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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!
        J

  4. 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!”

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