Being friends with your ex: How easy is it?

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One of my closest friends is also my ex-boyfriend. Our split was as painless as one can get after three and a half years, but still painful, so don’t assume I skipped the tense post-break up conversations or the angry tears.

In fact, I’m friendly with all my former boyfriends and crushes going back to my high school days, save for one individual. These relationships don’t all have the same comfort level, but there are certainly no hard feelings. Attempting to explain the relationship between my exes and I is often arduous, as I’m greeted with a mixture of shock, disbelief and almost certain admonishment.

Before sitting down to pen this article, I asked a suitor over dinner, if it would ever be ok for a spouse or significant other to have a friendship with his or her ex. Unsurprisingly he looked at me as if I had somehow managed to sprout horns, before responding in the negative. In his mind such a friendship could only be tolerated if the ex in question was happily coupled up, not single.

“Is your ex single?” he asked.

I shrugged noncommittally, and he went on to defend his position by saying that “men will be men”.

Translation: if a guy has enjoyed some sumptuous nookie before, and he’s still single, he’s more than likely going to want to keep partaking of that particular delicacy. To avoid painting all men with the same brush, he tagged on the 80/20 qualifier. Eighty percent of men were like this, but perhaps my current ex fell into the rare 20 percent.

Do I really expect a guy I’ve just started getting to know to be comfortable with me going to jazz concerts with my ex, even if he was still single? The short answer is yes. The long answer hinges on the not so small matter of self-awareness and trust. I am not a back peddler by nature, although I do suppose many people are. There are reasons why my ex is just that – “an ex”. Given the length and authenticity of our relationship, however, I don’t think that prefix should disqualify us from demonstrating genuine care or concern for each other.

This does not mean that I think we should all strive to be BFFs with our exes. Whether or not you can be friends with an ex depends largely on the conditions surrounding the breakup, whether you’re truly over the relationship, and if you’re mature enough to handle being platonic with someone you were once intimate with. None of my breakups were particularly malicious, and I am better than most at seeing beyond my physical attraction for a person. We are after all human beings, not just objects of another person’s desire.

An ex can only be considered a friend if he or she first demonstrates a willingness to move beyond the physical intimacy that cements romantic relationships. When each interaction is based on the support, concern and care that marks the relationships of those who know us well, and have helped us through the most difficult phases in our life.

Friends instinctively check in to see how things are progressing on that major project, and are willing to lend their mental energy to help you figure out life’s most vexing problems, and yes they tease each other at times about their apparent failings. True friends honour your spirit and always want the best for you, even if it will take you further from them.

All breakups, mutual or not, are emotionally draining in some form or fashion. Don’t be afraid to take as much time as you need to heal and to carefully consider whether this ex can continue to add value to your life. If it means throwing out all the photos, deleting the text messages you saved, and throwing out your favourite sleep shirts because they were once his, go ahead and do that too!

My ex and I didn’t get here overnight. We tried to meet up every three to six months, and either of us would call each other when we needed to, as we slowly eased into a friendship. There was also a six-month period during which we never spoke, and it took well over a year for our current routine to be established. In spite of this, there are certainly things I don’t expect him to do, and although I can always count on him to give me a fresh perspective, there are details of my life that I don’t think he needs to know.

Human beings are social creatures and our relationships with people who know us, care about us, and aren’t afraid to be honest with us, are an invaluable part of any healthy support system. All these relationships, however, will not last forever. This does not mean that we should pre-emptively expunge good people from our lives, merely because our relationship with them won’t fit the status quo. There may be some truth to the 80/20 rule, but remember there are also exceptions to every rule. When in doubt, trust your radar, not the rules!

 

Dzifa Job

Dzifa Job is a freelance writer and the voice behind the blog Musings of an Empress (www.dzifajob.wordpress.com). Her writings have appeared in One Love Houston, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly In Sports, The Integrationist Quarterly, and Caribbean Axis. Dzifa is a graduate of Syracuse University, and holds a Bachelors degree in Public Relations from the Newhouse School of Communications. A Trini, living in New York, she spends her downtime writing, training for fitness challenges, and going on adventure vacations.

2 Comments

  1. josanne

    September 14, 2010 at 2:35 am

    I see no probs having exes around if the breakup was not a malicious one. Nothing is wrong with being friends but hey your not together again so there will be boundries and limitations wheather an additonal party has jumped on the scene.I think they you hte strengh to move forward and be stronger not to likely fall in the bowl again. Hey give respect and get it. I am all friends with my exes and one of them is happily married. My saying “forward ever backward never”. MOVE ON.

  2. Sasha

    October 6, 2010 at 12:55 am

    Wow, this was an amazing article and I’m very happy to know that I’m not alone in this. I see no reason in being friends with an ex as long as you set your boundaries and he can’t make what you call a “tack back”. I’m friends with all of my exes, some are more of an acquaintance and some I’m closer to. The way I see it is, you may not have been able to make it as lovers but there’s no reason in losing a friendship over it.

    Tack Back = Making a go of a previous relationship

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