Lots of people strongly advise against trying to stay friends after you break up with someone, but I’ve never really seen it as an issue. I’m on friendly terms with all but a couple of people that I’ve dated, and while it sometimes takes a bit of effort, I haven’t regretted it at all. Here’s how I make it work:
All of my relationships start out as friendships.
This is more of a coincidence than a deliberate technique, but I have a hard time dating people who didn’t start off as my friends. Yes, it sometimes makes things complicated when things go south, but it also makes it easier to stay friends if the relationship fails because we already know what it’s like to be strictly platonic friends.
We go through “what if” scenarios before things get serious.
I’m all about open communication, so when the first hint of a sexual or romantic relationship pops up, I sit down with the person and have a frank discussion about how we’ll handle things if the relationship doesn’t work out. If I get the impression that they’d try to make our friends pick sides or that they’d create drama, I peace out immediately. I only date people who I believe are mature enough to stay civil after a breakup, which helps if we share the same social circle and need to have pleasant interactions after the dust has settled.
I go no-contact when the breakup happens.
As hard as it is to cut all ties with someone you care about, it’s often necessary after a breakup. This is the most volatile time after splitting with a partner, and as hard as it is, I know that I could never hope for a friendship with an ex if we don’t get the time and space we need from each other. Even if the split was amicable, temporarily blocking their number and social media accounts is a healthy way to let our emotions settle before attempting a friendship again.
I make sure we’re both okay before attempting friendship again.
When I feel like enough time has passed and my emotions are in a good place, I’ll either reach out to my ex or let them reach out to me. We’ll grab coffee and talk things over, and if I feel like either of us is still hanging onto hope that things will work out between us, I’ll wait a while longer before trying to rekindle our friendship. It’s super important that there aren’t any lingering feelings left over, otherwise, at least one person is setting themselves up for heartache if we try to be friends again.
I ease back into the friendship slowly.
Diving right into hanging out on the weekends and playing video games at each other’s houses is tempting (hey, we miss each other’s company after all) but a terrible idea. Developing a healthy friendship again takes time, and I make sure that most of our initial interactions take place in group settings, and I keep texting conversations limited on time and emotional depth. There may eventually come a time when we’re closer to being the BFFs that we once were, but in order to get there, I know we have to treat this like it’s a brand new friendship.
I make sure everything stays platonic.
No friends-with-benefits nonsense here — I know if I want to have a legitimate and lasting friendship with an ex, there are lines we absolutely can’t cross. It’s obviously tempting sometimes to send late-night texts or give encouraging responses to flirty comments, but I know the smart thing is to hold myself back and shut down any romantic or sexual attempts from them. Otherwise, we’ll just end up right back where we started, possibly with even more drama and heartache.
I regularly check in with myself about my feelings.
In addition to being honest with my ex, I have to be honest with myself. If I know I’m only staying friends with my ex because I’m hoping that we’ll work things out and live happily ever after, I force myself to create distance between us until I’m completely romantically detached. I also make sure that I’m not lying to myself about how I perceive my ex’s intentions either — if I think that they’re maintaining a friendship with me with ulterior motives in mind, I have to stay away from them for their sake and mine.
I don’t let my friendship with the ex affect future relationships.
I’m not blind to how messy it can be to stay friends with an ex when you’re dating someone else. If I feel that my friendship is making my new partner insecure or that I worry about talking about my new partner with my ex for fear of making them jealous, I know I have to dial things back. Most of my partners aren’t insecure about me maintaining casual friendships with people I’ve dated before, but that’s because I’m extremely careful about making sure my current partner is my priority.
If things start to get weird, I create distance.
I haven’t stayed friends with all my exes, and I’m fine with that. There have been a few who have complicated our friendship by trying to convince me to get back together with them or suddenly getting clingy when I start dating someone new, and when that happens, I know I need to cut them off. As much as it sucks sometimes, I know that I’d never let a “normal” friendship become toxic like that, and I’m not making an exception for an ex.
I don’t force a friendship for the sake of it.
In multiple cases, my friendships with exes have ended not in a dramatic fight, but the same way lots of other friendships do — we just drift apart. Maybe we’ll still follow each other on social media, but we won’t have conversations that extend beyond “happy birthday” messages. I don’t get upset when this happens — it’s normal for two people to move in separate directions, and I’m not going to keep trying to stay buddies with someone just because we dated once upon a time.
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