Bad idea to contact an ex from another lifetime?
November 2, 2011 7:23 AM   Subscribe

This is yet another contacting-one’s-ex question. I will try to avoid cliches as much as possible and will do my best to jump to the marrow of this somewhat complicated tale.

The cast includes my ex, X (a man); myself (a woman); my husband, Z; X’s wife; and a mutual friend. Everyone except from Z is originally from “the old country”, but we are now scattered all over the world.

X and I were the center of each other’s universe from the ages of 14 to 17. (Sorry, that’s cheesy already... I almost threw up a little just typing that.) It was all rather adorably awkward in a Zooey Dechanel comedy sort of way, as we were two introverts who sucked at courtship and words and emotions. Had we had more time (and either a whole lot more or a whole lot less maturity, who knows), we would have probably gone further physically; however, suffice it to say that things stayed rather innocent.

And then the Balkan wars of the early 1990s started and our world imploded. Our parents sent us elsewhere to safety. We ended up on different continents and completely lost touch. That was approximately 20 years ago.

So here I am today, in my adopted country, cocooned in a delicious marriage to an awesome guy, Z. Z is, without a doubt, The One. I love him in a much steadier, deeper, more rooted way than I ever loved X, and can’t even begin to imagine my life without him. I am happy.

And finally, here comes my actual question. X and I haven’t had any contact in two decades, and every once in a while that kind of gnaws at me. We used to be, first and foremost, such excellent friends, and I hate to think that that’s really gone for good. I’d like a Facebook-type relationship where we “like” pictures of each other’s vacations, babies, and kittens--all this with an ocean between us, and an understanding that we are in a totally different emotional place now and that we will probably never see each other in person again. And yet, I am not sure whether contacting him is the right thing to do.

X is married with children; I know this through a friend we have in common and with whom I reconnected several years ago. This friend also happens to be the godmother of X’s children and a very close friend of his wife. X is not on Facebook, but his wife is. I do not know X’s wife, though I did know of her in my “old” life (again, just as a friend of our mutual friend). So, surely I should not contact her via Facebook? ...The only other option I can think of involves asking our mutual friend for X’s contact information; however, that also strikes me as open to misinterpretation.

Please give me your honest feedback. If you were X (and/or X’s wife), would hearing from me be strange? Were you in a similar situation (well, perhaps minus the war) that either did or did not work out well?

Last but not least, let’s not forget to mention my ridiculously handsome and excellent Z. Please assume that he is perfectly comfortable with this, as he knows to whom my heart belongs.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I sort of think you're overthinking this. You were 14-17 years old. You're not so much ex-lovers as ex-childhood best friends. People get in touch with old childhood friends and classmates on Facebook all the time. If you were really good friends, I don't think it would be strange to do it through his wife.
posted by unannihilated at 7:28 AM on November 2, 2011 [15 favorites]

I would not contact X's wife. I would, potentially, contact X himself in a neutral way that doesn't require him to respond immediately or at all, like email.

You have a mutual friend, it's totally fine to ask for X's email address. You were kids together, yes, you dated, but it was a long, long time ago in essentially another life. Don't email him expecting a response, don't email him expecting the friendship you once shared, don't email him expecting he's going to necessarily want to have anything to do with you. But I don't think there's anything wrong with emailing him to say hi.

Leave his wife out of this, though, contacting her on facebook would be downright creepy.
posted by lydhre at 7:31 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

You are way overthinking this and —I'm sorry—your story, at least the portion relevant to your question, is not as complicated as you imagine it. The "world imploding" part must have been traumatic and I bet there are some biography-worthy aspects to that, but at root your question is not qualitatively different than the many, many, many other people who have pondered, "Should I friend my childhood sweetheart on Facebook?" There are tons of articles about it online and any of them would be relevant for your circumstance. People do it all the time, and sometimes their requests are accepted and sometimes they're rejected. It's not objectively weird. Go for it.

If you're at all interested...? I have ex-sweethearts from that same age on Facebook. One, I friend-requested and she declined. Another, I accepted her request but wouldn't have made the request myself. Emotions are as varied as people and experiences, even decades later. Quit overthinking it, don't get too excited if he accepts, and don't feel bad if he declines.
posted by red clover at 7:37 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you can friend X's wife on Facebook, particularly if you're already friends with the mutual friend on Facebook. I don't think that's weird.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:37 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, I'm agreeing with the others, and disagree with lydhre. You were childhood friends. You knew her (the wife), as well. You have a shared tragedy/experience that it would probably be healthy for all of you to reconnect over and remember the better times versus what tore your childhood apart.

Totally not a "we were romantically involved and heading towards marriage" situation. You're over thinking. Not creepy.
posted by rich at 7:59 AM on November 2, 2011

Yup, there's nothing weird about friending her. You can send a message along with the friend request explaining how you know that they are married, how you knew X, where/what you're up to now, and that you'd love to catch up with them.

My boyfriend is not on Facebook, and if I got a message like that, I wouldn't think twice about it (though I would check with him before accepting the friend request to make sure it was someone he would want to catch up with).
posted by amarynth at 8:11 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Rich, she specifically says she did not know X's wife, but knew "of" her. That's not enough of a connection, in my opinion, to warrant facebook friending in order to talk to X's wife about her husband.

Were I X (never mind the wife), I'd be weirded out to be contacted that way, when there is an easy and perfectly legitimate way for the OP to get X's email address from a mutual friend.
posted by lydhre at 8:14 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

The length of your question and the way you describe your connection to this man gives me pause because you sound guilty or ashamed, like maybe you are hiding something from yourself?

I think part of you is stuck back in time via the trauma of war. I think your deep feelings, at the core, have nothing to do with this man whatsoever. He's a symbol, a touchstone. I think you can work out whatever needs working out WITHOUT ever contacting him. Therapy, meditation, one or all of a million different healing and processing modalities - choose one or a few and get to self-work!

I imagine if he considered it appropriate, this man could have contacted you already through the godmother of his children. He didn't.

Self-work is the answer here to help you process and move forward in time. Drama is not the answer.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 8:29 AM on November 2, 2011

It's just facebook -- send the friend request to the wife, with a note explaining who you are, etc. People get weird out of the blue friend requests all the time. They can choose to do whatever they want with them -- accept, decline, accept them into a locked down group of no information, send them a nasty "how dare you contact me" message, whatever. What do you have to lose? If it works out, great! If not, try the next angle if that's important to you, but THAT might be creepy. Facebook, meh.
posted by cgg at 8:29 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hi, we have a mutual friend from [country], [friend's name]. She told me that you and X had gotten married. X and I were childhood friends in [Country] and I am happy to hear that he is well. I would love to get back into contact. Please let him know that I'm now married to [husband] and living in [city, country], working as a [profession]. It would be great to hear from you.

Best wishes,

posted by desjardins at 8:32 AM on November 2, 2011 [8 favorites]

I might actually contact X via snail mail and leave it at that. Provide your online contact info and see if the friendship is still there.

I see no issue with this, and as long as X's wife is open-minded person neither should she.

good luck.
posted by zombieApoc at 8:34 AM on November 2, 2011

Hi, I'm here with a dissenting opinion. I am Z. My wife and I have been together for 20+ years.

Two years ago, she reached out to her version of X, and it devastated me. She too was just curious, wanted him to see how well she was doing, how awesome our kids are, etc. Her motives were entirely pure.

It tore me apart, for reasons I can't explain. It sent me to therapy and nearly cost us our marriage. My stomach hurts just thinking about it.

Now, this certainly had more to do with me and my insecurities than anything about their relationship. I'm also one of those people who truly believes that ex-lovers can't ever really be "just friends," and a lot of people will disagree with me on that. And I strongly disagree with the notion that it's "just Facebook" - Facebook is a relationship in its own sense. It's daily contact and it can be very intimate in its way. Perilous.

Just think of Z, I guess is all I'm saying.
posted by jbickers at 8:51 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

jbickers - note she said that her husband is completely comfortable with it.

lydhre - I'm thinking more of people connecting that have a very strong shared experience, versus any romantic overtones..
posted by rich at 8:57 AM on November 2, 2011

jbickers - note she said that her husband is completely comfortable with it.

I thought I would be too. It hit me in ways I wasn't expecting. People are complicated and you don't always know for sure how they will react, is my point.
posted by jbickers at 9:18 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

People are complicated and you don't always know for sure how they will react, is my point.

I agree, and for this reason, I think you should only try to contact him and not her. For me and my relationship, I wouldn't think twice about a childhood gf contacting me to get in touch with my boyfriend for some reason. In fact, I would probably think it was kind of cool of her to do. But I definitely know people for whom it would immediately be unwelcome and they'd react in a pretty hostile way. People are different, relationships are different. Leave it up to him if he thinks knowing you is a good idea. You can even say something like, "I considered requesting your wife's friendship on Facebook, as I remember her from Hometown, but I figured that might be weird. I hope it's not too weird to reach out to you directly, just to say hi... etc."

However, I also kind of felt surprised at the end when this didn't turn out to be some sort of love triangle, just because of the way you spoke about him. Your relationship with your husband sounds great, and it sounds like you know that. But I agree it can't hurt to re-examine your feelings closely and make sure you understand your motives and your boundaries.
posted by juliplease at 9:29 AM on November 2, 2011

I’d like a Facebook-type relationship where we “like” pictures of each other’s vacations, babies, and kittens

I think if this were really true, that this kind of super casual and superficial relationship is all you really want here, you would not have such agita over this. You would have reached out to him a long time ago. I'm not saying you're some kind of calculating liar, just I think you might not be honest with yourself.

Language like this: "...this somewhat complicated tale." "The cast includes..." is something that I associate with drama. Actual drama, in a theater.

Bad idea to contact an ex from another lifetime?
X and I were the center of each other’s universe from the ages of 14 to 17.

"Ex from another lifetime" and former "center of each other's universe" are two pretty much opposite ways of thinking about someone to me. Are you wanting to have a superficial relationship with an old ex from forever ago, or reconnect to the former center of your universe? Be honest with yourself.

X is not on Facebook, but his wife is. I do not know X’s wife, though I did know of her in my “old” life (again, just as a friend of our mutual friend). So, surely I should not contact her via Facebook?

And this is another thing that makes me think that things aren't, deep down, as you frame them to yourself. If all you're after is a FB relationship with someone you knew from your past that you don't have strong emotions about/emotional attachment anymore ("understanding that we are in a totally different emotional place now.") then you would be also interested in friending the wife, as someone you used to know in your old life too. Instead of only interested in her as a conduit to him.

And this -- understanding that we are in a totally different emotional place now and that we will probably never see each other in person again. That "probably" makes me a little nervous, like you've already been fantasizing a little about meeting in person again.

I totally believe you that you have a great relationship with your husband and are totally in love with him. I don't believe at all that you are like deliberately lying to us about your intentions here. I would just say -- that twinge that's making you hesitate here, I think you're having that twinge for a reason. I think maybe you're not really examining your feelings here or being totally honest with yourself about them.
posted by cairdeas at 9:59 AM on November 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

As another datapoint, I was on facebook for a few years before my husband finally got on there, and I took friend requests that were meant for him all the time. I didn't think it was weird. I'm in an age cohort where facebook is mostly baby pictures, job updates, and funny link shares, so it's more like a rolling class reunion than where you have any serious conversations. So I'd get a friend request that would be like, "I believe you are married to Mr. McGee? He and I were friends in high school and I can't find him on facebook. I'm living in Tulsa, working as a doctor, with two dogs and a husband, I'd love to hear how he's doing. Cheers!" And I'd be like, "Hey, sweetie, did you go to high school with a Jessica Rabbit? Should I friend her?" "Oh, yeah, she was nice." And I'd friend her and send a note back saying, "Yeah, he's not on facebook, he's such a luddite, what beautiful dogs you have!"

I never considered it remotely weird.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:29 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

It was all rather adorably awkward in a Zooey Dechanel comedy sort of way, as we were two introverts who sucked at courtship and words and emotions. Had we had more time (and either a whole lot more or a whole lot less maturity, who knows), we would have probably gone further physically ...

This makes you sound a little bit fixated on your past relationship with him. Just the way you describe it ...

X and I haven’t had any contact in two decades, and every once in a while that kind of gnaws at me.

It sounds, as others have noted, like there's more going on here than you are admitting to yourself.
posted by jayder at 10:51 AM on November 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

I am married to a guy in your situation. What's particular about it is that as X's wife and as me, hey, we know you didn't really break up. We know it was the war that broke you up. In my case, my husband had a happy relationship that ended just because they couldn't travel to each other's location after he had moved here. What's more, I felt kind of insecure because this girl shared his culture, his trauma, his war experiences and has much more in common culture wise than I could ever hope (I'm not from the Balkans, I don't know if your husband is).

There is a difference between a relationship that fell trough because it just didn't work, and a relationship that didn't work because of external (tragic) factors. The second kind, to me, is to be treated with special attention.

I can tell you that my husband has consciously not accepted this particular ex's friend requests, and he has not made any contact with her, on purpose. FWIW we have been married for only three years, but after 20 years I think he'll probably have less interest in having her in his life, and I would probably be weirded out if it suddenly turns out that he had been thinking about her all along.

What's more, it really does sound like you have some not-strictly-friendship feelings for him, so I don't even know if it's good for happily married you to befriend him. At any rate, why don't you talk to your husband? If you guys decide it's OK, you can just send him an invite and see what X does about it. If he never replies, it's over. If he does, then just make sure you're careful!
posted by Tarumba at 12:03 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think it would be entirely appropriate to say to your mutual friend "I would love to get in touch with X, please pass my contact information to him and send him and his family regards from me and my dear Z." That way it's up to X, presumably in consultation with his wife, whether to contact you.

I am facebook friends with both my youthful crush (with whom I exchange the occasional "like" on a photo or post) and my first love (with whom I exchange thoughtful and informative emails in addition to the occasional "like" or whatever). It's entirely harmless and, nostalgia aside, has nothing whatsoever to do with the emotions my 16-year-old self experienced 30 years ago.

If that's the case for you, then go for it. If on the other hand if your desire to reconnect is linked to even a little bit more emotion than that, I would skip it. Before facebook our past was really in the past, and people got through life ok without it for hundreds of generations. It's not a necessity.
posted by headnsouth at 2:31 PM on November 2, 2011

I agree with Tarumba! There is an ex of mine from high school and slightly beyond, who has asked to be my friend on Facebook. We were on and off, even during other relationships, because there was never some huge breakup. I moved to college 500 miles away, we were 18 & 19, and things kind of fell apart. When we both moved back from school, it was like we were drawn to each other again. Now that I'm in a happy, committed, relationship and in my late 20s, I declined his request. I told him, "I'm glad you're doing well! It looks like you and your girlfriend are happy, as my boyfriend and I are. I don't think it's a good idea to be friends, but thanks for reaching out." I just don't see the point in possibly rekindling feelings I had for someone, potentially to the detriment of my present-day relationship. 18 feels a decade away, sure, but sometimes it's surprising to see how little some feelings have changed. Sure, I LOVE my life now. But that little taste of being a teenager again and talking to that person you loved so long ago can really mess with your head!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 4:27 PM on November 2, 2011

The length of your question and the sheer overwrought-ness of the language make me think there is far more to this than you are admitting to, but for the sake of your question I'll not take that tack. (Though I am compelled to note that for someone attempting to avoid cliche you threw like every single one of them that ever existed in here.)

This is easy. You do not know X's wife. You have a mutual friend. If you cannot ask this mutual friend for contact information to reach out to an old friend without being misinterpreted, how do you think it would come across to his wife?

And after twenty years, I really don't see the point of re-connecting on the shallow terms you've described. Perhaps it's because I'm not very into social networking but outside of nostalgia I don't understand your motivation or what you'd (either of you, really) would be getting out of it. And the fact that your mutual friend has never worked in any intermediary sense to assist in re-establishing contact means that he probably isn't even thinking about you, anyway. I don't see the harm in at least passing along your interest in re-connecting to your mutual friend but I doubt much will come of it. (Which may be a good thing.)
posted by sm1tten at 5:16 PM on November 2, 2011

Hmmm, everyone else is interpreting the admittedly dramatic wording of your question very differently than I would. Because I describe my first relationship in a fairly similar way (and we didn't even have a war!). I was just being theatrical about it at a friend the other night, in fact. And I absolutely don't have romantic feelings toward him anymore. I just remember the joy it brought me, and the intensity of those first feelings, and it makes me happy to remember it. And I was a pretty dramatic teenager, so trying to remember it as flat would be pretty dishonest.

I've been in contact with him off and on in the years since we broke up, and despite my immense fondness for the memories and good thoughts about him as a person, it always has been completely casual. Occasional brief e-mails every few months, comments on each other's posts every so often. I like him, but I love the time we spent together. Those are different things, and that was sixteen years ago. Even if I weren't quite happily married, even if we lived in the same city, I wouldn't try to date him again. I've changed, he's changed. The summer when I was 16 doesn't change, and the memories don't become less lovely as the years go by.

I don't know if this is your situation or not, OP. But I do know it's quite possible.

I don't think it would be at all weird to friend X's wife-- in the culture I live in. I don't know where she and X are now, and I don't know how unspoken social rules might differ there. That would be something you'd have to figure out. But if it were here within the realm of my experience, I would say that desjardin's answer covers it pretty perfectly. After all, you and X's wife may not have known each other, but you're from the same town, and you must have had some similar experiences. I would think that that, plus the fact that you used to be quite close with her husband and you're still friends with the godmother of her children, would be sufficient commonality to initiate a friend request. She doesn't have to accept. And if she doesn't, and even if you never speak to X again, you will always, as it were, have Paris.

Yes I do know I'm a dork. Nothing to be done.
posted by Because at 10:28 PM on November 2, 2011

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