Why do you keep in touch with your ex?
September 5, 2013 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Went through a bad break up a few months ago and have recently been emailing back and forth with my ex. Our conversation is at a point where I can either let it die or keep it up. I've been trying to weigh the pros and cons and honestly can't think of too many pros. I'm just curious about people who do stay in touch with their ex(es). What do you gain from it?

Not really looking for advice on my particular situation(very ugly break-up, moved to different parts of the country), but mostly just curious about those that do keep in touch. To me it mostly just seems a way to keep a flame lit.
posted by aleatorictelevision to Human Relations (42 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I am only in touch with the ones where a genuine friendship has grown and supplanted the ex-ness.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:36 AM on September 5, 2013 [14 favorites]

History, memory, in-jokes. Dinner, sometimes. Book recommendations from someone who knows me well. Basically, stuff I get from any good friend. Not all exes fit into the friend box; it's okay to let go of the ones who don't, even if there's no big "I do not wish to speak with you again" drama.

The exes who are friends are also not flames any more. Because they're exes, and because they're friends.
posted by rtha at 11:40 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Good friend - I care about them, they care about me, we enjoy each other's company.

Only after a good 6 months to a year of radio silence. And we only interact every 2-3 months or so.
posted by amaire at 11:42 AM on September 5, 2013

Agreed with chesty. Granted, this is in the context of past relationships where there were no children, no financial issues to work out, etc., but if the relationship and/or break up were unhealthy for me in some way, I have not maintained any kind of contact. In most cases, I was friends with past boyfriends and things ended on good terms, and those folks are all people I still enjoy at least touching base with from time to time.

If you can't see a benefit to staying in contact, there probably isn't one and that's perfectly fine.
posted by goggie at 11:42 AM on September 5, 2013

Everyone that I have dated has been a genuinely good person. Just because the relationship didn't work out doesn't mean that there is no room in my life for them as a friend.

Whatever you appreciated about the person initially still exists - maybe they are really into food and give you new recipes or restaurant recommendations, maybe they like to read and know of all the good new releases, etc.
posted by jacindahb at 11:43 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

We used to love each other. We shared very intimate parts of our lives, things that we wouldn't share with a platonic friend. Even though our relationship is different than it was, that shared intimacy is something that sticks with you.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:43 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have very few exes that I keep in touch with - mostly it can only happen when there is absolutely no fragment of jealousy/interest in getting back together there any more.
posted by sweetkid at 11:52 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

To the extent you're looking for food for thought, I'd answer from the other side. I have exes I didn't keep in contact with. Those were necessary decisions and I'd make them again, but having said that, it is kind of a shame to have lost those close friendships. It's a short life in a small world, and it's slightly sad to think about conversations that could happen but won't.
posted by cribcage at 12:04 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

I keep up with an ex from 27 years ago. She is a good lady. It didn't work out the first time, but who knows if it will when her divorce is final?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:07 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm still "email friends" with my ex (we were together 11-ish years). We parted fairly amicably and he was a huge part of my early adulthood. We were best friends and I will always care for him. Plus, he still has our cat and will give me updates on her well-being too. =^..^=

Really, it is b/c I still like him. I'm just not in love/lust/romance with him anymore. I think the only reason to continue a relationship with an ex is if you were genuinely good friends, not just (or mainly) 'lovers'.
posted by Halo in reverse at 12:09 PM on September 5, 2013

I keep in touch with most of my exes (including my ex-husband), though what "in touch" means varies from ex to ex (one of my exes is a close friend who I love dearly and is part of my inner circle; several are casual FB pals; several are somewhere in between). They are all good men who have been important parts of my life, and with whom I share things in common as well as mutual regard and affection. I genuinely don't have any lingering romantic feelings for any of them; I like and even love them (and my ex-husband and I will always be family to each other), but I don't have any need/expectation/desire to be emotionally or physically involved with any of them.

That said: I wasn't able to have this sort of relationship with ANY of them until after a period of strict no-contact (many months for some; years for others). In my experience, the ONLY way to have a meaningful platonic friendship with an ex (at whatever level of casualness or depth) is for both participants to take the time to move on fully from the romantic relationship, so that a new non-romantic friendship can be built later. Without the intervening time of Getting Over It, then the flame really does tend to linger.
posted by scody at 12:11 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

A (hypothetical/potential) pro: Your ex understands you like no one else does and can offer unique insight/perspective on you/events and might be able to offer advice.
posted by destructive cactus at 12:15 PM on September 5, 2013

Best answer: From someone who isn't in touch with exes aside from the most casual of Facebook interactions:

Most people have to go for some period of no-contact in order to process their feelings and get over any lingering sexual/romantic attachments. Once that is done, if you 1) have absolutely no lingering feelings for this person, and no hopes - subconscious or otherwise - of getting back together, and 2) this is a person you like as a friend anyway, then keeping in touch is good, if that is what you want.

There seems to be a feeling nowadays that keeping in touch with exes is Good For You, like eating your vegetables. Some people even treat it as a type of character reference - if someone is friends with at least one ex, that shows they are a good relationship risk. I do not agree with this line of thinking - you don't have to keep in touch with your ex(es) if you don't want to just because "it's the right thing to do."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:18 PM on September 5, 2013 [20 favorites]

I have met up with an ex from a long time ago ( 10 years?) only recently.
We've met up twice. It was good.

The important thing is that we have both quite thoroughly moved on, but I find that I still want to know she is ok.
It is a very different sort of thing. We still haven't got over the awkwardness of a fairly major relationship and transitioned into friendship proper, but I think we may.

THe thing is that we dated when we were very young, so that a lot of my personality has been shaped by her and hers by me. It would be a shame to lose such a friendship.

We had literally zero communication in the interim time. I think that was necessary.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 12:18 PM on September 5, 2013

I stayed friends with an ex because he was part of my social circle and I didn't see any reason to make things awkward.

Most ex's I let drift off into the good night. I used to really work at being friends with ex's because there seems to be this social attitude that good solid rounded people would of course remain friends if there was no serious reason not to (some of that is popping up in here). Like it's a social badge of maturity to have friends who were ex's. It's not, and if you aren't feeling a pull towards friendship it is A-OK to not put in effort to make it happen.
posted by Dynex at 12:22 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

Bah. I say it's over, so it's over. The only exes I am in touch with aren't really exes... they are first dates that never got off the ground romantically but are still awesome people so we became friends.

Otherwise, I dunno, call me childish but it just doesn't feels sincere, it feels like a game of "who's going do die miserable and alone?" Especially when deep deep feelings are involved.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:22 PM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

In the first case, the ex in question was a guy who saved my life on our second date, and then things got even better from there. You don't let THAT kind of awesome out of your life all that easily.

In the second case, we stayed in touch because we'd talked about working together before we broke up, and then we did break up - but then literally the next day were on the phone like "so, wait, but do you still want to work together anyway?" and we decided to try and see how it went, and it turned out to be even better, in a sort of "oh, I get it, we were supposed to be doing THIS the whole time instead" kind of way.

But in both cases, they were people who also wanted to stay in touch and actively wanted a friendship, rather than us "staying friends" because that was just something we thought we should do. And in both cases I realized pretty quickly that friendship was actually working better than dating, so that was also good. (And they agree - ex #1 invited me to his wedding in April, and ex #2 and his girlfriend of 10 years regularly both hang out with me.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:34 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't discount the notion of what it means to be a friend.

I am cordial with the ex-wife, but we are not friends in any way, shape, or form.

Don't confuse cordiality or even common decency with friendship.

I reserve friendship with the woman I happen to be currently dating.
posted by PsuDab93 at 12:35 PM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh, and heh - I just realized, earlier today I was having one of those moments where you want to vent to people you really trust about something, so I sent a little whiny email to a couple people because I knew that the act of just complaining would make me feel better. ...guess which two people I picked.

And that's another key point, I think - if this is someone you really sincerely trust, like really hardcore trust, then that's a good thing. ...That doesn't come that easy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:36 PM on September 5, 2013

Because we share about 80% of our friends, and are in the same relatively small Mardi Gras organization which neither of us is willing to give up. Anything other than cordiality would be untenable. Once you reach adulthood no one wants to deal with the drama of making people choose sides.
posted by CheeseLouise at 12:36 PM on September 5, 2013

In general, I wouldn't be interested in dating a woman in the first place if she weren't someone I wanted to be friends with. That being the case, why would I not want to continue being friends with them just because the extra romantic stuff didn't work out?
posted by tdismukes at 12:41 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

So I guess it depends on the particular ex. I only stay "in touch" with two (out of six) of my ex-girlfriends.

With one, there was a friendship that had developed first, and just because the relationship didn't work out doesn't mean I need to lose the friendship. Also, this was my first girlfriend, in college, and we had a lot of common friends -- ergo, our social circles continued to bring us together after we'd broken up so even though I wanted to stay apart and have that period of "no contact," it didn't work out that way.

I went to her wedding. By myself, as I happened not to be dating anyone at the time. It was one of the most enjoyable weddings I've attended, largely because most of my college friends were present and to me it was more a reunion than a wedding. She's moved to the West Coast now, so we only keep in touch on Facebook, and rarely at that. I used to get more out of the friendship than I do now.

The other ex I keep in touch with is largely just on Facebook and LiveJournal. I don't really get much out of keeping in touch with either, but I don't see it as harmful, either.

In the other cases, usually the breakup was so egregious and damaging that a friendship couldn't possibly be an option.

I kept in touch with still another ex, after a long period of no contact because (a) enough time had passed that we were over it, (b) we had been together for a longer period of time than in any of my other relationships to that point and she knew me very well, and (c) because she happened to move from [state where I used to live] to [state where I live now] about a year before I made the same move, so in a sense she was my first friend in the new area. We had a bit of an argument around the time my now-wife moved in with me and I just decided it wasn't worth it to continue the friendship anymore. Mutual friends used to give me updates on her, but I've told them to please stop, and they have.
posted by tckma at 12:51 PM on September 5, 2013

As someone on the periphery of such a thing: my parents split up when I was about seven or eight and were formally divorced a couple of years later. My dad remarried and had more kids, and my mother used to be the babysitter of choice for my half-siblings when they were young. A few people goggled at the notion when this was all in place -- "How on earth could ANYONE let his EX-WIFE babysit his kids?" -- but we were all fine with it. My mother and my stepmother got on fine, although they were not best buddies or anything, and could commiserate about the travails of being married to my dad (marriage #2 ended in divorce as well; a more conventionally acrimonious one). My aunt -- my dad's little sister -- once mused that my mother has probably been his best friend for most of his life, even if he never knew it. My parents are definitely not carrying a torch for one another, but are perfectly happy to have dinner together with me once in a while.

At least partially as a result of early role-modelling, I am on good terms with most of my exes. A couple have expressed their wishes not to be in touch and I respect that; others I am happy to get together with for a tea or lunch now and again. It is nice to have a friend who has that rare level of shared history with you, who has in-jokes and do-you-remember-whens, who may have been your shoulder to cry on during great crises and has seen you emotionally as well as physically naked. It is not for everyone, I know -- even in my easygoing approach to this, there is one ex with whom I have found I cannot be in touch with, because she and I push each other's buttons too much -- but I see no reason why I should as a matter of course suddenly hate people who used to be tremendously important to me.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:54 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm not particularly avoiding any of my exes but I just don't have any desire to be friends with these people. With that said, I am on "friendly" terms with two of my exes. We are not friends.
posted by sm1tten at 1:21 PM on September 5, 2013

Very ugly break-up a few months back? I'm not even sure it's possible to really "be friends" yet. Sounds kinda forced to me. I would need lots and lots of time for that.
posted by thinkpiece at 1:23 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Of my exes, there is only one I am not friends with (we had a particularly horrible, abusive breakup and neither of us wanted anything to do with each other since). The rest of my exes are either very close friends or friendly acquaintances now. With each of them, I took anywhere from 6 months to several years of no-contact or minimal contact, and we're friends now because we like who the other person is now and we still have things in common. I wouldn't be friends with anyone just because I dated them before; I'm friends with them because they were genuinely nice people to begin with and we get along well.
posted by epanalepsis at 1:24 PM on September 5, 2013

We're very close friends and were before we started dating. As our breakup was 100% mutual and amicable and basically unavoidable (we live in different cities for work reasons), it was in no way worth ending a valuable friendship over.
posted by capricorn at 1:31 PM on September 5, 2013

Honestly? I used to stay friends with my exes because I used to have no clue how to make new friends without taking my pants off. Exes — or at least "people I used to fuck" — were the only close friends I had.

Now that I've finally, at an embarrassingly late stage in the game, gotten the hang of genuinely platonic friendships (i.e. gotten it through my head that there are some people who like me even when I'm not putting out) I find I've drifted apart from my exes pretty fast. There's a few who I still catch up with every now and then. But we're no longer close — and really, that's a bit of a relief.

That said, there's one thing I can get from my exes that I can't get from most of my platonic friends: they know me well enough to find it blindingly obvious when I'm full of shit, and they're often willing to call me on it. That's pretty valuable.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 1:31 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

For me, most of my exes have been friends first and foremost, so once the relationship's over, why should the friendship end?

Friends + Romance, - Romance == Friends.
posted by CrystalDave at 1:32 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just another data point, but I'm a mid-40s woman who is still friends with almost every one of my exes dating back to my youth; in fact, two are among my closest friends. (The only ex with whom I'm not still friendly was my high school boyfriend; we stayed friends for ten years post-dating until he experienced mental health issues and withdrew from contact with his entire circle.)

That said, all my exes were friends before we got involved, so we stayed friends (eventually) after we broke up. None of my breakups have ever involved hostility or animosity, though; just a realization that we wanted different things romantically. That makes a difference, surely. This is not to say that it doesn't hurt when you want different things, romantically, but if you and the other person haven't changed with the exception of the vision of the future, once the future is off the table, and you've healed, you're left with the actual person you started with.

If you can still love the friend without being in love with the romantic partner, then the friendship has potential to grow and be enriched. But I have to assume it all depends on why people are together in the first place. If it's someone you wouldn't have been with if not for the physical intimacy, then yeah, friendships probably don't work. But I've never understood wanting to be physically intimate with someone you weren't already emotionally intimate with, romance aside.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 2:01 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I tried to stay in contact with my ex after our 5 year romantic relationship came to an end. And I tried staying in contact because I didn't have many friends at the time, and losing a partner and my best friend was too much.

However, the breakup was too recent, and though he tried to continue with the friendship as though we had never been a couple, the dishonesty and emotional abuse that caused our breakup prevented me from ever really wanting to remain friends.

People will often say that they remain friends because there were initial qualities that drew them to their ex---and that's certainly true, but there's also qualities that tore the relationship apart and sometimes those negative qualities leave little redeeming ones left behind.

I, personally, no longer have any contact with my ex, and I prefer it that way.
posted by stubbehtail at 2:56 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't talk any more. If you find you miss them, then start talking again.

One of my long-term exes I'm still good friends with, the other I don't care if I never see again - but I parted on the same terms with both of them.

It just comes down to whether you want them in your life any more.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:22 PM on September 5, 2013

After decent periods of no contact, I have resumed friendship with a few different exes. For me, after I've invested so much in getting to know someone- and had such great experiences with them- it sort of feels like a waste to completely cut all ties, forever. I still care about my exes, even if I no longer want to date them. And I appreciate staying in touch with people who know me so deeply. Each relationship has been different. I would be sad to lose them as friends.
posted by three_red_balloons at 4:22 PM on September 5, 2013

Sometimes dating starts out from friendship - and if there are no hard feelings, there's still that friendship afterwards. Usually there isn't an ugly breakup to match.

I've seen family members stay close friends with their ex for >30 years, including marriages and kids and all in that timeframe.
posted by Ashlyth at 5:33 PM on September 5, 2013

Nthing the notion of a decent interval, often something more on the order of years than months, but really (as others have also said) this is very much a case by case decision, based not only on the people but on the nature of the breakup. (Bad drama is never worth revisiting.)

(I remain friends with most of my own exes, friends of the dinner and occasional movie type, would sleep on the sofa when drunk, and so on. The cooling-off period varied from six months to several years, however. But in another case, I have no contact and can't imagine a friendly relationship without a long and complex period of forgiveness and understanding that would be a serious investment.)

Worth it? Again, depends on the person and whether they're worth the time or not. If there's no prevailing need you're filling in each other's lives beyond still-simmering passions, it's probably a bad idea. But if you're both emotional grown-ups who have actually moved past things and aren't carrying grudges or scars... then why not?
posted by rokusan at 5:49 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like it because it's people you can be totally honest with - they've seen you naked in all senses of the word, but it's also broken so irrevocably that you don't have to worry about their opinions in the same way. You can ask them hard questions, figure out stuff, etc.
posted by corb at 6:09 PM on September 5, 2013

Sort of as Corb says, above, it's nice to be friendly with exes because you don't have to impress them or worry all that much about hurting their feelings. For some reason I find it very natural with my two major exes that I'm friendly with to do things like message them on Facebook "dude, lose the mustache" or ask "are my Twitter habits annoying?" and have each of us trust the other's opinion while also not particularly caring if its unfavorable.
posted by Pomo at 6:56 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have exes that are absolutely not friends and I have exes that are. As many above have said, I am friends with some because we were friends to begin with. My most recent ex and I (shock horror) actually stayed friends throughout the breakup, despite all the conventional wisdom telling you what a moronic idea that is, mandatory no contact, yada yada yada. We just had a stronger friendship than we did relationship. We probably catch up once a week or so (we live in neighbouring suburbs) and sporadically email/text. She's a really good person, we've been through a lot of stuff together - mutually supporting each other - and she can call me on my bullshit, I can call her on hers and we just really get each other. We always laugh heaps when we spend time together. It's a good friendship. She is also scheming to get me another girlfriend (she doesn't want one herself).

But my ex-husband? Nope. Occasionally I get updates on his life from mutual friends and that's fine. I continue to feel grateful for having finally had the sense to leave the relationship and although I wish him well and think he is a nice person at heart, I have no desire or need to be friends.

I think your instincts will tell you. You don't need to do anything because people tell you to or you feel you ought to.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:23 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am friends with almost all of my exes, except for my ex husband who treated me very badly and never really respected me as a person. I find that one sad, obviously, as he was the only one I married.

Other than that, I am very good friends with my first long term ex. We were together for seven years and during that time grew and shared so much. We didn't speak for about a year after I left him but now when we do we are terribly good friends and laugh a lot when we do speak (which is about 1-2x/month for 1-4hours at a time as we live in different countries now).

I am also extremely good friends with the last guy I was with for almost three years. He and I didn't work out for many reasons beyond our control but we were able to transition immediately into a friendship once it was determined that a romantic thing just didn't work. I consider this to be my most adult relationship and the most adult split. Except that it didn't ultimately lead to marriage and kids, it is pretty ideal! I talk to him sometimes every single day as we collaborate together on various projects from time to time. Knowing him enriches and improves my life and he feels the same about knowing me.

I am even friends with men I have dated for as short a period as one week.

As many say, it's just about the connection. It seems weird and arbitrary to me to fully divest yourself of a person who you once thought was amazing enough to potentially partner with. Splitting up doesn't negate their good qualities and it is optimal to retain them as a friend IF possible. Sometimes it isn't but it's much nicer and more human to do so if possible, I think.
posted by telomere at 3:37 AM on September 6, 2013

I'm friends with about half my exes. It's probably because those were the relationships where we were friends first, became lovers, and after several months realized we were better as friends. The people I met, dated, and broke up with - all of those breakups were horrible, and we're all better for just moving on.
posted by RogueTech at 11:39 AM on September 6, 2013

whenever i did it was weakness.

happily married now for years and have not reached out to anyone since before meeting my wife
posted by Salvatorparadise at 9:03 PM on September 6, 2013

Only one of my exes was such a bad person that I would refuse to speak with him anymore.

I'm not really in touch with one of them anymore (we dated about 15 years ago), but I do hear of him from the most unlikely of places (at a wedding with my current SO, one of his friends was asking my SO if he knew this guy who looks a lot like him.. the guy in question turned out to be my ex. Weird.)

I'm facebook friends with another, and gchat every so often with the most recent one. The benefit to casual staying in touch is that I do hear what's up with them in a more expected way than at somebody else's wedding.

As for the one I gchat with, we were friends as well as lovers, and he supported me through a very dark time. He's got a knowledge of that history that no one else in my life really does. He's also unlike most of my other current friends in a few personality traits. I enjoy those traits and so it's nice to keep interacting with him. It's especially nice because honestly I don't really want to date someone with those traits again, but I still enjoy having a friend with them.

I actually spent some time pestering my SO to stay in touch with an ex of his after we started dating; she's a great woman who knew him very well for quite some time, and I don't think it makes sense to cast off past friends just because the lover part has ended (after, of course, some period of no contact for healing purposes).
posted by nat at 8:49 PM on September 7, 2013

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