As I was happily reading my round of internet gossip this morning, sitting in a generous leather armchair and precariously balancing both an Americano and a Chihuahua on my lap, I found an item that piqued my interest. Apparently, at some point over the last couple of weeks, Halle Berry got engaged to a French dude. And this morning, the New York Daily News reports that said French dude’s ex-girlfriend, famous Aussie chanteuse Kylie Minogue, recently took to the social airwaves and tweeted her enthusiastic congratulations to the newly betrothed couple.
It got me thinking: Can you ever really be completely happy for an ex?
I’m not very good at staying in touch with exes; after a breakup, I prefer a complete moratorium on communication for at least a few months. After that, I prefer to bump into them at parties – extra preferably while I have a hot date in tow and they have only an oversize beer for companionship. There’s something kind of depressing about those solo drinks or the midday lunch, sitting across a table from someone and engaging in small talk when you used to lie in bed together and have such high hopes attached to them. But then seeing him with an arm around someone else can be a completely different manner. It’s a reminder that we were happy once, and that he’s moved on and happy with someone else. If a breakup is a zero sum game – in the least mature terms possible, I know – then it makes me feel like I lost.
But then something changed. Not long ago, I was cruising Facebook when a picture of an ex popped up. In lovely early summer evening sepia tones, he was shot from behind, his right hand clasped with the left hand of a barefoot woman with long wavy brown hair. Even though I couldn’t see their faces, I knew they were happy when the photo was taken. A year ago, this photo might have made me feel like I’d been punched in the gut. This time, it made me smile. Since we broke up, I’ve found my own barefoot companion, who was sleeping in our bed as I surfed my social network. Being happy and in love, I was able to be happy for my ex.
I can’t say that there aren’t bittersweet aspects to ex love that won’t always linger a little. It’s impossible to forget your shared history, both good and bad. Time helps dull the edges, of course. But this recent little exercise reminded me of how hard it is to be generous, to be truly happy for others, when you’re ambivalent about your own circumstances.