A friend and reader sent me an email yesterday, and it got me thinking. How many people manage to maintain a real, honest-to-god friendship with their exes after they split – particularly if the relationship was long-term (say, 5 years or more), with cohabitation, and even kids involved? I’m not talking about just being friendly or cordial, or playing nice for the sake of the kids. I’m talking about maintaining an ongoing, close friendship, one not mired in the past and all the conflict/anger/hurt that led the two people in the couple to break up in the first place. Even if it’s possible, how likely is that to happen for most couples?
In the case of my friend, her ex wants a friendship, but for a variety of reasons she’s not really interested. In part, here’s what she said in her email to me (shared here with permission):
I’m having a lot of bitterness that gets buried for the sake of my child, but sometimes I need to let [the ex] know that I am NOT ever going to be the “best friends” he wants. He doesn’t get that I really really don’t want to attend events that he and his ladyfriend are going to.
…we worked together and have the same social circle. That’s been the sticking point, really. Just annoying to see the new lady getting to be FB friends with my old cohorts, plus seeing them working on projects together. Argh.
And my other divorcing lady buddies (more and more and more, it seems) have the same issues. I tend to bottle it up, then the few moments we are together without our kid in the car let loose a stream of vitriol. Not too nice, I know.
Probably difficult to write something like that publicly… but I do know lots of ladies who would benefit from advice.
I understand the impetus to want to try to salvage a real friendship from the rubble. My ex and I started off as friends, and became best friends – it was the entire basis of our relationship to begin with – and it’s still difficult to accept the idea that we’ll never be that again, have that kind of relationship again. But the truth is, there’s a lot of negative emotion that leads to two people breaking up, no matter how good of friends they once were, how close they once were, how much they once loved each other. In 99% of cases I’d wager any couple splitting up does so precisely because they no longer even like each other. You don’t break up with someone you still feel really close to, who you enjoy spending time with, who makes you laugh and feel good about yourself. No, you break up with someone who you feel estranged from, who you can barely stand to look at let alone spend time with, who makes you cry and feel terrible about yourself.
Is that someone you want to be friends with? Umm, probably not.
And does that make you – or your ex – a terrible person? No, it doesn’t. My ex and I have a very civil, friendly, cooperative relationship. A very functional relationship. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re friends. We’re partners in parenting our daughter and giving her the best life we can possibly give her together, and part of that is making sure we maintain a positive and healthy relationship with each other. It’s by no means perfect, but it works. In time, perhaps we can grow back into being something like real friends. But… as with any marriage that fails, there is a lot of history and attendant baggage to get through and past – on both sides – if we ever got to a point where we wanted to actively pursue reconstructing our friendship. So, will we? I don’t know. Right now, I’m just thankful for what we do have, which though perhaps not ideal (but what is?) seems pretty decent, you know?
What do all of you think? Can you be “real” friends with an ex? And how would you navigate a situation where your ex wanted friendship but you didn’t?
Read more from Tracey Gaughran-Perez at her personal blog Sweetney.com