RE­LA­TION­SHIPS Be­ing friends with an ex.


In the Moment - - Contents -

On a num­ber of oc­ca­sions, I’ve sat with friends and clients as their ngers hov­ered over the delete/block func­tion on their phones. Mouths dry, palms clammy – gen­uine anx­i­ety gripped them. “What if I hurt their feel­ings? What if they think I’m a ‘bad per­son’? Agh!” Now, it’s not as if they were with­out rea­son: they were sev­er­ing ties with some­one, who had at one point meant very much to them, for the sake of their emo­tional, men­tal and phys­i­cal well­be­ing and the health of their fu­ture re­la­tion­ships.

We can un­doubt­edly re­main friends with an ex with whom we share a gen­uine mu­tual friend­ship; one that is out in the open, bound­aried, and a valu­able ad­di­tion to our life, and that also doesn’t en­croach on our dat­ing fu­ture. But what we can’t do is cling on to a friend­ship with an ex as a means of liv­ing in the past or avoid­ing mov­ing on.

Hold­ing on to exes, no mat­ter how ten­u­ous the link or how un­work­able the sit­u­a­tion, is all about val­i­da­tion. It feels like con rma­tion that we’re ‘good enough’ to be kept in their life in some ca­pac­ity, and it’s also so­cial proof that we are worth keep­ing around: ‘I’m some­one whose exes want me to re­main in their life’. But what we, or our exes, aren’t al­ways com­fort­able ad­mit­ting is that hold­ing on is a way of avoid­ing things. Per­haps that we set­tled for less than what we need, that we didn’t treat our part­ner with the love, trust or re­spect they de­served, or that we’re not truly fac­ing up to our­selves.

The peo­ple pleasers amongst us, who ne­glect our­selves to cater to ev­ery­one else – our exes see us com­ing. We con­tinue to be ‘nice’ even though our gut might burn with hurt and re­sent­ment at be­ing taken ad­van­tage of. We hope that, one day, they’ll re­alise what a ter­ri­ble mis­take they’ve made, and move heaven and earth to make things right. In­stead, af­ter do­ing their laun­dry, help­ing them move, writ­ing their CV, or sleep­ing with them ‘with­out ex­pec­ta­tions’, they sheep­ishly drop it into the con­ver­sa­tion that they’ve met some­one. Cue heart­break.

Be­ing po­lite, wor­ried about hurt­ing feel­ings, or even afraid that we’ve missed the memo that some­one we went on a cou­ple of dates with could be The One means that we might be in touch with nu­mer­ous peo­ple who pop in and out of our life. I once helped a client delete and block 37 con­tacts. Farewell anx­i­ety and shame, good­bye be­ing treated like a pop-up en­ter­tain­ment cen­tre, and hello to space for her to lis­ten to her needs and pur­sue her de­sires.

In an age where break­ing up now in­volves cut­ting ties across mul­ti­ple plat­forms, we’re caught be­tween a rock and a hard place. Pre-in­ter­net, we could save face and pre­tend to be cool with our ex with­out hav­ing to in­ter­act or be­ing privy to the minu­tiae of their life. We had to put on a trench­coat and wig and hide be­hind lamp­posts! Now we can lose signi cant chunks of our time pas­sively track­ing them on­line, or nd them pop­ping up on our feeds just when we’d started to move on.

Gen­uine friend­ship be­tween exes can, of course, hap­pen. Of­ten this stems from a prior as­so­ci­a­tion, or be­cause through their ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship, they both recog­nised that they were bet­ter as friends and har­bour no ro­man­tic feel­ings.

There isn’t the over­hang that ex­ists in all the other sit­u­a­tions as a re­sult of one or both par­ties hav­ing hid­den agen­das. But when we’re not be­ing truth­ful with our­selves about why we’re do­ing it, friend­ship with an ex is a ve­hi­cle for au­di­tion­ing for our old role. Try­ing to have him/her on some terms rather than none fos­ters a sense of ne­glect and feel­ing un­der­val­ued. Some­times we don’t even want them back – we want to win. And some­times, we quite sim­ply don’t want to deal with any and all feel­ings to do with loss, dis­ap­point­ment and re­jec­tion. We avoid feel­ing ‘too much’.

But at what price does this kind of friend­ship come? For starters, it takes up emo­tional, men­tal, phys­i­cal and spir­i­tual space in our life. And if the way in which we re­late to an ex is un­healthy to our sense of self, is caus­ing us to numb or es­cape feel­ings, or is de­lay­ing tak­ing the next step, it’s too high a price to pay. We’re also de­lay­ing the in­evitable: ac­cept­ing that it’s over and the rea­sons why. This blocks us from us­ing what we’ve learned from this ex­pe­ri­ence to make bet­ter choices in our fu­ture re­la­tion­ships.

When it comes to an ex, we need to ask our­selves where they’re go­ing to t into our fu­ture (and us in theirs). We can’t take ‘ev­ery­thing’ with us, and so part of the jour­ney of life is learn­ing to let go when we need to so that we can make space to lis­ten and feel, and for the re­la­tion­ships, op­por­tu­ni­ties and things we de­sire. Let­ting go doesn’t mean that the re­la­tion­ship was a waste or that we’re a ‘bad’ per­son; it just means that it’s time to move for­ward with love.

NATALIE LUE has been writ­ing her blog www.bag­gagere­ for 12 years and is the au­thor of five books aimed at help­ing peo­ple pleasers and over­achiev­ers to break un­healthy re­la­tion­ship pat­terns and harm­ful habits. Fol­low her on In­sta @natlue

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