So you’ve made it through the horrifying breakup with someone you cared about … now what? To be friends or not to be friends, that is the question. Most of the time I like to make a nice clean break adhering to a “no contact” and “no getting back together” policy. I’ve learned from experience that this is a necessary move for me to heal my ailing heart and move on. In time, I am usually content to be “acquaintances with history,” exchanging an email every once in a while or having friendly drinks with the exes that I still respect. But that’s only after time has passed and I’ve removed the rose-colored glasses that I used to gaze at him through. And, of course, there are the guys that I know I won’t ever see or speak with ever again … those that have committed offenses of the heart too heinous to be forgiven in this lifetime. But it’s not always so black and white. Some people are worth keeping in your life.After three years of love, friendship, and co-habitation, my relationship with Jeff suddenly unraveled. I called him up while he was on tour in Europe with his band. I had been up all night crying after I received an email from him telling me how much he missed me and I knew that it was time to be honest and do one of the hardest, most dreaded things I would ever have to do. I had been trying to talk myself out of it for days, but I just couldn’t.
“Jeff, I need to talk to you.”
“Oh no, what?” he said. He must have known on some level.
“I have feelings for someone else,” I responded.
“No,” he said, “No.” It was silent.
“Yes,” I said ashamed.
“No,” he said again.
“Yes.” I huddled in the corner of our bedroom realizing for the first time that it would no longer be ours. We cried together on the phone. It was devastating.
After moving all my stuff out and starting my life over — new place, new relationship, new me — I realized that Jeff was like family and I missed him. He knew all my friends, my family, everything about my life, and although I knew we weren’t meant to be together romantically, I was determined to have him in my life as a friend. Luckily, he felt the same way. Sure, it was rough at first, but in time we were actually able to make our friendship work, which is a testament to the bond we share. How did we do it? There were some guidelines we both followed that made it possible. Here are six rules for making that awkward transition from lovers to friends.
1. Mourning period: Give each other time to mourn the death of the relationship. The longer you two were together, the longer it will probably take before you are ready for friendship. It could be two months or two years — feel it out. You’ll know when the time is right because both of you will feel ready for it. Let hearts heal and flames fizzle out before hopping on the friendship train.
2. Keep it platonic: No sex, no kissing, no hand-holding, no flirting, no monkey business. At any time. Ever. Even after nights of heavy drinking.
3. Set clear emotional boundaries: Feeling down, having issues, looking to get your emotional needs fulfilled? Don’t go to him. Keep the friendship simple and without too much emotional entanglement. Talk about the things you have in common, shared interests, the things that made you friends during your relationship.
4. Seek out a love life: Meet other dudes. Date other dudes. If you’re pretending to be friends with him as you wait for him to fall in love with you again, then it’s not truly a friendship. Sorry to break it to you. On that note, no need to discuss your burgeoning love life with your ex. Not because you’re trying to spare any feelings, but rather out of respect and decorum. Call me old-fashioned. There may come a point when it’s cool for the two of you to discuss it. If it works for you and there’s no jealousy on either end … be my guest!
5. No relationship analysis: If possible, avoid analyzing your relationship. Do that with your other friends, your therapist, or your journal. Keep the focus on your friendship instead. If there is some closure you still need and you want to discuss it, wait until you have some distance and perspective and can talk about it without getting too emotional.
6. More than friendly feelings: If you or your ex starts to have more than friendly feelings toward the other, back off and evaluate. Some people do get back together, but you should be very mindful about opening that door again unless you are sure. Also, unrequited love makes for a very bad “friendship.” Duh.