So, here we are.
You’ve probably spent the past few weeks crying, and perhaps throwing things away, then digging them back out of the trash only to throw them away again.
And you’ve been spending more time on his Facebook profile than you should probably admit.
I’m not here to judge.
But, now you find yourself here, which tells me that you at least think that you’re ready to take the steps necessary to finally be on good terms with your ex or… cue dramatic music… actually be friends!!
Or is it?
If you were to go to Google’s homepage right now and type “How to be friends with my ex,” there are at least two, if not more, immediate results that suggest that the mere thought of remaining friends with your ex is indicative of psychopathy.
Thank you, Huffington Post, for that astute observation.
I, however, disagree with HP to an extent.
I feel like one of those ladies in the 50’s hosting a Tupperware party,
I mean, I am actual living breathing proof that you CAN be friends with an ex. In fact, I am friends with all but two or three of my exes. And two of them are my very best friends.
Ex #1, We’ll call him Travis so I don’t have to keep calling him “Ex #1”, lives on the other side of the globe and is in the military.
Ex #2, We’ll call him James, lives 6 hours away, where he is going to law school.
Regardless of the distance these two and I stay in close contact and have since we ended our respective relationships
Strangely, the distance came after we decided to establish or reestablish our friendships.
Okay, so it was not as easy as I make it sound.
Travis and I had a rough, and I mean seriously rough, break up. It happened right in the middle of college, so I had a lot on my plate as it was. He did not go about it nicely either and I had EVERY right to hate him. We went through a mutually decided upon no contact period of about a year, before we decided to give being friends again a try.
Now, I travel all over to visit him in the different places he’s been stationed. I’ve even made some lifelong friends because of those trips. My life really wouldn’t be the same without him in it.
James and I were in a completely different kind of situation. Neither one of us were really that invested in our relationship in the first place. In fact, there wasn’t much of a connection there romantically at all. We were basically just spending a lot of time together. Now to make myself feel better about it, I had convinced myself that we were more serious than we were, but looking back, we were clearly just wasting time.
I find it amusing how true that “hindsight is 20/20” saying is.
So, you’re probably going,
“Okay so what does this have to do with me?”
I promise I will explain. Just be patient and keep reading.
Towards the end of our somewhat haphazard relationship, I had an accident that left me without a car for a bit.
Darn you, hit-and-run driver!!
Anyways, in order to afford the repairs that my poor little Mustang needed along with paying for school, I did what everyone in their early twenties dreads more than anything. I moved back home with my parents.
Since James and I worked together, I found myself staying at his apartment with him and his brother so I could ride to work with him. Instead of inconveniencing my parents. I mean, we already had a pretty good arrangement. I cooked, cleaned and did the dishes and didn’t have to pay rent. We did this for a while.
Albeit brief, we did have a short period of no contact there for a little bit. It didn’t last very long.
Anyways, a few months after he and I took a bit to create some space between us, I found myself afforded the opportunity of taking on what can only call a dream job as a personal and executive assistant to a couple that owned a local oil company. This couple owned several rental houses and were looking at evicting the tenants in one that hadn’t been paying their rent.
Needless to say, the house was in shambles when I went to do a survey. They had let their toddlers cover every single wall and surface with their destructive scribbles.
Seriously it was insane.
The yard was overgrown. They had let their dog (that wasn’t even allowed to live there) basically EAT almost an entire patio door. And they had never reported a single bit of natural damage such as huge cracks in the foundation of the home.
I swear there is a point and I’m getting to it.
There was so much damage to the house, that we couldn’t even fathom trying to post it as available to rent again any time soon. If it weren’t my boss’ childhood home, I might have suggested he demolish it and start fresh.
Yes, it was THAT bad.
So, my boss made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I was to live in the house rent-free and make all the repairs I could myself. The only stipulation was that I had to find two roommates to live in the other two rooms and pay a portion of the rent.
It wasn’t even a question, James and I had spent so much time sharing living quarters that the words, “Do you want to be my roommate?” were hardly out of my mouth before he agreed.
It was almost exactly like that scene in the movie Step Brothers.
We laid out some ground rules and that was it. We went on to live there for a year and a half and then spent two more years sharing an apartment after that before he moved away to go to law school.
We still talk two or three times a week.
I don’t mean the meaningless small talk that most people make with their exes as a way of simply staying in each other’s lives. We call each other over breakfast just to catch up on what we have going on or shoot a friendly text to get a little feedback on major life decisions before we jump in head first. We call each other in the middle of the night, whether we are out celebrating or down about something and need encouragement. And we are each other’s judge and jury on dating prospects.
Okay maybe not judge and jury, but we definitely weigh in.
Is this normal?
No, absolutely not!
We have achieved an unreachable dynamic for most “normal friendships” let alone people who have been in a relationship.
But can normal people make this work?
Maybe not to the same extent that we have, but it’s totally doable.
There are lots of factors that weight in.
Let’s put some numbers in the mix.
NBC.com even did a poll that resulted in 48% of those surveyed saying that they had stayed friends with an ex after a break up.
What We Will Address Today
There are a few things we have to cover in order to assess whether it’s a good idea for you to be friends with your ex or not.
- The 7 intentions – what is the driving force behind your desire to be friend with Mr. Not-the-One
- The relationship dynamic – before you began dating, during the relationship and the after
“Why would you even attempt that?!”
That is the real question.
I get asked it constantly. Especially when people are around us for a bit and then find out we used to see each other.
“Why I would ever want to be friends with an ex?!” I have an auto-response this and many of the questions I am asked repeatedly,
“I can be friends with a jackass, I just won’t date one.”
I literally have to say this so much that I have considered putting it on a shirt.
Whereas, in the beginning of the no-longer-dating period, I fall more along the same lines of what I’m sure most of you do…
“Maybe if I stay in his orbit, he’ll realize how badass I am and what a huge mistake he made and we’ll sort things out.”
That never works out.
In fact, this will make it harder in the long run to move past any emotional ties you still have to the relationship.
If you’re still struggling with emotional ties to the relationship, I suggest reading this article after you’ve finished this one.
Several years ago, James noticed my horrible “after a relationship” habits and compared it to that one of our favorite shows, “How I Met Your Mother”.
“Ashley, I hate to say this, normally you’re a Robin, but you’re totally being a Ted right now and you need to quit that.”
This was quickly followed up with a “Please don’t hit me.”
(Don’t worry, I’m not abusive in the slightest. He’s just a weenie who likes to think he’s a Barney.)
He wasn’t wrong.
I kept getting stuck in an emotional whirlwind like Ted and my ability to talk sense into myself would be gone until I snapped out of it. (That’d be Robin.)
Needless to say, both my Ted and my Robin sides had to sit down and come to some common ground.
Examine Your Reasoning
While getting back together is probably the driving factor for most people remaining friends with their exes, there are several other reasons you would want to stay connected with a romantic partner after the relationship has ended.
“1. We can still be friends” He suggested it so he must’ve meant it. Right?
Believe it or not, breaking up with someone is just as awkward and uncomfortable for the one doing the breaking up as the person being broken up with.
I can already hear your groans.
“Whose side are you on, Ashley?!”
Seriously, people will put off breaking up with someone for YEARS in fear that they might make a scene or, believe it or not, fear that they might guilt them into to staying with them for a few more years.
Okay it may not have been quite as bad for them because they had warning that it was coming to an end before it did.
I think the worst part about a breakup is probably being blindsided by it when you thought things were going well.
Anyways, to satiate this awkwardness, and hopefully diffuse the possibility of a scene or you making him feel like a jerk, he throws his friendship out there as a consolation prize.
No, I’m just kidding.
Although wouldn’t it be great if we won medals for surviving breakups?
It’s just a distraction.
Generally speaking, when “we can stay friends,” is said, it is rarely acted upon.
It’s right up there with,
“We’ll stay in touch.”
“It’s not you, it’s me.”
“I just really want to focus on (fill in the blank) right now.”
I’ve literally heard them all. In fact, the last guy I was seeing should win an award for most excuses used at one time. I almost felt bad for him.
He just didn’t want me to hate him, right then, during that conversation, when I could make him feel bad about it.
“2. Keeping tabs” You want to know what he’s up to, so you keep him in your sights.
Did he dump you because he wanted to ask out that cute barista that flirted with him every time you two went to get coffee
Acting like you weren’t even, or when she did acknowledge you, referred to you as his sister?
And you’re determined to figure it out.
The reason why you two didn’t work out.
This one can be a little masochistic.
I mean, eventually he’s going to start dating again, and if you haven’t taken the time needed to get over it… you may wind up doing something you regret and get the dreaded “crazy ex-girlfriend” label.
“3. A shared social circle” You want to avoid splitting your friends down the middle by making them choose sides.
How thoughtful and totally selfless!
Okay, let’s be honest. You really just don’t want to be exiled to the isle of lonely and out of the loop.
Which is totally selfish!
And who is absolutely guilty of doing this and has two thumbs?
This girl right here!
It is totally normal.
No one wants to completely rearrange their life or lose the person they cared about along with all of their friends.
Me and one of my exes have a great friendship because of this very thing. He and I shared all of the same friends and I wasn’t about to lose them all just because we went our separate ways. In fact, his girlfriend and I are pretty good friends to this day, and he literally dumped me for her about two years ago.
Now, keep in mind, I get over things fairly quickly, and now that I’ve gotten to know her, I realize that he and weren’t that good together at all and the two of them… Well I’m fairly certain they were destined to be together in some weird way.
“4. The passion just puttered out naturally” You both still care about each other, the physical attraction just isn’t there anymore.
This is one that has to be agreed upon by both parties. I mean, this is exactly what happened with James and I.
It just took me a few weeks to even realize it.
You see, I was pretty broken up at first, but after I sat back and actually looked at him, I wondered how I ever even found him attractive in the first place.
Like he’s good looking and, like Barney, is obsessed with suits, so he is always well dressed, and he is really quite smart, but knowing him like I do now, I wouldn’t ever give him a second thought… except maybe to include our story in an article for your entertainment.
“5. Kids” Alright, this one is self-explanatory.
I mean so many people stay in dysfunctional relationships or even marriages “for the kids.”
Why not split up and put that effort into being civil and creating an environment that doesn’t force a child to choose between the two of you.
I’ll be honest, several of my friends’ children could write out their childhood memories one day and they’d probably be mistaken for a psychological terrorist handbook with the type of animosity that gets thrown around.
“6. The Back Burner” This one is kind of crappy.
And it’s usually initiated by the one in the relationship that decided to call it quits. It’s usually paired with that “grass is always greener,” outlook.
Meaning they went on to search for greener pastures but they’re keeping you around just in case the grass isn’t actually that green in the new pasture. Meaning they might change their minds so they’re not going to sever ties just yet, just in case.
What a jerk move!
I have a friend that just stays friend with her exes because she is just hoping he’s thinking this way. It’s a desperate move, but I find that there are a lot of people that look at things this way and wind up setting themselves up for even more heartbreak.
I’ll go ahead and tell you right now that you deserve better than that.
We all do.
“7. Sex” Heck maybe you know he’s a jerk, but you keep him around because you don’t want to go through the trouble of training someone to know all of those things you like in bed, or vice versa.
The only downside to this plan is that it can be hard to keep feelings and emotions out of it. Actually, it’s pretty close to impossible.
At Oakland University, psychologists questioned 861 people regarding the “Why?” in this situation.
They found that those that said they were more likely to choose practicality and sex and key drivers for remaining friends also had substantial results reflecting personality traits such as narcissism, psychopathy, and machiavellianism.
Back in college, in Psych101, I wrote a paper on Machiavellian personalities that spurred many a discussion with my professor.
He explained in layman’s terms that they “lovingly” referred to combined narcissism, psychopathy, and machiavellianism as The Dark Triad.
(I can’t blame him for liking the subject, that was probably my favorite assignment my Freshman year.)
But Dark Triad, ominous right?
Basically, it boils down to being self-centered and manipulative.
I don’t know about you, but I can be both of these things. After a long debate, my teacher and I even came to the conclusion that these traits more than likely developed as an evolutionary response to avoid being hurt emotionally by the people around us, and that most people had them in some capacity.
If you think about it, even babies and toddlers are manipulative. They will cry for no reason other than wanting attention.
But that’s a subject I could go on about for days.
What I’m getting at is that if your reasons for remaining friends with your ex are little selfish, you’re not alone.
Okay, stop right here for a moment and lets recap.
We have seven reasons you might want to get back with your ex.
Am I saying there aren’t other reasons? No.
Am I saying you only have to pick one? Absolutely not.
But I am adding this little recap to point out something that I think is very very important. (So important I left that second very in there on purpose, even though my computer is freaking out telling me there a duplicate word.)
If you’ll notice, I didn’t tell you whether the intentions I listed were good or bad.
“Why?” you ask.
Well, I wanted you to be honest with yourself about why you are even considering this.
So, before we go any further, go back and decide what your reasons are for moving forward with this.
I’ll give you a moment.
Okay, now let’s make this as simple as possible.
I’m going to separate these into two types of intentions; those that have the potential to be majorly self-destructive and those that are based in sound reasoning.
Respectively we’ll call them Destructive and Reasonable.
You’ll notice that “Kids” lies in that grey area in the middle. There a reason for that.
It would have to pair with one or more of the other intentions.
Say that the two of you still have a pretty good dynamic, the breakup wasn’t too terrible. The physical attraction had just diminished and you decided you weren’t good as a couple anymore. It would be feasible that the two of you could have the groundwork already in place to have a great friendship that would actually benefit your kids.
However, if it were paired with keeping tabs or being on the back burner, you’d be establishing that friendship with the hopes of getting back together. You would have expectations of the relationship that don’t match up with your ex’s expectations. And when we don’t get what we want, it is human nature to try and lash out or force people to give us what we want. This will only create tension if not starting an all-out fight. This would not be beneficial to your children.
And it most certainly wouldn’t be healthy for you.
Let’s look at why these intentions fall into these categories on their own before we press on.
These can also be deemed as healthy intentions.
Having a shared social circle is a perfectly good reason to want to stay friends with your ex. You’re trying to keep the peace and keep your social network intact. I suggest taking a little time to yourself to get your footing in a new situation.
Basically, come to terms with knowing you will see him around from time to time. It’s up to you whether you pursue being friendly, meaning cordial, or actively pursuing a friendship where you get together on purpose.
Also, if your friends are good ones, they’ll help bring you back down to earth should you start to have unrealistic expectations of the friendship. Eventually your ex will start dating again. It will also be beneficial to you to have people around you that make you feel safe and balance the unavoidable awkward moments with the new girlfriend.
Likewise, when you’re dealing with naturally diminished attraction between the two of you, aside from maybe a few awkward moments from time to time as will happen with all exes, you will need to change the way you see him all together.
He is no longer the man you were dating, he is someone you couldn’t date, but could be friends with.
It all lies within your perspective. As long as you keep a healthy and grounded perspective, you will be able to make it work.
I still suggest taking a short no contact period before ever attempting to forge a friendship from an unsuccessful relationship.
All of the destructive intentions lie in that realm because of one reason and one reason alone. Each one is grounded in an underlying desire to re-establish a relationship that has already failed.
I mean no sane person keeps tabs on each one of their friends, not only is that a little crazy, it would take way too much time.
And hanging onto the hopes that your actually on the back burner or hanging onto the faint words, “we can stay friends” he threw out there to soften the blow of being dumped, is only setting yourself up to be hurt again and worse.
If you’re hoping to sneak into his peripheral and worm your way back into a relationship that’s already ended, you’re reading the wrong article.
You should be reading Chris’ Ex Boyfriend Recovery Pro.
We’re talking about establishing a whole new type of relationship without expectations of more.
The Foundation Dynamic
Okay, now that we’ve made sure that you’re in this for the right reasons I have one more point I’d like to make before I start to wrap this up.
I want to take a look at one more part of this journey to establishing a friendship with your ex boyfriend. It is the part that ASBOLUTELY NECESSARY to this quest. Exploring the foundation of the relationship that has already been built.
Normally I tell people not to spend too much time focused on the past. Today we we’re going to spend just enough time on it.
Let’s look at your relationship before you were together as a couple.
Did your relationship spring forth from a friendship that was already established? Or did you meet online one day and begin dating a week later?
I will tell you the only relationships in which I absolutely could not make a friendship work were the ones that did not begin as a friendship.
Not that it’s not doable, but it definitely helps. It’s like a lake before a storm. Even after a torrential downpour and winds that threaten to empty the lake of the water that makes it what it is, the lake has a calm and comfortable state to return to.
If you had a healthy friendship before you two began dating, then you are one third of the way to a healthy friendship after the relationship is over.
How was your actual relationship? I mean, clearly it wasn’t ideal, but like James and I, even though we weren’t right for each other, we rarely argued, our communication skills were, as my niece would say, “on point”, and we genuinely cared for each other.
If you had a good and healthy relationship with your ex while you two were together, then, you guessed it, you are two thirds of the way to getting a green light on moving forward with Operation Friends-with-an-Ex.
This one isn’t a deal breaker, but it will definitely change the way you go about things.
How difficult was your breakup?
Was there a big fight?
Did you call each other names?
Did you trash talk each other to anyone who would listen?
If you two were all but coming to blows, I wouldn’t suggest trying to be friends. I mean seriously, there are better things you could be doing with your time.
I would ALWAYS recommend taking some time to yourself after the break up. Put a little space between you and your ex, so-to-speak.
Here’s a bit of a timeline to use as a guide for how much time I suggest you take.
I’ve included a number to quantify the severity of the breakup on a scale of one to ten as a reference in parenthesis.
Mutual agreement (0) 30 days
The two of you might as well have split months ago, you just finally made it official. During a relationship we tend to lose ourselves a bit. I’m sure you’ve seen those couples that seem to almost be one person because they have spent so much time together. You are going to take this month to reestablish your identity.
The Oh-I-See (4) 45 days
He initiated the break, but you kind of saw it coming, and COMPLETELY understand why it needed to happen. You are also going to take this month and a half to reestablish your identity, as well settle into the idea that you will no longer be an item. Transitioning from a me to an I is not as easy as it sounds. You need to break the habits the two of you built as a couple and solidify some of your own.
One Sided (6) 60-70 days
He made the call. You’re still trying to figure out what happened. And honestly, you aren’t really sure, you’re in it for the right reasons. You need to take a step back and get all of that out of your system. You may never really know his really reasons for making the call. You have to come to terms with that if you want to keep him in your life.
Utter Heartbreak (10) 6 months – a year
Seems a little drastic right?
I mean you want him in your life, you can’t imagine it without him.
Quit that right now.
You take the time needed to reestablish your personal identity and get past the pain of the break up. That way you aren’t tempted to ask him “What the hell happened?!” every time you’re in the same room. That’s the test. If you run in the same circles and you find yourself trying to find some closure this way, politely excuse yourself to go do… anything else.
Seriously. I once found myself in this situation and actually excused myself to go feed my mother’s goldfish. You think
I’m even kidding.
They’re big and in a pond, but I didn’t explain that.
What’s the overall takeaway from this last section of info I threw at you?
Figure out where you stand and rebuild your identity as yourself rather than half of a duo.
Have you ever watched a super hero spinoff?
I’m a little nerdy and I LOVE superhero movies. (Go on and laugh. I’m confident in who I am. It won’t hurt my feelings.)
But have you ever noticed that a spinoff based on a secondary character doesn’t usually do well unless the directors have established who they are as a character?
That’s why we don’t see any really popular movies about Robin without Batman.
There isn’t a major film floating around called “Alfred Pennyworth: The Man behind the Man in the Cape” that I don’t know about. Although maybe soon, now that Gotham has given him a bit more background and substance. Who knows.
Anyways that is where I will leave you today.
Take what I’ve said, and do what you will with it.