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Sex + Relationships

The Do’s and Don’ts of Staying Friends with an Ex

After a break-up it’s easy to not only feel hurt and upset, but lonely too. You’ve spent a significant amount of time with a person who is suddenly no longer in your life, either in the same way, or at all. It’s natural to want to maintain a relationship with that person – calling them, finding ways to bump into them during the day, or planning “casual” lunch dates. Sometimes, though, this is exactly the opposite of what you need.

Her Campus spoke with relationship and break-up experts Dan Lier, of AskDanandMike.com, Ellie Scarborough, of PinkKisses.com, Dr. Ish. Major, of LittleWhiteWhys.com, and Dr. D. Ivan Young, author of Break up, Don’t Break Down for tips on when it’s OK to contact him, and when you have to just let go.

Here we list the do’s and don’ts of staying friends with an ex.

Don’ts

Don’t enter into a “friendship” if you still feel romantic love.
Scarborough suggests a no-contact rule for at least 90 days after the break-up. “Instead of putting your energy into trying to be friends with the person you just broke up with, put that energy into other relationships like friends and family who you might have neglected a bit during the relationship,” she says.

After 90 days have passed, take a moment to listen to your gut. Can you really be friends with him yet? Will all your past feelings come flooding back if you hang out, even on casual terms? “If something doesn’t feel right,” Scarborough says, “don’t force yourself to be friends with him just because you think it’s the ‘right’ thing to do.” Keep in mind though, that everyone has their own relationship recovery time – you may need less or more than a full 90 days.

Don’t meet for dinner, unless you have a (good!) reason for it.
Meeting for dinner is as close as you can get to an actual date, and it often feels like one if you haven’t made the date or non-date aspect clear. It can be done, though, Dr. Major says, as long as you have ground rules set first. “It’s best if you’re meeting for a specific purpose – like discussing something [other than each other!],” Dr. Major says. It’s also important to keep dinner short, he says. Don’t stay for dessert, extra wine, or coffee afterwards. Dr. Major says, usually when ex couples choose to meet up for dinner it’s their way of seeing if they want to get back together. “There’s nothing wrong with that,” Dr. Major says. “But just be honest with yourself, and about why you’re there.” Definitely don’t send mixed messages! To help keep conversations and meet-ups brief, suggest grabbing a cup of coffee or lunch instead of the more formal dinner.

Don’t expect him to be happy that you’ve found a new guy.
Seeing you with someone else will highlight the fact that “you now have someone doing for you what he wasn’t able to,” Dr. Major says. “Guys are totally task-oriented,” he says. “We don’t like the idea of walking away from something that wasn’t done well.” If your ex is truly interested in staying friends, he may tolerate hearing about your new man, but it’s not something he’ll ever want to know about. Keep the new relationship conversations to a minimum. Better yet, don’t bring it up at all. “Guys have an ego,” Dr. Major says, “and it bruises easily.” Don’t force the new-hook-up conversation on him. If anything, let him bring it to you, suggests Dr. Major.

Don’t do double dates with him… Ever.
According to Scarborough this is a recipe for disaster in almost every case. “If you shared intimate moments with someone, it can be very difficult to see him potentially sharing intimate moments with someone else.” Dr. Major says that what usually ends up happening is “comparison shopping” – analyzing why he’s with that new girl, and what is different about her than you. “It becomes hard to concentrate on having a good time because subconsciously you’re trying to one-up your ex’s date,” Dr. Major says. If he notices your actions and body language, this will probably make your current guy feel bad and uncomfortable too – which is exactly what you don’t want to do if you’re trying to get involved with someone new.

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Do’s

Do “move on.”
Scarborough says that as harsh as it may sound, staying friends with an ex, especially right after the two of you break up, is a form of self-torture. “It’s incredibly rare that two people who’ve had a romantic relationship can smoothly transition into friends without someone feeling more than the other and prolonging the pain of the break-up.” The desire to stay friends with your ex is natural, Scarborough says. You’ve shared so much and they’ve been such a huge part of your life that it’s often hard to imagine life without them. “But that’s just it,” she says, “You have to imagine life without them and start living your life without your ex.”

Dr. D. Ivan Young suggests understanding that most relationships end because they’ve simply run their course. “It’s best that when the season is up, let it go.” If you’re hanging on to the past, you won’t be ready when a new opportunity or relationship presents itself.

Do give the relationship time to breathe.
If you contact each other or try to hang out as friends too soon after a break-up, your brain won’t fully realize that you’ve broken up. It’s still in the habit of dating and will naturally try to fit things back into that mold, Dr. Major says. “If your mind hasn’t fully realized a break-up has happened then your heart certainly doesn’t understand yet.” Take Scarborough’s 90-day rule here, and keep your distance for a while. This means no Facebook stalking too (if at all possible)!

Do find other people to fill in that missing feeling.
Scarborough suggests having a few friends on speed dial to call every time you feel like calling your ex. Make dinner or lunch dates with your girlfriends to help keep you from missing the meals and outings you used to plan with him. “Put people in place to help you through the transition and help you re-examine your priorities,” Scarborough says.

Do realize he needs time to heal as well – probably even more time than you.
For guys, this healing process is even longer. “Anatomically, guys don’t have as direct access to the area of their brains that process deep emotions – like the hurt and anger of a break-up,” Dr. Major says. The average time a guy needs to heal after a break-up is around 4 to 6 months, sometimes even longer. You know you need breathing room after a break-up, but it may actually be more important for him.

Do think about who you are without that person.
“A break-up is a major turning point in your life,” Scarborough says. “Recognize it as one and get excited about the chance to redefine who you want to be next.” Dr. Young says that even bad or failed relationships are good for you. “They teach you what you don’t want, and who you aren’t.”

Do “Be polite. Be Succinct. Be gone.”
This is advice Scarborough gives her clients on Pink Kisses. This is especially important if you’re in classes together, share mutual friends, or move in the same social circles. Show that you’re still a kind person and you don’t want to appear bitter or sour towards him; after all the two of you did share intimate moments at one point. Be courteous in that you can handle a normal, brief, casual conversation with him – don’t bring up new relationships or hook-ups. Simply end the conversation with a “good to see you” and polite wave, and then head out.

A few more Do’s and Don’ts from Dan Lier:

Don’t think that he still [probably] doesn’t want to sleep with you if you just get together to talk.” This is Dr. Major’s point in effect – your ex will want to try to fix what he feels he failed at. The best way to do that (in his eyes): sleep with you again. Again, every situation and break-up is different, but this is definitely something to keep in mind.

Don’t date his best friends… there are enough other people out there (UNLESS, it just happens to be The One).” Sometimes it just happens that there was someone else close to him that was meant for you. Most of the time though, this isn’t the case. Don’t use his friends as a way to stay hanging around him.

Don’t get upset if your ex has a new connection and you don’t.” Everyone takes their own time to heal. Perhaps he’s in this new relationship as a way of getting over you (rebound, anyone?). Realize what may be best for you is spending time with yourself and getting to know what you want differently in your next relationship.

Do keep a positive attitude if you see your ex at a function with someone else.” This is a good time to take Scarborough’s advice as well– Be polite. Be succinct. Be gone.

Do realize that it will never be the same… if you broke up, there’s probably a good reason for that.” There’s no reason to push “fixing” things, or trying to repair the break-up. Although it may not feel that way, there are other good-looking, cute, funny, smart, etc. guys out there. Don’t waste time dwelling on one that didn’t work out.

There’s truth to the song “breaking up is hard to do.” There are ways to get through it, though. Take these do’s and don’ts into account the next time you (or a friend) goes through a break-up. You’ll find yourself happy and back in the game in no time.

Heather is a 2012 graduate of Syracuse University's Newhouse School with a degree in Magazine Journalism. Growing up in southern Vermont, she learned to appreciate the New England small-town life. During her time at SU she served as Editor-in-Chief of What the Health magazine on her college campus and was a member of the Syracuse chapter of ED2010. This summer Heather is exploring the world of digital entrepreneurship at the Tech Garden in Syracuse, NY where she is Co-Founder of Scrapsule.com. Aside from social media and home decor, she loves vintage jewelry, strawberry banana smoothies, running, and autumn in Vermont.
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