How long should we wait before trying to be friends?
September 21, 2012 12:30 PM   Subscribe

How long should I wait before being friends with an ex? We tried going straight to being friends after breaking up, and it wasn't working so I asked for some time apart. We get along really well and could have a great friendship, but I want us to be ready and not screw up a potentially great friendship by not spending enough time apart? So how do I know when I'm really ready to be friends again?

We dated for several months, and broke up because he didn't love me any more. On my end, I agreed that the break up was the right thing because for me he was a bit more Mr. Right Now than Mr. Right. We get along pretty well, but there are a few reasons why I couldn't see us lasting in a long term relationship. I had been sticking with it because I was in love, and it was fun, and I wasn't looking for anything too serious. So I was heartbroken, but knew it was for the best.

After the breakup we went straight to being friends, but it wasn't going so well. I finally decided we needed some time apart to really get over things and get used to being apart. He cried, I felt bad, I insisted, but we set a date that we were going to hang out (partially because we already had plans, partially because I felt like the open-endedness of "don't call me, I'll call you" was the hardest part). That is in 3 weeks. In the meantime, I asked him to block me on FB because I'd probably end up stalking him daily otherwise.

So how do I know when I'm really ready to be just friends? Right now I'm still in that phase where I see something funny and want to text him a picture, tell him about my day, etc. I don't know if that's a bad thing or not, because we are good friends. The part that was hard for me was when he would be a little flirty, or the idea of him with another girl, or the time he got super jealous when I flirted with another guy in from of him... So clearly we both have stuff to get over. Is a few weeks of absolutely no contact enough time? Should I just wait until the night we're planning on seeing each other and see how things are then? Should I force myself to wait the 3 weeks, or if I go a couple days without thinking about it is that a good sign?

For people who have become friends with an ex, how long did you wait and was it long enough or not and why?
posted by DoubleLune to Human Relations (41 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
How long have you gone without talking so far? Sorry if I missed something.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:33 PM on September 21, 2012

Wait the three weeks, see him, and find out if it sends you into an emotional tailspin. If it does, then you need more time - probably a bunch more time. It's not totally clear how long you have been broken up, but the last time this was an issue for me, our starter separation time was three months, and it was probably six months after that before we were both really ready to just be friends.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:34 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Honestly, if you're at the place where you're still upset by the idea of him being in a relationship with someone else, then it's probably much to soon for anything other than super-casual contact, if any at all.

But there's not like, some kind of absolute hard-and-fast amount of time -- it's whenever you feel like you've left the baggage of the relationship behind you, and no one else can be the judge of that for you.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:34 PM on September 21, 2012 [8 favorites]

If you have to force yourself to not see him, it ain't time yet. If you have the urge to stalk his FB profile rather than just click and oh hey vacation pictures whatever, it ain't time yet. If the idea of him seeing another girl fills you with dread and not happiness because yay your friend is seeing a new person, it ain't time yet.

You'll be over him when you stop worrying about being over him, because he's no longer on your mind all the time.
posted by griphus at 12:36 PM on September 21, 2012 [8 favorites]

There's no hard and fast rule. For some people, a few weeks of no-contact following a relationship of a few months is fine. Other people will need more or less.

If you're counting the days until Contact, then you're not ready for it yet, is my guess. If you're spending a bunch of time trying to figure out when you can see him, you shouldn't see him.
posted by rtha at 12:37 PM on September 21, 2012

Best answer: (Also, take into account how long it will take him to get over you. It's always asymmetrical and even if you're over him, trying to be friends with him if he's still carrying a torch for you isn't going to do anyone any good.)
posted by griphus at 12:37 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: How long have you gone without talking so far?

A couple days of "enforced" no-contact. Before this we were hanging out maybe once or twice a week (we're both in school, and frequently studied together, so that's a lot of our "hangout" time) and texted anywhere from every day to every few days. We broke up at the end of June.
posted by DoubleLune at 12:39 PM on September 21, 2012

Okay, well for me the answer changes if you're talking 3 weeks total or 3 weeks and you've already been without contact for months...but either way, do what makes you feel comfortable. Not excited, not giddy, not nervous, but comfortable and cheeful. This doesn't sound like it.

Don't let him pressure you, either--of course it's easier for him to get over it, he fell out of love already and he knew the breakup was coming.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:40 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

These things rarely go well, and usually involve a lot of drama on one or both sides. Find other friends.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:40 PM on September 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yeah, 3 weeks total sounds really unrealistic, especially if you will see things that remind you of him often. Plus, like I said, the goal is comfortable and you still seem really nervous.

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:41 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

When if he wanted you back, you'd say no. If he was marrying someone else, you'd be happy for him. If you regard him as a friend, not an ex. It would probably help if you start loving someone else instead, too.

Realistically, this will probably take you a long time. Like even a year. I wouldn't even try friendship with this guy for a long while.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:44 PM on September 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'm sorry, you also asked for anecdotes...

I have one ex that I ended up being friends with after we broke up. There was never a particular period of explicit no-contact -- we broke up Fourth of July weekend, and then we both had very busy summers living in different parts of Brooklyn, so it wasn't really an issue for three months at least. We had enough mutual friends that we ended up hanging out at events, and we saw each other around online. Eventually I started another serious relationship, and my boyfriend and my ex got along very well just as casual guy friends, which helped a lot.

But things with my ex had never been super-serious to begin with -- in hindsight, we never should have dated each other in the first place, as we were much much better as friends than as a couple.

And now I'm not friends with him anymore at all, and haven't spoken to him through so much as a text message in years, because he started dating (and later married) a woman whose own history made her incredibly insecure about ex-girlfriends. She forbade him to ever talk to me, or anyone who was more my friend than his, and that was it.

Which is to say that sometimes the friends-with-exes thing isn't really something one has a whole lot of say about. I hope you two figure out a way to be friends again in the reasonably near future, but be prepared for the possibility that it might not work out for any number of reasons.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:46 PM on September 21, 2012

Response by poster: Oh, and not to thread-sit.... I'm not into him any longer, have no desire for a relationship, though there are lingering emotions. I know he doesn't want a relationship but would be happy with FTW, which is strictly off the table. It's the prospect of him making a move on me that makes me most uncomfortable.
posted by DoubleLune at 12:46 PM on September 21, 2012

Honestly, wait a few months. At least 6, if not a year.. Three weeks isn't enough time.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:47 PM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

You'll be ready to be friends, perversely enough, when you don't find yourself strongly wanting to communicate with him on a regular basis. You'll think of him and have pleasant but not especially strong feelings. You'll think "Oh, Fred and I should totally go see that movie!" but you won't feel the impulse to rush off and call him about seeing it right this second. The intensity and urgency of your desire to talk will be parallel to what you have with your other friends.

(Now, there are definitely friendships that carry a romance-like charge even when no romance is possible or desired; and there are friendships where you share every little thing and talk all the time; but those generally are not friendships with exes. The most stable friendships with exes parallel good, solid close friendships but aren't structured like romantic relationships without the sex. At least IME.)
posted by Frowner at 12:47 PM on September 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

He wants to hit on you which you're not comfortable with...spending time with him sounds like a really bad idea, honestly. God knows I've slept with a decent number of exes just because I was lonely and they offered a few times and I was pretty much over them. It has never gone well for me and I can't honestly suggest it. I know you weren't asking about that, but in my experience your nervousness is a sign that you're not going to be completely firm about your boundaries and that is not a good sign. It's hard on the ol' self-esteem, it leads to a messier issue down the line, and you really don't need that stress.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:50 PM on September 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: It really, really, really depends. I've done the go-straight-to-being-friends thing with two exes now, and in one case it worked pretty well because we both were pretty sensitive to how each other was feeling, and neither one of us was afraid to speak up about "hey, you getting all gushy about your new girlfriend is really a little much for me to listen to still, so could you dial it back a notch for a little while" when we had to. We already had a bit of a sibling rapport in place already as it was, so it sort of naturally segueed into that, to the point that it started feeling like "oh, wait, this is what we were actually supposed to be doing all along."

What also helped in that case was the fact that he was very firm in his decision that being broken up also meant "no sex either". I say that because that is what complicated the other case - we were broken up, and he was dating other people, but for a while, whenever he was single and I was single, then...things happened. That actually messed with me for a while and made the "becoming friends" process pretty bumpy for a while. It ultimately worked out too, but if I had the chance for a do-over I'd insist on no sex.

So trying to go to being friends right away can work, if you are already really, really good at communciation and you're both pretty insightful and conscientious about what each other may be thinking and are willing to adjust some of your behavior accordingly. It will still be bumpy, though.

That said, if you have any doubts at all about whether you can handle him showing up at a party holding hands with some new girl and introducing you to her, and gushing about how awesome she is, then - giving yourself way more time is best.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:52 PM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

You are not ready. You need to wait 6 months, if not longer. The part where he's the person you want to send shit to, etc. - he's still your "go to" guy, that's not a sign of "recovered."
posted by DarlingBri at 12:55 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wait until you are both happily involved with other people. Then you can be friends.
posted by alms at 12:56 PM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Imagine that you've call him just to chat or to ask him to see a movie with you, and he tells you he's met the love of his life. Then imagine your response. If you can't honestly say, "That's wonderful. I'm so happy for you!", you are not ready to be friends with him yet.
posted by orange swan at 12:57 PM on September 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

Personally, I think cutting off contact for at least 6 mos to 1 year is ideal after a serious relationship dissolves.

In my early twenties, I was terrible with the "clean break" and would continue to see/talk to a particular ex. After a year or so of emotional weirdness, he was the one to enforce the no-contact rule. We didn't speak for at least 9 months. (We later got married... But that's not really the point. The point is that the time apart was essential to clarifying our post break-up emotions).

If after many months, you both independently believe you can maintain a platonic friendship, then by all means, go for it.

Three weeks is nothing.
posted by murfed13 at 1:02 PM on September 21, 2012

My rule has always been that you're ready to be friends with an ex when it no longer matters to either one of you whether or not you're friends. You just can't get there from here. You gotta get to a new, unknown place. And maybe it will work. Maybe not.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:06 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's no one right answer here but you already know that. My girlfriend went out with her last boyfriend for about three years and they only recently started talking again after nine or so months. They are somewhat working together now and that was a factor but they both felt that enough time had passed. They have no residual feelings towards each other and he's been nothing but nice to me when I've encountered him.

I went out with a girl for about two months and things did not end on a fantastic note. It took about five months until we were able to hang out as friends. On the other hand, it took well over a year before I was able to communicate with my high school flame and we went out for many, many years. I'm now best friends with her and her husband.

What helped me get over the initial hump after a breakup was realizing that my routines had been disrupted and I needed to give myself time to adjust. Suddenly, I couldn't call my girlfriend every day at lunch. I couldn't send her funny pictures or text her "I love you, goodnight!". I had to find new routines to fill the void.

However you choose to do that is up to you. I watched a lot of movies. I caught up on some TV shows that I missed the first time around. When things really sucked I reached out to some friends and made them take me out.

One day you'll be doing whatever it is that you're doing and you'll think "oh hey, I wonder how such-and-such is" and there won't be romantic feelings behind that thought. That day is not today but it'll get here soon enough.
posted by Diskeater at 1:07 PM on September 21, 2012

Best answer: "You've got a date? Hope you have fun!"
"Oh you're engaged! so awesome!"
"You and Jessica are having a baby?! when's the shower?"

When uttering any these sentences would have the same weight with your ex as anyone else: then you can start talking. When all of them do: then you can start being real friends. That's my rule of thumb.
posted by French Fry at 1:09 PM on September 21, 2012 [18 favorites]

The part that was hard for me was when he would be a little flirty, or the idea of him with another girl, or the time he got super jealous when I flirted with another guy in from of him... So clearly we both have stuff to get over.

Until these things pass and you are completely okay with him dating someone else and he is also okay with you doing the same, you should not be trying to be friends.

Is a few weeks of absolutely no contact enough time?


Should I just wait until the night we're planning on seeing each other and see how things are then?

No. Deadlines for things like this are a bad idea, and anyway three weeks is not enough time. Tell him you need to give it longer. Tell him you don't know how long. It sucks, and it hurts, but the alternative is worse.

Should I force myself to wait the 3 weeks, or if I go a couple days without thinking about it is that a good sign?

See above. Three weeks is not long enough. Getting over something like this is like not thinking of a pink elephant - the harder you try not to, the more futile it is. There will come a point at which you realize you've been over it for a while and it will not feel like an achievement, it will not feel like you've proven anything to anyone. That is when you're over it, and that is when you should drop him a tentative line to catch up.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:16 PM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

You asked for anecdata, so I'll give you one. My ex-boyfriend (really, my only previous boyfriend) and I were best friends for a year and a half, and then were in a relationship for a year and a half. Our break-up was precipitated by circumstantial reasons (me moving abroad for school), but it otherwise likely would have ended anyway due to some moral differences, but it was a good relationship and we were both very sad to see it end. We decided that the "mature" thing to do was to be friends immediately after the break-up (with the implicit possibility of getting back together possibly at some unspecified point in the future, if the geographic stars aligned). This was a very bad decision. We ended up as very emotionally close friends who spoke every day, sharing the involved specifics of our lives and saying "I miss you", and all the rest of it; I think this blurred the lines for both of us in ways that in retrospect were deeply unhelpful in trying to move on. He began dating someone new three months after we broke up, he asked my advice on aspects of the relationship (since I was/am his best female friend), and I unexpectedly got very upset, and realized that I was less over it than previously. He wasn't over our relationship either, but it was expressed in other ways (jealousy towards my new male friends in my new academic program). About six months after we broke up, I felt well and truly over the relationship: I know that because when he proposed getting back together, I realized that I didn't want to; and when he fell in love with a new girlfriend, my first and very instinctive reaction was to be extremely pleased for him.

Obviously the specifics are different from your relationship, but my primary take-home advice would be:
1. Whatever else you do, PLEASE take a well-defined contact break after your break-up, before going back to being friends. Too long of a break is far better than too short of a break. If I were doing this again, I'd either go no-contact or only have weekly contact of a non-intense type (no deep emotional involvement, "I miss you" etc.). Really make it distinct from boyfriend/girlfriend interaction, in your mind.
2. You know that you can end the contact break if you're no longer emotionally tied to him in your own mind - if you're recentered yourself in such a way that you primarily think of yourself and him as individuals with your own goals and paths, rather than you two as an intertwined couple. If you imagine him dating someone else who is perfect for him, and your first reaction is one of honest pleasure for his good fortune rather than misery or jealousy, you're probably ready.
posted by UniversityNomad at 1:25 PM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There are two components.

The emotional "am I ready?" and the habitual one. It sounds like you're doing okay on the first front (if not ideal), but still haven't gotten to the second part. You're jonesing to fill that void. You want to talk to someone and he's the familiar normal choice.

Time apart is as much about creating space for other people as it is about being okay with the void he left behind. And I think it's this part that is much harder for people and is driving your protestations that you really don't want him back.
posted by politikitty at 1:43 PM on September 21, 2012

No three weeks is not enough.

Enough is when you have no more of those lingering feelings whatsoever.
posted by heyjude at 1:51 PM on September 21, 2012

DoubleLune said: "It's the prospect of him making a move on me that makes me most uncomfortable"

Maybe wait until this isn't the case. Wait until he's over you AND you're over him. And then give it a little longer, just to be sure.
posted by Solomon at 1:53 PM on September 21, 2012

I hate to MeFi stalk you, but is the guy you were dating who didn't want to commit for a while? And now he wants to hang out with you, not be in a relationship with you, but still have some sort of ambiguous, dependent, sexually charged friendship?

This guy may be amazing in other ways, but he hasn't been treating you very well. Take care of yourself. So he's upset that you won't give him what he needs, but you need to protect your heart a little.

Break-ups are hard, and I think a lot of people try to rationalize away the bad feelings. Oh, it wasn't going to be a long-term thing. Oh, I wasn't looking for anything serious. Oh, I'm not into him anymore. But you just got dumped, and getting dumped sucks, and even if, in your rational mind, everything is okay, I'm not sure it's possible to fall out of love that fast.

Let's just say: When you don't have an overpowering desire to keep this person in your life. When you don't care about their friendship - that's when you can be friends.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:31 PM on September 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

Three weeks is so far from being enough time. Three months is more like it.

Don't be swayed by his being upset. He's the one who decided to break up with you---why is he trying to make you feel guilty, as if you dumped him?

I vote "at least three months" with a side of "maybe never."
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:40 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

My rule of thumb is about a year. Sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more - but think in terms of months, not weeks.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:41 PM on September 21, 2012

Don't be swayed by his being upset. He's the one who decided to break up with you---why is he trying to make you feel guilty, as if you dumped him?

Crying can be a form of (unconscious, sometimes) manipulation. He feels like a jerk for dumping you, and he wants you in his life, but only on his terms. He dumped you, and he's being selfish by continuing to contact you and guilt-trip you with tears.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:44 PM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

You plainly aren't ready and you won't be ready in three weeks. Maybe check back and take state of where you are in three months (or more).
posted by J. Wilson at 2:47 PM on September 21, 2012

From jennyb: "It's not a "cooling off" period that you need to become friends with an ex. It's a period of white hot anger that burns with more ferocity than a thousand suns." This isn't necessarily your situation but it might be helpful for people referencing your question in the future. Good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 2:51 PM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: onlyconnect thank you for that, I nearly cried and laughed simultaneously.

Ok, so quite obviously I'm not ready now or I wouldn't be asking. It was good perspective to see the range of answers and whatnot. I've probably been trying to rush it in my head a bit because he will almost certainly be moving away at the end of the year, but I suppose that shouldn't really factor into anything.

I think politiktty really nailed it -- I'm doing okay with the emotional healing, but haven't got out of the habit part of things yet.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:04 PM on September 21, 2012

This is incredibly shallow, but one thing that I've found that matters a great deal to me when I have been dumped is how things are going for me romantically. If I am having a good time with a new partner (even if they are temporary), being casual friends with an ex becomes much, much easier.

To be close friends, well, that takes a great deal of time. I'm close friends with two exes and keep checking facebook of one of them to see how she's doing and if she's finally sprogged. I was at her wedding and had a blast.

However, we did not talk to each other for over a year after the breakup. She really broke my heart and I wanted nothing to do with her (not to mention that near the end of the relationship, things went to shit, etc.). Us being friends again is in large part due to her, with her sending me a care package at Christmas and calling me about 11 months later to see how I was doing.

The other ex, well, I was annoyed at her, but made my peace relatively quickly, finding a new relationship and realizing that there were several incompatibilities between us. That friendship I patched together more quickly, although I also found a new SO quickly that time.

Honestly, it's not a good idea to hang out nearly so much until months later unless you are both in happy, stable places and can be completely ok with, not just bear, the idea of meeting the person they are now having sex with.
posted by Hactar at 3:48 PM on September 21, 2012

My baseline rule is the not-friends period should be about as long as the relationship lasted. A little longer for short-but-intense relationships, a little bit shorter for long relationships that ended gradually anyway, but it's a good order of magnitude guideline.
posted by anaelith at 3:55 PM on September 21, 2012

I broke up with a guy years ago and we remained in contact on the agreement that we'd be friends when the dust settled. I did the breaking up so I let him know that I'd respect his space and let him contact me if/when he was able to be friends. (It doesn't sound like you've been given that courtesy/power here - but it is really something the dumpee deserves.)

He contacted me a handful of times about 4-6 months after we broke up. The texts/calls were friendly and chatty. At first. And then he'd slowly slide in the part about missing me. Or he'd mention he was seeing someone - but that they didn't compare to me. I told him, very plainly, that we weren't ready to be friends if he was still feeling that way, but that if someday he didn't, I would be here. Before I moved away a few months later, he asked if we could have dinner. Of course I said yes. Dinner was fine. It was friendly. It wasn't awkward. He was doing really well. I was too. Life was moving on. We had been broken up for about 8 months. And then, after dinner we hugged, and he said he was going to miss me, and I knew that it wasn't just because I was moving across the country. I knew that it was because we weren't ever going to be friends.

I haven't heard from him in three years now, and I'm sure that's for the best. He's a wonderful guy and I wish we could have been friends. Sometimes, it just isn't meant to be.
posted by jph at 4:03 PM on September 21, 2012

In my experience, the correct answer to this is "when you no longer care about the person" which means of course that once you're ready you will end up not bothering to try.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:35 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I just wanted to update -- we went a few weeks no contact, and have been in contact since. It was hard at first. But last week when he told me he had a date and I felt genuinely glad for him? Totally wonderful feeling.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:41 PM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

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