Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Can You Ever Be Friends With Your Ex?

After talking with many students and friends over time, a common issue that I find is the difficulty in defining a relationship between two people AFTER a break-up. If you continue to talk to the person, and hanging out tends to become easier and more fun, the relationship seems to head in the direction of friendship. Yet, can you really say that those “other” feelings for this person are completely gone? Does this other person never contemplate “what if” or consider looking at you in a romantic way anymore? While these questions may seem to intrude on a good thing, they always seem to lurk underneath both parties involved. This leads me to what I think is a question most of us have asked ourselves at least once in our lifetime: Can people every really be friends after a break-up?

In many circumstances, romantic relationships are created from a pre-existing friendship. You may have turned to this other person for emotional support in the past, and they always succeeded, knowing exactly the right thing to say at the right moment. You may have shared similar interests and laughed over the same jokes. Flash forward through the realization of possibly being more than friends, the awkward first kiss, the three years of dating, and the awful, heart-wrenching breakup. After time apart, the first post-breakup encounter, you eventually begin to hang out with your ex on civil, and quite possibly, friendly terms. But can you honestly say things are back to the way they used to be? If you had a life-altering decision to make, could you go to your ex again and ask for advice? If the answer is no, then it goes without saying that the friendship just isn’t quite what it used to be.

Yet, after much observation and some personal experience, I’ve grown to learn that it is perfectly okay for the new relationship not to be like the old. That’s what it is: a NEW relationship. If you think about it, it is very rare for any friendship to remain the same over time. People grow up, find new interests, and find new meanings in life. It’s all a part of growing older. So why should we worry and stress over defining a friendship simply because we once were romantically involved with the other person? Yes, you once shared a physical and emotional bond with this person that you may not have had with your other friends, but that is just one block that builds your newfound relationship. Experiences shape us into the people we are today. So why can’t our past relationships shape our new ones?

Take for instance my friend from home. Let’s call her Susan. Susan was engaged to a man for almost a year, when she realized that he was still in love with his high school sweetheart. Of course she was upset after calling off the wedding, so she took about another year to grieve and recuperate. Yet one day, she ran into her ex-fiancé, and decided to go out to lunch with him to catch up on their lives. Now, Susan told me that she considers her ex to be one of her closest friends. They continue to meet for dinner at least 3 times a year and continue to keep one another on their Christmas Card lists. If you ask Susan, giving her ex a shot at friendship was one of the best decisions of her life.

My advice is this: don’t waste the time and energy trying to analyze and tear apart every factor of your friendship with your ex. If the new relationship is working, don’t sabotage it! For those of you who are lucky enough to return to your old friendship prior to the break-up, that’s great for you. But for the rest of us who seem to be in the land of the unknown, we have nothing to sweat over either. Unless your ex confesses his/her undying love for you, there is no need to worry about where your new relationship is heading. Embrace the opportunity to get to know this person again in a new light. You never know, the next conversation with your ex could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

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