How to Stay Friends With Your Ex


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Photo: Dmitry Ersler/iStock

It may take serious work, but becoming friends with your ex can be achieved, if you really, really, really want to.

Step 1: Face the music.
Get the 411 on your situation. Is it really over between you? A few telltale signs that your ex is not really your ex:

  • You’re still having sex
  • You’re still living together
  • Her razor is still in your shower
  • She meets up with you on your dates
  • You’ve still got your photos of her on display

Step 2: Make a clean break.
Let’s go back a moment. You’ve already gone through the agony of breaking up—now rip off the Band-Aid. Yes, it’s going to hurt. Yes, this person is and was your best friend. Yes, maybe this person is in a lot of pain and you want to be there for her. Guess what? You can’t make it better. Trudge around with your ex to get your mutual needs met and you will reek of baggage. It sounds terribly unromantic but, sadly, you can live without this person, and you’ve got to try. Otherwise, neither of you will really move on. You have to take a break from all things ex—coffee shops, bars, even mutual friends. If you want to be “real” friends, then consider walking through the fire and saying a sincere goodbye, in the interest of the future.

Step 3: Resist drama.
Step 4: Resist drama.
Step 5: Resist drama.

Step 6: Get your own life.
It’s rough sometimes—but in some cases it’s a breeze. Either way, you’ve got to get into your own single life. Give yourself time: Mourn, draw, jerk off 10 times a day, whatever. When you finally get into the swing of things, it’s fun to get your groove on. You’ll lose weight (or gain it back); you’ll think about having sex with other people; you’ll do your own thing. Yes, it’s kind of fantastic. Or yes, it’s really rough. If it stays rough, stay at Step 6 until it is fantastic.

Step 7: Redefine your relationship.
You’re finally ready to talk again? Great. Try it over coffee or in an email, nothing crazy. Step 7 requires exercising self-restraint and minding your manners. Do not ask if your ex is dating other people. Stick to, “How are you? How’s work? How’s your family?” Keep it short. The goal in these interactions is to get in and out without bleeding all over anyone, including yourself. See how much you can handle and let the friendship grow from there. You can go through Step 7 for a month. You can go through it for a year. Let it breathe.

Step 8: Resist drama.
Right about now is when you might want to mix it up—don’t. Mix things up and you’ll end up back at Step 2. Your ex is not your new singlehood coach. In fact, your ex is not your new anything. Fight the urge to revert back to comfortable codependency. If you’re still feeling funky, then let it breathe a little more. You’ve come this far already—you really can do this.

Caveat: Beware a re-emergence of the “issues.”

Now that you have had some distance, it’s OK if someone wants to rehash something or get an old resentment out of the way. The idea is that you are now ready, with distance, to hear it. The key word is “hear”: If you want to get through this, you will have to shut up and listen. Yes, she may be talking about how awful you were.  Strangely, there’s not always a reason to defend yourself. This is an important point in working toward your friendship—getting honest.

Step 9. Stick to the boundaries.
Ladies, once you’ve become friends, resist the temptation to act the way you might have in the past. This means no texting “I really wanted to kiss you,” or “You look really amazing” after you hang out. Put your phone in your pocket and go boldly down the street and into the unknown—you do not own your ex-lover anymore and it’s going to be OK.

Step 10. Know that one day you’ll meet your ex’s new lover.
Don’t mess this up. Don’t talk about when you and your ex were tog-ether. Act like a normal person who has a life, and acknowledge your ex and her lover as a couple. Be happy you’re in each other’s lives—isn’t that why you wanted to be friends with your ex in the first place?

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