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Oh, if only it were that easy. When you date someone, you get front row seats to all of it: the best face they put towards others, the breakdown in grief over the loss of a child, the anger at toilet paper running out, and the silliness of dancing around in their pajamas and making them laugh. You see their worst physical attributes and still want to be with them. You see their best physical attributes and want to show them off. Romantic partnership is the most intimate of relationships and experiencing one is such a gift. So what happens when it falls apart? If you were never friends to begin with, are you able to build a foundation of a friendship? Even if you were friends before, can you whittle down your experiences to be something, not less, but much different in intimacy?
People are generally of two minds when it comes to the topic of ex-romantic partners being friends. There’s the “yes” camp and the “fuck no” camp. I fall in the “it depends” camp (because we don’t do absolutes here). I have dated many people over the years. Of the ones still alive, I still keep in regular contact with two of them. There are others scattered around who I will respond to when they reach out, to inquire about their children or get book recommendations. Then I have a list of people I’ve blocked and would give a large Cardi B “wish you well” to if I had the chance. Life is about balance.
When I look over how people are able to remain friends, I have seen a few patterns of behavior.
Someone still wants the romantic relationship back
This is the oldest ploy in the book. “I’ll just win them back!” Oh, by acting perfect and hiding all of the flaws that made them dump you in the first place? That works so well! No one ever ends up heartbroken years down the road thinking they were getting back together when the other person has been dating behind your back! There aren’t movies and memes and personal experiences all about this that I can draw upon to make this assessment. Dear lord.
Children are involved
And this is as it should be. Children benefit from their parents being friends, speaking kindly to each other, doing family events together, and navigating the shitshow that is parenting together. This friendship might be more strained than others but if you are putting the child’s best interests at the forefront, any personal transgressions can be more easily forgiven.
The relationship was limited in depth
Maybe you only dated for two months. No families were involved, no children were introduced, and no weekend trips to the Poconos occurred. So you share some secrets and orgasms and realize it just isn’t going anywhere. There is a mutual ending, and the sex wasn’t so amazing that you’ll be tempted to keep up a “sneaky link” (because friends with benefits is a fucking scam, please refer to a modified version of my first point called “someone actually wants to be in a relationship”).
True Accountability, Kindness, and Respect
Well this one is rare. If you think you have this one, might I refer you back to my first point (hint: it isn’t you).
This is the one we all want. If a relationship ends, there are reasons, and counter to what an ex of mine might think, they are shared reasons. No single person fails in a relationship (counterargument: abuse and cheating). So if someone decides to pull the plug, these reasons are bound to come out…and hopefully not in text while crying over your vodka cran (I am in no way speaking about me because I drink wine). It takes a lot of emotional maturity to hear why someone is displeased with you enough to end your relationship. If you’re super lucky, they are kind enough to tell you repeatedly while you are in the relationship all of the different ways you aren’t measuring up so the after action report doesn’t come as a complete shock /s.
Alright, so you’re getting told how you failed and how you could’ve been better. Are you able to hear these reasons and see some truth to their perspective? Or do you pitch a fit and walk away, refusing to take accountability for your part in the breakdown? If your answer is the latter, the likelihood that you will have a friendship based in kindness and respect is pretty slim…because you lack accountability towards the other person.
If someone still wants to be with you romantically, they aren’t going to point out your flaws with the honesty that comes with friendship. They will handle you with kid gloves, catering to your needs and your perspective because heaven forbid they be an entire person with their own perspective that threatens to shatter your version of events.
Exes can be friends….but true friends can be rare. If someone is a true friend, they are upfront and honest while still being respectful (someday I’ll write about how some people have varying levels of what they demand as respect). If someone is a true friend, they will be honest about if they are dating someone else. If someone is a true friend, they might tell you something that hurts your feelings, making you cry in line at the grocery store, and then you work together to repair the damage. Rupture and repair…it is all part of the relationship cycle of friends, parents and children, lovers, or coworkers. It is how we grow and build together, like micro tearing of a muscle to make it stronger.