You've heard the old adage: keep your friends close and your enemies closer. I'll do you one better. I keep my friends close and his ex-girlfriends closer. So close, in fact, that my husband's first girlfriend was the maid of honor in my wedding.
Ten years after the wedding, it's a story that still raises eyebrows. "You what? She what?" And so I launch into the story. I moved to my husband's town just two months before our wedding, and got a job at the local newspaper. Day one on the job, I met a woman about my age, and we laughed the morning away. Then I went home for lunch.
"I met this girl," I told my fiance. "She seems nice. Maybe you know her?" Then he dropped the bomb. "Remember that girl I told you I dated my senior year? That's her." She wasn't what I pictured. When I first heard he dated some girl named Elena, I'd had a picture of a voluptuous Russian girl with blond hair and a fur coat in my brain. Yes, I let my imagination run away with me. I'm a writer. That's what I do.
They lived in southern Virginia where people would probably yank out a gun if they saw a fur coat. And it turned out her name was actually Alaina. She was dark haired, dark eyed, and skinny as a rail, and when I returned from lunch still mulling over this new twist, she pulled me aside and said we had to talk.
"If we're going to be friends," she said, "I have to tell you something." You can guess what came next. The fact that both were easy, open, and honest about it practically begged me to take her up on the offer of friendship. That and the fact that I knew absolutely no one in town -- least of all a girlfriend to talk to.
Fast forward two months, and we were planning our wedding at warp speed in part because the priest who had agreed to marry us had learned we were "living in sin" and wanted to end that little bit of evil as soon as he could. I was eight hours from my hometown, my best friend couldn't come to the wedding, and I had no one to help me ... except Alaina. She threw herself into helping me make table decorations and crafting bouquets from silk flowers. And when I asked her to stand up on the altar to see her one time boyfriend say "I do," she said, "I will."
It was that simple. Or maybe not.
It was simple for us because their time together happened in high school. He was older, he left for college, and that was that. There was no complicated romance, no love triangle. And for the record, no, they never slept together.
I wonder at times if that would have even mattered. I'm not just the type to let her imagination run away with her. I'm nosy. Uber nosy. And I was marrying a guy I'd been dating mostly long distance, who grew up in a town I'd just moved to. He's a quiet, reserved guy, not the type to tell tall tales of his childhood. This being before the days of Facebook, I had no access to thousands of tagged photos to walk me through his youthful indiscretions, no easy access to old classmates. And his guy friends were of no help. "What? He, you know, hung out," they told me. Yeah, him and every other guy in America. They "hung out." I needed dirt, and I needed someone who had no qualms about giggling over the silly stuff.
Ex-girlfriends tend to bring out the jealous streak that we all have -- not women but human beings. We're afraid of getting too close to them and finding in them something better than what we have. I don't look at it that way. That she is an ex means I've already won. He chose me. He thinks I'm "better." It helps that I'm not the jealous type. In 10 years of marriage, there has been just one woman who made me nervous. And I can't help but blame a portion of the jealousy on the fact that I was pregnant, the size of a house, and raging with hormones.
What an ex-girlfriend can offer us is a look at our guy before he met us, insight into who he is and why he is that way. And when he drives is a little nutty, there's no one better to commiserate. Are you friends with his ex?
Image via Simon Shaw/Flickr