Stay Friends, Break Up Twice

When is it OK to remain friendly with an ex-SO?

There’s no right answer to this question and no shortage of online material to pull from; some people have extensive formulae, steadfast rules, detailed timelines and expertly designed rationale to defend their decisions one way or the other. Others tend to lean more heavily on instinct, gut feelings, changes in the weather, the seasons and their moods. Once you’ve been around long enough to outlive some of your own relationships, life reveals a moral dimension you hadn’t thought of before. Are you bad person for wanting a fresh start that doesn’t include the other person? Can  you live a full life—romantically or otherwise—if they are still very much in the picture? How do you assert your own boundaries without seeming selfish (note: being selfish is not necessarily a negative trait, especially in a breakup)?

Maybe this sort of thing happens for the first time in high school when your mean-girl squad is disbanded in a (very public) volcanic eruption that seems to have ignited at the group’s most intimate core (yes, I’m speaking from personal experience; all-girl Catholic high-school is not for the faint of heart). Or maybe you developed a heightened sense of emotional maturity years before the days of pleated skirts and are used to friendships and even familial ties being broken. Still, things grow far more complicated when the relationship that’s ending is a romantic one, a serious one, one during which you split the holidays between both families, one that involved discussions about the future and the dogs on your to-adopt list. What’s worse is that you probably neglected to discuss who would get said dog—sort this out ASAFP.

What do you stand to lose by cutting this person out of your life after things have ended? What do you stand to gain, if anything?

If the relationship’s end was a tumultuous and cruel one—for example, you or your SO cheated—then the answers might be clearer. The breakup might even be easier because there are fewer doubts that you’re making the right decision. It can be more difficult to navigate this decision if things between you just sort of fizzled out, one of you outgrew the other or you realized that you weren’t willing to compromise on things that were important to you but not so much to them.

I’ve always erred more on the friendly side; I dread conflict and the only bad blood I’m interested in is a 2014 Taylor Swift ~diss~ track. That said, I’ve also always had this choice backfire tenfold. The thing is, I’m very logical, very thoughtful and very cautious. If I’ve decided to end a relationship, I haven’t done so on a whim. I’ve already dedicated weeks, often months, of my time thinking about why I no longer feel satisfied in my relationship. I painstakingly determine whether or not my concerns are valid, whether or not the other person agrees, whether or not I’m interested in repairing what’s broken, and whether or not that’s possible. Usually, my decision to move on is an absolute one, even if it’s not an easy one.

Agreeing to remain friends with someone who is less certain about how things ended is risky because (probably like in the former relationship) you both have very different end goals. Often, I end up having what I’ve dubbed a “second breakup.” Months, sometimes years later, I find myself in another messy discussion about the status of the ~relationship~.

You may be certain the relationship is over, but the other person has been holding out hope.

It’s a complicated process trying to transition from a romantic connection to a platonic one if you maintain relatively equal levels of daily communication. Maybe you can be friends later on, maybe not. But it’s probably best to press pause on frequent life updates and definitely steer clear of daily ones.

Instead, take time to reconnect with yourself: your wants, your interests, your goals. Be confident in your decision to move forward for you and communicate this clearly. If you’ve already done so a few times with little to no change in response from the other person, it might be time to distance yourself further. No one likes being ghosted, but post-relationship tetherball is probably just as little fun (if not less).



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