A Short and Happy Guide to Being Friends With Your Ex

by Beth Stevens
Beth Stevens

Make a Difficult Subject Accessible and Easy to Do!

Welcome to this guide to being friends with your ex. As Professor Emeritus of the Department of Relationships at Oxford Harvard Yale Cambridge University and Community Center, my area of specialization is in breakups with more than 400 scholarly contributions to peer-reviewed research into screaming, crying, double peanut-butter fudge ripple-eating, cyber-stalking, bourbon-swilling, blinking into the abyss of your loneliness at 3a.m., and, of course, sweet, sweet friendship.

I know this matter can feel complicated. The rules might seem arcane and outdated, but this guide will ease the struggle. A simple strategy is all you need.

Assess your position.

First things first. Why do you still want to be in touch with this person, let alone friends? Were they not clear when they told you to get out and stay out? Friends, generally speaking, keep in touch. They attend dinner parties, movies, and even weddings. These social activities can be awkward for chums who have not slept together, let alone cohabitated for two years.

Also, did you forget about the lying, the cheating, the humiliation? Or—and this is very common, so don’t kick yourself—do you draw a blank in your memory when it comes to the endlessly boring conversations about office politics, the fug of unwashed gym clothes on the floor, that creeping feeling of wanting to escape? Once you have assessed your position, you must decide if you still want this friendship. If so, let’s proceed.

Follow the rules.

Like many things in life, the rules are simple to understand and hard to master. If you keep to the following standards in all of your conduct and behavior—even when you’re a little tipsy from nervously drinking too much wine as they tell you their new partner is the absolute love of their life—you will succeed. Do not deviate from the rules. Do not tell yourself this time is different. Tamp those emotions down and do the following:

Keep your hands to yourself.

This means you can peck your ex on the cheek when you say hello and goodbye and that’s it. A peck, in case you have forgotten, is dry and joyless. Do not talk to your ex as if they are a therapist. Do not divulge hopes and fears or dissect why your mother said that thing. Yes, you might swap secrets for sympathy with a close confidante, but this is not the right person.

Also, your ex is not a therapist, especially your therapist. They are a person who used to kiss the nape of your neck and tell you they would love you forever. Did they mean it? No. You have a therapist on East 73rd Street who looks like your Aunt Nancy and charges $250 a session. Call her.

Be supportive but uninvolved.

You can ask about their sister, father, boss, dog, but do not memorize their answers and freak them out with a weirdly specific follow-up question the next time you see them four months from now. This is not a continuation of your love affair from a distance. Did you memorize everything your college roommate said to you at that barbecue last summer? Didn’t think so.

Stay out of touch.

Do you count the minutes until you can call/email/text your buddy from book club who wants to hang out sometime? Of course not. Do you constantly check the Facebook status of your pal from the dog park? This is not different.

Never bring up the past. Once you start on “remember when,” you are on a path that leads to breathless reexamination of your romance—from the time you stayed together at that boutique hotel in Mayfair with the soaps that looked like candy to the time they left you brokenhearted and slumped sobbing against the steps of your building unable to make it to the front door. Focus on the future.

Next Steps

If you are able to do the above without lying to yourself, obsessing, or despairing, congratulations! One can only assume you have maturely moved on from your desire to be friends with your former beloved to being what all happy exes who stay in touch really are: acquaintances.

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