It’s an area that confuses many of us. I’ve heard both sides of this one, and am happy to feature this guest blog from two of YourTango‘s top experts about this big question: Is it crazy to be friends with an ex?
Sure, we all want to do the “mature” thing when it comes to breakups. But how mature is it to obsessively check up on your ex and dissect their status updates? (It’s also arguably not totally sane). Relationship experts Rita Klachkin and Janet Ong Zimmerman offer some refreshing advice.
Says Klachkin, “There are some who can be friends with their ex, and have it turn into an enriching and long standing friendship, but in the experiences that have been witnessed by me through the years, these relationships are few and far between. In most cases, even these relationships that turn into friendships need some time and distance before they can turn into true friendships.”
You may think that your connection with an old flame can transition naturally to non-romantic feelings. Says Klachkin, “That sounds great, but the reality of it isn’t so easy. Denying what the relationship meant to you, however, and trying to push down feelings in the hope of ‘being mature’ is not the way to go. We all need time and space to process changes in our lives, such as the breaking up of a relationship. In cases of divorce, certainly it is better for those who must co-parent to be on speaking terms and civil with each other, especially in front of the children. But true friends? That is a different story.”
Ong Zimmerman echoes this notion: “When a breakup happens because one person no longer wants to be in the relationship, trying to be friends rarely works because the other person is consumed by thoughts of the other, stuck in the nostalgia of lost love and hoping they will reconcile. If your ex broke up with you and you still want him back or aren’t over him, it’s best to sever all ties. Since you are in a more vulnerable position, you may end up hanging out and hooking up in hopes that he’ll come back while fooling yourself into thinking you can be friends.”
But there are some questions you can ask yourself, says Ong Zimmerman, to help you navigate these rough waters and decide if you really can be friends:
1. Have I stopped fixating on this person?
2. When I think about him/her, do I feel neutral?
3. Can I talk about them without crying or becoming emotional?
4. Am I over him/her and what we had?
5. Do I genuinely like them as a person?
6. If he/she wasn’t my partner, would they be the kind of person I would normally hang out (not hook up) with?
7. Does the thought of this person being with someone else make me feel genuinely happy for them?
Says Ong, “If some or all of your answers are ‘no’, work on healing yourself until you feel good about your new normal. If you still want to be friends, hold off until your answers are ‘yes’. This will help you see things objectively instead of being caught up in the way things were and wishing you were still together. By holding off, you may find that you don’t need to be friends.”
Klachkin expands on this checklist: “The love that can exist in a friendship is quite different from the love that exists in a romantic relationship. When a romantic relationship ends, whether it is a dating, short or long term relationship or a marriage, there is a breaking of a bond, a realization that the relationship cannot continue as it has. In many cases, there is a loss of respect between the partners. Without respect, there cannot be true friendship.” And be extra cautious if the relationship ended on poor terms. Klachkin continues: “This is particularly true when there has been lying or cheating involved in the ending of the relationship. It certainly is true in a relationship that involved abuse, whether physical, verbal or psychological, where the remaining ‘friendship’ could be used to manipulate the formerly abused partner.”
And, says Klachkin, we could really just be fooling ourselves by maintaining ties to our ex: “Remaining ‘friends’ may not be genuine. It may be a way of trying to fool yourself into believing that the relationship’s ending didn’t mean that much to you, or that it really isn’t over, and can send confusing signals to both former partners. If the goal of remaining ‘friends’ is to impress others with your maturity, it may work in the short run, but could send you both down a winding path of confusion. Friendship can be a possible goal for the future, depending on the relationship, but in the meantime, you owe yourself a clean break, time to reconnect with who YOU are, and have a clean slate and be truly available for any potential partner that could be in your future. This is not denying that your former partner played an important role in your life, but being able to set clean and clear boundaries, will only help you in the next relationship you are in, if you choose to enter one. You deserve to get to know yourself again.”
Ong Zimmerman wraps things up with some food for thought: “Here is a final consideration. If you are in a promising relationship, be respectful to your new significant other. If you have stayed friends with your ex and the new person in your life feels uncomfortable about this, it may be best to let go of your friendship with your ex so that your new relationship can thrive.”
What do you think? Should you ever be friends with an ex?