Dear Captain Awkward and the Awkward Army,
Long story short: my kind, hilarious, handsome (ex) boyfriend and I just broke up because after two years of things being “great!” we realized that nagging “…but maybe not the ‘forever’ kind of great?” wasn’t ever going to go away. It is very, very sad and very, very hard and everyone is crying a lot and gazing listlessly out windows listening to Bon Iver and wishing this wasn’t our lives.
That being said – we would like to still be friends in a real and meaningful way, and I’m not sure how to navigate this for a few reasons:
- I have some exes who I’m friendly with, but they were all “we dated for 6 months” or less exes, and the kind of “friends” we are is, “we can be in gatherings together and it’s mostly fine and not awkward!” and, “we comment on each other’s funny facebook statuses!” not, “you are the thing that makes me laugh when my day is terrible” or, “you are my partner in crime and adventures” or, “I call you when I just want to talk” friends.
- He has no exes who are his friends, and only one with whom he is on still-in-contact friendly terms.
- We are VERY NEWLY broken up, and I don’t want to mess this up by rushing to friendship before every time I see him and then remember we’re not together it feels like a sharp tug on my Golden Retriever of Love’s leash (you know – that feeling of stabbing knives and despair). But also don’t want to “give it space” until seeing each other turns into this unnatural production.
- I suspect that, in my heart of hearts, I will be unbelievably ungracious about his new girlfriend(s), when their time comes. He is, truly, the Perfect Guy (Funny! Kind! Unbelievably hot! In possession of the world’s best beard! Not into the DC-style of one-upmanship that is the worst!) – and I KNOW that he is going to be snatched up by some really perfect waif-y-type-woman in basically seconds. I “KNOW” this in part because he is amazing and in part because This Is My Greatest Insecurity (jerkbrain says: “What if he dates some blond, no-makeup-wearing, athletic woman next? Will that ‘prove’ that our relationship wasn’t meant to be because I WAS UNWORTHY?’“) and I react to it by having a lot of possessive crazyperson thoughts that I keep mostly to myself, but that eat me up inside.
Can you help me figure out how to navigate, “I love you, but need to be falling out of love with you” and “I want you to be important in my life – but also need to let go of feeling possessive of you?” We’re both going to make an effort to communicate a lot about making sure we’re respecting one another’s boundaries but this re-definition is hard and unfamiliar to me and I just want to cut right to the part where seeing him doesn’t feel like stabbing and I don’t want to push his new girlfriends into volcanoes.
Let’s Be Friends
Dear Let’s Be Friends:
Complete the ceremonial transfer of the stuff and then stop communicating for a while. Go low- or, better, no-contact for six months. Unfriend or at very least hide each other’s social media feeds. Delete his number from your phone or change the contact so it says “EX- DO NOT ANSWER.” Do not keep track of what he’s up to. Do not email or gchat or FB message or text. Ask mutual friends to let you know if he’s invited to stuff so you can decide whether you feel like going. Invite mutual friends to stuff so that you can spend time with them without worrying about whether he is invited, too (you control the guest list if you do the inviting). Tell your friends, straight up, “I want us to be friends eventually, and bear him no ill-will, but I need to be at least 6 months clean before I even think about it.” Ask them not to update you on his doings or whereabouts. If you need to tell him something, tell him “I want to be friends, but it’s too hard and weird right now, and I need to emotionally disengage A LOT before I can deal with it. Let’s take a break from talking for six months or so and then see where we are with it.” Find some new activities to do, try new places to eat, meet some new people who don’t know him at all. But also, reclaim the places that you went together that are your favorite places. They are still yours.
If you’re meant to be friends down the road, it will happen. Your common interests and social ties will bring you back into each other’s lives pretty organically. You’ll run into each other at events, or make plans to hang out again, casually, for lunch, or a drink, and it will bring up a few feelings and perhaps you will take special care with your grooming that day, but you most likely won’t have FEELINGS. If you do? Give it another three months or six months. But right now, you have enough work to do in helping yourself heal and grieve and get over him without having to manage or negotiate the relationship with him. If you need to frame it as “I’m giving myself time to learn how to not give a shit what he thinks about anything” or run through 10,000 scenarios of how great your hair will look when at last you do meet again, nobody but you and I will know that. You have enough to deal with right now without taking on the pressure of how to act cool about something you’re not cool with yet.
It is possible to greet the new partner of a significant ex with “Cool shoes!” and “Nice to meet you!” and to really, really mean both of those things. It is possible to look at someone you used to love and realize that you don’t regret loving them, but you don’t remember quite how you did it and know, suddenly, that you wouldn’t go back to being with them for all the tea in China. It just takes time to get to that place. Buy yourself that time now. It’s the quickest way to get to the world where you feel whole and okay again.
P.S. Since you mention that this breakup is bringing up some body insecurity, be extra nice to yourself when you look at media right about now. Already Pretty, Gabifresh, and other body positive sites are going to do you 1,000 more times more good than Ol’ Photoshop McGee and the high priestesses of hating-yourself-pretty.