Stop Being In Relationship Purgatory With Your "Kinda Ex"

Breaking up can be hard to do. But...

Love & Relationships

Live on this earth (and wanna learn from it) long enough and you will probably come to the conclusion that if two things are a process, it's forgiveness and breaking up with an ex. What I mean by that is, just because you verbally declare that you've done either one, just because doing so may truly be good for you, that doesn't always mean that they automatically transpire, fully, the day that you make the decision to do it.

On the forgiving tip, there are still people who I am going through the stages of forgiveness in my mind and heart in order to fully and completely do it (hmm…one day, I should probably expound on that because if grief has stages, forgiveness definitely should/does). As far as breaking up goes? Well, I've shared before that it took me over two decades to really get over my first (everything—check out "6 Reasons Why You STILL Can't Over Your Ex", "Why Running Into Your Ex Can Be The Best Thing Ever" and "Why Every Woman Should Go On A 'Get Your Heart Pieces Back' Tour") and even the last boyfriend that I will ever have in this lifetime (check out "Why I'll Never Call Someone A 'Boyfriend' Again"), we were "officially together" for four years—and then breaking up for two more (and yes, that included having sex). Lawd, that is a lot of time that I can never get back.

It's precisely for that reason that I thought it was so important to write this. It's because time is precious and pretty much non-refundable. Know what else it is? Limited. So, if you've broken up with an ex of yours and yet the relationship doesn't feel fully finished—whether it's because you're still hanging out, still having sex, still communicating on some level or even just still hung up on him—I want to share a few points that can help to get you out of that relational purgatory that you seem to be in.

Why Did You Break Up in the First Place?


When I reflect back on my past break-ups, if there is a commonality, it's the fact that it was easier to move on when I ended the relationship rather than when the guy did. While, on the surface, that might seem like an ego thing, it really isn't. It was because, if I ended the relationship, I was usually really clear that it was time to. On the other hand, when he did, either I was still caught up in him or I didn't fully understand his reasons. As a direct result, my codependency tendencies (at the time) made me want to try and stick around and make things work anyway.

The only real exceptions were the two men I mentioned in the intro. My first? We never really broke up. Like the movie The Notebook (which is a movie…don't try and make your real life be some damn movie), we would just kinda fade in and out of one another's lives without ever really saying "goodbye". And my last boyfriend? Well, we had been besties before he convinced me (quite literally. I may share that at another time too) to put a romantic spin to the relationship. So, what I realize, looking back, is I wasn't struggling with not being together anymore; I was trying to keep our friendship intact.

Y'all, it took me a lot of years of journaling and article-writing to understand all of this; yet remember that I'm trying to save you some time.

So yeah, if you're in a weird spot with your ex, the first thing I recommend you do is really get clear in your own mind on why the two of you even are exes in the first place. Did you want something that he didn't (or vice versa)? Did he really not treat you all that well? Are you in too much of an unhealthy place to even be in a relationship? Are the both of you just not as compatible as you need to be? Has one of you discovered that you just don't feel the same anymore?

Listen, the fact that y'all are exes at all means that something was not working. So really—why stay? Still, it's hard to get the courage to fully move on until you really get why you should. That's why knowing why it ended is my first suggestion. Let's move to the next point.

What’s the Benefit to Keeping Him Around?


Look, I tend to side-eye Dr. Phil, just about as much as the next guy. However, if there is one thing that he has said that I apply to my life on a regular basis is we stay in things that have a payoff. What he means by that is, it doesn't matter how counterproductive, toxic or even just stagnant a person, place, thing or idea may be in our life, if it didn't serve us on some level, we wouldn't keep it.

Take my first, for instance. He's fine (lawd). He's really smart. He's witty as hell. And we click. To this day, if I were to call him up, I'm pretty sure we'd be on the phone for 6-8 hours. We always do that. And so, what I finally had to realize is, what made it hard to let him go, was the familiarity of the relationship. I like how much we really "get" one another. At the same time, the more I come to heal from past traumas that happened even before he came along, the more I have come to the conclusion of what I deserve (and how sometimes that's far better than even what I want) and that no relationship should take over 20 damn years to get somewhere—I see that the payoff of witty banter and sexy attraction isn't as big as it used to be.

I don't care if it's good sex, the fact that you've been with ole' boy a long time, or you're afraid to start over (we all know I could go on and on with other examples), if you really want to get out of relationship purgatory with your ex, you've got to compare and contrast why it's best to leave him alone vs. how it's benefitting you to keep him around on some level. Oh, and make sure that the benefits are holistically benefitting you. Like, if it is because of the sex, is the physical pleasure worth the mental anguish or emotional gymnastics that you are constantly sending yourself through? Is. It. Really?

Have You Ever Really Processed What “Purgatory” Means?


Ah, purgatory. Even as a marriage life coach, I am constantly learning what it means to love someone and be loved in return. Based on where I am now as a "love student", I would have to say that I've genuinely loved four men. One of those men, we spent several years knowing that we had a truly uncanny connection; however, because he was (and still is) a super commitment-phobe, we could never really get…there. And by "there", what I mean is marriage. Towards the end of our emotional roller coaster ride, he said something to me that clicked in a way that nothing else really had prior to—"Shellie, I care about you. I also feel like I'm in marriage purgatory."

Call it an occupational hazard yet something that I am big on is really paying attention to word definitions. Since purgatory isn't a word that I personally use often, I assumed he meant that he was in limbo. Yeah, not quite. Purgatory means "any condition or place of temporary punishment, suffering, expiation, or the like". Oh OK, Black man. You feel like you're in emotional purgatory. We're good. No, really…we're good.

All things work together. While, in hindsight, considering how close we had become and how much he had benefitted from our connection, I kinda think he was an ass for saying that. Still, his reality is his reality and I've gotta give him the space to feel that way. Besides, because of that little gem (side-eye), I can encourage some of you to ask yourself if you're in something similar. When I think of break-up purgatory, there is actually a song that immediately comes to mind. Any of y'all remember who I consider to be one of the best R&B singers ever? Ms. Lisa Fischer? If so, do you remember her GRAMMY-winning jam "How Can I Ease the Pain"? Talk about some damn purgatory.

Every time that I let you in

You take away something deep within

A fool for love is a fool for pain

But I refuse to love you again

How can I ease the pain

When I know your coming back again

How can I ease the pain in my heart

How can I ease the pain

Love isn't some Disney film or rom-com. It consists of two flawed individuals who care about each other enough to try and make a relationship work, so that they can become better people as a direct result of caring about each other on a deep and profound level. And yes, that can be mad challenging. Listen here, though. What it isn't supposed to do is make you feel like you're in a constant battle between sometimes feeling good and sometimes feeling in some state of mental or emotional anguish—or even like the Universe is somehow punishing you or wanting you to suffer for sticking around.

Again, "he's" an ex for a reason. If you feel like you in any level of purgatory for staying, that is reason enough to shift out. ALL. THE. WAY. OUT.

What Is “Riding the Fence” Holding You Back From?


Last summer, I wrote an article for the platform entitled, "You Love Him. You Prefer Sex With Your Ex. What Should You Do?". In some ways, pardon the pun, being in that kind of place is like riding a fence. Fences are stationary. They don't get you anywhere. That said, I have talked to countless women over the years who do remain in some sort of one-foot-in-one-foot-out state with their ex. A part of it is because they feel like if they rip the Band-Aid completely off and call it quits that it could be their last chance at being in a serious relationship.

There are a couple of times when I've been in that headspace before. Here's the flip side of the coin that I want you to consider—if he's not good enough to officially be with and yet you allow some sort of "in between" to remain, not only are you sending a very clear message to him that he doesn't have to do more or better, you're always not clearing the path for you to process, heal and better yourself so that you can get into something that is better for you. Something that is on a very clear side.

Listen, healthy men? They are attracted to healthy women. Mature men? They are attracted to mature women. Emotionally available men (and yes they do exist)? They are attracted to emotionally available women and the reality is, if you're still in some-kind-of-something with your ex, you're the one who is unavailable. And there's no telling what kind of possibilities that could be holding you back from.

Be Honest: Is “the Middle” Wasting Your Time?


I mentioned the importance of valuing time at the beginning of this article and I'm gonna end it here. You know, there's a Scripture in the Bible that says that God is someday gonna spew the lukewarm church out of his mouth—the collection of people who are neither spiritually hot or cold (Revelation 3:16). If you believe that you are made in God's image (Genesis 1:26-28), a part of what should come with that is accepting that you also were made to reject "lukewarm" experiences; that you deserve to be in situations that are totally and completely "on". Otherwise, they need to be totally and completely "off".

Women aren't perfect (some of us need to quit acting like we are). Still, when it's coming from a real, genuine and non-needy space, there is absolutely NOTHING like the way we are able to love a man. And the more I have learned to love myself, the more I have learned to fully value what I bring to a relationship—and the time that it takes to nurture it.

That said, that ex of yours? Just like there's a reason for why the two of you broke up, there's a reason why you got together in the first place. So maybe, just maybe, up the road, the two of you can revisit things. For now, though, if things are lukewarm—you're better than that. Let it go. Put all of that super precious time, effort and energy into what can make you a better person—so that the next time a relationship comes along, things can be defined as paradise (bliss). Not purgatory (some level of suffering).

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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