Garrett Schlichte

Staying friends with my ex is hard. Here’s why it’s still worth it.

Garrett Schlichte
Staying friends with my ex is hard. Here’s why it’s still worth it.

Originally published by The Washington Post on January 28, 2016

I wasn’t particularly offended when my boyfriend told me: “You wouldn’t make a good pastor’s wife.”

But I was confused.

I’d spent 13 years in the closet as a student in private Catholic schools, so I felt like I’d been training for such a role my entire life. I could organize a church bake sale and Sunday school talent show with the best of them. And yet, here I was on the H4 bus heading downtown, being told by my openly gay preacher boyfriend that I wasn’t marriage material.

Having binge-watched all six seasons of “Sex and the City” in my sophomore year of college, I knew what I needed to do. I needed to get elbows deep in some greasy diner food, throw back a couple of Cosmos, then plop myself down in a booth at an extremely exclusive yet somehow accessible club.

Or, in 2016, just reactivate my Tinder profile. Simple enough.

What I did instead was go out and get drinks with the man who had just broken my heart. Not so simple.

The difficult part about loving someone is that, even after you break up, you don’t immediately stop loving them. And he wanted to remain friends.

When those words came out of his mouth, I could almost feel the collective eye roll of every single one of my best friends glaring at me from the dark corners of the bar. But I wanted to be friends, too.

Not the type of let’s-get-drinks-but-never-really-get-drinks friends. Nor the kind who hate-favorites his new beau’s tweets about how happy they are together. But real friends who care about and love each other — because, for months, that’s what we had been doing.

Thus began my attempt at the most daunting of social challenges: being friends with an ex.

There are a number of ways to approach this, but the first rule, I learned, is the most critical and the most difficult: You’ve got to stop kissing them. This sounds simple, but in reality it’s like asking Hillary Clinton to turn down a speaking fee from Goldman Sachs.

That means not making out when your “song” comes on at happy hour, which I’ve done more times than I’d care to admit. And certainly don’t sleep in the same bed afterward. Oops, failed there, too.

After a few consecutive weekends of bar make-outs, I decided it was time to take my own advice. We stopped hooking up and made space for a friendship. After three months of being officially broken up, we decided to spend New Year’s Eve together — just the two of us at a neighborhood bar.

I did this partly to see whether I was up to the challenge, but mostly because I knew it was going to be my last night with someone who had become one of my best friends. The next day, he was getting on a plane to move across the country. Not knowing when we’d see each other next was enough of a reason for us to ring in the new year together.

The only moment I second-guessed my choice was when a slightly tipsy woman turned to us at the bar and said we made a very cute couple. We smiled and didn’t correct her, but it did hurt to hear that. I quickly downed the rest of my champagne, still not regretting my decision.

The ball dropped, we cheers-ed to the New Year, and kissed on the cheek.

On one hand, we kissed so we wouldn’t look like the only two losers at the bar not showing affection on New Year’s Eve. And on the other, it was a sweet moment between two friends, wishing each other the best for the year ahead. Without discussing it, we knew a kiss on the mouth was out of the question. I think you get seven years of bad first dates for something like that.

Three hours later, we were holding hands and quietly crying as I drove him to the airport. Between long deep breaths, we promised each other we’d call every Tuesday. It had been our date night while we were together, then our friends-night-out after breaking up. We also said we wouldn’t go a day without texting. For now, we’ve kept both promises.

The next step — and I’m still working on this one! — is to be genuinely happy for my ex and his new boyfriend. I’ll have to remind him to reciprocate when it’s my turn.

My ex is probably right that I wouldn’t have made a good pastor’s wife, especially considering that this Halloween I dressed up as sexy Chuckie Finster from “The Rugrats.”

But I do think I make a good pastor’s friend, and that’s enough for me. Besides, who do you think the pastor drinks with when his wife ruins the bake sale?