The journey to being friends with your ex is hardly linear
I am dating a man close to his ex, who is close to her ex, who has a more-than-welcome abundance of flirtationships with many others in the Giant Web of Exes. Despite the existence of our amicable “Ex Brigade,” post-breakup friendships aren’t the norm.
Ask a professional for your options, and you won’t get a straight answer. The same goes for crowdsourcing advice. So when you’re faced with the question, “Do you think we can still be friends?” the journey is hardly linear.
We asked some people to weigh in on the matter. Exes as friends: yay or nay?
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Why do people want to stay friends after a breakup?
There are many reasons you might want to stay friends after a breakup. Civility. To cushion the blow of a cold turkey cut. Security. Familiarity. More time to navigate unresolved romantic feelings.
According to 34-year-old multimedia artist Amy, the choice isn’t so much a choice as a set of unavoidable circumstances. “Honestly, I didn’t want to be friends, but we ended up in the same college, same circle, and so I just kinda gave in to the fact that [we’d] end up being around each other…He ended up marrying and divorcing a good friend [to] whom I introduced him…A decade later, he's groveling like a fuccboi.”
So, Amy’s ending isn’t serendipitous, nor is it the same for many future exes, with whom she “doesn’t like nor hate.”
For others, the choice to to have exes as friends is more deliberate. “My ex and I broke up because we ultimately weren't compatible with what we wanted out of our relationship. We stayed friends because we still shared a good bond and had fun together,” explains 28-year-old editor Drew, whose ex, Chi (31), couldn’t agree more.
“It would be a damn shame not to keep them in my life. We have way too much to talk about endlessly, and few people I know can match how supportive they are. I would miss them too much if they weren't around,” shares Chi on her friendship with Drew.
In the same thread of natural inclinations, some reasons aren’t to blame for an eventual split. On his and Drew’s mutual ex, Chi, my partner Dean (33) explains that “Chi eventually realized that, deep down, she was attracted to women, not men. There was no reason not to stay friends since the split was no one's fault, and even before we were together, we were the best of friends.”
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Sometimes, post-breakup friendships are a bust
Despite the growing popularity of post-breakup friendships, the phenomenon of exes as friends modern. Especially amongst mixed-gender pairs, the potential for hostility is a stopping point for pursuing platonic friendships.
According to 22-year-old student Gab, the choice to remain friends with an ex is mostly circumstantial. “[Our] personalities don’t match. We only became friends after two years of not talking.” As for the potential for future post-breakup friendships, Gab isn’t a fan of playing with fire. “It’s better to hurt now and cut ties completely with the person. Don't try talking to them after the breakup. Having one last talk after the break up for closure is acceptable, but after that, hurt and move on.”
I smell a fair explanation. As someone fresh out of a polyamorous breakup, the desire to maintain friendships you’ve developed with a partner over time is tempting. It’s safe. It’s familiar. It isn’t jarring. Your partner, their previous meta (a polyamorous partner's partner), is still their friend.
But external factors aside, there are many reasons fast-friends-after-a-breakup isn’t as romantic a trope as you might think. According to Dean, “Red flags for a friendship apply whether you were previously romantically linked or not. If you decide to hang out with someone, selfishness, unreliability, toxic behavior, and fundamental differences in beliefs will always cause problems.”
For Gab and Amy, the aversion is primarily the result of complicated feelings. “You shouldn’t be friends with an ex if they constantly flirt with you, knowing you’re…in a long-term relationship.” Amy, I won’t ask, but I hope you’re no longer friends with this person.
Other times, there is no better friend than your ex
When the romantic longing and sinfully delicious thoughts about your ex fade like a fine sunset, you may wonder why you shouldn’t be friends. If not romantically, who’s to say your pieces won’t fit platonically?
Once you’ve buried the lingering resentment, the desire to creep on their social media for hints of a new partner and all the hard feelings, rekindling your friendship is possible.
According to Drew, this is the trick: “Don't rush into being friends—some people use this to avoid the hard feelings and the work that comes with a breakup. You can be friends with your ex, just not immediately. It takes time to reframe someone's role in your life and adjust your expectations accordingly.”
While an avid believer in post-breakup friendships, Dean is cautious about the process. “It really depends on the circumstances of the breakup and how healthy your relationship was. Betrayal of trust and other similar problems that require one or both people to grow up or learn difficult lessons might require distance, as the learning process can be both frustrating and prolonged by a lack of social consequences. However, in the case of a civil and mutual split based on something that isn't hurtful or traumatizing, staying close and talking openly may help both partners understand themselves and their relationship needs more.”
On the more amicable end of the spectrum, Chi and Drew have taken exes as friends to a new level. Drew reminisces, “In 2022, I went to a Halloween party with the Ex Brigade: it was me and my ex, her girlfriend (who I had also hooked up with previously), and her ex (who I also—you know what, you get it)”—rumor has it they’re still this close.
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The bottom line
While a relationship of exes as friends can be enriching, you know your boundaries best. The underlying reason for wanting to retain the friendship might be directly correlated to how your relationship ended—so sit with it.
Ultimately, some connections are transient. Whether they’re worth salvaging is a question only you can answer.
Words Zoë Isabela Alcazaren
Art Macky Arquilla