Except I wasn’t fine. The same week I was diagnosed with mono, that accursed virus that seems to strike every pubescent between the ages of 10 and 19 at just the wrong time. Only I was 22, had just moved to a new city to start a new job and my first boyfriend had just broken up with me.
Exhausted, I submerged myself in the sadness. I rationalized that as long as I was feeling my feelings, it wouldn’t matter so much what those feelings were. Imagine crying in the dark after seeing a sad movie. That was me, except all the time. I cried while I was driving my car, and in the shower, and on the couch while watching “Gilmore Girls.” (Rory’s first breakup with Dean, in particular, slayed.) Later on, left to my own devices, I threw myself into new hobbies and art. If I tracked my ex and his goings-on, it was only from what I saw on social media or heard from mutual friends.
In the midst of this, my mother was developing a new relationship: with my ex’s mother. They discovered that they have a lot in common. They’re both in their 50s, enjoy rock music, go to the same church and live in the same small town. A 10-minute drive from each other, they were practically neighbors. The strange thing is not that they became friends; it was that they had never met before.
My ex’s mom was the first to take the initiative. Having seen each other at church, a few months post-breakup she asked my mother if she would be up for being friends. My mom told her that she would. Later my mom asked me if it was okay. “I wouldn’t want to do something that would hurt you,” she said.
At first I didn’t understand. I had met my ex’s mom twice before, once at one of his shows and once, memorably, in the dark on her driveway. She had seemed nice, but I was still not incredibly excited about this budding friendship. What happened to separating our lives and only hearing about him when I wanted to, on Facebook?
“But why? Why?” I asked my mom one night over the phone, after she had gotten back from dinner at their house. Weren’t there other women my mom could be friends with?
For the first time, I felt like I couldn’t get away from him. Moving away meant I didn’t have to see him in person, but it didn’t mean that I didn’t have to hear about him. My mom, I think, also wanted us to be friends. She encouraged me to reach out to him; I had to explain that I wasn’t ready. But that didn’t mean that his mom and mine couldn’t be friends. Once I recovered from the heartbreak, I was able to see that.
I told my mom: From now on, I am going to consider his mom our new neighbor. She is no longer my ex-boyfriend’s mother, but your neighbor and friend.
And that, fortunately, is how it has gone. When my mom mentions my ex’s mom, I no longer ask to change the subject; I ask how she’s doing. Though my ex and I have resumed sporadic contact, our main connection is through our parents.
I’ve learned that breakups are often messy and complicated, no matter how simple you try to make them. I didn’t intend for my relationship’s end to bring together my mother and his — but that’s what happened, and I’m glad it did. Together they’ve gone contra dancing, had their nails done and eaten dinner at each other’s houses. My ex’s mom and her spouse have expanded my parents’ social lives, and that’s no small thing.
I’m also glad that my ex and I broke up. My sadness was about me, not him. Moving to a new city meant that, for the first time, I had to rely on myself in a permanent way. It was more difficult than moving away to college or traveling alone for the first time. But now that I live in a place I love with friends I adore, I’ve grown in ways I never would have if we had stuck it out.
My mother’s friendship with my ex’s mom now reminds me of an evening when my ex and I were watching another band play. There was a group of older women in front of us talking and enjoying the music, and he said that they reminded him of his mother’s friends. I replied that they seemed like my mom’s friends, too. That was something we both got right.