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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?