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Can You Really Be Friends With Your Ex? Here’s My Story.

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Virginia Tech chapter.

I can’t speak for everyone, but breakups are never easy. Sometimes they’re actually the furthest thing from easy. You pour the contents of your entire heart and soul into the arms of another person— your time, your energy, your most vulnerable and imperfect self—  and yet somehow they just can’t, for whatever reason, stay. And that hurts like a sucker punch to the gut… understandably so. Losing someone you adored with everything inside of you, regardless of the circumstances, is not a weight you can simply brush off your shoulders. It’s not a 1-2 business days Amazon prime “healing” sort of deal. Maybe for some lucky people, all it takes is a cry session, a day out adventuring with the girls, or a phone call home. But for me, well, that’s an entirely different story.



I dated the same boy for the majority of high school. Let’s just call him A. When we met, I was 15 and he was nearly 17. First love made us feel invincible. When we broke up for the final time (don’t worry, I’ll get there), I was 18 and about to leave for college. That’s three whole years of our lives spent tethered to each other, attached at the hip, constantly the center of each other’s universes. I loved A and he loved me. Nothing will ever change that, even though life certainly did.


But we never wanted it to happen. We confided our deepest, darkest truths in each other. We loved with that innocent sort of newness that none of us can really replicate once it’s over. We were both artists— intense, fiery, emotional ones— so we connected on a level that I had never been able to reach with another person. We felt like superstars of our shared hometown. It was your classic meet-at-church-youth-group, live-a-mile-away, share-the-same-circle-of-friends kind of deal. In retrospect, there was no one at the time I would’ve rather been young and electric with. A was my anchor, my safety, the one person I knew who would drive to my house past midnight to cry with me when life got hard.



Yes, it did get hard. I’m not going to go deep into the details of what went wrong, because, in many ways, that part is still ours. Only ours. I’m not going to villainize him for leaving me, because I don’t see him like that, at least not anymore. He is no villain. We were just so young— that was our fatal flaw— and nothing could’ve changed that.


When A broke up with me I swore a part of me had died. Maybe that’s just the hopeless romantic feels-too-much part of my brain, but I really did. The first few days, weeks, and months without A made the world resemble a post-apocalypse wasteland. I threw myself into schoolwork, into college applications, into counting down the days until I could finally leave my hometown, the place where everything felt haunted. I couldn’t drive past certain places anymore because everything was a flaming reminder of everything we were. The high school. The ice cream shop at the corner. That burger joint we used to crash for hours drinking bad milkshakes and even worse burgers. Everything hurt. When I finally left for college, I remember feeling like I could finally breathe again.



I was hurt. So hurt that the mere idea of falling in love with anyone else felt unappealing. There I was, supposed to be having the time of my life, living out the college experience, dating the wrong boys and the right ones, making a few horrible mistakes and a few incredible ones, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t. I was 18 and so much of my life had been given away to someone who just walked out of my life. I felt like too much, not enough, a horrifying concoction of both. As I settled into my new home, my makeshift new life, I remember being overcome with a newfound sense of freedom— but also a terrifying idea: that no matter how far I run, nowhere and no one would ever feel like home.


I’d be lying if I said I never got angry at him. I did. There were times I swore I hated him. Everything felt permeated with the fury of being left behind. My poems, journals, and conversations were saturated with frustration. How could he leave me? He knew my transition to college would be hard— I had never taken change easily— and yet he left. The one person who promised to persevere with me through every impossible season packed his bags and left. We went to Europe together on a church pilgrimage. We had built a little life of our own: making imaginary plans for our wedding, discussing how many kids we wanted in the future, designing our dream house down to the furniture. We fit perfectly into each other’s families. Of course I was mad. Deliriously mad. I thought I was building something unbreakable with my best friend in the world but it turned out, all along, that the foundation simply wasn’t strong enough.


But I never hated him. I was angry, but when I look back now, that anger was justified. It was the anger of someone who felt cheated on— not by him— but by my childhood, my life, my formative years. After a while, I thought it was a serious case of “right person, wrong time,” the idea that maybe we would’ve been able to make it work if we had met in a different place and time. Maybe in our twenties. Somewhere far away instead of the same town we both knew like the backs of our hands. But I now know that it wasn’t a case of that. It just was what it was, and that’s all there is to it.


It took me over a year to finally get the closure I needed. It took seeing other people, choosing to fall in love and out of it, focusing on my studies, my friends, and my art first. Everything I did during my first semester of college was an act of healing, of finding out who I was without another person’s hand intertwining mine. I slowly realized that, after years of trying to become one with another person, I had lost touch with my own identity. Mine, me, myself— all strangely foreign to me. It took nights of being carried away by painful emotion, sobbing into my pillow about how the golden age of my life was done and over with. I even thought I’d never love again.


But then I did. The rest is history. I fell in love again and out of it and again and again and again. I got a few internships, skipped a year of college, and rose to a high-class rank because I was finally able to focus on the goals I had been eyeing for years. I learned how to love myself again, not through the eyes of another person, but for the first time in years, a love independent of another. I even met an amazing guy, one whom I see the entire future with— but one willing to take it slow with me. We have right now, the present moment, and that is enough.


When A came back into my life after a healthy distance apart, I didn’t know what to do. The whole thing felt so distant to me that seeing him eye-to-eye again almost felt like I had been transported to another world. Should I be mad? Should I just forgive him? Should I confess how much his act of exiting my life hurt me? 



I wasn’t perfect. Neither was he. We decided that we had to establish boundaries. We weren’t the same people we were when we were lovestruck teenagers who felt like they owned that little suburb of Northern Virginia. We had outgrown each other way more than we had ever imagined. It was like staring directly at a life that could not possibly fit anymore; a life that had no more stretch to it. We had to sit down and cry and talk and talk even more. There was so much that needed settling, so much that needed apologizing for. At first, I remember owning up to him, crying in his living room about how wounded I felt, and then hurriedly driving home with eyes blurred over with tears (not my hottest, or safest, moment, I must admit). 


But what blossomed out of that painful honesty was something neither of us could’ve ever predicted. Forgiveness. Acceptance. Love. And not love in the cheesy, make-you-an-anniversary-card-every-month, long-paragraphs-in-my-Instagram-captions kind of way, but real, authentic love. This was a love that didn’t need romance. It was a love that had outgrown itself and turned into something even more beautiful than what we had left behind in the shed skin of the past. It was friendship. I never thought we would be able to be friends again until we finally were. Everything that had gone wrong had finally been made right. It was the happily-ever-after that didn’t need a grand Disney wedding or fairytale ending. It was the beginning of a lifetime of finally realizing who we were meant to be for each other.


Nowadays, I see A on breaks when I visit family at home. Our world is the same but different. It’s not ours anymore. It’s not the idyllic wonderland, colored rose and filled with everything sweet, that we idealized for so long in our minds. Instead, it’s just good old Woodbridge, Virginia, where we both grew up and out of and into ourselves. Those streets don’t hurt anymore. We walk the track and roam the neighborhoods and catch up on each other’s lives over coffee and laughter. He tells me about his college life and I tell him about mine. He’s happy that I’ve found the person I want to share my crazy, wonderful life with. He doesn’t feign happiness in a lying-through-gritted-teeth way. It’s real this time. I know that when he gushes to me about the new girl he loves, I’m going to gush right back and mean it.


Can you really be friends with your ex? Absolutely. Is it easy? From my experience, no. It takes mustering enough courage to fight through the growing pains, admitting your own weaknesses, and forgiving when necessary. Should you? That depends. If he’s someone who changed you for the better, made you happy, supported you, and cared for you— and if friendship is a possibility lurking on your radar— then maybe it’s something worth considering. I’m not telling you to run back into the arms that hurt you. What I am telling you is that it’s possible. Real love is possible when it doesn’t have to be romantic anymore. When it can just be real. Two people shivering in the January cold. Laughing about who they used to be when they were brave enough to believe in something as magical as first love. Things might look a bit different than they used to be, but in a way, they’re even better.



Tonight I called him. He is one of the first contacts I dial when I’m worried about the future or unsure about what to do with my life. We are strong enough for that now. He calls me when things go wrong, or sometimes, when things go so right it’s impossible for him to contain it. We share a new kind of love for each other. One where we can hang up the phone when it’s over, smile contentedly to ourselves, and live out the lives we were truly meant to live.


Image credit: Unsplash and Giphy


Michelle Garcia

Virginia Tech '21

Michelle Garcia (she/her) is a Filipino American poet and multimedia artist. Her writing attempts to blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction: focusing on nostalgia and personal mythology— the way we tell stories about ourselves. She is a third-year senior at Virginia Tech triple-majoring in English Literature & Language, Creative Writing, and Communication Science & Social Inquiry.