Once my lover, now my friend. Possible, or just a cruel thing to pretend?
August 26, 2010 11:59 AM   Subscribe

How to manage the transition from fiance to ex to friends?

Followup to this massive wall of text. TL,DR: 5.5 year relationship ended because some emotional infidelity revealed that while we love each other very much, we don't fit any more, and we've gone our seperate ways.

It's only been 11 days since the split, and though it's still hard and I've been all over the emotional spectrum, these days I'm feeling pretty good, great even. I've reached a place of acceptance, and even a great deal of relief. I find myself saying "I love you" again, only now I'm saying it to myself and meaning it completely.

He's staying with R, and will be until he can move mid September. That can be hard to deal with, but I realize it's not really my concern. We've had very little contact, for the first few days he would text me occasionally, but I asked him to stop as texts are too invasive and unavoidable. We've exchanged a few email messages to let each other know how we're coping.

I'm starting to think it might not be too long before we can hang out as friends again. If I'm honest with myself, that's where we were for the past few months at least. Hell, I can even see myself hanging out with him and R again, given enough time and the right circumstances (eg, if they decided to see each other, I don't think I could handle it then, although they'd have my blessing.)

Of course the break has been hard, but I think the breakup itself has been as easy as these things can be. It's been honest, open, and as mutual as it can be. While I don't want to get back with him, I can't imagine not having him in my life. The current plan is to maintain minimal contact until he gets the rest of his stuff from the apartment in about two weeks, then go out for lunch and see where we're at.

What do you think? Is this too soon, am I fooling myself? How much more completely apart time should I give myself? If you've managed to remain good friends after the end of a long term relationship, how did you do it?
posted by Ceci n'est pas un sockpuppet to Human Relations (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Everyone is different, and there is no way to know what will will work for the two of you until you try, but in my experience, I've never transitioned successfully to a friendship - a real friendship - with an ex without a period of at least several months of absolutely no contact.
posted by rtha at 12:02 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

What do you think? Is this too soon, am I fooling myself? How much more completely apart time should I give myself?

In the order you asked, my answers are, !!!!!, YES, YES, and, A LOT. It's only been 11 days! He's living with the other woman! I don't think you've even BEGUN to grieve this breakup yet; I don't think you've even registered it! You need to give yourself some time to get sad and mad and furious and hopeful and over it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:04 PM on August 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

(just fyi, OP is a man)

But I totally agree with ThePinkSuperhero. I would say that maybe after 6 months or a year, if you haven't been desperate to talk to him, you can. As long as you're still desperate to talk to him and have him in your life, it's too soon.
posted by brainmouse at 12:08 PM on August 26, 2010

What do you think? Is this too soon ... ?


How much more completely apart time should I give myself?

I'd give it at least another month before asking the questions you're asking. I want to emphasize: I'd give it at least a month before even asking the questions you're asking.

He's living with the other woman!

"The other woman"?? Check your assumptions, there.
posted by jejune at 12:09 PM on August 26, 2010

I'd say to maybe give it more time, even if it doesn't feel like you need to. You might be feeling okay right now but that can change as quickly as anything; working through a process like this tends to unearth stuff you didn't realize was there. Only you know the ins and outs of your own heart but it doesn't feel presumptuous to me to say that eleven days is maybe too soon to make any statements about "these days."

Of all the relationships I've ever been in, I am on good terms with a handful of exes, and of those I think I only speak to one with any regularity. The key factor in being able to speak again, and call ourselves friends again, was always the distance that comes with time.

As good as you're feeling right now -- and I'm glad for you, because that is a good place in which to be -- if you couldn't handle hanging out with him and R if they were to get together, it's probably too soon. Please bear in mind that you have every right to feel what you feel, even if it seems you're not supposed to. You don't like that he's staying with R, and that's not your concern, and it doesn't matter: You're allowed to be upset about it.

It seems like part of why you're emailing about how the other is coping is that after so many years, it just seems natural - it's how you work. A life without him being close, that's frightening and alien.

Just give it some time, and spend some quality time with your other friends, and be happy when you can, and be sad when you need to, and be good to yourself. You'll be quite all right, but there's no need to rush it.

Good luck. I'm sure it'll turn out great, sooner or later.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:10 PM on August 26, 2010

Eep, sorry about the pronoun confusion, confused this question in my mind with another that involved a straight couple. Advice is still the same though!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:11 PM on August 26, 2010

You can't be friends with him until you can listen to him talk about the cute guy he's thinking of asking out on Saturday without feeling like someone just punched you in the chest. Think about it. Can you do that?
posted by fight or flight at 12:13 PM on August 26, 2010 [6 favorites]

After a 5.5 year relationship? I'd consider getting back in touch with him after New Year's. Anything up until then is going to rub some very raw nerves, and I don't think you're going to accomplish anything. If you want to stay friends with the guy, giving him (and you!) some distance and time is your best bet.
posted by Mayor West at 12:19 PM on August 26, 2010

From sad experience I'd say it's possible to become friends--after some down-time has elapsed--only if you truly respect the other person's values, the way you respect any friend's values. And if the breakup wasn't accompanied by too much emotional betrayal and dishonesty. Pain can make forgiveness impossible, or pretty hard anyway. (Guilt can have the same effect, I have to say.) I'm friends with some ex's and not friends with others, and those are the elements that have made the difference. Long-term, though, even the best of such friendships tend to dwindle, fade, evaporate . . .
posted by fivesavagepalms at 12:24 PM on August 26, 2010

I'd stick with your plan - minimal contact, have lunch or a coffee and reassess in two weeks. But be aware that there are a lot of different emotions in any breakup, even the best handled, and they can swing wildly. It's hard not to have him in your life, but I don't know if after 11 days you can both be at a point where you can be separated enough from your past relationship to start what's essentially a new relationship (friendship) - and if you thought it was a tangled mess before, just imagine if you end up back together-ish - or worse, with one of you wanting that and the other not wanting it- which you think can't happen or won't happen, but I wouldn't be shocked.
posted by mrs. taters at 12:29 PM on August 26, 2010

(eg, if they decided to see each other, I don't think I could handle it then, although they'd have my blessing.)

This statement alone tells me you're not ready to be "friends" with him. When it absolutely doesn't matter who he's involved with, then you will be ready. Until then, give yourself time and space. FWIW, my ex and I went through a bad breakup and I honestly thought we would never be friends. But a few years later, we ended up back in contact, and we are, much to my surprise, friends.
posted by crankylex at 12:32 PM on August 26, 2010

I've got several friends who are ex-boyfriends. You can get there eventually, but it's not a straight or pretty line from where you are. It's one thing to be separated; you're still probably closer to him that anyone else in the world. The second shoe drops when one of you forms a close (or very sexy) bond with someone else. It's like Meg Ryan's character says in WHMS, "It's not that he didn't want to get married, it's that he didn't want to marry *me*!!"---ouch, that realization is awful. That's when you avoid each other. I've never imposed a strict "no contact" rule on myself, but I've avoided running into an ex with his new sweetie. I don't have a "no hands on a hot stove" rule either, I just didn't do it because I have no desire to torture myself.
posted by tula at 12:42 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am friends with most of my exes, including an ex-husband and an ex-fiance. The absolute number one requirement in these cases is time. Lots of time. More time that you can possibly imagine or think that you can bear. Months? Think years.

This is because in order to be friends with an ex, neither party can harbor any lingering resentments or secret hopes of reconciliation. If either one of you is still secretly angry about something, or still even vaguely nurses the hope of getting back together, or feels the pit of your stomach fall out even at the thought of your former partner being with someone else... you're not ready. Those sorts of feelings -- hurt, desire, melancholy, jealousy, fear -- are all perfectly natural to feel as you proceed personally through getting over the breakup, but at the same time they are toxic to turning your relationship into a friendship.

In short, you have to wait. I know it sucks. I know you can't believe that the time will pass. It will.
posted by scody at 12:43 PM on August 26, 2010

Oh, and in terms of being in touch after a breakup: I've found in each case that after a certain point, I had to institute a period of total radio silence because the pain of being in touch was just too awful and was clearly keeping me trapped. The radio silence period doesn't have to last as long as the general transition period from partners to friends -- for me, I'd think about ending contact for at least 4-6 months, and then easing back into some sort of very, very occasional contact for maybe another year, and then see if friendship is realistically on the table. That's just based on my experiences, though.
posted by scody at 12:47 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think it takes about 2 years for a proper transition back to friends.
posted by meepmeow at 12:53 PM on August 26, 2010

Echoing TIME. Which is hard if the other person doesn't also agree that time is critical and necessary and if they aren't willing to respect your need - not saying the ex is one of those people, but it's the thing that clogs up the works most often.

And the longer it takes you to completely detach, just resets the clock further. The radio silence is vital. If more people did this, there would be more people still friends with their exes. But too many exes assuage guilt and/or continue to get emotional fixes by staying in touch, and too many dumpees are desperate for the contact, so it just gets icky and messy.

This is boyfriend #1 so the thought of him not being there is going to make you want contact, especially when you're going crazy with grief. But I PROMISE you that time makes it better.

Hang in there.
posted by micawber at 12:54 PM on August 26, 2010

This is far too soon to even contemplate seeing each other for lunch and trying to immediately make the leap to a relationship based purely upon friendship. In my opinion and experience you need to spend enough time purging yourself of every last ounce of romantic attachment to him before you can even consider being friends. I'd say this takes at least months, possibly a year or more. Of course, everyone's different, but I've never seen it work successfully any other way.

Avoid him (completely), get over him, and only then should you try being friends, if ever. Seeing him too soon just reopens old wounds and makes it impossible to ever move on.
posted by fso at 12:55 PM on August 26, 2010

I got these two pieces of advice from a breakup book that I read years ago. They're really good ones, and from personal experience, I know them to be true.

1. You can't get there from here. It's not a step-down process. It's a wander off in the other direction and walk around the Earth process. Meaning, you have to fully deconstruct this relationship and come at it from a whole new direction. Starting from two neutral squares, like two people who don't know what the other is about yet. You don't know what this person and you will be like as purely platonic friends. You've never started from there. And it may not work.

2. Two people from a relationship are ready to be friends again when it no longer matters to either one of them whether or not they are friends again.

I'm so sorry. I know that's bad news. And it hurts. But it will get better, I really promise. Keep those days in your sights. They're out there (and not as far off as you think).
posted by iamkimiam at 1:04 PM on August 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

As a rule of thumb, I've learned that post-breakup friendships only work if you're cool with hanging out with the ex and whoever the ex is now dating. If the idea of hanging out with him and his new partner breaks your heart, you're not ready. Really, you should consider waiting a period of months rather than a period of days before trying to see if there's potential for a real friendship between you. Right now, it's so soon after the breakup that there are too many complications.

I'm sorry. I know what you're going through is hard and I wish you the best of luck. This piece of advice I posted to another question today might be helpful Specifically, the part about the FUTURE and POSITIVITY. What you're going through is hard. It's a long dark tunnel, but there is a light at the end, and that light is a light within you. It is a happier and mentally healthier you.
posted by 2oh1 at 1:28 PM on August 26, 2010

The rule of thumb I've heard is one month of grieving for each year together. You've barely begun the process.
posted by Carol Anne at 2:19 PM on August 26, 2010

I feel for you. I was engaged ten years ago to someone, we broke up, we are now friends. It wasn't easy, and to be honest, there were several points along the way when I didn't think we'd be able to be friends.

My advice to you: wait, as hard as that may be, wait. It took me about two years to be able to talk, really talk, to my ex, let alone be his best friend. Now, ten years later, I'm getting married and... he's invited to the ceremony.

It can happen, it just takes time, work, patience, and oh yeah, time :)
posted by jacquilinala at 2:31 PM on August 26, 2010

How much more completely apart time should I give myself?

I'm piling on to the 'months' category. It's great that you think you can be together as friends again. But before you do that, see how well you can not be together at all. If the latter is a problem, the former will be a disaster.
posted by robself at 3:21 PM on August 26, 2010

4 years ago I split from my partner of 9 years (he met someone else). Within about 6 weeks we were hanging out as friends, but I moved away about another 6 weeks later, contact after that was pretty infrequent, and it actually took me about 3 years to get over him properly. FWIW the idea of seeing them together was my worst fear, and part of what made me decide to move away from the area, but actually it wasn't as bad as I expected, and it got easier the more often I had to face it. I do consider him a friend, but to be honest as I started to get on with my life, I've found that having him in my life no longer seems like the necessity it once did.

I'd agree that you need months if not years apart from him before you can really start to be friends. Don't force it - you'll know when (if) you're ready to be his friend, it'll be harder than you expect, especially at first, but don't be surprised if somewhere down the line you realise that, far from not being able to imagine him in your life, he's actually less important to you than your other friends.

Good luck!
posted by kumonoi at 4:09 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Eh. I split from my partner of nine years (and husband of four) in December. We're friends. We're both part of the same hobby group, and we took part in a related event with no drama a few days after the split. The split was mutual (though I maybe instigated a little more) and we both understood we were wrong for each other and knew we didn't want to be together any more, and beyond a month or so of him panicking about being alone, there was no residual jealousy, no nothing. We've kind of slipped comfortably into an almost sibling thing now.

I guess we may be a weird case, but it can be done if the split happens in the right circumstances.
posted by corvine at 5:59 PM on August 26, 2010

I can't imagine not having him in my life.

When you can, then you can consider trying a friendship. But not while you still need him in this way.
posted by heatherann at 7:16 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your perspectives. I still will probably meet up with him for lunch when he gets his stuff, but I won't contact him until then.

I honestly believe that although there's some small hurt and betrayal, it is likely to be something we're able to overcome. We definitely both wish each other the best, and we'll see how it goes.

Thanks again, and be sure that I will protect my own well being above all else. If something is too much to bear, I will remove myself from the situation.
posted by Ceci n'est pas un sockpuppet at 7:42 PM on August 27, 2010

« Older Online day journal?   |   Now Offering Violin Lessons in NYC, Any Takers? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.