The Friendship Doctor

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The Awkwardness of Friendship After Dating

The transition to becoming "just friends" can be a very difficult one.

QUESTION

Hello Dr. Irene,

I really cared a lot about someone whom I dated. After the end of our dating relationship three years ago, I was devastated. However, I was very willing to be his friend. For the last two years, I was doing all of the hard work and effort to maintain this friendship.

Last year, when I was planning to go to visit another good friend in New York, he happened to be going there at the same time. I asked him if we could fly back together. When he told me he really preferred to fly by himself, it felt like a slap in the face because of all the effort I had put into this friendship. So I walked away and hadn’t talked to him for a year. 

Last week, I bumped into him unexpectedly on evening at a social event when I was spending time with my close friends. It was awkward yet a surprise. I extended my hand to shake his, however he transgressed my boundaries by hugging me. I was being nice and respectful even though I did not really like him anymore. He introduced me to his new boyfriend as his friend. I wanted to tell him face to face that we were not friends at all any more but decided to save him this embarrassment in front of his new boyfriend.

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Should I just simply make it clear to him by sending him an email that we actually have nothing in common and that I am not his friend? Or just continue to do my own stuff and not making any contacts to him?

Signed, Darren

 

ANSWER

Hi Darren,

It’s hard to make the transition from dating someone to being “just friends”---especially when one person wants more from the relationship than the other. The transition couldn’t have been easy for either of you.

When your friend turned down your request to fly back from NY together, he clearly signaled he wanted to make a clean break. I’m sure it was difficult for you to accept that he no longer valued even the remaining vestiges of your friendship.

My guess is that he didn’t want to embarrass you, himself, or others at the social event---either by ignoring you or going into the details of your prior relationship. People often use the term “friend” quite loosely; it includes people who are more distant acquaintances. My sense is that his hug was also rather perfunctory, too.

I understand how it might sting to bump into him with another boyfriend. Even though you had moved on, being in that situation can open old wounds. I’m glad you didn’t react instinctively and, instead, are thinking about how to respond, if at all. My opinion: There’s no reason to contact him again. It sounds like this relationship is over for both of you. He’s certainly moved on and seems to show no interest in maintaining a relationship with you.

Hope this helps.

My best, Irene

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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