Is it Truly Possible to Remain Friends with an Ex?
Anything is possible, but what does it really take?
Credit: Tengku Razaleigh
After eleven years of being together and nearly four years of marriage, my wife and I called it quits late last year. We had tried for what seemed like forever to address areas of concern in our relationship, but our irreconcilable differences, and our inability to love each other the way we each needed to be loved, limited our ability to live authentically and eventually pushed us apart.
In October, I requested a legal separation with the hope that we could remain amicable throughout the divorce process and eventually stay friends.
Five months later, I don’t regret the choice I made to end things, but I do regret hurting her more than was needed due to my carelessness throughout the divorce process. I now realize that I may have lost one of the closest friends I’ve ever had.
My ex is a beautiful human being with a heart of gold and a passion for life. Her warm smile and positive energy are gifts to all who meet her. The thought of never listening to her play guitar, watching her cut a rug on the dance floor, or talking to her about life’s biggest challenges deeply saddens me.
If I've learned anything this year, its that sometimes our biggest lessons come from our most painful experiences, and this by far, was one of my worst.
Although I’m not convinced that my ex and I will ever reconcile our friendship, our experience made me wonder whether it was truly possible to stay friends with an ex.
When I first came out and began spending time in the lesbian community, I was shocked by the number of women who remained friends with their exes. I felt like I got dumped into an incestuous dating pool of former lovers and ex partners.
Having spent a significant amount of time dating in the straight community - a community that is known to permanently sever ties with former partners - I wasn’t sure how to handle situations in which a new partner hung out with a former lover.
Envious of couples that found themselves friends after breaking up, I consulted with LGBT Dating Coach, Jess Branas, to find out what it takes to remain friends with an ex and how to navigate a new relationship while avoiding ex drama.
“First and foremost, in order to build a friendship with an ex, no matter what the situation is, it's very important to give yourself and her time and space,” Branas said. “I dated a woman who was my best friend before we even delved into dating. After our breakup, we still took a good 4-5 months with no contact before we reestablished our friendship which is just as strong today. The time allows both parties to move on and really focus on what they miss about each other. “
When it comes to avoiding drama with an ex while dating someone new, she suggests, “it's important to remember the positives and why your ex is no longer a fit for you. If you’ve moved into another relationship and doing so leaves an ex jealous, respect their need for space. Don’t avoid them intentionally, but don’t actively seek them out either. If you run into each other, be cordial. Small chit chat is fine, but leave it at that until you are more comfortable with how you are living your life.”
I asked her how to handle situations in which a new partner is jealous of an ex. She replied, “the new partner has to be confident in themselves that they are a catch and you are choosing them. This is time for self work on the new partner's part.” She insists that jealousy isn’t healthy for any new partnership and “will eventually break down the relationship.”
Master Coach and former Psychotherapist, Carla Royal, also agrees that a future friendship is possible. “There is no question that exes can stay friends. I’ve seen it done well and repeatedly. I believe it takes a deep friendship, forgiveness, and respect. Forcing, demanding, begging, expecting will never work. I see it more as unfolding and allowing. If an ex cannot respect your boundaries, then it may be best to sever the relationship. As you allow the relationship to unfold naturally, you may find a friendship down the road.”
I wondered if the general Facebook population agreed with the experts. I was surprised to find that many did not.
Carleen CeCe Stroh from St Petersburg, FL feels that life and relationships are about growth. “People come into our lives for a reason. I believe we are to learn what that reason is and if it’s not a forever situation we take what we’ve learned and move on. I believe we get stuck in the past when we hold on to past relationships in any capacity.”
Ray Zhang from Towson, Maryland is insistent that “If [either party was] ever unhealthily codependent then never.”
Others think it depends on the situation. “It all depends on the breakup,” says Breanna Vienna-Baker from Butler County, Ohio. “If it was nasty, then absolutely not. If you managed to stay friends, then yes.”
“I rather think that if there had been abuse, cheating or other deal breakers, it might be hard,” says Teri Tripp-Lanciault from Guilford, NY. Still, under the right circumstances, she agrees that a friendship could happen. “Sometimes, you are better off as friends and living apart.”
But others feel that long term friendship, regardless of the situation, is possible. Although she was cheated on by her ex, Michelle Dobbs of Gulfport, FL says, “I was best friends with my ex for ten years then we were together for twenty years. We are best friends today and always.”
Dobbs says that she’s friends with most of the women she’s dated. “I don’t hold grudges and feel like as small as our communities are we can still get along. It’s important to forgive in order to allow the heart to heal and be open to future relationships and friendships.”
Helen Poade from Manchester, United Kingdom gives me hope. “I’ve discovered (after long term relationships) that a few years without contact allows any lingering feelings, of love or recrimination, to dissolve.”
Who knows where things will stand with me and my ex a few years from now. Either way, I wish her lots of love, laughter, and light and I hope she knows that she will always hold a special place in my heart. I am sorry for the hurt and hopeful for forgiveness and future friendship.