You Need Help: I’m Not Sure I Want To Be Friends With My Ex

Q:

Hi there, 

I’ve been feeling pretty guilty, because I know us queer people pride ourselves on becoming friends with our exes…but I’m not sure I’m interested in this specific relationship without the intimacy of dating.

So I started dating this person last summer, and we had a pretty great time with it. I felt like we were moving not too fast, not too slow. But also, we were having a lot of sex; not to often, but enough that it shaped the relationship. I liked getting to know them but I have to admit that the physical intimacy (it’s been pretty rare in my life) was a good part of it, and there were a lot of great convos around sex.

Over a month ago, they came to me and said they didn’t want to have sex anymore, and to sum it up, wanted to start being friends (we were never really friends in the first place). It was not necessarily easy for me, but I wanted to respect their decision and give friendship a shot, so we kept spending a lot of time together, sleeping (actually sleeping) together and doing all sorts of activities. The problem is that recently I’ve realised it wasn’t working out for me. I still feel that I want something romantic with them, and I can’t seem to be satisfied with being friends. Also I’ve realized this person seems to mostly show their vulnerability during sex and is very hard to access emotionally outside of it. I feel disconnected from them and mostly sad, sometimes frustrated. I’ve tried to talk to them about it but they kept saying that they didn’t think about it, and everything felt fine.

I don’t know if this a good idea to keep trying, or is it okay to recognize that we worked as lovers but not as friends…or should I just take some distance and see how things change?

A:

Queer culture all around us tells us we can be friends with our exes. For some people, this transition from whatever it was (romantic, sexual, etc.) to friends is pretty simple. That has never been the case for me, and I’m here to assure you that you don’t need to be friends with your ex. I’m not friends with a single one of my exes. While I admit that sometimes I’m jealous of folks who can stay platonically close to people they’ve dated, I look back on how all my relationships ended and can rest in knowing that person is out of my life for a reason. I realize my opinion is in the minority, but I’ll always stand behind folks who want to end relationships for good.

It’s particularly difficult to maintain a friendship with someone you have feelings for or someone whose intentions are mismatched from yours. From how you’re describing the nature of your relationship, it sounds like you had a great sexual connection. You found someone you had natural chemistry with and could talk to about any sex questions. I might be off base here, but I get the sense that these sexual feelings translated into romantic feelings for you…which is totally fine! What I’m noticing here is that this may not have happened for your partner. While I certainly can’t speak for this other person, the way you’re framing their reason for wanting to be friends makes me think that they consider your relationship mostly sexual. Many people enter into various types of dating/sex/situationships for different reasons, and it can be tricky when you and the person you’re in it with want different things. Even if you just enjoyed the sex and wanted it to stay slightly sexual/slightly romantic, this person wants sex or friends, nothing in between. Just like some people can be friends with exes, some people can have relationship dynamics that are just friends who have sex occasionally.

You mentioned your ex/friend mostly shows their vulnerability during sex “and is very hard to access emotionally outside of it.” They sound somewhat emotionally unavailable, especially since their response to you wanting to talk is “everything is fine.” Everything is not fine for you, and a friend with good intentions would respect your relationship enough to enter into this dialogue. Maybe they’re not ready to do this, and that’s okay, too. If they aren’t ready to even enter into an intimate platonic conversation, it makes me question if you’ll ever feel satisfied in any type of relationship with them.

You’re asking all the right questions; Should I keep trying? Should I accept closure? Should I wait it out and see how things change? I’m not going to tell you what to do. Only you will know what feels good in your body. Maybe get curious about how this is all making you feel. How is your body responding to to being just friends? Do you feel any sense of relief when you think about ending things for good? Do you feel like you want to gift them your patience while they figure things out? Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to lean into your gut feeling. As someone who puts off making decisions so much that the decision is often made for me, I can assure you that even if you wait for something to happen, that is a decision as well. Mull over how each of these options affect you and remember you deserve the love and time you’re willing to give to others.


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

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Em Win

Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Em now lives in Los Angeles where she does many odd jobs in addition to writing. When she's not sending 7-minute voice messages to friends and family, she enjoys swimming, yoga, candle-making, tarot, drag, and talking about the Enneagram.

Em has written 66 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. I’m a lesbian and I’m not good friends with any of my exes. This is not even by decision, or because things ended poorly between us. We literally just grew apart. There was no friendship left to grow because we realised through dating that we were completely different people.

    I completely understand people who want to remain friends with their exes who were together for years and broke up amicably. Many people go through trauma, grief, loss etc. during relationships and their partner was there for them through thick and thin. That’s not something you let go if it’s healthy.

    However, I am always, always, suspicious of those who keep around exes who were short flings and situationships. There’s almost zero foundation set to cultivate and tend to in the long term because most, if not all, of the relationship was based around casual sex and something that fizzled out rapidly.

    So to the girl who wrote in, I give you 2 pieces of advice.

    Do it because your brain tells you, not your heart. If your brain is telling you to keep this person around who absolutely wanted no strings attached sex, then so be it. But something tells me it isn’t and will damage you long term.

    Remaining friends with this ex could potentially sabotage your chances at finding the right match for you because you’ll remain hyper focused on her and her life instead of focusing on your own.

    Like in 500 days of Summer. Autumn is there in the background the whole time and Tom doesn’t catch her once because he’s so hyper focused on manic pixie dream girl situationship Summer.

    Don’t you ever sell your future happiness down the river for mundane, lukewarm situationships. Life is far too short.

  2. of course it’s fine not to be friends with an ex!

    it’s fine not to be friends with anyone you don’t want to be friends with.

    I think it’s more accepted among queer people that an arbitrary rule of “you *shouldn’t* be friends with any exes,” which can be part of how heterosexuality is currently constructed, is messed up. it stems from the same thing as “men and women can’t be friends,” and is just as incorrect.

    but no one owes anyone else an indefinite continuation of a friendship or romantic relationship or sexual relationship. we owe each other clear communication (if that is safe), avoiding needless or malicious harm, and being respectful of each other’s boundaries, and that’s it.

    it definitely sounds like you don’t want to be friends with this person. and I understand the guilt, because they may be hurt by this. but ending a relationship — and thus hurting someone — is okay. it’s not okay to something that hurts someone else where hurting them is the *goal*. but if someone is hurt as an unavoidable byproduct of being respectful of your own desires and boundaries, that is not unkind or uncaring or inappropriate

  3. As someone who’s extremely good friends with their ex, I’m commenting to tell you that you do not have to be that person yourself and judging by your ex’s behavior around this, you probably shouldn’t.

    My ex and I are friends because we’re really compatible as friends and we like having a friendship with each other, not because that’s what you’re supposed to do with someone you used to date. It’s great that queer people seem to be more open to the idea that friendship with an ex is possible, but you really don’t need to be friends with someone you’re not clicking as friends with. It doesn’t seem like you’d want to be friends with this person if you weren’t exes – they’re emotionally closed off, you have enough of a crush on them that being friends feels like a consolation prize, and they don’t seem to care whether any of this is working for you. I wouldn’t want to be their friend! You don’t have to be their friend, either!

    Another thing: it’s really not a good idea to try to go from a romantic relationship to a friendship without taking a break from each other for a while, unless the breakup is extremely mutual and no one is particularly upset. It’s really hard to be friends when one person wants to undo the breakup and the other person wants to move on from the past romantic relationship still being relevant at all. Often one person wants space, and the other person wants things to be as clingy as they were before. Your feelings might change if you get some distance, but they also might not, and you shouldn’t force yourself to hold out hope that future you will feel differently. If that’s the case, future you can reach out to your ex in the future.

    • I 100% agree with the points – both around friendship and taking a break.

      Hopefully this isn’t conscious on their part but it reads like someone who wants the intimacy of a relationship without opening themselves up emotionally. And that’s fine if it wasn’t for the fact they know how you are feeling and are ignoring it.

      Although queer friendships are famously fuzzy it’s not standard to routinely sleep in a bed with your friends. If one of my friends was doing this with an ex I would assume there were still feelings there Given your recent transition from a relationship it makes sense that this intimacy has confused things for you.

      Equally you say you continue to spend loads of time together – more than with other friends? It all still sounds quite intense.

      Maybe they saw it as friends with benefits and now just minus the benefits. But as you saw it as a relationship just removing sex doesn’t make it a friendship for you- as it’s not like sex is the only difference between friendship and more.

      If you actually want to maintain a friendship here I would make sure they listen to what you need and reduce the intensity of the time you spend together, at least in the short term. If they won’t listen, they aren’t your friend anyway.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!