Exes Forever: What's Up With the Gays and Our Exes?

"Your ex-boyfriend came to Berlin with you? On vacation?" My otherwise jaded friend is a tiny bit scandalized.


"And you and your boyfriend stayed in the same Airbnb apartment with him?"

"Ja! Along with another friend." I am beginning to sound defensive.

"And you all went to Berghain on New Year's Eve."

"More like New Year's Day. But yes. And my current boyfriend's ex arranged the tickets. Berghain is hard to get into, especially around that time of the year, you see."


"Actually, it was my boyfriend's ex's current boyfriend who arranged the tickets," I confess. Sigh!

My straight girl friend is finding this hard to metabolize. Why are we gays so OK with this?

"OK with what?" I fake disbelief at her disbelief.

"With this! The ex situation," she emphasizes in a higher pitch.

That conversation is why I am writing this post. Also, I am writing this to tell my dear friend (who is reading this, I know) that my boyfriend's ex's ex is also a good friend now, and we all hang out every so often.

So what's with the gays and our exes? How come we are usually friends with them, and why does it seem so easy-breezy, for the most part?

Most of us gay people grew up without a template for how to do relationships. For most of us, until we moved to New York City, San Francisco, London or Berlin, everywhere we looked we saw boy-girl, mom-dad, boyfriend-girlfriend. We had to invent our own models for relationships, our own sometimes-beautiful, sometimes-fucked-up models. No one taught us the rules of relationships. I guess that means no one taught us the rules of breakups either.

I have a friend who introduces his current wife by saying, "Meet my first wife." Maybe we do relationships the same way, except he is usually kidding (I think!). By the time we are 35, we realize that if we broke off our friendships with all our exes (and there's usually more than a couple of them), we would soon have very few friends left!

Is it possible that we do believe in the forever fantasy of a relationship, just in a different way? I find it hard to understand how and why, if someone was the near-center of my universe for two or three or five years, I would want to eject him completely from my life and never want to see him again after we break up -- unless, of course, the breakup was of the completely ugly variety.

Let's be honest: The forever fantasy usually equates the end of a relationship with a certain kind of failure, which comes with a side serving of shame. And who better symbolizes that shame than the ex? But gay people weren't expected to have long-term stable relationships in the first place. A lot of us still don't. And that's OK. But is that why a failed relationship doesn't carry the same level of shame for us? Enter the shame-free gay ex! (Besides, there's plenty of shame to be dealt with from other quarters, anyway.)

Being friends with your ex certainly makes many things easier. For example:

  • The most difficult fights and arguments in that friendship have all already happened.

  • Your ex, now your friend, will be the first to tell you when you are dating someone who is just wrong for you. And he will be right.
  • Things you forgot to pick up after the breakup are still within reach!
  • If there was a moment in my life when I decided that from that point on I would be friends with my exes, I can't remember it. Or maybe I was out having dinner (with an ex?) when I received the memo saying, "Thou shalt not befriend who thy hath once lain with."

    Then again, we gays missed a lot of memos. We will not go into those here.

    With gay marriage becoming the thing that you do if you're gay, things may indeed change. The gay-divorce attorney is a business niche that isn't completely occupied yet. And once it is, maybe we will look at our exes differently. When you have spent many hours in courtrooms and thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees, the prospect of being friends with your ex may not seem so hot anymore. There is, thankfully, some time until we get there.

    I must leave you with that thought because I need to arrange that tux for my boyfriend's ex's ex's big fat gay wedding. Or maybe I'll just borrow one from my ex.