So once upon a time there lived you, and a person you were fairly crazy about. At some point you imagined a future together and held big hopes that you had finally met your person. Or maybe you didn’t, but they did. Either way, it didn’t quite end up that way for one reason or another…
Maybe you have kids with this person and feel it would be in their best interests to stay friends with the ex. Maybe you or they offered friendship only halfheartedly as a way to soften the break up blow. Perhaps you have been together for so long that co-dependency creeps in making you unable to imagine a future without this person, even if the context is now different. It’s possible that all your friends were mutual and you feel it is for the greater good that you stay friends. For whatever reason, most of us have pondered staying friends with an ex.
In order to give readers some personal context, I should note that the only ex I have been able or willing to maintain a friendship with is female, however I do feel (I hope!) that if circumstances dictated necessity; that I could maintain a friendship with my husband post marriage too.
When I look at my situation with my ex girlfriend, and that of someone currently navigating the waters of being friends with an ex, or a few actually; 3 things stand out.
1. Time and Space. All emotional romantic investment must have dissipated – on BOTH sides. Where it hasn’t; BOTH people must respect the feelings of the other person more than they would any other friend without a shared romantic history. For example perhaps don’t go on and on about your new romance?
In my (admittedly limited) experience it is not possible to slide straight from a romantic context to a platonic one. When my ex, who I am very lucky to still call a close and valued friend, and I, tried to rush straight into friendship it was a disaster. We ended up tangled up in a messy web of hurt and jealousy and even a few more intimacies than platonic friends usually share. Clears throat! haha ;) My ex had the good sense to end it. I don’t know if she meant it when she asked me for “a year’s break” from each other so we could each have the space to figure out what we wanted and rediscover who we were without each other. However she asked me and I respected her enough to oblige. One year - No contact.
After a year had passed, I contacted her again (I'm nothing if not persistent! A bit like a bad smell perhaps?! haha) and we began our friendship all over again - on tender hooks. To be honest I don’t know if she thought I wouldn’t contact her again, and I don’t know if she herself would have reached out if I didn’t. It couldn’t be too intimate too soon, and the casual distant friendship that ensued between us as a result was awkward because there was so much intimacy before. Slowly we rebuilt our friendship, it was the only way. I don’t think we would be as close today as we are, if she had not asked for some space. We needed it to heal, grieve, and become ourselves again; she was right. We already knew each other inside out (Literally! Sorry for that mental image! Lol) but we had to learn new ways of interacting…. Which brings me swiftly to point number 2…
2. Boundaries. What was lacking when my ex and I first tried to be friends, was boundaries. Was it still acceptable for me to use her key card, or for her to sleep in my bed if we were now just friends? No. We had been so used to these patterns that it was hard to recognise they were unhelpful in terms of friendships. We could not continue to live together. We could not continue the same intimacies as we shared as a couple – physical, emotional or financial. We had to be 2 full separate people to be friends. We could no longer be co-dependent. For a time, we could no longer be friends at all and it was terrifying not knowing if we would be in each other’s lives at all in the future.
As a friend of mine is currently attempting some friendships with her exes, she struggles with the boundaries that get so easily compromised when we attempt friendships with the ex. Where there are clear boundaries with a person you have never been romantic with, they are not so clear in this situation. Can you live with an ex? If you do, how far should your loyalty to them extend? If you live with them and you also occasionally sleep with them, is it then a relationship again?
Whether you lived together or not; if you both consent and understand the new platonic context, can you still sleep with them without anybody getting hurt? Should you or will this only hold you or them back when you should be moving forward? Should you kiss them at midnight on new year’s? Why is it so hard to maintain boundaries with an ex? They certainly trigger us in ways our other friends don’t – passion, anger, jealousy, love, validation.
I am pretty sure my ex and I both understand and respect the new platonic context of our relationship. We do hug, yes, but not lingering hugs. We avoid heavy flirting, although inappropriate jokes here and there still do happen. We can discuss our innermost feelings because that emotional intimacy and trust is still there, and we just know when one of us is not ok. We are there for each other but not overly involved or invested. Boundaries!
I think number 3 is the best reason that my ex and I will stay friends, and why it is likely that my friend to whom I referred in point number 2 will probably manage to make friendship work with her exes. Actually she is currently on her third attempt at a friendship with one particular ex. That sounds crazy, right? I think there has to be something there though that keeps them coming back to each other. Is it Friendship or is it something more? Watch this space! Whatever it is they clearly like and respect each other. Yes they were lovers, but more than that, they were friends. (Also they have had space after the second failed friendship attempt. Boundaries will determine what happens from here!)
3. Friendship. The quality of the friendship that existed between you even when you were more than friends. Honestly the main reason it hasn’t happened with my other exes is because I can’t say we had strong friendships within the relationship. Perhaps we had passion and respect and love for each other but essentially without sex holding us together, we just didn’t know how to be together. Sad but true. Maybe we actually didn’t really like each other that much… which would explain the “EX” factor! Lol.
My ex-girlfriend however, was my best friend when we were together. If I had to liken some of my friends to family; she'd be up there.... Because she was a part of my family for many years. She gave so much of herself to me, and for me (and my family.) It took a while to enjoy family events without her at them, and she missed being there too. My family loved her, they still do. So we were able to put aside romance, sex, jealousies and resentments and just be there for each other because we cared enough to. We both wanted our friendship to work enough to make it work. (The hardest part of losing her was losing our friendship.) Rebuilding it was WORK! Even if that meant space, and rediscovering each other and not being as close for a long time. We endured all the uncomfortableness (spell check is telling me this isn't a word, but I'm claiming it!) and pain for each other, because our friendship is worth it. Boundaries and space were hard, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
I love you chick. You know who you are. I never stopped loving you and I never will. And I love that we have reached that safe space where I can say that to you and just know that you get it! You are still one of my biggest life supporters and this post is for you to honour our friendship. It hasn’t always been easy, but it was worth it. You are worth it. I haven’t always deserved your friendship and loyalty, your support and love. Our friendships is a reflection of the brilliant and forgiving person that you are and it is a gift I will treasure always.
Your Best Friend ForNever