“Throw the bums out!” Whether it’s a midterm election, a library after dark or one’s love life, the rallying cry appeals to the secret spring-cleaning obsession in all of us. Bagging the old and parading the new is a one-two punch that requires little sweat and makes us feel that much more fit. Throw 'em out and keep bobbing and weaving. But amid all the self-congratulatory back patting, no one contemplates the flip side of buyer’s remorse: nostalgia.
Tuesday night, as I watched the election results roll in with a free glass of chardonnay in my hand and a cadre of “young black professionals” at my back, I happened upon an old flame. In Washington, a small town staggering in big-city heels, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the dreaded ex encounter. Whether it’s a weekly happy hour, a birthday dinner or your regular brunch spot, if you have deigned to date in the nation’s capital, you have rehearsed the If-I-see-that-cat-in-the-club speech. Mine goes something like “So, I see you decided argyle sweater vests do look good on you … ”
Rehearsals, unfortunately, rarely prepare you for the really big show. The lights, the palm sweat, the “What’s my hair doing?” panic destroy whatever natural cool you’ve got going faster than menopause. Last year, when confronted with the question of whether to cease communication with this particular guy, I was as one-off-oriented as a GOP operative. He told me then that “things” probably weren’t working out and that maybe we shouldn’t “date, hang out one-on-one, have sex or whatever.” In the face of all those awesome non-options, my autopilot took over, busting into his explanation of our situation like an emergency broadcast system. “Okay, I get it. Thanks,” I wrote back on Gchat (yes, Gchat), and that was that. I threw the bum out (sort of) in favor of whatever was new on the horizon.
In the weeks to follow, I’d get a few halfhearted texts, e-mails with random links and Facebook wall posts that were either attempts at reconciliation or simply in the spirit of bipartisanship. But once my vote had been cast in the gtfohwtbs (Google it) column, there was no turning back. Sadly, the results reminded me of a nearly identical situation with a guy who readers of my book Bitch Is the New Black know as Dex, who once told me after a marathon session of radio silence that I had “won.” I asked my best friend what, pray tell, I had won besides a broken heart, and she said, “It’s like that Monopoly game at McDonald's, dude. Nobody ever wins.”
On election night, as I stood face to face with the snap judgment I made months before — cutting someone off and never looking back — I felt childish. I had my reasons, of course. Good reasons that involved saving face and picking mine up off the floor.
But that was about nine months ago, practically the same amount of time we’d been “together” in the first place. Hadn’t my silence lasted long enough? If every good thing ended in marriage, I’d be Elizabeth Taylor, and if every not-so-good one ended in bitterness, I’d be starring in something Tyler Perry made. Voting up or down on a sideways relationship doesn’t make any sense.
After nearly a year of ups and downs with Dex, with whom I reconciled only after calling him “crazy pants” in an interview, the nostalgia for our friendship — minus all the major fails of our misguided relationship — crept in. Sure, he once told me that “cognitive dissonance” was to blame for our issues, but then again, there is only one other person on this planet who thinks adding “your butt” to the end of a sentence at inappropriate times is absolutely hilarious. Cutting him off for a while helped me recognize his value as a friend (making me laugh and listening to my minutiae).
The same goes for my last inevitable ex encounter. After a few false starts, I powered through whatever kind of “conversation” you can have in the club and ended up on the other side of resentment: reminiscence. And when you allow yourself to focus on all the big wins (in the course of those nine months since we stopped speaking, I learned to ask someone for help and got another passport stamp) as opposed to all the defeats (I still hate the phrase “Let’s talk”), then things start to balance out. Because throwing the bum out with the bath water isn’t the same as cleaning house. Relationships — romantic, platonic or political — aren’t always instantly gratifying.