To Be or Not To Be…Friends with Your Ex


Lovers and madmen have such seething brains
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.

― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The question of whether ex lovers can ever be ‘just friends’ seems to be a non-unanimous ‘maybe.’ Researching the mags and rags a bit, I surmise that befriending an ex successfully is highly improbable but not impossible. Not surprising, it depends on the two people attempting the feat. Essentially, if the two had a good relationship while lovers, were mature, responsible and communicative, they probably could succeed in being just friends.

Several factors come into play, however. How was the breakup? If acrimonious and one sided, the likelihood of morphing into friendship is slim to none, especially if the ex is a cheating ex. Too many hard feelings carry over into the attempted new relationship that do not get resolved unless the one feeling victimized moves on and gets over the hurt likely to be re-inflamed by the person who caused it in the first place, regardless of time passage.

The one who breaks up with the other, always thinks that the other feels the same way. The “erasure of sincerity”, feeling as though you never meant anything to the other, is not something that we can control and makes us slightly hysterical. It is hard to believe that the one who just broke your heart honestly meant it when they said, “I love you,” and now they cannot even say hello to you. friendsandlovers

All articles I perused suggest giving any attempt at friendship the benefit of time. One article suggested no less than a month should pass before exes see each other as friends. I would think more time than that to let the feelings of resentment, regret, anger, love and familiarity dissipate. Familiarity is the most difficult one to completely dissolve, I imagine, as each meeting with the ex will bring up habits, sayings, tics and patterns both recognize and perhaps once found endearing or annoying. Those don’t go away just because the love does. And does the love go away completely? The comfort of knowing someone is available emotionally and physically–or so you thought–to hear your woes and worries, joys and successes, is a powerful bond hard to completely break. We need connection more than anything else from others.

All advisors agree that time is necessary to let feelings fade, mutual breakup is more likely to lead to a more successful attempt at friendship and confirmed open expectations or ground rules must be articulated and adhered to for any promise of friendship. When one has hope for rekindling the fire or the other coming around while that other is already moving on, there will be no friendship, just an extension of what was and worse–an extended breakup. Also, if the same habits and patterns in the relationship exist, for example, the confidential confessions, continual flirting, sex discussions, the friendship will not work, too confusing.

All agree too that the new mate poses problems of jealousy and the true test of friendship: Can you talk to your friend about your new excitement or disappointments or great sex with someone else without jealousy arousal or memories evoked of being naked with your ex? Unlikely, which brings back an earlier point of mutuality of intentions. If you don’t really intend on being friends but are just hanging on or hoping, then the best you can ever hope for eventually is a mere acquaintance. A good friend wants you to be happy and offers support with genuine motivations of giving, not self-interest. If it’s too painful to hear others taking your place or imagining yourself as the stepping stone to someone else’s growth, move on, forget about friendship and better luck next time.

With some, it will take more time than others to develop a friendship. It took ten years to eliminate all traces of emotion infused with memory for one of my exes, but now we are old time-tested friends. Though it rarely occurs, I could drink a beer with him any day and have a laugh without getting caught up in a web of what if’s and when we were’s. But when we have, the reference to some fun time is almost always with a warm wink and a twinkle in the eye–for both of us.

With others, the possibility ended with the ending of the relationship–the good riddance kinds. Some relationships you just know are toxic but are too stubborn or stupid to give up on them in time. They get frothy filthy lowdown with cheats and insults. By the time they peak in brutality sufficient to kill a nation let alone a relationship, one or both are craving the bullet, so that moving on has already occurred. These will never be friendships despite the cold, cold corpse of the relationship. There were too many hard feelings in the first place. Even in time, those will have you questioning what sort of atonement you thought you had to pay to suffer yourself such pain and humiliation.

And with others, regardless of the mutuality of intellectual knowing that “this is the best for both of us,” there will always be a lingering–the one that got away kind. That is the one friend you would love to have because friendship was such a strong basis of the relationship in the first place, but that friendship sat smack dab in the middle of great love making, lots of laughs, a little bit of chemistry and just the right amount of romance. The breakup may have been crushing or calm, but just how close you got to the right thing at the wrong time, or so you thought, is what will linger and prevent the curiosity of what could have been or should have been done. Even when the smell of him or her is long gone, you can still evoke at least the idea of having once had that scent drive you mad with desire, though the pulse of it is now missing.

You know what friendship is and you know what love is by the feel, smell, taste, sound and look of it. The gut knows the difference, but if your stomach doesn’t let you in on the secret, then lose your mind that leads you astray–in meditation. Don’t think long and hard about it, but simply be with it–your true desires and motivations–before you make any agreements to “just be friends” at the breakup, something tossed out by and for the benefit of the breaker, to make him or her feel better by making the breakee feel less abandoned.

It’s always best to clarify what you want before entering relationships, which is not easy and takes time and devotion. But in the end, that knowledge makes you less susceptible to capitulating to another’s needs in neglect of your own, one thing that was probably wrong with the relationship in the first place.

Should ex lovers be friends? Weigh in. Who has had the experience of trying?


Can You Ever Be Friends with Your Ex?

Sorry but this is why you can’t be friends with your ex

Can You Be Friends With Your Ex?

5 Things to Know About Befriending Your Ex

Should You Really “Stay Friends” After the Relationship is Over?

Friends or Lovers

11 Replies to “To Be or Not To Be…Friends with Your Ex”

  1. When I read this, I feel as if I am walking by a series of cages, each one containing some kind of animal and a posted description, a label. Everything with edges, boundaries of understanding, almost like a language I don’t speak.
    I think of the some of the friends I have on fb, Chrissie. I love Chrissie and always will, one of those lovers in a long orbit. Kathie too, a long orbit, they return as lovers now and then, but something there, I don’t know. I was always the nurturer and the one who did the logistical caring, even the laundry. Women I’ve lived with or were just a girlfriend, I always leave the door open and a place in my heart.
    My sisters always told me I keep my lovers like I do my pets, even speak to them in the same tone of voice, am always forgiving and understanding. If I decide to love you, in some ways, you can do no wrong, will always have a home and haven. I can’t be any other way, been through it too many times to know that about myself. Maybe that makes me a sucker, but I don’t like one, and the feeling it instills in those I love, good or bad, is something I’ve heard in words and seen.
    I am still learning about this, trying to understand why I am that way, but I don’t feel it’s anything I need to fix. Loving is all I care to do and have no one in my “not ever again” category.

    1. Wow, you have a gracious and compassionate attitude toward your exes, which must pay off in dividends of a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. I would bet not a lot of people can declare the same.

  2. Thinking of what I’ve said – I realize I decide in my head and heart, not in my gut. I don’t know that feeling there, just my intuition, my heart. Maybe I am not that deep.

  3. I always wanted to be like Jim but it never worked out like that for me. There are so many things that came into play with my long relationships ending and short term ones seemed to have more of a chance. But invariably it always was very difficult based on the years of love, whether we were still in love but just could not be together, whether we were always intensely attracted to each other physically, how the relationship ended and in what way each of us moved on. I found for me and most it takes time to break patterns that can make a couple uncoupling slip only to sometimes make the process worse and just extend the eventual. A word about this; I have always felt that two people have to be sure and not throw away something so special so fast, so if there is that special chemistry that just makes you fall all over again there might be something worth looking into. There is the physical that can make you temporarily forget the reasons you did break up and of course will remind you soon enough after you have fallen back into the pattern. I think it takes a few months because there are anger and other emotions to work out. Sometimes after a few months you are removed enough to at least talk and start a friendship but it generally can still end up in old patterns. The risk with always going back is that each time it dissipates the feelings so that where you might have had a shot at being friends you could risk losing that by not waiting long enough. I have had where this happened over and over only for me to end up just indifferent and then no friendship comes from that. I had a big love that everytime we saw each other we felt it so strong and would end up together only for the very painful end. Then one moves on with another and it causes complications and jealousies. It is far healthier to get to know a new person without all the people from the past being in the background to cause issues but is not always the case. Many people are overlappers and are never finished with the prior relationship when they start to install the new one. This just brings the transferring of baggage and emotions. Every relationship we have seems to be a reaction to the one that we just had or prior reactions. Where we had something we lacked in one, we find that in the next only to perhaps have a new thing we may not have even known about we sense unfulfilled. If you have been deceived, lied to, disrespected, cheated on; it will always be much harder. Once the trust has been broken it is hard to form a fruendship but not impossible. These types need time to get over and then you can find that person being a true friend hopefully. If one of the partners does not respect the boundaries and continuously crosses them, it can be hard. One could feel the challenge of getting the partner back who initiated the break up or if there was another person in the mix then there can be the challenge of competing (a role men can stereotypically put women) . These are toxic types who are looking to always cross those lines for their own interests and then leaving the other back in the past to deal with it all over again. I had trouble becoming friends with my three big relationships; first was too many feelings on both our ends and he had a new love and has now been married 30 years but he and I will always have been that tempestuous love, the unexplainable deep feeling that rarely comes in a lifetime but could never work due to the insanity of jealousy and possessiveness. The second one went on an anger route towards me instead of forgiving and giving himself peace but he moved on quickly taking all that with him. The third was a cheater, one who lied and didn’t seem to respect women but he attracted them like flies. I was sad to not know him as a friend because sometimes these types of men that make horrible boyfriends can be better friends, but it caused too much complications with his new life and wife because he was a cheater and she didn’t trust him with the women friends rightly so. I have always felt in my relationship we are best friends as well as lovers. If that best friend is spread too thinly it will never be exclusive. In the end I find if the man in my life is spending so much time with an ex girlfriend (especially the previous ones) whether it be seeing them often, needing to speak on the phone daily or often, texting daily or often, then I feel they should reconsider their choices. Invariably if the tables were turned they would not like it. I do like to go into my relationships with an open mind with exes in the picture, hoping the woman before me will have moved on and she and my love can be on friendly terms but it requires very evolved women to do this. Men have their own standards and can also be threatened. It is only something one can go by their instincts of what feels right and wrong. The reasons you broke up with one will always be there but sometimes it takes falling back into repeated patterns to realize that and it can take much longer than a month or few or even a year or more to break those patterns. If one is involved with someone new then it does risk the new relationship forming in a healthier way wearing it down with obstacles of trust. I know someone now, a recent love interest who does not have a great track record with being honest with woman, in other words a cheater. He had an amazing girl friend by his account (and from my own observations), but needs were differently met and got sought outside the relationship to get those met or he fell into old patterns with a former girlfriend prior to her. He did want the relationship, he wanted more time that she could not give him due to her circumstances. They both were friends and became lovers and had much contact each day but her life prevented the closeness he really needed and she may have seen the red flags in his character causing her to balk. For whatever reason they were drifting apart. Now they are trying to find their footing and break patterns that just seem to lead them back to the same circle although each time the circle gets wider and wider, at least it seems she is realizing it but he is more unrealistic (judging from his history). I found every time he went back to that I had a harder time being fully vested in the relationship until I finally became more indifferent. The risk and cost of not waiting long enough to break patterns on his end. I could only go by his precedence which was a history of no boundaries and his former girlfriend had similar concerns about his previous relationships. There are some who will never understand the boundaries needed and end up repeating patterns but losing out on having 100% focus with someone, and that could become the one who got away that they lost because they were not able to be just friends with an ex. Even though one of the exes might have the necessary boundaries, the other one who doesn’t can pull both right back into unhealthy patterns. I do feel though that if both partners keep going back they either need to re-evaluate why they left in the first place or why they cannot be just friends, as it can risk their happiness for the future. So many of us are lonely and the reach out to someone familiar can give us comfort but can bring more issues with it. It is never easy to know how long it takes as it is case by case, and sometimes it is just impossible.

    1. Thanks, Linda, for sharing your thoughts. Overlappers is a great term, so descriptive of some who leap from one to the next to avoid learning, leaving unfinished business just to avoid the hurt and the loneliness, which is a huge fear and motivator for some of the foolish things we do. We would rather be with the wrong person and suffer hurt rather than be alone, sometimes, some of us. It is like the kid who would rather get negative attention than no attention at all. But when all is said and done, whether the attraction was ruthlessly strong, or the friendship amidst the passion was salvageable, ultimately, there is a breakup for a reason. Otherwise, we call it a break or a hiatus. You know when it is a breakup. The liabilities outweigh the benefits. And the question is not whether you are throwing away something good but whether you are more afraid of something else by not letting go what you know should be gone. The friendship factor, after a long time, according to today’s author–a year or more–may kick in, but after a year without this person, you have probably moved on and the familiarity and need not as important. Face it, everything is a weighing of what someone brings to you and what you can tolerate. Some people have lower thresholds for pain or nonsense and would rather go hungry then feed off rotten scraps that might poison them. Some have good friends procured over time, tried and tested, so that they don’t need ex lovers as friends.

      1. Well said. I like the term overlapper too. The word “install” came out without thinking but really fits from all the overlappers I have known. I was trying to think of any love relationships that turned into friends for me and none ever did. The fleeting affair that petered out possibly, but none reached the true friend circle. I realize my loves were my best or “close” friend and when they had their status changed, it also changed all aspects forever. Hence, when we have heard the adage of “I don’t want to jeopardize or ruin our good friendship by getting involved”…and believe me I have heard that too, it really was true.

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