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August 27, 2010

Staying friends: mature or masochistic?

Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 8:52 am

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?

— Lilygirl

Dear Lilygirl,

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.

Breakup Girl


  1. You probably broke up because one of you doesn’t really like the other one all that much anymore, which is a terrible basis for a friendship. And 99 percent of the time, the other person doesn’t really want to be friends either. It’s not mature, it’s an immature way of dealing with their guilt that only serves to make them feel better. And Jerry/Elaine were fiction. In the real world, this friendship will only get in your way of meeting a real romantic partner.

    Comment by Mary Alice — August 27, 2010 @ 10:16 am

  2. Thank you for this!! I can honestly say that while it was initially challenging, quitting cold turkey got me over my ex MUCH faster than keeping in contact ever would have! Hang in there Lilygirl, it gets easier….

    Comment by Laura — August 27, 2010 @ 1:35 pm

  3. […] you’re sort of like the guy on the other end in the letter from Lilygirl — and you kind of also need to apply to yourself a version of my advice to Chris: cuddling, […]

    Pingback by Breakup Girl » Staying friends: It’s not working for me — September 3, 2010 @ 8:54 am

  4. I’m glad it worked.

    Comment by Alex — September 3, 2010 @ 9:29 am

  5. I’m still friends with some of the women I’ve dated. Not unlike Lily it takes a while for me to “get over” people IE: some no-contact time to let my emotions cool, regain a sence of self, and time to think about whether I actually want to be friends before I’m ready to try being friends.
    One of my exes is my current roommate. I consider her to be my best friend – and no, I no longer love her romantically or want to be her boyfriend.

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