• Handling Breakups

Should you stay friends with an ex-boyfriend?

October 17, 2013 | By | 6 Replies Continue Reading
A woman who can’t avoid seeing her ex-boyfriend wants to cut off their friendship

QUESTION

Hi,

I have a problem with an ex-boyfriend who broke up with me over a year ago. He was (by his own admission) a total jerk about it. I realize that it was a very toxic relationship and I should have broken up with him before, but, live and learn.

We’re stuck seeing each other constantly as we have a lot of the same friends. From the start he has wanted to “stay friends” and for all this time I’ve been trying really hard, but I just can’t shake the feeling that this is a bad idea and it’s hurting me.He has insulted at various times my family, friends, and myself and I don’t like it!

I need to get out, but I’ve got no idea how to do it. I can’t avoid seeing him, and I don’t know how to get him to realize that I don’t want to be friends because he is not a nice person. Advice would be awfully nice.

Eva

ANSWER

Hi Eva,

I’m glad you are no longer dating this person! How confusing: He very much wants to be your friend but then insults you and the people you care about.

You mentioned that you’ve tried very hard to make the friendship work. If you two email, talk on the phone, or get together independently of your other friends, it might indeed be hard to break off the friendship. But if by “trying hard” you simply mean that you are friendly and warm toward him in group social settings, then moving the relationship from “exes who are friends” to “exes who are civil toward one another” won’t be very hard at all.

Smile and say “hello” when you see him but don’t ask him questions about himself, and avoid conversations that go beyond superficial chatter. Over time, he’ll get the idea that you don’t want to be close to him, even if you can tolerate spending time with him and mutual friends. If he confronts you, just be honest and say that you tried to keep up a closer friendship, but can’t stay friends with people who insult you and others you care about.

If the former scenario is true, and you’ve been acting more like close friends than people with friends in common, just stop initiating contact. Again, hopefully this will lead to a gentle tapering off of the friendship. If he insists on staying in touch or getting together, say that you’re glad the demise of your romantic relationship didn’t prevent either of you from keeping your mutual friends, but that you don’t think a close friendship with him is possible.

Either way, you don’t have to tell him he’s “not nice.” But if confronted, you could tell him you don’t deserve to be insulted and won’t stand for it anymore. He might be trying to be a nice person, but some of his behavior is clearly mean-spirited and immature. Maybe losing you as a close friend will force him to reexamine this behavior, or maybe it won’t. Either way, you’ll ensure you won’t be a target any longer.

If you need to talk to a friend about him, I suggest picking someone outside of this group of mutual friends, someone who can truly be on your side without torn loyalties.

Sometimes exes can make for great friends since they are people who really know you and care about you, even if long-term romance was not in the cards. But this guy doesn’t deserve your friendship or your love–just the minimal civil attention that will make it possible for you two to be in the same room together.

Best wishes, Carlin Flora

Author of Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are


*Carlin Flora is a friend and colleague of the Friendship Doctor.

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Category: HANDLING BREAKUPS, Relationships with ex-friends

Comments (6)

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  1. Mary says:

    In my opinion it’s selfish for him to want to still be friends. He doesn’t want to look or feel like the bad guy since you guys still roam in the same circles, but it’s really just hurtful and awkward for you to try to maintain a close association with this guy.

    I agree with Carlin that you don’t owe him anything but civility. Be polite, but distant. If you’re at a dinner with friends, sit as far away from him as possible. Don’t go out of your way to talk to him. If he approaches you don’t tell him more about what’s going on in your life than you have to. It’s none of his business!

    Perhaps eventually your hurt feelings will fade and you may, at some point, be able to engage more friendly conversations but that may be years down the road. Or it may be never. Don’t force it. Protect your head and your heart from this guy because he certainly won’t.

  2. Bronwyn says:

    “Over time, he’ll get the idea that you don’t want to be close to him, even if you can tolerate spending time with him and mutual friends.” Says who? People with poor boundaries are often clueless and even when they know their attentions aren’t wanted will often persist, determined to change the other person’s mind. The above assumption is based on the model of a person with highly evolved interpersonal skills. Does that sound like this guy? No.

    I think all the suggestions about keeping contact to a minimum, an d keeping those minimum number of contacts to a minimal length is a good policy to follow.

  3. Alberta says:

    It is not your obligation to be friends, trust your instincts. I have recommened this book before on this site – I’ll recommend it to you – The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker, who shows how manipulations occur,gives insight on why rapport is not always such a good thing with certain types of people – also he talks about following your gut instinct. That you feel stuck shows that he is very controlling because it seems like you feel you can’t get out of a relationship you don’t even have anymore. It seems healthy to put physical distance. As Amy mentioned – Don’t spend any alone time with him – be a busy bee don’t go for coffee or anything like that as you are under no obligation to do so Also to not be under the influence of alcohol/weed etc when around him as that can make you vulnerable in that state. When in public you talk about uninteresing things so he will go chat with others in the group.

  4. Amy says:

    Two words: cordial detachment.

    Your ex doesn’t sound like much of a friend, and it’s probably awkward for you to be around him. Carlin has great advice. You’re probably already doing this, but just in case:
    Keep conversations you have short and polite.
    Avoid sharing feelings and personal info with him and asking him questions that would convey an intimacy you no longer wish to share.
    Don’t initiate calls or text him.
    If he calls say it’s not a good time to chat.

    As Carlin says, find people who don’t know him, if you need to talk about him. It will get easier.

  5. I’ve stayed friends with one old “friend with benefits”. He and his girlfriend at the time we’re invited to my wedding to my current husband. We’re not what I’d call close friends, but we have socialized with our respective spouses (who are aware of the former relationship) and we very occasionally meet for lunch. On the other hand, I have no contact with my former spouse (college boyfriend-short marriage). I’m glad we didn’t have children together, so I didn’t have to maintain a relationship with him for their sake. Bottom line–I think the decision about staying friends should be decided on a case by case basis and should honor the wishes of a current spouse or relationship.

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