#1097: “How do I know when I’m ready for coffee with my (amicable) ex?”

Hey Captain,

I spend most of my tender youth in an abusive relationship that really fucked with my sense of what is normal. I’ve had lots of therapy to come to terms with it but honestly, I think at this point that it’s just going to be something I have to deal with for the rest of my life, so there isn’t really a “when I’m better” timeline I can look forward to. And yeah, that sucks, but I’m handling it as best I can. That’s not what I’m writing to you about.

After that relationship, and a couple of flings here and there, I met with a wonderful man I’ll call John. I originally intended to keep it casual but John was just such a lovely person that I quickly found I didn’t actually want that. He deserves a whole heart, and I wanted to offer it to him, so we got serious.

John was patient, understanding, supportive, honest, and loving to me. I tried my best to skirt the line of caring deeply for him and trying to protect myself from flinging into the terrifying bottomless pit of love without restraint that ate me alive before, and I don’t think I completely succeeded, because after about a year of dating he dumped me. It was a few things. I wasn’t as emotionally available as he deserved, he wasn’t as upfront about his insecurities as I deserved, and there was a maturity mismatch (John is a little bit younger than me, and I’m jaded as all fuck). He also said he had a “list of pros and cons” about dating me that just… does not compute in my head. I just can’t think that way, so his words on it really cut me deeply. We parted with a lot of crying and hugs, but I think he was right, and it was for the best.

The problem is this: I miss John terribly. I think I might still be in love with him because after all that I still can’t think of anything substantially negative to say about him. And he asked me if we can get together for coffee. I know closure is a myth, but mostly-healthy non-abusive humans can be happily friends with their exes, right? (Please tell me that’s right.)

Part of me is terrified that one look at that suave grin of his will have me head over heels all over again. Part of me is certain that there’s nothing he can say that will get me to hook up with him again. Part of me thinks that even thinking about it is just a terrible idea altogether. And part of me wants to prove to myself that I’m not unlovable, that I’m not destined to make every ex hate me forever, and that I can stop fucking someone and still be good enough to be cared about.

So…. how do I know when/if I’m ready to see him again?


How do I human? (She/her)

This is just my opinion based on many bad decisions from my own life:

You’re probably ready for that friendly coffee with an ex when your level of feelings about the whole thing are along the lines of: “John? Yeah, wonder what he’s been up to lately. It will be fun to catch up.” 

You sound like you are still in “I might still be in love with him/I want to prove something to myself about myself/We might almost definitely have sex” mode, feelings-wise, i.e., probably not ready.

Also: “But mostly-healthy non-abusive humans can be happily friends with their exes, right? (Please tell me that’s right.)”

Many people can be friends with their exes, but not everyone, and not with every ex, and I don’t think that’s a statement on the relationship’s abusiveness or anyone’s emotional health. Sometimes breaking up was just too hard and there are still too many feelings. Sometimes, without sex to act as catalyst and glue, there’s not anything there to make a friendship work. People can be lovely and cool and you still might not be friends, because friendship is its own kind of relationship. Sometimes you can be friends, but not quite yet, it needs more time, or it needs to find a new venue or interest that brings you into each other’s lives in the present day. And sometimes what’s best for you is to say “I wish you well but I don’t want to be friends.” It doesn’t make you abusive or unhealthy to know your own limits around that. Quite the opposite.

I’ve always liked this poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

Friendship After Love

After the fierce midsummer all ablaze
Has burned itself to ashes, and expires
In the intensity of its own fires,
There come the mellow, mild, St. Martin days
Crowned with the calm of peace, but sad with haze.
So after Love has led us, till he tires
Of his own throes, and torments, and desires,
Comes large-eyed friendship: with a restful gaze,
He beckons us to follow, and across
Cool verdant vales we wander free from care.
Is it a touch of frost lies in the air?
Why are we haunted with a sense of loss?
We do not wish the pain back, or the heat;
And yet, and yet, these days are incomplete.

Have fun getting that coffee (I always got that coffee). It’s okay to still have feelings, and be hopeful/angry/unsure/curious. Having weirdly intense sex while crying with someone who probably doesn’t love you the way you love him is not the most awesome life choice, but I can tell you from experience that it’s a survivable one.






116 thoughts on “#1097: “How do I know when I’m ready for coffee with my (amicable) ex?”

  1. Oh buddy, you’re not destined to have every ex hate you forever–if that even happens, it wouldn’t be your destiny, it would be theirs. And you are good enough for people to care about. The group of people who care about you may or may not eventually include some people you used to date, but meanwhile now sounds like a great time to gather up Team You and reconnect with all (or at least some) of the people who currently care about you regardless of relationship status.

    P.S. EXTREME side-eye at John’s list of pros and cons of dating you. Who needs that in their life?

    1. In John’s defense, my partner and I do this as part of a semi-regular ‘relationship spring clean’. We grab pizza and a movie on the sofa and talk in a really low stakes way about things in our relationship that are working really well, and things that aren’t so great, and see if there’s anything we want to change or work on together. It really helps to work out what less-great bits of a relationship you want to change, and what bits you’re just going to accept. Though I do agree that if you make a pro’s and con’s list to decide to split up with someone DONT TELL THEM. That’s just gross.

      1. Eons ago, an ex (inadvertently??) left his pros-and-cons list out for me to find. The end, it was hastened.

      2. I mean, this is something the two of you are doing together, rather than something that was done by one of you to the other without joint approval of the process. So, yeah, LW, focus on that last point. That was icky behavior from John.

        1. What was the icky behavior? Having the list, or telling the LW about it?

          Because honestly, having a list like that seems pretty normal. (Not necessarily helpful, but pretty normal.)

          1. Telling the LW about it — both of them are welcome to make as many lists as they’d like but outside of an agreed-on conversation (and in my opinion) I don’t think that’s something to be shared.

          2. You can keep the list in your head, there’s no reason to write it out where the other person can find it.

    2. I mean, if I’m extremely confused about what’s going on with a relationship, or I need to break things down for myself, yeah, I’ll write up a list of some sort. Sometimes it’ll just be a list of pros: when I know the person is great and the relationship is good, but I’m frustrated with something I’ll write down five things that are awesome about that person, to let me re-frame and re-focus. And if I ever got to the point where I couldn’t come up with as much as five things that are awesome, or where I immediately had to write down the caveats, I might start looking for time apart or the nearest exit ramp.

      Agreed that I wouldn’t bring up the list of pros/cons to the other person. There’s no way that’s going to feel anything but painful to them, and if I’ve gotten to the point where I need to leave, I need to leave, not give them a list of all the things that don’t work for me about them.

      1. I support pros and cons lists, but it was seriously a jerk move to tell her about it. I mean, yikes … that’s the equivalent of your boyfriend dumping you because he created a list of your flaws.

  2. Hi LW! I want to second the point that being friends with your ex is not necessarily a sign of emotional health. Personally, I think being friends with exes in an overrated concept, and while I’ve been able to be cool and friendly with exes in mixed company, I’ve never hung out one on one with them again. It was too many complicated emotions to navigate for relationships that didn’t enrich my life anymore. You should do whatever feels right for you with your exes, but don’t feel like you Have To. You can have strong/mixed/not great feeling about someone and still be emotionally healthy.

    1. Agreeing forever. I have a friend who INSISTS on being buddy-buddies with every fling/relationship after the fact, and me and our friend group can only watch as the awkwardness of our parties grows as more and more people from less and less relevant years of our lives continue to show up and he will invariably have sex with one of them and spend the next day feeling bad about it.

      I’m not friends with any of my exes, not because they were all bad breakups but just because I moved on to different places and stages of my life and those relationships had their time. I prefer it that way, I wish them all well and hope they (most of them) all have good lives, but I don’t need to be in them.

      I think the emotionally healthy thing to do is whatever you feel comfortable and happy with. You might make a decision you later don’t feel great about but we’ve all done that, and we learn and move on. And remember that there’s always the option of replying with “not right now, another time yeah?” and meeting up a bit later once you feel your head is a bit clearer.

    2. Totally agreed! I have chosen not to be friends with most of my exes for a variety of reasons: they seriously hurt me, we broke up because they Aren’t Good People, they were emotionally draining friends, they were always angry friends, they made me feel unsafe at times… the list could go on. I don’t feel it’s necessary, and I don’t feel that having those men in my life would demonstrably add value to my day-to-day.

      My partner is exactly the opposite. He’s friends with ALL of his exes, sometimes to his own detriment. At this point he’s mostly cut out the unhealthy ones, although it was an uphill battle. In the healthiest–the ones full of genuine friendship, love, and trust from all sides–each party had to take a full year of near no-contact before they could start filtering in. As they tell it, the turning point for them from “exes” to “friends who happen to be exes” was when they could be at parties together, with dancing and alcohol involved, and they still felt no interest in each other (physically, emotionally, or otherwise). For them, that took a year and was likely helped on by both of them meeting new people. Now we are in a place where not only are my partner and his ex friends, but I’m friends with his ex and my partner is friends with his ex’s new beau. I won’t lie that it was an adjustment period for me at first, but after taking time to get to know everyone I really value their friendships and completely appreciate what my partner’s friendship with his ex brings to the table (eg: they have interests I do not have, and she’s an outlet for him to explore those interests).

      At the same time, my partner and I had a few false starts and I realized, after trying several times, that I could not be friends with him. I really, really wanted to be, because his presence in my life was infinitely important and–let’s be honest–I was madly in love with him. After a few attempts at friendship that always, ALWAYS ended up with him in my bed, I had to admit to myself that we couldn’t be friends. At least not anytime soon. That realization destroyed me, but making it was monumentally important. It was only after making that realization known that we BOTH realized neither of us wanted to be friends and took the jump for real.

      All of this to say: coffee can just be coffee, but there’s also endless possibilities, none of them necessarily right or wrong, when both parties aren’t sure exactly what they want. So be certain, whatever you decide, that you’re being true to yourself! Even if, “I don’t know right now” is your true feeling!

    3. Yes this! I would say that emotional health is looks more like not by having a specific pattern of behavior with your exs. Rather your relationships with ex partners is determined by evaluating each relationship, the breakup, your feelings, the situation in general, and making a decision about whether begin friends with them is something you both want and is feasible. (emotionally or logistically)

      I realize that’s way harder.

    4. Oh, AMEN. I was never friends with exes — I think primarily because I never dated someone I was friends with first, so we didn’t have anything to fall back on. And then beyond that, sometimes it was because one or the other was way sadder about the breakup then the other, and sometimes because we had both just moved on and there wans’t anything left to say. I’m Facebook friends with a few exes which are all of the “oh it’s nice to see what Aloysius is doing now” variety but I don’t need to have any in person meet ups with them.

      I can think of maybe…two? Three? Successful friendship-after-relationships amongst people I know that aren’t necessitated by having kids or pets together but are instead for the pure joy of the friendship with absolutely no romantic feelings involved. It’s not at ALL an indicator of your emotional health and frankly I think it’s one of those tiresome “cool girl” tropes.

      1. “It’s not at ALL an indicator of your emotional health and frankly I think it’s one of those tiresome “cool girl” tropes.”

        Repeating this for emphasis. You really knocked it out of the park with this one.

    5. So much this! You are an ex for a REASON. That reason is some variation on “we didn’t work together“. Why people try SO! HARD! to make something new work with an ex when you have already proven you don’t actually work is beyond me.

      If you happen to catch up, or fall into the same social circle, or end up at the same conference, whatever. But I’ve seen people act like if they aren’t besties in 6 months with a recent ex then it will be a personal failing. Ugh.

      1. AMEN.

        My ex-DH is a fantastic person and if we had never been lovers but only friends from the beginning, we’d still be close friends. But we’re exes for a reason. It’s not emotional immaturity to not want to dredge up old feelings (whether positive or negative). It’s not emotional immaturity for two people to move on to different stages of life and different mindsets.

    6. I agree with @Ollie SO MUCH about this. You do not have to be friends with an ex. I believe that I’m an emotionally stable human: I’ve been married to the same person for 18 years and I have two long-term boyfriends who think I’m incredible. But my exes–Uh, honestly, I’m not sure that I even know where any of them are. I mean, there are reasons that they’re my exes. While I hope that they’re doing well, I never wanted to see them after the breakup, because the relationships are over in my mind.

      So go get the coffee if you WANT to get the coffee. If you don’t want to, or you think it’s a bad idea, don’t go. Don’t feel bad, don’t feel like you owe your ex anything, don’t worry about the myth of closure, don’t feel like being friends is something that emotionally healthy people do and you’re a bad person if you don’t. If anything, it’s a sign of emotional maturity to know your own mind and to do what’s best for you.

    7. Hear, hear! There are so many emotionally healthy ways to have exes, LW.

      I have exes I think of with pleasant thoughts but do not speak to at all, because life has pushed us far apart. I have exes I think of with pleasant thoughts and occasionally speak to when paths cross. I have one ex who I rather wish would DIAF that I am pleasant to on the rare occasions when I have to be in the same place as he is (I have a couple friends in common with his wife, so VERY rarely, he & I end up in the same place). I have an ex I am always pleased to see but do not seek out. And I have one ex who is a good friend, who has always been a friend since the both of us got over the breakup, who I occasionally have lunch with or read over his papers for publication, who comes over to my house with his wife and hangs out with me & my spouse, who is in the Big Friends Group Chat so I talk to him nearly-daily. There’s someone I had a short fling with in the middle of our friendship and we settled back into being friends after an awkward “yeah, that was…better with no sex, let’s stop that” conversation.

      ALL of those are emotionally healthy ex situations: they are the appropriate emotions for the situation *with that person* and that person alone. Being friends with an ex is not some kind of Emotional Health Badge you get on an app, you know?

  3. Another poem I think appropriate and possibly helpful:

    Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part.
    Nay, I have done, you get no more of me;
    And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart,
    That thus so cleanly I myself can free.
    Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,
    And when we meet at any time again,
    Be it not seen in either of our brows
    That we one jot of former love retain.
    Now at the last gasp of Love’s latest breath,
    When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies;
    When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
    And Innocence is closing up his eyes—
    Now, if thou wouldst, when all have given him over,
    From death to life thou might’st him yet recover!
    ——Michael Drayton

    I vote for not seeing him. You sound conflicted, not looking forward to it, and all over like you wouldn’t have a good time.

  4. You say: “part of me wants to prove to myself that I’m not unlovable, that I’m not destined to make every ex hate me forever, and that I can stop fucking someone and still be good enough to be cared about.”

    You already have that. You have been in a relationship with someone who was “patient, understanding, supportive, honest, and loving.” So yes, you are lovable, and he doesn’t hate you forever or he wouldn’t have asked you for coffee; he still cares enough about you to want to have a friendly encounter with him. It ended, but it wasn’t horrible or abusive, and you learned what that feels like. Keep that and treasure it, but let him go until your feelings about him have cooled.

    John sounds like a good person, but he does not want the relationship you want right now. That’s why you’re not together anymore. Having a friendly coffee date will not change that, it will only be a painful reminder of what you cannot have. Don’t do that to yourself. Being with him was a huge step forward from your past abusive relationship, so appreciate it for what it was, and keep moving forward.

      1. Well it could be, but John’s motives/wants are not the issue at hand. It’s LW’s happiness and comfort and needs that matter. There’s no reason to speculate needlessly about John, since we really have no idea, and it’s not helpful for LW.

      2. I’d say there is a very strong possibility of that (confusing dudes, they always, always come back and try to sleep with you again, always) but what matters is what the Letter Writer wants it to be.

          1. Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with a booty call if that’s what both people want. Not so great if one person is thinking it’s a re-start of the relationship while for the other it’s just convenient.

            But as you pointed out, it’s a survivable experience even if they jump right into sexytimes and for him it was just a booty-call.

            Confusing dudes trying to confuse their way into women’s beds is one of the reasons why Aspergers can be a huge strength. No one has ever managed it with me. By the time I start to figure out why they’re acting so funny, they’ve given up.

    1. I agree with everything here. Something doesn’t have to be “bad” or abusive to hit a tender spot, and you don’t owe anybody a chance to poke your heart to see if the bruise is healing if that’s not what you want.

  5. List of pros and cons… ugh.

    If it helps: I’m friends with a most of my casual exes, and one of my 3 serious ones (of the other 2, 1 was an abusive turd and the gets an explanation in the next paragraph). My husband is friends with his most recent ex (she’s a close friend of mine, actually), and decent occasional-chat friends with most of his other exes. So: yes, totally possible. But not while you’ve actively got Feelings about it.

    That third ex: an exception: I did the opposite of CA’s advice once and went on a coffee date with an Ex that my emotions insisted was All That And Crumpets Too, 2 years after we broke up, and… maaaan it was a good thing I went for coffee. The dude had turned into a stand-up comic (ugh there are few things I disliked more) (a sexist one) (double-ugh), acted like a turd, made comments about me having gained some weight while having gained significantly more himself (I wouldn’t have considered that relevant if he hadn’t made it into a passive-aggressive negging thing, but dude, apply the same standards to yourself, at the very least)… anyway. I left that coffee shop feeling like my emotions were quite untethered to his reality, and feeling pretty sure I’d dodged a bullet. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to mythical closure.

    1. I have had the less jerky scenario of dinner with Ex. Like, “Here are the personality traits that you didn’t like and guess what, you still don’t like them and you really don’t miss them.”

      1. I once accidentally bumped into an ex of sorts (we dated for a month and a half, but it was kind of intense, at least for me), and it took me a moment to realize it was him. He changed so much I was no longer attracted to him in the least. That was the guy I literally though of as my soul mate, the initial click being that strong. It was such a HUGE relief to finally let go of him as the paragon of the guy I want to date. I admit he did haunt my headspace to some extent until that point. I’m so, so glad I got to see him again, even though it was unplanned and I was too embarrassed to say hi at the moment.

  6. Dear LW,

    I am here to say that hanging out with exes isn’t a necessity. Nor is coffee. I don’t get on at all with most of my exes. (I haven’t had post breakup sex either, so I’m an outlier.) I am a good and worthy person.

    So if you don’t want to have coffee, that’s fine. If you do want coffee, that’s also fine.

    I think that making pro/con lists is an indication you should break up, but also it’s cruel to tell your (soon to be) ex about the lists. In other words, my opinion of your ex is somewhat lower than yours.

    Let me reiterate: you’re a good person, worthy of friendship, love, and all good things. Having (or not having) coffee with the ex won’t change any of that.

    1. “I don’t get on at all with most of my exes. (I haven’t had post breakup sex either, so I’m an outlier.”

      This is me too.

      Most of my serious relationships have lasted ~1 year, because by that time I had a damn good reason to break up with them, and no desire to be friends after that, ever.
      And when I get to the point where I am done with the relationship? I am really DONE. It’s like a switch flips to “off” somewhere in my brain, and once that happens, it’s off for good. I have no more affection or sexy time feelings at all.
      I have been the initiator in almost every breakup, but I have been dumped a few times as well, including a totally unexpected dumping by someone I had fallen head over heels with, when we were still in the “honeymoon” phase, and not having any problems (he said it was getting “too serious” but of course he had enthusiastically pushed for that.)
      In those situations, my go-to was to pretty much disappear so I could hide away & lick my wounds…or as I’ve learned to call it here, go NC. And did everything I could to avoid them until my feelings were all gone.
      With that last guy I talked about? By doing this, I didn’t just dodge a bullet, but an ICBM missile. THANK DOG for my self protective instincts!

      That said, I do have a few ex BFs/flings that I have eventually been able to be friends on some level with (casual to very close), even if our relationship or breakup was tumultuous. The one thread I can see running through all those is that all of those men are pretty awesome human beings underneath it all, who I would have desired a friendship with even if there had never been any sexual attraction at all.

  7. I was at first going to say it sounds to me as if you will be ready one day for that coffee, but not quite yet. But then I read the Captain’s worst-case-scenario and I thought, actually, yeah, go for it if you want to. (One happy thing that can potentially come out of such meetings is a feeling of “Huh. I guess I don’t feel all that strongly about him anymore.”) If you DON’T want to have coffee yet, but you want to SOMEDAY, I think that’s totally fine to say; or I think it’s fine to make up an excuse for now.

    Also, I am on good terms with some of my exes and not on good terms at all with others, and it is hard to say why some work and some don’t. I like that I’m still in touch with my high school boyfriend (and I would LOVE to see him for coffee and have a good catch-up, but I don’t have Tumultuous Feelings about him anymore), but I don’t mind that I am absolutely 100% not in touch with my first husband—even though he wasn’t particularly awful.

  8. “But mostly-healthy non-abusive humans can be happily friends with their exes, right?”

    Here’s the thing though – who cares? Some of us are capable of things nobody else is, some of us can’t manage things other people can do easily. Whether you can casually hang with someone who you were romantically entangled with in the past isn’t remotely important in the scheme of things. You may be bummed about it if it’s something you wish you could do, but it’s not some sort of moral failing. It doesn’t harm other people. You’re no more a bad person if this is true about you (and maybe it isn’t; maybe you just need time or maybe it’s just this one person) than someone who doesn’t WANT to hang out with past romantic partners is. You’re entitled to this as a choice or a personal trait and you shouldn’t think less of yourself for it.

    1. Yes!

      Whether or not other people do things should pretty much never play into the descion about whether or not you should do the thing, or should be able to do the thing, or whatever.

      There are pros and cons to getting the coffee (ha!) but “this is what normal, healthy people do” isn’t on either side.

    2. I agree so much!

      I would even go as far as to say that healthy people, instead of being the flesh of whichever standards float around and are deemed as healthy, are people who know themselves well, specially their limitations, and act in a compassionate way towards those limitations. In this case, OP, being healthy would be to give yourself time to get over any feelings you might have before you consider friendship with your ex. After that, it would be to be honest to yourself about if you really want that friendship in and for itself, or if having it would only be a tool to prove to yourself that you’re “healthy”. A friendship that is not valuable for itself is not a friendship It would be unfair to both of you to do something like that.

      Also concerning the “I’m so broken” part of your letter: I think most people are pretty broken in many ways. Being whole in the sense of not being effed up doesn’t really exist in my opinion. Being whole means being at peace with the broken parts of yourself. I too had a super abusive relationship when I was very young and impressionable (with a stay in the women’s shelter and all that jazz). I too thought I’d be broken forever. This spring I celebrate 10 years of having left the women’s shelter to a new life. I have learned and grown so much in those 10 years. Every relationship has been a learning experience since. And yeah they all haven’t been perfect. But I can see how I have grown in this time, and I am so happy about it. The abusive one was horrible but that experience motivated me to learn so much about myself, relationships, and the world. I wouldn’t trade that for anything despite the sadness that I will always carry for the way younger me started out with relationships.

      What I want to say is: You might feel really broken right now but whatever happens with that brokenness is in your hands. You can turn it into something awesome (I recommend therapy, if possible), specially if it helps you learn compassion for yourself. And this compassion includes stopping seeing your relationships as a measure stick for how lovable you are. Relationships are whole worlds, full of lessons and connection and many many other things. If you manage to stop focusing on your fear of if you’re lovable or not, you might discover all those things. Relax. We are all broken. Just in different ways. Life is not about being unbroken. It’s about us all as broken people learning to be with each other in our brokenness.

      1. Very late to this and I’m not the LW, but I wanted to say thank you for this post. “Life is not about being unbroken” hit me in a spot I didn’t know was sore and needed to be soothed.

    3. Yepppp. I’m restating what other people have said, but to me the real “mostly-healthy human” challenge is to say: do I wish I could do the thing? YES. Do I see other people do the thing? YES. Do I personally get a feeling in the pit of my stomach that doing the thing is way over my limit personally? Yes? Then I will not do the thing.

      Finding that limit can take some uncomfortable amounts of trial and error. “Whoops, no, my boundaries were five miles back” is a feeling a lot of us have had and survived. On the flip side, I’ve also jerked myself around a lot with “objectively, people KNOW not to do the thing, so why am I still OBVIOUSLY going to go get this coffee?”.

      Sometimes the waiter tells you the plate is hot and you still poke it to confirm that it is, in fact, a hot plate. We can only really live on the inside of our own lives. No matter what you do about this specific coffee, you are doing just fine.

  9. You’re doing human just fine…it’s unfortunate that being human is messy and pretty inconvenient for the most part. Do the coffee or don’t do the coffee, but do what you feel is best for you and never mind what the hypothetical other humans would do it. You got this.

  10. I think the staying friends with an ex thing depends a lot on why they’re an ex. I had two exes that I didn’t stay friends with and have one where I’m still figuring out how much of a friendship I want. In all three cases, a large part of the breakup was because after getting to know them better, I didn’t like them as much as I thought I had. It’s kind of hard to stay friends after that. (With ex #3, there was also being already married to someone else and in a poly relationship and the sheer amount of time for maintaining two romantic relationships was just too much. The things I don’t like about Ex #3 aren’t as strong in that case, but there are still things that make be unsure how much time I want to spend with them).

    1. As someone who IS friends with most of their exes, I 1000% agree that it depends a lot on why you broke up.

      Most of my breakups were because, although the other person was a good person who added value to my life, we had fundamentally different life goals, priorities, or preferred lifestyles. These are not things that necessarily matter too much in a friendship but they often make a huge difference in a romantic relationship. Given time to work past the complicated feelings and hurts that come with a break up, we were able to be friends again and these people continue to add joy and support to my life.

      One break up in particular happened because I realised we didn’t share the same values and their way of interacting with the world made me miserable. They’re a good person and I wish them the best but, while we tried to be friends after the breakup, we just didn’t have enough in common to make it stick. I feel good about letting that relationship go – I’m happier for letting them drift out of my life than I would be if I’d tried to force the friendship.

      And I think that’s the million dollar question: Do you WANT to be this person’s friend? Will they add to your life and make you happier, as a friend? If yes then go for it! If no, then forget all the cultural baggage that attaches so much importance to whether or not we’re friends with our exes and just feel good about making the right decision for yourself.

  11. Many people can be friends with their exes…eventually. Most people can’t do it right away, though–it’s 100% normal to need time to get over them before you can be friendly! And the amount of time needed to get over someone varies so much from person to person and relationship to relationship.

    For myself, I find that if I’m still feeling a lot of heavy, conflicted things over a person, then I’m probably not ready for any kind of casual relationship with them. That includes both platonic connections (e.g. the grab-coffee-occasionally kind of friendship) and non-platonic (a hook-up, casual dating, etc.). If my feelings are Big and Weighty, then the relationship needs to be equally serious, or I’m going to be left feeling unhappy because I want/need more than the relationship is equipped to offer. I need to wait until the feelings calm down to have a light, casual relationship.

    If you decide that you’re not ready to meet up with him yet, then I suggest focusing on other sources of support and affection. Make plans with your best friend instead. Visit your parents and ask them to make your favorite dinner. Reconnect with an old friend that you kind of fell out of touch with. There are so many people in the world who will and do love you–focusing on them can be a really helpful way to remind yourself of your own lovability, especially in the wake of a break-up.

  12. I’ve had quite a few relationships. All but one ended amicably. Sometimes I broke it off, sometimes he did. Sometimes it was hard and sad; other times it was easy. All but the one were great guys and I bear them no ill will. And yet, I have no desire to meet up with any of them. I’ve moved on. What would revisiting a past partner do me now? I have nothing to prove to them or to myself.

    LW you sound conflicted. Don’t meet this guy for coffee unless you are absolutely sure about what you want, what you’d be comfortable with, and where your lines are going to be drawn. Sometimes exes use “coffee” to get you to agree to get back together (when you might not want to), or to hop into bed, not because they miss YOU but because getting you again is easier than establishing a new relationship all over again. Sometimes they just want to watch you squirm and bask in the fact that you still miss them even though they’re over you. And sometimes, they truly do want to reconnect and be friends….even if you’d rather have something more. You need to be sure of yourself before you meet this guy. If you’re not in that place yet, say no thanks, maybe another time.

  13. Your worth as a person doesn’t hinge on how quickly or thoroughly you get over someone, or whether you can salvage (or build) a friendship with an ex who wasn’t abusive. Your worth as a person is already there.

    I have had Ex Sex precisely once, and it taught me that doesn’t work for me. I wish I could be friends with Most Recent Ex, because we were fri nds for a long time before dating, but the breakup was so painful that if a friendship is possible again, it is going to take a long time to get there, and it won’t be the friendship we had. (I blamed myself pretty hard for a while about that, but broken trust is a hard thing for me to overcome.) The one relationship out of which I’ve salvaged an acquaintanceship that I like- that I think could be a friendship if we were in closer proximity- is with someone I dated about two decades ago: We are both better at communicating now. We have both grown up a lot in the last 20 years. I admire the person he has become, while being clear that we aren’t romantically compatible. And we can be around each other without me feeling any longing for things to be different from how they are. That isn’t the default breakup trajectory for me, though, and it took a lot of time and distance to get there. It took me fully four years to get over my anger at what had happened between us.

  14. I don’t tend to meet exes for coffee or hang out with them as friends. Not because they are terrible or the relationships were terrible but because it was over and I needed to move on.

    I want to gently remind you that this was your first serious romantic relationship that was not abusive. It can feel like it was the best ever. You may still regard it as a nice relationship and have happy memories but as you gain distance and experience more functional and happy relationships, you’ll also see its flaws (and your ex’s flaws).

    So-I vote NO to coffee with the ex. Have coffee with your friends after doing an awesome thing instead.

  15. I’ve never been good about being friends with an ex, especially not if there were any significant feelings at any point. So I pretty much go full-on block mode for social media and phone numbers, post-break up. For the one or two exes that I still have to see socially, I’m polite, but not overly friendly.

    So far that’s worked for me. For a long time I felt like there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t be friends with an ex, but it’s just not for me. Too emotionally fraught, and the ex-with-benefits thing really wasn’t fun for me.

  16. Ugh, I am probably going to see my ex who I dated briefly 9 years ago this weekend, and I am not looking forward to it. I have a lot of feelings – mostly negative ones. Our relationship wasn’t great, and he has since made opportunities to say lots of awful things to me, and yet I feel like I constantly have to be the bigger person. In another world we probably could have been good friends, and I tend to blame myself for the fact that we aren’t, even though I know enduring that treatment does not a good friendship make.

    I used to think I should be able to stay friends with exes, or it meant XYZ about the relationship or about me. I still struggle with that feeling, but I know now that not every friendship is meant to be, and that’s okay. Do what feels right to you, LW!

      1. I hate, hate, hate that phrase. It just means “let people treat you like shit”. Go you! Here’s to not being the “bigger person”, “taking the high road”, and all those other annoying things that are so often levied at women.

  17. So far I’ve managed to be friends with only casual exes. I have what I’d consider just two Major Exes (and honestly I think one of them probably doesn’t think of me as a Major Ex), and I’m not currently in touch with either. I have two Casual Exes with whom I’m on friendly terms, and that’s about it.

    As a human you have a right to decide whose in company you spend your leisure time. If you don’t think you would enjoy this person’s company, you don’t have to spend time with them.

    There’s also a thing where someone’s company is enjoyable, but time outside their presence is so anxiety-ridden that it’s not worth the fun times together. (see Major Ex #2)

  18. Oh, LW, let me tell you a tale of two exes.

    Ex#1 – Absolutely lovely guy. He was my best friend before we dated, I was recovering from both an abusive relationship and one with a guy I adored who was unreliable at best. We were together for 5.5 years before I realized our goals were too different to stay together. I broke up with him intending on never speaking to him again. Unfortunately, soon after the break up we found out his dad had less than a year to live, and he didn’t have anybody close to him in our city. We began a very challenging, initially painful friendship where we bumbled and stumbled to set up healthy boundaries that also allowed for him to get the support he needed. He spent the night on my couch when I took him out drinking because I knew he wouldn’t let himself cry any other way. He called when things got rough and he got scared but couldn’t make his mom be strong for him. He is now, 8 years later, one of my best friends and we talk daily. We joke and he’ll call me to tell me stupid dog stories and we commiserate over how terrible dating can be. We call ourselves the worst exes in the world because we absolutely adore each other.

    We did not intend to be friends and it was very difficult at first, but we fought through that and have a rock-solid friendship. It is definitely possible to be friends with an ex, but when possible you need to completely emotionally separate for a while. No contact until feelings die down is the best kind of contact in this case.

    Ex#2 – When we broke up, he desperately wanted the kind of friendship that I have with Ex#1. I did not. He pushed and pushed and I was honestly pretty uncomfortable, but I tried because I felt bad. We cobbled together an awkward friendship that I expected to get better once he and his gf got together. It didn’t. I wanted short, funny chats about the (few) things we had in common. He wanted hours-long Skype chats about life, love, and the answer to the Universe. I became like a cat – he’d try to come closer, I’d push away. I could tell he still had feelings for me, and so instead of being a pleasant catch-up, I felt like there were strings attached to everything and like every conversation was a trap set to make me fall back in love with him. This lasted for four years, until a few weeks ago when I finally said, “You know what? I have never wanted this kind of friendship with you. I don’t want deep talks. I wanted to joke about rugby and maybe talk about upcoming trips, and then go our separate ways.”

    He responded by saying he’s still in love with me. 4 years after we broke up.

    I am not saying we would or would not have been friends if we’d had time to cool off. But I never got a chance to miss talking to him and he never gave himself the emotional distance needed to heal. Every interaction was uncomfortable, and old wounds rose to the surface with stunning regularity, and so this is an ex I cannot be friends with.

    Give yourself time to heal, and the things that kept you together beyond attraction could remain. When his name seems like kind of a hazy memory, or somebody mentions him and you think, “Oh, wow! I haven’t thought about him in ages, I wonder how he’s doing!” and reach out from there – it’s counterintuitive, but it almost takes being able to forget him to be able to begin a friendship that has a chance of surviving.

  19. If you dated a guy, and he was a decent dude, and your relationship was fine, and it ended because it just wasn’t working, and you can’t think of a bad thing to say about him, and you’re not still in love with him and that’s why the nihil sed bonum, congratulations, you dated a perfectly okay dude. That’s all that means.

  20. Hey LW: you are human. Whatever choices you make or feelings you have, they are human ones.

    You literally can’t mess that up you know? Bad decisions and difficult experiences don’t randomly turn you into a sewer rat or an alien or something. You don’t need to feel so much pressure around what you should be able to do, or for not doing things other people can do.

    So your question now is actually “can I do this?”

    And you can! Whether you should, well, there’s a whole letter from Cap giving you the info you need to decide that. And if you do, and it later turns out to have been a bad idea, you definitely won’t be the first to be in that situation, and not everyone has gone through what you have. That stuff doesn’t define you or change your humanity. We all have equal capacity for making good decisions, and making mistakes.

    You got this.

  21. In my experience, whether or not you can be friends with your exes depends a lot on whether you want similar qualities in friends and in romantic partners. If you tend to date people who were friends or could have been your friends if you had not started romancing them, then transitioning to friends after a breakup is possible. If you tend to assess people into a friend track or a romance track, and never the twain shall meet, then you probably won’t be friends with your exes.

    I don’t think there’s anything particularly virtuous about either relationship style, it’s just that some people treat romantic relationships as different in *intensity* from friendships and other people treat them as different in *kind*.

    Also, LW, I understand that you were hurt that your ex made a pro-con list, and you absolutely can feel any way you want to feel about it, especially since the result of the list was that he dumped you.

    But to the commenters who are acting as if making a pro-con list is proof that someone is bad at relationships or feelings, I confess I don’t understand the horror. A pro-con list is a pretty common way to sort out one’s own thoughts and feelings about a situation. (Making a pro-con list about a job, or choosing a school or a major, seems like something a lot of people would view as reasonable.) If a relationship has both positive and negative aspects to it, so you don’t have an immediate gut instinct of whether the positive aspects of being in a relationship with someone outweight the negative aspects, getting all of your thoughts out on paper seems like just thinking about what you want in a relationship in a tangible way.

    And I suspect some of you are going to say, “It’s not that he wrote the list, it’s that he told her about it,” but I still don’t get the horror. Showing someone the list, if they haven’t asked to see it, would seem to be an unkindness on par with actually telling someone all of the reasons you are dumping them, but telling someone you made a list is basically saying, “I thought about this decision and my mind is made up.”

    1. I think it may be because bringing up the pro-con list makes it sound like it’s about her and her ‘cons’ as a person. It appears to violate the ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ break-up rule for break-ups with good people who are just a bad match for the dumper.

      1. It seems really cruel to bring a ‘pro-con’ list with someone you are breaking up with. Maybe he wasn’t so wonderful, after all.

    2. Honestly, I find being reduced to a list of pros and cons pretty dehumanizing, like something my Overbosses at International Megacorp, Inc. would do. But at least I signed on to work for them knowing that they have no emotional attachment to me and see me only as the sum of the work I do for them. From a romantic partner the notion is pretty distasteful. Different strokes, I guess.

    3. It has been my experience and my observation that if you’re making pro/con lists about continuing a romantic relationship, you’re looking for reasons to break up. That is, you want to break up. Thus, from where I sit, there’s nothing wrong with the list. It’s a pointer to what you want.

      Telling a soon-to-be ex that you made the list though, is tantamount to saying you measured them and found them wanting. That’s unnecessarily mean.

      Yeah if I said to you “But how do you know?” you’d be justified in saying “Because I made a list!” Somehow, I don’t think that’s what happened here.

      1. me personally: if i’m making that pro-con list, it means i’m looking for reasons to stay but i should probably already be out the door. everyone’s mileage will vary, but to me just making the list is the beginning of the end.

    4. Well, I agree that a pro-con list is not an invalid thing to engage in, and I also agree that being told someone definitely has their reasons that they’ve actively thought about for ending a relationship is not necessarily a terrible thing (certainly nowhere near the MOST terrible thing someone could say to you while dumping you).

      But on the other hand, it’s one of those things that you maybe don’t choose to share, because it’s never going to not sound insulting. And that’s not particularly helpful. It could for sure be worse, but at best it makes the guy sound a little tactless.

    5. Yep, team difference-in-intensity representing here, and that’s a great way of putting it.

      Back in undergrad I once went to grab lunch with an ex immediately after we broke up, after we mutually agreed that our experiment in raising the intensity had been worth trying but wasn’t what we hoped it would be (I believe his exact words were “I feel like I’m kissing my sister, this isn’t working, hon”). But I consistently dated from my friend or would-be-friend pool, always, and the only exes I stopped speaking to/didn’t stay friends with had generally fucked up in some particularly obnoxious way, either badly handling the breakup itself or something where the reason we broke up was the same as the reason we couldn’t be friends.

      But I think sometimes there is a pressure to be cool and be “friends” and “adult” about things that boils down to “don’t make a scene or let on that ou have inconvenient feelings about anything, or better yet just don’t have the feelings” and that is deeply shitty and I wish people would stop.

    6. And I suspect some of you are going to say, “It’s not that he wrote the list, it’s that he told her about it,” but I still don’t get the horror. Showing someone the list, if they haven’t asked to see it, would seem to be an unkindness on par with actually telling someone all of the reasons you are dumping them, but telling someone you made a list is basically saying, “I thought about this decision and my mind is made up.”

      On a bit of a tangent, I don’t even understand why people think that one shouldn’t give someone exactly what ze requests in cases where ze asks for the reason for breaking up. If YOU don’t want to know, don’t ask; I’m not a fan of norms that mandate behaving in a way contrary to what someone else explicitly says ze wants, as I think this creates too much ambiguity that bad-faith actors can use as cover and demands too much actual mind-reading from other people to determine if the request is an honest one or a normatively-dishonest one. Back to the list.

      I’m likewise unsure why people are objecting to an evaluation that removes some of the emotional impulsiveness or ambiguity and allows one to make things clearer for oneself, even after reading those responses. I don’t want people making decisions that might impact my life in a major way without a considered evaluation of the options; how one feels is extremely important, but in-the-moment emotional responses can also be entirely disconnected from reality (examples: I’ve had multiple people get mad at me, for OVER A WEEK, becasue of something they dreamed about me – which they knew they had dreamed – not something in reality; I’ve had people get mad at me for doing exactly what they told me they wanted me to do, in cases other than breakups), so I would err on the side of using more evaluation tools to help figure out big decisions. You can still always opt for one thing or another based on some inexplicable feeling; making a list is not a binding legal arbitration. I’m particularly concerned by the people framing not making impulsive, uninformed decisions as “dehumanizing”; the contents of such a list could be dehumanizing or not, but the list-making is just a technology for organizing information so one can evaluate it more easily.

      1. When people talk about “pro/con lists” I think of a chart with two columns, where if there are twelve pros and seven cons the answer is yes, and if there are twelve pros but twenty cons it’s no, and if the lists are the same length, answer cloudy, try again later.

        If I’m trying to decide whether to do something significant, I might come up with a list of pros, cons, and questions, but they’re not all of equal importance. Suppose someone suggests that I move to another city. “Really good seafood” is something I might take into account, but it would take a lot of pros like that to balance the con of “I don’t want to live that far from my girlfriend again.”

        In relationship terms, that sort of list may be missing the point because if someone has one or more nonnegotiables, there may be no point in making the other side of the list. (There may be no list of pros long enough to outweigh opposite strong opinions about having children.)

        If someone said “I’m thinking of breaking up with my partner because I’m unhappy” I wouldn’t ask if they had considered the advantages of staying, like a nice house or the other person’s mastery of Cantonese cooking. I might ask is “how long have you felt this way?” or “can you put a finger on what’s making you unhappy?” But if they said “I’m breaking up with my partner because I’ve been unhappy for years and I can’t imagine it getting any better,” I wouldn’t ask what my friend was unhappy about or whether they were sure.

        Also, if someone told me “Vicki, I’m angry with you because I dreamed you did thus-and-such,” I would figure they either were angry and didn’t know why (the dreaming self having delivered only the emotional message), or they didn’t want to tell me why. In either case, I don’t think I could do much but tell them that I wasn’t really in the dream, and wouldn’t do whatever it was in real life, so they should ping me when they stopped being angry. Or they actually think dreams, or some dreams, are objectively valid messages from the gods or the future, in which case we have very different worldviews–and there’s still nothing I can do about it. (If someone thinks that a dream saying “Vicki killed my favorite llama” is their subconscious’s way of saying they noticed something vaguely off, that again isn’t something I can address. I can answer “what were you doing walking a St. Bernard in the Public Garden when you told me you were in New York?” but not “why did I dream you were walking a St. Bernard in the Public Garden last week?:)

  22. LW, this decision isn’t going to chart a course for the rest of your life. It doesn’t “prove” anything about you. Whether you go or not, whether it goes well or not, whether you decide to be friends or not…these are not big, symbolic choices. I know that it doesn’t *feel* that way (I myself am a frequent indulger in catastrophic and black-and-white thinking), but actually this is just coffee one time with someone you used to date.

    So if that’s off the table, the only two questions I think you really need to ask yourself are:

    1) Do you WANT to get coffee with this person?

    2) If so, what do you want the outcome of that meeting to be?

    I think it’d be a good idea to think through what you actually *want* to happen, not just what you’re afraid might happen. It’ll give you something to steer towards, instead of feeling like you’re on the defensive in search of hidden traps. Are you hoping to be friends (not because of what it would say about you, but because you enjoy spending time with this person in a platonic way)? Do you just want to catch up, have a pleasant conversation, and go your separate ways? Are you hoping to hook up? I think if you can focus on the positive side of this and have a goal in mind, it’ll do a lot to put you at ease.

    And if you decide not to go, or you decide maybe now isn’t good but you’d like to hang out later, then that’s OK too! Again, there is no deep meaning here — it’s just about what kind of interactions you do and don’t want in your life. That’s a decision that you get to make for yourself, because you are smart and powerful and good enough exactly as you are.

    1. Good advice. I’d take it a step further though and add:
      After you’ve decided what you *want* from the meeting, honestly examine how you’d feel if you don’t get what you want, because you cannot control the outcome. The other person never follows your script, so the chances of everything going “right” are slim to none. You don’t want to be on the defense, but you also need a realistic understanding that you’re probably not going to get what you “planned.”

      Although, LW, reading your last couple of paragraphs, I’d say you’re not ready. If you’re afraid of meeting up with him – afraid for any reason – why put yourself through that? This really sounds to me like a “if in doubt, don’t” situation. You don’t need to prove anything, which meeting with John probably wouldn’t prove anyway because it sounds like you’re still working on your emotions, so no matter what happens, you’d be second guessing yourself. Do you need that?

      I’d probably say, “I’d love to, but I’m not up for that yet. I hope you’re well.” It’s honest and doesn’t burn any bridges. It’s often not a good idea to use “yet” in turning someone down because they can take it as “keep asking me and wear me down until I say yes.” But it sounds like John isn’t that kind of person, and hey, if he is, and he takes “yet” as an invitation to pester you, then at least you’ll know you were right to say no, and can turn it into a hard no.

      LW, you do what will make *you* happy. Tell the brain weasels who are saying “you should this-you should that” to STFU, you’re going to do what is best for *you.*

  23. I’m healthy, non-abusive, pretty rock solid actually (well, my therapist tells me so) and friends with zero of my exes. My last ex was friends with allllll of his, found it SUPER-weird I wasn’t, brought it up all the time… When I broke up with him (for shoving me into a wall), he yelled at me till he was red in the face, spittle flying, sent 3,000-word texts in lawyerly language listing the reasons I was duty-bound to return to him… etc

    We are not friends. He was also pretty angry I broke his streak of being friends with exes. I’m OK with that. What I’m saying: there’s no hard and fast rule, you don’t HAVE to be friends with your ex, it’s not a marker of maturity.

    You do have to be OK with being only friends, when what you want is them to love you. So the coffee comes down to how tough your heart is; can you take the knock-back, or worse, the booty call?

    1. He was either flat-out lying about being friends with his exes or his exes said “uh, sure yeah ok we’re friends” to get him off their back. IOW, I don’t think he was friends with anyone he dated. Not if he behaved that way.

      1. That, or his definition of “friends” is “I stalk them on Facebook”.

  24. I really like that poem. This is a song that helped me get through break ups and the when do we reconnect question:

    Before I gaze at you again
    I’ll need a time for tears.
    Before I gaze at you again
    Let hours turn to years.

    I have so much forgetting to do
    Before I try to gaze again at you.

    Stay away until you cross my mind
    Barely once a day.
    Stay away until I wake and find
    That I can smile and say:

    That I shall gaze at you again
    Without a blush or qualm.
    My eyes will shine like new again,
    My manner poised and calm.

    No sign of fear,
    Not even a sigh.
    And so till when
    We gaze again,

    If you look on youtube, you can find Julie Andrews singing it in Camelot.

  25. Sure, people can be friends with their exes……when they and their exes *want* to be friends and only friends. It’s totally valid to not want to even try to be friends with an ex for any reason, and that includes feeling like if you spend time with them, you will want the kind of relationship that they do not want to give you.

    If you’re worried about the coffee, it’s totally fine not to go. It says nothing about your worth as a person or your emotional maturity or anything like that. It just says that you don’t think the coffee meeting is going to be a good experience for you, and that’s fine.

    1. It just says that you don’t think the coffee meeting is going to be a good experience for you, and that’s fine.

      Quoted for truth

  26. I used to think I ought to be friends with exes (after all! If I liked them enough to date them surely I like them enough to be friends with them!) but… no, it just doesn’t seem to work out. Er, part of this is exacerbated by the fact that I move a lot and am poor at keeping in contact, but even so.
    One ex in particular I actually cared a lot about and we only broke up because I moved away and eventually found someone new. We watch eachother’s social media and are friendly. I met up with him once or twice at shared group events after, and it was just… well I felt a weird combination of guilt since he was still single (please no one try to imply he was somehow causing it – this was seriously all my baggage about finding someone else and not realizing I couldn’t LDR ahead of time – he didn’t bring it up at all I just knew it from social media) and weird because /last time I’d seen him I was used to a high level of cuddling and physically affectionate gestures that now were awkward/. Yeah we are still friends online but even when I like the person and I’ve moved on it’s still just weird because I’m just used to relating to them in a different way.
    So uh, LW, don’t force it if you aren’t feeling it.

  27. Crushes/love are a lot like a drug. Part of what hurts so bad is the withdrawal from something you’ve had an addiction to. I’ve found I’ve moved on the fastest when I cut myself off from the object of my affection until songs that remind me of him don’t make me so sad anymore.

    There’s nothing about you that’s wrong or broken. You deserve to be cared about RIGHT NOW. Even if every ex hated you forever. Even if you have experienced some fucked up stuff in your life. Even if you have emotions and needs and are kind of a jerk sometimes.

  28. Op, I feel you. When you grow up in a abusive environment it is really hard to tell what is normal or not, where you should be or where they should be. What behavior is okay and where boundaries are. Key: Where boundaries are.
    I think the key for me was slowly growing a very protected sense of self. Like building a fort. Listening to myself, being okay to let go of people who made me unhappy. Trying to actively choose company that made my heart really happy. Trying to learn from criticism but also learning to recognize when another human being, regardless of their articulated reasons, is not treating you well. Searching out the nuances in relationships and giving myself permission to draw boundaries and be okay to let people who I’d been conditioned in my past to give so much leeway, to say nope. Nope!
    It is really hard when you are used to abuse, i.e., no boundaries, to shut off the proverbial gaslight and know where you are. But you can do it -it takes time and self love.

  29. Dear letter writer, you mentioned having trouble knowing what is normal and what normal boundaries are, because of abuse in your past. And I hear you. I have abuse in my past also, and it is so hard to heal when you have been conditioned to people who violate those boundaries, and to find that sense of self again, where you recognize the instinct in yourself again, to say, ‘no, I don’t want this, or no, I don’t want this person in my life, or no, this is not okay, or even, no, I don’t want to get coffee with my ex.’ Or, even, slowly, ‘yes, this person makes me feel safe and that I can invite them into the spaces in my heart that have violated.’ So maybe this guy isn’t the one. And that is okay. You are okay. You are free, now, to pick and choose, to build up your sense of self, to exercise the right to say, no, this doesn’t feel good. So much love to you. Have coffee or don’t. It’s up to you. Don’t worry about what your ex thinks. Do what you want to. You are humaning just by being.

  30. I’m still friends with an ex, but I needed about a year of no or extremely casual (ie, not one-on-one) contact before that happened. Don’t pressure yourself into deciding anything right away. Take some time, maybe have this coffee but probably not a regular coffee meeting. See how you feel after a few months, maybe six, maybe a whole year. Then see if you’re still interested in being friends. Maybe you will and maybe you won’t, and it’s fine either way. But I wouldn’t force yourself one way or the other right now.

  31. I am friends (or on good terms with) just about everyone I’ve dated since high school. There are three exceptions, where the relationship ended badly enough that I didn’t want any further contact (one involved me having to get a restraining order.)

    One of those people pretty much thinks I’m the Antichrist. And I have to be okay with that, because I can’t affect how other people think/speak of me. All I can do is to try to be a decent human being, and to hope that people who have spoken with both of us will observe my behavior and the person I am, and not take the other person’s word about how awful I supposedly am. And, if they choose to take my ex’s side about it, I’ll probably never know, other than that X formerly-mutual friend dropped out of my life.

    I cannot let that affect how I feel about myself as a person. I work hard to be a good, loving, kind, considerate, ethical friend and partner. And that needs to be enough for me to be at peace with my life.

    (And if I start feeling bad about it, I *do* have the reassurance that a number of my exes are still close friends . . . but if my relationship experience had been more limited, as in the LW’s case, I’d still have my friends and my own internal compass to remind me that I am a good person and I do my best.)

    I also feel that taking some time apart after a relationship is almost 100% essential to maintaining a healthy friendship in the future — breakups are generally difficult and emotionally heavy, and taking some time to regroup and set up appropriate boundaries is often necessary. Otherwise, post-breakup friendships can be confusing and full of Feelings, especially if one person wanted the breakup more than the other did, or if one person still nurses hopes of reviving the romantic or sexual relationship.

  32. My last ex is the guy who is friends with his exes. I’m not friends with him. I don’t wish him ill, but fundamentally, I loved him deeply and our relationship ending was really hard on me.

    I tried to be friends with him, but I still had feelings. He did not. It was weird and he had to cut me off. I asked him if we could take a break, because I was having a hard time, and then I went off the rails. It wasn’t a good scene, and it was best for both of us. We’re with people who are far, far more compatible (me, the feminist atheist, married to same, and him, the apparently conservative Catholic married to a Mrs. Him type).

    So if you don’t want to have coffee, don’t have coffee. If you aren’t ready, that’s okay, too. It doesn’t mean you’re emotionally unhealthy.

  33. I disagree with the cap. You seem to be definitely not over John. For whatever reasons it seems like you always liked John more than he liked you. This coffee date (that will definitely end in you two having sex and then months of analyzing how you could have just
    Been better and he would still be with you) is going to pick at a very painful open wound with a very rusty nail. Wait a bit longer, try seeing how it is seeing him again in a larger group setting.

  34. Oh my gosh. That poem. Come to find out, I’m not over my ex, because I’m over here trying to keep my leaking quiet while there are strangers around.

  35. In my experience, friendship with exes works best when both people are genuinely over the romantic/sexual aspects of the relationship, and are no longer angry or hurt over the breakup or the relationship itself. Usually this involves a period of time passing between breaking up and starting the new friendship (and not weeks – half a year or more).

    Cases where it doesn’t work: One person still wants to get back with the other, but the other is totally platonic, which ends up being like picking at the scab of the breakup, and not letting it heal. One person wants to get back together, the other is looking for a post-breakup booty call, which is a good way to get emotionally mangled. One person is a manipulative jerk and doesn’t want to give up the ability to control the other. And the ever popular immediately post breakup “I dumped you and feel bad, so I’ll be extra attentive and nice to you and give totally mixed signals, which will make me feel better, but prolong the pain for you”. I’d put the OP in one of the first two of these categories.

  36. I feel like a healthy, well-adjusted person, and I have a bunch of ex-lovers. Some of them I haven’t spoken to in nearly 30 years and don’t miss. One of them I haven’t spoken to in 20 years, and I’m a little sad about it, and wonder if he’s OK. Some of them I see occasionally for tea when I go back to the hometown to visit my folks, or to the college reunion, and that’s nice. Several of them are my good friends now and get along fine with me and my husband both. There is absolutely not only one right way for a healthy, well-adjusted person to relate to an ex. It depends on the ex himself, what he wants as well as what you want, and how the relationship ended.

    However, it has always been my experience that a nice long cooling-off period after the break-up, in which we didn’t hang out or chat at all, is necessary for both parties to regain their emotional equilibrium. Several months at least, or as much as a year, depending on how long and how intense the relationship was. Essentially, until you have both got over the grieving and raging and can be calm about it. Then you can set about creating your new relationship as friends, not quite from scratch, but with a mutual agreement to put all the baggage in the attic and not go up there to check on it.

  37. Nope nope nope nope nope nope. No. Hell naw. That’s a negative. LW, if you have to ask, you’re not there yet, love. Take that time and emotional energy that would otherwise be spent on John and self-torture, and go do something special, unique, and decadent just for you. Best of luck to you.

  38. Maybe you should make a pro con list about whether you should get coffee with him.

    (that snark was 100% directed at your ex, not you)

  39. My first partner had this theory that one way you could tell lesbians are better than straight people is that we are always friends with our exes. (Go ahead, count the ways in which that theory is oh so wrong.) So about a year after she dumped me in an unnecessarily awful way, she called me up and said it was time for us to start on our friendship. It took about ten seconds to figure out that she had no real interest in me as a person, just in proving her ridiculous theory. I noped out of there and spent the next ten years relentlessly shutting down mutual friends who would carry the “are you ready yet?” question from her to me. Luckily we live 1500 miles apart, and she isn’t actually interested in my friendship, just in the damned theory (even 30 years later).

    I am an emotionally healthy person, mostly (according to my therapist), and I choose not to be friends with this woman because acceding to her demands would mean accepting a role in her life that had nothing to do with me and everything to do wabout th her ideas about the superiority of lesbians.

    Please don’t make the mistake she made. Some romantic relationships give rise to later friendships, and some don’t. But if you make such friendships a referendum on the excellence of lesbians or on your emotional health, you will turn your exes into pawns whose friendship you want only to prove a point. Choose to be friends when you want the person in your life as a friend, and walk away when you don’t. Treating all your exes with the respect it takes to make that decision based on who they are is a gift, and I suspect will actually mean being friends with more of them.

    1. Huh. I’m from the American South and the gay communities in my area were extremely small. I always assumed that’s why gay and lesbian people tended to be friends with exes (or at least that’s the impression I got)– you have to keep dealing with each other + mutual friends + mutual exes after the breakup, it’s tough to just ghost. I’ve heard gay guys frame it as “and this is why we’re better,” but… I thought they were joking?

      Sorry you have that obnoxious “friend” request to deal with that persists over 30 years and 1500 miles (!!). But the phrase “it’s time for us to start on our friendship” cracked me up! Your ex has a very odd way of collecting trophies.

  40. In my experience, the best way to end up friends with an ex is to not see them for at least 3 months after breaking up.

  41. LW- here is how you know when you are ready to see John again:

    If someone were to walk up to you holding your cell phone and say “hey your phone is ringing. It says John something.” Would your heart start to race? Would you hope/know it was YOUR John and not some other contact with the same first name? Would your mouth go dry as you grab the phone? Would your hands shake a little as you put your phone up to your ear?

    Then you are not ready!!!

    You are ready when that scenario can happen and you go: “huh? John? Weird. Wonder what HE wants.” When you can view a call from John like a call from your neighbor you moved away from-THAT is when you are ready.

    And if you are never ready? Then that’s ok! There are no interpersonal relations trophies.

    Good luck!

  42. Cap is 100% right on this.

    OP, I have about 15 exes from about 12 years of dating, from high school flings to serious, 5+ years, ‘I would have married him’s. I’m friends with about half of them, from ‘casual facebook catchup’ to ‘my husband and I invited him to be a platonic room mate’. The main things were:
    1) We took enough time for both of us to not have Feelings anymore, just friendly feelings
    2) We liked each other as people before and during dating – dating was just another layer, not Big Thing. I usually dated friends or friendly acquaintances.

    Fortunately, Mr. Jules is not the jealous type, because I go to parties with 2 – 5 exes in attendance regularly. We’re going to a concert on a double date with ‘platonic room mate’ this coming weekend. He and my husband are good friends.

    However, this is NOT for everyone. I know multiple very nice people who, when the dating is over, do not work to continue the friendship. It really depends on the comfort level of both people. And there’s nothing wrong with that either.

  43. Welp, LW, here is the thing: you get to do whatever it is you want to do. Even if that thing ends up hurting like hell, you get to do that thing.

    I don’t have much in the way of exes; what I have are some uncomfortably close friendships with men that ended badly. So here’s me:

    1. Once that big rejection has happened, I was never going to be friends. There’s an alternate universe where I’m secure enough in my self-worth to regularly be around someone who’s stored in the “didn’t want me” file cabinet in my head, but it’s not this one.

    2. Every time I made myself vulnerable to a person who explicitly rejected that sort of closeness, there was a reasonably good chance I ended up emotionally lacerated. I pretty much have healed from this sort of thing, but I was not better for the experience.

    3. The stronger the emotional reaction I had to losing my connection to a dude, the clearer it was that my self-worth had gotten tangled up in this person’s approval and positive attention. I do not have good relations with people when I feel like they have that sort of power over me.
    These are specific to me and my periodically sorry-as-shit emotional state. I am mostly not friends with people who have rejected me. I postulate that being well-adjusted is doing whatever the thing is that will result in the least pain and steadiest emotional equilibrium for *you*. With possible irony, part of that may include sacrificing your fucks about how other people define well-adjusted to the Great Pit of Bitchy Fire.

  44. I would say that healthy, well-adjusted humans can sometimes be friends with their exes. It depends on a lot of things, including why those people are exes (“they dumped me cruelly” is, imho, a reason not to, because any major interaction that felt cruel is a reason not to be friends with someone, ex or not).

    It also depends on what, if any, reasons there are for being friends: it doesn’t sound like you’re in the situation where “oh, right, Mike, I was married to you once” feels like about as important a connection as “we were in the same kindergarten class.”

    There is no one person on the planet for whom “am I friends with this person?” is a qualification for being healthy, well-adjusted, or an adult. That includes exes, the nice person down the block who wants to talk about her tomatoes, and the cousin you have nothing in common with shared grandparets and who wants to sell you on his latest MLM scheme. Sometimes you need to be cordial with people, and that might or might not turn (back) into friendship—one of my good friends rebuilt a friendship with her ex-husband based on co-parenting their child, but a more distant politeness and not saying bad things about each other to their son would have been enough.

    As the Captain said, the questions here are, Do you, LW, actually want to be friends with this ex? Do you want to have coffee with him? (Those are related questions, but might have different answers.) Think about what might happen if you do meet for coffee, what you want and how you would start the conversation. You get to treat this like a first date with someone from OKCupid, if you like: pick someplace like Starbucks where you pay before you get your drink, so you won’t feel stuck waiting for the bill; be prepared to leave with a bland “this isn’t working” or a stronger “this was a bad idea, don’t call me again” if either of those is how you feel; and remember that what you’re agreeing to here is half an hour for coffee in mid-afternoon, not a plan for the evening or a promise of the next three friend-dates.

  45. My husband left me for another girl. I felt really bad but was hoping he would come back to me. one day, I saw a post about how a lady met her husband and I decided to try this prophet who helped her because my relationship was failing. Although I never believed in spiritual work. I tried reluctantly because I was desperate, but to my greatest surprise, this prophet helped me and my relationship is perfect now as he told me that my husband now treats me like a queen, even when he had said before that he never loves me anymore. Well, if you are going through difficulties in your relationship here is the email______ dr_mack @yahoo. com,

  46. I’ve had a rainbow of experiences with exes — some who are dear close friends who were at my wedding, a couple of them who I might see every few years for a drink if they’re in town but don’t otherwise talk with, and a couple where there’s no contact at all and contact does not feel okay.

    A lot plays into how these sort themselves, but probably the main factors for me were these:
    -Do I feel like during this relationship, this person generally speaking treated me respectfully, compassionately, and like a whole person?
    -Did we have a big chunk (usually close to a year for a serious long term thing) of time completely incommunicado and then have an opportunity to “re-meet” each other as friends?
    -Do I *like* this person and feel like we have things that are fun to talk about together?
    -Do I feel emotionally resolved about the end of the relationship and have a narrative that makes sense to me about how and why it ended? Can I say honestly that I wouldn’t want to date this person again, and I know why? Can I feel pleasant nostalgia about the relationship we had?

    If all of these are yesses, the prognosis has been really good.

    LW, I am worried for you that you want your ex to offer you external validation of your value as a person, and it sound like you’d like to date him again too, possibly. My advice? Wait until you don’t want anything from him, and more importantly, don’t need anything from him. Wait until it wouldn’t be devastating for coffee to be awkward or mediocre or even kind of sucky. Wait until you can feel whole as yourself. Wait until you believe in your own value. Wait until you go “Oh yeah, him!” when you’re reminded of him, and you *aren’t* thinking of him every single day. Wait until you have your feet under you.

  47. Personally I prefer not to be around exes until the idea of them dating/flirting with someone else doesn’t bother me. Realistically, I’ll probably always get a very occasional bittersweet pang when I least expect it from seeing an ex happy with someone else, but it doens’t mean much and it’s not really painful. But if it’s still painful to see (or think about) the ex flirting with someone else, then spending time around the ex will eventually either be painful for you (because they may flirt or check out other people) or stifling for them (because they don’t want to do that in front of you because they can see it’s painful) or a weapon of ego-fuckery (where they treat you as a “sounding board” for dating, crushes and relationships and get a little ego boost by seeing you flinch, while also getting an ego boost from seeing themselves as a mature person who is friends with their ex).

    Also there’s no reason *you* (LW) can’t call your ex for coffee when *you* are ready. It’s not like this is your only chance.

  48. Oh, and to echo what others have said, you don’t have to say no forever if you mean no for now. In one of my most valued friendships with an ex, who I dated for two years, a week after the breakup, he sent me a funny news article. I wrote him back with what was essentially a NOT NOW FOR PETE’S SAKE email. Many months later we reconnected when it felt like the right time for both of us, and I’m so glad.

  49. Honestly, I was always the person who wanted to be friends with my exes but I do not find this to be really the case while I am friendly with exes I don’t have any ex I would consider an actual friend. Some are because they are horrible people but the vast majority of mine aren’t really friends because we wanted and still want different things from life and that hasn’t really changed we still have different priorities.
    I personally try to avoid going out with people if I think I still have feelings for them or If I believe they still might have feelings for me. Hope springs eternal and I don’t need to have some wild hope to appear and have me sabotage my other opportunities on the off chance XX might love me again I have done this it is not a good choice.

  50. Incidentally, my ex *just* called me this afternoon. Our relationship was 5 years of on-off-on ad infinitum with not so much a breakup at the end as half a year of seemingly endless, exasperating fizzle. If (when) called me anytime after any of the previous dozen breakups, my stomach would flutter or roil, and I’d notice feelings everywhere. Heart feelings. Pants feelings. Rage and righteousness feelings. Quiet longing feelings.

    When his number popped up today, the feeling that came up in me was… not even a feeling. Just, “Huh. That’s interesting.” He called to ask me (very politely) if I would be willing to meet up. I said yes and when we hung up, I texted a girlfriend to tell her the news. She started warning me of all the things I needed to get right in myself before meeting with him. She’d seen so much of the drama of the break-sputter. She knew I’d need to Be Strong.

    Her warning was appreciated but this time around, unnecessary. I knew when I heard his voice that it literally didn’t matter to me why he was calling. I’m curious, sure, and I’m happy to meet up for a chat. But whether he unloads a secret, comes out, begs for me back, lists the ways I hurt him, discloses his STI status, tells me he’s moving to Mongolia, makes 9th-step amends, offers me a baby panda, or just feels lonely and needs an ear, I completely don’t care. Not a single one of these possibilities would have any impact on how I feel or what I’m doing with the next days-weeks-years of my life. Except maybe the STI. And the panda.

    It would be like hearing from a distant cousin. Someone I vaguely know and sort-of have a place in my heart for. News of their remote world is interesting at best. Leaving your marriage to join a traveling handbell choir with the kid you never knew you had? Cool. You do you.

    I think I can safely say that the point when it’s okay to meet for coffee is when you don’t care whether or not you do.

  51. I hate hate hate the pressure to be friends with exes. If we broke up, it’s for a reason. Not to say that it doesn’t happen occasionally, but it’s generally the exception not the rule. For myself, I set a strict 6 month no contact boundary after a relationship. At that point, I’m usually ready to consider if I want to bring that person back into my life but the answer is generally no. I had one ex who prided himself on being friends with all his exes, but he still respected the 6 months I asked for. We now have a very casual, mostly online and rarely interact directly acquaintanceship and I think that about as good as it’s going to get. I honestly worry when my friends cling to the idea of staying friends with their exes after a break-up (especially without any cooling-off period) because I know that it’s just going to make it that much harder to heal.There is nothing wrong or broken about taking the time to figure out your boundaries and what YOU want from a relationship, and it’s perfectly ok if the answer you come to is “nothing”.

  52. I agree with pixierage. I’ll even go a step further: there is no ex I wanted to stay friends with. They truly are ex’s for a reason. If I could have remained friends with them, I probably should have worked harder on the relationship. Nope. It’s absolutely true that when you’re done, you’re done. Burn the motherfucker to the ground and get on with it. Moving on clean and clear is highly underrated!

  53. Re: Pro/Cons I’ve done them. I’ve done it for relationships, I’ve done for jobs, I’ve done it for my entire life. It’s a way of organizing my thoughts, and yes I have shown my partner the pro/con list because when I get emotional (angry, flustered, sad, excited etc.) I tend to babble and get distracted. Pro/Con lists help me focus thoughts. I also have a colour-coding system and points to pro/con list because sometimes as said before, it’s not an even weight distributed. I continue to use Pro/Con lists and will not be stopping. The thing about the pro/con list is to help me clarify where I am in this decision, and sometimes you’re in a relationship that isn’t bad but it’s not as good but maybe it can get better, or maybe it can get worse and the list helps.

    Re: Friends with exs. I’m friends with my ex fiancé; he was a big part of my life for five years, and I can’t imagine not being on good terms with him. My other exes (abusive, fine, boring, the Ex) not so much. But that’s a part of circumstance, age, and the people involved. Not everyone experiences the same break up. It’s not a sign of being healthy if you’re friends with your ex ***

    Re: Coffee. It sounds like you’re going to get coffee. I’d get the coffee, I did get the coffee. Sometimes it was fine, other times I was back in the same relationship but with the anxiety of knowing that it would end. It really depends on what do you want from this and it’s okay if you don’t know.

    BUT. But you must be prepared for him to tell you about his life, and not want you to be a big part of it anymore. Be prepared for that, because it could happen just as much (perhaps more) than wanting casual sex or getting back together.

    *** Unless there are negating factors where being friends with your ex actually is important (ie shared children).

  54. LW, im pm in the situation rn except that I work with my ex. It is the worst and he doesnt understand why I don’t want to tell him anything about my life or make small talk. And then avoids the fuck out of me as soon as work ends while sending me cute links from facebook on days we dont see each other. Good luck with whatever you decide. You sound like a cool person to me.

  55. I do get that the LW had some crappy relationships and is now questioning her baseline for what “normal” is, but is feeling like a failure for not being friends/friendly with your exes really a common thing? Sure, it’s kinda neat when things do shake out that way, and it’s nice if your breakups aren’t angry and bitter, but hang out with whoever you want. If you run in the same social circles, you don’t have to be anything other than bare minimum polite when you see them.

    The main thing is, what does the LW want, here? Kinda sounds like she might want him back.

  56. OP, you’re putting way too much weight on this. If you’re relying on getting coffee with your ex to prove that you’re a lovable person, then there’s no way the encounter can go well. Stay away from him until and unless your sense of self-worth doesn’t rely on his reaction to you.

    1. I’m not quite sure if she’s looking for his approval, per se, or just wants to be “the kind of person for whom this isn’t a big deal.” But generally, yeah, she’s thinking way too hard about this and beating herself up about all the potential “what if?”s. She should take that as a sign that this isn’t a good idea. It’s perfectly acceptable to go, “Meh. Not for me” and move on.

  57. Of my exes, I am sure only about four.

    Ex A was not a bad person but he cheated on me, so I did not want to be friends. We are not friends. I won’t trash him personally or waste a lot of energy having Feelings about it, but I said I was going to go No Contact after the break-up, and I did. He stalked me via telephone (until I changed numbers) and e-mail (ditto) and came up to me at events we happened to both be at (yikes, go away) for YEARS after. It was awkward.

    Ex B was in our friend circle, and we drifted together and drifted back apart. Not even sure where he is right now (could be anywhere), and he has an extremely common name.

    Ex C is my favorite ex, and I’m friendly with his wife, too. We were friends before, we are friends now, but with no added “hey, you’re cute” vibes on top. (Also, his wife posted a photo of him on a couch with his new potbelly hanging out all over, and he had a little tantrum over that, so…) Anyway, we occasionally comment on each other’s Facebook posts and we still have friends in common, and we still have a lot of shared interests, so this is pretty groovy. It’s never going anywhere ever again, but I would be sad if we lost touch. I would also miss his Mrs.

    Ex D wasn’t really ever a boyfriend and turned into a racist MAGAhead a couple of years later (“turned into” probably meaning “revealed stuff he had been hiding, once he thought it was safe to say horrible things in public”), so BULLET DODGED. Not sure what I was thinking, but that’s the only person I can think of that I would give a thumbs down to.

  58. Is it possible that you can have an emotionally healthy coffee experience with your ex? Sure.

    Is it possible RIGHT NOW? Probably not.

    As others have said above, this isn’t a forever decision. It’s perfectly okay to tell him that you want to be friends someday, but you’re not ready to meet up yet. It’s okay to tell him that you’ll call him when you are ready.

  59. What about the very real option of staying *Facebook* friends with your ex?

    Seriously, though, being friends with a person doesn’t necessarily mean being the type of friend who you have long one-on-one chats over coffee with. What *sort* of friendship do you eventually want with this man?

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