Friends With Exes

I have never been the type to look backwards. Glance back, maybe, but infrequently, in reflection, and never with longing. Perhaps that trait explains the shock I felt when I was first told that exes shouldn’t remain friends. Exes can’t be friends? Sure, I’d heard the old adage before. “Friends to lovers, forever. Lovers to friends, never.” I’ve had my share of awkward personal encounters, and I’ve declined invitations to events I’d known certain people would attend. But really, we’re all grown ups here. Why couldn’t we be friends?

Let me first clarify that friendship is something to be defined with the highest of calibers. By friendship, I don’t mean typical, friendly acquaintanceship. Rather, something consistently filled with depth and substance. Friendship is intimacy with an individual that surpasses surface niceties and general warm feelings. It is a mutual affection that requires tending and attention. Viewing friendship from such a high standpoint eases the bristling that I first felt at such a brash statement. Intimacy? Affection? Attention? Those are funny words to be associated with an ex. Which seriously got me thinking. 

Before pursuing a friendship with an ex, consider these things:

Am I being sensitive?  No break up is completely mutual. Usually, there’s the person who is being broken up with, and the one who’s doing the breaking up. For our purposes, we’ll refer to them as the broken and the breaker. Chances are, the broken may still have unresolved feelings, which could create unnecessary messiness and unintentional hope. Also, consider your current or future love interests. Are you being sensitive to them?

How long has it been? Length of time is not the deciding factor, but it is a factor. There’s a natural processing of events after a significant relationship ends. Questions of, “What happened?” and “Where did things go wrong?” are normal, and healthy. If the breaker is still around, it can interfere with the natural process of grieving and recovery. Clean breaks keep you from turning scenarios of “What happened?” into possibilities of, “What if?” It’s in the best interest of both parties to leave each other alone. That’s not necessarily easy, but it’s the healthiest option for everyone involved; currently and in the future.

What’s my motivation? Is there a reason to remain friends? Is this reason honorable? Understanding one’s motivation cuts through self-deception to the heart of the issue. Granted, there are always exceptions. For example, things are different when you have children together. But outside of the occasional exception, there aren’t many worthy reasons to keep an ex around.

Common reasons are:

  • “It’s immature not to be friends.” When in fact, clean separation is the most mature thing you can do. Part of maturity is acceptance and letting go. It takes more maturity to say “no,” thereby taking responsibility for your emotions and for theirs. We have a certain capacity for relationship in our lives… is it wise to use one of those spaces on someone you’ve let go of?
  • “I wouldn’t be who I am without them.” Relationships have a huge impact on our lives. That’s why we struggle to hold on to some people for such a long time. We cling to the mark they left on us, and our memories demand loyalty. The trouble with emotions is that there are no concrete rules. Affection and romance play similar tunes. If we’re not careful, nostalgia and sentimentality can smother growth and new opportunity.
  • “We were friends first.” Crossing the bridge between platonic to romantic effectively closes the door to a natural, easy reversal. By all means. Remain friendly. But friendly is different from friends.

As far as exes go, I wouldn’t say that you can’t be friends. Black and white blanket statements don’t account for the very real-ness of life. Being friends with an ex is definitely an option… but more likely than not, it’s not a very good one. Keep looking forward, friends. Rest assured, that’s much easier to do when you’re not holding hands with the past.

Disagree? Have additional questions? Leave a comment or email me at mail@kmayadao.com and I’ll be sure to get back to you.

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