Befriending the Ex

can you be friends with your ex?It’s the standard line. Everyone’s heard it at least once, and most of us have actually said it. Sometimes it’s spoken with sincerity, and sometimes it’s just a lame attempt to let the other person down easy. Either way, it means the end of a dating relationship.

“We can still be friends.”

The vast majority of the time, neither party puts too much effort into a post-dating friendship. It’s mega awkward, for one. Also, even if you were friends before dating, it’s hard to work your way back to that place. You’ve been a couple with this person. Returning to the friend zone is no easy thing.

Instead, most of the time, both people go their separate ways. Apart from an occasional social run-in, very few of us try to carve out a permanent spot for an ex in our close circle of friends.

That said, what if you want to? Is it a good idea, or a disaster waiting to happen?

It depends.

First, you have to think about what’s really good for you. Sure, in the wake of a breakup, you’re likely to feel the void left by the other person. You’re probably used to talking to them daily. You’ve shared your life with them. It’s weird to turn around one day and find them missing. The idea of keeping them in your life as a friend is appealing because you obviously like something about them. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have dated them!

But, sometimes maintaining a friendship is just a way of clinging to the hope that you’ll get back together. That’s likely to take the awkwardness to a whole new level, and that’s definitely not good for you. Maybe you’ll date again and maybe you won’t, but that chance is no basis for friendship.

You have to be realistic.

Becoming friends with someone you dated is kind of like starting all over again. You can’t go back to a pre-dating state. You have to approach the thing like a brand new friendship, starting from scratch.

Often, it’s best to give it a bit of time. The longer you dated, the more time you should allow before you plunge into friendship. The last thing you want is an accidental hookup, and those are easy to fall into when you’ve just broken up with someone. That’s a friendship killer for sure. Also, a fling with a recent ex will mess with your head. Avoid that at all costs.

But, what about social encounters? If you run in the same circles, you’re going to cross paths. What do you do then?

Be nice. You know lots of people you’re friendly towards who don’t hold the title of BFF. It’s not that hard to be polite and friendly without pushing things further than they are ready to go.

can you be friends with your ex?After some time has passed, a real friendship is possible with an ex. Be sensitive to where both of you are. If either of you is still hung up on the other, that could make for a tough time. Also, when you start dating someone else, be aware of the fact that they may not do cartwheels at the idea of you being all buddy-buddy with your last boyfriend or girlfriend. You’ll have to approach that carefully to keep it from blowing up in your face.

Friendship is a special thing, and definitely possible with an ex, as long as you take your time and pay a lot of attention to how both of you really feel. Like any other relationship, it’s wise not to rush it. Let it happen in its own time, and err on the side of caution.

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40 thoughts on “Befriending the Ex

  1. Mieze said:

    Hi James, once again this is a very thoughtful and helpful article. I don’t know if I am seeing this right, but for me, the idea of friendship after the relationship is a bit dependent on how the relationship was ended, based on friendship or not.

    I am currently struggling still with that idea about an ex from a long distance relationship, even though I originally knew him from high school many years ago. This is because he was seeing someone else one month before I found out to confront him. Had he come over to tell me, that it is over honestly and thereby showing respect for our relationship I would have understood and respected his decision and this in turn would have made it easier for me to respect him as a friend later.

  2. Teresa said:

    After our 2nd date, I showed the man a way to make an investment and make millions. He did as I told him to, I set him up for the investment, it ran out after 45 days unless he renewed it. He just so happened to call me on the 45th day, to ask me how to renew it. I told him how to do it. Then he said Thank you, and said how sorry he had been for not being in touch with me, but he had just been very busy. He is a janitor. Then he told me (after he got my info how to renew), that he only wanted to be FRIENDS with me. I felt quite used. So I replied: No thank you. I don’t wish to be your friend. I have 1500 friends, an abundance of friends, I don’t need any more friends. My friend list is at its capacity. Thanks anyway. And by the way, you can follow the investment updates, from now on by looking on the internet, to see how it is doing. And Goodbye. (I had been sending him email FWD updates on the investment, but I stopped.) I have no regrets. The guy was on lots of prescription drugs for many yrs so I really did not consider him any great prize. He is the only one I ever said that to in my life. Teresa

  3. barbie said:

    ex room mate was 4 yrs ago/so no problem ,

    • barbie said:

      meaning I was no longer connected to him at all!in any way , or no one else !!ty ,,

  4. barbie ... said:

    and no thoughts of being friends with him.ever !!!

  5. barbie,, said:

    birdiemom u have nothing to woory about ,, laughing!!

  6. PAT said:


  7. CNF said:

    So true these words. My ex wanted to remain friends…. and yes it was awkward. and yes fell in to the mistake fling … meaning way more to me than to him. [ It WAS too soon… and HE wanted to get back together] But his words on the breakup told me NO. Then a year after that he had to move and asked my assistance / I caved and we had the fling (two nites) …. And I thought it was going to begin to bloom in to another relationship. BUT … it apparently was all in my head….. He had a GF – – – So, here I am going thru all those emotions and heartaches all over again. It’s been two years next month since the first initial breakup, and I have not dated anyone. He has. He moves on so easily.

    • Mary said:

      Hi, I empathize with you. Hear what. Sex to men is just a plate of food when they are hungry but to women it is the ultimate expression of love and caring. When we understand that the better for us.
      Giving in to them does not make them love us it just satisfies them. So it is either we love ourselves more than them.

  8. tesia said:

    I still find it hard even after 3 years to talk to my ex, even though we have three kids together. It’s only the kids that we talk to about. Or work as we work together as well. I would like to be friends but I get the felling he can’t or doesn’t want to go down that road. It’s ok I’ve moved on. But it plays on my mind sometimes, has he?

  9. Hi James,
    Am in a bit of a situation too. My x whom I had dated for 2 years chose to break up with me when I found him in bed with another lady. 3 months down the line, and after going through depression,I meet someone new.My x BF starts showing up at my place that he is sorry and that he wants us back. I still love him but again,I think being with the new guy is the right thing to do. So there are conflicting interests between what my heart wants and what my mind thinks I should do. Please help…should I go back to my x and if so, basing on your experience,is there a possibility that my x would do what he had done to me again?

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Royce. Unfortunately, with human behavior the past is the best predictor of the future. If he had so little regard for you and his relationship with you, I would not advise giving him a second chance.


    • Jackie said:

      After 2 years and the guy cheating on you, he is not the one to spend any more time with. Try the new guy.

      I dated a guy for 8 years, he broke up w me. As soon as I met a new guy, the old boyfriend wanted to get back together with me, promising me everything I said I wanted. He knew exactly what I wanted out of our relationship of 8 years, but during those years would just give me enough to barely hang on.

      I gave the new guy a chance, and haven’t looked back since. It was the best decision of my life.

      The leopard doesn’t change it’s spots. Definitely give the new guy a chance. The old BF had his chance, and he blew it. You deserve the best in life. The cheater is not the one. The old boyfriend is the one that teaches you to treat yourself better…making lemonade out of lemons. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Nancy said:

    There were reasons in order to break up. I don’t see any reason or necessary to keep friendship with ex unless you still have feelings and wish to get back together someday…but all you get is another heartbreaking..why bother? Move on and start over with a brand new person.

  11. Marie said:

    Hi Jame!
    Love all your info, thank you! First time I’ve replied here. I’m friends with my ex. Good friends. I still cut his hair, and he still fixes my car. We were married for almost 10 years. I really loved him, just not his drinking problem. Of course after I filed, he stopped drinking. I think the divorce saved his life tho. We’re both doing great and are both in other relationships. Although his new gal doesn’t know we’ve kept in touch. He is still not drinking and we are both very happy. We still see each others families around town and have remained friendly and caring. I think in our case, we make much better friends. In my own opinion I think it can work as long as the respect for each party remains. It’s been 3 years now since the divorce and although we don’t see each other very often, maybe once a month, its always nice to see each other again. There is no messing around between us. We’re just friends, I think it works because we still respect each other and there was nothing hostile going on between us during the divorce. Just my 2ยข worth! Giggles! Thanks for all you do!

    • James Bauer said:

      That’s impressive. Nice to hear a positive story of success in that kind of situation.

  12. Odette said:

    Its is impossible to be real friends with someone you have loved! It will always reopen the wound if you attempt to nurture friendship.

  13. Sandy said:

    My x and I are very good friends. I’m in a new relationship and he is very happy for me. And I told my new boyfriend that I still keep in touch with my x. He thinks it’s strange. But understands we are friends only. Plus my x lives in another state. So, that doesn’t cause any problems. This probably doesn’t happen that often. But it works for us.

  14. Sherri said:

    I have one very good friend whom I dated at one time and almost married. We were friends before we dated and remained friends after – to this day. We have now known each other for 20 years. However, with past romances that were extremely passionate, I have found it best to move on. And this is most of them in the past 20 years.

  15. Hi James,
    You are doing a good job helping and advising people on the way around life and living. The topics that you bring up are vital and real life situations.I do read most of the posts people send and at the end of the day,i also learn a lot.
    keep up the good work.

  16. Diana said:

    James, you mentioned that if someone was cheating on you doesn’t deserve a second chance. Is this really so absolutely? I think that every person deserves another chance after making a mistake. Nobody is perfect and everybody can become weak some day. Sometimes a cheating is only a sign that the relationship needs more work and it could be a new begin, new opportunity for both of them. In my opinion there are always both persons needed to make one of them cheating. Of course there are notorious cheaters, but I’m not speaking of them.
    Recently I talked to a friend which husband cheated on her with some new co-worker and she is now so very angry and hurt. But when I asked her how was their sex life, she said, “well, you know, I’m not much into sex and he is very often horny, but this is just annoying for me. ”
    No comment.

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Diana. There is no absolute when it comes to opinions. My opinion is based on my values and belief system about what a relationship means and what sexuality means. Some people don’t think of Sexual monogamy as something that is an absolute must for a relationship. I do.

      That doesn’t mean you or your friend can’t have a different opinion and personal stance on the issue.

  17. Elisabeth said:

    Two of my ex boyfriends are my best friends. There is a deep caring feeling for each other, one of them even gives me advice on new relationships, and when things go wrong with other men, I can cry down the phone to him for an hour. Nobody knows me as well as they do, we respect each other, appreciate each other’s qualities and accept each others weaknesses.

  18. Nia said:

    Hello James,

    This is my first time doing anything like this. My boyfriend just broke up with me after we’ve been together for a year and a half. He told me that he only feels for me a very deep friendship. He informed me, and from what I’ve seen in our relationship; that I’m the only woman he didn’t want to lose my friendship. Which every single one of his ex’s were just plain crazy. I mean really crazy as in trying to kill themselves, him, and stalkers. I told him I didn’t understand what happened. I thought our relationship was progressing. I finally met his parents a couple of months ago, and he had given me keys to his apartment; which I still have. He started crying; I mean really crying before I did; as I was still in shock. He said he still wanted to hang out; that I could still come over; stay the night, and take showers there. That there was no need to take my things home, and for the keys I could keep them if I wanted. It hurts so much as I do love him, but I don’t want him out of life. I’m so confused, and I think he is too. But that is probably the usual wishful thinking. What is your advice? I’ve literally have been crying for the past 2 days. I’m at a loss.

    • James Bauer said:

      Hey Nia. It sounds like a very healthy relationship the two of you built. I wonder if he always saw you as a friend, or if the romantic feelings faded for him at some point after you became a couple.

      The difference between a romantic relationship and a friendship is the desire for exclusivity. If he wants you all to himself and gets a jealous feeling at the thought of sharing you, then it’s something more than friendship. But if he is at a point where he’s ok with being a close friend (but without that special exclusive claim) then he does not have that romantic feeling about you right now.

      Because of this, I’d advise you to consider whether you really want to be with a man who doesn’t feel “in love” with you. It still hurts. I understand that. And you will still grieve. But it’s better to know the truth about how he feels than to be in the dark.

      You might find this helpful…something I wrote about letting go even when we don’t want to.


  19. Bella said:

    Hi James!!!
    My boyfriend of 6 years once told me that he wants us to be friends with benefits. At first I didn’t understand what he was talking about as it started with ‘ I NEED A BREAK’ then it went to that request. I gave him the break he wanted. Now he came back and we are trying to rebuilt the relationship from scratch. He doesn’t want be intimate with me stating that it will happen in its own time. Yesterday he made a comment that he can talk to me about anything and he can be open about anything with me and he likes and enjoys that. What can I do to show him how much I love him.

    • James Bauer said:

      Wow, Bella. It seems like you already have done a lot to show him how much you love him! It’s his turn to decide he’s really going to invest in your relationship long-term.

      Hold the course rather than changing anything right now. But in your own mind (secretly) set a boundary. I’m talking about a timeframe beyond which you are not willing to continue to be just a friend in his life. If that time comes and he still has not pursued you romantically, then I suggest you tell him you’ve decided you want a relationship with him, but since that does not seem to be an option you’re going to seek a relationship with someone else.

      This prevents you from remaining stuck in a relationship that is not going anywhere. But at the same time it gives the relationship a chance to grow and flourish in case it does have that special magic needed to grow into something more.

      • BELLA said:

        Hi James!!
        Thank you for the previous advice. I’ll now call him my ex because things didn’t work out between us. I found out that he is a cheat and a liar. He was manipulating me, playing with my feelings, pretending he loved me whereas he only loved the material things I can offer him. I’m now going through the process of healing and I think I’M GETIING THERE

        • James Bauer said:

          Hi Bella. While I’m sad to hear this, at least you have seen the truth and have exited a relationship that was holding you back from the happiness you deserve.


          • Nia said:

            I would like to Thank You for your advice James you gave me a while back, but I decided that I will not be friends with my ex. It turns out 2 1/2 months shortly after he broke up with me he got married to a very young woman. I was in the healing process at that time, and was actually seriously considering staying as good friends with him. Now, I just feel so used, manipulated, and hurt. My friends and family tell me I should forget about him; especially since it appears that he may have been cheating on me during our relationship. But, to be honest, it’s really hard to forget when I just want him to hurt as bad as I am hurting. I know that’s wrong of me to feel this way. I should be the better person, and I am a firm believer of “what goes around comes around” but I’m just so angry. I haven’t truly haven’t felt this much anger about anyone before. It’s a bit concerning. I feel like I’m on the precipice of a cliff, and if I was to fall over; there’s no coming back.

  20. Anna said:

    Great article!
    Gave me food for thought and actually showed me that I didn’t have too much to worry about if someone I became interested in said that he still has an Ex as a friend. BUT…

    IMHO, my understanding of how these things work is that IF you are desirous of enjoying a Soul Mate connection, then remaining friends with your Ex is a bad idea. This is because 1) The person got cut for a reason – trust that and trust fate and 2) when there is a space created for what you want, the universe abhorring a vaccuum, rushes in to fill it. If you’re sending messages to the Universe that you already have someone filling a space (no matter how mediocre that relationship may be), the message is that you don’t need anything further in that department.

    It’s a spiritual (heart) thing. It’s going to take Spiritual (cosmic/universe) to do the magic to bring in a Soul Mate type of love. That’s what most are seeking, right?

    I learned this a while back, as long as there is a placeholder, the place will never be filled. Instinctively, the right partner will not come in. Getting vibes to the contrary that they should attract to you.

    Got rid of all of your Exes but still waiting for what feels like eternity? Well, this is true that the Soul Mate thing also has it’s own special timing. This is synchronicity (Divine Timing). Having a place holder sort of pushes things a little out of sync. Instead of following your heart to be at a specific place where your Soul Mate might be having lunch, you might find yourself arguing at home on the sofa with the Ex mate over which movie to “Netflix and Chill” to.

    Make a clean cut, stand on your own, be courageous in being a stand-alone for the moment and trust your heart. I don’t know how well you can go back to being friends when you might have had your face buried in the other’s kibbles and bits at one time. LOL


  21. Cate G said:

    Anna, you are so right! They are an ”ex” for a reason and there will never be a “next” until you give them up and let them go, for both of your sakes.
    Reading the replies in this column is fascinating…sometimes like watching a train wreck! I just want to scream, the answer to so many questions is “GET OUT!”

  22. Judith said:

    Hi James,
    I read your message and all of the replies here. It’s been almost 7 years since my ex left. He moved out while I was at work one day just after Christmas. We were together for 15 years. He been seeing someone for a few months behind by back.
    He said I was no fun because I was recovering from breast cancer and it was no fun to be with me. I had been hospitalized twice and nearly died from it once. He wouldn’t help me during that time and didn’t come see me in hospital because the food wasn’t good enough for him.
    That said, he never gave any indication he was leaving. I later found out he said derogatory things about me to our mutual friends-clearly to give himself permission to be so cruel. I see him ow occasion by accident. I don’t consider him a friend. I am always cordial and polite which is difficult, but the best option.
    I now have a new relationship with another man who says he loves me. It’s hard some days to trust him because of the past hurt. I believe him and feel the same for him. He still sees his ex and stays in touch with her sometimes without telling me- I find out because he says something about seeing her or that something is her favourite place, etc, this causes me stress so I don’t feel I can give all I want to him. I feel he has a connection with her that could could send him back to her as she always needs “help” with things. He doesn’t think it’s anything for me to worry about. Am I doomed by the past? Some thoughts please. Thanks in advance. I enjoy your posts.

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Judith. It makes sense to me why you feel past hurts are holding you back in your current relationship. It’s hard not to look at present circumstances through a lens that is colored by experiences from the past.

      But here’s a different way to approach life. It’s not easy to do, but the payoff is high if you can succeed with this mentality. Live life toward what you do want, not as a means to avoid what you don’t want.

      It’s one of those “easier said than done” type things. But in my own personal life, it has made all the difference. It allows my spirit to overcome hardship. It allows me to live a life of hope and joy rather than being constantly burdened by fear. And it has an almost magical way of bringing more of the good things in life. That’s because regardless of whether your mentality actually changes reality, you enjoy the process along the way. Hardships will come in your future. Of that you can be certain. No one can escape hardship in this life. But some of us live continually in the hope of good things, and take courage in fighting for those good things and believing in those good things and deciding to make them possible because we choose to chase after them. This does not make us invincible. It merely makes us stronger in the foundation of who we choose to be as human beings.

      I invite you to join us. Become a person who chooses to believe in the best and invest in the best even while knowing you cannot control the decisions of others.

      • Judith said:

        Hi James,
        Thank you for your reply. It’s a lot of great advice. I generally live in the positive and go forward except for this area of relationships. With your information and suggestions I feel a sense of power over the negative feelings of hurt from the past. So there may be hope for me to shed the cloak of fear surrounding with relationships.
        My new partner and I talked about these fears of loss and rejection last night. He brought it up and we both feel closer now having putting a name to the fear.
        Your advice was very helpful. I have written down some positive ways to keep in the present and avoid negative thoughts.
        Thanks again!

  23. Romany said:

    I can honestly say, other than 2 ex’s, all of mine have come back wanting to be friends, but have made it perfectly clear eatly on in the ‘new friemdship’ that they want to f**k me, (dome have even used those actual words) they say they think about me often, that not only am I a great f**k, but also a fantastic friend… I used to be confused when I was younger and think they have finally realised I was the right person for them, but history does repeat itself… I am still single, I’m wary now, of all men, because I don’t know what I do or don’t do to make them loose respect, when I have respect for myself, when we originally met i didn’t jump into bed with them. They have had to work for it. It’s made me think that there is no future in history. So now when they get in touch I tell them to go forth.

  24. Patsy said:

    James, your post came at a perfect time for me. I have been “friends” with my boyfriend for about a month, after being in a relationship with him for 2 years. We stopped having sex (his choice) after a year, and I kept hoping things would change. It became more obvious to me that he wanted to see less of me, but he’s the kind of man who can’t just come out and say it. He hasn’t seen anyone else, and I think he truly loves me as a friend. But I wanted more. This past month has been good, and we’ve seen each other fairly often, sometimes spending the night together. Tonight we went to hear some live music and dinner, and after he took me home, I asked him: “Do you miss spending the night with me?” He answered, “It’s good once in a while.” That was a CLEAR indication that there is NO HOPE things will ever change. After he left to go to his house, I removed all his pictures from Facebook and removed the framed photos. And then I read your blog. Thank you. I needed that. I’m ready now to truly move on. That little spark of hope is gone. I expect maybe we can be friends some time in the future, but your advice of giving it a good amount of time without seeing each other is good. Thank you. I’ll be fine now, and I’ll focus on the future, not on the past.

    • James Bauer said:

      Based on what you’ve shared here, Patsy, it seems your decision was a wise one. You are moving toward greater happiness even though it’s emotionally difficult at the moment.

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