Alysa and her boyfriend had been dating for nearly two years, and then broke up. The breakup was amicable, but painful for Alysa, who still loved her ex boyfriend very much. “There have been some REALLY difficult moments for me and am sometimes a little hurt to see that he has been able to deal with it so well,” she said.
During the relationship, the two were best friends. “He was the person I shared with the most about life and faith,” she said. Even after ending their romantic relationship, the two still shared a lot: They attend the same prayer group, they often spoke on the phone and kept in touch via email.
But it became awkward to negotiate the difference between “more than friends” and “just friends”—and Alysa’s emotions were getting rubbed raw. “There are times when I still find myself having feelings for him, despite knowing that it was the best thing for both of us to break up, and I’m not sure whether that’s getting in the way of our good intentions to remain close friends.”
Should she ask him for a complete break—no more phone conversations or text messages for a few months so she could have space and grieve for the past privately? Or would that ruin their friendship? Can you expect it to be easy to go from a close, intimate relationship to just being “best buddies,” she wondered? And if so, how close should that friendship be?
How Close is Too Close?
As Americans marry later in life, we have more years to date more people. We’ll have long, meaningful relationships with people and then the relationships will end, leaving us wondering what to do next. How can you go from sharing your life and dreams with someone to deleting them from your phonebook forever? Unless there was a betrayal or other acute reason to end the relationship, breaking up with a long term ex is often a drawn-out, confusing and emotionally draining prospect.
So I asked BustedHalo readers: How close friends can you be with your ex?
In response to Alysa’s case, some 67% said it was best to take a break for six months and give herself some time to heal; then, she can get back in touch if she can. A substantial number of you (22%) said a breakup is final and Alysa needs to walk away and not remain friends with her ex. The remaining respondents thought it was best to keep the lines of communication open so that the friendship continues, even if it’s painful.
When Jeff, a BustedHalo reader, breaks up with a woman, he told me that he can continue to be cordial, but not too friendly. “She’ll never be a person that I sit around with, chatting amiably with and laughing about our current dating relationships.” When a woman breaks up with Jeff, he said he is usually too hurt to continue the friendship. If he were to advise Alysa, he’d say “it’s better to shoot for closure by not communicating with each other again, at least not often.”
Can You Be Friends At All?
Some 66% said respondents didn’t think it was a good idea to be friends with your ex, but 43% said they are still friends with their ex from their most recent serious relationship.
This surprised me a bit—I would have predicted (perhaps based on my own experience) that more people would think that being friends was a good idea, if not a difficult thing to achieve.
One reader wrote in and suggested that I might have asked a better question: “Is it possible to have a healthy friendship with your exes?” And the answer to that depends on the person and the relationship.
“Some of my friends are able to have healthy friendships with their exes, but in my
own life, not so much,” he wrote. “I am usually capable of polite small talk, but the not the deep, life-sharing conversation that we enjoyed when we dated, or, in most cases, when we were friends before we began dating.”
This brings up another wrinkle: Just because you are on cordial terms with your ex, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are very close. Of BustedHalo respondents, 37% say they never see their ex in person and 35% said they see their ex once a year. But 28% said they see their ex on a monthly or weekly basis.
Phone, Email or Texting?
Are certain means of communication better than others when dealing with a ex? Instant messaging and texting—those casual and immediate forms of chatting—seem the least popular: 66% say they never text or IM with their ex, but if they do, 26% say they do so weekly or monthly.
As for the phone? Those long awkward pauses, the panic when you realize you’ve just left an idiotic message on their voicemail? Some 41% say they never talk on the phone with their ex.
Email was the most popular way to communicate with ex boyfriends and ex girlfriends, according to BustedHalo respondents: 28% said they email about once a year, 23% exchange emails monthly and 11% shoot emails back and forth weekly.
But what happens a few months or years down the road? If you’re dating or married to someone else, can you still see your ex? Should your exes be invited to your wedding? We’ll tackle these questions and more in the next Pure Sex, Pure Love column, so keep your browser pointed here and email me a firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments.