“Just Friends” –Frank Sinatra
"Just friends, lovers no more.
Just friends but not like before.
To think of what we’ve been.
And not to kiss again.
Seems like pretending
It isn’t the ending
Two friends drifting apart.
Two friends but one broken heart.
We loved, we laughed, we cried.
Then suddenly love died.
The story ends and we’re just friends …”
Many of us have been there.
Ending a romantic relationship amidst deep feelings, fears, even tears.
Growing apart, yet drawn together. Making promises we hope we can keep.
“I still care about you. Let’s try to stay friends.”
But is it really possible?
Yes, it can be … in some instances. But it can be tricky. If this new friendship is going to have a chance to work, both “friends” would need to get really clear about why they want to be friends and what they want out of the friendship.
The potential to be friends is also likely to depend on how the break occurred: was it an amicable separation (often easier to “just be friends”), or was it a bitter split—an affair, or betrayal (typically a lot tougher to build a bridge to friendship)?
One of the best ways to begin to approach this? Some soul-searching can be a good start.
Asking yourself these questions can be useful to figure out why you want your ex to stay in your life.
Is it because …
• I feel guilty about breaking up (and I want to soften the blow)?
• I don’t want to feel like a failure (so I’ll turn the failed relationship into a friendship)?
• I’m afraid I won’t find love again (and something is better than nothing)?
• I’m waiting to fall in love with someone else (but don’t want to be alone, until then)?
• (The blank space below can be filled in with a response.)
If you want to go a bit deeper, you might ask yourself, with total honesty, what you want out of this friendship.
Do I want …
• Emotional support (my ex knows me better than anyone else)?
• A chance of reuniting (deep down, still hoping we’ll get back together)?
• A best friend (because I don’t feel like I have anybody else)?
• (The blank below can be filled in with a response.)
As you answer each question, it can be helpful to pay attention to whether your answers seem to be based on need or preference.
Friendships based on need—“There’s a hole in my life without you! Don’t leave me!”—are not healthy, for either person.
Friendships based on preference—“I respect you and you’ve been a positive influence in my life. We’ve both changed, but my preference is that you stay in my world”—tend to have a better chance at success.
A few more things that can be useful to keep in mind:
To “just be friends” with an ex, it's important to make sure that there are no romantic feelings (or feelings of hurt and resentment) lurking in the background.
The boundaries between friendship and romance would also need to be clear—with a frank conversation about what’s appropriate and what’s not, and the timing that feels right. (More on that, later in this article series.)
Otherwise, a caring gesture of friendship—a phone call after a rough day, or a gentle shoulder-squeeze of comfort—could be mistaken as “something more.” Which can fling open to doors to … “a lot more.” As in, sex that leads nowhere, leaving both “friends” unsettled and uneasy.
One last question to possibly ask yourself. And it’s a big one:
• At some point, my ex might enter into another romantic relationship. Am I OK with being their friend—celebrating with them, hearing the happy details—through that experience of new love?
If your answer is, “Absolutely not, I don’t want to know anything about it!”, this might cause you to conclude that it would be a challenge, right now, to offer unconditional friendship. That’s OK. What matters is being honest about this with yourself and your former partner. You’re both likely to be happier and healthier for it.
The next installment in this four-part series will cover another important question: How quickly is too quickly to become “just friends” with your ex?
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Contact your qualified provider before implementing or modifying any personal growth or wellness program or technique, and with questions about your well-being.
Copyright ©2019 Dr. Suzanne Gelb, Ph.D., JD. All rights reserved.