We say a lot of things when breaking up with someone, in order to soften the blow. “It’s not you, it’s me” is a perennial favorite. As is, “I still love you, I just can’t be with you.” And then, of course, there’s “But we can still be friends.”
But Can We? Can We Really Still Be Friends with an Ex?
The short answer, I think, is no. There are exceptions to this — as there are exceptions to nearly everything — but, generally speaking, trying to maintain a friendship with someone you were in a romantic relationship with is usually a bad idea. Here’s why:
One of You Probably Still Has Feelings for the Other
Some breakups are mutual, it’s true, but, more often than not, they’re instigated by one partner or the other. Having one partner who would have continued the relationship, if given the chance, and another who is ready to move on calls both partners’ motivations for staying friends into question.
If you’re not the one who initiated the breakup, chances are you’re agreeing to “stay friends” as a way to stay close to the person you’ve lost. Being dumped is awful, and feeling like you’ve lost the man you thought you were going to marry is even worse, but clinging to the crumbs of his “friendship” is not doing yourself any favors. Trying to maintain a close relationship with someone you still love will only lead to heartache, and it’ll hold you back from finding love with someone else.
Trying to maintain a close relationship with someone you still love will only lead to heartache, and it’ll hold you back from finding love with someone else.
If you are the one who initiated the breakup, saying you’ll “stay friends” is unfair to your partner. He needs to be able to move on (just like you do), and if he’s still in love with you, seeing you on a regular basis will make that hard for him.
You also want to examine your motives here. It feels good to be loved (even if you don’t love him back). It’s possible you’re holding onto his friendship because you enjoy the feeling of being loved, or because you really do still love him and want to spend time with him, even though you don’t love him romantically anymore. Those feelings are all understandable, but they’re not fair to him. He needs to go out and find someone new. And so do you.
It Complicates Your New Relationship
Staying friends with your ex might feel good at first — being alone is scary, and your relationship, though over, may feel safe — but eventually you’ll want to find someone new. Being in frequent, close contact with your ex may scare off potential new partners.
Now, you might be thinking, “If my new guy can’t trust me when I say it’s over between me and my ex then how is he going to trust me on anything?” And I get that. But this is a little different. Your new potential boyfriend is still getting to know you. Presumably — since you’re interested in him — he’s someone who is hoping to commit to you. It’s hard to commit to someone whose ex-boyfriend is always calling, showing up unannounced, or asking you to hang out at his place. As innocent as all those things might be (though I suspect they’re not really all that innocent, see above), they look suspicious.
Your willingness to stop seeing your ex is a good indicator that you’re ready to move on.
You want to be able to enter a new relationship with as little baggage as possible. Cutting ties to old flames is a really good way to do this. Also, your willingness to stop seeing your ex is a good indicator that you’re ready to move on. So, working on being ready to do that is something worth doing.
It’ll Hold You Back
No matter who initiated the breakup, breakups are hard to get over. There was, presumably, a time when you thought you were going to spend your life with this person, and now he’s gone. Even if you were the one who knew it was time to end things, being suddenly alone is scary and uncomfortable.
Staying friends with an ex is often a way to hang on to that familiar feeling of closeness and comfort. This is a person who, for better or worse, knows you really well. Letting go of him completely may feel like walking a tightrope without a safety net. But you can’t start a new relationship if you’re still hanging onto someone else as a backup. Plus, it’s possible you broke up with him because he’s emotionally manipulative or disengaged. You need to rid yourself of that completely in order to move on.
You can’t start a new relationship if you’re still hanging onto someone else as a backup.
As frightening as it may feel to get back out there and meet new people, that’s what you’ve got to do if you want to find love again. Your ex, I’m guessing, isn’t going to be the kind of “friend” who wants to hear about the date you went on or the guy you think you’re falling for. So, hanging around your ex will make you feel guilty for moving on, and hold you back. Plus, you’ll be doing the same thing to him, even if you don’t mean to.
I said earlier that there may be a few exceptions to the "no friendships with your ex-rule." There are certainly people who’ve stayed friends with an ex, and everything has worked out fine. But it’s rare.
Here is a basic rule about staying friends with an ex: it can’t happen right away. There’s no “friend” switch. If you were romantically involved one day, you can’t suddenly be just friends the next. It doesn’t work like that. You need to take some time (and I’m talking, like, a year or more) apart so you can really, truly move on.
Here is a basic rule about staying friends with an ex: it can’t happen right away.
Here’s another basic rule: he can’t have been the love of your life (and you can’t have been the love of his). No matter how much time has passed — and how happily married you now are — becoming friends with someone who you previously thought you were going to marry, have a bunch of kids with, and grow old with is not a good idea. (It’s also not a good idea if you know he felt that way about you.) But if you dated for a couple months in college or something and now it’s years later, you could maybe give being friends a try.
Staying friends with your ex may seem like the kind thing to do. It may feel like a safe thing to do. It may feel well and truly downright frightening to cut off ties with him altogether. But, in most circumstances, that’s what you’ve got to do. It’s not fair to keep him on the hook if he’s pining for you. And it’s not healthy to hang onto him if you’re pining for him. As hard as it may be, let him go. It’s time to move on.