Can You Be Friends With An Ex? [Confessions of a Twenty-Something]

I’m embarking on new territory these days, guys. It’s rough terrain that has no beaten path for me to follow. This new life choice has me sweating, shaking and fearing for my sanity. I’m nervous. I’m scared. I’m having panic attacks hourly. No, I’m not climbing Mt. Everest. That’d be child’s play compared to what I’m talking about.

I’m trying to be friends with an ex.

Have any of you ever tried this? If you have, I commend you greatly because I’m finding this transition from lover to friend to be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. How do you go from being in love with someone to “being happy as long as they’re happy”? (By the way, anyone who says that to a past love is a damn liar.)

When I was dating my first serious boyfriend back when I was 18, we inevitably broke up and I cut them off. This became a pattern for me. If you dated me, and then either one of us decided that we didn’t want to do that anymore, you were gone. You vanished. I wanted nothing to do with you, and I probably never wanted to see you ever again. I completely cut exes out of my life. Sometimes this is because I was completely heartbroken, and that’s the only way that I could get some piece of mind. Sometimes this was because the guy was the mayor of Doucheland, and he was a toxic part of my life. As Sex and the City’s Miranda Hobbes wisely said, “We didn’t work out. You need to not exist.”

My friends who still keep in contact with their exes baffle me. I always ask them how the hell they do it! I seriously cannot grasp the concept of two people—two people who had loved each other deeply and wholly, who have seen each other naked, who have had blow-out arguments—just going ahead and being buddies! Though this concept confuses me, I’ve also been envious of their friendships with their exes. It seems sweet and almost romantic in a way to keep close to a person you shared so much with—no hostility, no jealousy, just friendship.

Over the past few years, I have slowly but surely reconnected with some of my exes whom I shut out years before. When I got warm and friendly responses back, I was pleased! They didn’t hate me! I didn’t hate them! We were not friends by any stretch of the imagination, but it was nice to know that we once against acknowledged each other’s existence. It made me regret being so icy in the past. Whether they broke my heart or I did the breaking, I regretted just letting go of them and pretending they never were a part of my life. I recently ended things with a guy who I don’t want to go away, so I want to do things differently this time. I don’t want him to “not exist.” He is a dear friend who I still care about and he feels the same about me. So, we agreed to try and be friends.

There are days when I think that this whole “being friends” thing is going to be a cakewalk. I’ll think of something funny, text him, he lols back, and that’s it. I just shared a funny anecdote about my day with a friend. There were no “love you babe’s” at the end of the text. There were no heart or kissy face Emojis. And I’m perfectly okay with it! It was just a platonic conversation between two young adults who used to be in love but aren’t anymore. It seems okay on those days. On those days, being friends with an ex seems like something that I actually can do!

Then there are the other days. The other days when I feel like I’m drowning in a pool of heartache and loneliness. I miss his smell. I miss his voice. I miss him calling me “love” or “pretty girl.” I find myself with an ache in my heart after he “likes” my Facebook status. Everything reminds me of him, and I can’t function like a normal adult. These are the days when I want to tell him that I’m throwing in the towel. These are the days that I feel we can’t be friends anymore because it’s just too damn hard. It’s too hard to be in love with your friend. As John Mayer once put it, “Friends, lovers, or nothing. There can only ever be one.” And on the days when I can’t differentiate between a friend and a lover, and when I can’t decide which one I really want from him, that’s when my mind really gets going. Thank you, anxiety!

I start to wonder if this whole “being friends” thing is just my desperation kicking in—my desperate need to be part of a pair. He broke up with me. So now what? I’m just supposed to let him have me in his life even though he didn’t want to be with me romantically anymore? How is that fair? Shouldn’t I tell him to go to hell and walk away? Do I look weak by being his friend still? Do I look desperate? Do I look like a fool? Should I just let another one go and forget all about this?

All of these questions and feelings cloud my head and my heart, and sometimes I feel so lost that all I want to do is crawl in bed, throw the covers over my head, and listen to Fiona Apple’s entire discography. As you can see (and probably know from experience yourself) being friends with an ex is no easy feat, and I am definitely learning how to do this day by day.

I’m twenty three year old. I’m a twenty-something, and I’m trying to maneuver through this limbo stage of uncertainty that never seems to be clear (and I’m not just talking about dating. I’m talking money, school, living situations, jobs, etc.) I’m not sure if attempting a friendship with the ex is going to give me clarity or fog up my vision even more. So while I’m making my way through this near impossible maze of emotions, I’m wondering what you guys think. Is it possible to be strictly friends with an ex? Will there always be leftover sexual tension and romantic feelings? Does a certain amount of time need to go by before trying friendship? Let me know below in the comments!

Katie is finishing up her undergrad at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. She enjoys wasting hours on Facebook and tweeting things no one cares about. When asked the question, “Do you do marathons?” She promptly responds, “Of course! Which show?” Follow her @KatieGarrity! Or read her personal blog where she talks incessantly about Ryan Gosling and hummus here!



    1. Ariel says:

      LoL when you find out, let me know if this is possible. I'm going through the same thing as you, but unfortunately we have taken it a step further and acknowledged that we both still love each other…but want to remain friends for now. Sticky situation indeed. I know how you feel.

    2. Carli says:

      I used to think this was possible but now I know it's not. I tried to stay friends with an ex. I went home from college for summer and started talking to a new guy while still talking to my ex as "friends." I came back to college and hung out with the ex as friends which led to us hooking up. I knew that he wasn't the right guy for me so I started dating the other guy, while still trying to be friends with this ex. This worked out fine for awhile.. we would text occasionally but it was kind of awkward when he would ask me to hang out even though I had a bf. Then it got really out of hand when he sent me a picture….. of his dick. I did NOT ask for this or want it but I felt too guilty to not tell my bf, so I did. He then told me not to talk to my ex anymore. I understand that he was hurting our relationship and holding me in the past so I agreed not to. I haven't talked to him in 8 months now and he still to this day messages me on facebook frequently, trying to get an answer even though he never does. I was trying to just be friends but clearly, this doesn't work in one person's mind even if it does in the other's.

      There's more. Then another ex (ok he was just a hookup buddy) returned to my school after being gone awhile. I kept running into him and we would casually talk, walk together, quick hug, whatever. I thought it was nice to see him again and be friends until he started flirting and I started getting nervous around him, almost as if feelings were coming back. I repeat… one person may be trying to be friends, but the other does or will soon want more. Regardless of if you have a boyfriend. Boys do not care. I would love to keep peace with exes but boys just don't think like that. If they're willing to talk to you as friends, they probably want to get back with you. Btw, this guy started asking me to hang out as well (alone, at his house) and when I said no he gets mad.

      so basically this is what I've learned: when guys have a past with you, they want to keep you around so they know they can get you back if they really wanted to. you may be trying to be friends but they will eventually try to get back with you, even if they currently have a girlfriend. they're keeping you around for later. I guarantee it.

    3. marissabee says:

      I'm doing the same thing now, and it is working out pretty well. We have some unspoken rules that keep it maintained, we only hang out every now and then -so as not to get into the relationship groove again-, we don't talk about other love interests -I really do want him to be happy though, as long as that happiness doesn't consist of another girl- and lastly we don't reminisce when we are together, because let's face it, that's just a bad idea. I find one reason the friend thing worked so well with us is because after we broke up, for a month or so we didn't talk. It gave me the time I needed to gain my independence back and get used to him not being around all the time.

    4. Dave says:

      This doesn't work and is disrespectful to you boyfriend or boyfriend to be. There is a reason you're exes.

    5. […] you “get” one another. How is either of us supposed to move on? I’ve also wrote about how I’m trying to make the whole “friendship with an ex” thing work too, and this is where the mixed signals come […]

    6. Margie says:

      Can we have a follow-up piece on this topic, pleeeeaaaaseee?

    7. Luna says:

      I broke up w my first official boyfriend 2 years ago, at first he was very recentful
      But after a couple of months we started talking again snd ever since we haven’t stoped the funny thing is hd has never moved on after we broke up n neither have i we ve been hanging out all the time from my side i still have feelings for him of coarse
      But i dont know if he does has me wondering , plz if nybody wanna give me an opinion
      I d apreciate it , why doesnt he move on ? What doez he think? M sure he
      Likes to spend timd w me too, we cook n watch movies together but he doesnt touch me he keeps his distance . Doez he see me like a friend or sister? I

    8. Hi,

      yes I think so, too. Ex boyfriend or girlfriend stays ex! I also think this will not work really for relationships…

    9. dr kobulu says:

      After being in relationship with him for nine years,he broke up with me, I did everything possible to bring him back but all was in vain, I wanted him back so much because of the love I have for him, I begged him with everything, I made promises but he refused. I explained my problem to someone online and she suggested that I should rather contact a spell caster that could help me cast a spell to bring him back but I am the type that never believed in spell, I had no choice than to try it, I mailed the spell caster, and he told me there was no problem that everything will be okay before three days, that my ex will return to me before three days, he cast the spell and surprisingly in the second day, it was around 4pm. My ex called me, I was so surprised, I answered the call and all he said was that he was so sorry for everything that happened, that he wanted me to return to him, that he loves me so much. I was so happy and went to him, that was how we started living together happily again. Since then, I have made promise that anybody I know that have a relationship problem, I would be of help to such person by referring him or her to the only real and powerful spell caster who helped me with my own problem and who is different from all the fake ones out there. Anybody could need the help of the spell caster, his email is ( } tel.+2348051095263) you can email him if you need his assistance in your relationship or anyting he is ready to help you.

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