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Dear Captain and Co,

Almost 3 years ago I broke up with my then-boyfriend of 6 months.  We’d been friends before, and due to being in the same friends group, stayed friendly afterward.  I thought we would be able to make better friends than a couple, but I didn’t push the issue, as it was obviously awkward.  Then we both graduated college, moved to different places, and lost touch.  About a year, maybe year and a half later, he defriended me on Facebook, so we’ve been completely out of touch for a year and a half now.

My problem is that I owe him an original short story due to a lost bet.  The bet happened at the start of our relationship, and while I made notes about the story I intended to write, due to school and stuff, I never actually got it written.  I’ve had the time to write the story for at least a year now, but haven’t because I’m not sure that it’s still appropriate for me to contact him.  This keeps bothering me because it feels like a broken promise.  I promised a story and I didn’t deliver, and there was no time limit on the delivery so I could still keep the promise.  But he chose to defriend me and I want to respect that too.

Whenever I think of sending him the story, I think of saying in the email something like “I still owed you a story, you don’t have to get in contact if you don’t want.”  But that feels awkward enough that I haven’t done it.

Should I just write this off as something I won’t be able to complete?

~ Open to Being Friends

Dear Open:

Of course you should write the story, if only to get it out of your system and check “wrote story” off your mental to-do list.

But you shouldn’t send it to him, not only because he closed off contact with you, but because it’s your story now.

This dude passed through your life for good or for ill, and you have memories and feelings and lessons that you’ve earned from that that are part of your story. That story is yours to write, to submit, maybe to publish, to share, to develop. Don’t offer it up to some dude you broke up with to pay off a bet he’s probably forgotten about. Your muse doesn’t necessarily need to be your audience.

When you break up with someone, here’s what you owe them:

  • Communicating your decision in a clear way and not making them guess or find out about it on Facebook when you change your status to “Single” or “It’s complicated“, i.e. “Not quite single yet but definitely open to fucking new people!
  • Paying back money and giving back their stuff in a timely fashion and sorting out legal issues like leases, rent, custody of pets/offspring as fairly as possible.
  • Respecting their wishes about (lack of) communication and making your own boundaries and expectations clear.
  • Doing what you can to be kind and fair, but not at the expense of your own well-being.

You don’t owe them further communication. You don’t have to be friends.

You don’t owe them telling your story in a way that makes them look like the good guy.

You don’t owe them fulfilling old promises. Ever heard the phrase “All bets are off”? It definitely applies after a breakup. That’s your story prompt:

“‘All bets are off,’ she said…”

One way you can find closure after the end of the relationship is to reclaim all the stuff that is yours as YOURS.

If you are having trouble letting go and need to avoid all things that remind you of your ex (family, ex-friend, etc.), so be it. I hear you, and you should do what works for you. But if you’ve let the person go just fine, you shouldn’t have to give up your love of things you love just because they are associated with a past love affair. So what if your ex recommended that great novel or movie to you. You loved it? Cool, it’s yours now, part of your canon. Your favorite restaurants and bars and coffee shops and bookstores? Yours. Go there, head held high, and eat the delicious food and drink the delicious drinks. Friends you made during the relationship, who you would still like to hang with? Call them up. If you genuinely care for each other and have things in common besides common knowledge of some dude or lady, the friendship will work just fine. If it doesn’t? It wasn’t meant to be and you can let it go. Loving someone means letting a whole bunch of new experiences, associations, and inspirations into your life, and you’re not obligated to let go of stuff that you love (or worse, creative work you made) just because the person didn’t stick around in your life forever.

Letter writer, I pronounce you sole proprietor of any stories you write as a result of your relationship with one former datepartner. I also absolve you of the obligation to write any story whatsoever unless you want to for your own reasons.