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August 30

Staying friends: friend-ship vs. friend-ly

Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 10:00 am

Negotiating the peace on April 20, 1998

Dear Breakup Girl,

I happened upon your site the morning after my girlfriend dumped me. Your advice columns (and seeing that “I’m not the only one”) have really helped me through this. I hadn’t been in any kind of romantic relationship for four or five years before this one, and I was pretty broken up about the whole thing. But now I can almost sit back a little and think about it. One of the things my ex said in her “can I talk to you” talk was that (of course) “its not you, its me”, and “we can still be friends.” Not having had this work for me at all in the past (the friend-afterwards part) I don’t know how to try and make it work. I’d really like to be friends (and not just friendly, as a coworker mentioned most of his “let’s be friends” relationships went), but I just don’t know how to make that work.

I think my ex has done a lot to help the process, by listening to me a couple of times I’ve wanted to talk/vent, and by being very understanding of my need to talk with her at times. The result is that I don’t despise or hate her, like I have with other exes, and from what I can gather and what I feel, this is a good start to some sort of “friend”-based relationship.

So is there any thing I can do to help facilitate this friend (re)building process? I know that I’m not completely “over her” yet, and I don’t want to seem like I’m too attached. I think she may have already moved on to someone new, and I don’t want
to get in the way. So how do I go about making sure she knows that I am (will be) available for a friend, but not give her the wrong idea, or affect her current relationship (if any)?

— Chris

Dear Chris,

You make an apt distinction between “friends” and “friendly.” Post-breakup, what we call a “friendship” is sometimes more like a “peace treaty.” Have you carved out whose territory is whose (as in who gets the restaurant)? Yes. Are you civil to each other at parties? Yes. Do you make use of spies? Well, not that much, anymore. But are you really friends? Maybe not.

But when you want more than that, there’s more to the matter than a handshake in the Rose Garden. First of all — while you’re right, this is a positive sign — having Great Talks about your relationship does not count as your new friendship. These friendships have to be built on something other than “Wow, remember that incredible sunset in Capri…buddy?” You already have a past, and you can’t change that, but there has to be some new fuel, some new context, for your new-and-different relationship. So say to her “I don’t want to seem too attached, and I don’t want to get in the way of your getting involved with anyone else. But I want to let you know that I’m available to be a real friend, whatever that may turn out to look like for us.” If she’s down with that, then see if she wants to — well, if you guys always went to foreign films, go see some kickass American blockbuster. If you always played mini-golf, go see Monster Trucks.

But if it starts to feel (see above) like you’re forcing a fit to just to prove something — or just to get a damn-she’s-cool fix — then back off. You will miss her, but you will also have an ex whom you don’t despise or hate. And you know what? That’s actually plenty.

Breakup Girl


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