Asking for a Friend

Illustration by Billy Lawson

Submit your anonymous sex and relationships questions to Em Chan here

Question: Thoughts on being friends with your ex and maintaining a solid relationship after the break up?

      -Former lover’s friend, again


Dear Friend,

I think if you can carry on being cordial friends, that’s great. Being able to stay friends requires a lot of maturity from both parties in order to process the emotions from the breakup and become  friends… again. 

However, I think the idea that you must remain friends after the split just doesn’t work for everyone. Personally, I am still grappling with which side I fall into, because both have their benefits and downfalls; it all depends on prior dynamics of your relationship. When I was in the thick of a breakup last year and posed this exact question to my best friend, she said this invaluable line: “if you didn’t start off as friends, you don’t have to stay friends.” 

Essentially, that statement means if you and your ex were originally friends who then grew into loving one another, you two have that foundation as friends you can still salvage. The people we date sometimes aren’t meant for us romantically, but rather as friends. Compatibility is important in all relationships, but for some of us, the dynamics of the relationship might not extend well past friendship. 

If perhaps you were set up by other people or an app (no judgement here, promise) then sometimes allowing for a clean split is more effective for moving on in a healthy way. In the aftermath of a break up, most people typically try to avoid their ex and any influences that may bring that person to mind. For those people, there is a lot of progress in self-improvement and self-sufficiency that can be threatened by having their ex reenter the picture.

The biggest question to ask yourself with having your ex back in your life is if it’s for the right reasons. Letting go of an ex and the time, energy and routines you’ve shared with them is extremely difficult, especially after a long-term relationship. Think about if wanting to keep them around as a friend may be preventing you from really moving on, maybe because of the slight hope you two might get back together, but make sure you can handle their presence and the new boundaries as “friends” you have to respect. 

If you and your ex ran in the same social circles, it's understandable to not want to break up the group by making friends pick sides. Do consider, though, that even if you choose to remain friends with your ex, perhaps you might consider making a departure from a shared friend group. People often underestimate the influence of others —especially our friends — to the dynamics of intimate relationships past what is said, so I would consider whether remaining friends with the people you and your ex interacted with is also beneficial to you.

For example, if they had a lot of input on the way your relationship was, gossiped or pushed heavily for details, that might have had an influence on your relationship. Regardless of if the influence was positive or negative, perhaps having that change in people and environment will benefit from the recontextualizing of former friends and their knowledge of your relationship. Being friends with an ex is definitely a lot easier in an environment that is not aware of your former relationship status.

Overall, props to you if you and your ex mutually want to remain friends post breakup. Just don’t forget to consider that they might not actually want to be friends and need space, but are too nice to say anything for themselves. Also, you have no obligations now that you and your ex are split - you don’t have to continue pursuing anything with them if you don’t want to. That’s why it didn’t work romantically, after all.