It started with my college beau: Before we began our tumultuous five-year relationship, we were friends first. It made dating easy, because we shared a group of friends, but it also made breaking up (like, 29 times) brutal, because we shared a group of friends. Once the relationship was finally, finally over, he became my ghost of relationships past. I kept comparing other guys to him and defaulting back to him whenever I was in a rut - which was easy to do since we remained friends and didn’t completely sever our romantic ties in the six or so years following college.
I’ve always had a hard time letting go - you know, leaving the friendship behind when the relationship goes south, since, typically, friendship was the root of the relationship in the first place. To this day, I count almost every ex-boyfriend and fling as a friend, regardless of who did the dumping.
No matter who breaks up with whom, maintaining a friendship after the relationship ends can validate what you had in the first place. After all, there was a reason you spent intimate time together. And for me, it’s a coping mechanism: If we remain good friends, then we haven’t completely failed.
So, I asked around to see if my friends feel the same way: When it comes to relationships, can ex-lovers ever be just friends?
“If it was a good relationship, but just wasn’t the right time or person, then why not remain close?” asks David, 37. “The way I look at it, [an ex has] been part of the journey of my life. It’s always nice to keep people whom you have been close with - emotionally and intimately - around you to make you feel safer.” David is engaged now and getting married this summer.
Another friend who’s getting married this summer, Andy, 32, feels differently. “You can be friends with your exes - until you’re engaged,” he says. “But it depends on what you and your significant other are comfortable with, and you have to respect his or her wishes since you’re with that person now and forever.”
Adam, 32, who’s been married for six years, agrees with Andy. “Continuing in a relationship with an ex while trying to nurture a new relationship with someone else is, more often than not, an unhealthy choice,” he says. “It can often lead to confusion for you, the new [girlfriend or boyfriend], and the ex - on many levels.”
But some say staying friends with exes has helped them in their subsequent relationships. “I am friends with every ex since high school,” says Jennifer, 33. “The two I loved the most and came closest to marrying are the ones who give me the best advice, encouragement, and self-esteem boosts.”
Robin, a single 32-year-old, agrees. “One of my best friends in the world is an ex; we dated on and off for a couple of years,” she says. “His friendship has never affected any [of my] relationships post-him. It’s nice to have an ex as your best friend, because they know you so well and are totally honest with you.”
Sometimes remaining friends lessens the burden for the dumper. “I tend to be the dumper more than the dumpee, so, from my end, friendship is not only easy, but it tends to make me feel less guilty,” says Mags, 24. “But if, God forbid, I do open up and get hurt, I doubt staying friends would be an option.”
Other relationships feed off the jealousy. “I stayed friends with an ex,” says a married friend I’ll call Susan, 32. “It was great leverage when I first dated Steven. He was so jealous whenever the ex and I would hang out together. The best part is, he maintained a close friendship with his ex of five years. I never showed any jealousy over their friendship-relationship. That also drove him crazy.”
What do you think? Can exes remain friends?