Photo via @catherinejkim
In the 12th grade, I started dating my best friend’s ex-boyfriend, because I was lonely and he was conveniently there in his blue-eyed grandeur. She cried herself to sleep the night that I told her my feelings for him were more than I was able to turn off, and the next day at school was the first day that we were no longer friends. I’ve reconnected with her on and off in the years past but I don’t think she ever really forgave me, maybe not so much for falling for him, but for putting him before our friendship. I violated the Sisters-Before-Misters mantra. Though, in those years this mantra felt more like of a joke to me than a real sentiment. The rule itself was never far from conscious thought in scenarios where I put men first, and it made rational sense. For instance, I didn’t resent this girl for defriending me in the 12th grade. But the reason that she did didn’t resonate with me on a deep enough level for me to really understand the philosophy that warranted it. I went on to have the summer of my life with the boy I chose over her and would’ve kept going had he not broken my heart in the fall.
I’d like to tell you that the reason I’m writing this essay, four years later, is because the philosophy is no longer a joke, and in fact makes perfect serious sense. However, as I dissect it in adulthood, I’m understanding that it’s more of a learning process than a revelation. The philosophy isn’t literally “thou shall not date your girlfriend’s exes” by the way, unless that is a stipulation of your personal girl bonds and I often find it is, but rather it’s an unspoken respect towards the incomparable connection that is female friendships.
I thought I was starting to finally understand this recently, having moved into a home with four female roommates after years of being the only girl in a group of guys, and having the odd female friendship. Rather suddenly, I’ve found myself surrounded by feminine energy on a daily basis; a built-in group of girlfriends. We get drunk and dance around together, eat dinner together and share each other’s clothes: all the things that I imagined groups of girlfriends did. I’ve been obscenely grateful for the circumstances that made this possible because I haven’t had a group of solely female friends since the 8th grade and I’m realizing that I really missed it.
Of course for that reason too, I’ve been paranoid that I would somehow mess it up before it had a chance to develop any permanence. And then I slept with my roommate’s ex-boyfriend.
I didn’t really go out my way to do this. The short version of the long story is that he’s my ex-boyfriend too (for a much shorter period predating my roommate’s two-year relationship with him). I’ve remained friends with him for three years now and he is also the reason that I was able to move into this house: I took his room when they broke up.
Photo via @sophia.joan.short
Similar to the first time that I made a claim to a friend’s ex, this boy was there when I was lonely, in his green-eyed grandeur. I didn’t plan to sleep with him, though I could feel the sexual pull waxing on me with each additional drink the night that it happened. I wasn’t fighting it, but yes the thought that my roommate might be hurt by it crossed my mind more than once. I tried to suppress it. I thought maybe I didn’t have to tell her, because he was my ex too, and maybe that meant this was all happening in a separate narrative from my relationship with her.
Needless to say, it wasn’t as easy for my conscious to believe any of these things in the rational hours of daylight. When I returned home from the drunken evening in which I regressed my behaviour, I felt uncomfortable in my roommate’s presence. I felt that I was harbouring a secret, and perhaps this comes down to my own personal philosophy: that I can’t be truly intimate with any person that I’m keeping secrets from. I realized in the few days that I contemplated omission for self-protection, how badly I wanted the opportunity to have that intimacy with her. So I confessed, nearly in tears and to the belief that she might ask me to move out.
None of the following explanation is meant to exempt myself from you, the reader, in particular, if you are a female-identifying person who has always understood the philosophy in which I am striving to make my own. But for context, I consider it relevant for you to understand where I am approaching this from. I told my roommate that this regression with (our) ex-boyfriend was an echo of a compulsive inclination towards male attention that has marked much of my past, and which I am actively trying to put behind me. I had already told her, in numerous vulnerable conversations about our comparable dating behaviours, that I have often put men before women in scenarios where romantic attention is on the line. That attention had seemed to me for so long to be much stronger and much more immediate than any platonic affection a girlfriend could offer me. Though it was similarly unsustainable, and for just as long I struggled to understand why. I assumed that there was something wrong with me, but made no real effort to change my behaviours. Which I guess is how I got here, I told her. And by here I mean the first time in my young adult life that I’ve had any durable understanding of the value of female friends.
I had begun to feel only recently, a giddiness, and contentment around these girls, that paralleled the addictively exciting feelings that I’ve chased romantic partners for in the past. The difference was largely, that the cost for those feelings was nothing other than being myself. The relationship I have with my roommates is not dependent on any external variables, is not transactional, or performative. I have intensely joyous evenings with them that feed my energy levels, and when I wake up in the morning, they’re still there. I haven’t known them long enough to say that I love them, but I think there’s a certain kind of love that’s built on this foundation. The incomparable bond between female friends is that of comfort and unrelenting trust. But maybe, in some instances, that trust can grow out of forgiveness.
My roommate was not angry with me for having slept with her ex-boyfriend, it wasn’t the sex that bothered her. And she didn’t feel it necessary that I move out of the house. If anything, it made her weary that I knowingly did something that might have hurt her. But she did not find me irredeemable because of it. What bothered her more than anything else, was that she was being excluded from a relationship she could not partake in. The more time that I spent with him (and with another one of our roommates I might add) in which she could not participate, the further she felt from me. She told me that It may take her longer to trust me, and subsequently develop a closeness, but that she still believed it was possible. Which is yet another reason that I’ve resolved to continuously apply myself to prioritize my relationship with her and my other roommates, as well as to my sister and mom, and any other female relationship in my life.
As anything that matters, this is easier said than done, but I see now more than ever how much it is worth it.
(Personal essay by Contributing Editor, Emma Johnston-Wheeler)