Friends to dating to friends
August 19, 2017 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Can this be done if there are still conflicts and grudges from one side?

I've been friends with a girl for 3 years. For two years she had a crush on me but I never felt anything back. Eventually I develop a crush on her and we start dating. Unfortunately she fell out of this crush and after ~3 months we split. Haven't spoken since.

It's been several weeks since then and there aren't any feelings from either side anymore. But her behavior for the final few weeks of us dating continue to bother me, especially as she became very unresponsive to my life happenings. I was going through an awful, awful period of my life, and I felt like she couldn't be counted on for support. I also felt like I was being led on in our dating relationship, especially when looking back (I was the first person she ever dated though, so I don't fault her for not knowing what to do here). It especially made no sense because she wasn't like this prior to dating, and after we broke it off she came off as caring about my life again.

Since then I went full-on no contact from her. There aren't any romantic feelings anymore, and I know there is mutual interest in us becoming friends again. I think we bonded way too much the past few months to throw our friendship away, and we have too many mutual friends (who didn't know we dated) to continue avoiding each other anyway. It's been manageable so far since we were long distance for most of our dating relationship, but she's coming back to campus next week and people are going to find out.

How should I proceed to reconnect and communicate with her? How do I phrase my intentions (that I want to be friends but need to air out things she did that really bothered me)? Is this even a good idea?
posted by invictus10 to Human Relations (17 answers total)
You don't want to be friends with an ex, like, maybe until several years have passed. Put your energy now into moving forward with new relationships and finding support for yourself in other ways that extend beyond romantic partnerships, in short, let go of the past and focus on finding a better present and future for yourself.
posted by nanook at 9:34 AM on August 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

nanook as someone who has become friends with ex's without waiting several years I disagree with that completely. Maybe to some people it's impossible but I know I can do it.

I can hardly call her an ex given that we casually dated anyway.
posted by invictus10 at 9:37 AM on August 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Your idea to "air" out some grievances is obviously your sole purpose here, like it's simply not hidden (except maybe to yourself?) Airing grievances post break-up is a shitty no good thing to do, and you know this.

Remain cordial since you have friends in common. No one will know if you don't talk about her. See a therapist if you can't re-frame this and still feel anger towards her.

It is in your own best interests to move on emotionally and stop thinking about this person. School work? An internship? Do anything but focus on this. It's normal things don't work out, no shame on either side, and please be kind to yourself by processing your feelings privately.
posted by jbenben at 9:47 AM on August 19, 2017 [13 favorites]

I'm good friends with a lot of my exes and think it's very normal to be friends with an ex, and to transition from dating to that friendship with reasonable ease, just so my bias is on the table here before I get to my advice:

How do I phrase my intentions (that I want to be friends but need to air out things she did that really bothered me)?

Until you can let go of your need to "air things out", you're not ready to be her friend.

Work on your own issues. Understand that she probably has issues of her own, which are just as valid as yours. Figure out whether you want to be her friend, for real, or if you just want to air some dirty laundry. You're not entitled to expect her to make you feel better about whatever happened, or to expect an apology or anything like that. Move on and see where you are in a while.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:58 AM on August 19, 2017 [18 favorites]

You can't be a good friend to someone who you have a big grudge with. I think you want someone to be a friend to you, because it's nice to have a friend, and because you're buying into the sunk cost fallacy and are clinging to those old good feelings because feeling bad about a breakup and being reminded of it all the time is no fun. But you're not in a good place to be a good friend to this person so you should leave her alone. Yeah you're gonna see her around, but there's a lot of people you're going to see around who you aren't friends with. Make some new friends and leave this woman alone.
posted by bleep at 10:21 AM on August 19, 2017

It especially made no sense because she wasn't like this prior to dating, and after we broke it off she came off as caring about my life again.

Well, right. She didn't want to be dating you. "You weren't there for me while you were preparing to break up with me" is not really a fair accusation, because she did what was needed to solve the problem, by breaking up with you, which allowed her to care for you as a friend again.

I'm sorry that you're hurting, and you absolutely deserve to process those feelings with someone, but that someone shouldn't be her.
posted by lazuli at 10:27 AM on August 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

Being friends with Ex's shouldn't be as complicated as the relationship was...
Sometimes it happens sometimes it doesn't-
You show her that you want to be her friend by keeping your distance and respecting the fact that you are not together.
You remain cordial to her in a group setting.
You respect her confidences and privacy.
Let your encounters happen by chance- let them be brief and friendly.
Work on whatever you need to work on by yourself-- as if she isn't the one who is your Ex.
Keep in mind that she was probably fumbling around with how to break up with you or how to talk to you.
She sounds like she didn't know how to be in that relationship and probably didn't know how to get out of it.
posted by calgirl at 10:28 AM on August 19, 2017

By "air out things that she did that really bothered me" it sounds to me like you actually mean one or all of the following:

a. "See if she will say something or apologize in a way that makes me feel better about what happened"
b. "Try an get her to validate or change how I experienced our romantic relationship"
c. "Make sure she conducts this friendship on terms that work for me."

And I would just say that a) how you feel, b) what you experienced, and c) the friendship you'll have if you have one...well, those are on you, and you already have all the information you need to proceed accordingly.

Although I suppose she could give you some piece of the puzzle that you were missing, I don't really see what difference that would make. The absolute best case scenario is that she will say, "I really couldn't be there for you at the time and in a romantic way because I had my own issues to deal with like X, Y, and Z." And, honestly, you don't need her to tell you that; you should just assume that's what was going on because either that was what was going on, or you'll be asking her to tell you about why she wasn't that into you by the end. If you want to go pain shopping to find out more about the reasons she didn't want to continue to be a romantic relationship with you, you're not looking to re-establish a friendship. You're stoking conflict and/or creating more opportunities to try and get her to change her feelings and/or your feelings. You should not expect her to try and change your feelings or experiences; by ending the relationship, she's told you that she does not want you to try and change hers.

Finally, given that you say the romance was casual, it doesn't sound like she was particularly obliged to help you navigate tough issues with the kind of intimacy or intensity you seem to have expected. I don't understand why you're expecting a similar kind of intimacy or intensity now -- when you haven't even spoken in months -- in which she helps you process what seems to be another tough issue for you: the end of your romance with her.

You should process this breakup with other friends or a therapist because there's nothing you or she can say now that will change what happened, she's not responsible for your experiences or feelings, and you have no claim to hers.
posted by pinkacademic at 10:38 AM on August 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

You didn't feel a need to date her until you were going through an awful awful time in your life, and then you got pissed that she wasn't providing the support that you expected her to provide, and now you want to reconnect with her so that you can vent to her about how she failed you as a girlfriend?

Show some humanity and some humility and remain no contact. She doesn't need a friend who treats her like that.
posted by vignettist at 11:13 AM on August 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

So, you would find it hard to avoid each other, and you're both interested in being friends again. I'm going to respond with trust in this premise.

If you want to do something to move forward, you could work on yourself to get to a place where you don't *need* a certain type of closure; persuade yourself that you don't need her to say or do anything. You can't require this of her anyway. It might be nice if she'd say X or Y, and you can articulate that *to yourself*, but then let it go.

Recognize that the friendship may take time to develop and it may be something new, not a return to what you had before, and that's okay. Prepare to give it space and be responsive to what's happening in the moment, and don't force things on your side or hers.

Maybe it'd be nice if you can get on the same page with caring for each other, including being willing to give each other a little space if things come up. If you could say, "Hey, I'm having a hard time today given our history, I'd rather not hang out for a couple days. See you at so-and-so's party." If you could prepare to give each other space to be and do what you need to do.

Maybe have a conversation with her, something you plan together, or just a case where you're ready to talk to her at an event when you guys are in the same space again. Let her know that you feel grateful for the time together and the learning you took from it, or whatever. And that you're looking forward to being friends again and if she's okay with it, you would like to try that out. And then share your openness to knowing how that sounds to her.

You could ask whether there's anything you can do to help things feel smooth in the friend group. Since you mutually want to be friends and you care for each other (and assuming she feels the same way) it seems like that conversation wouldn't be so weird.

I wouldn't bring up the old stuff. But I do think you can "act as if" and live your life, being her friend and engaging with her, without having processed all of that background. Sounds like it'd be worth it to you.

If you feel you really want to bring it up, I guess you could say, "Hey, can we talk quickly, there's something I want to get off my chest. It's more about me than you." If she says no, you stop. If she says sure, you could say something like, "I just wanted to say, I felt hurt when it seemed like we didn't have as caring of a relationship at the end there." Or "It felt like you didn't support me in the way that I was hoping for when I was going through that stuff." And then don't demand anything in return. All you get to do is put your thought out there, and she will respond in some way, but you can't control her response or get an apology.

Also consider that you might be able to bring this up months from now, or years, after you have a new grounding as friends. Does that feel okay to you? If not, if you need to say it NOW, then that is a signal for more self-work and intentionality with your words and how you process emotions, so you can show up how you want to.

I mean, it does sound like it just... wasn't working. She probably won't be surprised that it felt bad. That's why you broke it off.
posted by ramenopres at 11:59 AM on August 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

[Comment removed. Asker, it's okay if you dislike or disagree with some of the answers you get but you need to just shrug and take what use you can from the stuff you find useful, not fight with answerers about it.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:38 PM on August 19, 2017

I don't feel you can START any friendship by saying all the things the person did wrong while you dated.

Many, many friendships (and relationships) are about setting aside small grievances from the past. If you can't do that (forgive and forget and not mention) then I don't think you're really in a space to be friends yet.

Now, if you were best buddies and something was bothering you, then there's a neutral way to bring those things up calmly. But it sounds like you want to just tell her all the things she did that upset you when your relationship was different (dating versus friends.)

It also seems there's a big idea on reliance on her for emotional support and that you're upset about it. But she doesn't owe you that support in this situation right now.

So can, you be friends? Maybe. But I think you've gotta move forward on a fresh slate without any sort of background history or baggage, and wait a while at minimum a few months.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:46 PM on August 19, 2017

I mean, yeah, why not. Give it a try. You can try airing grievances, some people might be receptive to it. For some people it might hurt their feelings. It might work out, being friends, it might not. Nothing you can do.

There is no magic set of words in my opinion, just be yourself and check out what the situation is.

Good luck!
posted by benadryl at 2:27 PM on August 19, 2017

I, too, think that "airing out" your grievances about your dating relationship as a prerequisite to being friends again is a mistake. Putting her on the defensive immediately does not naturally lead into friendly feelings, and frankly, if you have a grudge with her, you aren't going to magically get over it just by vocalizing it. What exactly do you hope you'd gain from this that would strengthen your future friendship? If you only dated "casually, "why are you holding a grudge and wanting to re-hash things? It's hard to tell from your question whether you really want to be friends with this person or you simply want to avoid awkwardness.
posted by sm1tten at 6:18 PM on August 20, 2017

How do I phrase my intentions (that I want to be friends but need to air out things she did that really bothered me)? Is this even a good idea?

The airing of grievances is a bad idea if you want to be friends, but might be necessary if you want to be a couple again (do you? Be honest with yourself. Although in that case do things better than how you got together the first time, make sure she really wants to be a couple - it doesn't sound like she does; make sure she's expressing herself, and don't frame it as "airing of grievances YOU ASSHOLE" but rather "hey this kinda hurt, can we work together to avoid that in future?"). You say she did things that bothered you while you were dating but it seems kinda like you two weren't working as a couple, and she didn't verbalize that - instead she did things that upset you. I think all that means is that you're not a couple anymore - I really think if you want to be friends (and make sure it's really mutual - it sounds like she might have a habit of not expressing her feelings at the time it would be useful, and for your own self-care you want to avoid that in future) then you need to let go what happened when you were a couple.

I don't feel you can START any friendship by saying all the things the person did wrong while you dated.

Many, many friendships (and relationships) are about setting aside small grievances from the past. If you can't do that (forgive and forget and not mention) then I don't think you're really in a space to be friends yet.

Pretty much that. It's worth noting that what is a small grievance depends on the context - your friend with benefits sleeps with someone else when neither of you have committed to exclusivity - maybe not what you wanted, but not grounds for cutting the person out of your life. Your fiance sleeps with someone else? Time to return the ring, DTMFA, never speak to them again, and take a motorcycle trip across Eurasia. Somebody once said to me that stuff that happened before the relationship happened outside the relationship, and doesn't need to be considered... Maybe you could frame things as "our friendship is separate to and different from our relationship as a couple, and stuff from the former period doesn't need to be brought forward?"
posted by iffthen at 9:37 PM on August 20, 2017

In case anybody reads this, as a two month update: we’ve spoken since and we are on good terms. However I think we are now at very different points in our life and have little in common with each other anymore, and I’ve accepted that our friendship will naturally fade over time. We haven’t really spoken since early September. Perhaps things will change down the road.
posted by invictus10 at 7:09 AM on October 25, 2017

random update since I just logged in and totally forgot about this. we're cool, just don't really talk anymore due to circumstances and life.
posted by invictus10 at 8:50 PM on May 23, 2018

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