The loss of love is a painful experience that’s hard to hide, especially in the public eye. Chances are good that, at some point, you will run into an ex at a queer event in this city. Let’s face it there isn’t a huge variety in terms of queer club events in Toronto, particularly in the city’s lesbian scene. Sooner or later you’ll see someone who you’d rather not run into.
When I went through my second major breakup about a year ago I tried to rid myself of the toxins that seeped in after the sting of a love bug. I grieved privately and stayed hidden, avoiding any event that might bring me into social contact with my ex. But after months of lying low, and thanks to the steady counsel of my wonderful friends, I realized it was time to reintegrate into the queer scene and open myself to meeting new people.
One night recently I was out at Straight on Church St with a couple of good friends having a great time. I knew Straight was a spot my ex frequented because I’d seen her during a couple of my aborted outings there in the months following our breakup.
Inevitably she showed up and we shared a clumsy conversation. But mercifully this encounter was different. For the first time since she broke it off I really felt over her. I didn’t have the same out-of- con-trol sadness at seeing her. I felt that, even though she hadn’t been in my life for months by that point, I could finally feel peace toward what we had shared without breaking down. I realized that my ex and I had both moved on during our time apart.
Equally as important was that, this time around, I didn’t let the cold looks I was getting from her lesbian clan frighten me into leaving. After all they don’t know me. They did not know what I have been through.
But of course different people deal with breakups differently. For comparison I asked queers about town Shaun Dacey, an emerging curator and graduate student, and Kaleb Robertson, a manny by day and trans performer by night, about their breakup strategies.
Robertson, 32, says he has no problem with most of his exes and says hi to them when he sees them out in the bars, “but we are not gonna call each other and hang out.” He adds there are limited places in the queer community to socialize and he is not willing to limit his preferred hangouts on account of the ex factor.
Although he admits to having had his heart broken in the past Robertson says most of his breakups have been amicable.
“We can both go out and have fun,” he says. “I may see my exes but I have moved on.”
For Dacey, 28, managing to remain cool with his exes in public has required a concerted effort. He says that sometimes he has to remind himself that he doesn’t want to harbour negative feelings left by breakups. At the same time he feels it’s important to remember the good times he’s shared with a lover, even once they’re estranged.
“You will always have that history between you… so it is good to respect that history when you see each other out somewhere,” he says.
Dacey says he’s become close friends with a few of his exes, and admits that he actually feels closer to them now then he did during their relationships.
But there is one ex that Dacey struggles to remain civil with; when they see each other in public all he can count on is cold acknowledgment.
“We have a lot of history…. A lot of back and forth and a long post-breakup history,” he says. “Right now we can’t be friends.”
What does a professional say about dealing with exes?
“It is important for people to come to terms with themselves and their boundaries,” says Audra Petrulis, coordinator of the counselling program at the 519 Community Centre. “You must be strong within your-self because you can’t control the other person or know what they are going to do when you see them.”
Petrulis says it’s natural to take the time to heal but adds that eventually you need to force yourself back out into the social scene and have fun, regardless of whether or not you may run into your ex.
“It is your personal choice whether you choose to stay in contact or communicate with your ex,” she says, adding that it’s important to know what your expectations are from your ex post-breakup.
Robertson and Dacey agree that if you want to move on after a bad breakup you’ve got to take a step back and see things for what they are not the way you’d like them to be. It’s easier said than done but the key is to be honest in the moment.
“If you want to find love, you have to put yourself out there and be vulnerable,” says Petrulis. “It can be scary, but the payoff can be great.”