Kiss & Make Up. Can You Be Friends With An Ex?
It seems to be a subject everyone has an opinion on; can one become and remain friends with an ex? Of course there seems to be no definitive scientific answer- love has never been a field that can be measured objectively. Those I asked about the matter could only retell embittered or fond personal anecdotes about their own subjective experiences. Susan J. Elliott, famous author of ‘Getting Past Your Breakup’ and ‘Getting Back Out There’, is a renowned relationship expert and psychiatrist. In 2012 she wrote about this very same question. Prelude to a number of very sensible and rational reasons, Elliot simply writes “unfortunately, the answer is probably no”.
It has been a question that has always personally irked me. I have seen countless female acquaintances try and be friends with their exes too soon after a relationship, only to see them fall back into comfortable patterns of sexual intimacy, and ultimately, pain. My most recent break up was just over a year ago. It was the first of its kind to be entirely amicable; almost mutual and at least for me, mostly pain free. To delve deeper into this topic, I decided to conduct my own field research and reached out to my ex independently. Detailed beneath are a mix of my personal findings, combined with the mastered wisdom of others.
Friend. Boyfriend. With those three extra letters comes a wealth of boundaries that could be crossed. Not only physically, but socially and politically too. Trying to befriend an ex is a social phenomenon within itself; new friendships require building a foundation with someone, yet here is someone you theoretically know everything about. When you initially become friends with someone, you start by questioning their life so you can build a mental infrastructure or profile of who they are. When it comes to befriending an ex, you know it all. Moreover, would have probably been seriously entrenched in almost every aspect; from understanding and aiding their career, to spending time with their family and friends. How do you start from the beginning having already experienced the end? The above takes time but can, in my opinion, with work and honesty – be overcome.
Once a conversation has been launched and you begin to generally ‘catch-up’, it suddenly dawns that there are topics that cannot be breached. An example would be current lovers or relationships. It just seems plain insensitive to bring up a trip to the Amalfi Coast with your new boyfriend, or how much luck you’ve been having on Tinder these days. And if it isn’t their pain, is it yours? Can you stand to hear about the current girlfriend you have Facebook-stalked? Convinced of her superior beauty and paranoid at her ability to please him better than you ever could? Unlikely. And so with these barred topics, can it ever be a true and honest friendship? Friendships should be defined by things that you want to share, not taboos you can’t.
Ultimately, too, we must examine where our ego factors in all of this. Does the scorned lover want to show off their new promotion or car, simply because they want to detail all the ways the other missed out? Are the real motivations for reaching out to an ex because you want the last word? Is this all just a power play? That last question may be a bit extreme, but power is a component. A major component. When I told people about my an attempted friendship with my ex, I was asked the same question over and over; do I still like him/does he still like me? Surely that shouldn’t influence my wanting a pure and simple friendship? If he had vested feelings still, would that put me in the position of power, and how would I deal with it? These are the kind of questions that would never arise in any normal friendship. Most friendships are separated from relationships by being more equal. A friendship with an ex feels like it can never be truly balanced; like a drunk on a tightrope, it’s frankly too wobbly, messy and full of unexpected emotion. Besides, if you fell in love the first time you got close, what’s not to say you won’t get too close and fall in love again? It’s difficult to spend time with someone you know you’re capable of liking very much – whilst knowing that liking them very much and them liking you, only ends in broken plates and passive aggressive texting. In tears. In break ups. In distance. A distance that has to be maintained for you to keep out of the vicious circle of getting close and blowing up again.
All this seems to make it more conclusive. I know myself and I know what I want from a friendship. Someone to confide in, share things with, a person who accepts me for who I am and platonically loves me. I want to return all these feelings too. When I look at my ex I don’t see someone who I can unequivocally do all these with. Although I care about them and wish them truly all the best, they can never be defined as a friend. I can’t have a friendship at arm’s length. I have to echo the knowledgeable teachings of Susan J. Elliot when examining whether we can truly be friends with our exes, and say, unfortunately no.