Friendship with an Ex?
October 22, 2004 3:46 PM   Subscribe

Friendship with an Ex? (added wrinkle: 17 year age difference, and of course, more inside)

no, not me--i'm posting for a friend who needs advice from guys. A 40-year-old woman (looks younger) has a relationship with a 20-something guy for 2 years. They were best friends and lovers, and she taught him things, from house stuff to job stuff to love stuff. Now they've broken up (the guy now has his first "real" girlfriend who is 8 years older than him), and my friend misses the friendship they had together--they don't even speak at all now. She says, "I just have a problem with feeling like I lost a great friendship. I've never had a friendship with, nor dated anyone that much younger than myself and I wonder if this is just the way it works?"

Being a big fag (who always dates older guys), i'm not much help to her.
posted by amberglow to Human Relations (16 answers total)
That's one of those big "it depends" issues. Depends on the personalities involved, depend on the manner of the breakup, etc. I'm good friends with my ex, but I know people who refuse to be at the same party as their exes.

Given the guy's relative immaturity and his new SO, it wouldn't be surprising if her were unwilling to revive the friendship. But in her situation, I'd write him a snailmail letter and spell everything out.
posted by adamrice at 3:57 PM on October 22, 2004

I'm friends with most of my exes (possibly because we tended to be friends to begin with), but I've never had a 17-year age difference, though, so I don't know if that makes a difference. I sort of suspect that a guy in his early 20s may have fairly immature ideas about the feasability of maintaining friendships with former lovers (or, possibly, about the feasability of having friendsships with women that don't involve sex at all) -- in which case, there's sadly nothing your friend can do until he grows up some more. (He may also feel uncomfortable being friends with an ex when he's got a girlfriend currently -- she may be jealous (or he may perceive that she would be), for example, or he may fear that he's being disloyal to her by maintaining a friendship with an ex.)

Leaving aside the possible emotional immaturity of the former boyfriend, my main questions about the situation are: A) did the breakup occur within the last year? And B) was it a mutual breakup or did one of them initiate it over the protests of the other? And was it a relatively "easy" breakup, or was it dramatic/drawn-out, etc.?

In my experience, it's nearly impossible to even begin to recover a friendship with an ex until it's been at least a year (if not longer) since the breakup -- longer if the relationship was particularly intense (and that includes being a "learning" relationship for one of the partners), and this is compounded if a breakup was particularly dramatic or difficult in some way.

If that's the case with your friend, my advice is to find a way to endure the uncertainly awhile longer -- it may be that her ex is not yet feeling capable (for whatever emotional reasons) of being friends with her. This can be incredibly sad and difficult at times, but I eventually realized and found some consolation in the knowledge that our connection and sense of meaning to each other did continue to exist in its own way -- it just wasn't always actively being pursued or expressed between us.

If it has been longer than a year or so, and/or the parting was relatively mutual/easy, the direct option may be best -- perhaps a sincere, direct query along the lines of "I miss your friendship. I'd like to resume that connection if you'd feel comfortable with that." (I wouldn't get too detailed about it, though -- just a direct, sincere, honest statement, maybe with a brief inquiry into his life/family/interesting activities/etc. or an anecdote about what's been going on with her.) But again, with a 17-year age gap, it may just be that he hasn't grown up enough yet to be a part of having that friendship. Not to say it won't happen -- he may very well get in touch with her out of the blue one day several years down the road. In fact, given how you've described the relationship, I'd practically bet the farm on that happening.
posted by scody at 4:17 PM on October 22, 2004 [1 favorite]

huh? What the hell question is this? ::>>>

"I've never had a friendship with, nor dated anyone that much younger than myself and I wonder if this is just the way it works?"

I don't really get it. Is it just the 'way it works' or not? I do not know, and I suspect nobody else really knows what is in your head amberglow, except you. Very touchy-feely, I have to say....please elaborate if you can!
posted by SpaceCadet at 4:56 PM on October 22, 2004

what's not to understand? she's hurting, and i don't have good advice for her. So here we are--either give some or get out.
posted by amberglow at 5:43 PM on October 22, 2004

Ahh well I still don't know what advice anyone can pass on here (from you to the woman)....this isn't a personal dig at you or anything amberglow.....just I'd be surprised if you got a concise answer from some guy here saying "yes this is the way it is" or "no, this isn't the way it is" with specific reasons why.
posted by SpaceCadet at 6:26 PM on October 22, 2004

I myself wouldn't touch an ex with someone else's ten foot pole, but it just depends. Either there's a real possibility of retaining a friendship, which only she could determine, or there isn't. It can't hurt to make overtures, if only to get the closure that rejection would bring.
posted by majick at 6:27 PM on October 22, 2004

people have already given good advice, and i thank them for that...and why do you think i posted it, Space? i was at a loss myself.
posted by amberglow at 6:56 PM on October 22, 2004

I am a lady myself, but a lady with a younger brother and lots of straight male friends. Oh, and I am 40. Gasp!

I think it is hard for many men, especially men under thirty, to continue friendships with former romantic partners, because there aren't a lot of models in our culture for that, and many straight men have a hard enough time getting their heads around being friends with women they haven't been lovers with (I blame When Harry Met Sally for a lot of that nonsense) .

And then there are some people who don't, under any circumstances, want to be friends with their former romantic partners. They may wish them all the best luck in the world, but it just feels too awkward for them to be friends. This guy might be one of those people, and if he is, he's not going to change.

I'm also confused by the idea that amberglow's friend wasn't a "real girlfriend" of the man she is sad about not being friends with. I would suggest that if you are someone's best friend and their lover, then you are a "real girlfriend". Perhaps the attitude that's suggested there might be part of what is making this man uncomfortable with continuing the friendship--if she didn't want to inhabit the role of "real girlfriend", maybe it's hard for him to see her in the role of "real ex-girlfriend".

I guess my advice to amberglow's friend is this: Sometimes stuff like this happens. It probably doesn't have anything to do with the age difference, though; when men and women who are friends have a sexual relationship, and then stop having a sexual relationship, it isn't always easy for both of them to continue a friendship. (In my experience, it's a lot easier for same-sex former lovers to move on to friendship.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:33 PM on October 22, 2004

As a general rule, you have to both really be totally over the end of the relationship in order for a friendship to really thrive and move forward. Even if your friend is completely over the love/sex side of things, if there's any remnant of feeling, and it sounds like there is, she'll run the risk of stoking it into something more than friendly. Very smart, very strong people have thought they could handle that situation. But sometimes handling it really well is the worst thing. People can think they're just friends and everybody's cool with each other, while the two of them slip back into the same win-win groove with one another that worked the first time around. Post-breakup, that's just a disaster.

The best way to really get over a relationship is to live entirely without it for a while. Eventually, when you're ready, you replace it with a new one, and I believe it's also at that point when being friends with one's ex becomes possible in more than a superficial way.

And I don't mean you need to 1) get with someone new so you can 2) deal with your ex. I'm saying that one is ready for a new SO and ready to be friends with the old one at around the same time: once the relationship is really, really over (including the mourning period).

So is it really, really over, including the mourning period? Maybe time is the cure.
posted by scarabic at 7:44 PM on October 22, 2004 [1 favorite]

I'm going to hazard a guess here and say he never thought of her as his friend. It sounds like she was his mentor, his teacher. And maybe now that he has learned some things from her, he is ready to move on. It is possible that her presence is an embarrassment to him-- a reminder of how callow and raw he once was.

I would strongly urge her to put him completely out of mind. Hopefully a year or two will pass and he will realize just how important she once was and will get the urge to touch base again. But I wouldn't hold my breath.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:56 PM on October 22, 2004

As a woman who currently maintains 2 'ex' relationships as friends, it's not impossible.

However, I can say from experience, the larger the age gap, the less likely it is that a 'friendship' status is going to be maintained.

My 'exes-who-are-now-friends" are 3 and 5 years younger than myself. Much over 12 years is probably going to be difficult at best to retaining a 'friendship' status.

I say this mostly from a standpoint of 'having been there'. The greater the age difference, the less you are likely to have anything in common, therefore friendship may well not be possible after a full-fledged relationship.

I wish her the very best, but doubt that this guy is going to mature at the rate she needs in order to return to any sort of a friendship status. :(
posted by kamylyon at 1:39 AM on October 23, 2004

I would guess that her time would be better spend making a new friend.
posted by sexymofo at 7:35 AM on October 23, 2004

What Gravy said. It's not impossible she could resurrect the friendship, but it's a lot more likely she'll wind up getting hurt. I suspect the guy has put her out of his mind except as a fond memory (I've done that myself with ex-lovers), and wouldn't welcome her knocking on the door (so to speak). Time to move on, and maybe try a relationship with someone of similar age.
posted by languagehat at 8:12 AM on October 23, 2004

Thanks all...She's following the thread, and i think it'll help.
posted by amberglow at 9:47 AM on October 23, 2004

Hey ambie, my current boyfriend has some pleasant experience in this regard to tell about. His former spouse is 17 years older than he is, and they have a good friendship. Granted, they were married for about six years.

He was thirty when they got married, so that is also a significant difference.

Just wanted to throw out a data point that it is conceivably possible to have a good friendship with a former lover with a 17-yr age difference.
posted by beth at 11:22 AM on October 24, 2004

[searches for anonymous post feature]
posted by jragon at 11:32 AM on October 24, 2004

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