I was wondering if I could hear advice/multiple perspectives on friendship after breakups. (I would be excited to read the comment section.)
Basically, I feel sad and conflicted about a recent breakup. I’ve noticed that all of my relationships follow an arc where we go from friends to best friends to dating to broken up with and asked if I can still be their friend and I hate it. When we’re friends after the breakup, it’s felt confusing because everything feels the same to me intimacy and connection-wise, minus the fact that we’re no longer having sex. I hate how I feel. I hate how I notice a change in energy where when we were together they were slowing becoming increasingly disinterested and pulling back but now that we’re broken up, if we meet up, there’s a bounce in their step and they are so much brighter and happier and more engaged with me. (I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but it still feels shitty. I’ve tried gently sharing this with my most recent ex but she didn’t want to acknowledge/didn’t understand why I wasn’t happy for her.)
I feel like a bad queer because I’m not good at being friends after breakups.
I know a lot of the expectation/pressure I feel is internal, but I think the idea is so encouraged by my queer POC community and poly friends. Did I mention my ex is a friend of a friend? After the break, we immediately spend months apart to help get over each other but I don’t think it’s enough for me. Does anyone have advice on (friendship) boundary setting with exes after breakups? Can anyone affirm not wanting to be friends after breaking up? This is probably a larger conversation, but does anyone have advice on forgiving an ex after a breakup?
Bad at Being Friends
I am famously against the idea of being friends with exes.
Okay, that’s a little extreme. In reality, I just think that being friends with an ex — as with a lot of things having to do with sex, dating, and relationships — should be approached on a case-by-case basis. The reason why I’m so loudly a proponent of people cutting off their exes is because of what you wrote here: “I feel like a bad queer because I’m not good at being friends after breakups.”
I think it’s very, very easy to internalize the narrative that queer folks stay friends with exes. There are a million memes about people being codependent with their ex-girlfriends. Sometimes, those memes are funny! But as with a lot of humor about stereotypes and expectations about queer life, they can also affect us in deep ways that are difficult to unpack and unlearn! I too have felt actual pressure to stay friends with exes simply because of all the jokes about it.
You write that a lot of your romantic relationships started as friendships. I think that can make things especially hard. I told an ex once that it would not make sense for me to be her friend — firstly because she betrayed my trust as a partner, and that shit doesn’t just magically go away when you break up, but also because we did not have a friendship before we dated. If we were going to pursue a friendship, it would mean building something new entirely. There was no friendship to fall back on.
That said, people can of course choose to build a friendship with someone they’ve dated who they weren’t previously friends with. That’s valid! But I think me pointing out to my ex that we weren’t friends before was easier for her to understand than it is for your exes to understand why you wouldn’t want to be friends. Because in your case, there was a friendship before. So that must mean there’s a friendship to fall back on, right? WRONG!!!! That is what people sometimes do, and it makes things complicated and confusing. In reality, even if you were friends before, after you date someone, breaking up and then returning to friendship also requires work and rebuilding. In most cases, simply defaulting back to the friendship from before doesn’t work — at least not for both people. A new friendship with new boundaries needs to be formed. As a very straightforward example of what I mean: Maybe you and your ex used to talk about the people you’re hooking up with before you dated, and maybe you no longer want to hear about those things after you’ve dated and broken up. Under those circumstances, if you’re both defaulting back to the original friendship, you’re going to wind up hurt and confused.
You write: “I hate how I feel.” This is a rather overt sign that you need to set a firm boundary. If being friends with an ex makes you feel terrible, do not force yourself to be friends with an ex! But even more than that: I hope you can reframe how you think about this choice/boundary and not see it as a failure. My general rule is that if a friendship takes away more from you than it provides, it’s not a friendship worth maintaining. And to me, it seems like the balance is definitely way off in that regard.
You can be happy for an ex and still not want to be their friend. Those are two separate things entirely, so I wish your ex hadn’t conflated them. Because ultimately, if you don’t want to be friends, then it’s not just best for YOU to pull away but also for the ex! Because if you’re forcing yourself to be friends with someone, it’s going to affect your dynamic in small and large ways. It’s not sustainable.
I definitely affirm your desire to not be friends with an ex. And I know I used my own dramatic personal example, but I don’t even think it needs to have been a fraught/dramatic breakup for you to not want to be friends with an ex. Some people just can’t forget about the previous romantic intimacy when they’re around an ex, and that’s fine! It sounds like you at least know about yourself that this boundary is something you want, and that self-awareness is great! Now you just have to give yourself permission to act on it. Also know that you can experiment with different levels of this. You don’t have to cut an ex off right away if you don’t want to. You can try out different boundaries like suggesting you only hang out in groups instead of one-on-one. Then, see how you feel about that and adjust if you need to. It can be a slow fade if that’s what you need.
And to address the last part of your question: I’m also famously anti-forgiving exes. Again, I’m exaggerating! But I do think forgiveness is romanticized. I’ve written about closure and also forgiveness when it comes to breakups before. What I’ve said specifically about forgiveness before I still believe: “I think it gets conflated with the concept of ‘letting go.’ In reality, sometimes realizing that you don’t need to forgive someone is what letting go really looks like.”
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.