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Exes and friendships don’t always mix

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Exes and friendships don’t always mix
September 15, 2018 Grandfather 2 comments

In fact, when guys I've dated have suggested staying friends, I've always chosen But I don't want to see what my exes are doing or how their lives have changed . mixed signals, getting over a breakup, or anything else you're worried about.

Your ex is your ex for a reason. But he or she was also an important part of your life for a significant amount of time, and it’s understandable to want to hold onto that relationship in some capacity. Many former couples, whether dating partners or spouses, try to remain friends after a break-up, and some are able to manage this transition successfully.

Research suggests, however, that on average exes tend to have lower-quality friendships than opposite-sex friends who were never romantically involved. They are less emotionally supportive, less helpful, less trusting, and less concerned about the other person’s happiness. This is especially true, not surprisingly, for former partners who were dissatisfied with the romantic relationship, and in cases when the break-up was not mutual.

The probability that a friendship with an ex will be a positive rather than painful experience depends in part on your motives, including those you'd rather not openly acknowledge. Here are 10 reasons that can get you into trouble:

10. You have the same friends.

Research suggests that if your friends and family want you to stay friends with an ex, you are more likely to do so. But that doesn’t mean you have to. Staying friends with your ex for the sake of social harmony is a noble goal, but if it’s your only reason for maintaining the friendship, it can be problematic. You have a right to spend time with your friends without your ex present, and you also have a right to decline invitations to events that your ex is also attending. Even if you are okay running into the ex from time to time, this doesn’t mean you need to be friends. It may be hard to see your ex as just another acquaintance when you have so much history together, but over time that history won’t be in the foreground anymore.

9. You feel bad for them.

If you initiated the break-up and your ex is not taking it well, the last thing you probably want to do is hurt them even more by rejecting their friendship. But it’s not your responsibility to nurse them through their heartache, and your support may actually make them feel worse. Research suggests that people like to know that support is available if they need it, but they do not like to feel needy. In the moment, your ex may crave your comfort, but at the end of the day your support is unlikely to help them move on if they continue to feel dependent on you. Instead of shouldering the burden yourself, make sure they are getting support from other people in their life. And if you owe them an apology, give them a genuine one, but don’t drag it out.

8. You want to keep tabs on them.

Even if you know that a relationship wasn’t meant to be, it can still be painful to think of your ex finding happiness with someone else. Staying friends may allow you to stay in the loop about their dating life and even give you some influence over it—a tempting prospect. But becoming your ex’s confidant may not benefit either of you in the long run, especially if you have mixed feelings about their efforts to move on. Even just remaining Facebook friends can give you a window into your ex’s life, for better or worse: in a Men’s Health survey of 3,000 people, 85% admitted to checking an ex’s Facebook page, and 17% said they did it once a week. But Facebook “stalking” tends to increase anxiety and jealousy. If you have trouble resisting it, you may be better off de-friending your ex, both on and offline.

7. You’re lonely.

When you go through a break-up, it can feel like there’s a hole in your social life, and that hole can take time to fill. If you’re feeling lonely on a Saturday night, having your ex over for a movie and take-out might sound more appealing than making the effort to go out and meet new people. But it can also lead you onto the on-again/off-again relationship rollercoaster, which research suggests is characterized by lower satisfaction, less love, more uncertainty, and more communication problems. It’s understandable to miss the intimacy of a romantic relationship, but putting yourself in the danger zone of hooking up with an ex may not be worth the short-term comfort. When you’re feeling lonely, turn to friends and family instead, and find ways to make the most of your alone time.

6. You’re having “grass is greener” syndrome.

If you’re not totally satisfied in a new relationship, research suggests you may feel more interested in keeping up contacts with your ex. It’s easy to romanticize the person you’re not with, since you’re no longer regularly exposed to their irritating habits. But this way of thinking is a trap, because if the grass always seems greener somewhere else, you’ll never be satisfied wherever you are. If you’re unhappy in your current relationship, it’s worth trying to address those feelings with your current partner rather than turning to an ex for support or as an escape. Adding the ex to the mix when your relationship is already in a complicated spot is only likely to complicate things further.

5. You hope that maybe someday they will change.

Maybe you broke up because your ex was unfaithful or drank too much, but you’re holding out hope that they will learn from their mistakes and eventually grow into the kind of partner you want. By staying friends, you’re able to keep them in your life and maybe even help them make changes. In some cases, hope for reconciliation can motivate people to improve, but if your ex senses that it won’t be so hard to win you back, they may be more focused on trying to prove that they have changed than on making real changes, and you may be setting yourself up for more disappointment.

4. You want to keep them on the back burner.

A more cynical version of the preceding item is this desire to keep your ex around just in case you can’t find someone better. Needless to say, this approach is unfair to your ex, but it can hold you back as well. As I wrote in a previous post, playing it safe is not always the best approach when it comes to love. Sometimes you have to close one door, and close it fully, if you want another door to open.

3. They won’t take no for an answer.

You might not want to stay friends, but what if an ex does, and won’t leave you alone? As stated above, you have every right to say no to friendship. Make sure that you are direct with your ex about your feelings (and don’t be afraid to get the police involved if they push things too far). While a little Facebook “stalking” may be relatively harmless, true stalking is scary and unacceptable. And it is surprisingly common. In one set of studies, 40% of college students surveyed reported engaging in at least one stalking behavior following a break-up, and approximately 10% engaged in six or more. These behaviors included things like contacting an ex after being told not to, or showing up at an ex’s residence uninvited. Anger, jealousy, obsessiveness, and need for control all predicted greater stalking behavior, so beware of these traits.

2. They still love you.

If your ex is still in love with you and you don’t feel the same way, the best thing you can do for them is to let them go. Spending time with them might make you feel good about yourself—who doesn’t enjoy being adored?—but it could be painful and confusing for them, especially if it gives them false hope. Even if you make it clear that you just want to be friends, it may not be clear enough to your ex. People see what they want to see, and rest assured they will be on high alert for any sign of returned affection. Your best bet in this situation is probably to minimize contact and let your ex move on.    

1. You still love them.

Being in love with your ex, and secretly hoping to win them back, can be a powerful motivation for staying friends with them, but it’s also unfortunately one of the most dangerous ones. If your ex doesn't want to be with you, there is probably little you can do to change their mind. Trying in vain will only lead to repeated heartbreak and make you feel bad about yourself. Spend time with friends who make you feel loved and appreciated. This ex is probably not one of them.

Why stay friends?

Are there any good reasons to stay friends with your ex? Sure. If neither of you has ulterior motives like the ones listed above, and if your friendship doesn’t interfere with your current relationships—a good litmus test is whether you're comfortable hanging out with your current partner and your ex together, and whether your ex’s partner is comfortable with you—it could very well work. Ulterior motives can be sneaky, though—our minds have ways of disguising them as more innocent aims. So make sure you are being honest with yourself about what your true intentions are.

Copyright Juliana Breines, Ph.D.

Source: andrey_l / Shutterstock

It's often assumed that the best way to end a romantic relationship is to or she really wants to be friends, while your ex convinces themselves that Don't kid yourself: Was there a true friendship there that is actually worth salvaging? .. so these meet ups are a mix of fun, pain and bitter sweet flash backs.

Should you stay friends with your ex on social media? Vote

Exes and friendships don’t always mix

Back in my hometown, I lived in a small arts and activism community, and everyone dated everyone. It was a cesspool of friends and lovers mixing. I distinctly remember talking to a new friend and finding out we had dated not one, not two, but three of the same guys.

This made it difficult for me to even go on dates without thinking about all of the partners the other person might have had — people I probably knew and would inevitably compare myself to. Once, when someone I had a longstanding crush on was finally single, I couldn’t bring myself to approach him because it felt like he and his ex, who I knew, were still together. Another time, someone asked to come home with me, and I responded with a resolute “no,” because I knew the other people they were casually dating. It was all too much.

When friends end up sharing the same romantic partners, even the the most seemingly solid friendships can quickly go sour. Resentment is harbored, and group dynamics forever change. But it’s not always a fiasco, according to Coralie McEachron, LMFT, LCSW. “Not every instance has to have negative ripple effects,” she says.

It all depends on the situation, timing, value you place on the relationships, and the energy you are willing to expend.

Sometimes, the unthinkable happens.

For a lot of people, it’s difficult or downright painful to imagine a friend — especially a close or, god forbid, best friend — dating their ex. In some circles, there’s even an unspoken rule against this.

Lora*, 24, remained close with her ex for a year after their breakup. The two even continued to hook up when they saw each other. Then, her best friend started dating her ex — something Lora felt in part responsible for because she had encouraged the two to sync up.

“My ex moved to a new city and was lonely,” Lora says. “One of my absolute best friends lives there, so I strongly encouraged them to hang out. I wanted so badly for him to be okay, [which was] a trend in our relationship.”

Before Lora knew about their relationship, she made a plan to visit her two biggest support systems in one trip after her ex relocated to this new city. While Lora was there, she hung out with each person separately. Things went smoothly, but a week later, she found out the two were now dating on a FaceTime call with her friend.

“I was crushed and told her I didn’t have anything to say to her,” Lora says. “I lost two of my biggest confidantes. This has been the hardest year I’ve ever had, in part because of the mental anguish I felt from their simultaneous betrayals.” She is, however, grateful that most of tight-knit friend group voiced some sort of team Lora mentality.

I lost two of my biggest confidantes. This has been the hardest year I’ve ever had.

It’s been two years since the breakup and about a year since Lora’s ex and best friend started dating. Lora has chosen to not reach out to her ex, and she hadn’t spoken with her friend until the two were in the same wedding party a few months ago.

“The fact that I could see [my friend] at all and not burst into tears is because of time,” she says. “I’ve also tried to remind myself that people are dumb and make mistakes, and they can both care about and betray me in the same way that I can miss and hate them.”

She adds that her friend became “more human” to her rather than a “distant monster” when they reconnected at the wedding. “I feel some closure, but I don’t know if I’ll ever totally forgive them,” she says. “This is messy territory.”

Solidarity comes in unexpected places.

While sharing a mutual lover can certainly be a predicament, it can also be a godsend.

“It’s been a hilarious realization that almost every Asian girl I know shares at least one past partner, which ensures equally hilarious conversations about cringe-inducing pasts,” says Olive, 24.

Two years ago, Olive instantly connected with someone she met at a show. They had the same interests, tastes, and aspirations. But that’s not all they had in common.

“We started hanging out and somehow realized we shared the same elusive and emotionally abusive ex, who was absolutely an Asian fetishist,” Olive says. “She helped me understand and heal from that relationship in ways I didn’t know were possible. We honestly still talk about him all the time.”

Yes, the two became friends after both of their breakups with the shared partner, but even when they realized there was a year of overlap in their relationships with said partner, there was never any tension — only camaraderie.

“I feel really lucky that the women in my life are mature enough to bask in the absurdity of it all, as opposed to jealousy taking the wheel,” Olive says. “In fact, it’s a huge bonding experience, especially in cases in which both romantic relationships were totally not healthy.”

How we respond is everything.

Sometimes it is inevitable that romantic relationships overlap, especially in insular communities like small towns or college campuses. This is never easy to navigate, but when all else fails, McEachron has a powerful piece of advice.

“We cannot control others’ actions, but we always have a choice in regard to how we respond,” she says. “[This includes] not only our values, but also the importance of the friendship, our ability to acknowledge, check in with, and honor our feelings, the extent to which we have moved on from a former flame, and determining who we want in our lives.”

And who we choose to keep in our lives, be it friends or lovers, puts us in charge of our own stories. It can be black and white sometimes, but you may be surprised to find that’s not always the case, explains McEachron. “There are various shades of grey for connection and closeness.”

*Names have been changed to protect innocent daters.

Tags: Dating AdviceDating RulesFriendship

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Should You Stay Friends With Your Ex?

Exes and friendships don’t always mix

The text was quick, to the point, and included a photo of a cat in a party hat, but I still wasn’t sure I should have sent it. The recipient was my ex, it was his birthday, and the entire exchange represented something I had denounced for years: “The happy birthday ex-text is a thinly veiled pursuit of attention disguised as goodwill,” I used to say, with an irritating air of certainty. But as is often the case with things we staunchly believe while young, it felt different later; it felt different when it was me.

The question of whether it’s appropriate to stay in touch with an ex is a debate as old as modern love, and one that remains divisive in my circles. I’ve historically subscribed to the camp that believed, “If you’re still friends with an ex, you’re either still in love or never were” — perhaps because that’s always been the case in my own life. I’m not friends with any of my exes, nor do we maintain contact with each other. It’s not out of ill will, but rather a natural evolution of our decision to not speak post-split. It’s something that starts as a requirement to heal and is honored in perpetuity out of respect for wherever that healing brought us (new partners included). In my mind, letting love go always equated to leaving it be, letting it rest, no matter how gutting such a cutoff can feel.

The birthday text was a small departure, but I decided my motives were pure. Maybe I didn’t really care if his birthday was good, per se, but the date served as a small window of opportunity to wish him well, to let him know that he wasn’t torn out of my pictures, metaphorically or otherwise — that even though I’d moved on and he had too, I honored what we had and hoped he was happy. But his reply — “Lol, thanks!” — was sobering. Not because I expected more, but because I didn’t. What was the point of this whole thing anyway? I wondered. What sneaky emotional currents are guiding me into these arbitrary waters? I closed my phone and concluded we’d probably never be friends. We’d ventured too far out of context.

Still, I felt I’d disproved my zero-sum theory about the happy birthday ex-text. What is it, then, that draws us to remind old loves we exist, if not a result of latent feelings? Is it just nostalgia? A desire to be remembered, an extension of our fear of death?

A 2014 study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that with the ease of the internet, more people are staying in touch with their exes as a form of keeping tabs. “People use computers to keep romantic prospects waiting in the wings.” The researchers dubbed these “back burner” relationships — a way for people to evaluate the availability of past partners, even while in committed relationships of their own.

“The most frequent ways that people kept up with their back burners were through texts and Facebook,” The Atlantic reported in its coverage of the study, which revealed that 45 percent of the 374 participants reported texting back burners, and 37 percent reported communicating via Facebook. “There are a couple of competing evolutionary imperatives at play. … On the one hand, it makes a certain primal sense to explore all the potential mates available, to be sure to get the best deal.” On the other hand, lead study author Jayson Dibble notes, you’d think committing to one long-term partner would ultimately provide the most benefits. Researchers concluded they’d need to “examine the ways those conversations play out” in order to really understand back burner logic.


Years ago, I pulled over to wordsmith a text to that same boyfriend after he admitted to having lunch with an ex. “Am I allowed to say that bothers me?!” I remember asking my sister in a hastily made phone call from my car. “I think so, but why does it?” she asked. The truth was I thought his ex still had feelings for him. She was always around, commenting on his family’s social posts, grabbing coffee with his parents, dropping by around the holidays. I guessed her request to catch up came with an ulterior motive. I guessed he was on her back burner. But did that matter if I trusted him?

I opted to tell him the inconclusive truth: that it made me a little uncomfortable, but that I trusted him. His response was that he didn’t care enough to stay in touch with her, so he let their communication fall off completely. Only now, years later, does my insertion make me feel uneasy. By policing, even indirectly, who he spoke to, was I robbing him of his due agency? Perhaps I’d broken the golden rule.

I asked a friend for her thoughts on staying in touch with exes — she maintains relationships with a fair amount of hers — and her impetus couldn’t be further from romantic: “A lot of my exes are people I love hanging out with, and a few of them are people I was friends with before we dated,” she said. “Just because things aren’t right for us romantically doesn’t mean we can’t still hang out.” I asked if new significant others ever felt uncomfortable about that. “Probably, but I don’t stay best friends with my exes; I just don’t necessarily cut them out,” she said. “If someone new felt uncomfortable, I’d give them space.”

Is that because there is an element of flirting to these friendships?

“I think it’s kind of the opposite, actually. At this point, we’re so platonic because we tried dating and it didn’t work out, so there’s no what-if tension.”

She admitted that none of the relationships were all that serious, though, and it made me wonder whether there was a correlation between the depth of a romantic relationship and its viability to continue platonically post-breakup.

“I think it’s great if you can stay friends with exes,” another friend told me when I asked her thoughts. She’s in her 30s and doesn’t have a strict rule either way. “There are a few people who I ‘used to hook up with’ who I genuinely enjoy running into. I have one ex who I see every few years, and it’s always so nice, truly. I only have one ex who I’ve ever had to be careful about a ‘friendship’ with because lines get blurred and feelings messy. I have three I’ll never speak to again — one from college, and that’s mostly just distance, and two because when it ended, I was DONE.”


Perhaps the answer is there is no answer, that each relationship must be considered carefully in its individual context and motives properly analyzed in equal measure. In a New York Times Modern Love column titled “Happily Ever, After We Split,” Wendy Paris details the evolution of her relationship with her husband through the divorce process and how separating brought them closer together. In a New York magazine Ask Polly column titled “Can I Be Friends With My Ex Now That I’m Married?” Heather Havrilesky parses the difference between innocent ex contact and not-so-innocent. (The difference is motive.) Context, it seems, is everything.

Debate aside, one thing the years have shown me is that true motives are often buried in our subconscious, only to be revealed in hindsight, and that’s why this remains tricky territory. What do you think? Are you friends with your exes? Have you had a partner who was friends with his or hers? Do you care about any of this, or does it all strike you as a little old-fashioned? I’m a swirly mix of hmmmmm across the board.

Feature collage by Emily Zirimis; Photo by Camerique/Getty Images.

After a breakup, you may be tempted to try to be friends with your ex. But if you aren't interested in being buddies with your ex now or ever, that's . that they'll magically transform into the partner of your dreams, don't bother.

Why You And Your Ex Will Never Be Able To Be Friends

Exes and friendships don’t always mix

Nowadays, Adams told me, “men and women have more in common than they used to, and there’s a stronger foundation for friendship,” and young, unmarried people in particular tend to have what she calls “gender-heterogeneous” networks of friends.

Young, unmarried Americans are a particular specialty of Alexandra Solomon, an assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern University who teaches the university’s oftenanalyzed Marriage 101 course. And indeed, in her conversations with college-age young adults over the past 10 years, she’s seen the “friend group”—a multimember, often mixed-gender friendship between three or more people—become a standard unit of social grouping. Now that fewer people in their early-to-mid-20s are married, “people exist in these little tribes,” she told me. “My college students use that phrase, friend group, which wasn’t a phrase that I ever used. It was not as much like a capital-F, capital-G thing like it is now.” Today, though, “the friend group really does transport you through college, and then well into your 20s. When people were marrying by 23, 24, or 25, the friend group just didn’t stay as central for as long as it does now.”

Read: Why are young people having so little sex?

Many friend groups are strictly platonic: “My niece and nephew are in college, and they live in mixed-sex housing—four of them will rent a house together, two guys and two gals, and no one’s sleeping with each other,” Solomon said with a laugh. Solomon, who’s 46, added that she couldn’t think of a single example, “in college or even post-college, where my friends lived in mixed-sex situations.” Still, she notes, being in the same friend group is how many young couples meet and fall in love—and when they break up, there’s added pressure to remain friends to maintain harmony within the larger group.

Solomon believes this same reasoning could also contribute to same-sex couples’ reputation for remaining friends. Because the LGBTQ population is comparatively small and LGBTQ communities are often close-knit as a result, “there’s always been this idea that you date within your friend group—and you just have to deal with the fact that that person is going to be at the same party as you next weekend, because you all belong to this relatively small community.” Though many surely still cut ties completely after a breakup, in Griffith’s study, LGBTQ participants indeed reported both more friendships with exes and more likelihood to remain friends for “security” reasons.

Keeping the friend group intact “might even be the prevailing concern” in modern young people’s breakups, says Kelli María Korducki, the author of Hard to Do: The Surprising, Feminist History of Breaking Up. When Korducki, 33, went through the breakup that inspired her book, she told me, one of the hardest parts of the whole ordeal was telling their shared friends. “Their faces just fell,” she remembers. In the end, she and her ex both kept hanging out with their friends, but separately. “It changed the dynamic,” she told me. “It just did.”

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It's often assumed that the best way to end a romantic relationship is to or she really wants to be friends, while your ex convinces themselves that Don't kid yourself: Was there a true friendship there that is actually worth salvaging? .. so these meet ups are a mix of fun, pain and bitter sweet flash backs.

Exes and friendships don’t always mix
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