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

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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!

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