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Friends with your ex?
February 20, 2011 5:07 PM   Subscribe

Why is being friends with your ex supposedly a good sign to future dating prospects?

Let's ignore the possibility of either "ex" being crazy and/or painfully clingy, and ignore the idea of the future dating prospects being the jealous type.

Taking the question at face value, again I ask: why is this supposedly a good thing? Is there some benefit I can't see here?




(Granted, currently I'm a little biased, having broken up with my now-ex-boyfriend, who sort of wants to stay friends. However, I tend to go forward without really looking back, and burn my bridges in the process.)
posted by DisreputableDog to Human Relations (65 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
People don't normally stay friends with people who they consider total jerks, who were traiterous or dishonest etc. If you're still friends with your ex, that means that even though things ended, your ex doesn't not consider you to be a traiterous, dishonest jerk, even though of all the people in the world exes are the most likely to see someone that way. It suggests you behaved honourably in the relationship and breakup.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:11 PM on February 20, 2011 [16 favorites]


I think you've answered your own question. Being friends with (at least some of) your exes suggests you're not crazy, painfully clingy, faking being nice, horribly vindictive, etc. It suggests that even after someone has gotten to know you (by dating you for a while) they still think you're a likable person.
posted by hattifattener at 5:13 PM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, first you should realize that "friends" is really more of a euphemism for "can act civil towards each other, doesn't make friends choose sides, can show up at the same party and neither has to leave, and doesn't try to ruin each others lives."

It basically means that the people you sleep with don't regret doing so. It also probably means you aren't dishonest, abusive, or have some sort of awful character trait that would make an ex never want to be in the same room as you again.

It's also good because, realistically, most relationships don't work out and people want to know what you'll be like as their ex.
posted by whoaali at 5:15 PM on February 20, 2011 [25 favorites]


It also means that once you're not sleeping with someone/paying half the rent, you're still pleasant, normal-ish, etc. You're not just putting on a front in the honeymoon phase of a relationship.

It also means that people like you even if you're not sleeping with them, paying half their rent, etc.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:16 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, if I understand the question -
I suppose some people might skew the situation and come to the conclusion that you are mature or 'advanced' when it comes to relationships because you know how to deal with the situation without completely severing ties (meaning you have a clear idea of and can separate the ideas of friendliness vs boyfriends, and you can dissolve the relationship but still understand that there are certain aspects you don't need to abandon to have this change).

In other, probably better words... Staying friends could be viewed as a mature separation where you've decided you know what you want and how to separate that, whereas a complete 'burn your bridges' situation may seem kind of sophomoric or unnecessary, or even naive.

If that makes any sense?
posted by beyourownsaviour at 5:17 PM on February 20, 2011


Well, first you should realize that "friends" is really more of a euphemism for "can act civil towards each other, doesn't make friends choose sides, can show up at the same party and neither has to leave, and doesn't try to ruin each others lives."

That too, but people are also talking about actually being friends with one's ex, rather than being minimally civil.
posted by hattifattener at 5:18 PM on February 20, 2011


Because people aren't Kleenex. Wadding them up and throwing them away when you are through with them is a shitty thing to do.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:24 PM on February 20, 2011 [28 favorites]


Why is being friends with your ex supposedly a good sign to future dating prospects?

Ahem...
"However, I tend to go forward without really looking back, and burn my bridges in the process."

Why date someone who's just going to wind up burning bridges with you at the end? Love waxes and wanes and sometimes dies, but that doesn't, and in my opinion, shouldn't mean that you have to completely cut that person out of your life. If you can still be friends with ex or two, it shows you're mature and value them beyond just sleeping or shacking up with them.

To put it more simply, a breakup can be hard, because you're losing a lover and a friend. It's nice to know that there's a possibility of still having a friend if things go down in flames.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:24 PM on February 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


I don't think it's important to be friends with all exes, but it probably looks good to be able to be friends with some of them because it means you don't have crazy, hate-filled drama breakups.
posted by elpea at 5:30 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


It means you're able to handle a breakup like an adult and recognize that it just kind of didn't work out instead of demonizing someone - exceptions are of course made for when your ex actually did fuck you over in some extraordinary way. But other than that, it means that if I'm the next person to date you, I don't have to be worried that you'll go around shit-talking me to every one of our mutual acquaintances or whatnot. And if I like your friends and your friends like me, I won't be excised from that circle of awesome people by your bridge-burning.

I'm not saying it's the only way to handle things, and if you're a habitual bridge-burner, then that's what works for you and that is a fine thing, but long story short if you're able to be at least civil with at least some of your exes then it demonstrates a lower chance of drama if and when a breakup happens. That's always a plus.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 5:31 PM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


first you should realize that "friends" is really more of a euphemism for "can act civil towards each other, doesn't make friends choose sides, can show up at the same party and neither has to leave, and doesn't try to ruin each others lives."

Not always -- I am really, truly, actively involved in real, honest-to-goodness friendships with several of my exes. We talk on the phone, and take time out to see each other when we're in each other's cities, we send birthday presents, we support each other through crises, etc. It took time, of course -- it always does, after a breakup -- but I have dated (and been married to!) men who, in general, have all been smart, loving, decent, funny, interesting guys... why on earth wouldn't I want to stay friends with some of them? (Shorter version: don't date jerks.)

Anyway: for me, when a man has said he's friends with his exes, this has always been an excellent signal -- it shows that he can relate to women as people, not just as sources for companionship and sex. It shows a capacity to like and respect women in general. A guy who has nothing but bad things to say about his exes will eventually be badmouthing you.
posted by scody at 5:35 PM on February 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


It's especially important to remain on good terms with one's exes if you're in a small community-- a small town, or if you date in certain circles, or if you're in an LGBT/queer community, since you're gonna run into them all the time. So if you're in one of those kinds of communities it's seen as a good sign because of drama avoidance.

Everywhere else, I think it's just that someone who's not friends with (or at least on good terms with) any of their exes is likely to be someone with whom something eventually will go down that is dramatic and explosive enough that both sides are unwilling to talk to each other. So anyone who hates all of their exes or who can't talk to them is likely to be someone with whom you are guaranteed a nasty breakup. But the difference between being civil and being buddies is an important one here.

I tend to be friends with my exes, so I tend to want to date people who are friends with theirs too because that means if it doesn't work out I'm likely at least to get a friendship out of it. That's just how things tend to go for me-- I don't date people who I wouldn't want to be friends with even without the romantic/sexual component. Other people are different, though, and don't tend to do that, but I think people who are generally friends later get a lot more hurt when they break up with someone who tends to burn bridges.
posted by NoraReed at 5:36 PM on February 20, 2011


Hm. I dunno. Not everyone thinks it's a good thing. Maybe it's just me. On one hand, it's nice to see that someone who was in a significant, important relationship with another wouldn't just toss them aside, as others have mentioned above.

On the other hand, I know some people who force friendships with their exes in a desperate attempt to prove to themselves and others that they aren't bad people, no matter how horribly they may have behaved in their relationship, or how important it might be for the ex to maintain distance. (Also for NSA sex, but that is a tangential detail.)

In those instances, being friends with the ex isn't really a good sign, and may in fact be correlated with the number of restraining orders that have been taken out against them in the past.

Uh...just sayin'.
posted by vivid postcard at 5:37 PM on February 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


If you genuinely care for someone, I don't think that that ever really goes away. So if you come out of a committed relationship with either antipathy or indifference toward your ex, that may suggest any number of problems: (1) that the relationship was not strong to begin with; (2) that you are somehow maladjusted; (3) that you handled the break-up badly, and so on.

(One thing I'm assuming is that the ex in question is someone whom you felt very strongly about, even loved. I suppose that if a relationship seemed weak or uncertain or otherwise dubious even as it was happening, I wouldn't find it problematic if one didn't care to maintain contact with the other party after a breakup.)
posted by Maxa at 5:38 PM on February 20, 2011


(Oh, and my boyfriend says he has always had the same rule about women: "anyone I dated who said she wasn't friends with her exes was probably -- not definitely, but probably -- going to eventually reveal herself to be driving the Crazy Drama Train. Which is great if you like crazy drama, but a big red flag if you don't.")
posted by scody at 5:39 PM on February 20, 2011


Being friends means you were able to handle things in a mature way.

Not being friends means you're able to move on.

-----------
A lot of people have a lot of opinions about this. Personally, I think staying friends for the sake of staying friends is absurd; if things fizzled because neither of you was feeling a romantic spark, it could work; but it's a bad sign if you hate each other and can't be civil.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:40 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"On the other hand, I know some people who force friendships with their exes in a desperate attempt to prove to themselves and others that they aren't bad people, no matter how horribly they may have behaved in their relationship, or how important it might be for the ex to maintain distance."

True! I've definitely had exes who wanted to stay friends for the guilt, which was really annoying and a continuation of the weird defensiveness they maintained throughout the relationship.

Like all "rules" for dating there are exceptions and it's a bit silly to take it as 100% factual or think that everyone believes it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:41 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's ignore the possibility of either "ex" being crazy...

It is my experience that men whose pasts are littered with "crazy" girlfriend after "crazy" girlfriend generally turn out to be... how can I put this without sounding like a shrill feminazi... misogynistic fuckwads.

I mean, obviously one or two in a long life with lots of relationships? OK, sure. There are definitely crazy people out there, and somebody has to suffer the misfortune of dating them.

But in the scenario of "all my exes were a bunch of crazy bitches", there are two possibilities:

A. Maybe the women were not the crazy ones.

B. He sees all women as irrational, especially when they disagree with him or inconvenience him.

I also whole-heartedly agree with Tina Fey's recent statement about "crazy" women. She's talking about Hollywood and ageism, but I actually think it holds true for almost any value of women being described as "crazy".
I have a suspicion... that the definition of "crazy" in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.
In other words, I think a lot of men call their ex-girlfriends "crazy" as a euphemism for "I no longer want to fuck her". All women who are sexually useful are "normal", and all women who are not sexually useful are "crazy".
posted by Sara C. at 5:54 PM on February 20, 2011 [44 favorites]


Oh, and I agree: supporting the idea of friendship among exes doesn't mean you have to be friends with ALL of them, or under any circumstances, on on their timetable as opposed to your own. Some exes are crazy, some exes move halfway across the country and fall out of touch, some exes just weren't your cup of tea in any way, some exes want to be friends the day after the breakup (which is impossible), etc. But that's different from being unable or unwilling to be friends with ANY exes.
posted by scody at 5:55 PM on February 20, 2011


I don't think that people need to stay friends with all of their exes, or even most of them. But someone who isn't friends with any exes is, to me, someone to be wary of, because that person is likely to be someone who, on some level, enjoys drama, and likes to create it. Someone who can't just recognize that sometimes things and and people aren't well matched, but instead needs to manufacture a big, explosive confrontation and force friends to take sides and do a lot of character assassination. This is obviously not always going to be the case (you, disreputable dog, seem not to be such a person), but it's the case often enough, and there as so many people out there, that I try to avoid dating someone who carries that risk.

That said, there's a difference between being friends with an ex and staying friends with one. Trying to break up and just immediately remain friends, as your ex-boyfriend seems to be proposing, is almost always a bad idea. The best way to stay friends with an ex is to not talk to him/her for a while immediately after the breakup, but to refrain from doing anything (explosive confrontations, making friends choose sides, etc.) that would prevent you from being friends again at some point.
posted by Ragged Richard at 5:55 PM on February 20, 2011


Also, aside from the "crazy ex-girlfriend" issue, I value partners who are on good terms with their exes because it implies that they broke up amicably and/or at least somewhat mutually. It implies that they are emotionally mature, probably don't hold grudges, and are relatively drama-free. It implies they're not going to burn my house down or initiate a hostage situation at my workplace if we ever break up.
posted by Sara C. at 5:59 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


(on non-preview: Sara C. is spot-on. A guy who evidently has nothing but crazy ex-girlfriends [bonus fuckwad points if they were also gold-digging bitches!] is someone you want to run away from as swiftly as you possibly can.)
posted by scody at 6:02 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I feel kind of like Sara C. If all your exes are crazy, either 1. it wasn't them, it was you (both of her options) or 2. you have really scary-bad judgement and taste.

And the "tissue" metaphor. If you find someone worth dating, why would they not be worth friendship or at least casual contact if things don't pan out? Of course for long relationships it makes sense that one or both of you might be too devastated to see the other for a long time, it might not be natural to re-connect, etc. And if you haven't dated many people then it makes sense to have e.g. ONE ex who is crazy or who you didn't like as much as a friend. But the warning sign is having multiple exes, all of whom are crazy or assholes or not worth your time. And if you and this person in the future just go on a couple of dates, they might want the chance to make a friend even if the chemistry never clicks, not worrying that you're only looking for one type of connection.
posted by Lady Li at 6:06 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


But in the scenario of "all my exes were a bunch of crazy bitches", there are two possibilities

Well, there's also possibility (C): that the person in question is particularly attracted to crazy people. It happens. But I agree, if someone says all their ex-boyfriends are assholes, it probably says a lot more about them than about their exes.

Another aspect of answering the OP's question, IMHO, is that one way to get to know someone is to see how they interact with their friends, people who know them well, especially people who've known them under a variety of different circumstances.
posted by hattifattener at 6:07 PM on February 20, 2011


It is my experience that men whose pasts are littered with "crazy" girlfriend after "crazy" girlfriend generally turn out to be... how can I put this without sounding like a shrill feminazi... misogynistic fuckwads.

Generalizing, the same can be said of women with a long history of multiple "jerks," "assholes," etc - this can be a sign that they may be similarly covering for a personal issue that they are unwilling to confront personally.

However in the case of someone who actually requests to remain friends, I think there are more likely explanations than "what will future prospects think." If an ex is requesting to remain friends, they may have ambivalent feelings bout the breakup and want an open path of communication in case one or both parties decide it was a mistake (which maybe maturity, trying to have their cake and eat it too, or a little of both). Or perhaps they believe, as many people in this thread have said, that staying friends is a sign of maturity, and want to fake it till they make it (it being maturity in this case). Or maybe they enjoy the other party's company enough and the emotions of the breakup aren't overwhelming, so they want to be comfortable seeing the other party socially. If the ex is asking to remain friends, I think these are more likely than a strategic concern about future SOs' opinion.
posted by Tehhund at 6:11 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not friends with my exes. But I'm not really enemies either. Like "honor thy father and thy mother," I think one should honor one's past relationships. By this, I mean take seriously who the two of you were and why you were together and why you are no longer, as opposed to pretending your past has nothing to do with who you are now. However, friendship isn't required, or even necessarily a good sign.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:15 PM on February 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


What I would think about someone who isn't friends with some of their exes: "Wow. This person is terrible at picking people to date. They date based ONLY on sexual attraction, and when that's gone, they're left with someone they don't want to spend time with. So that means that they think I'm hot, but they don't really like ME, and that's going to make me feel terrible about myself for this entire relationship. AVOID! AVOID!"

This isn't to say that you should be friends with this particular ex, or that it's not possible for someone to try to be "friends" as a way to stay in your life hoping for more. My own exes are a mix of guys I feel friendly towards, but don't keep in touch with, guys I'd have a beer with if they were in town, guys I talk to a couple times a month, and guys I could call up if my car broke down in the middle of the night in a rainstorm (true friends). There's only one that I think so poorly of that I'd block him if he ever tried to friend me on Facebook, and that's about the range of ex-experiences I'd expect to see in any guy I dated. Just like with any other friends, some you grow apart from, some you think well of but don't stay in touch, and some grow to become important parts of your life. Would you cut of contact with every single one of your girlfriends if you moved to a different city? Would they ALL (not just some) be "out of sight, out of mind"? Then, yeah, you might want to look into your relationships with people in general. So don't feel guilted into being friends with this ex if you don't want to, but remain open to the idea of keeping people in your life and not just burning your bridges.
posted by MsMolly at 6:18 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I also whole-heartedly agree with Tina Fey's recent statement about "crazy" women. She's talking about Hollywood and ageism, but I actually think it holds true for almost any value of women being described as "crazy".

Which a sort of strange thing to mention, 'cause the original poster wasn't even talking about that, but ok then....

I don't think that people need to stay friends with all of their exes, or even most of them.

No, course not, but not being friends with any of your ex partner seems rather solitary and immature.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:28 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just assume that people who are friends with their exes are the kind of people who are part of the set of civilized, mature, sensible people I'd like to associate with, and that they choose people from the same set, too.

But I date exclusively within very small communities; if you can't stay friends with your ex and you're a geek or a Mormon, it really upsets the balance of your social circle, to the point that I know people who have forced themselves to get over things and act like friends just to serve the greater good.
posted by SMPA at 6:42 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know if they necessarily have to be friends with their exes, but the way they talk about their past relationships sure is important. If there's only resentment, one-sided blaming, drama, etc - and no sense of shared responsibility, and no good memories at all - then I would be suspicious. Of course there are always truly evil exes, but if there is absolutely no history of healthy relationships (or al least love) then I start to wonder.
posted by yarly at 6:55 PM on February 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am friends (or at least would be happy to hang out with them if I had the chance, for those who have moved to places I infrequently go) with the majority of my exes. This is because I think that they are pretty good people and even though our relationships didn't work out because of logistics or differing opinions about the universe, I can still socialize with them un-awkwardly because of the things we do share and don't disagree about.

There are also people I have decided not to talk to any more because I have determined that I can't have a functional conversation with them, and that includes people who are and aren't exes (more of them aren't, actually). I think . . . not being friends with any of your exes means that you have mutually exclusive metrics for picking friends and boyfriends, which seems weird to me. Otherwise it means that you have to be continually re-making your groups of friends, because if you have to burn bridges with your exes, that makes it very hard to keep moving in the same social circles.
posted by that girl at 7:00 PM on February 20, 2011


Because a partner who can maintain good terms with an ex (not necessarily buddy-buddy, but at least civil) on a regular basis are a low risk for going psycho after a break up and damaging your car, crying on your doorstep at 2AM or boiling your rabbits.
posted by Phalene at 7:32 PM on February 20, 2011


I usually look at it from the opposite point: don't date a guy if all his exes hate him, because there's probably a reason... If I guy can't find a single ex who says he's a good guy I'd run the other way.
So if he's friends with an ex, well, there's at least one woman he probably didn't treat too horribly.
posted by smoakes at 8:11 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm with smoakes on this one. People who aren't friends with at least some of their ex's are a big red flag to me. It tells me that person probably: doesn't know what they are looking for in a partner; seeks out drama; is emotionally immature; doesn't grasp the concept that people should actually like each other before exploring a relationship; and has bad taste. Not all relationships have to end in drama and hurt feelings.
posted by izoralee at 8:22 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess I have to be the lone contrarian voice here. I dated two men before I met my husband; both ended up dumping me. No drama. In both cases, I accepted their choice, went away and dealt with my feelings by myself, and in both cases I quickly got over it. I didn't stay friends with them because they clearly didn't want me around, and given that, I didn't want to be around them either. Why is that weird? I certainly didn't hate them, and at this late date I don't really think of them at all.

The next guy I dated, I ended up marrying. That was 25 years ago, and we're still very happily together. Yet, if you believe this thread, I'm an emotionally immature flake who doesn't grasp the concept that people should like each other before dating, terrible at picking mates, at high risk of going nuts after a breakup, only interested in sexual attraction, quite possibly unlikable, a huge drama-monger, etc, etc. That doesn't offend me, because frankly I don't take it personally. But if you are reading this thread and aren't friends with your exes, please don't get upset reading these comments, or think that you're undesirable because of that.

Data point, FWIW: I just asked my husband whether he was troubled, when we first started dating, by the fact that I wasn't friends with exes. He looked puzzled and asked, "Why would you be? If you were still friends, wouldn't you still be dating?"
posted by ROTFL at 8:53 PM on February 20, 2011 [25 favorites]


Nope ROTFL, you're not the lone contrarian voice. I can't remember caring if anyone I dated was friends with ex's. In fact, I sort of see that poorly depending how close the friendship is.

Civil if you run into each other = Good. More than that and I kinda wonder if one party doesn't still have designs on the other and hoping they'll get back together one day... Looking back, I'm pretty sure if I stayed "friends" it was exactly for this reason. Not everyone is me, though! I understand that some folks do it successfully, just saying I never did.

I'm civil with my ex husband. Sometimes we have business. I think he tried to be friendlier once or twice in years past. This definitely happened less once I (very happily) remarried.
posted by jbenben at 9:13 PM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


People who request remaining friends often seek an ego stroke, the problem with that is that an ex is a very bad source for an ego stroke. "You turned down the position of the BEST friend means you don't get to be my friend" pretty much sums it up for me. Of course it depends on how you view the "relationship" (somewhat in the vibe this thread is mainly high-school/early college highly sexual encounters, not the more advanced mature attempts at finding the life partner and making it work).
posted by Jurate at 10:22 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because people aren't Kleenex. Wadding them up and throwing them away when you are through with them is a shitty thing to do.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:24 PM on February 20 [16 favorites +] [!]


"People should be friends with their exes" is one of those truisms that people are kind of beat over the head with here on Metafilter. I don't buy it. It represents very simplistic thinking. Example: BitterOldPunk's comment. Not being friends with one's exes is not wadding them uo and throwing them away. They're presumably able to go on and live active, healthy lives after a breakup, so they are by no means "thrown away."

I think the people who are strongly in favor of people staying friends with exes represent a certain approach to dating and friendship that is not universal. It's not the "right" approach; it's an approach.

In light of the metafilter party line on this issue, I guess I'm something of a Neanderthal. I don't really dig the idea of my girlfriend and I spending time with other people she's slept with.
posted by jayder at 11:10 PM on February 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't really dig the idea of my girlfriend and I spending time with other people she's slept with.

Maybe it's dependent on being able to view exes (both your own and your partner's) as something more than simply being people you used to sleep with.

I'm not being sarcastic, I really don't know if there's a fundamental difference in viewing relationships (and therefore their participants) that's at play here. If relationships are primarily defined by Who You Have Sex With, and secondarily Do/Share Other Things With, then "don't hang out with your ex" maybe makes sense... by contrast, if relationships are seen as About Sharing Lots of Things, One of Which Is Sex, then maybe hanging out with an ex seems more natural? I don't know, I'm genuinely trying to puzzle it out, because the idea of not hanging out with something (or not wanting your partner to hang out with someone) solely on the basis of having had sex with them in the past is not something I recall feeling since my late teens.
posted by scody at 11:45 PM on February 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


(and again, honestly not trying to be snarky to you, jayder, so I hope it's not coming off that way.)
posted by scody at 11:54 PM on February 20, 2011


I am really, truly, actively involved in real, honest-to-goodness friendships with several of my exes. We talk on the phone, and take time out to see each other when we're in each other's cities, we send birthday presents, we support each other through crises, etc. It took time, of course -- it always does, after a breakup -- but I have dated (and been married to!) men who, in general, have all been smart, loving, decent, funny, interesting guys... why on earth wouldn't I want to stay friends with some of them? (Shorter version: don't date jerks.)

Seconding this. I've stayed very close friends with two of my exes -- it took a little time and patience initially, but one of them has definitely been more than just "civil" to me over the years (dude offered to PAY MY RENT once last month when he heard I was having some financial difficulty, and asked only that I "pay him back in food"), and the other ended up asking me to WORK with him - and so we've been business colleagues as well as friends for the past 9 years.

Both are such good friends now that: I have another friend visiting me from out of town, whom I've known since we were girls; she met one of them ten years ago and still asks how he's doing, and she just met the other guy -- along with his girlfriend -- last night and spent a full half hour afterward raviing about what wonderful people they both seemed to be.

The whole reason I wanted to stay friends with those guys was because they are truly fantastic people, who also wanted to stay friends with ME as well. I've not considered every one of my exes someone I want to stay friends with -- but those guys? Definitely.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:19 AM on February 21, 2011


I think the sentiment that one should be "friends" with one's exes for the reasons given above really means one should be on good terms with them, not necessarily actually be friends.

I've dated four women more-or-less seriously so far, and with the possible exception of the first one, I think I've handled all of those break ups in a mature way. No one said anything they regret, there wasn't any yelling or screaming, etc. I'm really only in regular contact with one of them, but we were friends for years before we dated. So while I don't think any of my exes have bad things to say about me--or I about them--that doesn't mean we necessarily want to see each other, particularly if they're married to other people. Doesn't help that I live in a different state from all but the last either.

At root, I think what's in view here is that it's good to have healthy relationships, even with people you used to date. What "healthy" means is context specific, but if all of your relationships with your exes are unhealthy, your relationships with future dating partners probably will be too.
posted by valkyryn at 12:25 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't think staying friends with your exes is The Only Healthy Approach, either.

I'm not really friends with any of my exes - friendly with some, in the sense that we occasionally talk on Twitter or some such, but not really close friends. It's not because I despise them as people/threw them away when they weren't useful to me/didn't like them before the relationships started/love drama and want our mutual friends to choose between us, or anything else people have suggested here. The relationships didn't work out, and I'm not the kind of person who can emotionally backtrack to close friendship in that case - not because the people and relationships didn't matter to me, but because they did. It's just another approach to take, and people work in all sorts of different ways, and I don't judge the people (including my boyfriend) who are still good friends with exes.

So the absence of friendship with exes isn't a red flag to me. Being hated by all of one's exes? Yeah, that would be. And I suspect for a lot of people that's the shorthand - if you're friends with your exes, that means they still think you're a good person even though the relationship didn't work out.
posted by Catseye at 1:06 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


(ah, that didn't come out quite the way I meant it. If you're friends with your exes, that can be a good sign in that sense to prospective future partners, I meant - not that everyone who stayed friends with exes did so because they wanted some kind of validation.)
posted by Catseye at 1:10 AM on February 21, 2011


I think there's a difference between not really interacting with your exes because you don't have any reason to, and actively burning bridges. The second seems a little more rash and emotionally fraught to me, and emotionally fraught is something that doesn't appeal to most people. I think I was using "friend" as shorthand for "not nasty or awkward around each other", like Catseye said.

I would generally say that I have a more broad definition of friends than other people.
posted by that girl at 3:28 AM on February 21, 2011


Scody, my feeling is that once you've been intimate with someone there's always going to be something more there than just friendship. For exes to linger in the picture is not leaving enough room for the new person. I suppose the difference in views of dating that I see could be broken down this way: for you, and others of the "it's good to stay close to exes" school of thought, people you date are just super-friends; everything that a good friend is, plus sex and heightened intimacy. I think people you date are something essentially different from friends; you are friends with people you date, but essentially dating is something different from friendship. This is why, if I were exploring the possibility of dating a woman, I wouldn't be really comfortable with her remaining close to exes. This phrasing is going to be absurd, but to me it amounts to a soft polyandry. Once she's been intimate with the other guys, there will always be that heightened closeness that makes me uncomfortable. I'm not denying that maybe I am out of step with our culture on this -- my attitude seems the exception, and maybe it's just my problem. But it would be an issue with anyone I date.
posted by jayder at 6:06 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


As evidenced by the answers above, different people have different perspectives on this. From my own viewpoint, I never wanted to date someone that I didn't first see as worthy of being a good friend. It would be nice, going into a relationship, to think that I wasn't necessarily throwing that friendship away if the romance didn't work out.

I'm not saying that it would be a major strike against someone if they weren't friends with their exes, just that it would be a significant bonus point if they were.

"Data point, FWIW: I just asked my husband whether he was troubled, when we first started dating, by the fact that I wasn't friends with exes. He looked puzzled and asked, "Why would you be? If you were still friends, wouldn't you still be dating?"

ROTFL - is that a serious question? Neither you nor your husband could think of a bunch of easy answers to that? Here's a quick, partial list of reasons why someone might not want to stay in a romantic relationship permanently other than not being friends anymore.

Sexual incompatibility
Going different directions in life
Not a good fit for living together
Not "the one" that each wants to spend the rest of their life with
Personal chemistry of the relationship works better without the sexual/romantic element
One or more "dealbreaker" issues for marriage (wanting kids vs not, religion, etc)

If you think about it, you should be able to come up with more.
posted by tdismukes at 6:58 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nthing that civility is what is important, not being all buddy-buddy. There's a difference between, "Lisa was a good person, but we had different ideas on relationships; we don't socialize but we do say 'hi' when we meet on the street" than "Lisa was a shrieking harpy and I was the innocent victim, and I hate her and never want to see her again."

If somebody's always the victim and their exes always Done Them Wrong, that is a red flag.

Personally, I do not actively burn bridges, but I do tend to fall out of touch with people. And, for better or worse, this [i]has[/i] been a red flag to some people I've dated. My exes don't hate me, and I don't hate them or badmouth them, it's just we're not in contact. And, unfortunately, that IS a dealbreaker to [i]some[/i] men I've dated.

It's a kind of "romantic credit check," if you will. Or else work references. In an era where many people meet online rather than through church or cousin Sue fixing them up, this "romantic credit check" has taken the place of friends, family, and church personally vouching for the good character of the person you're dating. By this system, if you are friends with at least one ex (and friendship ranges from "cordial" to "actively buddy-buddy") then you've got a good romantic credit score. No friendship with exes or you've fallen out of contact? Then your romantic credit has been dinged a bit and you might find it a bit harder to get potential SO's to trust you (just as you might not get the greatest interest rate on a car loan). Burn all your bridges and your exes hate you? That is "romantic bankruptcy" and you might have to work hard and pass up some opportunities in order to build up your romantic credit again.

But all is not lost; it's not important to some people to have that "romantic credit check" and they will look at you as you are in the present, and not vet your past. And if you move on to dating from knowing someone as a friend, they will know YOU and not be so quick to run a romantic credit check. There are all kinds of work-arounds and exceptions. So don't despair if you are a bridge-burner.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:00 AM on February 21, 2011


I'd like to be friends with exes, but unfortunately (I should probably point out that I'm always the dumped rather than the dumper, and am rarely attracted to anyone, so this is talking from years of singledom and no better options) whenever I have contact with them, I pretty much inevitably start thinking about getting back together with them. Even when I know better, even when I know the guy would rather chop off his own dick than get back together with me. If I had those feelings for someone at any point in time, uh... yeah. Embarrassing but true.

It seems to take me about a decade post-dating to mostly chill out on those reflexive thoughts, but overall, I just can't do it. It's a mental mindfuck for me whenever I try. Maybe it'd be different if I was involved with someone else whenever an ex wants to talk to me and I wasn't operating from a place of needy, but so far that's never happened. I'd like to be cool and froody and Adult about it, but so far I can't pull it off and may never be able to. Once in a while I try, but I end up regretting it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:04 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Perhaps it's just my set of friends, but the set of people who tend to be "really good friends" with their exes are often forcing the issue as a way of attention whoring (one in particular has a complete harem of ex-boyfriends that she surrounds herself with and interferes in their lives nonstop). Dunno. YMMV.
posted by rr at 10:44 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think the point is to force friendship because you once dated any more than the point is to rule out a friendship just because you once dated. After the intimacy, you still might know each other better than most, you still might care about each other's well-being, and still might enjoy each other's company. My exes are among my better friends, but these things should, as they tend to do, arise organically.

My (now) hubby met me shortly after moving from California to my little city in Florida. Most of the people he befriended were also my friends. Many of my ex-boyfriends were among those befriended. It's not necessarily that I dated terrific guys (I did) but it's that my Husband and I share similar values, so chances are, he is going to appreciate and value the (non-sexual) characteristics of these men that I appreciate and value (humor, intellect, curiosity, etc). We didn't have a bridal party (i.e. bridesmaids, groomsmen), but he likes to say that if we did, his groomsmen would be largely made up of men who I just happened to date at some point in my past (several of whom were at the wedding). My husband socializes frequently with one or two of my exes* on his own. I have no doubt that I would like some of the women he has dated and hey! we already have at least one thing in common right from the get-go.

*At this point, they are much more "his friends" than "my exes".
posted by Jezebella at 10:44 AM on February 21, 2011


People who are best friends forever with all their exes set off red flags for me as needy. If the relationship is over and you want to move on.... then move on. I don't see the need to start dumping gasoline on the bridge, but wanting to hang out all the time and talk on the phone after you've gone your separate ways always seems like there are ulterior motives for one or both of the parties involved.

I guess I am more of a look-forward-not-back person. I've had one major crazy drama filled break up, but the rest it was more like 'ok cool see you around'. I wish them the best and hope they are doing well, but I would feel like I was selfishly intruding on their lives if I insisted on remaining in the picture when we both decided to move on.
posted by bradbane at 11:12 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I don't think staying friends with your exes is The Only Healthy Approach, either.

Agreed. I don't think there is anything bad either way - I wouldn't judge a romantic partner who was friends with exes or not friends with exes. The key is the way the potential romantic partner talks about past relationships. A lot of bitterness and name-calling is a red flag. Maturity is a good thing.

I would suggest being friends if you want to, when you are ready to do so. If you don't want to, that's OK too. Don't feel compelled to be friends because your ex really wants to - often that's more about guilt or validation than a real desire to be friends. On the other hand, burning bridges may not be necessary. Maybe crossing the bridge and keeping the way open to friendship in the future once you have moved on is more appropriate for you.
posted by rainydayfilms at 12:21 PM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Once it's over, you are history to me.
posted by Bubbles Devere at 4:44 PM on February 21, 2011


I don't know how you hyper-evolved people manage to avoid the heart searing pain that imbues the end of every love affair I've ever had, but you're lucky. I am cordial and friend-ly with my exes, as I would be with anyone with whom I shared a lot of history, but hanging out with them alone is an exercise in reliving the self-doubt, bitterness and broken promises that swamped what was supposed to be a lifelong partnership. When I hear that someone is best buds with so many of their exes, I wonder if possibly they are a robot, or a masochist. Though, either way, I'm still interested!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:57 AM on February 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


When I hear that someone is best buds with so many of their exes, I wonder if possibly they are a robot, or a masochist. Though, either way, I'm still interested!

No, I'm neither. ;) I guess I've just tended to be involved with men who are really cool people, so even after we break up -- and course breaking up is difficult and painful, and of course it takes time to get over -- they remain cool people in my eyes, and I evidently remain a cool person in theirs.

Now, it's not like I'm in daily contact with everyone I've ever dated. A small number of my exes are genuinely very, very close friends; most are in the next circle of friendly buddies who I stay in touch with via FB and hang out with when the opportunity occasionally comes up. There are also some that I've just lost touch with. But I truly cannot think of a single ex who I have any bad feelings toward any longer, or who I wouldn't sit down and have a beer with.

Breakups are certainly painful, but I guess for me they're not permanently defined by "self-doubt, bitterness, and broken promises" -- in fact, and I know this is a cliche, my worst breakups (including my divorce) have ultimately been enormously useful and important for me in helping me grow as a person. At a certain point -- and it can take years -- I've just gotten over all the bad stuff (things that help get over all the bad stuff: extensive therapy, yoga, and meditation), and what remains is a person who I still care about platonically who also still cares about me. And at that point, friendship can begin.

Of course, it helps that I've never been involved with someone who was a sociopath or anything -- no one ever abused me, or was an alcoholic or drug addict who stole from me, or slept with my best friend, or stalked me. If someone ever did that to me, they'd be out of my life forever. So I think part of it gets back to generally dating guys that were good people, and generally trying to be a good person to match. Good people can still be good people, even if their relationships go bad, you know?
posted by scody at 1:29 PM on February 22, 2011


self-doubt, bitterness and broken promises that swamped what was supposed to be a lifelong partnership

I think the difference for me is that I don't go into relationships expecting them to last forever. There's a bit in Overqualified-- and forgive me if I don't have the wording of this quote exactly right-- that says "You think love doesn't count unless it lasts until one of us is dead. That's not love. That's cockfighting."
posted by NoraReed at 5:33 PM on February 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am cordial and friend-ly with my exes, as I would be with anyone with whom I shared a lot of history, but hanging out with them alone is an exercise in reliving the self-doubt, bitterness and broken promises that swamped what was supposed to be a lifelong partnership. When I hear that someone is best buds with so many of their exes, I wonder if possibly they are a robot, or a masochist.

With the two cases it's happened, it took a little while to get to that point. The transition did suck for a while. But time took away the pain part, and made me finally realize one day that "you know, yeah, it's for the best this way and it's working better this way."

There has been a third case where staying friends just didn't work out. I thought it would -- i wanted for it to very much -- but it's been too hard for me, and it's not something he's seemed as interested in. I do still regret that a little. But that also is for the best that we're not, I think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:38 PM on February 22, 2011


Didn't read every response...but one red flag about someone who is "friends" with all their exes is the possibility that they were always the one breaking the relationship off. If you've ever been dumped, you've not too thrilled to be buds; if you've been the dumper it seems super logical/reasonable to say---drum roll---cliche--"Let's be friends." It's not that the dumper doesn't mean it, they're just in a better emotional position to be friends after the fact.

With that said, I'm now friends with someone who dumped me 20 years ago. She was also unfaithful. That doesn't make her a better person (at the time--or even now) now that's she's friends with me.

I think being friends with one's exes is neutral. Having no exes as friends is a little troubling.
posted by teg4rvn at 9:28 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you've ever been dumped, you've not too thrilled to be buds;

Last night I hung out with the last person who dumped me. It was great. We still have tons of fun together.

However, you're right that I don't think I could be friends with someone who "dumped" me by cheating or otherwise really fucking up my life. There is one ex in my past who I do not want in my life under any circumstances. To say that we're "not friends" is the understatement of the century. And I don't think everyone needs to be BFFs with everyone they ever dated.

But, yeah, I'm more with you - having no exes as friends, or speaking of all exes with untempered vitriol and bridge burnination, is a red flag for me.
posted by Sara C. at 9:37 AM on February 23, 2011


Having no exes as friends is a little troubling.

This is what I mean by "romantic credit check" - some people (as we can see with the responses, not everyone) feels that there's something fishy about someone who doesn't have an ex as a friend. It proves you are a basically decent person who has relationship skills and would make a desirable partner, just as a past history of good credit demonstrates to lenders that you can be trusted.

Unfortunately, the idea that having an ex as a friend somehow gives you credibility, and not being in contact with exes is suspect, can work against someone who either really messed up in the past but has worked on themselves and improved their skills and character, OR who has just had bad luck, OR not a lot of past relationship experience, or some combination of the three.

That said, I don't think you should force a friendship just to keep your "relationship credit score" up. It's classy to be amiable or at least neutral no matter what, but it's dishonest to say, "I've got to stay friends with these people even if I don't want to because I need the 'good references.'" If you dont' want to be friends with your exes, don't. There are people who will penalize you and people who don't care.

What raises a red flag for me personally is not whether someone is friends with their exes but whether they blame them for everything that went wrong. "This person was a shrieking shrew who wouldn't have sex with me ever and I was a poor innocent victim" makes me think that I'm going to be the next psycho ex when things are over.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:39 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not a fan of being friends with exes.

Because, why, if your goals or what have you were *so* incompatible that you could not continue your relationship, would you still really have any interest in being friends? I can think of a thousand scenarios for this, but I'll borrow this list from above for brevity:

Sexual incompatibility

well, that's just awkward to continue. IMO.

Going different directions in life

great, you're not important enough to them to bring you along? awesome.

Not a good fit for living together

that's a pretty lame excuse, and I think it covers up communication issues.

Not "the one" that each wants to spend the rest of their life with

code "I'm tired of you"

Personal chemistry of the relationship works better without the sexual/romantic element

this could be workable in a situation where you were already friends and had a very brief fling.

One or more "dealbreaker" issues for marriage (wanting kids vs not, religion, etc)

I suspect by the time you got to this point, you'd be pretty upset that things weren't going to work out and possible a little emotionally unreasonable - being friends just seems like torture.

My honest opinion is that being "friends" with exes is either for people who like the drama or don't want to move on; or that the relationships were insubstantial enough to begin with that the "downgrade" isn't so painful. Or perhaps other people are more emotionally mature than me. Who knows. In my experience, people with whom I've pursued relationships are people who I have very much wanted to be friends with "in case" the relationship didn't pan out (because they were so awesome!), but "just friends" was never part of the equation. And therefore couldn't be in the future.

So, OP, I'm with you. Being friends with exes blows.
posted by annie o at 7:46 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because, why, if your goals or what have you were *so* incompatible that you could not continue your relationship, would you still really have any interest in being friends?

Two questions for you to ponder in return:

1. Do you believe that the only single kind of relationship it is possible for members of the opposite sex (or, for lesbians and gay men, for members of the same sex) to have is a romantic one? Or do you believe that it is possible for some men and women to be better suited as friends?

2. Do you believe that members of the opposite sex are always 100% able to recognize at first blush what type of relationship they would be best suited to have?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:45 PM on February 24, 2011


Because, why, if your goals or what have you were *so* incompatible that you could not continue your relationship, would you still really have any interest in being friends?

Really? This is mysterious? Because romantic relationships are about more than "compatible goals" (and non-romantic friendships aren't just some sucky, second-best consolation prize). They are about a wide and sometimes mysterious array of factors in terms of compatability of personality, chemistry, timing, interests, etc.

An introvert and an extrovert might find they make a lousy couple but good friends. Someone ready to settle down and have babies and someone wanting to never have children and travel the world can make a bad couple but good friends. Two very intense, creative people can make an explosive couple but fine hiking partners. Two people who dated as teenagers can find they enjoy each other's company as adults. There are countless reasons and scenarios why emotionally healthy grownups may find they are not good romantic partners and still have the interest and capacity to be in each other's lives in some other way.

My honest opinion is that being "friends" with exes is either for people who like the drama or don't want to move on; or that the relationships were insubstantial enough to begin with that the "downgrade" isn't so painful.

I have found that being friends with an ex NOT about drama or not moving on; it's actually precisely the opposite. Staying in a relationship that doesn't work, however -- now there's your recipe for drama and the very definition of not being able to move on.

Some people can care for each other deeply and still not turn out to be the right romantic match for each other or find a healthy way to stay together, as heartbreaking and painful as that inevitably is. (I'm friends with my ex-husband, and our marriage was not "insubstantial," nor was our divorce some easy-breezy "downgrade.") Breaking up is not automatically a referendum on either partner as a human being, and the fact that two people don't end up at the altar (or realize that going to the altar was a mistake) doesn't automatically mean that have to be dead to each other forever.

posted by scody at 1:09 PM on February 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yeah, it's supposed to be a sign that you're a good bet, worth investing time in-

I agree with much said above, I put the emphasis much more on how potentials talk about their relationships. I don't really need the proof evidenced by their continued friendships with the exes. As long as you're a good bullshit detector this should be sufficient.

I just wanted to add it's relevant how long the relationships were, if someone hasn't had long term relationships, I wouldn't be surprised if they weren't friendly with any exes.

The one exe I am truly friends with- and not just "on good terms with" - is from my longest relationship. The only reason I would not be friends with someone I joined my life with for 6+ years would be if something horrible had transpired between us, the indications of which have been well covered above. On the other hand if I'm not friends with or can't get along with someone I dated for less than a year- it carries much less weight.
posted by abirdinthehand at 7:11 PM on November 29, 2011


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