I consider myself a pretty nice person, even-tempered, and pleasant most of the time. Before my marriage, when I was doing a bit of dating, my break-ups happened with a serious conversation, not a shouting match. For awhile, my break-up spiel would end with the following phrase: “Let’s just be friends.”
Why not? I thought. This relationship isn’t working out, but perhaps we can still hang out. And, I figured, I wasn’t the kind of person to cut people out of my life just because we weren’t seeing each other.
That was the younger, more carefree me. A host of hurt feelings and several mistakes with people I was no longer dating later, I believe that more often than not a clean break is the wisest, most caring thing you can do.
I do have a few friends who have ended long-term dating relationships and stayed friends with their ex. It’s mind-blowing to me, but clearly it’s possible. But before you decide to transition from a couple to a pair of pals, I encourage you to answer the following questions.
1. Do I still have feelings for him/her?
Even if you initiated the break-up, it’s entirely possible that you are not entirely over your new ex. Maybe your head knows that your personalities clash and you want different futures for yourselves, but the part of you that thinks your former special someone tells the best stories and looks really cute in those jeans hasn’t caught up. DANGER ZONE.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to “slip” and end up in intimate situations with your ex, whether that means sharing each other’s confidences or getting physical. That can feel fun and safe, but it’s more likely unclear, confusing, and an easy way to get hurt. Clarity and clear boundaries are hard when romantic feelings are still in the mix.
2. Do they still have feelings for me?
Okay, so maybe you feel you’re totally ready to move on and to be “just friends” with your ex. But is the same true of them? Are they staying friends with you in hopes that you’ll change your mind or they will somehow be able to win you back? Are you sure about your last answer? Few break-ups are totally mutual. If you will see a lot of your ex and hang out with the same group of friends, you may need to have a conversation about this and make sure your friendship isn’t feeding needless hurt and disappointment.
3. Did you like who you were with your ex?
Relationships end for all kinds of reasons. Maybe the two of you just decided you weren’t a good fit or had different visions for your future together. But it’s possible you were in a relationship, like I was at one point, that forced you to compromise, or to act like someone you didn’t like or respect.
A significant other who didn’t treat you with kindness and respect is not worth keeping in your life. If your ex is someone you wouldn’t want as a friend, it’s time to close that door.
4. Do you think they are going to respect the friendship for what it is?
If your previous relationship pushed your physical or emotional boundaries, that’s not likely to stop if you try to remain friends. There’s a lot of potential messiness that can come out of this, and a lot of potential to end up in that icky no-man’s-land in which you’re not together, but cross those friendship boundaries from time to time. So in other words, you essentially find yourself in an on-again, off again relationship. Which isn’t much fun for anyone. My advice: Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no,” and put some physical distance between you and your ex.
5. Are you keeping your ex around “just in case?”
I’ve been guilty. You ended the relationship, but you want to keep your former boyfriend in your life just in case you change your mind, and nothing better comes along. They’re your back-burner relationship option and it’s comforting to know they’re around, just in case. We’re rarely this honest with ourselves, but it happens, admit it. Still, comforting as may be, it’s not fair to keep someone in our life as relationship insurance. We justify this many different ways, but we should call it by its real name: selfishness.
Still feel good about staying friends with your ex? Then go forth and conquer, friend. Just remember: Clear boundaries are good, and solid communication is essential. Relationships are never simple. And it’s okay, it really is, if you ultimately find you need space and closure and a new beginning.