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Should you be friends with the ex?

Posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 in dating, Happiness, Honesty, Relationships

Sean and I went out to dinner at D’Angelo’s on Friday night and as we walked in, I saw Sara sitting with a guy at the bar. I thought she was maybe giving Yoga Man another try, but when we walked up to her and he turned around, I recognized his face right away — it was Gabe, a guy she had a hot an heavy thing with a few years ago before they parted ways.

After some small talk and a round of drinks, we headed to our table and they headed to the movies. But as soon as Sean left the my house the next morning, I called her.

“What in the world are you doing with Gabe? You guys seeing each other again?”

“No, we’re just friends, why?”

“I thought that whole thing ended badly.”

“Not really. We weren’t great lovers but we were always really good friends. So, we get together every now and then. Aren’t you friends with your exes?”   

Actually, no. I’m not friends with most of my ex-boyfriends. Oh, I tried. Most of us have had the “We can still be friends” talk, although whoever says that is usually trying to make the person he or she’s dumping feel better. Sorry, it doesn’t work!

There have been a handful of exes I kept in contact with for a while because I enjoyed them as people and a few as lust objects. But all good intentions to remains friends eventually disappeared when it seemed clear that:

  • they still had feelings
  • I still had feelings
  • a new love was getting tweaked about them
  • we had nothing in common anymore except the fact that we once exchanged bodily fluids

And sometimes we lost the connection because I have just X-amount of free time available, and given my priorities — The Kid, Sean, my girlfriends, my family – and the realities of work and single parenting, I just didn’t have a lot of time and energy to keep those relationships going.

Which can seem kind of weird, especially if you were seeing each other for a while and had a deep connection. And then one day — poof — just like that, you no longer communicate. Still, breakups are rarely happy, pretty things — there’s almost always a lot of crying and Ben & Jerry’s and booze involved.

But for those who do maintain friendships with exes, you have to be pretty clear about why you’re remaining friends. It’s totally OK if you genuinely like each other as people and no longer feel the spark, but if it’s not that, well, what is it?

You better have that figured out, too, because when a new love comes along, you’ll have some ‘splain’ to do. And you’re unsure why you still are friends, then you may find yourself maintaining the friendship on the sly. I’m not sure we have to tell our partner everything, but if you’re not it’s a good idea to understand why you’re not. Even if you do invite an ex to join you and a new love, it can be awkward — you’ve seen each other naked, after all!

So, am I friends with my exes? Not really. The only ex I keep in contact with is Rob, The Kid’s dad — because I have to. But we are hardly friends; we’re just friendly. And I imagine that once The Kid moves out, marries and has kids, Rob and I will only communicate with each other at family celebrations — and nothing like in the movie “It’s Complicated,” either (whose message is, ex-hubby is unhappy with present wife and cheats on her to be with wife he cheated on. Hmmm …).

  • Are you friends with your exes?
  • Why/why not?
  • If so, how have your new loves felt about that?

Bring on the comments

  1. jim
    Twitter: mobilene

    I am friends with exactly one ex. We broke up over 20 years ago. It was not pretty for many of the usual reasons. But she was in my social circles, so we kept bumping into each other. And then she decided to end the awkwardness and just extend the olive branch of friendship. I resisted at first but she hung in there. Now I’m glad she did, because she’s been a great friend. When I’m involved with someone, the first time this friend comes into the picture I explain the story. It is actually a learning moment, because if she is threatened by a girlfriend from 20+ years ago, maybe we’re not a match. (Admittedly, it does help that she lives 800 miles away — she’s not a fixture.)

    I’m not friends with any of my other exes. There’s only one case where a friendship might have been possible if our lives hadn’t moved so radically apart. Otherwise, it’s best for everybody this way.

    My ex-wife and I have, at best, fragile detente. Because we have kids together, it would be better if we could manage better than that. But for us to be friends after the hell we went through together is just impossible.

  2. My soon-to-be ex-husband and I are trying to be friendly, like you said, since we have two kids. But no way will we ever be friends. We weren’t even friends in the marriage.

    I have never maintained any relationship, friendly or otherwise, with an ex-lover…except for a brief cyber affair with a boyfriend from my first year of college (22 years ago). And that didn’t end well, due to the…er…circumstances. So we won’t be hanging out for a drink anytime soon.

  3. Allison says:

    We’re friendly, but not friends. I’m facebook friends with a couple of my ex-boyfriends (and one of their wives too) but there are a bunch who I don’t even keep up with on facebook. The ones I am friendly with were the relationships that ended well, with just the “there’s no spark here anymore” type of thing. The ones that blew up and ended badly, no way. Even though I don’t have hard feelings for most of them any more, I also don’t want to keep in touch.

  4. Chopper Papa
    Twitter: chopperpapa

    I think it depends on the relationship that was had. If it was a FWB benefits relationship then yes I think that can happen, as it was with me. But if it was a emotional and spiritual relationship then I think that is much harder and takes 2 very mature and confident individuals to pull that off. Because ususally one of them is thinking that ‘maybe…..’. Or they are looking for a frequent flier f$@k…..Personally I am not friends with any of my ex’s that was a shipped that sailed the day we said good bye.

  5. Aleya Bamdad says:

    There was only one ex that I ever kept in touch with and five years later we got married. While we were just friends, when other guys I dated heard about him, they would get weirded out and I understood that so I tried to assure them that there were no feelings at all between us. However, whenever I would run into one of my other exes, it was always awkward. Funny how things work out.
    Oh and I tried to submit to your RSS feed a couple of times and it doesn’t seem to be working. Is there a way for you to add meon your side?

  6. The Observer says:

    After 35 years with the same spouse…I’m not sure any of the exes are even alive. I’ve made a few friends of the opposite sex–usually through social websites that knew some of my past loves…but they weren’t close enough to know what happened to them either. Sometimes it just dies out. I did look up an ex while I was still in college and the conversation was pretty dead. Death predominates, apparently. I’d like to think that if I did run into Rita or Sue or Carla or Julie or Rhonda or Nichole or Jean or Wendy or Winnie or the other two Sues or Noreen that we’d be able to share a couple of laughs at my expense and both walk away thinking “…glad that never worked out…”.

  7. Edgar says:

    Well, the last ex called the police when I tried to take my furniture along with me to my new abode, after she kicked me out of her life. So, no, we’re not friends, although I do keep in touch with her ex-husband, to find out how their kids are doing.

    I do have friendships with former lovers and significant others, because we did and still do have many things in common (including their kids whom I helped raise and the other friends in our circles). Some are closer friendships than others, while there are some exes with whom I haven’t spoken a word after the breakup (generally the more tumultuous splits.) My current sweetheart generally likes the exes still in my life, although she certainly understands why they are exes and not currents.

  8. Miss Conduct says:

    This is not my noblest sentiment, but it pisses me off when a guy wants to dump me but remain “friends.” I read this as him saying “I want you to continue to emotionally nurture me, while I bang these other chicks.” Maybe I perceive it that way because in my younger days that’s what _I_ meant by “let’s stay friends!!” I’m embarrassed that I was so self-centered then, but not enough to volunteer ongoing emotional support to someone who doesn’t want to be with me.

    If you’re not compatible enough to be in a relationship anymore, what basis is there for friendship? What do people mean by that term?

  9. BloggyDaddy says:

    This is my first visit to your blog and I think this was a pretty good article for provoking some thought. I think about it in two different terms. I’m friendly but not friends like you said with my ex-wife, because I have to having had a son together. On the other hand I broke up with a woman last July and she consistently texts and is trying to maintain our friendship but I know she wants more. I’m sure I don’t but I like her as a person, however I keep her at arm’s length because I don’t want to hurt her feelings. It’s a tough call and not always black and white.

  10. Kat Wilder says:

    Jim — that’s nice to have an ex friend for 20 years. I do think the distance helps your new galfriends, too!

    Segway — even a cyber friendship has “circumstances”? Oh dear!

    Allison — I forgot to ask about Facebook friends. But, are they even friends if you only “see” them cyberly?

    Chopper Papa — FWB is a whole other category. Nice to have for a while, but it never lasts long.

    TO — LOL! Yes, often when we run into a former almost-flame, we do have to take a giant, “Whew! Dogged that bullet!”

    Edgar — the cops? Well, if nothing else, it’s a great story to tell a new love and at cocktail parties.

    Miss Conduct — it pisses me off when a guy wants to dump me but remain “friends.” I read this as him saying “I want you to continue to emotionally nurture me, while I bang these other chicks.” LOL! You’re probably right!

    BloggyDaddy — welcome! That’s a tough situation, especially since:
    1. you broke up with her, and
    2. you know she wants more
    You have to set our boundaries, though, or at some point, when you least want it, it could blow up and be ugly. It’s not your responsibility to take care of her emotions and needs. Good luck (and tell me how it goes)

  11. T
    Twitter: tsquest

    Hmmm… I’m friends with all of my exes (not many, I should say) except one. And because he isn’t my friend, it pisses me off. I know it’s all for good reason… Perhaps one day I’ll get over it.

    And now that I read CP’s comment, perhaps that’s why I’m able to be friends with exes. They were more like FWB’s than real true long lasting relationships.

    “Friendly but not friends” with my ex-husband? Yeah, I can relate to that remark too.

  12. Kat Wilder says:

    Should you be #friends with your #ex?

  13. Nicole says:

    The only ex that I’m friends with is my son’s father.
    And I’m not even sure I could consider him an ex other than the fact that we were friends that, as you said, “once swapped bodily fluids.”
    Other than when we were still figuring things out after our son was born, we’ve remained pretty good friends – enough that we’ll have an occasional beer and crash at each others’ places (separately of course) and spend holidays together, with both of our families in tow.

    I tried being friends with my high-school sweetheart… it went well for a few months but it ended badly, for pretty much all of the reasons you stated above.

    Really great post!