You Need Help: My First Girlfriend Broke Up With Me — Can We Be Friends?

Q:

My girlfriend of a year and a half broke up with me. She was my first girlfriend and my first queer relationship. Things have been hard for a while and while I see the ways we’re incompatible, I wanted to keep trying and I never would’ve ended it, even when we maybe should’ve ended it a while ago.

She’s my best friend, and she wants to keep being friends and supporting one another after we take some space to heal. I don’t want to lose her, but the thought of being just friends breaks my heart. And it will break it even more to see her moving on and having a happy life without me, even though I want her to be happy. I never thought I could be friends with an ex, it all seems too scary and jealousy inducing. But I want to try for her. How can we be friends when we’ve been so much more?

A:

I am so sorry about your breakup. I say it all the time, but it’s true: Breakups suck. You probably feel incredibly lonely right now, but I assure you, you’re not alone.

I know it’s probably difficult for you to see this now, but it sounds like the relationship’s end was not only inevitable but also a good thing in the long-run. You say yourself you can see all the ways you were incompatible. You say you would have kept trying even when it “maybe should’ve ended a while ago.” Sometimes, relationships are just not good fits. I think you should listen to your instincts here. If you’re going through the immense pain of a breakup and still able to see the incompatibility, it makes me think we’re not talking about small things here but rather fundamental flaws in the relationship. In my experience, while relationships do take work, that doesn’t mean it should always feel like a struggle. People tend to stay in relationships even when there are major issues, because the pain of a breakup seems somehow worse. But if you had stayed with your girlfriend and these problems indeed turned out to be insurmountable, you would have been delaying the inevitable, and you both likely would have ended up even more hurt in the end.

Just because you’ve broken up does not undo any of the good this relationship provided. Not every relationship is meant to last, and just because it ended doesn’t mean you didn’t learn and grow from it. Breakups don’t mean failures. And breakups don’t erase the relationship. Breakups don’t negate any of the happy memories or the work we do on ourselves in those relationships. She was your first queer relationship, and I think for that reason especially, she’ll always have a special place in your heart. And that’s okay! It’s possible to move on from a relationship but still honor it and carry it with you.

Now, as for the friendship part. If it feels impossible to be friends with your ex right now, it’s probably impossible to be friends with your ex right now. Take the space to heal that she’s offering. She might be ready to pursue friendships quicker than you, but you have to wait until you’re ready — with the understanding you might never be. I do tend to think that so long as a breakup is somewhat amicable (even though you clearly did not want to breakup, it doesn’t sound like there’s any animosity between you and your ex), it’s totally possible to be friends after some time apart. But you also don’t have to put pressure on yourself to make it work right away.

Take the space for real. Do not default to old patterns. That can be hard, especially since you consider her your best friend! If you see a meme that reminds you of her, don’t text her about it. Instead, pivot to journaling or text a different friend. If you take genuine, intentional space from your ex for a period of time and then realize your feelings are starting to shift (you don’t feel jealous; you’re able to think about her outside of the context of the breakup; etc), then you can try to build the friendship.

And I really encourage you to think of it as a building process. The friendship should look and feel different than the relationship. Set clear boundaries and ask about hers. It might not be seamless at first. If you find yourself becoming jealous, pay attention to your feelings and see if you can work through it. Don’t rely on her to do that emotional work with you. Don’t try to process the breakup. To really make the friendship work, you have to move forward together and explore new territory together. It’s possible some of your incompatibilities in a relationship would extend to friendship. Or it’s possible you’re much more compatible as friends! Understand you can change your mind about friendship at any time if it feels too painful. Just as with relationships, there’s room for flaws and conflict in friendships, but they should not feel like they take more from you than they provide.

Shift some of your thinking. Instead of thinking she’s “moving on and having a happy life without me,” tell yourself you’re both taking time to heal and both have the chance to pursue happiness outside of the context of each other. Again, the breakup doesn’t negate the relationship. You will both likely miss each other, and if she starts dating someone new or making new choices in her life, it doesn’t mean you weren’t enough or that you didn’t also make her happy at some point. Focus less on what she’s doing and more on what you’re doing. What have you done to take care of yourself during this painful time? Who can you reach out to support other than her?

The biggest thing for you to focus on right now is just time and space. You won’t know for sure if you really want a friendship with your ex until you reset and focus on yourself. It sounds like this breakup is way too fresh to rush a friendship. Instead, try to find some things that bring you happiness that have nothing to do with your ex. Remind yourself you won’t always feel this way, because I promise you won’t always feel this way. It may be hard to see it until you have more distance, but it does sound like this breakup was the right thing for both of you.

Check out the Autostraddle breakups section if it will help you feel a little less alone <3


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 308 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. As the one who wanted the relationship to continue or was at least trying to keep it going (I so feel you), I recommend you set a time limit where you won’t be in contact with her – like 2 months or more – so you can process on your own with other friends.

    As the no contact time ends, honestly reevaluate if you’re ready to start a friendship- only relationship with her. If you’re not, the extend it.

    Keep in mind you’re in different places. She determined that there was enough incompatibility to breakup with you and then worked up the nerve to do. She’s had more time to process than you. You need to give yourself that time away from her.

    If you remain best friends and she is still your go to person, it will be very hard for you to move on. I believe people need the time apart (with the friendship on hold not being nourished) before exes can become friend (unless it was a mutual breakup of drifting apart which is not what you described).

  2. I felt this way when my relationship with my first girlfriend ended, and Kayla’s advice is really sound. I can also definitely say in retrospect that the breakup was a good thing, even though it didn’t feel like it at the time. You can and will move on to better things eventually.

  3. I knew it was time when my ex broke up with me. It had been almost 2 years and I was the lesbian that was in a relationship with the still married late in life lesbian, that was going through the hetero divorce, with a child, while navigating a new life, home, pandemic, coming out and co-parenting.
    This woman was very honest from day one. I knew she had to grieve and that process is messy and unpredictable but necessary. I didn’t have a desire to fix her, but I did want whatever time we had together to be a good experience where she could be seen and enjoy being in her own body. She was very easy to love and the sex, even when it wasn’t convenient, was connective in a way I didn’t and still do not wholly understand.
    It was a different relationship than any I had before. I had never experienced anything like this, more distance and seeing very little of her over the two years. But it was a good lesson in communication, boundaries and what could be for future relationships.

    I knew our current time together was coming to an end because it was a part of our reality and I couldn’t be moved up on her list of priorities, as my minimal time with her as it was, was becoming a burden. I didn’t want to and couldn’t continue to be that. I appreciated her honesty.
    If one day she showed up back in my life and we were on the same page, I would gladly take to enjoying her company in a friendship or relationship once again.
    I love and care about her but I understand that her needs, time and space were imperative as mine were becoming greater.

    The vulnerability was hard but knowing at the start of it all out time together (not necessarily a relationship) could be for a reason, season or lifetime, really helped. The best things in life are not always meant to be forever, as each moment, good or bad, is temporary.

    She is a beautiful soul with a kind and loving heart and she will, one day, love herself the way she deserves. She will find what she is looking for and someone will love and respect her for the authentic woman that she is becoming on this journey.

    It is worth the wait if you ever become friends. Grieve and move on but if it was meant to be, it will be in time.

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