Love, Always

How to “just be friends” with someone after a break-up: A 4-part series on one of life’s toughest dilemmas. [1]

Friends after breakup

Part one: What do you want + why do you want it?

“Just Friends” — Frank Sinatra

Just friends, lovers no more
Just friends but not like before
To think of what we’ve been
And not to kiss again

Seems like pretending
It isn’t the ending
Two friends drifting apart
Two friends but one broken heart

We loved, we laughed, we cried
Then suddenly love died
The story ends and we’re just friends …

We’ve all been there.

Ending a romantic relationship amidst complex feelings, fears, even tears.

Growing apart, yet drawn together. Making promises we hope we can keep.

“I still care about you. Let’s try to remain friends.”

But is it really possible?

Yes, but it’s tricky. If this friendship is going to work, it’s essential for both of you to get really clear about why you want to be friends and what you want out of the friendship.

The potential to be friends will also depend on how the break occurred: was it an amicable separation (easier to “just be friends”), or was it an ugly split — an affair, or betrayal (a lot tougher to build a bridge to friendship.)


The best way to do it?

Start with some soul-searching.

Here are some questions to help you figure out what’s motivating you to want to keep your ex in your life.

Is it because …


: I feel guilty about breaking up (+ I want to soften the blow)? 


: I don’t want to feel like a failure (so I’ll turn the failed relationship into a friendship)?

: I’m afraid I won’t find love again (+ something is better than nothing)?

: I’m waiting to fall in love with someone else (but don’t want to be alone, until then)?

: (Fill in the blank with your response.)

______________________________________________________________________

To go even deeper, ask yourself what you want out of this friendship. Be brutally honest.

Do you want …

: Emotional support (my ex knows me better than anyone else)?


: A chance of reuniting (deep down, still hoping we’ll get back together)?

: A best friend (because I don’t feel like I have anybody else)?

: (Fill in the blank with your response.)

______________________________________________________________________


As you answer each question, pay attention to whether your answers seem based on need or preference.

Friendships based in need“There’s a hole in my life without you! Don’t leave me!” — are never healthy, for either person.

Friendships based in preference“I respect you + you’ve always been a positive influence in my life. We’ve both changed, but I’d prefer to keep you in my world.” — have a much better chance at success.

A few more things to keep in mind:

To “just be friends” with your ex, you need to carefully manage your emotions — making sure there are no romantic feelings (or feelings of pain + resentment) lurking in the background.

You also need to be very clear about the boundaries between friendship and romance — holding a frank conversation about what’s appropriate and what’s not, and the timing that feels right. (More on that, later in this blog series.)

Otherwise, it can be easy to mistake a caring gesture of friendship — a phone call after a rough day, or a gentle shoulder-squeeze of comfort — as “something more.” Which can fling open to doors to … “a lot more.” As in, sex that leads nowhere, leaving both of you shattered and uneasy. Don’t go there.

One last question to consider. And it’s a big one:

At some point, your ex will probably enter into another romantic relationship. Are you okay with being their friend — celebrating with them, hearing the happy details — through that experience of new love?

If your body says, “Absolutely not, I don’t want to know anything about it!” then you’re probably not in a place where you can offer true, unconditional friendship. That’s OK. Just be honest with yourself + your former flame. You’ll both be happier + healthier for it.

In the next installment in this 4-part series, we’ll cover a crucial question:

How quickly is too quickly to become “just friends” with your ex?

12 Comments
  1. I sing Taylor Swift’s “WE ARE NEVER GETTING BACK TOGETHER” in the shower. So I thought I was in a ‘no’ to romance, ‘yes’ to friends place.

    But am I OK with be-friending an ex whose in another relationship? Can’t say that idea brings me peace. Guess I need to sing Taylor’s song in the car as well! I adore your posts.

    • Hi Cindy: Ha ha. If Taylor’s song hasn’t solidified “THE END” for you, consider doing some journal writing. It might help with digging a little deeper as to what might be causing you to still feel “together” with your ex.

  2. Love this series. Always a dilemma for me to want to stay “friends.” I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but it’s really more that I don’t want him to think bad of me.”

    • Hi Jill: Sounds like you nailed it! “Worrying about what other people think” is such an energy drain.

  3. “I’m afraid I won’t find love again” has kept me hanging on way too long. Looking back (and now that I have found love), I see how much time I wasted by holding on. Great post!

    • Hi Rod: “Worrying about the future” and “Fear of not getting what we want” are big energy drains as well. You got to see that first hand!

  4. Honestly, it’s hard for me to imagine her with anyone else. It doesn’t make sense because I broke up with her and I’m happy with someone else and I want her to be happy. I was always very protective of my sisters. Kinda feels that way with her too.

    • Hi Fred: Sounds like you’re a great brother! Sometimes feelings or behaviors that were perfectly appropriate in the past don’t necessarily fit the present. In that regard, some people have found it helpful to tell themselves something along the lines of,

      “That was then… this is now….”

  5. I can’t CONCEIVE why anyone would want to see their Ex, unless she’s CONCEIVED….
    Why would I want to see half of my stuff or the one, who stomped on my heart.

    • Hi Ron: I can appreciate your sentiments.

      Relationships can be so diverse and varied that what seems inconceivable to one person is greatly desired by another. There are lots of reasons why people may feel drawn to a past relationship — so many, in fact, that I felt it necessary to write this 4-part series!

  6. Really great post. I have only managed to stay friends with one of my exes over the years. After my most recent breakup, I tried reaching out to him multiple times. But I realize it was out of need versus my preference. I genuinely miss our friendship and connection but I don’t think it’s possible to have a friendship with him — at least not right now. There are just too many painful/hurt feelings.

    • Hi Nadia: Thank you for sharing. Sounds like these are healing times for you. I empathize.