Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Should You Stay Friends With An Ex?

Breaking up is tough. After having cared for someone so much, it almost feels wrong to cut an ex out of our lives. It seems so cruel. 

So if the breakup was amicable, we can wonder if it’s not better to maintain some level of connection rather than completely sever it.

Surely it’s good to wish each other happy birthday, meet up for coffee once a month, and share our petty family troubles with a person who knows our relatives almost as closely as we do.

Well, maybe not. If both parties involved feel that the companionship ran its course, the success of its continuation as friends largely depends on our motivations.

Why do we want to stay friends with our ex?

Some reasons are better than others, such as when we’re colleagues, co-parenting, or part of the same friend group. Keeping things civil in these circumstances is hugely beneficial to us.

But when we want to stay in touch just because it makes us feel better, we’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons. Sure, staying friends makes us feel incredibly generous and kind-hearted. 

But keeping someone around to seem mature and virtuous is actually quite childish and sinister. And we mustn’t forget that ‘friend’ is a huge step down from ‘significant other’. 

Changing our story from ‘happily ever after’ to ‘drinks and a movie every fortnight’ is at best a booby prize.

Even when both parties have no romantic interest in each other, we’re unlikely to enter a genuine friendship. Our past makes it almost impossible. Not only will hearing about our ex’s current dating life make us feel uncomfortable, we also won’t be able to get too close without risking leading them on.

Under normal circumstances, frequent and deep conversation is void of romantic intentions. But with an ex, even something as simple as accidentally touching feet under the dinner table can set off memories of a fonder, more intimate time. 

Although we may not wish to get together again, our psychological attachment makes it easy for us to slip into our former roles.

And there’s the rub.  

Friendship with an ex will rarely be as profound as with someone we don’t have a romantic history with. Our past forbids it. We need to devise rules and boundaries that keep our former lover from crossing the platonic line. 

So we might be able to be friendly with an ex, but never friends. At least, not in the true sense of the word.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach