How to avoid invoking cruelty and remain friends, post breakup
June 9, 2016 5:39 PM   Subscribe

I don't like being in relationships, but I enjoy being friends with my exes. I always ask to be friends instead. However, almost all of them have lashed out cruelly either during the breakup or post-breakup. How do I stop causing this behavior?

Ironically, I tend to be high maintenance in a relationship but incredibly supportive and nice after the relationship ends. I'm sick of expecting a nice friendship and receiving the following:

1) being called bad names before being blocked, then being friends again before this repeats itself
2) being spoken to rudely and being gaslit
3) talking about another girl who's interested in them 48 hours post-breakup and gaslighting me

Note: I am always incredibly polite once we're friends, so I value the friendship. Most of the time, I do have unresolved feelings but I'm very careful with keeping things platonic. I think there's something that I'm doing that spurs this behavior. So, what is going on?
posted by kinoeye to Human Relations (38 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Don't be friends with your exes.
posted by zutalors! at 5:45 PM on June 9, 2016 [40 favorites]

Sometimes people don't do well with being friends after a relationship. If you're like that, that's awesome, but yeah, many people aren't. You may expect a nice friendship, but if your exes don't, let it go and strengthen your existing platonic friendships and/or make new ones.
posted by orangutan at 5:46 PM on June 9, 2016 [8 favorites]

It is tempting to try to immediately be friends with your exes. After all, you share fond memories with them (I assume) and it is always good to have more friends, right?

Translating between partner and friend can be tricky, particularly if it is immediately in the wake of an ended relationship.

Why don't you consider creating a mandatory waiting period for yourself prior trying to re engage with former partners? This gives both of you space to heal and move on.

Also, no one gets to call you names or gaslight you. Jettiso these folks without a second thought.
posted by arnicae at 5:46 PM on June 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

You don't like being in relationships. You do like being friends. Eliminate the middle man, just start as and remain friends.
posted by little mouth at 5:46 PM on June 9, 2016 [50 favorites]

• I don't like being in relationships...
• I tend to be high maintenance in a relationship

TBH, it sounds like you are not being very kind to your partners while dating, so it's little surprise they want to be friends once it's over. Timing on the 'let's be friends' matters too, it's not generally something one can pull off in the immediate aftermath of a breakup.

I'm sick of expecting a nice friendship
Maybe not ruin a good friendship by dating them.
posted by jamaro at 5:47 PM on June 9, 2016 [55 favorites]

Even if you were the easiest nicest person ever in a relationship, it still takes more people than not time to transition to the friends stage. How long are you waiting? It ain't instant for most people at all.
posted by rtha at 5:49 PM on June 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

talking about another girl who's interested in them 48 hours post-breakup and gaslighting me

uh, if you are friends why can't they talk about another girl who is interested in them 48 hours post-breakup?

It sounds like you are a high-maintenence ex as well, and that perhaps you should just move on when you break up with these people, instead of feeling entitled to have them conform to ongoing standards of behavior that they haven't agreed to and likely are not interested in.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:52 PM on June 9, 2016 [56 favorites]

Could be your being "high maintenance" is causing resentment, could be you're dating assholes who don't show their colors until there's breakup-level conflict, could be any number of things but the biggest problem is your expectation that you will be friends. Expecting anyone, in any context, will be your friend and feeling hurt when they do not want to be is a recipe for constant and potentially avoidable pain in your life. Divest yourself of the idea that someone is doing something wrong by not being your friend.
posted by griphus at 6:04 PM on June 9, 2016 [13 favorites]

How long are you giving them to process the breakup and move on? I'd say the vast majority of everyone I know needs time and space after a breakup. If someone was a pain in the ass toward me during the relationship, broke up with me, then immediately expected friendship I'd snap at them too.

How on earth are they supposed to know you're totally supportive and kind now that you're broken up? Why should they trust you?

I think it's a real tall order and a bit selfish to expect someone to be able to be your friend at the snap of your fingers.

Give them time and space. Let them come to you when and if they're ready. Don't get into romantic relationships when it's not what you actually want.
posted by kapers at 6:22 PM on June 9, 2016 [7 favorites]

A couple questions jump out at me:

1. What does "high-maintenance" specifically mean to you in the context of dating/relationships?
2. How do you break up with people you're dating? (Are you always the dumper? Is it unexpected, or does the dumpee see it coming? Are there conflicts leading up to the breakup? What do you tell someone when you want to break up? How long do your relationships last, and why do they end? Basically, are there any patterns?)

Those questions aside, most people do not want to be friends with their exes, at least not right away. Exes can remain friends when two conditions are met: first, if there's already a solid bond of friendship that formed before or during the relationship, alongside the romance and chemistry and sex and all that; second, if the breakup was kind and respectful and didn't leave anyone thinking "that asshole!" Even then, it takes time and space, and even then, it's okay and completely normal for people not to want to be friends.

If your relationships are high in intensity but low in that quiet, calm type of compatibility, and if you end them harshly and expect to be buddies right away, you're not going to have much luck.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:26 PM on June 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

• I don't like being in relationships...
• I tend to be high maintenance in a relationship
• Most of the time, I do have unresolved feelings but I'm very careful with keeping things platonic.

You may be a lovely friend for all I know, but as a partner (and ex) your behavior sounds like it would be maddening. "I don't like being with you. Cater to my whims. Now let's break up. I still have feelings for you, but... No. I don't like being with you." And that's just the stuff you're TELLING us!

I'm not saying these guys are flawless. I've never met them. All I have to go by is your post, and in your post you provide ample evidence that you have no business being in relationships with anybody right now.

If you don't like being in relationships, please don't be in relationships. You're not doing anybody any good by being in relationships you don't want to be in.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:28 PM on June 9, 2016 [40 favorites]

I don't like being in relationships, but I enjoy being friends with my exes

Why not skip the part where you are in a relationship, and start with being friends?

A lot of people feel unhappy if someone breaks up with them, so breaking up with people is not a great method for forming friendships.
posted by yohko at 6:31 PM on June 9, 2016 [7 favorites]

Honestly? It sounds like it might be you. My impression when reading this question was that you seemed very self-centered, and as though you were not used to considering other people's feelings. Maybe that's unjust, but your question is all I have to go on and the impression was a remarkably strong one.

If this question is indeed representative of your normal way of thinking and interacting, I think the answer is that you need to work hard at being more aware and considerate of other people. That's a long path to start walking, but it's a fruitful journey and one that will lead to much better relationships—both romantic and platonic.

I hesitated in giving such harsh advice, but assuming I am getting an accurate read I really do think that it's the best answer.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:53 PM on June 9, 2016 [19 favorites]

Seven of my ex-boyfriends came to my wedding. At least half brought their wives. I think the key to going from lovers to friends is time and space. Minimal or no contact after the break-up, and then very casual interaction. Social media makes this a whole lot harder, but intention matters.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:06 PM on June 9, 2016

I wouldn't want to be friends with someone who had treated me badly during a relationship. Nor would I generally take "but I still want to be friends" as a sincere statement when said during a break-up. You can't impose friendship on people. Give them time and space.

(Also, if you don't like being in relationships, stop being in relationships. Not only are you making yourself miserable, but it is completely unfair to your partners.)
posted by ELind at 7:37 PM on June 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Sometimes after a breakup, a person will look back and say, "I should have been smarter" or "I should have noticed that things weren't so great for me." If you weren't nice and supportive during the relationship, a guy might evaluate how things went and be irritated or angry. Even if he breaks up with YOU, he might start feeling like he should have done so earlier if you didn't treat him well.

Even if all that doesn't apply for you, it's easy for anyone to feel hurt and awkward once a relationship ends. In my experience, it's pretty rare to have a true friendship with an ex until a considerable amount of time has gone by.
posted by wryly at 7:48 PM on June 9, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you, all. You're right - I'm not entitled to friendship right away or soon, or sadly, anytime in the future. None of my relationships have been preceded by friendship, so I guess that's strike one. By high maintenance, I mean insecure and jealous, which is why I can't wait to be able to be a generous and supportive person by ending the relationship.

However, I am not all evil. One pseudo-relationship slash hookup has turned into a great friendship - I am always looking out for him. And I don't look for relationships. Things just happen and I am very upfront about who I am and what I need.
posted by kinoeye at 8:04 PM on June 9, 2016

What's all this "gaslighting?" That term gets used broadly these days, so it's hard to know what you mean.
posted by salvia at 8:27 PM on June 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

, I mean insecure and jealous,

I eventually concluded that, in spite of my baggage, if I am jealous, he is being a jerk to me in some important way. And if they are initiating, well, learn to say "No." You aren't required to go along with their agenda for you. Let them know upfront that you only want to be friends or only want a hook-up, not a relationship. Pick one. Stick to it.
posted by Michele in California at 8:37 PM on June 9, 2016

By high maintenance, I mean insecure and jealous,

I wonder if they feel controlled, and interpret your immediate overtures of friendship as another method of control.

Whatever the case, I think very few people are able to cultivate friendships soon after the breakup. Emotions are still confusing and running high and oftentimes trying to pretend everything is just platonic and a-OK makes things worse. You don't have to burn all bridges, but you can break up, back off from contact for a while, and re-initiate to see how they're doing once a reasonable amount of time has passed. Reasonable being "months at the very least", not "a week or two."
posted by Anonymous at 8:59 PM on June 9, 2016

Are you an Aquarian? Just wondering, this sounds like that sort of personality.

Anyway, remember: by the time you chose to break up with them, you were 100% over them romantically and ready to be friends. Whereas they are starting from square 1, still having feelings for you and a broken heart, and feel wrecked. They're NOT ready to be casual friends like you are at all just yet. It's a process.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:49 PM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you think 2 of your 3 exes are gaslighting you that seems...unlikely? I once dealt with a person who constantly said I was "gaslighting" him. What he meant was that I would say things that he disagreed with. In a relationship that goes south people have all kinds of perspectives on what happened and get very entrenched in their point of view -- it may not be reasonable to expect your exes to agree that they broke their promise to you to do X or were at fault in the breakup because of Y -- even if you are factually right.
posted by phoenixy at 10:55 PM on June 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

The two options I see are either you date "gaslighters" or you feel "gaslit" by the kind of negative conversations that tend to happen shortly after breakups. That you'd characterize the conversations that way rather than just say what happened makes me tend to think it's the second one?

My advice would be to give it more time, date nicer people, and/or be sure you're not interpreting normal disagreements in a way that casts yourself as a victim and them as the bad guy. (That may or may not be happening; it's hard to say without details.)
posted by salvia at 11:03 PM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

By high maintenance, I mean insecure and jealous, which is why I can't wait to be able to be a generous and supportive person by ending the relationship.

This is... such a weird sentence. You're breaking up with them to... do them a favor because you're too jealous when they're with you? Like, "I think you've been flirting too much with Susan and it's driving me crazy, therefore I will be the bigger person and free you to go date her although I still have feelings for you. Now let's be friends!" If I've interpreted that strange sentence right then one of two things are happening:

1. You're dating guys that really are doing things that give you cause for jealousy, in which case you're dating assholes. Assholes don't usually want to be friends.
2. You're dating guys that haven't done anything wrong, but you get jealous about their every action and then dump them. I wouldn't want to be friends with someone who dumped me for reasons they'd made up either.

I have no idea what's really going on in these relationships, but people don't usually become friends because of insecurity and jealousy, so I don't think it's surprising that these guys are wanting nothing to do with any proffered friendship. The best indicator of future results is past actions and your past actions don't sound terribly friendly.
posted by MsMolly at 12:34 AM on June 10, 2016 [14 favorites]

Now I feel like my tone may have been too harsh. I'm sorry if I made you feel bad. I think the behavior you described reminded me of a bad early relationship I had, and it stirred up a little bitterness I thought I'd gotten over a long time ago. You said right in the headline that you're trying to avoid cruelty, and that's admirable.

It sounds like you keep having relationships with people you don't really want to be with, and it ends up being confusing and painful for everybody. If you don't want to be in a relationship with somebody, you really shouldn't be in that relationship. Wait until you meet somebody you really want to be with, and then commit to that. In the meantime, just have good friends and don't force anything.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:45 AM on June 10, 2016

I am friends with two very important exes--neither of them set out to "be friends post breakup."

The two people who desperately wanted to "stay friends" after our breakup I resent to this day because of their insistence on it (which mirrored their insistence on other things during the relationship). Without hyperbole: I absolutely hate them and never want to see them again.

The problem? They thought that their "niceness" was awesome. Imposing "niceness" on someone who doesn't want it is harassment.
posted by RaRa-SpaceRobot at 12:50 AM on June 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

You can't remain friends if you're not friends in the first place.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:12 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Language is continually changing, evolving, new words come to the fore, new meanings for existing words. Language is flexible, and dynamic.

I note that here because words which I speak in these past ten or fifteen years generally have considerably different meanings than those same words if spoken in prior years. As follows:

Used to be that when I told a woman "We'll talk soon.", it meant "We'll talk soon."

But it seems that when now I tell someone "We'll talk soon" what it means is that if they have anything they want to say to me this would be the time, because they are never, ever going to hear my voice again.

I honestly cannot say that I know why this has happened. But I am damn sure glad that it did.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:50 AM on June 10, 2016

And I don't look for relationships. Things just happen

I'm mystified by this. You don't randomly wake up one day and find you have a boyfriend. I would try to start being more intentional about your social and romantic life. If guys are trying to date you and you're genuinely not interested in dating them, you need to tell them no!

As far as the friends thing, I think you need to accept that this is a two way street. I personally really have never had any interest in remaining friends with exes, and guess what -- that's my choice regardless of whatever they might want. I'll be friendly with them if we happen to run into one another socially, but I've never desired or had the type of friendship where we might be discussing our new love interests or supporting each other. I get to make that decision, period. They didn't do anything "wrong" to make me feel this way, and they don't get to impose a friendship on me simply because it might make them feel happy (luckily none of them have pushed me on this).

I would recommend trying to look at both yourself and men you are/have dated as independent human beings who get to make their own choices about the relationships (romantic or otherwise) that they want to have. You don't have to get involved in romantic relationships if that vibe isn't what you want in your life right now. It won't just happen to you -- you have the power to decide that you're not going to do it. And these guys get to decide independently if and when they are up for a platonic friendship after a breakup.
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:14 AM on June 10, 2016 [7 favorites]

Having someone dump you is painful, and if the person dumping you has also been treating you poorly, for instance by making lots of unfounded accusations and/or acting controlling (two common behaviors of jealous and insecure partners), in addition to experiencing the pain of loosing the good parts of the relationship the dumpee will also feel the anger at having been ill-treated. Perhaps that anger was repressed until the breakup. Someone feeling all of that just isn't in a good position to be friends with you.

If the jealousy and insecurity are unfounded, work on that. Try to get yourself to the point where you can be generous and supportive while in a relationship with someone who is also generous and supportive. If you the jealousy and insecurity are well-founded, the guys you see are cheaters and/or do things to put you down, then work on finding a better class of men to date.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 6:49 AM on June 10, 2016

when I was in relationships with people who were friends first, and we became involved later, we've also given each other the space of anywhere from a month to a year of no/reduced contact before trying to reconnect as friends. Those are, in the main, successful genuine friendships that are healthy and resolved of sexual tension or resentment. But getting to that point does indeed take space and time.

I've dated people that I've met online and we'd break it off, but talk about being friends afterwards. Absolutely none of those cases turned into friendship. In many of those cases, circumstances like where we lived or who we hung out with precluded us from finding any low-effort routes for maintaining that friendship. Sometimes if the relationship is just based on physical attraction, and there isn't a strong sense of personal chemistry that makes it viable, that same absence of personal chemistry means that a friendship wouldn't work out either.
posted by bl1nk at 7:21 AM on June 10, 2016

Don't fall into the trap of overvaluing the idea of being friends with exes. It's sort of like all the "Cool Girl" stuff-- it's fine if it happens organically, but don't bend yourself and your exes out of shape to be that way. A lot of people just say they're friends with all their exes as a way of suggesting they are chill and evolved and low maintenance. Or because sounding like you are bitter about an ex is a good way of scaring off potential dates. In real life, you will be friends with some exes and not with others, and that's fine. So is not being friends with any exes. Really.
posted by BibiRose at 7:57 AM on June 10, 2016

You're not giving a long enough turnaround time to try to be friends.

You can offer friendship, but only if you mean it and you're ready to hear about their love life with others, and then you still can't expect it, as they don't owe it to you.

If you really treat them more kindly as friends, try treating them that way when you're dating. This could be the biggest issue.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:57 AM on June 10, 2016

Ironically, I tend to be high maintenance in a relationship but incredibly supportive and nice after the relationship ends.

Here's the thing, though - it's high-maintenance to expect/demand/require an ex to become your friend, and to try and control the way they behave as a friend. There's a general expectation of behavior from both parties during a romantic relationship, and therefore some (variable) amount of control one partner has to shape the behavior of the other. Like, I can say to a boyfriend, "Hey, when we go out to parties together, can you make sure and check once in a while that I'm not caught in a boring convo and come rescue me if so?" That doesn't exist to the same extent in a friendship. I could ask a guy friend of mine to do that, but if he was like "Dude I got better things to do," I understand that.

As far as bad friend behavior (being spoken to rudely, etc), that's a sign these people are not good fits for you as friends. Think about it as if you were meeting them for the first time and deciding fresh whether to be friends. If someone is a jerk to you, are you going to be friends with them? Probably not.

Not being friends with your exes does not mean anything bad about you. Or about them. It's a tough road to hoe and most people can't do it. And a lot of times people try and do it for the wrong reasons, and because of that it extends the pain of the breakup.

Just like there are a lot of potential romantic partner fish in the sea, there are a lot of friend fish in the sea. Nothing wrong with looking for a fresh friend catch instead of trying to recycle a partner into just a friend.
posted by sallybrown at 8:27 AM on June 10, 2016

> As far as bad friend behavior (being spoken to rudely, etc), that's a sign these people are not good fits for you as friends.

I do not understand this attitude (which has been displayed several times during this thread). Of course people speak rudely during breakups; that's what breakups are all about! (Not always, obviously, but predictably.) I'm now reasonably friendly with my ex-wife, but we said awful things to each other when we were breaking up, and I am quite certain this is a normal experience. Nothing that happens during a breakup has anything to do with whether people are good fits as friends, and in fact romantic relationships have so little to do with friendships that I don't think it makes much sense to try to apply lessons from one to the other except in the most general sense ("don't be unkind"). I think a lot of people get into trouble by trying to conflate the two, and think of dating a friend as "taking it to the next level." If you try that, you're asking for trouble.

To the poster: you need to stop getting into relationships until you can figure out how to enjoy them.
posted by languagehat at 8:47 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think what you're doing that spurs the behavior is 2 things:

1. not giving space. It sounds to me like you're dumping these people, is that right? In any case, but especially in that case, you gotta give space and time. You really cannot downshift immediately to being friends.

2. not being honest about what you are demanding. If you can't handle them telling you about another girl, then you aren't really comfortable as a friend. You're still trying to enforce girlfriend rules. If you're not ready to downshift, you really can't expect them to be.

Full disclosure - I'm totally sympathetic to you. I remember dumping a guy once and being really angry and hurt that he didn't want to be friends - after all, I think my friendship is worth something, and for him to reject it felt like he had no regard for me beyond the sexual access I was cutting off, and that stung, since I still thought he was cool and funny. But I get it now. If I'm honest, at the time I really didn't have much regard for his feelings (for excellent reasons; he was a dreadful boyfriend.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:48 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just looked at your question history and you mention in earlier posts that you tend to pursue folks romantically who you know are bad fits for you and also have trouble keeping friends in general.

I know this is such a cliched response, but maybe therapy might be something worth trying if this a consistent and troubling issue in your life that you haven't been able to fix after working on it for a while.
posted by phoenixy at 11:34 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think there's something that I'm doing that spurs this behavior. So, what is going on?

I'm going to trust your gut on this one. Perhaps you seem into a relationship and then back out, leaving them holding the bag. If you don't like relationships but keep getting into them, folks may feel like you were less than honest.

How do you normally break up? If you are in exclusive relationships and then commit infidelity or do something cruel, then they might also be angry.

Finally, you might not be as nice in breakups as you think you are.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:43 PM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

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