About these ads

#615: How do you make “let’s be friends” work after a break-up?

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.

Thanks,
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. 

About these ads
139 comments
  1. taco salad dot com said:

    “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.”

    I needed to hear EXACTLY this right now. First time commenter just expressing gratitude for the absolute timeliness of this post. Ended a relationship of 3+ years last week for somewhat similar reasons. I’ve never experienced a break up where there was still so much mutual feeling and love and respect, and I definitely want to maintain a friendship with him in the long run, but getting through right now feels impossible at times. And the idea of him being with someone who isn’t me someday, even though I know I can’t be the one, is extremely hard to bear. I feel the LW on everything SO, SO much – know that you’re not the only one going through this.

    • GN said:

      I can double support this. The trick is time apart to establish who you are separate of them.
      First boyfriend, together 4-5 years – we couldn’t work out why we weren’t happy. Took it out on each other. We loved each other, must be meant for each other. Took a long time to realise we JUST loved each other, the in-love had gone. Friendship was HARD at first. I kept trying to set him up with people so that I knew the break up was certain. It was a HORRIBLE thought, but I felt it needed to happen so I could somehow test my feelings or … god knows. A weird behaviour that hurt us both … as it kinda made him feel awful too. So we took a break proper. And THAT helped. A break on friendly ‘look, let’s just get our heads sorted, we’ll have a catch up drink in a few months’.

      A year or so later, things were a LOT easier. Still saw each other now and then. Once when out we realised we were holding hands and laughed rather than OH-HORROR. Because it was just a force of habit and we could see that and it no longer HAD MEANING or hurt.

      Roll on a couple more years? His fiancee confiding in me for support re: his mother. Not long after that, I was invited to the wedding, couldn’t afford it (abroad), but could afford to go visit them.

      So … I stayed with my ex and his now-wife for the week before their wedding. It was lovely, actually. Weirdish, but once acknowledged … fine. I can’t even work out how I ever fancied him. Sure, I love him, but as a distantly important part of the process of becoming me now. I’d never go back, but at the same time am glad I once did go out with him.

      You’ll get there.

    • GN said:

      Ooh. Addendum to my post which may or may not be stuck in moderation? You may find that time makes you decide you don’t want to be friends. That’s fine, too. Nice humans are capable of being neutral to each other – not friends does not mean that you must be foes.
      Or time may give you a perspective that actually moves you towards ‘dislike’. I’m not friends with all my exes (despite most ending with that wish), only the ones I’d choose to be friends with even if I’d never dated them.

      Also: he may need time too. If you set time for non-communication, and he asks for more … give it. Your letter sounds like you expect him to be fine and move on fast. Friendship kinda relies on not making assumptions about how the other person’s doing. Your own mental health will do better for not wondering.

      I’m struggling to word today. Hope I’m being useful supportive rather than talking nonsense.

      • jdrives said:

        Yes to “You may find that time makes you decide you don’t want to be friends.” OP, like the Cap’n says, if it’s meant to be it will happen and I think your friendship will be better served for the processing, healing and growing you do during that communication-free time. Or you will come to realize that maybe he was a great BF and will make some other ladyperson very happy, but you are cool with not being friends like you thought. And that’s OK too.

        I had a Foolproof Plan to stay friends with my all-through-college BF that I was certain was The One(tm). I thought FOR SURE given our long history during critical growing-up times we would be able to be friends, easy peasy. So I gave myself 6 months of space. When I came out of it and tried to be friends with him again, our chats were all one-sided and he was negative and grouchy and it was like a moment of clarity that went something like “Oh…you actually aren’t very nice, and I think you were always this way but you were sooo dreamy and loving to me that I just chose to ignore it. And now that I get to choose whether or not you are in my life I’m going to go ahead and get on my Nope rocket and fly far, far away.”

    • fredmounts said:

      Very much the same here. My domestic partner of 5 and a half years dropped the “I can’t do this anymore” bomb on me Saturday, completely out of the blue (at least to me). She says she’d like to be friends, but I don’t see how that’s possible. I still want to be with her so much. I tried to follow previous columns on here about not begging, about being an adult and respecting the other person’s wish to leave. I’d give myself a 6/10 overall, but an 11/10 based on my previous behavior.

      In short, I’m in the same boat this very second. One minute I’m fine, the next I feel destroyed.

      • Ethyl said:

        That sounds rough. Don’t be so hard on yourself right this instant, though. I bet you it’ll get easier with time and once you have your own living space that you’ve cleansed of all reminders ::gentle smile:: It’ll be ok.

    • LouBee said:

      OH gosh I feel for you and the LW. Totally the same situation. Part of me knows I need to detach for a while if there’s going to be a chance to be friendly without so much emotion holding on and dragging behind it. It’s been about 2 months since our official parting (that is, the day I actually moved out) and we have seen each other or emailed about once a week in that time. It’s really scary to think about giving that up, especially when we were confidants and moral supports and fun-havers right up until the end. But I think if it’s ever going to become something else – something with a different kind of value – I will probably need that time.

  2. SparklySparky said:

    I’m sorry you’re going through this breakup, LW! Even when they’re probably a good thing in the long run, breakups are tough, and I hope you take good care of yourself whilst you heal and move on.

    I would like to wave the flag for the “it’s TOTALLY POSSIBLE to be friends with your ex” team. My boyfriend and I broke up after 3 years when we realised that our lives were just moving in different directions and our relationship just wasn’t going to work. Even though it was a decision we made together, even though it was the right thing to do long-term, it was a wrench. The hardest part was the fact that we were part of the same close-knit social circle, so there were some inevitable awkward moments. However, this is what we did (and I hope you won’t mind the personal rambling):

    1) Broke up, and gave ourselves six weeks of absolutely no contact, to be renegotiated at the end of that six weeks (this may not seem much for you, but six months would have been unworkable for us with our small, close group of friends. YMMV). We alerted our mutual friends that we’d broken up and, whilst we didn’t HATE EACH OTHER FOREVER we were going to give each other some space for this time, so whilst we’d both appreciate hanging out it would be good to do it separately from one another for a bit. We blocked each other on twitter/facebook etc. for this time period.

    2) I don’t know about him, but I spent those six weeks finding all his stuff that I had somehow ended up with and putting it in a box, and also putting away some of the things he’d given me that gave me a twinge in my heart so I didn’t have to see them. I spent time with friends and family. I threw myself into the time-consuming teaching degree I was doing. I took time to be by myself and do things I enjoyed and take care of myself. It wasn’t easy at all, but it helped.

    3) After six weeks we texted to meet up and hand over the box o’ stuff. I got back a bunch of stuff I’d left at his place. We chatted briefly, then we went our separate ways.

    4) About a month later we went to a board game party at a mutual friends’. It was a bit awkward, mostly because our friends weren’t sure how to be around us. We didn’t really talk to each other and it was a little painful, but we got through it. Over the next six months we only saw each other whilst in our friendship group, and gradually it became less awkward.

    5) Just over a year after we broke up, Ex happened to be in my city for work and he asked if I fancied getting a coffee. The first 5 minutes were weird, but then the weirdness gradually went away. We don’t meet up one-on-one very often, preferring to keep it within our group of friends, but it’s not awkward at all now.

    It took a while for me to feel like I was in a place to start dating again, but I’ve just started seeing a lovely girl. He’s also just started seeing somebody and he seems very happy about it, and I’m nothing but pleased for him. I expected a twinge of… something, but no.

    I know that being friends with exes isn’t for everyone, and everyone has to manage their relationships differently, but I think it can be done provided you give yourselves boundaries and plenty of time to work things out. Let it be weird and awkward at first, re-establish any boundaries if you need to, and give it time. Take care of yourself, be kind to yourself. Good luck!

    • NotTeri said:

      You’ve just started seeing a lovely girl? I thought you were a lovely girl seeing as you broke up with a boyfriend.

      • Weezy said:

        Bisexual/pansexual people: they exist!

      • JenniferP said:

        Newsflash: Bisexual people are real.

        NotTeri, your assumptions about gender are inappropriate and irrelevant to the discussion. No more like this, please.

        • totallylonely said:

          Aw, Jennifer, I did a bit of a double take myself when I read that and thought it may have been a typo on SparklySparkys part. There was no mention in the post of bisexuality, so it’s perfectly reasonable for someone reading to assume that it may have been a typo or something. Let’s not all go crazy in the interests of political correctness, people.

          • JenniferP said:

            “so it’s perfectly reasonable for someone reading to assume…”

            Well, yeah, if the default assumption is that everyone is heterosexual unless they sufficiently mention or clarify their bisexuality, i.e., the shitty status quo, then it is perfectly reasonable to assume all kinds of things that aren’t actually true.

            NotTeri’s post added nothing to the OP or the topic of being friends after breakups. S/he commented ONLY to question a fellow commenter’s gender and sexual preference. So I went, and am going, “all crazy” by, uh, reminding her/him that that’s out of bounds.

            Future comments from NotTeri will be subject to moderation before appearing here, as will yours. If everything coming in is cool, then all will be cool. If not, the rest of the internet is right there for you! In the future, should you do a double-take at someone’s mention of a partner of an unexpected gender, consider having the grace to do all of that inside your head and not where people can see you.

          • Rocketship said:

            totallylonely: I would like to point out that essentially what you’re saying with this comment is “People should totes announce I’M BISEXUAL before each and every conversation otherwise we can’t be blamed for assuming they’re straight.”

            It’s not perfectly reasonable to assume it may have been a typo, because it’s not perfectly reasonable to assume that everyone is straight until they announce otherwise.

            And to that point, stating “I’m seeing a lovely girl” after telling a story about breaking up with your boyfriend IS a pretty good way to announce it, if it even needs announcing at all. So your whole “Political correctness, sheesh” attitude is tiresome, illogical, and highly indicative of your prejudices.

            You might want to check a mirror; your heterocentricity is showing.

          • SparklySparky said:

            No typo, I’m just one of these mythical bi people. It’s not reasonable to assume things about my sexuality, particularly when I pretty much laid it out right there (dated a boy, now dating a girl).

            Please don’t do that to people.

          • How is “Now I’m seeing a lovely girl” a potential typo? That’s a long typo. I thought that a typo was a small slip of a typing hand or an autocorrection gone awry. “Now I’m seeking a loveboat grill” or “Now I’m seeing a lovely gril” are typos.

        • NotTeri said:

          Got it, sorry

          • JenniferP said:

            Noted and appreciated.

        • SparklySparky said:

          Thanks for addressing this, Captain, it’s much appreciated!

          NotTeri, plenty of commenters here have explained what was wrong with your comment, and I have no desire to derail further, but please consider not making such assumptions about gender and sexuality in the future. I am indeed a girl who has dated people of different genders. It’s a thing. The story would still stand if I were a boy, or non-binary, or any other gender under the sun.

      • You might want to sit down for this, but bisexuals exist.

      • mythbri said:

        Girls can see lovely girls even when they’ve broken up with boyfriends.

        • And boys can also see girls after breaking up with their boyfriends.

      • Did this comment seriously just happen?

        • JenniferP said:

          People replied before I could banish it to the ether, so, yeah. That happened.

          • I just realised that the comments you moderate are probably even more depressing than I thought. I assumed there would be many many horrifying trolls with the vile threats and really offensive stuff. But I never considered the effort you put in removing all the cluelessly (maybe) exclusionary stuff.

            Thankyou for making this an awesome space.

          • JenniferP said:

            Mostly people are cool and most moderation is just rescuing good comments from the spam filter, fortunately.

          • Cactus said:

            But as one of the Resident Politically-Correct Bisexuals, I would like to thank you very much for shutting it down as soon as you saw it. It means a lot to me, seriously.

          • J. Preposterice said:

            what cactus said, yo

          • rollinghead said:

            Also here to thank you for shutting that shit down :)

          • Amber said:

            Not to say that Teri’s comment was okay (I’m ace so although I am not bi, I know what it feels like to be invalidated), but a lot of commenters basically jumped on her back about it, probably at least 5-8 people. Forgive me for saying this if it’s already been suggested, but maybe there should be a rule about not piling on? Even if the person is being clueless/rude/whatever.

          • quartzpebble said:

            Amber:

            I am bi, and yeah, it’s a bit of a pile-on, but I feel a lot more welcome when a firm response (from commenters as well) emphasizes that my relationship history should be assumed to exist and not to be a typo(?!).

          • Cactus said:

            What Quartzpebble said.

          • Mary said:

            5-8 people isn’t really a pile-on. Add in the fact that sometimes it takes comments a while to show up because of the spam filter, and it’s easily possible that each of those people thought they were either the first person commenting or a second person backing up one lone commenter so they didn’t feel isolated.

  3. arkadyrose said:

    I wholeheartedly concur with giving each other space – but make it a mutual agreement, because it can make it pretty awkward trying to pick up the friendship six months down the road if one of you is still feeling disconcerted about suddenly being cut off completely. My first ever boyfriend (at a very hopelessly naive 19 years of age) was the guy I ended up married to with a baby. He was only 21, and neither of us were ready for the whole “married with kids” deal (it was kind of a shotgun wedding insisted upon by both sets of parents – that’s a whole ‘nother story though). We split up by mutual agreement that it just wasn’t working when our daughter was 6 months old, and we agreed that we would give each other plenty of space. It probably helped that I moved to a small village some 15 miles away, so there was that physical space there; by the time I’d found somewhere, moved and gotten settled in, it was 4 months down the road and we were ready to try being friends again. (With a small daughter we had a vested interest in keeping things amicable for her sake).

    And it worked. When we weren’t living in each other’s pockets and running into each other all the time, emotions could settle down and we could actually be really good friends. In fact, in time we became best friends (and remained so, right up to the day he died). We had our own groups of friends but also an overlapping circle of friends. But I don’t think it would have worked if we’d rushed straight into trying to be friends. That space apart – on my side, moving and settling and getting into a new life where I was single and focused on something else (in this case raising a small child) – basically was just what we needed to “reset” things.

    LW, you don’t necessarily have to do something as drastic as move cities or jobs – but I’d recommend that after you both talk and agree together to give each other 6 months’ space, you find yourself something to throw yourself into – a new hobby or project, something to give you a focus other than singledom. By the time those six months are over you’ll hopefully have settled into the new (single) you, and you’ll have had enough time for the rawness to have dulled and be able to re-engage on a level of friendship with your ex.

  4. paddlepickle said:

    TAKE THE BREAK FROM CONTACT. YOU MUST TAKE THE BREAK FROM CONTACT.

    Love, the flaming shards of my attempts to be friends with my exes.

    • dynamitochondria said:

      This comment needs a Like button. I am nodding my head and chuckling ruefully in agreement as I type this reply.

    • redheadedtwit said:

      Ditto. Back in the early-ish days of Facebook(2006) I remember it was a NEW BIG THING that I un-friended an ex on FB. However, it was the best thing I did. Also, I untagged every FB photo of us together and took everything that reminded me of him and put it in a heavily duct taped box in my parents basement three hours from where I live. This prevented many drunken/sobbing trips down memory lane.

    • Oh, the dittoes.

      I’d add that for some people some of the time, it just isn’t OK until there’s a new relationship on one or both sides. Not that anybody should rush into one for that reason, but sometimes it’s the golden ticket to being able to truly wish the ex well, and being able to see their new person just as a plus to the network.

      Two years ago I was in a breakup from an intense two-year relationship, and for the next year it was weird in that we cognitively wanted to be friends because of Mutual Esteem, but when we emailed or (once) met he was visibly angry with me, and touchy about hearing how I was doing if it was good. I just declined to meet up and waited it out. It all unwound after he made a new connection with someone completely different, and now we can hang out by ourselves or in a group, and if I need to tap his expertise for something I can, and it’s OK: we’re friends. Just had to wait it out.

    • Lynda said:

      Very timely letter. I had to say this last night:
      “Oh, right, you have the new episode of The Leftovers. Watch it with you? No, that’s OK, I need to get home.”

    • I’m going to echo this big time, even though I have no flaming shards of attempts to be friends with exes.

      In fact, I have only three exes I’m *not* friends with. One was 30 years ago and I have no idea where he is now. One is banned by the court from communicating with me because she assaulted me violently, so friendship kinda not happening; and the third is the father of my children, which means we *couldn’t* take six months without communicating with each other, because we had to deal with custody fights and money and all the other special kinds of hell that make a divorce from someone after ten years and two children together. Honestly, if we’d been able to cut the breakup off clean and not talk to each other for six months (or, well, maybe two or three years), we might have been able to pull off a friendship after all — we were friends for 15 years before we got romantically involved and then married, so we have a pretty long baseline of it.

      But it’s taken us six years after the breakup to get to the point where we are, most of the time, on polite and maybe cordial terms (willing to do each other minor favors without negotiating a frosty exchange, etc.), and a lot of that was because our feelings were far too raw during the whole period where the court system forced us artificially into being worse adversaries than we really wanted to be, because we each knew that if we *didn’t* have that fight, right there and then, we’d get permanent rulings against us and be up a creek for years to come. I really wish we’d been in a position to separate and just drop all contact with each other for a year or two, and then come back into cautious interaction and try to negotiate the stuff that needed to be done about the kids and the money and all of that. I think we would’ve gotten along a whole lot better, not only then but for all the years since, because we would not have built up a huge reserve of bad feeling from the suckitude that was the divorce wrangling.

      But it’s kinda not possible to go two years without seeing each other when the kids still need to see each of you frequently and there’s nobody to shuttle them but yourselves; nor to wait on deciding stuff like how money is divided when you both kinda need that money up front, to live on. So we dealt with it when we had to, and poisoned the relationship much more horribly than the already slow and nasty breakup had poisoned it, and it took a long time to get back even this far together. LW, if you’ve got a relationship that isn’t poisoned yet (which it sounds like you do), and you have the option of staying away from each other for a several-month period, do it. You need to both be recovered enough from the grieving process that you neither inadvertently poison the potential friendship before it can really get going, nor feel as if everything the other person does to move on in their lives (such as get another girlfriend) is being done AT you, which will poison it for you even if neither of you intend it that way.

    • Ditto Choir!

      It’s so hard to tear yourself away from someone you care for so much, bu you really must. And if you don’t become friends later, it will because you find that you actually don’t want to be friends.

      I’m pretty palish with a few of my exes – mostly over facebook since I moved far far away – and that was due to years of separation, everyone moving on and finding happiness elsewhere, and being completely uninterested in them romantically. It’s a beautiful thing.

      • Oh…and I should mention that the others – the “let’s be friends even though there’s still snot running down my nose from crying so hard over our breakup” attempts…

        They’re in the twisted heap of ruined relationships next to the friends I casually slept with and behind the stack of people who are not wrong to dislike me after I got blackout drunk and was an asshat.

  5. HelloDangerGirl said:

    I very recently went through this with my ex. We broke up on good terms and wanted to stay friends. Unfortunately, because of how our lives were/are, we didn’t share any friends or hobbies that would bring us together casually, so I Very Pointedly encouraged a friendship between him and one of my dude-friends. So far, it’s been a success! Four months on it’s still a little awkward and slow going, but I think we’re making it work (but I make no promises that I won’t end up teary in the bathroom the first time I meet a new girlfriend).

    The Captain’s advice is spot on. Take a break to clear out your head and process your feelings, meet some new people, find a new hobby. Trust that even if it takes a while, the romantic feelings will fade and you’ll still have the shared interests and goodwill that you can build a friendship on.

  6. misanthropologist said:

    OH LW, I relate. I am five months out from a very similar breakup (though we put in five years before coming to terms). When my ex and I first ended things I couldn’t fathom not having him in my life, but we weren’t ready to do it in any real, productive way – I felt stuck in an endless and exhausting loop of “I’m sad” -> “You’re the person who comforts me when I’m sad” -> “But being around you is the thing that’s making me sad” -> forever. Based only on my utter faith in Captain Awkward, I did five months of no-contact – which first felt like tearing out the best part of my heart, gradually became a dull new normal, and then eventually morphed into a life that I love and live more fully than ever before. Last week my ex and I met again for the first time, and I was floored by how okay it was. It was wild sitting across the table from this person I once thought I couldn’t live without, and feeling like our love had settled into what it was meant to be. Sometimes it was also uncanny and uncomfortable, but I have a lot of faith that will work itself out.

    I don’t have any advice beyond the good stuff CA already said, but just wanted to send a missive from the other side: I never thought that this would be possible, but it is and it is better than before.

    • whistlewren said:

      Ohhh boy can I relate to this dynamic. When my last boyfriend broke up with me (loved each other loads but lives and responsibilities just didn’t gel) he was staying with me as he lived in another country and was broke. I needed space but always felt super guilty when he had to spent money he didn’t have on a hostel (I know, I totally should have made that be his problem. Hindsight, yo). Cue a cycle of feeling terrible and hugging each other and crying and then having sex and then deciding that was a bad idea and not to do that again and then crying and hugging… yeah. I knew space was needed, but it hurt, so I didn’t. When I found out he was coming back for a visit later this year I realized it would be a huge mess if I was still in love with him. So I cut back on contact and did some flirting/dating stuff with other people. And it worked! I still miss him a lot every now and then, but we can talk now and I don’t end up in tears when we say goodbye. Yay!

  7. sometimeswhy said:

    Cap’n is wise. 6 months is my standard, one month for every year together is optional if I want to give it that much thought. And it’s worked much, much better than the yo-yo frielationships of doom that I used to navigate before because I didn’t want that break. Turns out? I needed that break.

  8. Phira said:

    My advice, if you’d like it, is to consider eventually being friends as a bonus, not an end goal. There’s no formula to ensure friendship down the line.

    The Captain’s advice is pretty spot on because right now, you need to get out of each other’s lives. You’re entirely used to being each other’s significant other, so anything that happens between you that’s not significant-other-y is going to feel wrong. Him dating someone else may feel like he’s cheating on you. Him coming over to watch your shared favorite TV show, but not cuddling with you while you watch may feel like he’s being overly distant. Stuff like that.

    I’d recommend longer than six months. I’d honestly recommend longer, to the point where you’re used to not hanging out with him or seeing him, and he feels like, “Oh, he’s my ex-boyfriend, that guy I used to date,” and you genuinely want to catch up with him. Then call him up and ask to grab some coffee. Something like that.

    • Mary said:

      I think the thing about six months is that even if it’s not long enough, it’s usually long enough to decide if it’s long enough, if that makes sense. If you see each other (or consider seeing each other) after six months, and feel “nope, still hurts, still not ready”, you can actually hear that feeling, rather than it being drowned out by the BUT YOU, YES, YOU, IN MY LIFE, THIS FEELS RIGHT, the way it is earlier on. And even if it’s hard and sad, it doesn’t usually set you right back to the “literally just broken up” the way only-a-few-weeks can do.

      I’ve definitely done six months and found it wasn’t long enough, but at that point it was an awful lot easier to go, “It was nice to see you, glad things are going well, still not ready, maybe coffee around Christmas or something.”

  9. I think the three big things are:

    Break from contact.
    Write yourself a permission slip to be imperfect in thought.
    Accept that you don’t get to decide how anyone but you responds/heals/changes/accepts.

    I have a darling friend who I have seen have a lot of trouble with this because she expects the other party to shift in their outlook as quickly as she does. You just have to accept that they may move faster or slower than you towards friendship. Assuming they can.

    • Light said:

      Yes. All of this. Especially the third one. I’ve seen the blowback and it gets ugly when one person is seemingly able to put things aside faster and gets annoyed when the other cannot.

    • “I have a darling friend who I have seen have a lot of trouble with this because she expects the other party to shift in their outlook as quickly as she does. You just have to accept that they may move faster or slower than you towards friendship. Assuming they can.”

      Yes! Your friend sounds exactly like my ex. It’s really too bad, because before we dated and got married, we were friends, and I’ve always liked the person she is. But anyway, we broke up and I was really hoping we could eventually be friends again, so I told her that. She wouldn’t accept that I needed at least a few months of space before attempting friendship, and she eventually gave me an ultimatum: I had to either stay with her, OR immediately shift from being romantically involved to being close friends, OR never speak again. I chose the last option, which I’m very happy with, but it wouldn’t have been my first choice if “take 6~ months of space and then attempt friendship again” was on the table.

      • Erin said:

        That is a really weird ultimatum? I mean sure, people get to make their own decisions, but asking someone to immediately shift the relationship in this way or forsake it forever seems very strange/controlling.

  10. Guest who has also done this said:

    just as an alternate viewpoint, I’m someone who has stayed friends with an ex who I dated for two years, and we didn’t have any separation period to make the transition. I would say that the important things for me to make it work were walking back how much I came crying to him about my problems (since my problems were our breakup), and forgiving myself the occasional lapse into couple-y behaviors or the occasional begging to get back together, so long as we were moving towards the eventual goal. As for being jealous of new girls, it definitely made me feel really shitty and inadequate when he started pursuing other girls, but I just (figuratively) bit on a stick, reminded myself that we broke up for a good reason, and waited it out. It was obviously really really painful, but I feel like suddenly losing that important person out of my life would have made it worse, and harder to stick to. Anyway, no idea if doing it this way would work for you, but I just wanted to offer the possibility.

    • kaberett said:

      Thank you for saying this!

      (Also, heh, I keep reading comments about feeling awful when people pick up new partners and going “wow, I am glad I have had practice enough at poly that my reaction is pretty much just “yes! hurrah! enjoy one another!” as opposed to screaming misery.)

      • Yep. Staying friends with my ex and seeing him bring new people back to the house we shared. Well, it was a crash course in feeling all the jealousy, learning to work through it and then realising I could handle being poly.

    • Tonia said:

      I’ve done the no-separation-period, too (with positive results): we knew school/work/life were going to throw us together, and so we had lunch 72 hours after break-up. We kept it strictly professional, and it was awkward, but it did help to set a new tone. Not that it didn’t hurt! Within a few weeks, we were not-awkward and friendly, and within a few months we were able to really be friends again. I still think time apart is absolutely the best thing if it’s possible, but sometimes it’s not possible, and it can be okay, too.

    • MamaCheshire said:

      Agreed. The level of time needed and decrease of contact needed is widely variable, as are the reasons for stepping away.

      My only year-plus duration relationships other than with Spouse were with Darth Vader Ex (enough said there, and we sort of kind of tried staying friends but that did NOT work because, well, see “Darth Vader Ex”) and Ex-Complicated, who was an on-and-off “friend” or “FWB” or “boyfriend” depending on who was asking, and who I was on-and-off involved with for about a year and a half on either side of the relationship with Darth. (In fact, I met Darth through Ex-Complicated.)

      Ex-Complicated and I had this absolutely ridiculous fight (that was in retrospect probably deliberately instigated by a third party who had their own malicious reasons) which ended up throwing us into a gigantic snit of not-speaking for a chunk of time, during which I met Spouse, and if Ex-Complicated and I HAD been on speaking terms I’m not sure that the relationship with Spouse would’ve gotten off the ground because we tended to have that effect on attempts to relationship with people other than each other.

      Then, as fate would have it, Ex-Complicated started working for Spouse’s then-employer. And the two of them hit it off, like, a LOT – they are rather similar to each other, so it made sense. And so Ex-Complicated and I pretty much agreed we’d both been foolish stubborn gits and started talking to each other again. We aren’t as close now, in part because we no longer live in the same city, but we are quite happy to see each other when we are in the same place.

      As far as shorter-duration relationships go, most of them have transitioned (or transitioned back) to friendships relatively easily. The first time BFF and I dated (for about half a college semester), she and I were each other’s main reason for coming out to absolutely-everyone. And then she left me for one of my closest male friends – I introduced them, they hit it off immediately, and a few days later they both talked to me about “what if…?” And I told them, honestly, that I’d need about two weeks to sulk and then I’d be fine. (And then it took less than two weeks, because something unrelated but Very Bad happened less than a week later and I needed ALL the Team Me I could get, which these two people were still very much near the center of.) The second time we dated, for about four months three years later, we had to face the truth that we love each other and always will but we are completely incompatible as housemates due to conflicting brainweasels. And I know she took the breakup a lot harder than I did, and it was a lot harder for our friendship to bounce back that time, but we kept in regular contact through a play-by-email RPG I ran, which meant we had things to talk about other than Our Sad Breakup.

      In fact, I think that was a lot of my breakups back then – we regularly did a thing together (usually an ongoing RPG or two) so we didn’t want to make things all weird in that context, which meant a certain basic level of civility and willingness to deal with each other had to happen right away, though there was usually a brief period of being around each other ONLY in context of that thing while we figured out what the new normal looked like. That seemed to be the standard operating procedure in our circle of friends.

  11. LW, I have been in the place of “I hate all of the people you date with a firey passion and wish they would accidently step into a puddle of quicksand that has mysteriously appeared in the sidewalk, but I will pretend to be nice to them so that you and I can be friends.”

    I did not like the person I was when I lived there. When I was that person, all of the good things that I value and admire about myself curled up and died. I would not wish becoming that person on anyone, and especially not on someone as lovely and caring as you.

    Give yourself the gift of space and time. You deserve it. If there is a friendship to be had between you and Dude, it will be there when you are ready to have it.

    Best of luck, and many Jedi hugs.

  12. noturiah said:

    Seconding both the Captain’s advice towards your ex, to actually stop being in contact for a significant amount of time, and towards yourself, to be kind to yourself and find new things to enjoy while you grieve the relationship.

    When I was in a similar situation, at this point several years ago, I may have resembled your ex a little bit. I also had never really been friends with an ex, and though my girlfriend and I knew that we were not going to stay a couple for much longer, we wanted to remain friends after the breakup. It was brutally hard on both of us, but it soon became apparent that it was hard for each of us _in our own way_. Things which didn’t bother me at all, such as giving back books and CDs and toothbrushes we’d left at each other’s apartments, were really difficult for her. And then celebrating holidays without her was incredibly difficult for me, and not so much for her. Something we had to learn the hard way was that, along with different aspects of the breakup being rough, we had to work through them on our own (ie. with our separate Team Yous, not literally all alone) because the other one just couldn’t help that way anymore. It was what made us realize we had to stop talking to each other, even though we wanted to stay friends, because we simply couldn’t yet distinguish the line between what being friends looked like vs. taking care of each other as a couple.

    When we cautiously initiated contact again – which was probably the better part of a year later, after a couple of false starts at trying to not be in touch that didn’t take – we decided, mutually, not to continue a friendship. It was because, during the time apart, we had both grown up some, but more importantly had grown more into who we were, ourselves, and into the directions our lives took after that, which weren’t anywhere near each other, not by design but by becoming more of who we were. And we realized that had been a big reason why we had broken up in the first place, that though we had loved each other, that other person wasn’t really what we were looking for as a permanent part of our futures. For us, giving each other the space to grow on our own had reinforced the good decision of breaking up. There just wasn’t a lot to talk about anymore after a year apart, and we wished each other well and went down different paths.

    So that’s also why I’d reinforce what the Captain says about “if you’re meant to be friends down the road, it will happen.” I wish you and your ex all the best in working through your grief and figuring out how to care for yourselves, separately, as you move forward.

    • eightysixed@gmail.com said:

      I was going to say something similar.

      When I broke up with my boyfriend of 3 years who I was living with, the idea of him not being in my life was completely alien. However, after having that six month period of not being in touch, it really was clear that we were just not meant to be friends. It wasn’t due to no longer caring or respecting one another – our lives just no longer intersected in a way that made any sense.

      At the time of the breakup, there was no way I would have ever believed that – but it also happened in a way really free of animosity. We’re still facebook friends and once a year or so might reach out, but that’s it. Again, if you’re meant to be friends – it will happen. And if you’re not – it doesn’t mean that there’s a negative light cast on what that relationship was.

    • Laughing Giraffe said:

      Or you may make a discovery like mine, such as, “Wow, you are actually a terrible friend and a shitty person, and once the post-breakup fugue wore off, I realized how much better off I am without you!” (Note that I did NOT break off contact with my ex immediately, and that was one of the biggest mistakes of my life.)

  13. Katamari said:

    Give each other space. The thing that will most likely ruin your chances for friendship is trying to be friends too soon and messing it up. There’s no example in my life or my friends’ lives that I can think of where being friends with an ex you were still in love with did not end in copious amounts of MESS. There are plenty of examples where it did. You’ll do the thing where you go, “we’ll still be friends but we’ll establish STRICT RULES that means we won’t hurt each other” and then inevitably he’ll make out with another girl at a club you’re also at, or you’ll see him leaving a party with a girl, or he’ll bring a girl he’s seeing around to your house and you’ll go BUT WE MADE RULES and you’ll want to stab his and the girl’s faces and THAT will ruin your friendship as well as hurt the hell out of you. Don’t let that happen!

    • Muddie Mae said:

      “an ex you were still in love with”

      This is a key factor, in my experience. My ex and I were together for 8 years and stayed friends immediately after we broke up. Working in our favor, though, was the fact that we had fallen out of love years ago and were just dithering about making it official due to relationship inertia and probably depression on both of our parts.

  14. Sebastian said:

    It’s definitely possible. I’ve been sharing a house with one of my exes for seven years, along with my new (well, relatively) boyfriend for the last five, and every Sunday we play bridge with another ex and his wife, both of whom are amongst my closest friends.

    As so many people have said though, give yourself some time with no contact. How much can vary – I needed about three months with the first guy (and it was a couple of years later that we moved in together), and much less with the second, but then that relationship ended in a very gentle fizzle. Good luck!

  15. kaberett said:

    One of my friends was just a bridesmaid for her best friend when said best friend got married to one of her ex-boyfriends, so – this all is definitely stuff that can happen & can work. (And, for what it’s worth, ex & friend both kept playing in the same orchestra and attending orchestra socials while all this was working itself out.) Good luck. <3

    • lengarion said:

      I asked my ex boyfriend to be my best man, and it worked out great. :3

      Totally agreeing with what everybody else is saying, though. Give it time – months at least. Me and ex had radio silence for weeks and only very brief chats for months to come, but then we became close again and now we’re best friends. Wouldn’t have worked if we had tried it when everything was fresh and still hurt.

  16. Light said:

    One thing to keep in mind. If you realize that you can’t be friends after all, or he can’t, that doesn’t make either of you bad people or unenlightened people or wrong people. It just means you can’t be friends, which sucks but isn’t a moral imperative.

    • This is fact. For whatever reason our culture (particularly nerd culture?) has decided that we all must be friends with exes. Yes, it’s nice, especially when the break up is not a hurt feeling break up but a not working break up, but lines have been crossed into beyond-friend territory and if you can’t go back, that is A-Okay.

      • cruelmistress said:

        This is something that has been particularly important for me. My first Serious Relationship was with my best friend from high school. (Note: I do not recommend this course of action, but I may be biased and YMMV.) We broke up, “stayed friends,” and were back together within six months. Because the fact of the matter is that our ways of interacting with one another were very tied to Complicated Romantic Feelings and we didn’t have the maturity to see that. After another ~2 years, we split For Good. She wanted to be friends– she mentioned this during the breakup conversation, which I cannot advise you enough NEVER TO DO, even or perhaps especially if you really mean it, because it is confusing and weird and it is a time at which emotions are running high so probably neither of you really knows what you want. Sometimes “let’s be friends” is more about fear and nostalgia than about what it will actually mean to hold onto this person.

        I ultimately didn’t want to be friends, so we aren’t (if someone doesn’t want to be friends with you, you are already not friends!), but I think I learned something from this that people who *do* want friendships with exes can use. The hardest and weirdest and worst thing about breaking up is the closing of that emotional support door at a time when you are hurting and lonely and lost. You have to do this whether you want to be friends or not. A crucial part of redefining your friendship is going to be de-intensifying that channel. What helped me heal from that fractured relationship was redirecting that attention to other, previously underutilized members of Team Me. Strengthening those relationships has made me a much steadier person and made it much easier for me to recover from anything destabilizing– including uncomfortable and unwelcome ex-related feels.

      • Yeah. I’m glad someone said this so I didn’t have to figure out how to. :) I’ve been in the breakup where the other person decided that we had to be friends or it meant that he’d actually been the bad guy (SPOILER: HE IS NOT A BAD GUY, HE IS THE WORST GUY) and the pressure he brought for me to “stay friends” was actually more stressful than breaking up with him because he’d cheated on me multiple times. Which was pretty darn stressful.

        Not that this is your situation, LW, but it’s possible that once he’s been out of your life for a while you’ll discover you don’t want him back in it. If that’s the case, don’t stress about it. It doesn’t mean anybody’s a bad person, just that some people aren’t friends.

      • Laughing Giraffe said:

        I think it’s a kind of backlash against the idea, still held by many in our culture, that if a romantic partnership didn’t work out, it must be because ending a relationship is the equivalent of dropping a nuclear bomb – massive devastation on impact, followed by years of emotional fallout polluting the site. This, of course, is simply not true for a lot of people. And I think most of us have known people who seemed incredibly bitter and angry at exes who hadn’t actually done anything wrong other than dump them; hence the idea that remaining friends makes you healthy and enlightened and serene. Unfortunately, the pendulum swung right past that nuance and directly into the notion that having any kind of negative emotion after a breakup (even a nuclear one, even if your partner was actually a horrible person) makes you UNhealthy and UNenlightened.

      • MamaCheshire said:

        Thinking back to my involvement with the LGBTQ community 15-20 years ago? I think a lot of it comes from having a small pool of people who accept certain important things about you, who are also most likely going to be your dating pool. It’s a weird inversion of one of the geek social fallacies – instead of “friends accept me as I am” it is “EVERYONE who accepts This One Critical Thing about me MUST be a friend.” And also there was sometimes this pressure to make a relationship BE “a relationship” and also for the sexual elements to go faster because hey, you like girls, she likes girls, what are you waiting for…? (Or in some instances, “so why aren’t you dating each other?” Which…SO VERY AWKWARD.) And then if/when the date or the set-up or the relationship doesn’t work there is a metric shitton of pressure to make nice because there are “so few of us” and you don’t want to poison that particular well.

        I seriously have the two most awesome ex-girlfriends that a lady could hope to have, ever, and I am so glad that they stayed in my life. But “we have reasonable amounts of things in common AND we’re both bi, so we should date!” is…not a good thing.

        It’s the pressure to Relationship quickly and intensely, the pressure to make nice about breakups and avoid all drama, and the pressure to pretend that Everyone Is Good People Here. Because the alternative is…the closet. Or so it seemed to us at the time.

    • A lot of the time when I or people I know have broken up we don’t stay friends, we don’t want to stay friends. Even if we said we wanted to, in fact, we often stopped being even acquaintances.

      After all, people don’t break up because every thing is working between them.

      So yeah. Staying friends isn’t always the best thing.

  17. Lauren said:

    I have found amicable break ups to be the hardest to recover from because messy break ups make that critical separation phase easier to actually follow through with. You can’t slide back into your comfortable couple behavior when all that is left is bile and tainted memories. And the sudden lack of relationship drama is so nice when the break up finally comes.

    I think the key is being really honest with yourself. I think of it like a fire, a fire of attachment that is dying down. Over time it gets less intense, but if you get too close your are going to burn yourself. After the initial period of no contact, test yourself. Does it still hurt to think about the ex? The fire is still way too hot to proceed, wait longer. If not, try as easy a meeting as possible and see how that goes. If you don’t feel the flames of feelings, drop a few more barriers if you want to and then check back in with yourself. And do not lie to yourself – sometimes the heat feels nice too, but it is still a warning sign. Fires can be warm and comfy, sure, but do not forget that this fire needs to die. Otherwise you end up at a party with the ex’s new squeeze dying inside because you have to be friendly because things are supposed to be fine now but actually you want to sit in the shower and sob for half an hour. Stay away from the heat; give the embers mire time. Do not add wood.

    Hopefully you will eventually be able to stick your hands in the ashes with ease. A true friendship is possible then, if that’s what you still want. You may feel different at that point, because at that point you literally will not feel the same way as you do now. In fact, don’t worry about what rises from the ashes. You need to let the fire die down first.

    And remember the other person has their own fire they are waiting out and it is going to die at its own pace.

    I also recommend a good rebound.

    • rollinghead said:

      I like this metaphor, this is a well written post.

    • You make a crucial point here: The other person has their own fire they are waiting out and it is going to die at its own pace. Very, very crucial. It could die faster than yours, or slower, but if you try to force it, you’ll get burned by THAT fire instead of yours!

  18. LW, I know all about “seeing him feels like stabbing” and being jealous of his new girlfriends (even if they’re not actually girlfriends, just women he’s hanging around with, but MAYBE THEY’RE TOTALLY MAKING OUT AND HOW WOULD I KNOW????).

    It won’t go away just because you will it to. It won’t go away in a week. I know what it’s like to really, really want to stay friends with this person who’s very important in your life, but for your own sake, and for the sake of a true and happy friendship with this person, take the Captain’s advice. Wait until you can think about him without feeling the knife, and then wait a few more months. The first time you see him after the break, see him with a group of friends to mitigate the awkward, and so if you’re not as ready as you thought you were you have a reason not to interact with him much.

    Good luck, LW. It hurts really bad now, and it might always hurt a tiny bit, but if you take care of yourself and banish the shoulds (“We should be friends! I should be okay with this! This shouldn’t be awkward!”), and just let yourself feel what you feel, you’ll come out of it fine.

  19. undertheoaks said:

    When my college boyfriend broke up with me, everywhere I went in the college town reminded me of things we had done in those places together. I found that it helped to make new memories in those places, with people who were not him. Now I can look back at the time in our relationship as just a good part of college! Also, travel and seeing new places is a great way to lessen the pain of a breakup. It reminds you that there is a lot more in the world!

  20. The period of no contact is SO important, LW. Painful, but important. When I broke up with my previous boyfriend, we tried to go straight from 3.5-year relationship into close friendship right away. Every email or text or glance at his Facebook profile made me feel happy for a second and then miserable for an hour. I was newly off to college, and when after a month I had made no new friends and the sadness was still making me feel physically ill, a very wise friend convinced me that cutting off contact for a while would be the kindest thing I could do for myself. I de-friended and blocked him everywhere, sent him a polite email letting him know what was up, and that was that.

    Well, sort of — we still had plenty of mutual friends who I was still friends with on Facebook, so when he got a new (blonde, tan, athletic, gorgeous) girlfriend a few months later, I saw all the pictures. And I bawled my eyes out and threw a little tantrum in my head and thought lots of extremely uncharitable things about a woman I had never met in my life, and who was probably perfectly nice. But I wasn’t speaking to him, so I never verbalized any of the nasty shit I was feeling except to my college BFFs, who could nod along and say “Yeah, what an asshole” without it getting back to him. I am extremely thankful for that, because I don’t like that jealous part of me, and if I can’t completely suppress it at least I can protect its innocent potential victims.

    And things slowly got better, until one day I looked him up online out of curiosity, saw he had a new girlfriend, and thought, “Huh. Good for him. She looks nice.” I still haven’t spoken to him, partly because of inertia and partly because we seem to have grown in different directions, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it if he got in touch, and I might even contact him someday. I have lots of fond memories of our relationship, and I think it was a really good thing for me… and if we tried being friends now, I could actually be friends with him without feeling like my heart was breaking into little bitty pieces every time we interacted. Cut off contact for as long as it takes to make that happen.

    (Also, Captain, thank you so much for linking to Already Pretty! It was exactly the blog I needed to read right now.)

  21. I broke up with a person once and we went right to being friends because we both really wanted to stay and be friends because we were ~so important~ to each other.

    And it worked and was great!… right up until it DIDN’T and it WASN’T.

    Asymmetrical FEELINGS (about each other, about the breakup) and attachment and weirdness caused a friendship-breakup that was more horrible than our romance-breakup. It took several years for us to get back to an actual proper (albeit never as close as it once was – but I think a big part of that is just time and circumstance and living in different cities and life) healthy friendship. and I really think that if we’d taken the time apart early on then maybe we could have avoided a lot of that pain and misery. Take the time.

    People don’t heal or move on at equal rates and breaking up removes the link that may have given you a high level of emotional synchronicity in the past.

  22. LW, I’m worried by your “possessive crazyperson thoughts” because it sounds like that’s what’s really bugging you. This isn’t just about seeing or not seeing someone–it’s about how much impact this dude has on your own self-worth. It’s about feeling that his next GF has the ability to reveal ALL YOUR IMPERFECTIONS, like, anything she has that you don’t means those are the glaring flaws that keep you from getting what you want.

    Because LW, that is genuine 100% bullshit. Breakups happen because breakups happen; the demise of this relationship is not an omen for what happens to you next. These are not the tea leaves of How You’re Not Good Enough. And the fact that your relationship is over now does not mean that it wasn’t wonderful, or that you weren’t genuinely loved.

    This is the thing you’ve gotta work on fixing. This is going to keep being super-extra painful as long as it’s about your self-esteem, and not about just missing this guy. Whatever way you can find to work on that–keep a journal of things you like about yourself, work on building skills and upping your awesome, go to therapy, whatever–do it.

    • Pear said:

      These are not the tea leaves of How You’re Not Good Enough.

      This is a lovely phrase, and very sound advice.

      The points relating to self-esteem especially stuck out to me, too–it’s the hinge between ‘jealous of current partner’s ex’ and ‘jealous of ex’s current partner.’ I’ve struggled with both and it is terrible, terrible, terrible.

      There are also deep cultural messages about being in or out of someone’s “league”, or the narrative about people having A Very Specific Type Who Is Good Enough For Them And Even Then There Will Be An Upgraded Model Who Gives Them Everything They Need. It can send claws deep into the raw sense of a person’s self-worth: even if they’re aware that notionally none of the above is true, to actually feel and experience something is different.

  23. But also don’t want to “give it space” until seeing each other turns into this unnatural production.

    You’d be surprised. When one of my boyfriends broke up with me years ago, I told him that I wanted to be friends … someday … but not yet. I saw him once at a party I knew we’d both be at a few months later. We made small talk for a couple minutes. It was fine, pleasant, but I still wasn’t ready to resume contact in a meaningful way.

    About a year after the breakup, a friend and I threw a large party and invited him. I figured that more small talk would be fine. What actually happened surprised me. I saw him walk through the door and though, “Hey, it’s you! Yay!” With no accompanying pangs of sadness. I’d stopped caring without realizing it.

    Granted, this was a guy I’d only dated for around four months, and while I was sad about the breakup, I hadn’t thought it likely that we’d be together forever. So the time you’ll need to feel okay about everything might be longer than it was in my situation. But at the same time, the level of closeness you had makes it likelier that once the sadness goes away, you’ll be the kind of old friends who can pick up where you left off even though you haven’t seen each other in years.

    Good luck. Be nice to yourself. It won’t suck forever.

  24. Muffin said:

    I totally agree with all the advice about taking some no-contact time! and if it’s not out of line, I have kind of a suggestion about a thing that might help pass that no-contact time. Personally, when I go through breakups, the early stages of No Contact are me sitting alone at my computer clicking on things that remind me of Ex and crying a lot and watching sad rom-coms, and it is a no good place.

    The way I got through this place in the last go-round was by giving myself a kind of daily, IRL Bechdel test: did I hang out with another human (of any gender) today? did I have a conversation with that human? was it about something other than my ex? If the answer to those questions was no, that could be okay, but it was motivation to try again the next day.

    After a while, I started to be excited about hanging out with my friends and talking about books and listening to music that didn’t remind me of Ex, and then one day I was living a happy single life by myself. YMMV, but it helped me a lot. All good wishes go with you, LW. This stuff is hard.

    • Erin said:

      Your IRL Bechdel test is genious.

    • SparklySparky said:

      I love your “IRL Bechdel Test” – that’s awesome, and a pretty neat way to work out where you are on the “moving on” scale.

    • JenniferP said:

      This is a great strategy.

    • greeneyedwench said:

      I have so needed this breakup-Bechdel rule at various times of my life.

    • Courtney said:

      OMG, stealing this! Genius!

  25. Just wanted to chime in as another one of those people who didn’t need any no-contact time post-breakup. After nearly three years of being really attached to each other, it wasn’t working–he came over, broke up with me, admitted it was his feelings and not my fault, and then we had margaritas.

    And then we went back to being friends almost at once… I honestly don’t know if we ever were out of contact; I do know that I was still occasionally mad at him, but very few months later I was calling him from my parents’ house complaining about my bras and my period, and my mom gave me a weird look and asked, “Didn’t you two break up?” A couple years down the road, we were best friends again, and then friends with benefits, and things have been pretty chill since.

    So yes. The comments on this entry seem to be leaning toward most people needing at least a few months post-break. I think that sounds like a good baseline. I don’t know why my breakup was different, but here are some ideas:

    1) We defined ourselves as friends first. This doesn’t seem to be a very strong factor since a lot of stories on here go “We were friends, we dated, we broke up, and it was sad we couldn’t go back to friends without a break because it was TOO WEIRD.” But I do want to throw that data in there.

    2) We were poly from the start. I knew he was dating other women and had been learning how to deal with jealousy; this also meant I had a small network of lovers and dates to fall back on.

    3) I’m aromantic; I haven’t really been in a romantic relationship since and feel really okay with that. Part of our breakup was renegotiating what we wanted from a relationship–it turns out that “friends with benefits” was a much better fit.

    The only other wisdom I have to add is my recipe for breakup margaritas:
    3 parts tequila
    6 parts sweet and sour mix
    1 part lime juice
    1 part triple sec
    1 part Tuaca liqueur
    Powdered sugar to taste, if you like it sweet. Shake and strain over ice.

  26. nonnymouse said:

    I am another with a successful tale of being friends with an ex after a breakup. And the Captain is totally correct—the cooling off period is really important. My ex and I split after very nearly four years, when we figured out that our visions of the future did not align. After, we had about six months of minimal contact—a very close circle of friends meant it was hard to have no contact—we started hanging out together in groups again, and about a year later rekindled a one-on-one friendship…after she started seeing someone new. For me, this was actually helpful, because I felt like I knew that she had moved on.

    These days, I’ve relocated, so we only see each other about once a year, but we always hang out and catch up when we’re in the same city. I still consider her one of my best friends, and I’m deeply grateful for the time we had together and the friendship we’ve built after.

  27. Anon said:

    The year before last, I danced at the wedding of a man I was in love with for over 18 months, ten years earlier. I attribute this COMPLETELY to a period of eight months when we did not contact each other or see each other at all (put in place by him because he was, and is, smarter than I am about this stuff). He’s a good friend now, his wife is lovely and he gets on great with my fiance. That no contact thing is powerful stuff, and I owe much of my present happiness to it (not all, though, because books and cake).

  28. Dear LW

    The captain is right. Take time apart. It feels now like ex is your best friend, but in future you may find ex isn’t.

    Best of luck

  29. I wonder what people here think you should do when your (mutual) friends won’t let you move on. This is long past being an issue for me (thanks, time and distance healing all wounds!) but 6 (mother of pearl!) years ago, I was dumped by my serious college boyfriend, and our mutual friend group was fuuuuurious. Basically split into the women and the men and the last year of college was me mainly trying to make it clear that I had gotten my cry out for six weeks and then moved on (not dating, but towards le future) and everyone trying to make me out into the victim. Part of the problem was that he completely withdrew from the women first, treating them all like pariahs, and then he started dating and got engaged to someone (verrry quickly) without introducing her to his female friends. These were friends who were friends with both of us individually, not “couple friends.” So maybe half of the hurt feelings were on my account, he did himself no favors by the speed-engagement.

    I’m not a wallower. I had six weeks of being sad and then I moved on. I wasn’t entirely ready to be buddy-buddy with him again, but I could see him without it ruining the evening. But everyone seemed devoted to the idea that I must be heartbroken and he is evil.

    Obviously this is water under the bridge. Though, ex and I are not in contact at all- as a friend I wasn’t that pleased with his date someone not old enough to drink for 2 months and then get engaged and married before the year is out plan (to be also clear, this happened 8 months after our break up and was not related, though people asked me if it was). I just wonder what other people have done/would have done when the “friendly with ex” plan is complicated by mutual friends feeling like the break up is part of their problem too.

    • Mary said:

      I actually think the answer to that is probably, “get older and graduate”. I think that dynamic is pretty common among teenagers and early-twenties people, when everyone is still in very tight-knit groups and still somewhat in “practice” relationship mode, and people get very invested in other people’s relationships as the Right/Wrong Way To Do Things and have big Moral Debates about “Xander is kissing Cordelia AT me!” and “Drusilla is totally out of line for smiling at Angel like that when she’s supposed to be with Spike OMG” and so on. Unless your friendship group has a really bad, enduring case of Geek Fallacies, then most people figure out in their early twenties that People Are Different and Have Different Relationships and Sure, I Wouldn’t Have Done It Like That But It’s Not Actually My Business.

      Of course, it often swings way too far in the other direction of, “Well, she *said* he was abusive and assaulted her, but that’s between them, none of my business…” I think the over-involved thing tends to be a developmental stage whereas the latter is a rape culture problem.

      • KellyK said:

        Can I just say how perfect using Buffy characters as an example of tight-knit groups being overly involved in each other’s relationship drama is?

  30. Note also, it does not count as giving each other space if you spend all your time talking to mutual friends about each other and talking before and after every time you might possibly be in the same area “so that we don’t meet and make things difficult”. That is not helpful. Take a break from giving each other space in your heads. Get out of the old relationshippy thinking patterns.

  31. Rachel said:

    From experience, if you are the kind of person who would retrospectively over-analyse every detail of the breakup… resist the temptation to do this *with your ex*. Obsessing over it privately or with trusted friends may be a necessary phase, but don’t do what I did which was contact my ex out of the blue with questions like “DID YOU EVER REALLY LOVE ME? WHAT WAS REALLY GOING ON WITH YOUR FRIEND X I ALWAYS THOUGHT SHE HAD A CRUSH ON YOOOUUU? WHAT DID YOU MEAN WHEN YOU SAID YOU DIDN’T LIKE PEANUT BUTTER? DID YOU MEAN I WASN’T PRETTY ENOUGH?”

    This advice is possibly too specific to be useful to anyone but myself 10 years ago, but… yeah. Don’t rope your ex into your post-breakup agonising, is generally good advice. Do that work on your own. And accept (as I think the Captain has said numerous times) that there may be some questions you will never know the answers to.

    • Haha, no, this is excellent advice. It’s so easy to get sucked into this habit! My Darth Ex and I did it mutually for almost two years until I finally managed to cut all contact. I still kind of hate him years later, so I don’t recommend this course of action if you want to stay friends!

  32. Yesssssssssssssssssssssss oh sweet baby seals yes. Take that contact break! Disentangle your emotions and come back later. And if, when you propose this, this dude says “It’s now or never for being friends!” Don’t be afraid at all to say “cool, it’s never.” I truly believe exes can be friends, but I don’t believe they can make that transition immediately, the ones who manage to flourish and have successful friendships always need some kind of resting period.

  33. dancingotter72 said:

    When I was in my early twenties, I dated a guy for 2.5 years. He broke up with me because he realized that his feelings had changed and he was starting to look at someone else and felt it was only fair to end things with me before he hurt me even more. I was devastated! Not only was I losing my boyfriend, he was also my best friend. I didn’t want to lose both at the same time, so I told him that I wanted to remain friends. I started hanging around him immediately and tried to prove how cool I was with the whole thing. Then one day I found myslef sitting on his bed reminded him to pack deodorant for his weekend with his new girlfriend. It hit me at that moment that I couldn’t do it any more. I didn’t speak to him for 2 years after that and he was confused and hurt. Fortunately, we were able to eventually to talk and resolve things and are now as good of friends as we can be since we live on separate coasts.

    I truly believe that if I hadn’t tried to jump right into a friendship without allowing myself to grieve for what I lost, then it wouldn’t have taken me 2 years t be able to be around him again. Give yourself time and be kind to yourself. If you are meant to be friends, it will still be there in 6 months and it won’t be dragging around the carcass of what you had previously meant to each other.

  34. DF said:

    Is there a script, etiquette, or protocol for how to communicate the no-contact period? I’ve heard this recommended many times, and I agree with the advice, but when I actually saw it go down in person, the de-friender was greeted with MAXIMUM drama: heated social media blackouts, declarations of zero forgiveness, never friends again, etc, etc. In this case, the person communicated that they needed the break via email and began disengaging, which I would have thought was appropriate… but… apparently not? As a mutual friend of both parties, I got to watch this go down like a lead balloon from the sidelines, and years haven’t healed the breach, so if there is a right way to go about doing it, I would love to know!

    • JenniferP said:

      That sounds to me like a clear “ok then, let’s not be friends” situation.

      • KellyK said:

        Totally. If you can’t give someone space to heal, you’re pretty blatantly not their friend.

        I think the only etiquette is to do it privately, politely and with respect for their feelings (preferably not in person). Unfortunately, behaving politely and appropriately doesn’t magically cause others to do the same. Unless the de-friender said something nasty in the email or did something crappy and controlling as part of disengaging (that you wouldn’t necessarily know about), it sounds like they did it just fine, and the other person reacted horribly.

        • DF said:

          Thanks! It’s good to know that, all parties being reasonable, an email isn’t actually out of line!

          • KellyK said:

            Yeah, definitely not inherently. Granted, some people have an “Important conversations must be handled in person” rule, but I personally like having time to get my thoughts together and giving the other person as much time as they need to respond, even though I think actual breaking up should be done in person. But using “you communicated in a way that isn’t my preferred method,” especially if you haven’t made that preference clear, as an excuse for massive drama is also crappy.

          • kaberett said:

            I have many, many feelings about how strong societal pressure to break up face-to-face inherently puts vulnerable people at risk (of violence, of further abuse, etc). I just… Many Negative Feelings. Possibly more when more awake, but – I don’t think it’s a healthy or *safe* standard to apply to “decent behaviour”.

      • KellyK said:

        I think my comment (a longer “yeah! what she said!”) got eaten by the spam filter.

      • I have a semi-related question: what do you do when you have plans to move somewhere because you have to leave where you are, and your ex decides to move there after you mention it, and gets there before you because their life is infinitely more portable than yours? For a while I thought I needed to change my plans and move to a different city, but goddammit, I wanted to move there first and I was talking about it when we were still together–before that, even, when we were just friends! I have been having an on and off sad about this. I want to move to this place, but now he’s there. I feel like he’s drinking my milkshake.

        • DF said:

          Not that I know your ex, but it seems like kind of a sketchy bid for attention. Because it’s really tempting to latch on to people you know when you move to a new place, so it seems like that’s a role they might want to step into for you. Like, “hello, old friend, let me show you where all the places to get coffee are so I can ambush you in them later! Here are all my people, they can be your people too for the low, low price of giving me all your time and attention.” I think it’s valid to fear for the sanctity of your milkshake, is what I’m saying.

          That being said, you can’t own a city. If the city is big enough (Boston, NY, Chicago, LA), there are probably plenty of milkshakes for you. Just maybe aim for a different neighborhood, and that, initially, should be a good enough buffer against the casual-not-casual social invasion.

          • I think he just genuinely doesn’t get why it might be awkward. I don’t think he has ulterior motives. He broke up with me, and in a really destructive way, and it came up in conversation last week that he didn’t realize I have to move, so it seems unlikely that he would preemptively force a physical proximity he might not even want. I feel like this is just more manifestations of his general gormlessness. But thank you for validating my fears about my milkshake. I was trying not to feel like this, because it seems very petty of me, but I genuinely do feel like he’s stealing my plans, and it’s unpleasant. I mean, I’ve been applying for jobs in the town in question for 4-5 months, he decided to move there 3 weeks ago and is already there.

          • DF said:

            Really? 3 weeks?! I can’t even imagine how that works… and I’ve moved around a lot.

            But yeah, I totally understand how you feel. Part of the fun of striking out to a new place is leaving your past behind you, and in this case, you … can’t. Your past is getting all up in your future business, and it’s certainly not petty to be wary of that. I wish you all the luck in avoiding the hell out of him once you move.

          • He’s younger than me and hasn’t lived alone (so no major furniture) and doesn’t have pets, so just throwing everything in the back of a car and driving somewhere to sleep on someone’s sofa is totally a thing he can do. Me not so much. I also have a lot more education, so job hunting for me isn’t a matter of finding some retail or customer service place that’s hiring. My shit is complicated. :)

            Thanks. We went from dating to “buds again” way too fast (mostly my fault–the way he broke up with me was so outrageously dumb that I initially thought if I took the pressure off he’d reconsider, so that’s how I played it, and it was a mistake) which complicates everything. But I’m applying to jobs in other places, so if one of those comes through, I won’t be moving there–it’s just that I’d already planned that if I had to move without a job lined up, I’d go there.

    • That sounds like a bullet dodged, tbh.
      I’d say that the de-friender’s method was reasonable. I’ve only seen it go badly once, and that was my own Darth upset that I was ending the drama he fed on – i.e., a friendship not worth saving.

      (This is assuming the email was polite and not like blaming the de-friended for everything bad in the world. Making it clear that “this is what *I* need to recover” rather than “I need to get away from *you*” will help.)

      • DF said:

        The email was brief and polite, but… you know, I don’t think it occurred to me that the extreme reaction might have been Darthy, but if the helmet fits… :/

    • Yeah, I’m with the Captain. Email is perfect. Phone is bad, in person is worse. Don’t give a reason, just say “I need some space, I’ll get back to you when I’m ready, but I need at least [time period]“. This is absolutely okay, and if someone reacts poorly to it, it’s not because you did it wrong, it’s because they react poorly to stuff (possibly related to the reasons for the breakup).

  35. Ah, I remember this. I broke up with someone whom I will still happily describe with very many very positive adjectives (like astute and pulchritudinous and and and). The fun thing to me is that I expected to be super jealous… Or not jealous, but to feel a certain pang in my heart of hearts whenever I knew – as they would, because they’re awesome – find some other lovely person or persons to partner with.

    Only. LW, that doesn’t actually have to be the case. Maybe it will! But it’s possible you’ll just feel a certain kind “Eh, okay, that’s certainly great for you” and mean it. In the end, their choice of partner doesn’t reflect anything about you or your worthiness, which I’m positive in that very certain way someone who only knows you through a letter on the internet can be is 110 % worthy. Of everything. Totally. You can let your feelings about the choices of partner former partners have mean that they’re just happy with the people they choose to be with like that, at that time, and it doesn’t reflect on you. You had your happy moments too, so all it means is that now you both just need something different. I found that helped me, because it turns out that no, dammit, the fact that other people can be bloody amazing doesn’t mean I’m not, too, in my own way.

    Maybe write down, if they appear, all those “Argh bargh, he’s dating a so and so and I’m just ALL THIS TERRIBLE STUFF” and then look at it, and then burn it. Because then you’ve said it to yourself, and you’ve gotten it all out, and you can realize that it’s not actually true… because I’m, as I’ve said, totally qualified to make the judgement that you’re worthy of everything.

    A contact break as suggested is a good idea! Six months is good. We did four. My former partner and I were quite “Lucky” in that, because of our lives at the time (one did a thing in another city for months, and one was working on exam stuff) that happened naturally. So when we met again, what I wanted to know was stuff like “How was your fantastic writing camp thing? Oh? You had special instructions in oral story-telling? Tell me more, that sounds really interesting” and not “oh broken heart of my hearts, wherefore dost thou cause me such woe by being you, ALAS

    And I think to some degree that that’s a very good “test” to apply to your relationship-turned-friendship thing. Do you actually want to be a friend with this person? I’m not saying you don’t, you probably do, and if you find yourself idly thinking of questions you want to ask this other person unrelated to your relationship months down the line, that’s a great sign! I still idly wonder about this friend of mine, but now it’s because I know, for instance, that they’re moving, and maybe they need a hand, or that they’re working 78 hours a week, so maybe I should drop a line about sending over a couple of bars of chocolate or something.

    I contrast all that with another partner I also think is lovely and great and fantastic and I wish them the best and I never want to see them again because so many things argh, and whom, when I broke up with, still made awkward half noises about being friends with. Bu it turned out, after a break and care and packing up things and stuff I just couldn’t. It was like trying to make happy friends with a black hole. I could gravitational pull of someone else hoping I’d, I don’t know, slip up and become happy happy super partners that are happy again, and the sort of yearning need was clearly the underlying cause of any friendship soundbites.

    … So avoid that, if you can. Not because I think it will happen, but because in the span between “I want to be partners with this fantastic person” and “I want to be friends with this fantastic person”, you can also accidentally wander into the headspace that tells you “Huh, you know, after untangling all my emotions about this, I don’t actually want to be friends any more”.

    And that’s all okay.

    Finally, I think making it very clear where you stand to mutual friends is also very important. Both because then they know, which is nice for them, and because it avoids accidental awkward times with invitations and half astray questions.

    So to sum:

    Be friends if you want! Be unfriends if you want
    Accept that you might feel that you’re the most terrible monster of monsters, and also that this is not, really, strictly speaking, true. It’s just your brain lying to you.
    Talk to your friends
    take a break
    Don’t jump into gravitational singularities.

  36. lordkuro said:

    TAKE A BREAK YES, that is the most important thing you can do

    Me and my ex zirlfriend (non-binary partner for those unfamiliar with the term) broke up after four years of dating. We had been close friends beforehand and I naively assumed we could just easily retain the friendship part and go on pretty much as we had before but without the pantsfeelings. We were both at college together at the time so saw each other every day.

    It was really, really, hard. Even though I was the one to suggest a breakup, I felt horribly jealous whenever they made out with somebody new or whatever. I realise now that it wasn’t necessarily jealousy because I was still in love with them, but my insecurity about losing them as a person, no longer being important to them, and the jerkbrain telling me that if they could move on so quickly, I must never have been that important to them.

    Probably luckily, we both went to university in separate cities and I started dating my current partner. Me and ex communicated by text and eventually rekindled the friendspark that had first drawn us together in the first place. Now we are platonically very close bestfriends and consider ourselves siblings.

    So it definitely can be done if you both want it to!

  37. lordkuro said:

    TAKE A BREAK YES, that is the most important thing you can do

    Me and my ex zirlfriend (non-binary partner for those unfamiliar with the term) broke up after four years of dating. We had been close friends beforehand and I naively assumed we could just easily retain the friendship part and go on pretty much as we had before but without the pantsfeelings. We were both at college together at the time so saw each other every day.

    It was really, really, hard. Even though I was the one to suggest a breakup, I felt horribly jealous whenever they made out with somebody new or whatever. I realise now that it wasn’t necessarily jealousy because I was still in love with them, but my insecurity about losing them as a person, no longer being important to them, and the jerkbrain telling me that if they could move on so quickly, I must never have been that important to them.

    Probably luckily, we both went to university in separate cities and I started dating my current partner. Me and ex communicated by text and eventually rekindled the friendspark that had first drawn us together in the first place. Now we are platonically very close bestfriends and consider ourselves siblings.

    So it definitely can be done if you both want it to!

  38. SinisterSpider said:

    I wish I’d had this to read a few weeks ago! I thought I month’s no contact period would be long enough. We started talking again a couple of weeks ago, and he’s still lovely and still gorgeous … and still completely anti-commitment. I thought it would be okay to tentatively try being friends, but last weekend ended up getting drunk and sleeping with him again. What a mess – that’s me of course, not him. To the letter writer, I would definitely recommend a longer no contact period rather than a shorter one!

    • You don’t need him! You are awesome and will find someone who wants the same kind of thing you want out of a relationship!

  39. Oh LW, I’m sorry.
    I’m in a similar situation…well, a situation of ‘we really like each other, but Cannot Be Together because Reasons’. (Mostly, ‘he’s my supervisor’ reasons). It hurts. I’m not sure whether it’s easier or more difficult than if he just didn’t like me back. Equally, I’m not sure whether ‘mutual, amicable, we still have feelings’ break-ups are better or worse than Hating Each Other And Never Speaking Again.
    I agree with everyone that you should take a break. Spend time with and think about people who are not him. He’d have hated your hair dyed bright pink, so you never did although you kind of wanted to? DYE IT PINK. Do things you didn’t have time to do when you were with him – yoga, salsa dance, learn the oboe/ Russian/ painting/ to drive, whatever. Do not, however, date other people just to get over him – that is fair to neither you nor that person. I mean, when you meet someone you like it will happen organically, don’t feel pressured to date again for the sake of it – some well-meaning friends will advise this.
    One day you will not think of him with longing but as someone you platonically care about, like a brother, and THEN you can be friends. Hugs to you.

  40. “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.”

    I can confirm this from experience. I had a live-in girlfriend for 7 years and we parted amicably and are still actual friends though now I wonder how the heck I was with her romantically for so long. We’ve lost touch these days because she’s not actually good at being a friend, but the friendship is still there and we will be important to each other for a long time even if we’re not in touch. I will say though that the Feelings were gone by the time we actually broke up, so it wasn’t hard for us.

    • greeneyedwench said:

      I relate to this too. I was with a guy for ~12 years and we just couldn’t get along. We loved each other and liked each other, but somehow just rubbed each other the wrong way, all the time, about really stupid stuff. We broke up, and the breakup was ugly for a while, and then somehow we got to a point where I’m honestly, genuinely, thrilled to see him anytime our paths cross. I can’t quite remember why we ever had sex or wanted to, and I have no desire to be with him romantically anymore. I’m happily partnered with someone else and he’s happily married to someone else, and we both get along so much better with our new partners. But Ex and I do still have the shared intellectual interests that got us together in the first place, and so much shared history that isn’t even romantic–like, shitty landlord stories, or stories about our late, lovely dog that we had together, that kind of thing.

  41. Mary said:

    It isn’t *compulsory* to have a contact break period – I’ve known people go from relationship to friends without a break – but OH GOD, if you can, it makes life easier. If you have to stay in contact because you have kids or you need to sell the house or you work together, you have to work *incredibly* hard to bite your tongue, think the best of them, do your best to process/be angry/be sad/tentatively flirt with new people away from them, remind yourself that it’s not about you when they are processing/being angry/being sad/tentatively flirting with new people in front of you, and generally just be an absolute paragon of firm boundaries and calm polite communication and good sense. And it’s so hard! It feels counter-intuitive when you’re doing it, but taking a clean break is by FAR the easier option!

    The other thing is that whether you break contact or stay in touch civilly, neither of you knows until the fires have damped down whether you can or want to be friends. It’s pretty much impossible to tell from the inside of loving someone romantically whether you have the thing that’ll make you want to be friends non-romantically, and it often doesn’t seem to have much to do with how like a friendship your relationship seemed from the inside. Sometimes, even though you felt like the best of friends *as well as* lovers when you were together, the friendship part seems to heal over at the same time as the lover part, and once that’s done, you just feel mild goodwill towards each other after all.

    So, good luck with being friends in the future – I really hope it works out for you! – but focus on healing right now. The future will look after itself.

  42. Dani X said:

    I think that being friends with your ex is overrated. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it, but I also don’t think there is anything wrong with breaking up and then never talking to them again. This is someone you had deep and intense feelings for and they don’t just go away overnight. It takes time, and sometimes a lot longer then you would be happy with. If you keep running into each other then it would be nice to be able to eventually be friends, but I see that as a nice thing that happens, not a requisite for every failed romantic relationship. I feel like breaking up with the intention of staying friends is a little like putting the cart before the horse. Let yourself heal from the relationship – even if nothing was wrong you just knew he wasn’t the right person – you still have to mourn. If after that you still want to be friends you can work on it.

  43. solecism said:

    It can be very important to set good boundaries with friends far more than with the ex sometimes. When I got together with my current partner, hir ex took it poorly, even though they had ended it many years before. My partner was taken completely by surprise exactly because it had been so long, but I sorta expected something like that since it was a change in the status quo. What I wasn’t expecting was that it would take her years to deal with the reality of our relationship.

    Well, the problem wasn’t her or me or my partner so much as the people around us. She was always very polite to me in person, even if she often quickly left the area upon our arrival. In other words, she was managing her feelings and it wasn’t my problem. And yet, when we would hang out with her roommate, he would tell me every time how much she hated me, thought I was the antichrist, etc. And when mutual friends were organizing get-togethers, I was basically not invited because of her expected reaction. I finally had to tell other people to knock that shit off. Stop telling me what she thinks or says or does. Stop making my choices for me out of fear of her possible reaction. Stop making everything all about her and making it a bigger deal than it really needed to be. I would never have known what a hard adjustment it was for her, or how long it went on, if third parties weren’t constantly acting as unsolicited go-betweens.

    So time outs can be good but need to be respected by bystanders as well. Speaking up about it can be necessary. I wish I had done so earlier.

  44. Lana said:

    All the people I know that are friends with their ex only became friends after half a year. I can only imagine it working if both parties are over each other romantically and nobody will get jealous if the other finds a new partner. Also think about what you want from this friendship? I wanted to be friends with my ex but then I realized that what I liked about ‘us’ was almost nothing friends do. For example I hated the fact that we would be watching a film both sitting at the ends of the sofa. Also what will be better for you? Seeing him again so quickly after the breakup or taking some time for yourself and not confront yourself with the new situation you would be in with him?

  45. dancerdc said:

    My reaction to this question is two oppositional thoughts: If it hurts that much, don’t break up, and expect friendship to be rare. For a long time I wanted to collect friends like collecting stones on a beach. Like I’d find the most interesting, fun, kind, people who had shared pivotal life events with me, and put them on my shelf to provide insight and wisdom when the next life event happened. Every move was painful because I’d lose some of these irreplaceable people, either because of the cost of phones and airfare, or because we’d have some ridiculous, banal fight. I’m thinking also of nieces and nephews, in whom I invested weeks of vacations and holidays, time I could have spent with same age friends, partying or relationshipping or on my thesis. After years of playing candy land and doing family activities, I realized that neither the kids nor my siblings were going to do fun stuff with me, on my terms. Even if I paid for it, they couldn’t find the time to come for a visit, curiosity to try a new food, openness to my lifestyles and thoughts. And the family wonders why I won’t spend time and hotel and airfare to attend their weddings, when I know I’m invited as yet another fangirl plus babysitter. I get it, the cousins grew up on the same street, I’m old and cheap or weird or something. But so, I feel closer to the people I see regularly, my neighbors and coworkers, even though it isn’t the same thing at all. They notice when I’ve had a good day or bad one, the minor crises, the small successes. They ask what I’m reading, listening to, and share their interests. Its not deep or intimate, but its solid and real.

  46. canomia said:

    I understand the fear that giving it time will mean that “seeing each other turns into this unnatural production”. That is a legitimate fear because friendships need maintenance and time and space sometimes make it really really hard to find a natural way of being friends again.

    I have an ex I still very much hope I’ll be able to find my way back to a friendship with eventually but it hasn’t happened yet, four years after we broke up.

    The breakup was her idea and I was still very much in love. We both wanted to stay friends and it was fine until she told me about her new girlfriend and it was the girl who´d been starting to take my spot as her dance partner in a few classes and I could not handle that at all. I wrote her an email explaining it was to hard for me to be friends right now, that I needed to cut of all contact for a while until it didn’t hurt anymore. She was very understanding and just answered that whenever I was ready she’d still be there. That was not really the case though. After a year of no contact, I even stopped going dancing because she might be there, I finally felt like I might be ok again. So I contacted her to see if she was going to this dance event I was going to. She wasn’t. It turned out that she’d stopped doing all those dances that we had in common because of her bad knees. She didn’t seem to interested in being friends anymore and that natural connection through that common interest was gone. So then I had to grieve all over again, this time about loosing her as a friend and dance partner.

    Since giving up completely on the friendship we have run in to each other a few times and it’s been really nice. Both totally happy to see each other. And she started to invite me to stuff again, dance classes and things. Unfortunately I live on the other side of the country now so I haven’t been able to go but I think maybe one day we could be friends again. And the best part is that now, finally, it doesn’t matter that much anymore. I’m ok either way. There was a time when I wished I hadn’t taken that break, when I wished I could have just suffered through it because then we’d still be close. Now I know that that isn’t true. I’m glad I took that time because I needed it. I was miserable and a friendship at that point wouldn’t have been any good for any of us and we wouldn’t have stayed close anyway.

  47. Fraia said:

    There’s a key point here, though: You don’t sound like you want to be friends. You sound like you want relationship methadone.

    I’ve been there. And it kind of works, as long as you don’t mind that it will take you much, much longer to get over your ex than if you just go cold turkey.

    If you’re cool with it, and your ex is cool with it, you just need to take a couple of weeks to calm down and then get back on to it, reminding yourself of the things you’re not allowed to get angry at them about and making sure they have similar things.

    Honestly, if there’s no hate,or, and this is the key bit, you are absolutely sure that you are never, ever, ever, getting back together, there’s no reason not to get started immediately. So few friendships last forever: if a couple of years later, you’ve moved on, you don’t give a shit about them any more and they are downgraded to the first type of friend you list, it doesn’t matter. Because it’s what you’ll want then. If it helps you to be close to each other, just be close.

    My ex and I went down to twice weekly phone calls, and physical contact as only hugs hello and goodbye. We didn’t talk about the relationship. Those were the rules. Four years later, when he said his girlfriend didn’t like us being friends any more, I literally didn’t give a shit. At that point, we spoke once a month, when we could find the time, we exchanged emails very sporadically and it was kind of a relief to just be able to let go of that part of the past.

    I also got to hear him say “I never should have broken up with you,”, and, though I replied with “Nah. It was a pretty good idea, actually. We weren’t working,”, it was nice to hear.

    • JenniferP said:

      “relationship methadone” = very apt! It’s a methaphor!

  48. zayq said:

    I can’t agree with the Captain and everyone else enough, 8 months or so into my own no-contact after break up period. It is so helpful to not feel any pressure and be able to say “Yes, self, it’s okay that it still sucks sometimes, and you don’t have to deal with them until it does not suck.” However, I have a semi-related question, does anyone have any tips to help deal with a breakup when you really have zero desire to date again and therefore that avenue of not caring about the relationship is not a thing or, because poly, you have other relationships that you’re trying not to get your personal breakup sads all over?

  49. Juliette said:

    Of my exes, the ones whom I ended up with good friendships afterwards are the ones for whom I had a no-contact period (in my cases usually just a gentle suggestion to have a few months not seeing eachother at all) and a reasonable number of friends in common so when you do see eachother again, it can easily start off in situations that aren’t one-to-one.

    However, I should add that when I met my now-husband ten years ago, I realised I would feel weird seeing any of my exes one-to-one too often, even though I have other male friends who I do see one-to-one semi-regularly. This obviously wouldn’t be the case for everybody, but I just didn’t want too many ghosts from my past floating around.

  50. Julia said:

    I am in the same situation as the LW, except I work with my new ex. We sit beside each other all day and work closely on the same project. He recently started dating someone I knew he had a thing for while we were together and it hurts. Ill advised to date a coworker, I know, but I got the job after the relationship started and I am in a field that is difficult to find a job in right now. I like my job and love the town I live in, but now I dread going to work. I’m working on building a new set of friends, since most of my friends are his friends too, but facing work is going to be an uphill slog for awhile. Even though I don’t want to be dating him anymore, I still have all these feelings, and the fact that they are in my face 5 days a week is so hard.

  51. gmg said:

    Two of my closest friends dated each other for some time after themselves being close friends for some years. Then they split up (the relationship perhaps always had a shelf life because one party made it clear up front that zie was still sorting out sexuality questions) and immediately tried to go back to being friends. That lasted about six months, until Friend A (not the one with the sexuality questions) started dating a new person and, from Friend B’s POV, rubbed it in Friend B’s face. Friend B immediately put the hammer down — no communication, no contact — and here we are a year and a half later. I wonder sometimes how it would have worked out if they had tried the six-month contact cutoff FIRST. Because while I well know that this is not my life story to write and I just have to roll with it, I can’t lie that it’d be nice if I could, say, make any kind of social arrangements, ever, that involved both of them at the same time.

  52. Caitlin said:

    I’m close friends with an ex but I don’t know if I’d recommend going about it like we did. I broke up with him, for his friend in a very small social circle. We did not take a break from each other, though he did move back into his parents. There was a very blurry line between the end of that relationship and the beginning of my new one, honestly. The thing that clicked for me though was when he did something that made me want to hurt him – so I cuddled with the new guy in front of him and did. At that point I realized being friends with him was more important than winning a pain-off and I let him know that. He was of the same mind and we basically just embraced the hurt feelings. There were times when I saw something on Facebook that scraped my heart raw, but I pushed through it because he gets me in a way most people don’t. And after that first year, we had finished dragging each other’s hearts through the mud and he actually rented a room from me, in my house that I was sharing with my new boyfriend. The strange thing is, he and my new boyfriend were friends but not super close, but they’re even closer now. He stayed with us about two years and then moved across the country, but we’re still best friends. It’s changed from when we dated – I am actually comfortable having a differing opinion from him now, and I wouldn’t tell him all the things that I tell my new boyfriend, but it’s better now because I don’t have to rely on him to be responsible.
    Earlier today he and my new boyfriend (I keep saying new for continuities’ sake even though it’s been 5.5 years) were playing an online game together.
    So long winded story short – it’s possible to stay friends with no break if everything works out perfectly and you’re willing to have your heart pulverised for the trouble.

  53. I really have to disagree with the Captain and the consensus among the commenters here: I think no-contact periods are a bad idea. I am friends with all my exes, and close friends with everyone I dated seriously in the past. Every single person I’ve ever dated from the one-night-stand level of casual to Great Love and many year duration relationship was a guest at my wedding. (People of various different genders – I’m another of those mythical pansexual types.) The one exception is the guy with whom I tried the several months of no contact method of transitioning from couple to friend.

    Yes, I made some mistakes and there was some heartbreak involved in trying to be friends straight away. Some unwise post-breakup sex, some unexpected intense jealousy which had to be dealt with, but we handled all these things as friends. A period of no contact, on the other hand, was a disaster; my ex asked for such a break, and I respected his wishes, but when we agreed to meet up again after the break, we had drifted apart because we didn’t know what was going on in eachother’s lives, while at the same time we still had unresolved feelings for eachother. We’d been good friends before we got together as a couple and had both really, really hoped to preserve that, but a couple of years when we’d meet up or correspond every few months but couldn’t handle hearing about anything significant in the other person’s life meant that our interaction was totally unsatisfying. It wasn’t about anyone being a jerk or doing something unforgivable which killed the friendship, it was just that so many months without contact, followed by months with only minimal casual contact, killed any real connection between us.

    Of course, it has to be consensual; if your ex isn’t willing to interact with you, it’s completely wrong to try to force them to be “friends”. But I strongly strongly recommend trying to transition to friends immediately, even if it’s sometimes painful, if you possibly can.

  54. Anonymouse said:

    I think a lot of this conversation also applies to best friends you lived with. I’ve lived with two sets of best friends, and am no longer talking to either. And I miss them. A lot. The second set included one person who stated that she wanted to stop living with me so we could go back to being friends. Well, it’s been almost a year, and I haven’t had any reply to my reaching out (once on purpose, once by accident), so . . . I guess there’s my answer. She knows where to find me. If it turns out she doesn’t want to be friends after all, even though she said she wanted to do so, I won’t force more contact on her.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,313 other followers

%d bloggers like this: