You Need Help: Should I Go No Contact With My Ex?

Q:

Is there ever a time when it’s not necessary to go “no contact” with an ex right after things end? I spent a few years living with my now-recent-ex (also my first queer relationship! I came out concurrently with beginning to date them) and they broke up with me, namely because they felt we were in different places in life and that our avoidant/anxiously-attached dynamic needed too much repair to be viable as a couple, but they have insisted up and down that they can’t imagine me as “not being a part of their life”. We’ve texted and dm’d due to them initiating every day since the breakup, their things are still in our apartment that I’ve stayed with (they moved back in with relatives a month ago even before figuring out that they wanted us to break up), and they’ve expressed anxiety about my hating them forever and that maybe I just want to be left alone to heal. The thing is: I don’t hate them, I’m just heartbroken and confused because they’ve said a few times since ending it that they miss me and are handling things erratically even though I accepted their ask to split up the second they shared it. By their own admission they’re having a quarter life crisis that needs addressing as a single person even though they still love me and maybe see it for us in the future? And by my own admission I still love them but I can see where they aren’t ready and where we couldn’t have continued on as a couple in the same old pattern, and that if they don’t feel up to working on changing it together then splitting up was necessary.

I can’t tell if I want to be left alone either! I’m not even sure if that would help me heal. It sucks waking up most days waiting to see if that day is the day they finally drop off from hitting me up, but things feel a bit one-sided–they’ll share anecdotes with me about their life now, and I’ll respond without trying to get too involved or overly nosy, but I won’t really share about my life because its been upended and I don’t want to feel their pity about causing that or make it their problem? I don’t know what shape a friendship could take but I want it still I think, it’s just hard to tell what’s doable and what might be delusional–I don’t want to have to miss her any more than I already do.

One of my big hang-ups is having come out later in life and feeling like (outside of my exes friends who will now I’m sure remain her friends only!) I don’t have a big queer community of my own…I don’t really *get* the lesbian gfs to exes that are besties pipeline and I wish I did. My ex and I were friends for years prior to getting together and I’d hate to throw that friendship away even if this relationship broke down in such a brutal, slow-motion fashion. I’m still contending with it all–I think she expected the breakup desire to be mutual but I would’ve been open to working on us in a way she didn’t have energy for. I can’t entirely tell if this push towards friendship and communication from her (now that we’re not partners) is about hoping to be absolved from guilt and if so does that water down the potential for not becoming strangers?

My friends are kind of an even split. Some think my ex just doesn’t want to be the bad guy in this but that they’re being inconsiderate and I should cut them off from access to me (with the exception of the logistics for the impending move). Others sympathize a bit more with why I’m conflicted about just shutting them out but even they’re insistent she and I can’t process our breakup together, which is something I definitely agree on.

What do you think?

A:

I’m an adamant believer that exes don’t HAVE to be friends but also don’t HAVE to be enemies. There are so many different shapes relationships with exes can take; don’t let dominant lesbian discourse trick you! There is no “right” way to do a breakup or to renegotiate what a relationship looks like with an ex! I have never become besties with an ex, but I do have people in my life who have something like that, and good for them. But it all boils down to what you want, what your ex wants, how the breakup went down, and how you’re communicating now. I think there are a lot of layers to your situation with your ex, but I also feel rather strongly that trying to force a friendship right now is not the move.

Now, that can look like “no contact” for a period of time where you actually agree upon a time in the future to reevaluate the “no contact” rule. Or it can look like extremely minimal contact, less than what you currently have. For slightly more ambiguous breakups like yours, I’d definitely encourage a boundary that’s firm without being unmovable. “No contact” doesn’t have to be this big scary thing. But it does sound to me just based on your letter that less contact could be the move if you do want to be able to renegotiate a friendship.

It’s significant to me that you’re not the one to reach out to your ex but always wait for them to reach out first. It also feels like it could ultimately be a really painful pattern for you. I know you care a lot about them, but what are you really getting out of these conversations? It honestly doesn’t sound like the most meaningful connection right now and instead just prolongs your feelings of hurt about the breakup.

Again, no contact doesn’t have to be forever! And it also doesn’t have to be AS extreme as it sounds. But right now, the boundaries between you and your ex feel murky, and I think firming them up will help. For the record, it sounds like you actually have pretty good boundaries! I think you’re making the right move by not sharing too much about yourself right now and also not prying into your ex’s life. I have some concerns, meanwhile, that your ex is bringing up their anxiety about you hating them forever. That isn’t fair to you. And even if you were to choose to not be in contact for a bit or significantly reduce contact or establish that you’d actually like it to only happen on your terms instead of your ex being the first to text, that doesn’t mean you hate them! It just means you need time and space, which most breakups require. It does sound like there could be certain power dynamics at play here, since this was also your first queer relationship. Was it your ex’s? It sounds like she maybe has some guilt around ending things with you when it was your first queer relationship, but again, that’s not your burden to bear. She should be giving you space to heal from your first queer breakup, a famously difficult thing to heal from even when things don’t end super badly!

If you’re feeling heartbroken and confused, that’s a good signal to yourself that you need to step back from them in a real way. It is okay for you to miss them and for them to miss you. But it becomes difficult when you both try to process that together while also still being on very different pages (you were willing to work through things that they were not). Your ex should be talking to her own support system about missing you, not you. You can’t hold that space for them, because you’re also heartbroken. I’m not saying this is what your ex is doing, because they’re not the one writing in, but I do know that sometimes people keep exes on a “backburner.” If your ex is saying they’re going through a quarter life crisis, then it’s possible they’re hoping you’ll still be waiting for them on the other side of that, and that, of course, is not fair to you or even to them.

I do think it’s possible to work toward friendship with your ex — just maybe not right now. Maybe not until their stuff is out of your place and there are some clearer boundaries. Maybe not until after there has been just a little bit of “no contact” so you can figure out what your life looks like without their text check-ins. Then, I think it’ll be easier to work them back into your life after you’ve had that intentional time apart. Friendship won’t happen overnight. I think you both have to understand that even if you were friends before you dated, any friendship you pursue now will look different; that’s just how it works. And while you can take time to grieve the friendship of before as well as the relationship, it doesn’t have to be a totally sad thing. I think if you both want it and it feels good, then you can definitely figure out how to be in each other’s lives again in a new and mutually beneficial way. Right now, it just sounds like they need to figure out what it is they want and what’s causing this quarter life crisis, and you need to heal and take space. Again, it doesn’t have to be an ocean of space. It doesn’t have to be forever. But things sound way too entwined right now, and stepping back doesn’t mean you hate your ex or see them as the villain. In fact, it means you’re actually setting yourself up to have a better path forward for friendship. Take the time to miss her and then see how she fits back into your life.


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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. 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 843 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. I agree.

    In general, I mostly feel that no contact after a breakup is good for both parties to process unless this is a mutual drifting apart and mutual (as in both of you) want to break up.

    In this case specifically, I think the LW should go no contact. Sounds like the ex wants LW to be a good friend, but since the LW didn’t want to break up all these friendship interactions makes LW hope that they can get back together. LW needs to process the breakup, new life post breakup without the ex reaching out everyday.

  2. I also think taking some space and time apart and out of contact (or very minimal contact) is the way to go, and honestly for most exes the only way that forging a new friendship is even possible.

    I have no contact with some exes, am friends and in contact but not close with two others, and extremely close with one of my exes (godparent to her kids! – and we were friends first). But my biggest regret about the breakup with the one I’m close with was how painful a process it was in part because we tried to stay friends and did stay in contact from the get-go immediately after the breakup. If I could go back to my early 20’s self I would tell her to allow for time and space to process, mourn, and heal separately. (I was the one who ended things, and I also was attached to the idea of making it work as friends, but honestly was also just scared of losing completely the person who was one of my closest friends even if I felt we should no longer be together romantically). I am now so grateful that my ex-turned-close friend and I made it through, but I think it would have been a lot less tortuous and healthier if we had given ourselves time apart in the process. As Kayla says, what you decide now in terms of contact needn’t be permanent! You may find your way back to each other as friends over time.

    I also hope you can use this time to make some new connections with other queer people, not necessarily with an eye to sparking a new relationship but to forge some new friendships and cultivate a sense of community independent of your ex and her circle. Hang in there!

    • Seconding this! I also had a big breakup in my 20’s with a friend and wish I’d taken more time and space after the breakup to process feelings and heal separately. I was afraid of losing the friendship forever and pushed myself emotionally into such a stressful place it made things worse before they got better. A little time apart is good.

  3. when I broke up with my ex, I blocked them and we didn’t talk for about a year. we’re sort of friends now and it works pretty well (we pretty much only talk on discord because their personality is super overpowering in person and I like having personal space)

  4. I’ve found it helpful to aim for ‘friendly’ before ‘friends’ and to take some time to define what friendship means to me with that person. What it can look like, what I want, what I need.

    In my situations, I’ve consistently been the one that’s broken up with and both times, the other person has put pressure or expectation to remain close/friends/best friends and each time it’s left me feeling shitty and taken advantage of in a way that’s been hard to understand. The way I look at it now, is that the worse parts of our relationship carried over or extended into our so called friendship. And my inability to identify/communicate my needs and my boundaries paired with the other person’s poor behavior left me miserable in the “friendship” and afraid to walk away from the person or at the very least speak up for myself.

    It can be scary and depressing to go no contact, but another way to look at it is that it’s not necessarily forever and it can lead to having a refreshed and great relationship with the person. For my first ex who was the first person I ever dated and my first queer relationship, we tried friendship too quickly after taking some space and I felt like I was really taken advantage of or taken for granted and so we went no contact for a few years which is wild in retrospect, but it was so so helpful and now we sometimes hang out and it’s different now but so much better.

    The time apart while in no-contact is hard and lonely at first, but then it can lead to a lot of growth and connections in my experience. I made an effort to reach out to friends more and to explore my interests. I learned a lot about myself. Also the gf>ex>besties pipeline can be overrated or toxic or romanticized IMO. Also also, who’s to say that your next ex won’t be your friend post-break up?

    You might not be friends with this ex or all of your exes, or if you are, that friendship might come in years. One thing about the pipeline that’s often not talked about or really understood is how many years it can take to become best friends. Everything takes time.

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