The Ex-Factor

Confession: I’m a serial monogamist. Out of the past 12 years, I’ve spent maaaaybe two of those single and prowling the town (and by ‘single and prowling the town’ I mean ‘not understanding that you’re hitting on me/avoiding eye contact with interested parties/dating men five years younger than me with adjectives for names.’)However. As I’m not married, the math here would indicate that I’ve left ten years worth of ex-boyfriends in my wake. Now, it’s not as dramatic as all of that: five years were devoted to a college sweetheart, three to another man, and a few year/year and a half relationships thrown in there for good measure.

Now what does one dooooo with that sort of thing? It seems a pity to spend such a big portion of your life with someone, to become so enmeshed in their families and dreams and then – because things don’t work out on the romantic front – cut them out of your life. But break-ups, no matter how friendly or mutual, are hard. And it’s hard to see someone who was your Special Someone, become someone else’s Special Someone.

I’m friendly with my various exes: we comment on each other’s facebook pages, meet for drinks if they’re in town. My college sweetheart and I are special buddies – I set him up with his current girlfriend and called him whining when I moved back to America from New Zealand and didn’t know how to cope. (He was the only other person I knew in Minnesota who’d been through something similar). I hang out with his sisters regularly and like to consider myself their pseudo-cousin.

But what if you want to be real, true, actual friends with your ex? Like ‘let’s hang out in our sweats’ friends? ‘Call just to catch up’ friends? ‘Catch a Sunday matinee’ friends? Is it possible? Can you be really close and emotionally intimate with someone that you used to date? What about when you’re both seeing other people? What are your relationships like with your exes?

48 Comments

Michi

I've remained friends with most of my exes. I have met them occasionally for lunch or a coffee.

I don't see most of them now because our lives have taken different direction, but that has happened with several other friends too.

My last boyfriend and I are good friends. We call to catch up, we go out ocasionally, sometimes just both of us, sometimes with other friends. But I wouldn't like to see him with another girl, though.

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T

UGH.

My ex wants us to be friends like this, and I can't think of anything worse to do with myself. Especially since he moved on so quickly (within 2 weeks, that f*ck) and left me fat, poor and depressed.

Jerk.

We're meant to be hanging out later on in the month, god help me.

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Magatha-May

hmmm…

This one is a little tricky. I have remained friends with some of my ex's. I even attended one of their weddings – and it was one of the most fun days I've ever had.

It seems to me that the longer the relationship, the harder it is to just stay friends without getting upset over certain things. I was in a 7 year relationship with a guy that I just couldn't stay friends with. We just had too much history to go back to the friend stage. I've just gotten out of a 5 year relationship a few months ago, and both of us want to remain friends. I know that it will be tough to do though. And I don't want to even consider how I'm going to feel if he starts dating someone else.

But – this is where I need to get my head around the situation and realise that I'm not dating him anymore. I don't get to be part of that part of his life, if I did I would be still dating him.

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Sarah Von Bargen

Hmmm, I think ex-friendships are probably more likely to work if:

a) both parties are 100% over the relationship and no one is quietly hoping that all this 'friending' will lead to getting back together

b) if both people want to be friends, the "dumpee" (awful word!) should choose when/how/why the be-friending happens. Usually the 'dumper' is over it preeeettty quickly and might be all "and now we're BFFs!" three days later.

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Elizabeth.

Mine range from good friends to "I hate you, you ruined my life and I never want to see you again."

I don't know what that says about me. But everyone's got that one ex that they avoid like the plague? That they move interstate to avoid having to see ever again? Right?

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Miss Peregrin

I can't say that I have any experience in being friends with ex's – probably not surprising since one sexually assualted me, and the other is now in jail (I've got a good eye right?). I think it would be possible to be "hang in our sweats" friends though, but only so long as both parties are completely over the relationship. If one party secretly hopes for the rekindling of a romantic relationship, then I don't think it could really work.

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Anonymous

The other day I was upset because I had just broken up with my boyfriend and had gone terribly. I was talking to my ex at the time and he could tell that I was upset. I eventually told him what was bothering me and not only did he make me feel better he spent the next two days and nights making sure that I wasn't blaming myself for anything. When I mentioned to my friend who was helping with me with my most current ex they got weirded out. So then I asked him if it was weird. His reaction "No. Is it weird that it isn't weird?"
He's held my hair back, made me food and brought my movies when I was sick. He picks me up whenever I need him too and he always asks me how my day is.
He's my best friend.

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neon panda

I too am a serial monogamist. Which means that I don't reeeeally have all that experience in dealing with break-ups, given that I have only experienced one. The one that I have experienced tho? We are catch a matinée together friends. In fact, we did catch a matinée together a few months after we broke up.

But getting to that point was not easy. There was alot of insulting and calling of new gf's whore's in front of those gf's… (two of which I now consider to be my best friends- I apologized to them of course. In fact, It took me around 4 months of not hearing his name before I could bear to face him without throwing up. Ah. young adults and our violent emotions…

But you know what? after I took that little sojourn from his company we could still hang out and have honest conversations about romantic issues and such.

I have two friends who broke up and tried to get to the BFF stage way to fast tho, and it has ruined their relationship. I think it had something to do with the fact they did not match requirement "a" up there…

I think "a" and giving it time are very important.

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Cara

I completely agree with a) and b) points sarah. The only thing I would add is how it ended, in my experience, usually determines whether or not you can become friends. With the exes of mine that ended because we were growing apart, it was much easier to remain friends, and I still talk with them to this day. With exes that end because of reasons I still have trouble accepting (which also means I have not completed step a) being friendly is a huge challenge. I still attempt it because I believe it is important for me to not have that resentment and be the bigger person, but its definitely an emotional challenge (and one that I know a number of my friends would not support, it's very easy to tell others to write the ex out of your life, its harder to actually do that when you shared so much together)

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superalzy

I don't talk to any of my exes. It's better to have a clean break sometimes, but I do miss the deep, supernatural, cinema-esque relationship I had with my most recent ex. I often fantasize about just hanging out as friends. Could I do it? Could he do it? Could I handle being around him if/when he finds a new girlfriend?

He was my best friend for so long and I don't know if anyone will ever know me or get me like he did. I miss that part most especially.

Time will tell, I suppose…

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Caitlin

Interesting that you post this article this week…
Yes I think it is possible. I'm still really close friends with my High School sweetheart, and in touch with most of the others.
The thing is, it's not something that can happen right away in most cases. and it also depends on the reasons that the pair split.
HS BF and I took a good year or two to develop the relationship we have now, but he's someone I could call up just to talk to, or hang out and watch TV with and his family is always happy to see me as I am them. my 2nd BF was an asshole, but we still say hi on facebook every so often, my 3rd was a Long distance thing and I saw him for the first time in 4 years last October. It was good to see him again and we have stayed in touch for all those years and will continue to. The 4th I just ended contact with last week. it was more trouble than it was worth to be his friend. and I just recently stopped dating this guy I've been seeing for about 4 months because of distance and busy lives.
That last one is a toughy because we both want to be together, he just doesn't have the time to devote to a relationship right now, so I'm staying friends with him because 1) I enjoy his friendship and 2) because I don't want to burn bridges for future opportunities. It's gonna be difficult to be just his friend, but I'm going to try. Hopefully I won't have to be Just his friend for a long time. but we'll just have to see.
Point being, it's entirely possible to stay friends with someone, but like any relationship it takes a little time and you have to be willing to make it work sometimes.

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Gene

I dunno really. It depends on if both parties can handle that sort of thing. Also, I'm now married and I really wouldn't want to have a close friendship with an ex-girlfriend. Sure, jealousy is thought of by many as a petty emotion, but it's a very real emotion and I wouldn't want my wife to go through that because I was innocently hanging out with an ex. I wouldn't want to create disharmony in an otherwise deep and rich relationship.

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penn

I am "friends" with one of my exes. I actually like his wife better than him, and it's sometimes unbelievable that I dated him. The hard part is that our relationship was not so great, and it's hard to let some of that pain go.

Another thing that makes our friendship difficult, and a big reason why I'm debating "breaking up" as friends, is because he just can't let go. He was controlling in our relationship, and he still tried to get like that from time to time. Also, if we happen to meet new people when we're hanging out, he'll tell them we're exes. This was especially galling when I was home over Christmas, as he hooked me up with some professional observations at his workplace but then went on to talk about our relationship with his coworkers. Very embarrassing! I'd prefer to say "we were buddies in college" and leave it at that.

Other than that, I'm facebook friendly with one ex and don't talk at all with the other two. If it were up to me, I likely wouldn't talk to any of my exes at all. There's a reason why they're not a big part of my life anymore, and I would rather just move on.

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penn

I should add:

I think it's probably better to "get over it" and remain friends if you live in the same town as all your exes. I don't, so I think that simplifies matters. I lived in the same general area as my high school ex for awhile, and I still hung out with the same circle of friends as I did. There were definitely a few awkward times where we both got invited to something and had to be polite. I'm really glad I don't live in the same area as him anymore.

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That Kind of Girl

If I say I'm reasonably sure that you can be sweats'n'matinee besties with your ex, it's only because I'm in a current situation with mine. We had probably the most civil break-up in history; we parted basically out of love for each other (the relationship was holding back my attempts at a writing career; he hadn't dated anyone before and I didn't want him to feel trapped with his first love), so there was no bitterness.

Then again, my results might be tainted by the fact that I'm beginning to suspect we might not actually be broken up for good. So actually, in conclusion: I know nothing about exes.

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That Gal Kiki

I try to smoke the peace pipe with them; I only had two serious relationships and it's me who tries to stay in touch. Email is good for that. I actually invited my last ex and his new girl to a birthday dinner of mine and it went well.

I agree with you — 100% over in your heart — that's the only way to be emotionally stable enough to handle being friends with an ex.

Love for humanity does not stop because the romance did.

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andrea

oh man. what a timely post! i'm going through this now. i dated a guy last year for eight months– not a super long time, obviously, but it was my most significant relationship in a while because I Tend To Be Picky and hadn't found someone that i liked that much in a long long time.

the reason we broke up was straight up logistics. he applied to graduate school before we met, and a couple months into the relationship told me that he didn't want to do long distance, but wanted to date till he left. (he'd been burned in the past.)because i wasn't into long distance either, i agreed. so we broke up as about the happiest couple ever, and it's been HARD.

luckily, we're still in touch, he's becoming great friends with some of my college friends in NY, and i just saw him over christmas. but there was definitely a "more than friends" line crossed, and i have no idea how to be just friends with someone i still care so much about, and know he feels at least somewhat the same. but i'm trying to be patient and see how everything unfolds. oh, life!

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Katie

I'm quite good friends with one particular ex. In fact, when I was back in my home city over Christmas with my new beau – we all went and had a drink together.

But that doesn't mean I don't still obsess over what to wear to these "catch-ups" just to make sure that I'm still holding the upper hand!

Katie @ http://thedisappearingangel.blogspot.com

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Sarah

I'm friends with one ex, not friends with another, and struggling to find friendship with a third. I think it only works if there was a mutual understanding that a romantic relationship was not going to work anymore.

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lili

That sounds like my life for the last 10 years (before meeting the mister). particularly with my last ex where we started out as friends and really became invested in each other's families, lives, and futures (just not a future together, obviously). we tried to remain friends after but it was pretty difficult.

I don't know if exes can ever be friends. Maybe years away from the relationship because it's best to be as far removed from any of the hang-ups you still had as possible. You wouldn't want them to resurface and taint a budding friendship.

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Julia Pearce

Every boyfriend I've ever had always ends up being a total douche bag. My high school boyfriend told me he still wanted to be my friend literally 2 minutes after breaking up with me. I needed time to regroup myself and apparently that meant that I "hated his guts". So I spent the next month or so having people tell me that he was saying nasty things about me all over the school. Needless to say, I was not happy. I retaliated the best I could and eventually one thing led to another and we became mortal enemies. This was my sophomore year of high school and we never spoke after that year. OF course I had to see him EVERY day at school for two more years. Graduation day was one of the best days of my life because I never had to see his face again.

After numero uno douche face ex-boyfriend, I casually dated a few guys. One relationship lasted all of 2 weeks. Another was a summer fling. Another sort of fizzled for a long time but never really lead anywhere. I never stayed friends with any of them.

I guess I'm the type of person that just can't handle friendly relationships after romantic ones. Once it's over it's pretty much over forever. Because my philosophy is that you never truly stop loving someone. Yeah, they may have hurt you and you hate them with a fiery hot passion, but deep down you still have that piece of them you fell in love with.

Call me a hopeless romantic but that's my opinion. Maybe these relationships never worked out because I was too young… I guess I won't know until someone else comes along. I would love to say that I am still friends with some of my exes, but alas, I am not.

Julia @ http://juliamaypearce.blogspot.com/

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Beth

I fall into the "absolutely not, under no circumstances" category… Maybe it's because I'm the one who always does the breaking up, & I don't do it until I am super fed-up with all of their bullshit.

This may backfire at me this semester, though, as one of my exes is the fight choreographer for a play I am working on. I'm hoping to be able to get away with just having conversations about the footwork and not standing anywhere NEAR him at parties… but we all know how well that works, right?

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Kimbirdy

In my experience, it depends on the amount of time that has gone by, how the break-up went down, and how deep the relationship was. I think personalities and deliberate choices around forgiveness and moving on also play a big role.

I think it's possible, because i know of one good example of ex's that are now best friends and both married to other people. But I do think it's incredibly rare to have a close friendship. I think it can be more common, though, to have casual friendships with ex's.

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tyrwhitt ali

Ahhhh a subject close to my heart. I am very good friends with one of my ex's. We went out for a couple of years at Uni and had so many mutual friends that we had to find someway of being civil to each other. In the end, we were flatmates for a couple of years, which some people found very strange, but we never felt any weirdness. To be honest, we were more like brother and sister.

Howvever, those years of flat sharing were fairly barren years relationship wise for me (but not for him). I do wonder whether the fact that I've lived alone for the last 18 months and am now in my most promising relationship for a long time is purely coindicidental.

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Michelle

My ex of four years and I are best friends to this day, because we realized that while the romantic spark of our relationship had begun to fizzle, our friendship had only grown stronger. He talks about his issues with his current gf and I, well, gloat about my L. (not really a lot to complain about there!), and we see matinees and go out to dinner and see each other on holidays when we're both home from college. But we're the only two people who understand it, and everyone else thinks we're complete anomalies.

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Lauren

My ex-boyfriend is now my best friend. We lived together (just as friends!) for two years after we broke up. We're now both with other people, but it seemed a waste to just basically abandon someone I loved so much and had been through so much with, even if our relationship had changed. But yeah, he's a friend I can hang out in my sweats with. I accept that we might be oddballs though!

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JoAnna

You can probably start by not considering your relationship with them a "waste." If you do, you're more likely to try to figure out "what went wrong," have hard feelings about the whole thing, and try to fix it when you start spending time together.

If, on the other hand, you see it as a learning experience, you're more likely to look at the relationship like you would any other experience. Say, like high school. There was good and there was bad (a lot of bad), but ultimately high school is behind you. You're a different person because of it.

Then again, I'm not friendly with any of my exes… but I'm also okay with that. I wouldn't want to go back to high school.

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Kylie

I have one ex who, like you, is sort of a pseudo-cousin to me now. I still feel like a part of their family 5 years later and I care about all of them a lot. There are no hard feelings between us and while we don't hang out often, when we do we have fun. I think the reason we were able to stay friends like this is because we genuinely love each other, even though we are no longer in love. The connection that we have is rare, so it would be a pity to let it go to waste just because we don't work on a romantic level.

All of my other exes, though, I don't really speak to. Breakups were messy, and I've moved on and realized they really aren't the kind of people I want in my life anyway.

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Gabby F.

Hmm.. It's definitely possible, but it really depends on the type of breakup. My ex broke up with me in a very clear way–with another woman.

Regardless, we still talk, and on our more sympathetic days discuss our everyday problems, including relationship ones. At the end of the day I still remember him as my best friend. But closer than that? Sharing more secrets, seeing each other every day? In my case, it would be a question of trust. But otherwise I think it can be possible.

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michelle

i've only remained friends with one of my exes. my high school boyfriend is my absolute bestest best friend, and i can't imagine not having him in my life. it hasn't always been a smooth relationship, but we've grown together over the last 12ish years. we're kinda will and grace at this point 🙂

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stephanie

omg i don't talk to any of my exes. too uncomfortable & awkward. plus i'm pretty certain they all hate my guts. well, at least the last one does.

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Chrissy

Personally, I can't… Once I stop seeing that person, that is it for me.. No going back and being friends… I've got a lawyer friend who keeps trying to get me to see him and he knows i am involved… I have told him, I move forward, I don't look back…
Now, I can be good friends w/men that I have not become involved with.Some men do not think u can be friends w/males and not be intimate, I can…

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Nahl

I doubt you can be "actual" friends with an Ex. To a limit, friendships with them is possible..but not the kind where you can let down your gaurd. Great post, btw.

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.polyana.

it's funny you posted this today sarah.

my boyfriend and i just broke up last night. and i've been a mess crying in the office and overall upset but trying to keep my head up. we were growing apart and emotionally not on the same page as the other.

we discussed the possibility of becoming friends and i said i didn't know what i wanted at this point.

reading what you all have had to say has really helped 🙂

i think i'm going to take some time to get over him, then when i know i'm 100% not in love with him anymore, i'll try to become friends – i guess it IS possible and i hope things work out for the best!!

thank you ladies!!!

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Catherin

I once got some good advice: "question your motivations". I think that applies to this type of scenario – just so long as each person understands why being friends is important to them.

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Kelly

I would say absolutely you can. While I'm on friendly terms with almost all my exes, there is one that I have a real friendship with. Sadly he has moved away for school, but before he did we were watch-movies-in-sweats, play-scrabble-with-roomates-on-sunday-afternoon and go-on-double-dates-together friends. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that we were friends for a long time before we dated (so we had a non-romantic base to fall back on) and the fact that when we were together, neither of us thought it was going to be forever. We were pretty open about, and OK with, the fact that neither of us were making big plans that included each other. So after about 9 months of dating we called it quits. For about a month I tried to make a point to not see each other, because I didn't want things being weird or messy. But after a while I just thought "this is stupid, we are friends and I am not devastated by our breakup because I always knew it was coming" so we pretty much picked up a friendship soon after the breakup and we have been good friends ever since.

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TheWreckage

Well, my most recent ex was the biggest jerk ever and I should never have dated him, let alone be friends once I finally gathered up the courage to end our two year relationship. However, the boy I dated before Jerkface is my best friend in the whole world. In fact, he's my person. We hang out almost every day, broke into my house once when I didn't answer my phone the whole day because I'd lost consciousness in the shower (and dried me off, dressed me, drove me to the hospital, stayed with me overnight), I've seen him through his past girlfriends and we buy two tickets for everything, concerts, hockey games, movies, one for me and one for him. We even made out once (hammered, of course) right after my break up with Jerkface, and it wasn't even awkward. I don't refer to it has friendship. I usually just call it awesome.

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Hammy

I know a few people who are really closes with their exes, though they weren't in serious relationships. Then again I know some ex-couples who refuse to be in the same room as each other. I guess it depends on the reason for the split and how well people can hold a grudge.

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sjb

I only have one noteworthy ex (from an 8 year relationship). He broke up with me and had a new girlfriend almost right away, which didn't bother me all that much except that I didn't want to hang out with them together and watch them be all lovey. We have a lot of overlap among friends so there was a little social finagling the first few months; but we also hung out and had dinner by ourselves on a regular basis. It seemed stupid to toss away nearly a decade's worth of best friendship just because the romance didn't work out. Two days ago he broke up with the new girlfriend, after telling me how he had spent the last month+ crying on a regular basis because of how much he missed being with me. I had pretty much just gotten my head around a life without him, and now I am very, very confused. But I think it's safe to say we never stopped being best friends and that's probably why things are turning out like this. Consider this a cautionary tale, perhaps?

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somewhere else

This is an interesting one, the only boyfriend I've had is from Paris (I'm Australian) and when we were dating, he made me promise that no matter what, when I finally made it to Paris, he'd show me around etc. but now, I just don't know? I'm fine with being friends with him but I don't want to start something up again, that's for sure.

ALSO I'm struggling to think of adjective names. Put me out of my misery?

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Megan

I think the best thing about my marriage is being with a man who is friends with his exes, just like I am friends with mine. Because it has been in my experience that if you don't both understand this concept IT WILL NEVER WORK OUT.

I am close to most of my exes; the ones I am not are because they aren't the kind of person who could ever be friends with an ex or I was pretty green in the dating world and thought I could never be friends with an ex. As I've grown older (and, um, more experienced in the dating world) I have learned a lot more about not completely poisoning a relationship where there is nothing left to salvage.

Though most exes live out of state, we talk often on the phone and share in our accomplishments and general complaints. I consider them good friends and see them whenever they come through town. We talk about the current relationships we're in and we truly want the best for each other.

But that said…I don't think I could ever be a "real, true friend" in that sweats wearing way you referenced. I mean, that's what I have a husband for, ha. But even when I was single I think I kept that kind of intimacy to close girlfriends; when I'm that comfortable around a guy we are probably getting it on. And I think that essentially makes a relationship special to me – private moments that I'm only willing to share with someone I am in love with.

Oooookay that was a big ramble but I hope it helped?

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Jane

Its so interesting that you blogged about this, as I just sent a flash email to my bff saying, that I missed my ex, hanging out with him, and as I study for one of my graduate courses I can't help but wonder what he'd think about the topics. I MISS MISS MISS the intellectual conversations. I don't however miss a majority of the issues on our relationship front. But can I have my cake and eat it too?

I think I can't, because I know him. And knowing him, allows me to be 100% aware that if I give him friendship, he's going to want a ring on my finger. There is no middle ground. And even if there was, I would always be wondering if his intentions were not the same as mine.

The truth is, I don't think I can be friends with him without hurting HIM, not me.

And thats ultimately what hurts.

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RazorCandy

I think it depends on the situation and whether someone still has feelings for the other person. I have one ex I stayed friends with (and went to his wedding!) but that was a very short relationship and we had been good friends before we dated.

My First University Boy moved away and we still sort of keep in touch via facebook.

My most recent two exes … I don't talk to. In both cases I am the one who ended things, but I just feel stressed and blue around them so there's no point.

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j.lowe

It's amazing to see this posted, as just a couple of weeks ago I met up with my ex for the first time in a little over a year since things went downhill after a mutual break-up.

It's also interesting, given the title of your blog: yes and yes – like saying yes to life and its opportunities, right? And I wholeheartedly endorse that. But I do wonder, at what point does saying yes to a friendship to an ex really mean saying no to what's best for you? Sometimes you have to say no in order to truly say yes to yourself.

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