“Do you think this is weird? How weird is this for you?”
I’m sitting in a room with my ex-boyfriend. We’ve hardly spoken in almost two years. Over the course of the six years we’ve known each other, we’ve had tales of unrequited love, friendship, reciprocal love, a devastating breakup, and radio silence. Despite the negative parts of our shared history, we easily slip back into our old banter. It’s a little surprising that we feel so comfortable, especially given that we are about to try to objectively talk about the nature of bonds and relationships for two hours.
Him: Do I personally feel slightly weird? Yes. But I feel like it’s a good idea—it makes sense.
Me: Yeah…. So, I’m curious to know how would you define a bond.
Him: For me, bonds kind of imply a reliance on someone. A true bond involves a willingness to do whatever is needed of you, to always be there for a person. You can say you’re friends, but it’s the whole “actions speak louder than words” thing; you have to have a history of action for the person that you care about. And if you don’t have that, if you can’t build up that history and that reliance on the other person, then you can’t trust that you’ll be a priority for them. But what would you say? I might just prefer your definition.
I threw a metaphorical wrench into the conversation and gave two very personal examples of people we had bonds with in our lives, but whom we could in no way rely on (for example, an absent family member). The linking of bonds and reliance was swiftly abandoned.
Him: I think, I… I’m going to take back my definition. Now I don’t think I can decide what bond means.
We were stammering and decided to look up the Google definition.
Him: “Physical restraints.” Good, we’re done.
We agreed on “a force or feeling that unites people, a common emotion or interest;” an elevated connection.
Me: Do you think that in order to have a bond with someone they have to be a part of your life in that moment?
Him: Not at that moment, but you’d have to have some semblance of wanting them to be a part of your life at some point. Bonds aren’t stagnant, they’re fluid. As you go through life, new bonds form while others will dissolve.
Me: We started off as friends in high school. When would you say we started to have a bond?
Him: If we were to go from mutual bond development, grade ten. But are bonds inherently mutual? Because I liked you in grade nine. If bonds are inherently mutual, then I’d say grade ten, but if they’re not mutual, grade nine.
Me: Do you think that there was a point, after we broke up, where our bond dissolved?
Him: I would say yes, but I feel like that’s because of my personality more than anything. I was working under the assumption there was probably no longer a connection, so I shouldn’t hope for one. But talking now, and thinking back, I think there is also something to say for the fact that we have millions of things to talk about and are quite fine right now and I think could easily have a bond again in that sense. I guess that’s what I would say, and maybe I assumed we didn’t have one more for my own—
Me: Okay, but you can just say it wasn’t there. You don’t have to justify—
Him: No, no, no. Ok. Yes. I felt like it wasn’t there, but that also could potentially be because of my weirdness… [laughs]… how about that.
Me: I wonder whether bonds can be “dormant,” as opposed to dissolving completely. They are things that can so heavily inform your life, it’s unsettling to think that they could just dissolve forever. Maybe once you’ve had a bond with someone, there is always potential to have it again.
Him: I think that’s kind of what I was trying to say. The idea that we didn’t have a bond at a certain moment but maybe… dormancy makes a lot of sense.
Me: But you said the bond dissolved; there is a fundamental difference in something being dormant and something dissolving. I think it had dissolved from your side, then.
Me: Yeah. A concept that I can’t wrap my head around is how someone can be so essential in your life, so important in one moment, and then irrelevant in another. I kind of hate the nature of relationships in that way, but I don’t think there is an alternative way to go about them. Maybe that’s why I have a tendency to say bonds are dormant rather than dissolved, especially if bonds are in some ways synonymous with caring—because I care about you.
Him: Well I would argue that you could care about someone so much, but that the best course of action is sometimes to dissolve a bond. You could care about someone and they could be a really important part of your life in that moment, but you know that continuing the relationship will just end up hurting you both. You can choose the sadder option because you care about them, not because you don’t want to have a bond… you can lessen the bond because of caring. I don’t think caring is directly parallel on a graph to a bond, I just think they’re unrelated. You can care about someone you don’t have a bond with.
Him: Yes. Even if I thought we would never have a bond again, I would have still said that I cared about you and hoped for your happiness and wellbeing.
Me: I guess I think that bonds don’t dissolve. Once a bond is formed, it’s remnants or shadow will always already be there. I also think that the act of deeply caring for someone in and of itself is a sort of bond.
Him: If a dormant bond for you is caring about another person, even though you don’t have a connection at that exact moment, then I would agree with you. It might just be that we are saying the same thing in different words.
Me: No, I think it’s a difference worth noting.
Him: I would lean toward the idea of a bond being mutual. If I care about you and I don’t know how you are feeling, then for all I know that bond could be completely and utterly one sided forever.
Me: I think once a bond is mutually established, it’s not an act you can reverse. The nature of the bond may change, and it may predominantly exist in memory, but it’s still something that happened and informed your life and your connection to that person.
Aside from whether you want to, do you think we could be friends?
Him: All of my answers have been so lengthy; this is much simpler. I’m a different person now, and you are as well. I think it would be easy to be friends. We have had the luxury of time off, and are sort of able to look at it from an outside perspective.
Me: I initially thought that interactions post-breakup would never be fully normal. But today has cemented for me that that’s not necessarily the case. You’ve said that we’ve changed, and we have, but there are some things that are the same.
Him: We took a natural amount of time and we haven’t ever tried to force it. We’ve waited and we’re not under any pressure. It’s hard to just decide to be friends again. I think that we benefited from the fact that we both wanted space, and now we are able to mutually choose when and if to have a friendship again. It’s harder to become friends again when you don’t have the option of space, even if that’s what’s needed.
Me: Another reason why I believe that bonds don’t entirely dissolve is that I’ve had no real sense of what has gone on in your life for almost two years, and yet I feel as though I still know you in a way.
Him: I would say the same. I feel like I still know you quite well. Experiences will change a person, but you can still know how their mind works and understand them on some level.
Me: It’s interesting, because I feel like I’ve changed fundamentally, but apparently I haven’t as much as I may think, if you’re able to feel like you still know me.
Him: It’s our behavior and our actions that have changed, but we haven’t had a complete transformation of self. There is a sort of evolution and solidification of our self through learning and growing. Just because we may be more centered or stronger individuals, it doesn’t mean we find different things funny, change our conversational habits, or have an entirely different set of morals and values. And I think the actions make up the person, but those other things sort of make up the way you work?
Me: I’m going to end it with that…. It does make sense. Okay, we’re done.
I came out of this interview with a two hour long recording full of meandering digressions and a new old friend. I think our conversation is indicative of how difficult it can be to define human connection and to come to a mutual understanding. We decided that the only way to conclude this was to say that we gladly re-followed each other on Instagram. It’s funny that in attempting to have this discussion about bonds, we were able to renew our own.
This interview has been edited and condensed.