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Is It Really Possible To Be Friends With Your Ex?

To be or not to be friends with an ex … that is the question …

I remember having spent the early years of adulthood believing in, and worse, following the unwritten rule of ‘never being friends with an ex.’ However, it was only after I landed in an area that was a shade of beautiful grey, that I began to undo the effects of these black and white dictates in my life. This grey was unlike any of those ominous swathes of cloud that bring torrential downpour that soaks you to the skin and leaves you chilled to the bone. Nor was this grey a faint hue akin to the fading sketches on old tracing paper – too pale and light in its waning lines, and hence, obscure and imperceptible, even to the hand that once drew it. The grey land that I found myself in was a beautiful grey – like the grey of those billowy clouds that form a sheltering ceiling etched in soft graphite, like the tarmac of a road that you know shall take you to your destination, like the misty grey of the ocean that merged itself with a rose gold horizon, a grey that seems to penetrate deep within my soul and unlock all its grey denizens from behind bars.

couple staring at each other

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Want to know what this place painted in magical grey hues was? A situation where I had to decide if ‘talking’ to and in a sense, being friends with an ex was the right course of action.

Now, before you dismiss me this as a rosy story which shall tell you all about getting back together with your ex vis-à-vis friendship or even refuse to read further, because you are a firm supporter of the opposite faction – let me tell you this. I am really neutral on the topic. My answer to the imminent and most pressing question at hand – can you be friends with an ex – is a resounding YES and NO.

Suggested read: 10 valid reasons why you shouldn’t be friends with your ex

Let’s take a trip to my grey-land:

The first and the foremost question to address before hopping on to grey-land express train is what kind of ‘conscious uncoupling’ has taken place betwixt the two of you? What kind of break-up happened? Each of the possibilities here merits a different answer. Let’s look at them, one at a time:

1. An acrimonious breakup

couple fighting

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In case of an acrimonious breakup, you would be better off without tugging at the F-strings, at least for a while. And I mean, friendship. Time is your best bet here. You need to avoid falling into the trap of a happy delusion – that of believing that you can seamlessly transition from being lovers to exes to good pals. You need to create some distance between the two of you and spend some time NOT being friends first. This shall ease you into the five-fold process of reaching that stage of befriending the ex. First, you need time to be upset, then angry, then be neutral, and initiate an awkward contact until you are ready to be chummy again! Also, it is important to note that an ugly fallout may sever the strings of any possible connection forever. In case of any toxicity that ate away the essence of your relationship, your chances of friendship are very slim, and in case you do manage to get a possible ‘pally feeling’ going, there are high chances that the same problem may seep into the dynamic of your new equation too.

2. An amicable breakup

relationship status

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In case of an amicable split too, it would bode well for you that you cling onto the precious ticks of time before you tell your now-ex that you’d not like to lose them altogether and would like to be friends. This shall enable the person who is possibly feeling all the *feels* with a greater intensity still, to process the breakup and approach your offer with more rational boundaries set in place. After all, an amicable split too has a tangible loss – the loss of a comfort zone shared with another human being. And while one of the partners may be better at coping with the loss, the other may be taking the fall-out hard. In that case, it is better to broach the topic with sensitivity and ensure that a decent amount of time has elapsed before you put the F-offer out there. Again, instead of making your ex feel obligated to answer by popping the ‘can we be friends?’ question, make it a gentle, open-ended offer by asserting that ‘you’d still like to be friends and that you’d be around, in case he/she’d want that too.’

Having said that, it is important that I underline that achieving this post-split nirvana may not be a realizable target for all. Many might never get over their bitter feelings or come to terms with their ugly past or be strong enough to let go of their residual feelings and ensure that any remnant does not trickle into this new friendly arrangement. This situation is unhealthy for both parties. Relationship therapist Rachel Sussman, author of The Breakup Bible, says that if you simply grew apart, lost your passion, or felt like you’d become non-romantic roommates, you’ve got a good shot at a healthy friendship. However, she is careful to mention that if you broke up because you were constantly arguing, one of you felt the other was irresponsible or too much of a flirt, or betrayal factored into your split, Sussman says that “the same problem that broke you up is going to leak into the friendship.” In that case, it’s best that you cut your losses and walk away.

Suggested read: 10 reasons why a friends with benefits relationship doesn’t work

In the discussion above, I have iterated and reiterated upon the significance of time to be allowed to nurse wounds – which brings us to the second most pivotal question to ask yourself before being friends with an ex – how much time is needed before you can make the move?

couple on a couch

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The naked answer – ‘Being friends immediately after the split’ route almost always ends up giving your vehicle flat tyres. Trying to be friends too soon may result in relapsing into a false sense of security and comfort zone that can lead to a vicarious living out of residual feelings. However, this unhealthy pattern may end up reigniting feelings for one partner or both until the same vicious cycle of getting back together and breaking up again repeats itself. Remember – your ex is your ex for a reason. In case, you allow this to happen, there would be pretty much nothing left to salvage. Time is of vital importance in realizing the gravity of a breakup, accepting it, coming to terms with it, processing it completely, setting well-defined boundaries, and then, accepting the hand extended by an ex as an offer of friendship. There is no fixed time frame for this process – it all depends on your ability to be deal with your feelings and have a brazen, downright honest, maybe even brutal sense of self-awareness.

This, then, brings us to the next consideration in the process of answering our primary question – can you be friends with an ex? And that is – FEELINGS! Where are you at? Where is your ex at? What is your stance and approach toward the breakup and the impending chances of friendship, if any?

couple on the stairs

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When you are hot off the heels of a breakup wherein you or your partner wasn’t quite ready to let go, it might be a bad idea to sink into the familiar and comfortable pattern of texting, talking or hanging out together. This is because romantic feelings cannot be just turned off at the flick of a switch and the breakup has to be processed before any friendly alliance can be formed. If you happen to jump onto the friendship wagon to ease your feelings of guilt (if you ended the relationship), it is likely that your ex will be accepting your offer of friendship with a highly volatile set of emotions, misplaced feelings, residual love, and a different set of expectations than yours. This expectation of a possible glimmer of hope and rekindling the romantic relation may end up hurting both of you and may even get in the path of moving on.

Understanding one’s motives for being friends with an ex is extremely important.

  • Are you looking to ease your own sense of guilt?
  • Do you seek closure?
  • Are you hoping that the source of your pain shall be the most efficacious means to deal with the emotional crisis you’re facing?
  • Are you looking to get back together?
  • Are you resisting the reality owing to an inability to admit failure?
  • Are you seeking emotional support?
  • Or do you dread the answerability in social circles?

Suggested read: Breakup or makeup – 15 signs to help make that choice

Whether it is any of the above reasons or not, it is important to note that your reason to being friends with an ex should be nothing save a true desire to be friends and nothing else.

couple watching tv

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Relationships expert Dr Gabrielle Morrissey explains,

“If you’re hanging on because of a desire to re-spark the relationship and you’d rather have unrequited love than nothing at all, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Be aware of signs you’re not moving forward, such as having photos of your ex on display, not dating other people, and spending too much time with them. You need to be looking forward not backwards to truly heal.”

Now that one knows it is possible to be friends with an ex and that it merely needs the right approach, the question is – what exactly is this right approach?

Couple Chatting

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After processing the breakup and having let go of your ex, emotionally and otherwise, your grieving process is deemed complete. You are then, in a position to consider being friends with your ex. However, before being friends with your ex, you need to brave the waters of your new equation – a friendship dynamic that is very different from other friendships. Having shared an incredibly intimate relationship with the same person might posit an extra element of risk to the new arrangement. Therefore, you need to establish boundaries and guidelines about your friendship. From the frequency of interactions and meetings to not discussing your personal lives right off the bat, refraining from asking for or soliciting relationship advice, keeping ex sex off limits, not rehashing old arguments, not having the ‘why we broke up’ discussion over and over again to the possibility of rekindling the old flame or relapsing into recurring patterns of familiarity and comfort in a bad phase need all be straightened out, creases and all. The setting of boundaries in your relationship shall help you see it for what it is and where it starts to enter dangerous territory. This shall ensure that you enter into a healthy friendship and put your past behind you.

Having said that, it is important that you know that different strokes work for different folks. While some of us find this an inviting proposition as we cannot stand the thought of losing someone we have loved intensely and never seeing them again, for others, it is a complete 180-degree swing. They are the people who might choose to cut off all contact and walk away without a backward glance.

couple talking (5)

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As such, I feel compelled to tell you that while my ‘chosen’ land of grey was filled with billowy swathes of cloud that broke to pour down as precious pearls, I have been on the other end of the storm too. And it wasn’t pretty. Grotesque grey monsters rode on the wind-steeds and ripped apart every shred of emotion. The torrential downpour drenched me such that I woke up to nightmares of being caught in the nefarious weather every day until the gloomy visions had completely blighted my hopes. And this was because the latter friendship wasn’t quite a ‘choice.’

Remember to choose to be friends with an ex, only after you have gauged everything we have explained above. Because if it were that easy a decision, you wouldn’t be reading an entire article about whether or not you should be friends with them.

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Can You Really Be Friends With Your Ex - All You Need To Know
We have a definitive answer to the question that haunts us perennially- "is it really possible to be friends with an ex?" Find the answer here.
Sejal Parikh

Sejal Parikh

"I'm a hurricane of words but YOU can choose the damage I do to you..."