What It Means When You Stay Friends with Your Exes
It makes sense that after the demise of a relationship, you may still want to keep your ex in your life. Putting the kibosh on the romantic side of things doesn't automatically mean you hate each other, after all. "If you've gone through a certain part of your life with a particular person, you have a shared history," says Jane Greer, Ph.D., New York-based relationship expert and author of . "The connection with your ex also keeps you connected to certain highlights and significant times, and that's very meaningful."
Beyond that, a breakup might throw you for a loop because you suddenly lose your biggest support system. "This person is often your closest companion," says Stephen Snyder, M.D., a New York City-based sex and relationship therapist. "If you lose the relationship, you can also lose a big part of your social world." So yeah, staying pals can seem preferable to losing your BF and your BFF in one fell swoop.
With that said, there's a difference between having a friendly chat every so often and texting him good morning each a.m. Here's what each stage of being chummy with an ex means about you (and your new relationship, if you're in one!).
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Wishing Him a Happy Birthday
"A superficial friendship is fine," says Snyder. Basically, this one is NBD because it's about as innocent as it gets. "It’s a way to let him know you still think of him, you acknowledge him, and you remember this important date," says Greer. At the same time, if that's the extent of your interaction, it's also a way of subtly asserting that he's no longer that all-important someone special. This applies whether you're single or in a relationship, and it's generally a healthy level of interaction.
Sending Him Links to Articles He'd Love
This is where things can potentially start to get dicey. On the one hand, maybe your ex fills a very specific conversational void in your life. "If you shared a particular interest like being chess players and no one else in your world was into it, it's no different than having a platonic friend with whom you share a hobby," says Greer.
You can keep this up when you're in a new relationship as long as you're open about it to the new guy in your life. Of course, issues might arise. "Feelings of jealousy are normal, and it's best if you can talk about them. If the new person in your life is jealous of your friendship with your ex, I think you want to make a reasonable effort to make them less jealous," says Snyder. If you can make accommodations for your new dude's emotions without feeling like you're giving up something precious, that can be a loving, considerate thing to do. If after doing that, your new guy still pushes for you to make sacrifices you're not okay with, he might be crossing unhealthy boundaries.
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So how do you know reaching out about random things is your brain's sneaky way of keeping things open to a romantic reunion down the line? "If you're waiting with bated breath for a response, that's a problem," says Greer. "It should be more that if he gets back to you, it's fine, if he doesn't, that's okay. It's throwing the ball, not looking for it to turn into a came of catch you can carry on."
If you can't stop reaching out about any and everything, be honest with yourself. You might just be finding any excuse to be in touch, which can make it harder to heal. "It probably means you haven't been able to really accept the breakup," says Snyder. "Ask yourself, 'Am I just not yet able to sit with the sadness of the breakup?' What you want to do is experience the sadness, then move through it to a new place." That "new place" is probably full of amazing dates and excitingly different sex, so it's worth it to get there.
Hanging Out Regularly in a Group
If you two are core members of the same friend group, it's pretty wonderful when you can get back to hanging out together sans awkwardness and romantic drama. Your friends will probably appreciate this move, too. "If there are no longer any hard feelings, the foundation of your friendship may be very much intact," says Greer. "Why not hang out?” A red flag here would be if you feel uneasy inviting your new beau to group hangouts. "If you've really moved on, there wouldn't be discomfort bringing your new boyfriend into the picture," says Greer.
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Being Best Friends
If you can't bear the thought of life changing drastically after a breakup, you might continue hanging out one-on-one all the time and relying on each other for everything from belly-bursting laughs to emotional comfort. That may just delay the getting-over-it process. "I usually advise people to make a clean break, then see how they feel several months later," says Snyder. "A person needs time to grieve after the loss of the relationship."
And keeping this type of closeness up when you're in a new relationship isn't the healthiest move, either. "If you're in a new relationship, why aren't you spending all that time and energy on your new partner?" says Greer. "They'll inevitably get jealous, and why wouldn't they?"
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If you happen to be single, staying so wrapped up in your ex is like sending the universe a sign that you’re not open to any new romance. "The point of an ex is that it's over," says Greer. "It's in the past, and you're looking to move into the present." While there's room in there to keep an ex as a friend, make sure he doesn't get in the way of you building a new life for yourself.
Video: Should You Stay Friends With An Ex?
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