Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.
Outside of the relationship that I am currently trying to
get over repair sort out understand, I haven’t really had serious relationships. That is, I’ve never dated anyone long enough for the relationships to coalesce into anything resembling depth. But looking back, I have several people with whom I had long-term, ongoing… arrangements… and I have grouped them in my mind as my retroactive exes.
My retroactive exes are a group of five or so guys from various parts of my life that I didn’t “date” for a variety of reasons — we were too young and in the closet, or I was too hung up on one thing or another, or… well, you get the idea. But each was someone I cared about and who helped create the person I’ve become. So I consider them retroactive exes, which means I get all the benefits of having exes — great memories, a history to reflect on — with none of the downside — namely, we never really had to break up.
Okay, not breaking up isn’t entirely clear. The first of my retroactive exes — we’ll call him Cornet Man — and I had quite the dramatic breakup, complete with a kiss-off letter (from him to me) that I saved for several years. But the sting of a breakup at 14 isn’t quite so sharp. We had a great year of best-friendship (with benefits) culminating in a week-long trip to Los Angeles. Looking back, it’s pretty amazing that my parents let me, as a freshman in high school, spend so much time with Cornet Man, who was a senior, never mind allowing us to take a week’s vacation together the summer after he graduated. We stayed with my brother, who by that point was a genuine grown-up, but my memory is that we were often on our own during the days when he worked.
That trip was important for us because it was wonderful… until it wasn’t. I don’t know what happened inside Cornet Man’s mind, but on the day we spent at Disneyland, something changed and my friend started being disagreeable. At dinner (with my brother and one of his friends), he picked a fight with my brother over something entirely inconsequential, and it was downhill from there. I don’t remember further conflict on the trip, but I don’t remember if we saw each other after we returned home. The aforementioned letter came not long after.
My friendship with Cornet Man was the direct product of my own scheming. The week before my freshman year of high school started, I spent my days schlepping my trombone around the high school parking lot learning the routines for marching band. Cornet Man was the first trumpet player, and in the pecking order of high school band he might as well have been the lead singer of a rock band. He had long hair and wore all black (more beatnik than goth), and I just knew that I needed to be his friend.
I’m pretty sure when I set out to be his friend, that was it, there were no ulterior motives. I still remember the day, after the start of school, when I approached him during band rehearsal and said, “I think you’re cool. Can you give me lessons on how to be cool like you?”
Sort of makes you want to puke, right? But it was the perfect opening, totally flattering, and we became fast friends. The benefits came later, but we were both so deeply in the closet that we didn’t do much (although what we did, we did often). Another side effect of the closet was that we didn’t talk about what we were doing except in the most oblique terms — hence, we didn’t think of what we had as a relationship. (So much so that he had a girlfriend for much of the same time, and I had a similar relationship going on with someone else simultaneously.)
Not having a framework for our relationship meant that the breakup, such as it was, really lacked closure. We saw each other occasionally during his college years (and, I think, even into my college years), in part due to a mutual dear friend. I even ended up introducing him to one of my classmates who became his first real, longtime boyfriend. But we never reclaimed the spark of friendship that had been so special during our first year of knowing each other.
I hadn’t heard from him in years. He’s not on Facebook and left virtually no trail on the internet, so even when I was feeling nostalgic, he was hard to track down. But about eight months ago, just as I began my relationship that just SEEMINGLY ended, Cornet Man spotted me on an online dating site. Apparently, I had looked at his profile and not recognized him, which is surprising, because he looks mostly the same (only with a grown-up haircut). He emailed me, and we met for dinner.
The reunion dinner was lovely. We met at a quiet waterfront restaurant on a weeknight, so it was mostly empty. We’ve both matured to the point where we were able to really talk about what had gone on between us in our youth, providing not only the necessary closure, but also establishing that we really could think of each other as retroactive exes. I got the sense that he was trying to feel out whether I’d be interested in attempting an adult dating relationship with him, but I carefully evaded that line of discussion. Partially, I was pretty sure that SEEMINGLY was the guy for me, and partially, no matter how much I think I could make a relationship with a non-Jewish guy work, I am not really eager to try.
I haven’t seen him since, although we have added each other to G-Chat and have exchanged brief IMs a few times. In the past week, I’ve thought about reaching out, but it would be for all the wrong reasons and wouldn’t be fair to him. So instead, I’ll indulge my worst nostalgic instincts and share these memories with you. And hey, you can’t complain. I gave you a video of Diana Ross covering Streisand, and the (mental) image of my 14-year-old trombone-playing Cassanova self at band camp. What can I say? I’m a giver.