Earlier today, I exchanged text messages with my former step daughter, Kelly. I like her very much and respect her opinion. She might be 25 years my junior but in many respects, she's smarter. (By the way, a big shout out to Kelly's mother- and my former nemises- who raised her; she did a fantastic job.) Anyhow, Kelly mentioned her ex boyfriend.
“You’re back together?” I asked.
“We’re friends,” she responded.
Hmmm... yes, friends with the ex.
Which got me to thinking about my experiences with exes. Before I met and married my (now ex) husband, Rob, I had a boyfriend named Dan. We dated for ten months and when we broke up, I was completely done with our romance. I had no bad feelings towards him—we just didn’t work out. I still loved him very much, just not in "that" way. We spent so much time together and he was one of my closest friends and I felt no need to change any of that. The feeling was mutual. Seriously, if someone had paid me loads of money to maintain our former relationship, I wouldn't. But I did, however, want us to continue our deep friendship.
Not long after, I started dating another guy and then I met Rob, who I would later marry. And through it all, Dan and I talked almost every day and we saw each other at least once every few weeks, no strings attached. I had no interest at all in trying to reconcile our relationship but our friendship was amazing, beatiful, and pure. I thought we were both very lucky to have each other.
Rob, on the other hand, had a huge problem with the whole thing. He didn’t trust that our relationship was as innocent as it seemed. My reassurances that there was no romantic connection anymore (nor would there ever be again) fell on deaf ears. One day, Dan brought his daughters over to the new home that Rob and I had recently moved into. Before he left, I gave him a tour of our house. Rob was livid. It was inappropriate and disrespectful, he said. I finally gave up my relationship with Dan because Rob’s feelings trumped my friendship with Dan. Did I do the right thing? I believe yes. In marriage especially, friendships with the opposite sex can be extremely complicated and the marriage must take first priority over other men. But before you say "I do"? Now that's an entirely different story, if you ask me.
So is it possible to be friends with your ex? And, if it is possible, should you? According to Kelly, the answer is yes. I concur (with caveats).
Breaking up sucks even in the best of circumstances. All of a sudden, a guy I shared so much of my life with was… gone. So final. Leaving a very painful and gaping void. Except that void was unnecessary. Could we be “friends”? And what did that mean, exactly?
In my most significant relationships, some of the friendships happened immediately post breakup; others took decades. And in one (yes, ONE), instance, I will never be friends with the man again. Want to guess who that might be? That's right, my ex husband. He stands in a class all his own. He is the one man I picked who was truly a disgusting, evil and hateful man and, truth be told, I cannot fathom ever forging ties with a man who verbally abused me throughout our marriage and lied to me, and then topped it all off by spitting in my face, threatening me, and calling me names in the midest of my cancer diagosis. Nope, I draw the line there. But besides that one exception, I am truly great friends with all the other significant men that have been part of my life.
There's my ex fiance, Kevin. We got engaged in college and then we broke up. I was heartbroken and traumatized by that ending and there wasn't a day that I didn't think about Kevin. We needed a long break. Not because we hated each other but because our love was so strong that there was no way and pure friendship could develop at that time. Flash forward 15 years later, we reconnected and he became one of my closest friends. During my horrific marriage, I often leaned on Kevin for advice and reassurance. After split, he was right there, holding my hand (figuratively), and later we even met for lunch a few times. I think our friendship is fabulous. I tell him that I love him all the time and I mean it.
Then there's my ex, Dan, who I've already written about. We were able to be friends a few weeks after our split. I had to give up the friendship while married to Rob. But after Rob and I split, Dan and I quickly re-established our friendship. I adore him, I really do. He's an awesome dad and a great person. He is also one of the smartest guys I've ever known, with a Bachelors and Masters in nanotechnology from UC Berkeley and a law degree from Michigan. I love talking to him because he's fascinating. loyal, kind, thoughtful and trustworthy. No, I'm not giving him up again.
Tom, the one who got away, is also a great friend. It took us just a few months of "space" before friendship between us was possible. When I left my husband Rob, Tom and I were in contact every day. "Letting you go was one of my biggest mistakes," he said. I needed to hear that. I was going through a really rough time, sick, starting chemo. moving, afraid. Tom brought beauty, hope and joy to my dark world. We saw each other last summer and I realized that while I was no longer madly in love with him, I loved him in a better and more pure way than ever. I felt blessed and lucky.
Even with my first ex husband, Mac, we still can count on each other. I know that in a pinch, he will do whatever he can to help me out. And I reciprocate.
First, let's acknowledge that there are some exes in which trying to develop a friendship is impossible and unhealthy. That said, there are also several exes in which “friendship” is not only possible, it's optimal. But before selecting which friend-type works for you, you need to study your options. I've narrowed it down to three. They are:
1. Friends with Benefits
The relationship is over, except not really. We quickly fall back into the same pattern but without any of the expectations of a real relationship. We are free to date others while still hooking up. The problem is that usually one of us hoped that the “friend” status would change back to “relationship” at some point. And it was heart wrenching knowing or suspecting that one of us was developing real feelings for someone else. I don’t recommend this type of friendship post-split. It prevents one from moving forward and can be incredibly hurtful. In fact, it can really mess with you mentally and emotionally. Sound good? Heck no! Who needs more ex baggage in their life? Not me! (And not you either.)
2. Best Friends
The relationship ends without a lot of fanfare and both of us kept the relationship going almost “as is” minus the sex and expectations. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing when neither of us hoped for something more or better and it didn’t prevent us from meeting someone else. (And, of course, when one of us started dating someone that was intimidated by the friendship, it came to a sad and abrupt end.) The problem is that this kind of friendship takes up lots of time and energy and there is no incentive to meet someone else. It’s sort of like a “real” relationship, except it’s not. If neither of you cares or needs something different, then I suppose it is okay. The reality, though, is that sooner or later, the “best friend” status really needs to end at some point. Sound good? Hmmm… maybe not. Proceed with great caution.
3. Casual Friends
The relationship ends and we’ve taken a long break, yet if we run into each other, it’s okay. And communicating on occasion is acceptable and expected. I think this kind of friendship is healthy and nice. Hatred and animosity is so time consuming, after all.
Forging a friendship with your ex is a great thing-- but only if that friendship doesn’t prevent either of you from moving forward. Otherwise those “friendships” can leave you stagnant, hopeful, disappointed, and hurting for years to come.