Doing the Post-Breakup Dance
It’s over—can you still be friends? Songs, poems, and movie plots hash out this question over and over, and sometimes it seems like a fair option. However, in the real world, unless you have the emotional balance of a Taoist monk, you might want to think about this question very carefully.
That’s not to say that every breakup has to be all-out war. Parents who end their marriage, but who have children to raise, have to find a centered path that allows them to share those children without animosity. Co-workers who, heaven forbid, have an affair and end it must find some middle ground. Either someone has to hit the unemployment lines, or they must at least be civil.
Many couples share close mutual friends. When the breakup comes, it’s not unusual for the friends to sort of choose up sides, hanging with one of the partners and avoiding the other. But it’s not unusual to find friends don’t want to have to choose – they socialize with both and fully expect the couple to keep their cool.
There are all kinds of life situations that put broken couples face-to-face for some event or some period of time, and we all know how difficult that can be. Most of us carry baggage around long after a relationship is finished. Watching an ex flirt, or party, or even just have a terrific time without us can range from distressful to intensely painful. Learning who we are outside the construct of a long-term relationship is a steep curve.
Putting yourself in close proximity to an ex is pretty often not a great idea. There are people who have done it effectively—no harm, no foul. Think of how many couples have reunited after a period of time has gone by. If you feel you’re centered, have strong self-confidence, and your self esteem didn’t suffer from the breakup, remaining casual friends could work.
Think about these things:
1. How much did it hurt to return his or her things after the breakup?
2. Did you keep some of those things because you couldn’t bear to part with them?
3. Do you ask people what your ex is doing, if he or she is dating?
4. Every time your phone rings, do you jump for it, feeling sure it’s him or her deeply regretting the breakup?
If you answered “oh, Lord, yes” to any of those questions, post-breakup friendship is probably not going to make you feel good about yourself and about life in general. In various surveys, most respondents say being friends is not their goal. It’s goodbye, sayonara, see you around. If you have all that energy to attempt a true friendship with an ex, why not devote your energy to building a new and lasting relationship that works for both of you?
I read somewhere that having your ex say, “It’s over, but we can still be friends” is a lot like hearing your mom say, “Your dog is dead, but you can still keep him.” Yes, that puts things in a really harsh light, but reality can be harsh, and is that the reality you truly want?