Staying In Touch With Exes: Is There A Point?

11/12/2018

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Earlier this week I received an email asking if I had ever thought about writing about keeping in touch with ex partners.

“I’m talking the serious ‘romance rabbit-hole turned sad break-up, but one person wants to keep in touch’ thing,” the advice-seeker wrote.

He continued, “I’ve never been one to keep in touch with my serious ex boyfriends, even if the breakup was mutual — because my theory is ‘What’s the point?!’”

I’ve also thought “What’s the point?” with certain ex partners before, and I get where that mentality comes from. When you already have close friends who you unconditionally love and support, why engage in a friendship that’s likely to be messy, cause emotional anguish, and make it more difficult to move on and find another love?

Besides, I often question the motivations of people who want to stay friends with their exes. Often, it is because they secretly yearn to get back together with them. Pining over a lost partner is not a valid reason to remain friends with them. And what’s so dangerous about this frame of mind is that people aren’t always consciously aware of this being the true reason behind their desire to stay friends. They convince themselves that they’re doing it because “We had such a good relationship and I think it would be a shame to no longer have this person in my life.” When the truth is, they still do yearn for their ex in a more than platonic way.

Nevertheless, I do believe that there are certain people with whom it does makes sense remain friends. (Obviously, if your partner was abusive, mean, nasty, possessive, etc., then hell no. Cut them out completely.) The reason why? You previously had a deep connection that extends beyond normal friendship. This can make your friendship with this person even stronger and more meaningful if you are able to successfully overcome emotions and genuinely move to a place of platonic friendship.

It’s difficult to decipher when the right times are to move into a place of friendship, and when you should just cut this person out of your life. Obviously, there are no hard and fast rules, but here’s a guideline of when you can attempt to be friends — from someone who has both cut off exes and turned them into best friends.

You never should have dated to begin with

This has happened to me a few times in my life. I meet someone who’s friendly, smart, and attractive — the sex is great — and I find myself falling for them. While those are undoubtedly necessary components to have a meaningful relationship with someone, they’re not the sole factors. You have to have similar values and relationship goals.

Take my ex-boyfriend Richie, who actually is one of my best friends in NYC. We dated briefly, maybe two months, but it was an intense relationship. We both clearly liked each other more than we had liked other guys/girls in the recent past. But we were on totally different pages with what we wanted out of a person/relationship. He was/is ready to settle down and have kids. He wanted to spend most of his nights cuddling and eating ice cream. Don’t get me wrong, that sounds amazing, but that’s not something I want to do every night.

In addition, he’s not someone who reads or cares about media, LGBTQ culture, news, and politics. Not only is it my job to write about these things, they’re things I’m passionate about. I need someone who is up-to-date on these topics and has strong opinions. He’s not that person. So we’re best friends now, and I see him all the time, but looking back on it, there were clear reasons why we should have never dated to begin with. We should have started and remained friends. But sometimes, especially if you engage in same-sex relationships, it’s tough to know whether to pursue this person you’re attracted to as a friend or potential romantic partner.

You take a lot of time between breaking up and rekindling a friendship

If you really want to be friends with someone, and believe that you can be, then it shouldn’t be that big of a deal to wait 3-6 months to attempt to have a friendship. You’ll be friends for years to come, so taking off four months is a tiny blip in your relationship.

It is really difficult to remain friends with someone you really cared for/loved after breaking up, no matter how amicable the breakup is. You need time apart. You need time to move on, have other crushes, and date other people. Whenever someone wants to rush into a friendship right away, I don’t believe their intent is “pure friendship.” This is when I think something else is going on, likely that they’re not actually over their partner. Also, going back to Richie, we did wait about 5 months before attempting to be friends again.

You have the same friend group/family together

This is a time where being friends with an ex is less about “Do you want to be friends with them?” and more, “We need to figure out a way to see each other and be friendly because our lives are too intertwined.” In this situation, hopefully both you and s/he acknowledge that this isn’t an ideal situation, and you may still have some animosity or feelings towards one another, but you need to put them aside. This situation is slightly different because it’s not “friends” — it’s being grown-ass adults who realize that your relationship affects the lives of other people.

In the end, I think it’s usually worth it to steer clear of exes, however, there can absolutely be times when it’s worth it to be friends with them. An easy way to decide whether you should be friends with them is if you believe that you would be happy for them if they found a different love of their life. If that’s the case, I think you can be friends, and given that you previously dated and have a more intimate knowledge of that person, you may develop a deeper friendship.

Zachary Zane
Zachary Zane a Brooklyn-based freelance writer, speaker, YouTuber, and activist whose work focuses on (bi)sexuality, gender, identity politics, relationships, and culture. He's a contributing editor at The Advocate Magazine, a columnist at Bi.org, and currently writes for The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Out Magazine, and PRIDE.