Discussion: Dealing With Exes

Dec 2, 2011

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t date.  Six years ago, I decided to take a break from dating after my first D.C. relationship ended in spectacular fashion, shortly after the longest relationship of my life sputtered to a halt. Somehow, the break turned into a way of life. 

(Frankly, I blame my Father.  If I so much as mentioned a boy that I had a crush on, he would proceed to tell me why that boy was objectionable (usually because of their family) and tell me that I wasn’t allowed to date him.  So I spent the vast majority of my formative years single, until I found a boy from another city to date.  Thus, single is my default setting.)

I’m not anti-men. I’m not saying I’ll never date again.  And I certainly don’t bear any of the men who have held the place of Belle’s Significant Other any ill will.  But that doesn’t mean that I want to be friends with them or even speak to them. 

In my opinion, once a relationship is over, it’s over.  You can continue to care about someone who had a profound impact on your life or who you once loved, but when it’s time to move on from the romance, I find that it’s just best to move on entirely.

I tried to be friends with a few of my exes, but it never really works out.  Other women come into the picture.  People move away.  Feelings crop up from time to time and gum up the works.  And I just prefer to separate on good terms and stay separated.  (I suppose this is a luxury that I can afford since I don’t live or work in the same place as any of my exes.)

However, I didn’t realize that not actively seeking to be friends with your exes was such a novel concept until recently.

Several weeks ago, I received recognition for a very public accomplishment.  And in the same 24-hour period, I heard from every ex-boyfriend that I have.  Every.freaking.one.

On the one hand, it was nice that we all parted on good enough terms that they felt empowered to send a note of congratulations.  But on the other, it was extremely uncomfortable. Like being transported by Portkey, only instead of the Quidditch Cup, the destination is the past. (That’s a Harry Potter reference for those of you not in the know.)

I hadn’t talked to these men in years.  I know nothing about their lives, nor do I really want to.  So it was all a bit awkward, like holding an antique hand grenade.  You know its been deactivated, but there’s always a chance that it could blow up and maim you.

Luckily, all of these men are (mostly) normal guys, who were satisfied with a simple thank you.  And we are blissfully back in the land of not being friends.

So this is my question for today: Are you friends with your exes?  If so, what kind of friends (good, acquaintance, etc.)?  And if you see your exes regularly, what advice do you offer on dealing with them?


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  1. Anon says:

    Very best friends with one ex. If I'm honest, I'm closer friends with him than I am with my husband. The ex has known me since I was 13 – over half my life – nobody on earth knows me like he does. Awkwardness is completely avoided by the fact that he lives in Europe and we've seen each other just once in the past decade and talk mainly through FB chat.

    Burn in hell to one ex. Did a little jig when I heard through the grapevine that he was doing poorly professionally.

    And I'm casual FB friends with a couple of the others, but they all have families of their own, so I don't really interact with them.

  2. Ellie says:

    I used to make a big deal about these things; then, someone casually mentioned the phrase “it's only as awkward as you make it.” So true.
    I don't make a point of keeping in touch with any of my exes. If I run into them, we politely smile and make small talk for a few minutes, and then I go on with my day. If anything, it's a good opportunity to remind myself of good reasons the relationship didn't work out.
    It probably helps that I am now engaged to a wonderful man that manages to fill in the gaps of every ex I've had.
    Also, congrats, on whatever it was.

  3. I am not friends with an exes, but I think that's probably because I met my husband at 19–so the list of exes isn't very long. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing. I think many people try to hard, and go out of their way to stay friends, maybe to prove a point? I think if nature just takes its course, these friendships end quickly and naturally.

  4. Moniblu says:

    I would run the other way if I saw any of my exes, but I think it's wonderful that yours hold you in such high regard. I agree with your style of ending things completely and don't see how people who don't have a choice (shared friends, shared workplace) deal with the difficult period after a breakup. If there is no animosity, it seems like you could be acquaintances and talk about the weather or the latest blockbuster without any danger. Friends…I don't know about that. I don't like my worlds colliding.

  5. KH says:

    Recently started a break with my boyfriend of 4 years.. so we'll see how that one goes. My inclination is to do the same as with all of my other boyfriends- not remain friends. Simply too messy.

  6. Michael says:

    Hi Belle,

    For me, I think it's best to stay away from exes. I've come to learn that closure is something we give ourselves. Part of why my past relationships haven't worked out have not just been b/c I didn't like the guys, but sometimes I didn't like who I was when I was with them. I want to be the best version of myself and sometimes that means moving on and away from others that don't bring out the best in me, or push me forward.

    Girlfriend, get back out there. I'm a younger twenty something and really look up to what you have to say. You're so full of wisdom and sass. I think any man would be so lucky to have such a strong woman accompanying him on this journey of life. Who wouldn't love him some of that? Get it girl.


    P.S. Congrats on your accomplishment!!

  7. CynthiaW says:

    That's a tough one – I'm friends with a few, but they were friends before and after the relationship and the break-ups weren't that painful. Probably because they took place over 20 years ago and we were in high school at the time. Now, the relationships after that – most of them have resulted in us going our separate ways and never speaking again because our connection was severed and neither of us were interested in remaining in contact. There are a few that I've remained friendly with, but we were primarily friends to start with and had a short romantic connection somewhere in the friendship.

    There are really only two exceptions and they're opposite exceptions – I still have contact with my first husband (no kids, married two years when I was 19 – 20). We don't talk often, but we keep up with each other on Facebook. The other is my first serious relationship and I've cut him off, period. He's tried to contact me a few times and I don't respond – our relationship was over a long time ago and I've moved on, but he hurt me deeply and I'm not interested in revisiting it.

    I think that things are different now because it seems like so many romantic relationships spring from long-standing friendships, that it would be weird not to go back to being friends after.

  8. Katie says:

    I just now have my first boyfriend, but I used to get asked out by coworkers (and occasionally bosses and college instructors) all the time and really, just trying to get back to normal was my goal. I politely declined their advances and went about my work. Unfortunately, some people want to make a big deal that you did not return their affection (or whatever) and choose to be childish (one coworker used to sing “Cold Hearted Snake” as I walked by, which is really not a great insult, but a really great story). Like Ellie said above, it's only awkward if you let it be and you only feel weird if you choose to feel weird.

  9. lisa says:

    I'm a firm believer in cutting all ties with exes. Mostly because I was never successful in doing it myself and experience first hand what a bad idea it was to “keep in touch.”

  10. Zoe says:

    I take it on a case by case basis. I believe in a cooling off period no matter what but after 6 months or a year I think its fine to become friends again. I think very highly of all of my exes, very kind and good men but it just didn't work out with us for whatever reason. I think if there is a bad breakup or cheating etc. then there is no point in even trying to be friends. Thus far I would say one of my exes and I are still close friends, another one we are friendly when we see each other/holidays and the latest one we just really haven't made an effort to keep in touch. I think the advice I would give to someone is that you have to create a new relationship with them and leave that old one in the past.

  11. a says:

    I guess I'm the odd one that stays friends with most of my exes and good friends with the ones from long term relationships. I wouldn't have stayed with them for so long if I didn't think highly of them and want them in my life. Just because we didn't work out romantically doesn't mean we don't still work as friends.

    But I also have a lot of guy friends, so maybe I'm just more okay with non-romantic guy relationships in general.

  12. KC says:

    First, congrats Belle on your accomplishment!

    I agree that attempting to stay friends can be artificial when the extent of your acquaintance is the former relationship. A friend of mine places a great deal of emphasis on remaining friends with her exes. While she conceivably has no reason to harbor ill will towards any of them, going beyond the necessary degree of courtesy to claim “great friendships” seems like an extraordinary amount of effort. Perhaps it's just an overstatement of the actual relationship, but I'd much rather let past flings pass quietly and focus on the present.

  13. KL says:

    I tried to be friends with my one and only ex and it failed miserably because his way of handling the breakup was to simply ignore me and pretend I didn't exist. When he did try to give it a chance, it was very clear that he felt sorry for me and then I realized: I am worth so much more than that. Some people may have great relationships with their exes and I applaud those who do..But at the end of the day, sometimes you're left wondering, “If we remain friends, does that mean we still have a chance?” And that thought is just not worth the amount of therapy you'll have to go through. Eventually, you'll realize that he is someone from your past, and maybe it's better off that way.

  14. J says:

    The Harry Potter reference made me love this blog even more.

  15. Rose says:

    I am on good terms with some of my exes, but we barely have any contact save for running into each other accidentally or the occasional facebook hello. I think anything more would rightfully make my boyfriend uncomfortable. They're fond memories, but I have no need for them in my present. The only ex boyfriend I would consider a close friend is the person I dated in the 9th grade. To be honest, I think the only reason we work as friends is that in the decade that has passed since then, we have grown up into such EXTREMELY different people that there is absolutely no temptation to rekindle.

  16. Jessica says:

    Congratulations to you!

    I saw my exes from college frequently when I was still in school and I even bump into them from time to time post-grad since most of us live in the same city. We were very friendly post-breakup in college. The only time I had to keep them at arms-length was when one would start expressing interest in dating me again after one too many beers.

    We're still friendly when we see one another. They still wish me happy birthday and reach out from time to time. But I will say none of them congratulated me on my recent engagement and I think I have a feeling why…

    They're all great guys and I wouldn't mind being friends with any of them if they understood things had to be platonic. Maybe after we're all married.

  17. m says:

    Friends with some exes (in a FB-friends-but-we-don't-really-talk kind of way) and typically only with those where the relationships were ages ago – like, mid-to-late 20s and earlier. I'm in my late 30's now so any hard feelings are long forgotten and if not forgotten, they're chalked up to immaturity. We grow up, move on, etc.

    I do not keep in touch with guys I've merely dated. Seems pointless. We didn't care for each other enough to continue seeing one another so no friendship, other feelings, or resentment ever had any chance to develop.

    I did have one painful experience with a long-distance ex. After the initial break-up sting, we became close friends, and when we found ourselves living in the same city, I had other ideas. That went badly and we didn't speak for close to two years. Then we made up and were friends again. When we both found what are now our significant others, our friendship has more or less ended. Not in a bad way, just in a “that was then, this is now” way. In some ways I miss him and in others I don't because I know he's happy and so am I. But that period of being friends again after not? Though there were no longer romantic sparks, we very much leaned on each other as two single people wanting to go places and have fun as a “couple”. There was no way that could be a long-term solution, though, and fortunately we were both adult enough by that time to respect the friendship for what it was.

  18. KMK says:

    First, congrats on your accomplishment.

    Second, I do not usually comment on your postings but just had to for this one. I could not agree more with this post. I do not think it is beneficial to anyone to stay friends with an ex – you, them, their new found girl or your new guy. In my opinion, it makes dating and getting to know people much too difficult if they are still “attached” in some way or another with an ex. I am currently engaged, and went through this with my fiance. He was good friends with his ex. His reasoning was they were good friends before and wanted to stay friends after. It wasn't until a few months ago that he realized that she is not, and has not been acting as a “friend” when she found herself drinking with a friend and sending my fiance inappropriate messages. And, I must add she is married.

  19. renee says:

    I am friendly, but certainly not friends. To be honest, most of my exes annoy me. Two of my three exes actively try to be friends/stay in touch and it drives me crazy. I barely have time to talk to my parents on the phone; I do not want to make pointless chit chat just for the sake of being courteous.

  20. Stephanie says:

    As someone else who doesn't date (5 years for me) I definitely agree with you. I once tried stay friends with exes but it got complecated for the same reasons you mention as well as for the plain fact that I felt that I was never able to move forward having attachments to the past. And it is strange how they all seem to come out of the woodwork at the same time.

    I have one who is long distance that I still exchange emails with about once a year when we have those milestone moments (his marriage, my promotion, a parent's passing, etc.). I am also still on speaking terms with my ex-husband (married young) but that is only because 11 years have passed and we live so far away from each other now; again more the milestone moments notifications only.

  21. becca says:

    a- I'm with you. My line of thinking is exactly the same! here I thought I was the only one! I'm friends with most of them and good friends with the long term ones.

  22. JJ says:

    Love your articles! Keep them up!

  23. Megan R. says:

    I didn't stay in touch with any of my exes – except one. My first boyfriend, who I met in college (I was a late bloomer) didn't work out as a relationship, but five years later he's my best friend in the world. Since I know this is what everyone will think, no, we no longer have romantic feelings for each other – I did for a long time and nearly wrecked the friendship, but I've since learned to stop trying to shoehorn him into a place in my life where he doesn't belong.

  24. Kim says:

    I used to be friends with every single ex of mine- and would hang out with them. I also wasn't friends with more than one girl and all my other friends were guys so that went hand in hand. Then I got older, married and had a kid. I just don't see the point anymore, my time is prioritized and hanging out with someone that I dated 10 years ago just doesn't make it. When I get alone time I prefer to hang out with women now because I get more than my fill of one on one man time with my husband.

    I am FB “friends” with all of them still though.

  25. TA says:

    I am not friends with any of my ex-boyfriends, especially my last one. After three years of dating, he decided to dump me publicly in a Potbelly. It was a horrible breakup–totally unexpected and I what really made me angry was that he did that in front of strangers and in a public area. A couple days later, I was foolish to ask if we could be friends and he agreed. He later asked if I wanted to go out to dinner with him. Dinner was very awkward–there were moments where we would be joking around and we would lean in as if we were about to kiss and then we would pull away immediately. Even the bartender asked if we're a couple. I had to tell him no–we just broke up. SO AWKWARD!

    After that, I decided I can't be friends with him so I cut him out of my life and on FB. However, his mother keeps sending my family yearly Christmas cards, which is very amusing/annoying. I don't know how to tell to stop. However, this year I got engaged and I'm thinking as a way to finally tell her to leave me alone is by mailing her an invitation to my upcoming wedding!

  26. grlnextdoor says:

    When I got married is when I gave up friendships with all my exes. Just glad I was the first one married out of all of them, because I'm not sure how I would have handled myself if it had been the other way around. I do have one awkward situation where I still dearly miss an ex's mom. I dated him 2 1/2 years, and she became like a mother to me. I so much want to call her up and tell her all about who I am now and the life I've created because I feel like she'd be proud. But I have yet to do so because I'm very much over her son, and it's been six years since that break up. Oh well…

  27. e says:

    I'm still friends with one ex, but we only dated for about two months out of a five-year friendship, and were (and still are) part of a close-knit circle of friends. Going out of our way to avoid each other (which we did at first) would make it a much bigger deal. The rest of the exes I'm in complete agreement about; they were in my life in a specific context, which has since ended, and while I would be polite if our paths crossed, I have no desire to stay in touch.

  28. Ms. B says:

    grlnextdoor – I know what you mean about those Moms of ex's that welcome you in. Christmas is the perfect time to drop her a card and let her know that SHE was and is someone you remember and think of fondly. Cards – the formal familiar greeting with a perosnal note. And Belle…put on your InSync Christmas music and get on with showing a little Christmas cheer.

  29. Christine says:

    I also agree with many of the sentiments expressed here. My exes all have had a place in my life, and have in some way or another all shaped me into the confident woman I am today. However, I do not see any reason to maintain friendships with them as they are from different periods in my life. Mind you, I also recently reevaluated all of my friendships, male and female, and have cut contact with everyone who doesn't have a positive impact on my life, so perhaps I am too picky when it comes to who I choose to be friends with.

  30. LPU says:

    I'm happy to hear that so many ladies have the same sentiments about not staying friends with exes. I can't begin to describe the relief I felt after my last relationship ended – but I was constantly on edge that I would run into him since we worked near one another & interactions were awkward. Our personal & professional lives had become intertwined over 2+ years (never again!) and it was miserable to untangle them. Getting a new job, and not seeing each other for 9 months, has been amazing.

    I will always care for my ex boyfriends. However, I completely agree with Michael's sentiment. Not only did I not LIKE my ex by the time it was over, I didn't like who I was when I was with them. That's why, when you get to the nitty-gritty of it, that we didn't last. So – why would we be friends?

    …That's exactly what went through my mind when he asked to get drinks and “catch up” a month ago. Cheers to finding someone you like (love!?) to be with – & that you like who YOU are when you're with them.

  31. L says:

    Yes and no. The really serious ones, no. We broke up for reasons that I would ditch any friend for as well, so really what is the point. Of course, you treat people politely/cordially, but no need to interact unless you run into them.

    The not so serious amicable splits are about 50/50. some are really fun people, but more friends than boyfriends. honestly, i think of them just like a girlfriend.

  32. Francine says:

    I think it really depends on the guy and how it ended. I haven't spoken to my ex-husband for years and never will because he was banging some other chick in our bed for a year. So that's a no-brainer. And the ones I have dumped in disgust — no problem never seeing or talking to them again. But I have had other exes in which it has ended with sadness, but also with affection and care for one another. As long as you're well and truly over the person, I think you can remain friends if you truly like them as people and respect the way you ended things.

    Having said that, however, I am in the process of writing my current man a Dear John letter and handing it to him after Christmas and it is going to be really, really hard cutting off all contact with him. But as someone mentioned above, I don't particularly like who I am when I am with him, feel he really doesn't bring out the best in me, and so I know the only way to truly get over him is to cut off all contact. But it's going to be hard, because I love him, and I know he loves me. As Bill O'Reilly would say: “Fucking thing sucks.”

  33. Roberta says:

    Oh my goodness, NO. Just no. Once someone is an ex, it is O.V.E.R. That is it. That is all. I wish for them to simply disappear from the earth. Or at least any part of the earth that I am on. It is not within my personal temperamental capacity to remain or try to be friends or friendly. I'm just not built that way. If I had a Vanishing Cabinet, I would shove them all in there for safekeeping.

  34. Lori says:

    I totally agree with everyone. It is super hard to stay friends with an ex. Either you walk the line of flirty/friendly and drop back into old habits, or you get jealous and frustrated with them because it just isn't the same. This has definitely taken me a long time to learn, but I'm moving on. Facebook has made it especially hard as well because there are so many reminders.

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