that will now never happen? But why force yourself to forget? The harder we try, the worse it’ll get and soon enough, you’ll realize you’re comparing everyone else to that person inch by inch and it becomes an endless cycle of eternal nostalgia.”

An endless cycle of eternal nostalgia. I liked that phrasing … and I think it’s true. I haven’t had a real conversation with one of my hims in over a year, and yet I have an idea of this perfect man – who may or may not actually exist – moored in my mind. It’s easy to be perfect when you’re just a memory.

“Point being,” continues Morris, “[that cycle] can be unhealthy and sabotage future relationships. I’m no expert, but sometimes we all have to realize our exes belong in the past, cherish the good memories, smile and move on.”

Okay, great. But … how?

“Being able to avoid an ex is key to getting over the relationship,” writes TONY reader Eric, who had a particularly unpleasant breakup in law school, when his girlfriend left him for the guy “two seats down in class.” Ouch. Proper breakup communication is also key. “if you can justify why the breakup is necessary, I think it makes it easier on the other person. I’m a lawyer: I just want an explanation! The “I can’t explain it, it’s over” break up conversations are weak and cruel to the party being let go.”

That circles back around to closure, of course. Another of my hims (sounds better than ex, doesn’t it?) had broken up with me on a terrible note – one of the worst, most vitriolic breakups of my life. But six months after we parted ways, we sat down and made amends. And it was good. I felt that I actually closed the door to that relationship for the first time that day. It doesn’t mean I don’t still think about him – I do – but I have a feeling of calm I didn’t before. Not to get too Oprah on you, but a feeling of peace. To bastardize Eckhart Tolle, “Life hands us whatever breakups we need for the evolution of our consciousness.” Closure, acceptance and peace with an ex means we’ve learned what we needed to learn from that relationship. A feeling of unease about it means we didn’t.

And yet, closure is as complete as you want it to be. “I still find myself Googling the boy I fell for the summer I turned sixteen and the man with whom I first fell in love (summer ‘04) who is now engaged and the guy from high school who broke up with me in a coffee shop,” writes Cary “I think of them and catalog in my mind all the scenarios that would lead to our reunion: a visit home for Christmas, he walks into the party, our eyes lock, etc. I think of them because they are at once completely familiar and unknown. I knew them once and maybe loved them – we were physically close, emotionally linked, driven crazy with chemistry – yet I don’t know those men anymore.”

One reader, Cary, was insistent that the easiest way – the only way – to truly get over an ex was the most cliched. “When we do fall in love completely and without reservation, all the dust that still swirls around the old flames will settle and the air will clear.”

Or will it? One reader wrote in with this, “I was just starting to date a guy in college and still not over my former crush, and I asked my mother, ‘Mom, is it wrong for me to be dating Brian when I’m still not over George?’ To which my mom, who has been happily married to my father 35 years, replied: “Of course not. I’m still not over Wayne Jordan. But don’t ever tell your father I said that.”

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