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Friends with your ex? Here's how to make it work

Relationships

While I have felt the urge to be friends with an ex, I have never attempted it. I know that it would cause me more pain than joy. I know that remaining friends would keep me from moving on and finding another love. 

And frankly, I don't want to hear about how happy they are once they've moved on. I don't want to have to sit down for an awkward coffee session and fake joy when my ex tells me about his new lover, while I'm stuck feeling alone.

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File photo: In short, we realised that our needs were different, and I couldn't give him the love, affection and attention that he wants and deserves. Picture: AP

So I've never attempted to be friends with any of my exes. Until this past breakup, when I didn't have a choice.

Because I was still living with him. I would have moved out immediately, but I was planning to move from Boston to New York in eight weeks after our breakup, so it didn't make sense to find another apartment, only to move again shortly after.

When my boyfriend and I broke up, it was as amicably as two people can after dating for over a year. In short, we realised that our needs were different, and I couldn't give him the love, affection and attention that he wants and deserves.

While I wanted to engage in my usual post-breakup ritual – calling my sister-in-law, blasting Alanis Morissette and crying in my bed – I couldn't. Living in the same apartment, I would feel too self-conscious of appearing overly dramatic. So instead, I went to the other room to watch Schitt's Creek on Netflix.

I was by no means ready to jump right into a friendship. He, on the other hand, was. He kept on wanting to have these "check-ins" after breaking up, and they were driving me nuts. The whole point of breaking up was so we could stop having these types of conversations.

Unlike me, he has been able to stay friends with people he's dated, and he was annoyed that I was acting weird and awkward around him. He was confused why I had changed my demeanor.

"We were like friends anyway," he said, referring to the phase of our relationship near the end, where we stopped having sex and seemed more like roommates than lovers. "Literally nothing has to change. Breaking up was just so we were on the same page regarding our expectations."

While I knew, logically, that he was right, the feelings we have after breaking up seldom appeal to logic.

I ended up telling him that I was sad and that I was entitled to feel that way because we had just broken up. "I'm aware you're ready to be friends," I said. "But I will need some time apart. I've never been friends with a partner after breaking up, let alone lived with them. And while I wish I wasn't awkward, I'm just going to be awkward right now. This is how it is."

He said he was happy to give me some space but was appropriately reluctant. He knows me. He knows I've never stayed friends with serious exes. That I have no problem cutting people out of my life, and that, in situations like these, it's easier for me to withdraw than engage.

But he kept nudging me to go out with him to bars and spend time together in group settings. Finally, I gave in, not by choice, but because a close mutual friend of ours was having a birthday in New York. My ex was thrilled at the opportunity to have hours of driving time to chat and solidify our friendship. I, on the other hand, could not have been more nervous.

During the car ride, we chatted about the usual things. New albums released, work and friends. Nothing exciting or all that deep. At first, I felt uncomfortable. But I told myself I was going to give this "friendship thing" a shot. I told myself I was going to pretend like everything's normal. And surprisingly, I faked it until I became it. By the last hour of driving, I didn't feel like my post-breakup awkward self. I just felt like me. We know each other so well. We communicate well. We know how to make one another laugh. He was right: We really were just friends while we were dating, and not that much needed to change between us.

Now we're actually friends. Real friends.

I've realised that it takes a lot of effort and emotional maturity to be friends with exes. There also has to be a valid reason, outside of the usual, "we spent so much time together." For me and my ex, the reason was that our relationship had already turned into a friendship. We also had always understood one another better than anyone else; we knew what to say to each other when no one else did. This made it worth it for us to remain friends.

Honestly, it wasn't worth it for me to be friends with my other exes. We would have just been friends because we felt like we should be, not because it would actually bring each other joy or any other benefits.

A few weeks ago, my ex and I drove a U-Haul down to New York together. Without me asking, he offered to help me unpack and get settled into my new Brooklyn apartment. Before he took a Lyft to the airport, we had a final talk. 

He told me how excited he was for me to experience the next stage of my life; how much he appreciated the time we spent together; and how he's happy I didn't cut him out of my life. I couldn't help but tear up. I thanked him for pushing me out of my comfort zone to attempt this friendship. 

Now, I couldn't imagine a life without him, at least in some capacity.

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