Why be friends after a breakup?
March 6, 2009 11:23 AM   Subscribe

After a breakup that is not mutual, what is the purpose of staying friends with the person who dumped you?

I am curious to hear your opinions, in regards to personal growth/health/happiness, as to why it may be a good or bad practice to stay friends with exes.

My story that generated the question is simply that I was dumped recently after a ten month relationship (in an entirely appropriate way) but I miss her and feel hurt, and right now I can’t imagine why I would or should put myself through the pain of ever seeing her as a friend. She seems to desire friendship. We move in separate social circles so avoiding her is not difficult. On the other hand, a friendship would be feasible in the sense that we live close to each other and participate in similar team activities.

I am in my early thirties, have had a normal amount of relationships, and in fact remember being friends with exes in the past (usually as a result of mutual breakups). But I am not asking about my situation in particular; I know I need a lot of space right now to get over it, lick my wounds, and maybe down the road I’ll feel differently. The question is more about the purposefulness and/or personal growth aspects.

So, do you think there is a purposeful reason, for personal growth, happiness, or otherwise, to be open to post-relationship friendship?

This is my first question for AskMeFi, I hope its appopriate vis a vis the guidelines - thanks.
posted by RajahKing to Human Relations (31 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I can think of no useful purpose except to allow you to feel you are an ok guy who forgives and is pleasant.
posted by Postroad at 11:26 AM on March 6, 2009

The purpose of being friends is to make the person who dumped you feel less like an asshole.
If you feel it will serve you no useful purpose at this point, don't do it. Maybe a few months down the line when you're ready, you can reach out but as far as I know, you're not required to assuage other people's guilt.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:29 AM on March 6, 2009 [19 favorites]

If this is within your social circle there are many good reasons:

1. This shows other, potential dates that you are not a bitter person.
2. Living well is the best revenge: If the dumper, in this case sees you have moved on and are at least somewhat happy, that is a good thing, and it releases you, maybe from the above-mentioned bitterness.
3. It avoids awkward moments, if you have chance encounters with the ex.
3a. One of my ex's, after a LONG time for recovery/forgiveness, made a deal that if either of us were single for an inordinate amount of time, then we could expect some nsa oral sex, for old time's sake. . .never happened, though. It was a nice conversation, though.
posted by Danf at 11:34 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

You don't. "Let's be friends" is a way of alleviating the dumper's guilt, not of soothing the dumpee. It is a selfish act by the dumper, it is up to the dumpee to decide if the two should remain friends. You are very much in your rights to tell the person to go to hell.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:36 AM on March 6, 2009 [13 favorites]

I'm still relatively good friends with my ex-wife--less so now because she is engaged to be married and I don't want to interrupt/sabotage her new relationship. The decision to divorce was hers and somewhat justified, but never a nasty situation. I become fairly close to her family and friends and didn't want to completely lose touch with them. Also, after my head cleared, being friendly allowed me to put the issue to rest as we could more objectively discussed what happened and why we failed.

Finally, by definition she is still my friend: someone I enjoy talking to and about whom I care. Although the intimacy and union of marriage is now gone, we still enjoy our friendship as much as when we first met. I think we both consider ourselves lucky to still have this friendship . . .
posted by eggman at 11:39 AM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I am friends with every single one of my exes, with only two exceptions - one whose heart I broke a little too hard, apparently, and one who was pretty much a monster to me for months. So for once I feel like I know what I'm talking about.

The benefit in being friends with your exes is that, if they're good people but you're just not compatible with them, there's no reason to burn your bridges or deny the kind of platonic happiness you can give each other. For me, they still interest me, and I them, we make each other laugh, and we can give each other advice on relationships knowing the other's strengths and weaknesses. To be short, they're friends like any other.

But, note, don't rush into friendship if you're still hurting or not ready. Or try, anyway.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:40 AM on March 6, 2009 [9 favorites]

I'm friends with most of my exes. Why? Because I've tended to go out with great guys -- kind, funny, smart, interesting, etc. So even in the absence of a romantic relationship, we have tended to care about each other more generally and have continued to have enough things in common that at some point -- i.e., once the hurts of the past have, well, passed -- it becomes mutually desirable to continue our connection in a non-romantic way.

In that regard, it has less to do with an abstract notions about "growth" and more with the practical fact that we continue to like each other, despite the fact that we're no longer dating (or, in one case, are no longer married). But I do think it perhaps speaks to bigger issues of forgiveness, acceptance, and mutual appreciation that allow you to move from caring about one person in one way to eventually caring about them in another.

Having said that: Friendships with exes can't happen immediately. If either of you are still carrying any hurt over the breakup, or nursing any hope of reconciliation, the necessary dynamic for developing a healthy friendship simply doesn't exist. Friendship is not the consolation prize for the dumpee, nor the absolution for the dumper. It can take years to be able to build a friendship with an ex. And it's perfectly OK in the meantime to be ambivalent about the notion of even wanting to do so. It can't be forced, and it can't happen prematurely. Sometimes it never happens at all.
posted by scody at 11:40 AM on March 6, 2009 [40 favorites]

No there is no purposeful reason. You may however stay friends with her, if you feel that you would miss her in your life as a friend but not as a girlfriend.
posted by jfricke at 11:40 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

My general feeling is... why would I want to date someone that I wouldn't also want to be friends with? Removing part of the equasion doesn't mean it all has to go.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:46 AM on March 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'm friends with most of my exes because my breakups didn't burn any bridges [in most cases] and the people were excellent to begin with. It's really really up to you if you want to be friends and if the person who is your ex is hassling you to be friends, that's their issue not yours. A few reasons you might want to be friends

- so you have access to the shared memories and time together that you had from another perspective
- so you can still move in the same social circles with less weirdness
- because it's a good social skill to learn to forgive if possible (not saying it's necessary, just saying it's good to have in one's emotional toolkit
- because that person you were with likely has traits that you found desireable in some way and there may be ways to continue to access the things that are good about them even if they are not your partner
- because you can move on faster sometimes if you have contact with an ex in a non-relationship setting; it can be easier to convince your lizard brain that that person is "not yours"
- because often there are hurt feelings on both sides of a breakup and being the one to be able to offer friendship can be a healing process and help someone else heal
- I sort of believe that if you really love someone at some level you wish for their happiness independently of your own happiness and getting back to that place in your heart is a good place to be

None of this is saying that if you feel bad, or don't feel friendly, or if someone was a total ass to you that you have any obligation to do anything but not set their things on fire. I sort of feel that holding on to hurts beyond a certain point is a damaging thing and so learning to move past it in whatever way you can -- and reconceptualizing your ex as a good person and not your partner can be part of that -- is a good healthy way to treat yourself.
posted by jessamyn at 11:48 AM on March 6, 2009 [21 favorites]

I don't stay friends with exes. After a few years, we can be Facebook-friends if we have a lot of other mutual friends, and I can certainly be civil and friendly if we run into each other in person, but friends-friends? Like hanging out and chatting and being in each other's lives? Yeah, no thanks. We broke up for a reason.

One of my exes insisted that we stay friends because "you care enough about the person to date them, why wouldn't you stay friends with them?" I guess it sort of made sense, and he's friends with a few of his exes, but *I* don't want to be his friend. He dumped me--why should I ease his guilt?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:48 AM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, also: it's worth making a distinction between being friendly and being friends. Since the two of you have mutual friends and activities, it might certainly make things a little more pleasant if you can be friendly (or at least polite) with each other when necessary -- i.e., when those mutual friends or circumstances bring you together socially. This does not obligate you to start socializing together by yourselves.
posted by scody at 11:51 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

What I would say here is you are the only person who can decide what is "a personal growth opportunity" in this scenario.

I think you should stay away from this person for awhile and keep your own counsel. Living well is the best way to handle things, no matter what the situation. Do you get any exercise/belong to a gym/do yoga? If not, start. There are probably places near you that are relatively inexpensive or pay-as-you-go.

Also - do something outside of yourself to get over this - volunteer somwhere with a local group, church or charity.

The reason for this is right now you don't want to get trapped in negative thought-cycles about You, or You and Her and What You Once Had Together.

Instead, shut all that down and go do something positive for someone who's laboring under a serious disadvantage right now and who could use your help in their lives.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 11:54 AM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

It helps you to see why it didn't work out between you. When you're still in close contact, the issues are so much harder to define but when enough time has passed, you can observe the person's values/behaviours more objectively, see your differences and learn how they contributed to your break-up.

But it's not always appropriate so tread carefully.
posted by cranberrymonger at 12:05 PM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

The purpose of staying friends is you get to keep the person as a friend. Presumably you like her, think she's interesting, even share a bit of history. Once you're over the pain -- and are ideally dating someone else -- why wouldn't you want to keep the rest of the relationship?

But I would only do it after you've got over her, i.e. you're not thinking about getting back together. There might need to be an interval between breakup and friendship.
posted by musofire at 12:07 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm actually friends with most of my exes, but it takes a while to get over. You can't be friends immediately after.

I can give you one anecdotal piece of evidence why being friends with exes is a good idea: I briefly dated this guy in college who dumped me suddenly and left me feeling very hurt. Then he graduates and goes to work for [pretty large software company that makes a software suite I use]. Fast forward five years and he is able to get [my poor non-profit] the newest version of the software I need for super duper cheap with his employee discount...then decides to just give us the software and write the cost off on his taxes. Yeay!!!!!
posted by radioamy at 12:34 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I put the "Let's stay friends" in the same category as the "Its not you, its me" line. Its BS. Be her friend if you really want to be but don't bend over backwards to do so.
posted by fenriq at 12:38 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

You should be friends with an ex if and when spending time together or thinking about her/him doesn't cause you pain and instead brings you joy. For some people in some relationships, that can happen very quickly after a breakup. For others, it never happens. The benefits and costs of becoming friends with an ex (and I say becoming rather than remaining both because I think you need to give yourselves time apart after the breakup and because it's a brand new kind of relationship, not a continuation of your romantic partnership) vary widely among people and among relationships.
posted by decathecting at 1:01 PM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I believe the relationship needs to end or you won't truly move on. Plus, that just make things difficult when you meet someone new. It's unfair to expect the new person to accept your friendship with an ex. And if you cultivated a post-relationship with your ex, are you supposed to drop them when you find someone new? It's impractical and mean to do that but those who do not often experience a lot of drama in their new relationship.

I've had exes pressure me to "be friends" but I think that's unfair and unrealistic. It ended for a reason, leave me alone :)
posted by i_love_squirrels at 1:08 PM on March 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

put me down as another who is friends with exes, although in practical terms it means we might only interact once every month or so on average, so i guess i mean "friendly with" more than anything else.

as others have probably said, if you have enough in common with somebody to go out with them in the first place, and if they're a decent person, there's no reason why that connection automagically vapourises into thin air just because you're not sleeping with them or doing any of the more regular coupley stuff.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:24 PM on March 6, 2009

I guess it depends on why you broke up - my relationships have ended (sometimes at my initiative, sometimes - ahem - not) because of Big Picture Life kind of stuff - not because we didn't get on like a house on fire. There's that cliche that goes something like a friend is someone who knows all your faults and likes you anyway... and I figure that in this life, relatively few people get to know you really well - I think that's valuable, even if you only check in once a year. To quote something even lamer, there's this terrible Alanis Morrisette song about exes where she says I will always have your back and be curious about you, and I think that about sums it up. It's a cold world - why wouldn't I want to have dinner now and again with someone like that?
posted by moxiedoll at 1:31 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

About six months after I broke up with one of my exes that I'd stayed friends with (the cooling off period, as it were) I went to a party at her house, where I met her roommate who I've been happily together with for 14 years.

I might have met my wife otherwise, but this was in a small town I'd lived in for five years without ever having been introduced to her.

I've always thought that my exes were a great friends and a great people before I dated them (I realize this isn't always the case), so why stop being friends with them after you're over whatever got in the way of you being more than friends?
posted by togdon at 1:37 PM on March 6, 2009

i love squirrels has it.
posted by notned at 2:22 PM on March 6, 2009

It's valuable to stay friends with your ex if you share children. There is no good to be had squabbling over or in front of the kids. A world of happy kids is, for me, full of peace and grace.
posted by toastedbeagle at 2:31 PM on March 6, 2009

Optimus nailed it.

This person was already your friend while you were dating. Exes know you quite well, usually better than most.

These are people you liked and whose company you enjoyed for various reasons. If time has passed and you've healed enough, there's no reason to assume ulterior motives (like being cynical that the person is only trying to ease his or her guilt). Things didn't work for some reason, but that doesn't mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.
posted by cmgonzalez at 3:12 PM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't know about staying friends after a shortish relationship, but I am friends with just about all my exes with whom I had deep relationships. (In fact, I am now married to an ex-boyfriend. Glad I kept on good terms with him :)

Usually, I am not able to see them in a friendly context immediately, but over time, the wounds heal a bit, and I cannot see why I would forever keep a person out of my life who once meant so much to me. I mean, I once loved that person for some awfully good reasons, and unless the person has completely changed, those are still reasons to care about the person. Of course, I have been very lucky over the years with my choice of mates.
posted by thebrokedown at 4:27 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

My personal experience has been that I need some significant time away from an ex (particularly if I was dumped and/or it was a painful breakup) before I can be friends. The time apart is necessary to heal and move on. For me, I need about a year. After that, with one ex I kept the friendship up and with the other ex I really wanted nothing to do with him.

With respect to the one friendship I've kept, I'm glad I did. He was an important part of my life at one time, and I still respect and care about him. We just weren't meant to be together romantically, but I still enjoy talking to him sporadically and hearing about his life.
posted by bananafish at 6:27 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm friends with two or three of my exes (the most recent one's acting like a bit of a putz right now, so I'm not sure what's ultimately going to happen there).

In all honesty, the first two started out with me wanting to be their friends because I was still sort of pining for them, and THAT wasn't wise; you say you're hurting, so it makes perfect sense to separate from them for a while, and that's what I did the third time around and it made the transition a bit smoother.

As to why I've stayed friends with them -- well, they are wonderful, wonderful people. I respect them, I care very much for them. They brought me a lot as lovers, but they bring me even more as friends - one guy especially so, because we only dated for a few months but have been friends and business partners for seven years now. We even had one day in the office after a couple years where we were working away and both suddenly looked up at each other with these funny looks, and both realized, "ohhhhh, okay, that's why the dating thing didn't work out, it's because we were supposed to be doing this instead all along."

I've tried staying friends with other exes, but for one reason or another it didn't work out. If you want to and feel you can, go for it; but if not, there is no reason for you to continue a relationship that is hurting you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:01 PM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Wait a year or however long it takes you to not think about them with any tinge of either resentment or longing. Then you can take steps to be friends.
posted by melissam at 1:14 AM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

"After a breakup that is not mutual, what is the purpose of staying friends with the person who dumped you?"

posted by fantasticninety at 4:56 PM on March 7, 2009

Because he was one of the most interesting and fun and intelligent and and important-to-me people I've ever known before he broke up with me, and he was afterwards, too. (Once I got over it and could admit that, anyway.) If he weren't still in my life, my life would be far poorer for it.

If the result of the breakup had been that I had realized he was a person who'd made my life worse overall, not just in the short term, then there would have been no reason at all to stay friends.

(Oddly enough, later on, the fact that we were still friends was something that initially made a positive impression on the guy who eventually became my husband.)
posted by wintersweet at 11:12 PM on March 7, 2009

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