I have come to find that there are two scenarios that beg the question, “How can I be just friends with an ex?”: Either you still have feelings for them, or you actually do want to be friends with them, but you’re worried that you’ll carry over too much baggage from your previous relationship.
After all, they were the person who listened to the things in your life that didn’t matter, like when your roommate borrowed your sharpies and didn’t put the caps back on, leaving them dried-out and scratchy. And they were the one who listened to the things that did matter, like when you found out the real reason your parents got divorced. They were the person you called when you learned that your dad had cheated on your mom with another woman, and that’s where your little brother came from, and they met your dad, your little brother and the other woman.
They were the one you kissed, you loved, you dreamt about; they were your world, but now, that’s all gone. It is time to banish your romantic ideas of who they are to you if, in fact, you really just want to be friends.
After the breakup, you want to spit on the once-adorable cartoon drawings you made of the two of you holding hands, and you’re embarrassed you even showed them because you are embarrassed you ever let them into your world. You’re moving through the stages of grief — denial, bargaining, depression, anger — and all you can hear anyone say is that time heals all wounds. You wish the watch on your wrist could alter the course of time in favor of your wounds, because you just want to reach acceptance.
Time does pass. Of course, you’ll still think about them from time to time; in our modern world where you can even have a computer on your wrist, you’re perfectly free to stalk their social media accounts to see if they look happy. You will find out if they’ve moved on and met someone new, and maybe they look like you, or maybe they don’t; you’ll zoom in on their pictures as far as you can, pulling their eyes clearer into the frame to see if their laugh lines are forced or if they laugh as hard as they did when they were with you.
You will be thinking about what they might be eating when you wake up and pour a bowl of cereal, and if they’re thinking about you and what you’re eating, too. For the first, let’s say, five months to a year, you will always have your ex hanging in the back of your mind, and you can only hope you’re stuck in theirs, too.
So, if you really want to just be friends with an ex, I’ve found that there are two scenarios. In the first one, you have gotten over them; you have either found someone else, or you’re comfortable living the single life, and you appreciate the idea of having them as a friend because they were a person you cared about for a good reason. In the second scenario, they appear to have gotten over you, but you’re still hung up on them, and you want them back in your life. I have come to find an effective way to handle these two situations.
I’ve only dated two people seriously, but I have loved three times and found that the key to my heart is a great sense of humor. Your keys might look like anything, but whatever they look like, chances are they are similar to the keys to a great friendship.
It is a very interesting time in my life right now. I am living with … well, he isn’t exactly an “ex,” per se, because we never truly dated, but we would argue, we would kiss, we would laugh and talk and we would have sex. We have always been best friends, that’s why I had any feelings for him at all. We shared a house this past fall with a group of friends, but when I had to travel abroad to Paris for a semester, I had to put a lock on that door. Now, we’re back in the same house, and he’s back with his ex.
My feelings for him have subsided, for the most part; I’m no longer interested in having sex with him so much as tickling his armpit, but I still really want to tickle his armpit. I want to remind him I am in his life and that I can still be a part of it without sexual feelings. I spent too much time abroad thinking about him, and now there is a new pressure to being around him. I feel like I am not allowed to touch him.
I wake up every morning with messy hair, and I have to comb it flat and mess it up again so I don’t look absurd, but not like I am trying to manipulate my appearance for him. I want to play board games with him, sit on his bed in his room and listen to music with him, but every time I go to sit, I find myself fidgeting with an unwelcome feeling. In my head, I’m screaming, “It doesn’t matter! It shouldn’t matter! He is my best friend! Why can’t I burp and laugh and joke with him like I do with my other friends?” I want to ignore the discomfort, but our friendship seems tainted by the sight of his butt.
I have another friendship blooming with an ex in my hometown of Granby, Connecticut. He was my first love, my longest relationship, the one I lost my virginity with. We get coffee together every time we are both home; it’s been three years now, and every time, it has been a disaster. We like to slyly brag to each other about how our lives have been going and what great new projects we have taken on, like two catty moms whose daughters are in the same beauty pageant.
It goes like this: Whoever gets to the cafe first would wait with butterflies in their stomach, pretending to be engrossed by whatever is happening on our phone until the other arrives. We would hug, cool and calm, but exploding on the inside, and we’d smile at each other, like we hadn’t stayed up reading each other’s handwritten letters or stalking each other’s laugh lines. We would sit there at a designated, agreed-upon location and recap our lives over coffee for an agreed-on period of time. Just a pair of old pals, right?
Wrong. We started watching movies at his house, going to the city together, playing board games and getting dinner together with his whole family, who tell me, “It is so good to see you again, Sophie.” We started having sex again, loving each other again.
This was not a friendship. I slipped right back into his arms; we were a pair of old lovers, separated by very different worlds but unable to separate the two. I have recently found a solution to this problem. Be filterless.
If you are genuinely looking to be friends with an ex, you need to understand that communication and honesty are everything. Tell them exactly where you stand, so you don’t have to worry about stupid misreadings. “Does he think I still have feelings for him? Does he still have feelings for me? Am I allowed to touch their arm when they make me laugh? Can I give them hugs, and is it okay if we accidentally bump knees under the dinner table?”
Complete and total honesty is the foundation of every great friendship and will remove any uncomfortable circumstances that stand between you and and your ex. You have to be able to be yourself, completely and totally, and respond genuinely, or else it will fold in on itself, and you will have to continually question and adjust your reality to the new one you’re creating.
I am just now trying this out for myself, and it’s proving to be successful. I find I can glance at my roommate, just as I would my other friends, and not feel a fight-or-flight moment when he looks back at me, because he’s no longer the one I think of when I am pouring cereal in the morning. I just smile, and we go back to the conversations around our dinner table. I have yet to try this with my ex from home because I don’t think I am ready to be friends with him, but that’s okay, too. We all need time.