My friend Jaime is still very much in love with his ex-girlfriend Jeneane—and for good reason. She’s bright, ambitious and many other things that he’s looking for in a potential partner. As we humans often do, Jaime took Jeneane for granted in their relationship, and she left him. Maybe all of us have been there—not understanding a good thing until it’s gone. He holds on to Jeneane pretending to only want friendship, but he certainly wants more. The goal for him (for all of us at some point) is to keep the connection open, with hopes that friendship will redevelop into romance.
I’ve been Jaime before, holding on to lovers past and the comfort they bring. I’ve thankfully had some amazing loves in my life, even though the romantic relationships didn’t last. I’ve dated some brilliant men, some beautiful ones, a few that I liked as much as I loved. It’s the liking part that can complicate things, I suppose. See, I’ve been thinking about this lately as I focus on changing some patterns I exhibit in love and loving.
For me, solace comes through friendships, not romance necessarily. So when the romantic love has gone awry, I’ve often worked to maintain platonic friendships with my exes. I imagine I love in a Buddhist, hippie, you-know-Black-women-be-loving-deeply-even-sometimes-when-we-ain’t-being-loved-back-properly kind of way. It’s not easy to extinguish, even if it changes.
And the question I’ve been asking myself is, do our feelings really change? When we continue relationships with our exes after we’ve moved forward in new love, are we being true to our new mates and ourselves?
Susan Elliot, relationships coach and author of Getting Past Your Breakup, says the following at Huffington Post Divorce:
The person who pushes to be friends is usually the one who has unfinished business but doesn’t want to own that or doesn’t want the responsibility of the relationship, but is unwilling to completely relinquish the ex. That is a selfish motive and not fair to the other person. Do your work and let the other person do their work and heal. It is not fair to string someone along as a “friend” because you can’t deal with the pain of having them out of your life completely.
Elliot’s logic is especially true when love relationships are newly finished. Our exes, at some point, became our old faithfuls. Often they’ve laughed and cried with us; they have cared for us while we’ve been sick, and have held our hands while we’ve celebrated our greatest accomplishments. It is very difficult to throw all of those moments away, and we don’t have to—we have our memories of them forever. However, we can’t move on if we’re still holding on.
According to a quick survey conducted by life coach and A Belle in Brooklyn author Demetria Lucas, survey participants were split concerning the “ex-factor.” She reveals:
The yeses thought being friends could work—if the relationship ended well, enough time had passed after the break up, the romantic feelings were gone for both parties, and most importantly, if the couple had been actual friends, not just lovers before or while in the relationship. “You can only be friends w/an ex if both parties are completely over the past,” one of you wrote. “If not, it can be very annoying.”
The nos didn’t think the best of intentions or time passed mattered. They saw being friends with an ex akin to playing with fire. “Too much room for error,” said one reply. “Somebody’s bound to cross the line of ‘friendship’.” Another tweeter agreed, “that [sexual] chemistry can be a dangerous thing to play with if you’re trying to move on.”
I stand in the middle of this issue, agreeing with both sides. Friendships with exes are possible, if both people are behaving honestly and maturely and ensure that they’re maintaining a relationship that’s respectable enough to be discussed with people they are currently dating. At the same time, it’s rare that both people attempting friendship after love is “no longer being served” (as Nina Simone once noted) have truly left their romantic feelings for one another behind. When we aren’t making our best decisions (again, the human sh*t), we are capable of quickly lapsing and moving backwards.
And is “exes are exes for a reason” not one of the greatest lessons we learn as we mature in our relationships?
Comment below! I’d love to know how you feel about maintaining friendships with ex loves.
Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and scribe. Follow her musings on Twitter @jonubian.