"Ex-girlfriends are like bellybuttons!" A homeless man once announced this while sitting next to me at a Los Angeles dive-bar called the Frolic Room. "It feels good digging around in there and sometimes it's even healthy," he continued, "but if you keep poking and prodding, sooner or later you're going to hurt something."

For a brief moment, I considered the wisdom of this bizarre metaphor: Are men and women not meant to remain friends once they've lost that lovin' feeling? Is there always some painful agenda? And how has a homeless man come to understand women in such an odd yet profound way?

Then he threw up on himself. As he was being escorted to the door, I realized he wasn't the relationship Yoda I'd hoped he would be. No, he was just some paranoid dude who had too much to drink and too little money to pay the rent. Still, it got me thinking: How had I remained on such good terms with my former lady friends? There's hardly been any animosity, even with the ones I've fallen out of touch with. So I decided to call a few, reminisce over old times, and figure out how we'd managed to part ways so amicably. Oh, and if I happen to let it slip that I'm writing the first installment of a Men's Fitness column--that a national magazine is not only paying me but also trusting me to dispatch life wisdom-- well, that'd be the icing on the cake.

It begins with a phone call
First up, Nicole. A dancer. We were together for about a year three years ago and, sadly, even at the time I knew I wasn't in love with her. Perhaps this is the reason we've been able to maintain a friendship.

Me: "Hey, Nicole. I know it's been a while since we've talked and all, but--"
Nicole: "Remember my boyfriend Brian?"
M: "Yeah. Listen I was calling to--"
N: "We're getting married!"
M: "No way, that's great news, congratulations. Listen, the reason I was calling is I wanted to--"
N: "Can you believe I'm engaged?"
M: "When's the big day? I'll send a gift. Maybe a subscription to Men's Fitness. Did I tell you I'm--"
N: "Oh, we haven't actually picked a date yet."
M: "Well, how did he propose? Was he down on one knee? Maybe I could use this for my column, the concept is--"
N: "He hasn't proposed yet."
M: "Then how did he ask?"
N: "Well . . . he hasn't actually asked yet."

Apparently, Crazy Nicole, as I now call her, wasn't actually getting married. She just wanted to have something to show off--like me and my column--her own little way of saying I'd let something good slip through my fingers, even if there was hardly any truth to it. Undeterred, I moved on to bigger game: Kalle.

If at first you don't succeed . . .
Kalle was my very first love. It's unclear who dumped who--I'd slept with her roommate, though she didn't know that until after she told me she'd met someone new--but the mark she left on me can still be seen by most women six years after the fact. I don't think I'll ever give myself to another human being as completely as I had to her.

Me: "Been a while, K. What's new?"
Kalle: "How'd you get this number?"
M: "It was in the phone book. Is there some problem?"

Strangely, our conversation went on like this, with her acting as if I'd been rifting through her trash to find clues about her love life for some time. Finally, after exchanging pleasantries, Kalle gave me the info I'd called for. "Of course, we're friends," she pleaded, "but only because I moved 3,000 miles away from you. We're not the kind of friends who should see each other. Ever." Obviously, this wasn't the time to tell her I'd just relocated to within shouting distance. Or that I still remember how fantastic her breasts were. Six years after the fact and I was just beginning to get the idea: Maybe we never will sleep together again. That's a shame . . .

Upping the ante once more, I decided to call Lindsey.


The final straw
Lindsey was post-Kalle. I asked her to marry me, and she said yes. Then she said she needed space. This was probably the same thing she said to her previous boyfriend when she met me. Hopping from one to the next was her MO. I asked her not to call me, then a few weeks back, I sent her a letter-- so she wouldn't worry. When I finally picked up the phone, I was surprised to find my fingers still knew her number.

Me: "Hey, Lindsey, it's me. Did you get the letter I sent?"
Lindsey: "I did. Please don't call here again. I'm in love with someone new and I've got to take his feelings into account. I'd hate to think of what might happen if we all bumped into each other on the street."

What? Lindsey, the woman who just four months ago promised she would always love me, was now making not-so-thinly-veiled threats. This whole experiment was going bad fast.

Turns out, I'm not friends with my exes. Any of them. They don't even want to see me again. Why didn't I know?

After some reflection, I decided it was for the best. Who can go from loving someone and sharing her body to shaking hands with her new man at social functions? Not me. By my logic, the only reason anyone would even want to be friends with an ex is to show off to them, 'cause you feel bad for them, or to keep the door open for booty calls. Short of the booty calls, we're all probably better off going our separate ways.

I wanted to tell my homeless friend he was right. But after driving in circles all night, I still couldn't find him. I imagined him sitting by a pay phone somewhere, wrapping his head in tin foil. Then I realized that I, too, may suffer the same cruel fate if I keep harping on the past. Time to move on.