Can you really be friends with an ex?
This week, our sexpert Olivia Petter answers the age-old question, once and for all
Friday 14 October 2022 By Olivia Petter Illustration by Martina Paukova
There are some questions we will always ask. Who sings that song? Where is the Amazon delivery? What does ‘hmu’ mean? Why are you always tired? How many children does Boris Johnson have?
A common quandary, though, is whether or not you can be friends with an ex. It’s something I’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking about recently: I broke up with my ex five months ago and we share several mutual friends. We also work together. Maintaining a friendship wasn’t just the mature thing to do, it was kind of compulsory.
I’ve always thought there was something incredibly chic about being friends with your exes. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. But it’s a vibe best epitomised by Brad Pitt yelling Jennifer Aniston’s surname at the SAG Awards in 2020. The two actors were married for five years between 2000 and 2005 before a famously dramatic split. And there they were, 15 years on, trading smiles and nicknames as they congratulated each other on their respective awards. It was inspiring, and very cool to say the least.
But beyond the idea of two incredibly hot famous people being friends years after they were together, I think the allure of it has something to do with subverting the script we’ve all been given about relationships. The one that tells us to block, delete, and move on. To put our old lovers in a metaphorical box, seal it with pink superglue, and chuck it into the river of all our romantic failures.
Bringing exes back into our lives as friends feels like forbidden fruit – and I’m always in awe of people who have achieved it. Often, these friendships form years after the relationships have ended, giving both people time to heal from whatever pain they might have caused one another as partners. Because it’s only then, when the dust has cleared, that a new relationship can begin. Of course, the dust doesn’t always clear.
In these instances, being friends with an ex may not be possible. It’s not that there are specific circumstances that render it impossible (look at Brad and Jen), it just depends on how deeply the relationship affected you both emotionally, and how much you’ve personally developed since.
Do you feel at peace with how things ended with your ex? Have you accepted that the romantic side to your relationship has gone? Are you able to leave the past behind? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, then the romantic love you had for one another might just metamorphosize into a platonic one. But if it isn’t, I’d think twice about trying to make it happen.
The last thing you want to do is reignite a toxic relationship, or kid yourself into thinking you’re ready to be friends with someone you still harbour hatred, resentment, or anger towards. Be honest with yourself and find a way to move forward – I’m slowly realising that’s the chicest thing of all.
The quick-fire round
What do I do if I fall in love with someone with a busy career?
I’m assuming you mean that this person isn’t giving you the time and attention you’d like, because a busy career does not stop you from being in a relationship. At least, it shouldn’t. Consider whether or not this person is able to give you what you want and, crucially, what you deserve. Maybe their job means they simply can’t invest much of their attention into a relationship right now. If that’s something you’re comfortable with, fine. If not, you know what to do.
How do you get over a dating app two-month fling? One you weren’t 100% into, but still has you feeling down?
Normalise the pain you feel. Your fling might have been short-lived, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still take an emotional toll. Some of my biggest heartbreaks have been over flings, or crushes that never amounted to anything. Be kind to yourself, and lean on friends and family. You’ll feel better soon, I promise.
If you want to get in touch, please email me at email@example.com. All submissions will remain anonymous.
Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate