Thursday, April 11, 2013

Knowing Me, Knowing You: How to Stay Friends With An Ex


People often comment that they find it pretty remarkable that I manage to stay friends with my ex boyfriends. They say it’s admirable but claim that it’s something they could never do. For whatever reason, there is still a stigma attached to maintaining a positive relationship with the people we were formerly involved with, that it implies all kinds of things that are not actually the case at all. There is always the underlying notion that perhaps the relationship isn’t really over, that someone is still harboring feelings for their former paramour. Or that it would be detrimental to any future relationships.

I’ve never understood this, maybe because, as stated above, I am friends with my exes, save a few. I can’t imagine a world in which I didn’t have some of these men on my speed dial. Over the years they have remained some of the most important people in my life. Exes have a unique perspective into us that no one else has. Not do they understand us, the way we think and feel but they’ve also been there. They’ve seen us at our worst, at our best, they know our insecurities and our strengths. They offer an invaluable insight and they aren’t afraid of us, they tell it like it is and we have no choice but to listen.

Perhaps I’ve been fortunate in having the kinds of relationships that end in a way that this is a possibility,  perhaps I’m more evolved or mature than the average person (though I highly doubt this) or perhaps I just look at it from a different perspective. The way I see it is that I don’t get into relationships lightly, I’ve never had a boyfriend simply to just have one. Every man that I’ve dated has been someone that I truly respect and genuinely enjoy being around. Most of my boyfriends started out as friends first, which served as the foundation of what made our relationship so great. I always find myself dating the kinds of men who are incredible enough to warrant future friendships with. As I said, this could be pure luck on my part but I don’t think so. The world we live in isn’t black and white, and try as we might, we can’t allow ourselves to constantly define and label things and people.  

Relationships, on every level, are complicated and multi faceted, purely on account of fact that human beings aren’t one dimensional, we consist of many variables and these twists and turns are what make life interesting and unpredictable. Romantic relationships take things to a whole new level and introduce different kinds of feelings that we feel for our families and friends, feelings that once felt, can never really be erased. Sure, we can fall out of love with someone, we can realize that they weren’t who they thought they were, or even that we have changed and are no longer the right mind frame to be engaging in this type of relationship with said person.

Relationships fall apart for a plethora of reasons: incompatibility and infidelity being the main two ones, but I truly believe that just because you aren’t able to successfully be romantically involved with someone doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with them or you. That just because you aren’t in love with them doesn’t detract from the fact that they embody qualities that you find attractive in a person, otherwise, why would you have dated them to begin with?

My previous two posts were written on subject matters that I have little to no experience with and was certainly not qualified to impart advice on, but this? This is my thing. So how does one do it? It’s pretty simple:

Break up with them before it gets too late.  So many of us see the writing on the wall but simply refuse to read it. Our feelings have changed, the magic is gone, we’re interested in other people, yet we refuse to end things with the person we’re with in some kind of misguided optimism that maybe, just maybe it’ll resolve itself. That all of this effort we’ve out forth wasn’t in vain. The problem with this is that, in most cases, the cracks keep metastasizing, and will continue to do so until some big blow out or unforgivable act occurs. Once it’s over, it’s over and we should end it before it gets messy

Be kind. This a recurring theme in my posts, mainly because I believe kindness to be the most important quality that one can possess. So when we break up with someone, we need to be kind about it. No one likes being rejected (even if they’re on the same page as you) so it’s within your best interest to be as graceful and dignified in the process.

Ensure that you actually like them as a person. Sounds a bit silly, but often we hold on to the idea of things rather than embracing the reality. Deciding to let someone go, both romantically or platonically, isn't a failure. Sometimes relationships dissolve and there is no point in trying to resuscitate them.

Take time. Even if the break up is 100% mutual, which it rarely is, jumping straight into a friendship is just asking for trouble. Not only is it easy to slip back into your old routine, which blurs the lines, but without a break, you haven’t allowed yourself to really get over it and move on. Furthermore, chances are, one person is still more invested than the other, and not allowing them the separation is confusing and ultimately hurtful. Not a good premise for a lasting friendship.

Make sure you’re on the same page. Just because you’re over someone, doesn’t mean that they’re over you. Sure, they might say that they’re fine, but hopefully if you dated them, you are able to read them on a deeper level. You will know if they’re upset, stressed, on edge etc. If they’re displaying tendencies that indicate that they’re still emotionally invested romantically, you can not expect them to be capable of being your friend. If you are friends but you notice some concerning behavior, address it, take some space, and try again later.

Baby steps. Once an appropriate amount of time has passed and you’re ready to start socializing with your ex, don’t dive in the deep end. Start with coffee, lunch, maybe even dinner (though that can lead to issues) Don’t ask them to be your date to your cousins wedding. Try and pretend as if it’s a new friend that you’re just getting to know. Because, despite your history, this isn’t too far from the truth, you’re relearning them in a different capacity.

Be honest but not callous. You will, at some point, move on and start dating again. This is expected and perfectly fine and while it’s ok (and necessary in some cases) to inform your ex about these endeavors, there is no need to overshare. Keep it simple. Talking about how happy you are and how great this new relationship won’t serve any purpose other than hurting your ex. Save that kind of talk for the friends that you haven’t slept with. Also: avoid jealousy. It’s not attractive to be bitter and unsupportive when your ex moves on.

Avoid memory lane. I’m not suggesting you pretend like things didn’t happen, and of course memories will surface, it would be unnatural if they didn’t and weird if you avoided them on purpose. However, whatever issues you had while dating are off limits. You can not get angry at someone for something they did when you were dating. You broke up, it’s over. If it’s not over for you, then you’re not ready for the friendship.

Keep it platonic. Sleeping with an ex is not friends with benefits. It’s a mistake and trouble.

Manage expectations. They may adore you and be happy to have you in their life, but you are no longer their top priority. You can not expect the same kind of treatment and behavior as when you were together, and you can not be resentful of that fact.

Selective Censorship. This sounds like a terrible idea for a friendship. Why should we censor ourselves with our friends? What’s the point? Well, in this case, telling your ex boyfriend that you found him physically repulsive in the last months of your relationship does not make for a constructive friendship. Think she was the worst kisser? Keep it to yourself, it makes no difference to you any more. If they specifically ask, it’s better to avoid and omit.

Don’t push. Sad as it may be, your ex may not share your sentiment to continue a relationship. They might want a totally clean break. This is incredibly hurtful. There is something terrible about spending a significant amount of time with someone only to find that they aren’t even interested in maintaining anything with you. However, if that’s what they want, you have to respect it. 

These are also kind of highlighted in my Post Break Up Etiquette post from last year.

Ok so after writing that all out, it sounds more complicated than it really is, I realize that.  (I should think before I write instead of do this stream of consciousness thing that I am such a fan of) The initial work and rules really only apply to more recent breakups rather than the ones that occurred years ago. Once you get past a certain point, the friendship requires a lot less strategy and becomes routine. I am at the point with some of my exes that I barely even remember that we dated (not meant as an insult, but more as an indicator of how normal our interactions are these days)

On a side note: as great as having an ex as a close friend, make sure you're transparent about that with any future prospects. No, you don't need to divulge your entire history, but it's not fair for them to think they're meeting up with your really good friend for drinks only to find out that this friend is someone you dated for two years. Jealousy shouldn't be condoned, but neither should blind sighting.

*Thanks to the men that I've dated who have become my closest friends, confidants, and supporters. You are invaluable to me and I truly believe that my world is a better place because you're in it. And I appreciate you beyond any words could explain.