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Can You Be Friends With an Ex?

November 25, 2013

Ex Boyfriend's HandbookI woke up this morning to an email from an old… flame, and I… I don’t really know how I want to process it.

Really long story sort of short (read: remember that data project I was working on?), he and I became close during our study abroad trip to Greece in college and while we both had people from home we felt tied to, living and working with each other every day made it difficult to stay platonic. We got together the last week of the trip and it was pretty epic, so much so that it took both of us a while to really even understand what we’d done. After we got back I broke up with my guy and he went back to his girl, the three of us agreeing that we should be great friends. It sort of worked for a while, but as the two of them started to have problems I became the go between – reminding them what they loved about each other and helping them communicate. It wasn’t healthy for them to rely on me, and it certainly wasn’t healthy for me to rely on them, so I pulled away, flaking on plans and doing my best to focus on myself and my future. I cared about them, but I cared about me more.

It took about a year for them to officially break up, both of them calling me to vent and catch up every few months or so in the years since. I’m usually happy to be there for them and most of the time being sought out for advice makes me feel loved, but 6 months ago I got an email from him that crossed the line. It was long and dramatic and lost, he didn’t know who he was without her and wanted information about her and her new boyfriend. He asked about me but it was clear that I was just a tie to her. It hurt, not because I wanted him to care more about me, but because he’d forgotten who I was to him without her.

I set him straight, being pretty much as honest as I could. Telling him to move on from her and that I’ve moved on from both of them. I couldn’t be go-between them anymore; it wasn’t something I could fix. He never responded but I knew he understood. I love the kid; it is okay that he was just figuring things out.

So when I got an email from him this morning I was surprised to say the least. I haven’t heard from either of them since that email exchange. And while there have been many times I’ve thought of them in the last 6 months, I genuinely thought he’d more or less decided to move on from both of us.

His letter was nice, asking how I’d been and genuinely thanking me for what I’d told him before. After a few updates about his life and questions about mine he said this (I knew this site is anonymous for a reason!):

“Long story short, I want the record to show that I want to spend more time keeping in touch with you, and keeping things about the present. I’ve spent way long enough time thinking about two people – [her] and myself – and imparting that issue to so many people, including you. I care more so about what’s going on with us presently, and between you and me it means changing the dialogue to be less about what was going on before. I admit I was really hung up about that. But I don’t want our friendship to be defined by you being in the middle of that, and you having to deal with us as we deal with it ourselves (duh, I understand why you’d want to be removed from it until I pop up every couple months). I have so many positive memories about college, and [her], and Greece, and you. Those had their time and place. Gotta keep things fresh, you know?”

He wrote a bunch more and rambled a bit about twenty something issues like unemployment and struggling to survive in the city and it was nice to hear from him. Really nice. I’m glad he sent it, like I said – it’s always nice to feel thought of.


But… now what? If this was a usual exchange I’d tell him he’s awesome and give him a little advice, promising to always be there for him but never seeking him out myself. I’d be there for him sure, but to be safe I’d never ask him to be there for me. Does this email mark a change? What does our present relationship look like? Now that we’re here I’m not sure if I know how to be friends with him without her. If I respond kindly does that make me bound to our present relationship as well? Will I have to text him when I think of funny things or call him when I’m afraid? He might be ready to move forward but when I think of him I still think of us in Greece, that version of him WAY MORE special to me than being friends in the present. What if that gets damaged?

We were never meant to be, I know that he knows that and he knows that I know that. I’m not worried about romance here – we won’t hurt each other in the present. Read about Merskank’s troubles if you’re interested in that. But I don’t know who we are without the past. And I’m not sure I want to.

I’m going to respond enthusiastically like always. Probably even promise friends. But I don’t know what happens from here. Can you be friends with an ex? Or better question, should you?!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Cinderslut permalink*
    November 25, 2013 8:12 pm

    The only time I tried to be friends with an ex, I ended up marrying him.

    That said, I wouldn’t worry too much about this situation. It’s generally a good idea to try and be friends with people, especially cool people you care about. I don’t think you’ll feel that anything in the present takes away from the memories from the past. And you still have the boundaries of physical distance and cyberspace to keep things chill and easy, if that’s how you want it.

    • November 27, 2013 11:06 am

      Thanks Cindy, I’m not too worried. He’s sent emails like this before and then dropped off the face of the world again. But it definitely does affect my version of the past. And I wish it wouldn’t.

  2. thelittlemerskank permalink*
    November 27, 2013 1:54 am

    I think being friends with an ex sounds tricky. I mean, I think it is totally possible to be friendly… but maybe harder to be the deeper, closer type of friends he seems to want to be. I don’t really have much experience having exes (unless Herman counts…), but I feel like for me one of the main variables would be time. If enough time has passed, enough water under the bridge, then maybe you could be real friends without any dangers. But if its still too close, and your not ready, it sounds like a recipe for disaster. Good luck figuring it out!

    • November 27, 2013 11:08 am

      True story. Keeping it light is the only way. I’ve pretty much decided to not take him seriously. ever. I’ll be nice when he contacts me, but having him in my life isn’t something i need. blerg.


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