It is a truth universally acknowledged that "sex with an ex" falls somewhere between "crush on a co-worker" and "affair with a married man" on the great Don't Go There continuum — an emotional quagmire, best avoided if you know what's good for you. You're playing with fire, psychologists admonish would-be repeat offenders in their advice columns and call-in shows. It will only bring back a flood of emotions. Find someone new and keep that door shut, girlfriend.

With all due respect, I think the advice columnists are wrong: breakup sex is way underrated. Sure, it has the potential to be misleading and self-destructive, but so does a one-night stand with a total stranger. Under the right circumstances, I'd even argue that one last round in the sack can be an essential, healthy step towards the Holy Grail of all breakups: closure. Take it from me. I slept with my ex-husband three months after our divorce was final, and it was one of the best decisions of my life.

He and I had been lovers all through college and married the month after graduation. From then it took us three rocky years to admit that somehow the unthinkable had happened — we had woken up from the fairy tale as unexceptional twenty-five-year olds who fought more than we should, hardly ever had sex, and no longer had much of anything in common. Despite a mutual decision to sever ties, the incision was far from clean. I moved to California, and in my absence, he took up with my best friend. I broke down, spent a month in bed, and when I finally emerged from my gauzy stupor I told him to stop calling me. Months passed when our only communication was brisk emails about practicalities. Slowly, tremblingly, I established a separate life for myself thousands of miles away from him. It was only after all the paperwork had been stamped and filed, and my life had started to take recognizable shape, that I was able to admit to myself that I missed him.

I didn't tell anyone about this. I already knew how my friends would react.


We started corresponding again. Slowly at first, just emailing funny things we'd read or heard, but soon we were Gchatting and texting four or five times a week, and sometimes talking on the phone late into the night. I didn't tell anyone about this. I already knew how my friends would react — sternly remind me how much he'd hurt me, how hard it had been to get over my emotional dependence on him — and I was afraid that they were right. Even though I enjoyed my long conversations with him, I didn't trust them, and I couldn't shake the guilty feeling that I was cheating on my new self with my old one.

Ten months after our breakup, I was back in town and called to see if he wanted to get a beer. I used the pretext that I needed some stuff from our old house, but really I just wanted to see him, find out where things stood between us. I took certain preventative measures: I asked him to meet me in the early evening at a bright, family-friendly brewpub and picked clothes and makeup that made me look good, but not like I was trying. In case I tried to do something regrettable, I took out an insurance policy by arranging to meet my most judgmental friends at a nearby bar two hours after I was set to meet him. Keep that door shut, girlfriend.

He was (characteristically) late. As I waited in a black vinyl booth, I tried to divine the source of my sudden nervousness. We knew each other better than anyone, but I didn't know how I would feel when I saw him, and it scared me. I needn't have worried. He was just the same, or nearly so — his thick Greek hair was slicked back into a bun. Gross, I thought, and relaxed. This person sliding into the booth across from me was no threat to my equilibrium.

We started out with pleasantries — gossip, biographical tidbits, things we'd been reading, just two old friends catching up. But the conversation turned personal somewhere into our second beer. We talked about the ups and downs of our six-year relationship, the strangeness of dating and sleeping with other people, the emptiness of making out with strangers at parties. Our friends had encouraged it of both of us, and I told him it always made me feel that much more alone. He nodded understandingly; I'd forgotten what a relief it was to have a conversation with someone who always knew what I was talking about. Two hours passed in a blur, and as our intimacy deepened, I was glad I had a reason to leave.

He insisted on walking me to the next bar. I was grateful for the lingering June light as we dawdled in front and shared a long goodbye embrace; there were no shadows or dark corners to get lost in. I savored his closeness, but then remembered myself and quickly took my leave. Inside, I found my friends and made my way over to them in the dimness. They were suspicious of my buoyant mood (they'd been expecting tears, venom, the usual), but were cautiously happy for me when I told them how well things had gone. Someone handed me a beer. Someone else started telling me about her new boyfriend. Soon I was wholly caught up in the social whirlwind, and was on my next drink by the time I noticed I had a new text message. That was such a nice talk. Thank you.

I smiled, then checked to see if anyone was watching. They were not. I decided to test the boundaries. I'm gonna admit this to you in the spirit of honesty. I seriously thought about trying to have breakup sex with you, but it seemed way too self-destructive.

He texted back immediately. Yeah I thought about it too. You're looking good these days. But I agree. Too much attached.

So he had thought about it. And he thought I looked good. I was flush with success. More time passed. More pitchers were consumed. More people came. The party moved to a dive bar down the street. It was after midnight when my phone buzzed again. In the spirit of honesty... how averse to being self-destructive are you?

Ohmygod.

Commentarium (55 Comments)

Sep 29 09 - 1:16am
sk

That was... lovely.

Sep 29 09 - 2:58am
kb

that was so gracefully well-written, you rock Anna

Sep 29 09 - 3:07am
BM

Wait, but, you didn't actually have ex-sex! This essay should be titled "in defense of tiptoeing up to the edge of ex-sex, then freaking out and running away"

Sep 29 09 - 9:08am
CG

They didn't freak out... it just didn't work. Thanks Anna for this essay... sometimes we really should face what's behind a semi opened door and then just close it.

Sep 29 09 - 10:05am
asu

It is a sad comment on one's life and emotional maturity when drunken fumbling followed by losing your shit is described as "one of the best decisions of my life". It is even more depressing to find that kind of passivity in the face of conviction and temptation celebrated as a kind of catharsis, a way of giving meaning to the period after a relationship, and worse still to find that it merits publication for an obviously tawdry audience who can only sing its praises.

May 01 12 - 10:15pm
TLB

I believe she was sharing her thoughts and actions to encourage women who have felt the same feelings after a break-up. Also, do not discount the fact that women who have been through this do not typically find a sympathetic or understanding ear among friends or family. As articulate as you are in your comment, it does not compensate for your lack of simple kindness.

Sep 29 09 - 11:46am
ajw

awesome, Anna, and so brave to write this.

Sep 29 09 - 1:04pm
tmp

@asu - man, some people feel really comfortable sermonizing. what do you know about why the writer felt the way she felt? where's your empathic imagination? who died and made you pontiff?

Sep 29 09 - 1:32pm
z

wow.. that was an amazing piece, the best I've read on Nerve, and I've been reading here for years. You actually managed to bring some new insight to the subject, and it was deftly executed. well done!

Sep 29 09 - 2:11pm
MM

My favorite line: "In the spirit of honesty, how averse to being self-destructive are you?" Great piece! This has been one of my favorites on nerve.

Sep 29 09 - 3:01pm
et

Amazing piece, Anna. Enjoyed it so much.

Sep 29 09 - 3:15pm
jj

BM... i think you're wrong... they DID have ex-sex, she just didn't write about it. hence the line: "I slept with my ex-husband three months after our divorce was final, and it was one of the best decisions of my life."

Sep 29 09 - 3:17pm
DOB

Awesome, awesome, awesome.

Sep 29 09 - 4:06pm
dmm

What a great piece.

Sep 29 09 - 4:12pm
SG

Wow, this was the best thing I've read on Nerve (outside the advice columns) in many many months.

What a great piece -- so much better than the title indicated.

Thanks for a great read, Anna.

Sep 29 09 - 4:22pm
SG

p.s.: As for ASU's bizarre critique, it obviously says much more about their deep-seated issues than it does about the things they're ranting on.

Sep 29 09 - 7:05pm
ASU

SG, And what exactly does it say about my 'issues' that I find tales of silly drunken escapades imbued with more meaning than they are worth to be tawdry and not really all that worthy of praise? If a person achieves 'meaning' by getting too drunk to keep her convictions and then too drunk to wholeheartedly follow through with temptation, I'd say there is little there worthy of the title 'achievement' and even less that merits description as 'meaning'. But hey, what do I know, my opinion obviously doesn't matter because I disagree with the vapid majority and have 'issues'? So here is a challenge, if you want to change my mind say what was redeeming about this experience, what exactly made it worthy of celebration and what kind of meaning did the experience bring to the author's life. Answering just one of these questions with anything of substance would be a real challenge I think.

Sep 29 09 - 7:23pm
PLI

A great piece, well-written and insightful. I think we've all been in that kind of a situation of temptation of self-destructive behaviour (whether it's ex sex, cheating, a one-night stand, etc.) and it's true that sometimes you have to stand on the edge in order to realise you don't really have to jump.

Sep 29 09 - 8:25pm
JM

wow, that was really sweet! Life isn't a dimestore novel. If we live life well we make new and more interesting mistakes.

Sep 29 09 - 9:42pm
dp

ASU.....A human being had an experience and shared it with others. It happens all the time. Different readers got different things out of reading that experience. Some I bet did got nothing out of it and just moved along to other stuff. For anyone to take the time to ridicule that experience (twice) displays an utter lack of any sense of decency. It is also a tad hypocritical to be hanging around a 'tawdry' website catering to 'prurient interests' if you feel that way about it.

Sep 30 09 - 7:01am
SS

What dp said!

Sep 30 09 - 8:59am
asu

DP,
You are really the worst kind of bigot. The upshot of your comments is that one is only allowed to praise the personal experiences of others and, what is worse, the only legitimate reason for reading an article like this is entertainment. Let us be clear, nerve contains a lot of vapid writing and it obviously caters to an audience with an appetite for titillation. I don't object to that, I think it is fine, though tasteless. But I do object to writing that tries to redeem this appetite for titillation by imbuing it with a gravity it doesn't deserve. And when I see this kind of thing I point out that superficiality is not depth, drunkenness is not profundity and decision making is not passive surrender to the moment. I read for more than entertainment, from a website that bills itself as starting a discussion about love sex and culture: all I see is a lot of sex, lust confused with love and lowbrow culture. You may be satisfied with the status quo but when I read a pile of shit dressed up as something meaningful - I say so. To do any less is to deny the author honest criticism and to self-censor one's own ' personal experience' of the article in an effort to play nice with the other readers. Criticism is not 'mean', its legitimate and necessary - people who don't understand that are too thin skinned to be writing for public consumption.

Sep 30 09 - 10:51am
gh

hey ASU, you sound like you've really figured out everything there is to figure out about love and life. awesome! congratulations!

Sep 30 09 - 11:00am
asu

gh, I made no claim to have done so. If you are getting this from my posts your reading comprehension skills may need more refinement.

Sep 30 09 - 11:18am
gh

what i'm getting from your posts is that you're an arrogant dick who feels no compunction lecturing other people about the validity of their subjective experiences.

Sep 30 09 - 11:34am
gh

Validity? Who said anything about validity? In fact can you say what makes a subjective experience more or less 'valid'? I'd like to know the answer. In any case I think you confuse arrogance with an inquisitive and critical nature. I asked for, and failed to receive, a post correcting my impression of the article. Instead what I got is ridicule and people jumping to wild accusations about my 'issues' or my knowledge about life and love. Ridicule, I might add, that doesn't speak to the subject matter of my posts and which isn't defended when I challenge it. You impale yourself on your own criticism when you lambast me for being rude and then see fit to call me a dick and adopt a sarcastic tone. If you want to correct me, fine. But give me something more than some vague presumption that personal experience is beyond reproach and that it is up to the individual to imbue anything with whatever meaning they want. That kind of thing is tripe - the meaning of events is subject to critique and even if it were up to the individual to imbue meaning to each and every event, that is not to remove it from be criticized for being superficial, rude or even arrogant. The latter, at least seems to be a fact that it not lost on you anyway.

Sep 30 09 - 11:48am
gh

asu, i think you just signed off as me. the writer wrote tenderly and honestly about a mistake she almost made, and how it helped her to move into a new stage in her life. your reaction makes it sound like it was a frat-party prank. have you ever gotten drunk? have you ever made a mistake?

Sep 30 09 - 11:57am
asu

You are right I did.I'm sorry. Of course I have and so I am questioning whether she took away the right lesson from that experience. when my daughter tells me that a boy in school told her he wants to 'bang' and that meant he thought she was cool, I correct her as naive. When grandma says that he salesmen has a nice face and so that means he is honest, I correct her and tell her that way of thinking is gullible. And when a friend or stranger says that the fact that she cried after a round of drunken sex with an ex means she is really over-him and the emotional connection is really severed I question whether that isn't a merely superficial interpretation of her reaction and point out that if this episodes like this are the basis for deep meaning in her life it is a sad comment on one's existence. None of this is mean or snarky, just pointed, and all of it is meant to be constructive criticism it is not just a drive by personal attack. Further when I criticize readers for failing to say that this episode looks tawdry and superficial I enjoin them to improve their critical skills and be more concerned for the person than the 'validity of her subjective experience'. Do I still have 'issues'? Am I still an asshole?

Oct 01 09 - 12:16am
dp

People like ASU really don't make mistakes...it is usually someone else at fault. God help the people he interacts with in daily life.

Oct 01 09 - 12:21am
gh

no, that's a thoughtful response. but can you see how your consistent readiness to "correct" everyone around you could come off as arrogant? also, it's one thing if you know a person; it's another if it's a writer you've never met, who has more authority than you on the nuance of her own experience.

Oct 01 09 - 12:22am
gh

life doesn't always slot so cleanly into "right lessons" and "wrong lessons," "correct" and "incorrect." it's not that simple. i think it's presumptuous to imagine that it is--and moreover that you're qualified to be the arbiter.

Sep 30 09 - 2:26pm
asu

DP,
Well I try not to. And let us be clear, the author didn't admit to mistake she said it was a great decision. If you are calling her choice a mistake you are already on my side. Finally, you must also have ignored my last post where I admit to making mistakes and trying to learn from them. GH - I see how it could come off that way to a group of people at pains to preserve their personal view of meaning in the face of any and all criticism. I see how it could seem that way to people who confuse a personal attack with constructive criticism. But because I see those people as misguided and worse off for their oversensitivity and fragility I try not to cater to their neuroses. Finally, in your last post it is you who are oversimplifying; I didn't say all of life could be fit into such categories but I did treat the experience of losing one's shit while drunk and imbuing it with too much meaning as mistaken, and I still think that is appropriate. In fact I would go so far as to say it is paradigm case of confused and mistaken behavior - who could say anything different?

Sep 30 09 - 8:20pm
EZ

Why don't you go to cancun on spring break and get disinhibited?
it is a good cure. Sounds like he was good horseplay, though.

Sep 30 09 - 9:44pm
EB

ASU, I mostly agreed with you and was on your side until I realized you're just a little boy with a big head, trying to prove yourself. Obviously, this article made some sort of enormous impact upon you, being that it seems it's your goal in life to have the last word. Let it go, man.

Don't expect me to start arguing/conversing with you because I simply Stumbled onto this site and I'm about to Stumble right back off.

Oct 01 09 - 10:27am
NN

EB- You change your opinion of an article because you don't like the personality of someone who thinks the same as you do? You sound like a bigger IDIOT than ASU!!!!!

Oct 02 09 - 12:13am
MC

Brilliance.

Oct 01 09 - 5:34pm
EKA

ASU, I agree with your form of argumentation, and for the most part, also with the content. However, I think gh made a good point against what you are saying in that not everything is black and white. It is understandable that you, the parent of a young girl, do not wish a website to spread the message that drinking and making spontaneous emotional decisions can lead to something positive and life-changing. However, I would urge you to look past the drunken state of the protagonist, and listen to something else that she is saying here. Namely, that not all actions that others label as negative have to be so in real life. I think it is a small lesson in open-mindedness and the ability to challenge what all modern websites, friends and advisors preach about how love and sex should be. It is a lesson in not taking 'wrong' to be wrong at all times and in all cases. And a gentle reminder that sometimes it takes very little to realize what a great step in life we have made.

Oct 01 09 - 7:28pm
meg

Great writing, thank you for sharing

Oct 01 09 - 7:54pm
SH

"DP, you are the worst kind of bigot"

Actually, I think Hitler was the WORST kind of bigot.

Oct 02 09 - 1:03am
hb

I may no have critical skills...but I found thisa to be resonant with my own experience. Clearly, the protagonist drinks because she is socially constrained by her girlfriends, but during it she finds herself in an ambiguous position between emotional attraction and the dawning of realization that her attraction is only to a memory - not the actual person. So, we notice, with her, the long hair, the setting which has become off-putting, but yet the attraction to the familiar, the comfort of the known. As she discovers that the known has now become unknown, and that the known parts are now outgrown, so she stumbles in her desire to merge once more. She rises above sentimentality, and finds herself in the midst of the familiar and yet strange. This is not a story of a bad drunken decision; it is a story of engagement, repulsion, attraction, and finally resolution. Having experienced the same, I found her story truthful and resonant. I am not sure what emotional truth is anyway. Is anyone? To speak of a universal human experienceso honestly takes some courage, and some reflection. It may not be Finnegan's Wake, but it is compelling.

Oct 02 09 - 1:17am
hb

And on another note, I do find the overly faux-intellectual and self-absorbed preening of asu to be defensive and somewhat deserving of critique in itself. ASU - you do not seem to have read this well. The woman is inclined this way to start with. In her cautious way, she sets up a meeting with her friends to follow the meeting with her ex. She has anticipated her probable emotions. The drunkeness is a planned event - planned while sober. Even before drinking, which she does intentionally, the paradoxical emotions which she experiences are what she anticipates - so the drunkeness is not the reason for her decision, but rather the bridge to resolving the paradox...a bridge which she has built while sober. The final realization of the resolution to the paradox is a metaphor for the discovery of her self - the self which no longer is dependent, no longer needy, no longer longing. Please read the story again - carefully - and try not to overlay it with your own fears, or your own existential longings. And try not to sound quite so much like an underqualified instructor in a junior college in Alabama.

Oct 02 09 - 7:24am
asu

HB -Sigh. Faux-intellectual huh? The charge is fine, I suppose, though I wish you would elaborate more since I have no idea how it is to apply. It is hard for me to believe though, that the charge should be leveled in the same paragraph which contains phrasing like "The final realization of the resolution to the paradox is a metaphor for the discovery of her self" and later "existential longings". Lit 101 anyone? What I find strange is that you claim this was a decision not a surrender to the moment. It is clear that once the woman meets her friends her plans for the ex have already played themselves out. It is only later, drunk, that she changes her mind and plans to give in to temptation - it is the text message that prompts this and this is described as an unexpected and surprising event. So, please HB if you want charges like faux-intellectual and under-qualified instructor to stick, ensure that the reading you present of the article is true to the text. Being corrected by the very person you claim hasn't read carefully enough diminishes the force of all your claims.

Oct 02 09 - 7:25am
CB

SH - You confuse kinds with instances.

Oct 02 09 - 8:22am
hb

ASU -You are not much of a drinker, either, I see. Read the text. She is not drunk. She is just starting a second beer with her friends when she invites a different tone from her ex in her reply to him. The message from him is a thank-you. She initiates the sexualized discussion. The intimacy has been building. If you actually think that one more beer with her friends dramatically changes her level of intoxication, well...try to get out more. It ain't the liquor that leads to the decision, any more than it was the animal skins which led to her eventual rejection of this sexual encounter. And just for the record, she does not, in the end, give in to the moment. She rises above the temptation of the moment. That is the whole point of the story. Now, if you are going to respond, please point out where the text messages sent later are called an "unexpected and surprising event". Their communication has been builkding for months, and this is a sort of normal outcome after a date these days...a text, a tease, and maybe a tickle. Have a couple of drinks while you are reading back over the story, desperately seeking a sentence. Say OHMYGOD to yourself, and ask if it means that you have been surprised. The story builds tension. There is no sudden turnabout due to drunkenness. Now, as to faux intellectual, which you would like me to expand upon...by that I meant that you had pretensions to being a critical thinker, but had not cited the text, not provided a close reading, but rather had simply made a bald assertion as to the quality of the story, and claimed that it was tawdry..but without evidence. Sounds like first year to me. Especially as you scolded others...I normally would never belittle anyone, but you belittled so many people, I thought that I would read for the sources of your opinion. When I found no sources, I came to the only conclusion possible; you use intellectual sorts of words, but the fundamental tool that you use is to simply call names. You seem to have some emerging sense of irony (sigh), but you use it as a cheap rhetorical trick to undermine another, rather than engaging in what we have begun: A real discussion of the story referring to the text. With practice, you will get better at it. Oh, and my phrasing is somewhat complex...so? If there is something wrong with what I have said in the phrase, then say so. And provide evidence...otherwise, you are simply name-calling again. Anyway, you have taken enough time and attention on this thread. I enjoyed the story. The young woman does a wonderful job of engaging us and letting us in to her life, just for a little. Why don't you do the same, so that we can understand the roots of your judgmental temperament, and the reason for your arrogance and anger. If we understand you, we might even like you.

Oct 02 09 - 8:58am
ASU

I still take issue with your reading. To quote "More time passed. More pitchers were consumed. More people came. The party moved to a dive bar down the street. It was after midnight when my phone buzzed again. ...'Anna. Don't do this. There will be consequences.' (Bathroom-mirror pep talks are common for me when I've been drinking.... I weaved my way to a street corner" So much for evidence that she is drunk, the text clearly supports my interpretation. Lets us now move on to evidence for the claim that the decision to rise above temptation was hers, we will find that it is not. "I was so busy trying to concentrate on the task at hand that it took me a minute to realize that he had lost all enthusiasm for it...'I... I don't think I want to do this,' he said. 'I'm so sorry. It's just too weird.' That was all it took. My emotional floodgates groaned under the weight of it all: the sudden intimacy and rejection" Surely if she is the one "rising above temptation" there would be no reason to describe the ending of the episode as a 'rejection'. Being rejected is something that happens to a person, one is passive in the face of it. One does not decide to be rejected. -- Now it is true I didn't cite the text, but that is because I depended on my reader to have an accurate understanding of what was going on. It is only when someone makes claims that are as at odds with text as yours are that the need to cite is even raised as an issue. Further, to call something tawdry is just to call it shameful and indecent. No doubt we have all become used to reading about the sexual escapades of others, but the fact that we have become used to too much intimacy doesn't mitigate the fact that it is indecent. As far as shameful goes well the author admits to embarrassment and expects that she will feel recrimination, though in fact, does not. The episode is then at least a candidate for bringing on a feeling of shame (the author acknowledges as much) even if it doesn't quite elicit those feelings. But note, I argued via analogy with the daughter and grandma example that the lack of feelings of shame were not evidence of a true catharsis. I argued that the initial embarrassment and disappointment she felt were evidence of his not being over him and in my estimation that seems a more plausible interpretation of her feelings than the sudden 'realization' the next morning that she is over him. As such, I do argue for the claim that the episode is shameful and this supports my charge that it is tawdry. -- So to conclude, evidence is provided in the form of an implicit appeal to the text that only needs to be made explicit when mistaken interpretations are advanced. The claims I make are then bolstered by the analogy I provide via daughter and grandmother. This is followed by an appeal to plausible interpretation which doesn't seem to be stretch at all and which at least one poster found compelling enough to comment on. The ball is in your court, it seems obvious that my claims are supported by both evidence, argument and the text itself.

Oct 02 09 - 10:37am
NN

SHE IS TEH SUXOR! But still EPIC WIN for asu!!!!!

Oct 05 09 - 2:39pm
arb

ASU you used "it's" incorrectly. It's a sad commentary on someone who appears to take himself VERY seriously. Lighten up, Francis...

Oct 06 09 - 11:11am
ASU

ARB, No I used "its" incorrectly. If you are going to correct me, do it right. And, a typo is hardly a 'sad commentary'. Save your hyperbole for someone who isn't paying attention.

Sep 13 10 - 9:39am
katie121

ASU is a troll.

Oct 01 10 - 11:16pm
crackpatch

Yes, sure, I like it, Interesting and educational. Please continue to write more interesting post in your website.

Feb 08 11 - 4:50pm
timetraveller

I'm commenting on an ancient blog. :D Title was misleading. Abu needs to get laid, and anyone taking a "life experience" here as legitimate material should get out more.

All in all, been screwing my ex for 6 months. Been cordial, enjoyable, and fine... On my end at least. :)

Feb 18 11 - 1:58am
emerson

You can make mirrow of your blog on blogspot. This platform more easy for users

Feb 19 11 - 10:09am
serialkey

Wow and wow!

Mar 20 11 - 7:38pm
dcp

Don't get caught up in the presentation and superficial appearance of the article. There was a topic, which brought up fears and beliefs commonly held by people around the world. The story addressed that topic, clearly showing nothing but positive feelings about what happened, and all of the interpersonal details of the night serve to add a sense of reality and context to a lesson whose nuances could otherwise be misconstrued with disastrous results.

Your analysis was, by comparison, extremely shallow, as it failed to account for the depth of communication that can be realized by relating experiences rather than pure facts. In fact, at the risk of sounding arrogant myself, I'd say the experience she shared with us went right over your head.

A bit of advice for you: Calling others dumb won't make you smarter.

Good luck.

Oct 12 11 - 8:05pm
michelel

haha wow, totally agree.