Proceed with caution: The dos and don’ts of pursuing a friendship with an ex.
Can we still be friends? It’s likely one of the first questions that come to mind when a relationship ends. At first, post-romance friendship feels like a given, a necessary consolation prize for what was lost.
- Of course we’ll still be in each other’s lives.
- We’ll always be friends.
- I still want to see you.
These niceties always seem genuine. You still must care for each other, right? After all, it was only moments ago when you considered each other soul mates and lovers. How could your entire relationship suddenly shift from deep intimacy to cordial strangers over the course of a singular conversation? It’s unthinkable…
Yet, it might be the only way to ever move on.
Now I know some of you disagree. Some of your exes are now your best friends or remain a significant part of your lives. You, my friends, are special.
For the rest of us, trying to preserve a friendship with our former romantic partners mostly feels messy, complicated, and painful—which is why I sought to understand if it’s really something we should be pursuing in the first place.
According to the experts, friendship with an ex is possible, but there’s a catch.
You must both be willing to admit that you don’t work together as a couple. Maintaining a healthy relationship post-breakup requires both people “to recognize what worked about the relationship and what did not,” says Dr. Christine Selby, a psychology professor at Husson University. If you can also see that “what brought you together was a strong friendship, then it may be possible to reestablish the relationship as a friendship provided there is a clear understanding that neither of you wants to pursue dating [each other] again.”
This is probably the primary reason why I have never succeeded at being real friends with any former flames. It takes me so long to get over heartbreak, most of it spent pining for them to come back, plotting ways for us to reconcile, or seeking psychic guidance on when our paths might cross again. In hindsight, I suspect that these activities actually exacerbated the healing process.
And because of our tendency to pine and plot for past partners, author and clinical psychologist Dr. Sherrie Campbell suggests taking “six months to a year of no contact to fully get over that person” before re-entering their lives as a friend. “This way, you’re through the heartbreak feelings and will be able to handle seeing your ex with another person.” In other words, the key is to avoid feeling jealousy.
(If you’re not OK with seeing your ex with another person after a year, you should probably keep waiting until you are . . . which, in some cases, might be never.)
But What If You Really Can’t Let Your Ex Go?
Look, there’s zero judgment here. I, too, have spent many a Saturday night stalking the social media of loves from yesteryear and imagining Sliding Door-style alternate realities where things actually work out this time. At times, I’ve even attempted to reconnect as “friends”—but my ulterior motives always seem to emerge sooner or later.
If you have also found yourself struggling and convincing yourself that
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