Exes As Friends: Can It Be Done?

I truly only have one ex, and thus only one experience of breaking up and navigating friendship after sharing a romance. I feel as though I have not only gone through the typical stages of a breakup, but also been through the trials of trying to be friends afterwards. To be honest with you, I’m not sure yet if it is truly worth it or fully possible to have a normal friendship with someone you used to date. Hopefully by the end of this article, I’ll reach a conclusion for you reading this and also for myself.

First things first: being friends after a break up takes time! It is something that cannot be forced or rushed, kind of like the relationship. If it is meant to be it'll be, and I learnt this the hard way. After a breakup there is a space that is left empty in your life: it doesn't matter if you left things on good terms or if the relationship ended poorly, there will be a space within your life that is missing something, or better yet someone. You have talked to this individual nearly everyday, shared some of your deepest secrets and shared your most vulnerable self and then all of a sudden that all goes away. Not only have you broken up as lovers but you have broken up as friends. Something I feel a lot of us forget once we’ve entered into a relationship or once a relationship has ended is that romance didn’t just form out of thin air. Often, you were friends before lovers, and the center of a romantic relationship is friendship. Friendship is where it all starts, so when it ends, losing that friend is the hardest part - at least for me it was. Instinctively, you want to text them, check in, send them that instagram post that made you think of them. It’s hard to not continue communicating in the manner you used to talk to them, but you can’t. This isn’t me making up rules or the dos and don’ts of breakups, but for your own good, as well as theirs, giving yourselves some space is oftentimes the best thing to do. 

The amount of time you keep a space or distance between each other differs based on the circumstances of the relationship and breakup - but as I said before, based on my own personal experience, this step should not be rushed. 

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So you’ve taken your space, or you haven’t (no judgement here I definitely rushed my waiting period), you’ve reflected and settled yourself, you’ve cared for your wounds, had a hot girl summer moment, in whatever form, you’ve taken some time to have a life separate from your now ex. You’ve taken time to remember who you were and who you now are without them in your life. Now it's your choice, rekindling that friendship or leaving the past behind and only looking forward, both are valid options, one probably arguably healthier than the other; but for the purposes of this article I am assuming you chose the winding and challenging path of friendship. To keep things straightforward let’s break it down into a pro cons kind of list. 

Pro #1 - Friendship 

As I’ve stated before, maintaining a friendship allows you to still be able to relate to one another in a carefree manner and in a way that is already familiar to both parties. Friendship is something the two of you already shared and so although you will have to renavigate the boundaries of this friendship, being friends with your ex post breakup allows you to still have someone in your life who you can share things with and laugh along with in a mostly (remember the mostly) platonic way. 

Con #1 - Old Feelings

Friendship is great and seems completely possible but oftentimes the feelings you had for this person don’t just go away. You may at first be able ignore it, move on and accept the reality that your relationship is now only friendship, but feelings of love and attraction seem to find a way to creep back into the picture and mess things up for everyone involved. You used to love this person. You shared a connection deeper than just friendship and those feelings can’t just be ignored and oftentimes being around that person again and behaving in a similar way that you used to when you were a couple makes those emotions all come rushing back and you end up hurting yourself. 

Pro #2 - Maintaining Connections

Severing connections with someone who you used to talk to everyday and shared powerful emotions with is not something that the human brain easily accepts -  both in romantic and platonic situations. I bet you have found yourself wanting to send a meme to someone you used to talk to everyday because it reminded you of them, or found yourself drunk texting an ex or old friend just because you were thinking of them. This is the brain's way of longing for a person that you have such fond memories with. By staying friends with an ex, you are able to maintain some kind of connection rather than having to cut off a relationship and throw your entire history with that person away. Before you even started dating, there was a connection made between the two of you that sparked a friendship. You enjoyed each other's company, shared something in common, whatever it was, you two were connected, and by trying to stay friends you are able to return to that initial connection that brought you two together as friends before anything else. 

Con #2 - Lack of Closure

Emotions stick around as I stated before. By staying friends and keeping an old connection you are limiting yourself, both in terms of moving on and finding love with someone. If you choose to try to be friends, you never really fully close the door on this chapter of your life. By staying friends you are allowing those raw emotions of attraction to stick around and ultimately leave you open to be hurt again when they eventually move on and you still have those festering feelings left over for them. You’ve got to flip the page, and it hurts, and it's hard, and even though friendship is nice you ultimately need the relationship to be done for your own good and for the chance to grow from it. 

A torn pink paper heart strung on white string with a black background. Photo by Kelly Sikkema from Unsplash

Pro #3 & Con #3 - Comfort 

You know this person inside and out, and that is both a good and bad thing. The good part is that you know what you are getting into, you know what to expect. They have provided you with security and comfort in both good and bad times and that feels safe for you and welcoming. It's an attractive feature of staying friends with an ex, but it gets messy. That comfort you feel with this individual can be manipulated and lead to heartache, it is a very thin line one walks on when being friends with an ex especially considering all of the circumstances I have explored in this article, and finding comfort in an ex, in my own experience, can stunt your personal growth. It limits you from exploring what else is out there and in a way, the comfort that usually soothes your anxieties around relationships and dating ends up triggering your anxiety. 

It's a vicious cycle one can get into trust me, and it is one that continuously contradicts itself solely because the person at the wheel (aka you) isn’t ready to let go of that portion of your life and that person. Can you trust me when I tell you you’re not in it alone? It is hard admitting it and I don’t think I fully came to the realization I was in this cycle until I wrote this article, but I’ve been there. I still kinda am there, it's been almost 2 years since my breakup and those kind of emotions still pop up from time to time, because as I said all those feelings and all that history it doesn’t just disappear, it sticks around and if we work at it and practice good self care, we grow from each breakup and relationship we experience. 

I promised I would try and reach an answer to the question I posed in the title of this article: “Exes as Friends, Can it Be Done?” and based on my pros and cons I would say no. The cons seem to outweigh the pros, and based on my own experience I would also say no matter how hard I try to just keep it platonic, history gets in the way and messes everything up. It is all circumstantial and I tip my hat to any of you who have accomplished a healthy friendship with an ex but in my own personal experience being friends with your ex limits your potential and leaves you open to a world of hurt.