You're a great guy, but let's just not be friends.
August 24, 2009 6:34 AM   Subscribe

I think I will always sort of want my ex; I think I will never really feel OK about seeing him with someone else; I think I only ever considered staying friends in case maybe we could work things out eventually. How much of this should I tell him?

A few months ago, I initiated a Serious Discussion about a Relationship Issue I was Very Unhappy with, and it ended in a breakup. I didn't entirely rule out the idea of staying friends because this guy is a great person who treated me well, we care about each other, enjoy one another's company, etc. Essentially, if we had never dated, I think we could be great friends (actually, to be honest, I think that if we hadn't dated yet, it would be noticeably on the horizon, but I guess that's the crux of my problem).

I feel a little embarrassed to admit this, but when wondering whether I should try to stay friends with him, I consulted old AskMes, this one in particular, and all the reasoning that says "yes" made sense to me: we still had things in common, we still liked and respected each other as people, just because a romantic relationship wouldn't work didn't mean we shouldn't be friends!


1) Now that we're no longer together, I shouldn't (by any means) be the center of his world anymore. And yet, when I get the blowoff in favor of someone or something else, it huuuuurts. The downgrade is totally understandable and appropriate, and even still, every damn time it's like having lemon juice squirted right in my damn eye. Time may well lessen that pain, but then there's:

2) I am about 99% sure that I will never be able to feel happy for him if/when he starts seeing someone else. Evidence on that one has been drawn from the way I feel right now, as well as the way I still feel about every other ex I felt as strongly about. I genuinely wish them every happiness, but I don't actually want to know about it...which isn't exactly how I would describe a friend of mine.

He fervently wants to continue knowing me, and I still feel all lit up inside when I see him face to face -- but also: I stopped believing I could trust him to be my equal partner in life (that last is to head off any suggestion of "why don't you give it another shot?", not a detail I intend to bring up at this point; beating the horse of "BTW I STILL RESENT XYZ" won't make it any deader).

He has made his stance very clear to me. Should I do the same and tell him all of the above? Or would it be better to:

a) not respond at all
b) tell him "that won't work out for me" and leave it at that
c) leave out __________ but admit the rest
d) ...something else?

I think that not staying friends is the most helpful thing I can do for myself; how can I most helpfully convey that to him?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
In my (humble) experience, even with the smoothest, best, friendliest breakups, you need a bit of time without to regain your focus. One of my exes, with whom I had a (surreally) friendly breakup conversation with... we still needed 2 months apart before we could relate as friends. It sounds as though these past two months, you've been seeing him as friends. Honestly? Cut it out .. just for a little bit. Get yourself some breathing space, go discover things, take some YOU time. ... then come back in 3 or 6 months, and do something very casual, and see how it goes. My bet says that things will be clearer after that time.
posted by frwagon at 6:40 AM on August 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

"I can't handle being around you for awhile, at least until I can clear my head."

(And a year or two wouldn't be unreasonable.)
posted by rokusan at 6:40 AM on August 24, 2009 [5 favorites]

"Right now, it's too hard to just be friends with you. I'd like to, but it hurts too much to be with you while not being with you. I really hope that after I've had some time and some space, we really can be friends, but right now, I just need to keep clear for a while."
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:40 AM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

I wasn't in a relationship with her, but was very much in love with someone for a while and told her about it. She was considering it but decided against was really crushing. But she wanted to be my friend, I think for the same reasons I was in love with her (many things in common, good communication, similar sense of humor).

I got pissed off at her on the phone and yelled (we were living in two different cities). And told her I didn't want to talk to her, not sure if I ever would. Only problem is that we have a ton of mutual friends (how we met).

Long story shorter: I took some time away from her. She told me that she was dating another mutual friend, which really hurt. But eventually we started being friends. I told her I didn't really want to hear anything about her dating life, and didn't tell her much about mine. I was hoping things would work out between us, but they never did.

Now, a year into this relationship, we're good friends and talk a lot. There's still a hurt in me about why things didn't work out between us (am I ugly? Weird? Stupid?) But I know that she values me a lot as a friend, and she's good company.

The weirdest thing is that I'm 100% physically not attracted to her anymore. She was over here this weekend watching a movie and was laying on the couch and I don't know...seemed very available to me. And I just had no desire to do anything. This is really weird for me. I was would be bad. I don't want that to happen. I'd rather be friends. While I was courting her, I was like, I will never not want this person. I'm happy being friends. Your mileage may vary.

Good luck! And sorry, I know it sucks. If you think the thing to do is cut off all contact, I think you should. And also, I'd suggest not trying to date every person alive afterwards to fix yourself. I did that, and then that made me more miserable. I took 6 months off from dating and it was maybe the happiest time in my life. So I'd consider that. Just saying "I'm not going to deal with this right now". I feel a lot stronger for that time. It's become a lot less of a huge deal for me.
posted by sully75 at 6:48 AM on August 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

I was you about 8 years ago. Someone I'd been seeing for a few months broke up with me, but we wanted to stay friends -- in fact, we even started working together -- and then he went and met someone and started up seeing her seriously after only a month and a half.

And it sucked dingo kidneys for a long time. A long time. I didn't really come to feel comfortable around them as a couple for a year or two.

But I think that adjustment would have gone much quicker if I'd given myself a few months to say "okay, you know what, I just need to not be seeing this in my face all the time right now, I'll come back when the scar's healed over and I can handle it." I had already started working with him and wasn't as able to do that, but I should have. I did ultimately have to have a conversation with him in our office once about "look, I know that you're really really really really really excited about your girlfriend, and you want to tell everyone how great she is, but -- seriously, think about it; why would I want to hear it?"

The good news is that it is possible to heal and come to an even keel about it. I am great friends with the both of them now; the guy has become a second brother, and we very quickly learned that we have an AMAZING working rapport. He's marvelled a few times about how well we work together. And as for any lingering romantic thoughts -- gone. In fact, it almost feels weird to think about the fact that we did date at one point (when I say this guy feels like a brother, I REALLY mean he feels like a brother).

You are definitely within your rights to just say you need to take some time away from him and heal over a little. And take a few months at the VERY least.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:54 AM on August 24, 2009

I would just be honest and tell him that it's too painful to be friends at this point. He should understand, and if he doesn't, he's not really a "great guy" at all.

I have been in a very similar situation and found that being friends just didn't work. Things may change in time for you, but the only way these feelings won't continue to torture you is to cut off communication for a good long while.
posted by PunkSoTawny at 6:59 AM on August 24, 2009

Find someone else. Take time away from the guy and enjoy yourself. Been there before and the easiest way to get over someone is to take time away from them, realise that there are other people out there, and that the ex isn't the only person in the world you can be happy with.
posted by Biru at 7:00 AM on August 24, 2009

You need to take some time away from this guy.

I was on the other side of a similar situation a few years back. I broke up with a girl, and tried to be friends. In that case, it was because she was emotionally fragile and not because she was a nice person to be around.

We hung out for a while, but then I noticed she fell into the same relationship patterns (calling every day, asking me why I hadn't called her, etc.) When I finally got the courage to tell her we were never going to get back together, she went off the deep end.

It all ended with her trying to run me over with her car in an apartment parking lot.

You sound like you still have strong feelings for this guy. While these persist, you guys can't truly be friends, because you have an ulterior motive for hanging around (i.e. you may get back together). Only after you get over this will you be able to be friends with him.
posted by reenum at 7:12 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

You are really not over the relationship and the breakup. You will be some day. Tell him things are still unresolved for you, and that you can't maintain a friendship right now. Sounds like things are unresolved for him, too.
posted by theora55 at 7:22 AM on August 24, 2009

I've had this happen twice. The first time was with a girl that had just moved to my school. Everyone was sure she'd go out with me at the start of the year, but she still had a thing for her old guy in the old city. Took at least until Christmas before I could stand being around her after she shot me down. We ended up being friends, although I'm pretty sure she knew that I still would have gone out with her if she asked.

Second time I had no idea why we broke up, but think it had something to do with me saying that we didn't have to sit together at a club meeting because we weren't married. Took me about 1.5 years on that one, but the fact that this one was in college and I didn't see her much probably didn't help (or did depending on how you look at it).

All of that being said, take some time away. Find new friends (who won't be destructive) if you have to.

I don't condone violence, and I'm hoping you don't take this next sentence as me doing so. But having a rather large dude remind him that you want to be left alone for a while can do wonders. Just make sure it's someone that you can trust not to get violent.
posted by theichibun at 7:26 AM on August 24, 2009

I was the dumper in this situation. 7 years ago. and 'we' are still not cool. The vast stretches of time and space help a lot, but when you get really wrapped up in someone it's very hard to untangle those feelings and ever be able to think about that person as wholly separate from yourself.
My advice: don't try and be friends, because you won't be friends. you'll be ex lovers trying not to be lovers. Don't see them or talk to them until it doesn't hurt to think of them being romantic and happy without you.
posted by French Fry at 7:32 AM on August 24, 2009

If being friends with him does not make you happy, then it is self-destructive to be friends with him right now. Also, you're not depriving him of a friend--you're depriving him of spending time with an ex who has lots of painful unresolved feelings for him, which is hardly doing him a disservice.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:17 AM on August 24, 2009

My opinion, which you may or may not agree with, is that complete severance of contact is the healthiest option for all parties. it might not be the most comfortable, but you'll be better off in the long run. (And, for that matter, the medium run.)
posted by Citrus at 8:25 AM on August 24, 2009

First guy I ever lived with, after we broke up, I cried almost every time we spoke on the phone and sometimes begged him to come back. Then after a while i just cried a little after we spoke. Then I just felt nostalgic and wistful. Now we are good friends and I hope always will be.

It happens, it is almost always possible if you have an "amiable" break-up, but it takes a LONG time.

It took me 18 months, i reckon, to get comfortable with it. It might take you longer, or a little less. Until then, I guarantee you won't believe it can happen, but I'd bet a fair amount that it will.
posted by greenish at 8:27 AM on August 24, 2009

Short version: Take some time away from the relationship. That's the healthiest, most adult thing you can do right now.

Long, rambling version: Your rational brain is the part of you that you should be listening to right now. That's the part of you that made you write "except" in your question. Your rational brain is aware that it's going to hurt you to be around this guy. It's the part of you that knows that if you're hurting, it's a bad idea to go seeking more hurt. More hurt is what you'll get if you spend much more time with this guy right now. In the future, maybe you can be friends, but at the moment, you need your space.

That's because of your emotional mind. The emotional mind doesn't think in terms of "what is good for me?". It thinks in terms of "what is nice?". Your emotional mind is the one that says "eat the chocolate cake". Your rational brain is the one that says "eating the cake will make us gain weight".

Right now, your emotional mind wants your ex to come back, because that felt good. It knows that when this guy was around, it felt happy and excited and in love and etcetera. The happy-causing situation is now gone, but the mind doesn't "get" that. It needs some some to ruminate on the concept that the guy not being here doesn't have to equal pain. Being around this guy is just going to confuse the mind, because it's not going to understand "friends". It's going to think "boyfriend", no matter how much the brain shrieks at it that that's not the case. Until the mind slips out of boyfriend gear, being around him in a non-boyfriend sense is going to cause you pain.

Tell this guy that you can't see him right now, because it's going to hurt too much. This is the point at which you should focus on yourself, not another person. If this guy is even halfway decent, he'll leave you be, even if he doesn't understand. Don't explain, don't justify and don't get into a conversation with him about it. Tell him clearly and concisely that you can't be just friends right now, that you need some time for the dust to settle after the relationship, that you hope he understands that you need to be without contact with him for a while, and goodbye.
posted by Solomon at 8:59 AM on August 24, 2009

Distance and time, distance and time. Also find things to do; don't just sit around and mope. Now's a good time to start a new hobby or take some classes.
posted by davejay at 9:05 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Everything you need has already been said, but I will add time and distance again. That and keep your chin up.
posted by Silvertree at 9:45 AM on August 24, 2009

Take some time to transition yourself, you're in the habit of him as boyfriend so it's natural that part of you keeps reacting in that way.

I wouldn't tell him it's because you're not over him, I might not even tell him, that is just going to make shit awkward.
posted by kathrineg at 10:02 AM on August 24, 2009

Nthing time and distance. I was in your situation once. I thought that there was no possible way I could ever not be jealous or angry about this girl seeing someone else. But it passes.

I had to break all contact with her for about a year. Then slowly I resumed contact and now I consider her one of my very good friends and talk to her often. We're both in long-term relationships we are very happy in - and there isn't any jealousy or weirdness.

Time, that tricky bastard, doesn't heal everything for sure - but it usually helps in situations such as these.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:25 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's necessary to go all that deep into your reasons, when you tell him you can't be friends right now. I think he'll either get it or he won't.

If he gets it, he'll respect your decision no matter your reasons. He'll know why, on some level, probably. But he'll also know that specific reasons don't matter much. It's normal and healthy and helpful to take time apart after a breakup, and only time will tell if real friendship is in the cards.

If he doesn't get it, any details, explanations, or reasons will simply be opportunities for him to argue about it. Some folks have a hard time accepting the whole clean break thing, and in my experience in these cases, no explanation is more effective than a plain old firm no. Not wanting to be friends right now is its own reason not to be friends right now.

Essentially, if he needs a detailed explanation, he probably doesn't deserve one, and vice versa.
posted by lampoil at 11:24 AM on August 24, 2009

I don't know your age or stage of life, but have you considered going off somewhere and doing something? I'm thinking studying/working abroad or interstate, traveling, etc. The benefits, if you're able to do it, will be tenfold. As others have said, you need time away from your ex, and you should nicely and as unemotionally as possible explain that to him. As your former partner, and as your current friend, he needs to know that you're not okay. At the same time, the whole "taking a break thing" won't work very well if you have mutual friends.

If you do have mutual friends and common circles, it'd be good for you to get away for a while. You can clear your head and meet new people, perhaps even future partners.

I don't really believe in remaining friends with an ex. I think doing so always and forever leaves one with the "what if" questions. What if we were more than friends? What if things had gone differently? What if she/he still has feelings for me? What if he/she actually likes me, though they're married now? I think it's a natural feeling. If one can deal with it, good for them, but I think "what if" is an awful feeling that never fully goes away.
posted by metalheart at 11:30 AM on August 24, 2009

Didn't read the comments.

All I have to say is this: it's only been a few months! These feelings can and will pass. Don't be surprised if it take a year or even two.
posted by sunshinesky at 11:48 AM on August 24, 2009

In a nutshell your problem is this:

I think I only ever considered staying friends in case maybe we could work things out eventually.

versus this

I stopped believing I could trust him to be my equal partner in life

As long as you believe the latter is true, what the former tells you is that this relationship is a recipe for unhappiness. You don't need to tell him much, just that being in contact makes you too unhappy and you don't know if or when that will change.
posted by nanojath at 11:59 AM on August 24, 2009

I'll just add another datapoint for the Time Heals All Wounds Club.

I was very, very in to a girl for a few years in college. I never told her how I felt, but would get the same kick-in-the-stomach feeling you're describing when she'd talk about hookups or whoever she was dating at the time.

However, a combination of time and a new relationship for me made things way better. I also tried to focus on the fact that being friends was the only relationship I'd have with the girl, so, since I cared about her a lot and really really liked her, I might as well get the most out of the friendship that I could.

After enough time and new experiences, though, the pain went away and now we're still as good of friends as ever.

Furthermore, I think that asking for some time apart is a good idea. I wouldn't necessarily tell him that you still have feelings for him; just say you need some time and air to clear your head.

Good luck!
posted by Aizkolari at 12:20 PM on August 24, 2009

This: "He fervently wants to continue knowing me"

1. I'm confused as to why he might want to preserve a friendship with an ex (you) that he didn't care enough about to make happy during the romantic relationship. (BTW, I am presuming this "whatever" was within his power to change...) The whole thing seems convoluted, like we are missing an important detail here.

2. With respect... Why do you care so much that he wants a friendship now, when he couldn't or wouldn't give you what you needed during the romantic partnership? It sounds like he hurt you during the intimate relationship, and you admit that the friend relationship is painful for you now.

I don't think it is in your best interests to frame the situation from his perspective.

Look. You've already identified he's not an appropriate romantic partner for you. You state you believe "that not staying friends is the most helpful thing I can do for myself."

OK. So do that. Don't be friends.

Furthermore, don't play games with your heart or his head. You won't get over the symptom (feeling "all lit up" over him) if you don't remove the cause (contact with him!)

I would simply pull away from this person by slowly ignoring their calls, emails, and txts. I find conversations about friendship break-ups to be a little weird/insulting to the other party and they don't always work out (see reference to "playing games," directly above.)

You can be free of this drama by getting yourself completely free of your association with this person. Period.
posted by jbenben at 2:36 PM on August 24, 2009

I would just drift away and "fake it till you make it" being happy without him. There's no reason to avoid him - that's drama. But there's also no reason, given how fragile you are, to seek communication or contact.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:13 PM on August 24, 2009

Don't be friends. Or at the very least, put being friends off for the time being. The fastest way to NOT get over someone is to hang out with them.
posted by chunking express at 6:11 AM on August 25, 2009

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