Can You Be Friends With Your Ex?

Can I confess something?  We can still be friends is one of my most hated sentences in all relationship-speak.  Not because I don’t like friends – friends are clearly awesome; who else will be there for those special type of ethically/legally/morally questionable shenanigans?   [See reason #257 about why I care about helping you uncover your ideal sex life instead of teaching you how to have mine.]

No, I despise this sentence because of how thoughtlessly it’s often trotted out.  Either people can’t say no, so they offer friendship to soften the blow of rejecting the romantic relationship (regardless of what they really want), or it’s the post romance default status.

Friendship:  where old romantic relationships go to die.

Here’s some reasons why you might want to stay friends after a romantic break up:

  • The break up was mutual, affable, and you all genuinely want good things for each other’s future
  • You genuinely like your ex – they were a friend before you dated, and while you dated; why change that now?

And that’s kinda it.  You want to isn’t a good enough reason alone to cut it with me – I want to know what is driving your desires before I’m willing to sign off.

  • Is it because you’re desperate to keep them in your life in some way, and friendship is better than nothing?  I predict you’re setting yourself up for a lot of heartache my friend.
  • Is it because you think you can win them back?  Friending someone as a pretence for a romantic assault?  This all smells a little too friendzoneish to me.
  • Is it because you can’t imagine them not in your life.  That’s cool – but can you imagine them in your life without romantic relationship?  You know that feeling in your gut when you just want someone so much, but you don’t have them?  Is that what you want to set yourself up for?
  • Is it because you thinking not having everyone like you means you’ve somehow means you’re not a good person?

None of the above reasons have anything to do with the other people, but are actually about stuff you need to address within yourself.

I’m going to say something very clearly, pay attention:

A relationship that ends without friendship does not mean that relationship was a failure.

Sometimes we share a period of our life with people and then we part ways.  Simple as that.

Romance and friendship are not the same thing.  Offering friendship to ease your guilty conscious for disappointing someone, or even breaking their heart isn’t good for anyone.  First, it’s unfair to chain yourself to a yet another relationship you don’t truly want.  Seriously, forcing yourself into any sort of relationship, romantic or platonic, is all but guaranteed to end in resentment.  Second, it’s not fair to your ex to be insincere about what’s on the table and what isn’t.  Just as it sucks to take someone’s number and never call, it sucks to offer friendship without actually acting like a friend.

On the flip side of this; if you’re someone being offered post-break up friendship, think about if that’s the right move for you.

Forcing a friendship to keep someone happy when you’re healing isn’t going to work either.  Like the tweet that inspired this post said:

Keeping your ex in your life as a friend when you’re not truly ready to be their friend can make it harder to move forward.  Sometimes removing someone from your life is the healthiest thing you can do for yourself.

And I’m not talking parting ways hating each other either – we don’t have to split things into such a dichotomy.  There’s a whole spectrum of new relationships that can come out of a romantic relationship whose time has passed:  acquaintances, partners in crime, wingmen, fuck buddies, friends, social media friends, book club buddies.  Take a moment to think about your new found freedom – what kind of relationship (if any) do you want with this person now?  If you and your ex in agreement about where to go next the world is your oyster.

Remember, none of these decisions have to be made right away.  You can take space from each other for months, even years before you move onto a friendship if that is what it takes for you to truly be this person’s friend.  You don’t owe anyone friendship.  It’s okay to do what is best for you and your healing post break up.

Whatever happens after your relationship ends, let it be on your terms – not some default.
Not sure if you should be friends with your ex or not?  Perhaps this handy flow chart will help with that.  I know the text is small – there’s a lot to consider!  Click on the image to see a larger version

Should you be friends with your ex?

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