chex and balances

Originally published April 9, 2005

The other night I was out with friends, and talk among the married folk turned toward the love lives of we singletons. Why? Because married lives don't interest even the married. When it came my turn, my "type" was discussed. Terrell used a visual aid, pulling her hair back into a knobby little brown ponytail.

"Brown ponytail," declared Dorkass.

"Brown ponytail," said Jill in near unison.

And thus was swift judgment rendered. I felt stereotyped.
"All I'm looking for," I said with great gravity, sipping my bourbon for effect, "Is a girl who's read Tolstoy and who can turn a double-play."

And the stunned ahhs rang out around the table. Daaamn. I don't know anyone like that. Pleased with myself for having mounted my perch above them all, I smiled in smug silence. Yet I knew I would have to atone for this moment later.

That moment came with distressing speed. The next morning, I tried my line on my ex Allie. "All I'm looking for," I repeated, "Is a girl who's read Tolstoy and who can turn a double-play."

"Ca-righst almighty," she snorted as she laughed. "You've never even picked up Tolstoy, and you hit into double-plays more than any other 10 men I know."

"I know."

"Why didn't you just say 'brown ponytail?'" she said from under her brown ponytail, now accented with flecks of grey.

This, for the uninitiated (and Maria), is what being friends with an ex is like. If you can get over the blame hump, which honestly takes at least a year of buffer time, if your current SOs can get over the jealousy hump, and most of all, if you were great friends when you were a couple, you can grow a friendship unlike any other. It's flat-out closer. You know one another eerily well, right down to what you've read and how you hit a softball. You know where one another's buttons are better than you know your own, and on special occasions, you lean on those buttons for the pure evil joy of it. You know how your closest friends will open your fridge and ask if they can have a drink? Exes don't ask. And they'll go a step further, adjusting your thermostat to their liking as soon as they enter your home. Politeness rituals long ago worn away during your romantic era, they say the bluntest things—but they say them out of love, so you prize it. If you're stranded, they have to come get you no matter how inconvenient it is, and you don't feel the slightest bit guilty. Ditto with your bail if you're jailed, although it hasn't come to that for me yet. And they still have to give you rides to and from the mechanic. One of my favorite features.

I've seen two exes get married. More than that are married, of course, and all seemingly to a man named Gary, but I was actually present at two of the weddings. (And even invited to one of them! [rimshot!]) I was oft asked how I felt. How did I feel? Happier than I would for any friend, any family member. I don't know how a dad feels on his daughter's wedding day, but I imagine it's the closest analogy. I felt pure joy for these women and their happiness—and I felt like a proud investor in that happiness, an integral participant in the formation of the human being dressed in white. No matter how close a typical friendship might be, I never feel that.

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If you haven't seen it, allow me to introduce The Ex Files (sidebar), which serve as a repository for some of Allie's best lines.