It's Never "Just A Coffee" With An Ex

My best friend, Olivia*, recently called me up at midnight (because it’s impossible to have boy-trouble during the day,) to distress with me over her long, long-time ex, Chad*. We’re talking first kiss, first love, bike to each other's houses in the summer, their moms used to switch off for middle school pick-up, long time. And let me tell you, this boy is absolute trash.

Even after several (really, several) years of three-hour FaceTime calls to dissect his behavior, teary-eyed crisis calls in the middle of the night (see above) because she can’t sleep from thinking about him, pizzas ordered while we schemed out a plan, and many, (so many) tears shed, she still wants to apologize to him about how they fell apart.

When she called me about the boy we’ve been, for the most part, hating since we were sixteen and said she thinks she wants to get a coffee with him, I nearly lost it. Why the hell would she want to do that? She had finally cut him out, and here we were again, arguing over whether or not Chad is worth her time (he’s not.)

Chad is like a stubborn wart. You can freeze it, burn it, cut it away, but the wart will always regrow its ugly head. Chad has planted his roots deep in Olivia… this is past surgery. Apparently, warts eventually go away on their own. It’s a slow process— it can take years— but eventually, your immune system figures out how to get rid of it. Then, shrink! There it goes. No scarring, no burning, no knives involved. It slowly just goes away. There’s no way in telling when a wart will do this, that’s the tricky part. Time and patience are key… but it’s hard living with a wart.

Frankly, I was angry. I felt like a burnt-out therapist who thought my patient had finally kicked their gum stealing habit, only for them to plop down on my couch and say they’re thinking it would be a good idea to swipe a pack after our session was finished -- after the years that we’ve dissected why we shouldn’t steal gum, the steps we have to take to not steal it anymore, and how easy it is to simply not steal it. Of course, we’ve gone over (and over and over) why it’s very difficult to not steal gum. Gum theft is addictive. It’s the rush, the risk— it’s not the gum itself. The gum itself just hurts us. It’s bad for our teeth. But somehow we never learn. Now, here we are, piles of wrappers, dried up clumps stuck under the driver’s seat, and stacks of packs more in the glove box. Why, after all that work, does she want to steal another pack? Why not just buy an apple instead?

The hard-to-swallow pill is that she doesn’t want an apple. Most twenty-somethings don’t want an apple. As a twenty-something myself, I know it’s true. We say and romanticize how badly we just want an apple, a good-old apple. An apple that’s nice, caring, sweet, and thoughtful. Is that so much to ask? Sometimes, we’re handed an apple. But it’s too small, too bruised, too out of shape. It’s not our type of snack. It’s sweet, sure. Nice, too. Healthy. Good for our immune system. But it just doesn’t taste as good as gum. Later that day, we’re back in the store swiping our favorite pack, complaining about our toothaches.

I told Olivia that every girl our age has our own pack of gum. The one we keep going back to the store for. We’ve snuck it into our pockets and unwrapped each piece carefully, and it’s never what we want. But we keep stealing the same pack, again and again, thinking that one day, we’ll find an apple in those wrappers. The next hard-to-swallow pill is that apples aren’t made out of chewing gum. I finally accepted this simple explanation recently, and that’s how I’ve kicked my own gum-theft habit. It's how I started dating an apple, not trying to metamorphize my sticks of gum into one. The fact of the matter is, whichever way you cut it, that gum will never be the apple you need him to be.

One day, I had a choice to steal the gum again, just like it was my choice each time before, but I stopped to think about what the gum had done for me. Would the gum ever steal for me? Get dental cavities for me? Risk getting arrested? I saw that I was being reckless. I was stealing gum for god's sake. What did I think I was doing? Gum doesn’t even count as food. It was never going to satiate me. Enough was enough. No more wrappers, no more ghosts of old chewed-up lumps under the seat, and no more emergency packs in the glove box. I had to go cold-turkey… because it’s never just a coffee, just a birthday text, just a stick of gum. It’s self-sabotage. It’s addiction. Recovering alcoholics can’t have just one drink, drug users can’t have just one high, and you can’t have just one coffee with your ex.

We all have our pack of gum. The one that makes us shudder just by the sound of its name. It’s our baggage. I can’t make you kick your habit. You’ll hide the sticks in the folds of your wallet, the bottom of your purse, you’ll stick a piece behind your ear. All I can tell you is that the gum will never be healthy; that guy will never be a good guy. He’s not an apple. He’s gum. Don’t marry gum. Don’t settle for gum. Don’t let him stick. Don’t f*cking get a coffee.

It’s time to start dating fruit.

*Names have been changed

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