“No matter what I do, I always forget to forget you.”—Bayonet
As much as some of us may want to hate all of our exes, some just aren’t worthy of such disdain. Yes, you met, you “clicked,” and for whatever reason, you parted ways, but exes can be good people to have in your life.
Correction: some of your exes can be good people to have in your life. And if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, we’re not always quite ready to let them go. Whether it’s familiarity, comfort, or realizing that you once loved this person, sometimes you will choose to “be friends.” The most difficult thing about being friends with an ex is deciding whether or not it’s the best decision for both parties to begin with.
Granted, your former mate may be a wonderful person worth holding on to. But if approached irresponsibly, you both could ruin any possibility of remaining in each other’s lives. Here are a few ways to determine if your ex is worth the friend title.
1. Recognize That a Critical Part of Your Life Has Died
No one enters a committed relationship with the goal of it failing. You hope that this person is the one, and start to imagine and plan a future with them built around that notion. But once your relationship ends, an entirely different wave of negative emotions rise to the surface, with disappointment and sadness leading the way.
In order to successfully be friends with an ex, you must understand that they are no longer your boyfriend or girlfriend. The actions and expectations you have for them must evolve. They are no longer obligated to answer the phone whenever you call. In fact, your former mate isn’t obligated to you in any way, shape or form. Your relationship is now conditional, meaning that you have made a choice to remain in each other’s lives, and your basic foundation is no longer the sticking point.
You both have to grow comfortable with the idea of not being an item. I’m not saying you have to pretend like you all never existed. After all, the characteristics displayed in your relationship are most likely the reason why you want to remain in each other’s lives. But you both must be willing to bury your past relationship, so that a new friendship can be born. In other words, let it die so that you can thrive.
2. Take Time Apart
No matter how many times you’ve been advised to take space from your ex following a break up, for whatever reason, you continue to ignore a critical part of the “friends with an ex” recipe. I get it. Old habits die hard, and few things are worse than the fresh-felt void after a breakup. But do yourself a favor: take time apart.
Many times, when people enter a friendship without giving each other time and space to heal, they end up falling back into the routine of things. You may slip up and have sex or spend time together as if you’re still an item, but that really isn’t beneficial to anyone. You’re not allowing yourself to feel the void and will ultimately prolong a situation that probably should’ve ended a long time ago.
Taking time apart from each other not only allows you to heal and reflect on your failed relationship, but it lays the foundation for you to shift how you relate to one another when attempting to be friends. This much-needed space provides an opportunity for you to take a cold, hard look at what your former mate contributes to your life, and gives you the chance to decide if they should be part of it.
3. Be Honest About What You Can Handle
In order to successfully have a friendship with your ex, you have to be honest about what you can and cannot handle. Just because you’ve made the decision to be friends does not mean that you should sign up to hear about how wonderful his new girlfriend is or how her new boyfriend surprised her with her favorite meal. Enduring such torture, especially if you still have romantic feelings, will only breed resentment and damage any chances of a pure friendship.
In order to get to a place where those things no longer affect you, you have to be honest when they do. Set boundaries in regards to how often you communicate, along with appropriate times to call and topics that can be discussed. This doesn’t have to be a formal conversation, but you should try to avoid topics that serve as emotional triggers. Breakups are difficult enough; there’s no need to create extra baggage. If your ex doesn’t positively affect your life and offer something unique that you can’t get from your friends, then maybe you shouldn’t try to preserve the relationship.
You can’t just magically flip a switch and go straight to BFFs. Allow yourself the necessary distance to heal and process the trauma you’ve both just experienced. Once you reflect on the relationship and still have the desire to be friends, then you can approach the situation with a clearer mind and intention.
Shantell E. Jamison is an editor for EBONY.com and JETmag.com. Not confined to chasing headlines, this Chicago-based writer, radio personality and cultural critic is also the author of Drive Yourself in the Right Direction: Simple Quotes on How to Achieve Your Best Self.