August 23, 2019

Lovers to Friends? Should You Stay Friends after a Break-up?

FriendsAfterABreakup“Let’s just be friends.”  Four words dreaded by anyone who’s been in a fading or unequal relationship with what turns out to be a short shelf life.  The comedic English singing duo, Rocky and Balls, sing about it quite hilariously in this video.

Though the whole topic is superb fodder for a strange variety of gallows humor or late night rants with any number of sympathetic listeners, it is actually possible for exes to become, or remain, friends.  I know of couples, long divorced, who return to a state of friendship based on some of the qualities in each other that brought them together originally.  Intellectual camaraderie or shared interests and experiences can create a strong foundation for friendship after the spark is doused.

However… it’s not easy and not every couple can achieve this miraculous status quo.

So if you are curious whether your ex-lover can be your BFF, what follows is food for thought.

Ask yourself:

Would a friendship with this person be based on mutual trust, respect, and a genuine concern for one another’s happiness?  That is the only kind of friendship you want to be part of.  Is being friends with an ex-lover in your best interest?  Read on.

It might work if…

  • Both of you are on board.  Friendship with your ex won’t work if one of you is bitter or resentful, or one of you is hurt and lonely, wanting nothing more than to become lovers again.  If the friendship is not based on equality of intention, it is doomed.
  • Both are willing to do the work and make the sacrifices needed to be friends.  Probably more than in other friendships, a friendship after romance is tough.  Are you both willing to give up the perks of your former relationship in favor of a new kind of bond?  You can’t expect 24 hour a day availability, XXXX, or sex, for example, now that things are on a different footing.
  • You share something that requires civility so that the opportunity for true friendship is real.  For example, if you have children together, or even a dog, the relationship has an excuse to continue into the friend zone, if you both are willing and capable.
  • You were friends prior to the romance.  If you were truly friends – without benefits and without any kind of romantic agenda – before you became involved romantically, there is a better chance you can do so afterwards.  There is a precedent.  Been there, done that.
  • Your break up was indeed amicable.  If you managed to separate without acrimony or bitterness, congratulations.  And if so, you could conceivably hold onto a friendship.  If one or both of you acted in anger or behaved vindictively – even a little bit – during the split, it will be very hard to regain the trust required to actually be friends.
  • Time has had the chance to do its work.  Moving from lovers on Wednesday to friends on Thursday is both unlikely and unhealthy.  Enough time needs to pass so that both of you are over each other, and have moved on.  Even without deep wounds or resentment, no break up is “fun” and you need time to deal with the sadness of that loss.

But why do you want to be friends?  If you want to be friends because you really miss one another’s company, have a lot in common, have genuine affection though the passion is gone… go for it.  But if you are honest with yourself and realize that any of the following is true, please reconsider the friend option…

  • Do you really want to be friends or are you clinging to hope?  If it is reconciliation you seek, be honest about that.  Don’t hide your intentions under the guise of “friendship.”  Doing so breaks trust.
  • Are you feeling guilty for the break up?  If your offer of friendship is actually a consolation prize in disguise – it’s worthless.  Friendship has to be based on real things, just as romance does.  If you are not motivated by a genuine interest in being friends, and all that entails, it is best to move on and let your ex recover in peace.  He or she will not be grateful if the truth comes out… and it will.
  • Are you simply lonely?  After a break up it is normal to miss the other person, even if you initiated the split.  You may have weak moments when you question your decision to end it.  If you were the one who was left, your loneliness may be even greater, and exacerbated by feelings of inadequacy.  No matter which end of the break-up you are on, friendship is not going to make up for the painful truth:  you have to process the split on your own time, in your own way.  Friendship with your ex will make it harder to do so if it simply masks deep loneliness.

Disadvantages of post-romance friendship:

  • Are you living in the past by holding on to this person as a friend?  Let go now.
  • Being with an ex can be a constant reminder of painful issues that caused the break up in the first place.  Is it worth it?
  • If you are “friends with benefits” there is a reason – sex is easy when it’s familiar.  But it can also a) screw up a friendship and b) prevent moving on… and new love.
  • What about when you do start a new relationship?  If your ex is your friend, will it be uncomfortable talking about it?  Or listening to your ex talk about a new love interest?  That can be a downer.
  • It is important to keep boundaries clear in any relationship and in any break-up.  So what do you do if you are in a relationship (as friends) with your ex?  Wow… those blurry boundaries can be confusing.

Advantages of a clean break (no friendship with the ex):

  • You can objectively assess what worked and what didn’t work in your relationship if there is a clean break.  If you are still connected as friends, it will be much harder for you to gain perspective about what you want and need in a relationship.
  • There is something to be said for simply moving on with your life.
  • No matter how complicated or relatively simple friendship with your ex may seem, you will have a lot more freedom to look for a new relationship if you do not have a friend/ex to answer to over a beer after work.
  • Maybe it’s best not to know your ex’s current relationship status….
  • Avoiding awkwardness is maybe not a compelling reason to forego friendship.  But wait… ask yourself why it’s awkward… to explain to your family what your relationship status is now, or to run into mutual friends at a party, or to make excuses about your choices.  If it feels “off” or awkward, that’s your gut giving you the answer.

My advice to you:

Given the challenges of becoming friends with an ex, I advise you to consider long and hard before falling into what can become unhealthy or, at the very least, problematic and uncomfortable.  I’m not saying it can’t happen, but before becoming friends with an ex, take a break.  Be sure you give yourself the time you need to get your bearings, heal wounds, adjust to being single, and return to your full, authentic self.


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