How many times have you said “let’s just be friends” to an ex and truly meant it?
We see this age old argument play out in our lives and on our timelines all the time: should we be friends with our exes?
The short answer: It depends.
For some of us, it can work out and evolve into an amazing friendship. For
most of us others, it can feel like a painful and complicated mess trying to keep an ex in our lives.
I understand why we’d consider offering friendship to our exes–it can seem like the most civil, practical, or secure thing to do at the time.
But if both people aren’t willing to admit that the romantic relationship won’t work, then the friendship will be a complete bust.
I’ve experienced more than my share of exes that won’t disappear, so I know a thing or two about how to clock a fraudulent friendship. The way I see it, this dreadful debate depends on the answers to three key questions:
Are there any lingering feelings?
Oh, those lovely lingering feelings :). If I had a dollar for every time I or someone I knew dated someone still entangled with their ex, I could buy us all designer bags. Point is, it happens more often than we’d like to admit.
In college, a guy pursued me while he was still figuring out things with his ex, and it was arguably the most toxic sh*t I’ve ever been a part of.
They were both dating other people, but still getting jealous and acting out towards each other (and said ‘other people’.)
Needless to say things got very messy, and removing
them him from my life was one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made.
Simply put, it was selfish of them to try starting new chapters when they hadn’t finished writing the previous one. It was also stupid for me to keep seeing him after I knew he wasn’t over her; that was a clear red flag that he wasn’t ready for anything new.
Is it a ‘back-pocket’ relationship?
When exes have lingering feelings, they’ll often stay in contact with each other and form what I like to call “back-pocket relationships.”
Back-pocket relationships happen when you’ve ended the relationship but stay in contact frequently to keep your ex waiting in the wing.
In other words, you want the perks and comfort of being committed to your ex without the actual commitment.
With texts, emails, and social media at our fingertips, back pocket relationships become *that* much easier to maintain.
Drop some heart eyes here, sprinkle a “remember that time…” or “Happy-Merry-Birthday-Christmas” text there, and BOOM, there you are: tucked away in somebody’s pocket like an old gum wrapper they forgot to toss in the trash.
While in grad school, I long-distance dated a guy who had a back-pocket relationship with his ex, but refused to admit it, which was so exhausting to witness as a third party.
He’d casually mention how she’d text regularly, comment on who he’s dating, and ask him to do favors for her (despite having a very able-bodied new boyfriend).
He insisted they were just friends and it was harmless…until it wasn’t.
When he came for a visit to celebrate my birthday and go to a music festival, that friendship facade came crashing down and she was beside herself with jealousy in his iMessages.
The jealousy started to show itself in subtle ways: she’d insist that he text her upon arrival, complained when he didn’t, even asked him to record videos from the festival sets for her.
But then, when he was slow to respond (for obvious reasons) she blurted out via text: YOU SAID YOU WOULDN’T IGNORE ME!
While seeing that message was… jarring for me at best, I also pitied her. Not in a shady way, but I removed my feelings for a moment and saw a girl who was used to being a priority, now extremely unsettled by being demoted to an option in this man’s life.
See, that’s a major reason why back-pocket relationships are a terrible idea–they can have damaging effects on our self-worth, and no one deserves to be treated like a side piece.
Are there boundaries in place?
While it’d be easy to just blame her, the back-pocket relationship continued because he allowed it, i.e. there were no boundaries put in place.
If you plan to have a friendship with your ex, then setting boundaries is a MUST. Oftentimes, people mistake poor boundaries for friendship with an ex-partner.
Understand that they will look differently with each relationship. For this pair, appropriate boundaries may be to not discuss current love interests or don’t contact each other while spending time with them.
For others, it could look like keeping engagement casual on social media, meeting up for the occasional lunch, or not meeting up with exes at all.
If you don’t wish to set clear boundaries with your ex, then ask yourself why you’re resisting it. My guess is that you may want that old thing back, so you’ll keep being accessible to them (even if it’s unhealthy).
Listen, friendship is complicated enough without romantic feelings as a factor, and it’s a very slippery slope once we cross that line.
On the other hand, there may be value in having a friend around who knows you on a deeper level than most.
Whenever you open the door to friendship with your ex, please know exactly what you’re walking into.
Take the time to answer these three important questions if you want to genuinely befriend an ex.