Would you like to be friends again?
April 11, 2011 11:10 AM   Subscribe

How (and should) I platonically re-connect with an ex?

A few years ago, my relationship with my first real love ended. We tried to remain friends afterwards for probably about a year, but I was still angry and it was too painful for me, so I asked him not to contact me for awhile. (Politely and honestly, via email. He responded likewise. We both wished each other the best. Haven't talked since.)

Coincidentally (or perhaps not) only about a month after that I met the woman to whom I am now engaged. (Yay!) As I'm thinking about marriage and commitment a lot lately, the ex has been on my mind (we also planned on marrying at one point though we never made it official.) I'd like to resume a friendship, because I hate the idea of love being wasted - though I have absolutely no interest in him as a romantic partner anymore, I'd like to think that anyone who I really cared about at one point would remain in my life to some capacity.

I've talked about all of this with my fiancee, and she encouraged me to reach out to him if I'd like. The problem is, I'm not sure how and even if I should do this.

What I'm looking for is simply a casual friendship, like I have with other exes. It makes me feel melodramatic to know there is a person in the world with whom I "can't communicate." I am over it and I'd simply like to let him know this in a casual, friendly, cheerful way. And of course I am curious about how his life is going. We didn't break up because of infidelity or anything like that, simply incompatibility, and it seems silly to be estranged the rest of our lives, especially as we have mutual friends and so on.

But another part of me questions if it is an appropriate thing to do. I don't want him to think I miss him in a romantic way, or that I am reaching out because I'm unhappy with my current partner or anything. I don't want to begin any kind of intimate, close relationship because it would feel disrespectful to my current relationship.

Is there a way to phrase a short email or message that simply says, "Hey, how's it going, what are you up to?" without anything else layered into the subtext? Do I need to address the fact I once asked him not to talk to me but I'm now over it, or does my message make that a given?
posted by ohsnapdragon to Human Relations (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Are you Facebook friends? For a low-level, platonic, keeping tabs sort of relationship with an Ex, Facebook can be helpful. Just friend him and see what happens. Say "Happy Birthday" once a year and comment on a picture once in a blue moon.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:18 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am over it and I'd simply like to let him know this in a casual, friendly, cheerful way.

I think this will be easier to do (at least on your part) after the marriage. The boundaries are a little more clearly defined, etc.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:18 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Go for it. Or facebook him (more casual), as long as you're honest and cheerful (and he's reasonable) he shouldn't read too far into it. If you're still worried he'll get the wrong idea mention your SO and how happy you are in general. Considering it's been a few years and things seem to have ended well (as far as I can read) I think he'll probably be happy to get an update from you. Don't worry about what either of you had said at the end of your relationship. Time heals, you're starting fresh.
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 11:18 AM on April 11, 2011

People come and go in our lives. You are happy and engaged, there is no reason to contact this ex as potential drama could ensue.
Cherish the memories and look forward to the future.
posted by handbanana at 11:18 AM on April 11, 2011 [10 favorites]

It makes me feel melodramatic to know there is a person in the world with whom I "can't communicate."

Is this the reason for wanting to get back in touch or do you genuinely miss this person's friendship and influence in your life?

But, by all means, do the Facebook thing.
posted by Sassyfras at 11:19 AM on April 11, 2011

I think you can and should reconnect with your ex. If he was fine with the breakup and wanted a platonic friendship, but you couldn't at the time, then he probably would still want that now and would be happy to know that you want it too.

Is there a way to phrase a short email or message that simply says, "Hey, how's it going, what are you up to?" without anything else layered into the subtext? Do I need to address the fact I once asked him not to talk to me but I'm now over it, or does my message make that a given?

Don't address the fact that you asked for radio silence in the email. You can, after you meet, if you feel comfortable and want to. But I think it is perfectly fine to say send an email saying "Hi ex, I was thinking of you recently and would love to know how you are and what you are doing. I would be thrilled if you would meet for a coffee." Ball's totally in his court, you sound happy, and it sounds like he can decline if he wants.

I presume that, since you have mutual friends, he already knows you are engaged, so there should be no risk of sending him a false signal that says "I want to get back together with you".

I would not do it over facebook, but over email. There is no practical difference, but has the feel of being official communication solely between two people, outside the greater social world that facebook contains.

Good luck!
posted by molecicco at 11:27 AM on April 11, 2011

You already flagged it by telling your fiancee, now move on. Take handbanana's advice. This doesn't seem to me like a person who will fit into your future life in a positive way based on what you have described. Cherish the memories and look forward to the future.
posted by cashman at 11:39 AM on April 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ahem... this is semi cathartic - so I'll warn you my response is geared to how I would respond if my 'ex' tried to reconnect with you.

I'll be honest. As your ex, I want nothing to do with you. Don't take it personally. I don't care you have some feeling of akwardness - its not my problem. Realistically, that's something you should be handling with your therapist - not me. If you want to try to handle it with me, be prepared to revisit the end of your relationship and have some re-validation as to why it was a good idea to end things. If you want to hear things about how pissed I was at you, I'll gladly tell you.

Now, don't go thinking that I'm not over it. I am. I've moved on with my life. I like my life. I really like my life. Things have gotten better without you. Sure, it sucked for a while but things have actually improved by this point. I'm in a good place.

Realistically, the whole you and I thing though was a headtrip that I wouldn't want to revisit. You showing up and looking for validation as a good person is so not something that is even remotely important to me. Honestly, if life has been good to you since things ended - fantastic - glad you found someone. Things between us ended poorly and I'd rather stick a scorpion down my pants than play therapist for you. Been there, done that. You've got someone else new to do that for you - and if he isn't cutting it - well... should I tell you that I'm not surprised?

So yeah... your ex is your ex. Pull the pictures from the box and send them curb with the trash.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:41 AM on April 11, 2011 [21 favorites]

What I'm looking for is simply a casual friendship, like I have with other exes. It makes me feel melodramatic to know there is a person in the world with whom I "can't communicate."

Well, he really may not feel the same way about any of this, and that's not melodramatic.

Personally I would NOT want an ex to reach out to me for friendship out of a desire to remain consistent with their other experiences amongst other exes. Depending on how the relationship ended, I also wouldn't necessarily welcome someone reaching out to me at a time when they're marrying someone else. That can be painful to hear, and can stir up plenty of strange feelings.
posted by hermitosis at 11:41 AM on April 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also, looking at one of your previous questions, I think you and your fiancee should spare yourselves contact with exes wherever possible, because the settings on your drama-filters may be a little skewed by other people's standards.
posted by hermitosis at 11:47 AM on April 11, 2011

Response by poster: Nanukthedog, though I appreciate your perspective, it really has nothing to do with my situation, as he was the one who ended things, and I was the one who asked for space.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 11:49 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your quick replies. As usual, simply gathering my thoughts to write this post has helped tremendously, and my gut reactions to responses has also provided clarification.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 11:51 AM on April 11, 2011

I've found that over time, if I was open to it, either "Ex's" (all of whom are WAY in my past since I've been married 20 years) or just people whom I had an awkward moment with a long time ago - get over it. So I'm FB friends with that guy I slugged in high school and a girl I dated 4 months in 1984. I'll even wave at the asshole who fired me in 2001 and his girlfriend, should I see them in a restaurant, and once when I saw him and struck up a brief conversation we shared a laugh over the term "pink slip" when it came up in another context.

And reconciliation, like revenge, isn't all it's cracked up to be. I don't regret having said "hi," in cases like this, and I of course want to feel like I'm square with everyone I know or even conceivably might run into, but you know what? It's okay, but it doesn't change your life. I like the fact that if I really, really had to, I could call up my asshole ex-boss and ask a question, but I'm gonna try like hell to avoid doing so. Being socially friendly is not the same thing as being friends. Being friendly /= liking /= trusting.

Be at peace with yourself, send a friendly vibration or prayer in his direction, and it doesn't sound like contact is really needed or appropriate. Direct your energy toward your current life.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:04 PM on April 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

Well, what would your ex want?

Think about it: if you were in love with him, I am assuming you had a close, possibly long-term relationship. Did you guys ever talk about how you handled your exes and what he thought was a good thing to do after the dissolution of a relationship?

I am kind of just pointing this out to expand on the observations made by nanukthedog and hermitosis. I am already aware of any exes I have who would be pretty okay with me shooting them an email or a facebook friend request. And they, on their part (assuming they were observant in the least), should probably have a pretty clear idea that I wouldn't really want to hear from them, because with a few exceptions, I handle breakups differently and don't really have any desire to rehash the past. They've respected that. And if I decided to do something different, I know those who would be okay with hearing from me.

So...maybe you know the answer to this question already, if you really sit with it...?
posted by vivid postcard at 12:49 PM on April 11, 2011

My ex, who asked me not to talk to her after I broke up with her, reached out to me about 8 months after the whole thing happened....I was glad to hear from her, and now we reach out to each other on birthdays or once a year. How did she do it? She sent me a text message, saying "hi"...I said "hey?" and then she asked me if she could call....she did and we had a fine conversation. In your case I would say an e-mail rather than a random out of the blue friend request should suffice..
posted by The1andonly at 1:02 PM on April 11, 2011

Best answer: Yes, if I ended it, if we ended basically good terms, and especially given that you were the one who asked for space, I would be very happy to hear that you wanted to stay friends.

The key phrase there is "if we ended on good terms." You mention that it was an awkward year, and that you were still angry. If you were a total jerk to him during that time, I wouldn't bother to try reconnecting; you pretty much burned the bridge. It might work if you were ready to start out with an apology, but otherwise, no.

The simplest thing would be to reach out to me after you got married. I do have one or two ex-es I could support in their engagement, but calling before getting married could also be read as "hey, last chance!" Closely examine your own motives, and maybe don't try it if you're not crystal clear. If it's "something good is happening to me, and I want to share it with those that I'm closest to in my heart," even that is an iffy motive if there's even a 5% chance that the closeness you want is actually a romantic closeness.

In calling after getting married, consider that some people are sensitive about marriage if they aren't themselves married, so be sure that your offering sounds like "now that I'm recovered from the breakup, I'd really like to stay friends with you as a person who I really value," and not "now that my life is AWESOME, I wanted to let you know, and to see how your pitiful life is working out for you." It doesn't sound like that's where you're coming from. :) But this is another place to be very careful about your motivations and what message might be unintentionally conveyed, or even imagined. Good luck!
posted by salvia at 1:06 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think the fact that you needed to cut off all contact does not bode well for reconnecting with this person. I think the most you can hope for is a brief awkward conversation in which you both say, "yeah I'm still here, life goes on." If the hurt cut so deep that you couldn't stand to even email this person, I'm not sure you are going to resolve anything to any meaningful degree that you will be able to move forward with a casually friendly relationship. No contact is sometimes a perfectly fitting tribute to a particularly close relationship that needed to end. Things about your ex rubbed off on you, and you'll carry them forever, and vice versa is likely true, so none of your love was "wasted." You're happy now and your question acknowledges a connection between this and moving on from your ex.

I think some exes can go on to be great friends and some exes can never talk to each other again and I have examples of both in my life. Becoming friends with someone happens more or less naturally and doesn't require a question to internet strangers. I'm not saying don't contact this person, just be careful about what you are expecting to happen.

I think Facebook or a terse email is fine, if you have anything more complicated to say before meeting, do it in person or on the phone.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:30 PM on April 11, 2011

Best answer: I have an ex from a very serious relationship that ended because although we both really liked each other, we just weren't as compatible as we wished we were. After some time had passed, one of us emailed the other (I forget who initiated it) with a message like hi, I was thinking of you because of [something reminded me of you/it was your birthday/whatever] ___ and wondering how you've been. I have been doing ____ [job, relationship, whatever]. -- basically, a hello, a brief update, and an expression of interest in the other person's life, but NOT any kind of I-want-you-back subtext. That grew into an occasional friendly email exchange. That part was all pre-Facebook; now we are fb friends and sometimes comment on one another's stuff.

We have both acknowledged that it's perfectly natural to be curious about the other's life. I totally want to know if he has a baby or if one of his parents is ill or something. He wants to know about major events in my life, too. Now, if this made my husband or his wife uncomfortable or something, I guess we wouldn't do it, but they have no reason to be threatened, you know? To me it seems obvious that we would care about what happens with the other person.

So I guess my advice is to feel it out. I don't think it's a bad idea at all. If your ex isn't interested in reconnecting, he won't. Just be clear about what you're trying to get out of it.
posted by hansbrough at 2:36 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Been here done this, it's not worth it.

You have to realize that it'll either be unsatisfyingly superficial or a problem in the new relationship. The line to walk is finer than you might think.
posted by notned at 4:18 PM on April 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I did this and it worked out okay.

We had the whole "let's be friends" thing and that just didn't work out. So, I said "hey I need some space, so I don't want to hang out for the immediate future." We kept in somewhat infrequent email contact after that.

Then I got a new boyfriend (now husband) and (with husband's permission) started seeing ex in person once or twice a year until I moved to a different city.

It's now 8 years down the road and if we're ever in the same city again, I'd probably stop by and catch up. We're fb friends and email once or twice a year.

I think when I contacted my ex I made it really clear that I had a new boyfriend but that I really did want to be friends and that I had healed and moved on and was in a place where I could be friends again. He understood.

But every relationship is different. One of my exes contacted me on fb and I really, truly want nothing to do with him ever again, so I just ignored it. And interestingly, my ex recently broke up with his girlfriend of 4 years and they're no longer fb friends, so...

In sum, try sending her a light and chatty email, make it clear that you've moved on but want to remain friends and see what she says.
posted by bananafish at 5:01 PM on April 11, 2011

Here is what jumps out at me in your post:

> I'd like to think that anyone who I really cared about at one point would remain in my life to some capacity
> What I'm looking for is simply a casual friendship
>It makes me feel melodramatic to know there is a person in the world with whom I "can't communicate."
> it seems silly to be estranged the rest of our lives

These statements have no content. It sounds like you have a vague feeling of unease, but you don't want to examine it and look for the reasons behind it. Instead, you want to make good with your ex in a somewhat cowardly, round-about way. In fact, it doesn't seem from your post that your ex matters to you. Are you sure you were in love with this person? Or maybe you just experience love differently.

Anyway, it would really depend on your ex's personality and how strongly he connects with people. if I was your ex and I'd cared for you at all, and I knew what exactly you had in mind, I'd be pretty disappointed (if not pissed) and decline. (Except I really wouldn't be able to, since your plan for contact is so, well... round-about, and he'd have no way of knowing you're after a "casual friendship.") The reason: being a person who likes to have genuine and straightforwad connections with people based on feelings of empathy for each other and mutual respect, for me the "friendship" you have to offer has no value or future.

What's so bad about not talking again (if that was really to happen)? You had something, it didn't work out, move on. If you run into each other and you actually happen to be able to develop a real friendship, good. If not, it's not the end of the world.
posted by adahn at 9:28 PM on April 11, 2011

I'm surprised to read how many people are dead set against this. It seems to me like you guys never had closure. Closure is nice. And healthy. Trying to create a new, continuing, platonic friendship... yeah, that might not be such a good idea. And I don't even think it really makes sense. But meeting once, just to say hello, to smile, and to check in on how the other person is doing seems to me to be completely reasonable.
posted by molecicco at 8:48 AM on April 12, 2011

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