Eternal questions from April 20, 1998…
Dear Breakup Girl,
Staying friends: mature or masochistic? My ex wants very much for us to be friends, and I’m a little torn over it. I can’t imagine not seeing or speaking to him. It would be like cutting off a limb. But I’m finding myself still hanging on his calls and e-mails. If I don’t hear from him for a week I get upset. Some of my friends think I should just take a breather from him, but I really want to stay in touch, and I have lots of friends who have nice Jerry/Elaine things with their exes. The other thing is that he left me to go back to his previous girlfriend, who he’s still with. So right now, I don’t think there’s much chance of us getting back together, much as I might dream. I also know that it always takes me a while to get over people whether I see them or not. Do you think I’m torturing myself unnecessarily?
Yep. What you are pursuing right now is not friendship, it’s I Can’t Believe He’s Not My Boyfriend. Of course you can’t imagine not seeing or speaking to him right now; I mean, he was your boyfriend — I imagine you’d gotten kinda used to seeing and speaking to him. But listen, we have to be really careful about what “friends” means after a breakup … and about the best way to get there. Advice for everyone:
1. Be circumspect. Sometimes “I’d really like for us to stay friends” means “Let’s break up, but I don’t hate you.” All full-on, active friendship may not be what’s intended. And if one party doesn’t really mean it, you can’t force the fit.
2. Do not equate being friends with being “mature.” (Um, hanging on his calls and getting upset when they don’t come is not all that mature.) Important Breakup Girl maxim: Your ability to be friends with an ex is not a measure of your maturity, or of the value of the romantic relationship that went before. It is a measure of a particular vibe — a two-way vibe — with a particular person under particular circumstances. Nothing more, nothing less.
3. Sometimes the mature thing is to say to yourself, “I don’t need ‘mature’ ‘So, what’s new with you?’ coffee summits to prove to myself how mature we both are about this whole thing.”
I am not saying that you two will not have a cool Jerry-Elaine thing down the road. In fact, the reason these things really can work — lest you all accuse BG of being a big fat naysayer — is that friendships often find room to flourish when the “I’m not fully comfortably in this relationship … should we break up?” question is finally resolved for the doubting, stressing partner.
But the way for you to get there, if any, is to take that breather. It will still, as you say, take you a while to get over him. Um, duh. That’s ’cause he was your boyfriend and he’s going out with someone else now. But going cold turkey is not a magic cure-all … but it will streamline the process. Right now, for you, keeping the lines of communication open means keeping the wounds open. Also, note that bugging him about not calling (if you are) will not make him really psyched to call.
How about saying something like this: “I appreciate that you want to stay friends, and so do I. But I can’t be a real friend until I’ve gotten some distance from the whole thing. I’d ask you, as my friend, to understand that as part of that commitment, I might not be in touch for a while, and it would help if you didn’t call me either, UNLESS OF COURSE YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND ABOUT THAT DINGBAT AND COME CRAWLING BACK TO ME, IN WHICH CASE I MIGHT TAKE YOU BACK IF I’M NOT TOO BUSY.” Okay, say that to a friend to get it out of your system, then say the first part (up to “UNLESS”) to your ex.