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Are LGBTQ+ People More Likely to Stay Friends With Their Exes?

LGBTQ+ individuals may have many motivations for remaining friends with exes.

Key points

  • Media portrayals of LGBTQ relationships often imply that queer people are more likely to remain friends with their exes than heterosexuals.
  • According to research, LGBTQ individuals are more likely to remain friends with ex-partners than non-LGBTQ individuals.
  • Remaining friends with an ex may help to preserve an important source of social support, which may be less replaceable for LGBTQ individuals.

This post was co-authored with Sal Cuthbertson, an undergraduate student at McGill University, and Bre O'Handley, a graduate student at Trent University.

If you turn on nearly any television show or movie with more than one LGBTQ character, the chances are high that you will come across the notion or expectation that LGBTQ individuals are more likely to remain friends with their ex-partners than are heterosexuals. In one episode of the Will & Grace reboot, Grace remarks at the oddity of observing Will cook breakfast for his ex-partner, Vince, who has just shared the news of his engagement: "It always amazes me how gay guys stay friends with all of their exes. I'm not friends with any of mine!" Indeed, the opening of the original version of the L Word played heavily on the notion of connections between ex-partners, depicting a visual representation of the "web of connections" that existed within the lesbian community: Nearly everyone was connected to each other through the vast network of ex-romantic partners and continuing friendships. But how much actual truth is there to this stereotype? Are LGBTQ+ people really more likely to remain friends with their exes after a breakup, and if so, why?

Friendships After Breakups

While many may believe that the entire point of a romantic break-up is to cease contact with the other person and to be anything but friends, for some, ex-partners make the best of friends. There are many reasons why people remain friends with their exes. For one, ex-partners may be particularly well-suited to become friends given their in-depth knowledge of each other, shared memories, and inside jokes. Despite this, for some, the notion of remaining friends with an ex can feel as though such a friendship would never be authentic or genuine. The use of cliches, such as "let's just be friends" during the breakup process itself can give the sense that any consideration of friendship is disingenuous and simply made as an offering to reduce the blow of the breakup. Alternatively, seeking friendship with an ex may be seen as suspect, with forays into friendship truly being lightly disguised segues back into a sexual relationship, whether casual or more permanent. And while an ex-partner may know you well, perhaps that does not mean they will be a great friend—after all, the romantic relationship likely ended for good reasons.

Is Friendship with Exes Different for LGBTQ+ Individuals?

If the media portrayals are even remotely accurate, we might expect that LGBTQ+ individuals will be an exception to such contrived notions of friendship after a romantic relationship. In 2017, researchers attempted to explore the veracity of the stereotype that suggests that LGBTQ individuals will be more likely to remain friends with their ex-partners. Griffith and colleagues published their paper in Personal Relationships and reported that not only were their LGBTQ+ participants more likely to have a current friendship with an ex than their heterosexual participants, but they also reported having more of these friendships, on average and across their lifetimes than their heterosexual counterparts.

Roman Odintsov, Pexels
Source: Roman Odintsov, Pexels

Why Is Friendship Among Ex-LGBTQ+ Partners More Common?

According to Griffith et al.'s study, LGBTQ+ individuals place a unique degree of importance on retaining the emotional support, advice, trust, and shared memories of their ex-partners. LGBTQ+ participants were also more likely to go out of their way to maintain a relationship with an ex-partner than were their heterosexual counterparts, further underscoring the importance placed on such friendships. The authors suggested that the continuation of such relationships in the form of platonic friendships may help to preserve access to social support and security. Given that LGBTQ+ individuals often report lower levels of social support from their social networks than heterosexual individuals, it may be that any relationship with another LGBTQ+ individual becomes more greatly valued, thus making it more challenging—or wasteful—to discard ex-partners completely without attempting to forge a friendship in place of the previous romantic relationship. Indeed, other research has frequently commented on the importance of "chosen family" for LGBTQ+ individuals when it comes to building supportive networks of friends who make up for absent forms of familial support.

Remaining Questions

While we now know that LGBTQ+ individuals are, indeed, more likely to remain friends with their exes, there are still many unanswered questions. Are such friendships more common among gay men than they are among lesbians or vice versa? Are bisexual individuals equally likely to remain friends with their exes, and are they more or less likely to remain friends with ex-partners of the same or different genders? Do patterns observed among individuals in same-sex relationships replicate in gender-diverse relationships, leading trans, non-binary, and other gender-diverse individuals to also be more likely to remain friends with their ex-romantic partners? Are there specific factors that influence whether or not ex-partners remain friends with each other that are unique to different sexual or gender identities? For example, when transgender individuals experience a gender transition within a relationship that subsequently ends, what factors predict whether they remain friends with their ex-partner or not?

To answer some of these questions, researchers at Trent University are conducting a new study on friendships between ex-partners. With such research underway, hopefully, we will soon have new answers to some of these unanswered questions. If you'd like to participate in future research on this topic, please click here to learn more.

References

Griffith, R. L., Gillath, O., Zhao, X., & Martinez, R. (2017). Staying friends with ex-romantic partners: Predictors, reasons, and outcomes. Personal Relationships, 24(3), 550–584. https://doi.org/10.1111/pere.12197

Blair, K. L., & Pukall, C. F. (2015). Family matters, but sometimes chosen family matters more: Perceived social network influence in the dating decisions of same-and mixed-sex couples. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 24(3), 257-270.

Blair, K. L., Holmberg, D., & Pukall, C. F. (2018). Support processes in same‐and mixed‐sex relationships: Type and source matters. Personal Relationships, 25(3), 374-393.

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