In this day of the “it’s complicated” relationship status, the question on everyone’s mind is, can you really be friends with your ex?
Friendship with an ex: sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse. Either way, it’s definitely not impossible! Whether you were friends first and want to maintain that friendship or you and your ex have inseparable ties, like kids or pets, there are ways that a friendship with an ex can be do-able. In fact, I’ve been able to do it successfully a few times myself—and other times… not so successfully.
I can proudly say that I’m good friends with two of my exes. But I have to admit that the rest are merely casual acquaintances and, let’s face it, a few are nothing short of mortal enemies. But going through my inventory of relationship failures, I’ve learned a whole lot about the delicate situation that is being friends with an ex.
As a queer girl expert on being friends with an ex (or making the smart decision not to be), I’ve laid out some tips to follow:
1. The “half-time” rule.
They say it takes half the length of a relationship to get over your ex. Yes, half! So those of you just coming out of super LTR’s, don’t try skimp on this rule. My ex Spencer and I were together for almost a year and it definitely took at least 6 months for me to even consider talking to her again. I needed the time and space to put things into perspective. Even if my mind knew we weren’t good for each other, my emotions were still vulnerable. The idea is that, while you may feel like you are over your ex, your “subconscious heart” may feel differently. So, just to be sure, put a time limit on your readiness to move on. But remember, if you need to extend it, that’s OK too. Getting over an ex is not easy and should never be rushed, especially when trying to forge a friendship with them.
2. Ask yourself: Are you truly over it?
The next thing to figure out is whether you are really over your ex or not. Could you imagine yourself with them now? A harder question is, can you see yourself getting back together with them in the future? If the answer is yes, then you have failed and friendship is a no-go! Hesitation over either question is an indication that you may be holding on to the hope of rekindling the romance. If you want to work on a romantic relationship with your ex, do it. But calling it a friendship is confusing and unfair to everyone. I knew fundamentally that Spencer and I wouldn’t work so even though I still loved her, we could never be together. Plus, that breakup-to-makeup game is brutal and not for the faint of heart. Don’t get caught up in the what-ifs.
3. Forgiveness is key.
So now that you’re totally over it, ask yourself if you’ve forgiven your ex. Regardless who broke up with who, there’s bound to be some resentment on both sides. People think that being angry at an ex means you don’t want anything to do with them romantically but there’s a thin line between love and hate — yes, just like the 90’s rom-com. Before you can be friends, any volatile emotion between you, good or bad, needs to be resolved. This may not mean you should have a meeting of the minds to work through it — chances are, you’ve had a bunch of those already. You may just need more time to heal.
Even after the half-time rule, Spencer and I still had some unresolved anger towards each other — things we had already discussed during the breakup but didn’t quite get past. But speaking briefly about it again, after we had healed, allowed us to squash our differences. However, with other exes, even while we were supposed to be “friends”, the petty would come out full force and we would exchange jabs about how we did each other wrong. Despite how much we wanted to, we clearly had not forgiven each other.
4. Ask yourself: Is this a fake friendship?
Now, decide whether what you and your ex have is a true friendship. Think about what makes your other non-romantic friends your friends. A real friend doesn’t fill a void because you feel lonely. A real friend isn’t the other half of a co-dependent relationship. A true friendship is based on mutual respect, shared interests, and trust. If these aren’t the foundations of you and your ex’s friendship, then you aren’t truly friends.
Today, Spencer and I share a friendship based on a similar sense of humor and a love of all things artistic. We have a respect for each other that is even stronger than when we were a couple. Other exes wanted to be friends with me so that we could keep the relationship door open and I fell for it, not ready to lose them in my life. This resulted in the fakest of friendships and I’ve since learned to spot them a mile away.
5. SET HEALTHY BOUNDARIES.
Next, figure out how to maintain a healthy friendship with your ex. The key is setting up boundaries, both emotional and physical. For example, it’s not a great idea to hang out with your ex at all your favorite date spots. Treat this relationship as brand new and create new friendship memories. And while you might feel perfectly emotionally stable chilling with your ex 24/7, this might not be what’s best for your friendship. Create some distance between the two of you so that there are no blurred lines. Physical touch is another topic that should be addressed. Some people find it easy to separate affection from romantic feelings but even the most stoic people can find this hard to do with an ex.
Talk about what each of your comfort levels is and use boundaries to establish a relationship that has a different quality than your romantic relationship. To make sure our friendship looks different than our relationship, Spencer and I find cool new places to go and we understand each other’s boundaries. But I’ve had other exes who were habitual line-steppers when it came to my boundaries. They would always try to cross emotional and physical boundaries with me in the name of friendship. I had to learn to say “no” and realized that the way these so-called friends were treating me meant that maybe they weren’t my friends after all.
6. So, how’s this gonna work?
After you’ve passed all the friendship-readiness tests with flying colors and boundaries are in place, decide on the logistics of the friendship to figure out if it is feasible. A big part of that is how to handle mutual friends, pet care and co-parenting time, and how to enforce the boundaries that you set up. This often comes down to time-management skills. Set aside times to hang out with your mutual friends without each other. As for co-parenting and pet care, plan times when you will separately perform responsibilities the two of you used to share. Enforcing boundaries means not allowing your lives to be as intertwined as when you were together. Both settled into our separate lives, Spencer and I can hang out alone, with mutual friends, and with new partners and still have the best time.
7. Can you deal with new loves?
Finally, assess the dynamics of your relationship when there are new partners involved. If you have to change the way you behave when you have a partner, you’re probably toeing the line between true friends and fake friends. Yes, I’ve dated people who are simply uncomfortable being with a person who is still chummy with their ex, even if there’s no funny business going on between them. This is why respect must be established on all sides. If you need to, make adjustments on how you interact with your ex in order to maintain healthy relations with them and with your boo.
If it isn’t possible to find a balance without hurting someone, consider cooling off your friendship with your ex, especially if your new relationship is important to you. If your ex is truly your bestie and will be in your life indefinitely, then find a partner who is OK with that. I’ve been in situations where my new partner and my ex’s new partner were both uncomfortable with us being friends so we ended up cutting each other off. It wasn’t so hard because, at the time, my current relationship was all that mattered to me. Now that I am a little bit more sure of myself in the dating world, I don’t think that I would ever give up a good friendship for a partner. Everyone is different, though. Do what works best for you.
None of these things are easy and it often takes a lot of trial and error. But keep in mind that if trying to be friends with your ex is just as difficult as making a romantic relationship work with them, then it isn’t worth it. If you are able to transition into a friendship with your ex with ease, more power to you. It can’t hurt to have another friend, especially a friend who appreciates your awesomeness so much they chose to remain friends with you even after the shit show that is breaking up.
Patricia Martin is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and the founder of The Glam Femme, a culture and lifestyle blog that has been featured in DapperQ – Hi Femme, among others. She has contributed to several publications, including Shine Text, Black Girl Nerds, and AZ Magazine. Patricia’s work focuses on uplifting the voices of QTPOC and queer femmes. Find her work at patriciamartinwrites.com.