I'm Zachary Zane, a sex writer and ethical manwhore (a fancy way of saying I sleep with a lot of people, and I'm very, very open about it). Over the years, I've had my fair share of sexual experiences, dating and sleeping with hundreds of people of all genders and orientations. In doing so, I've learned a thing or two about navigating issues in the bedroom (and a bunch of other places, TBH). I'm here to answer your most pressing sex questions with thorough, actionable advice that isn't just "communicate with your partner," because you know that already. Ask me anything—literally, anything—and I will gladly Sexplain It.
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Dear Sexplain It,
I recently broke up with my girlfriend of three years. She wanted to stay together, but I felt that our relationship had run its course, in a romantic sense. But, I'd like to stay friends with her. She was this important person in my life, and I think it's silly to never talk again.
We also have the same friend group, and I don't want it to be awkward. We have a "Friendsgiving" coming up, and she'll definitely be there. I obviously know you can stay friends with your exes, but I never have successfully. Any tips for being friends with an ex? I don't know if I should talk to her before Friendsgiving, or give her space, since I was the one who broke up with her. (We haven’t spoken in two weeks.) I really don’t know what to do at all.
— Friends With an Ex
Dear Friends With an Ex,
Good for you for not believing the nonsense that men and women can’t remain friends after a romantic and sexual relationship. It’s complete and utter bullshit.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, I don't recommend that most people stay friends with an ex. I think it really depends on your relationship and how it ended. If you guys were fighting nonstop, constantly jealous, resentful, and had poor communication skills, then don’t be friends with your ex. Those issues will likely continue in your friendship if you haven’t worked on them together. (Also, you can literally be friends with anyone else in the entire world.)
But your case is different. It sounds like you had a loving relationship where you communicated and were kind to each other. While she's probably not thrilled that you broke up with her, in your specific case, yes, I think you can potentially be friends. I think it’s also somewhat imperative, considering you have the same friend group.
You will need to find the balance between communicating, giving space, and being real with yourself about how you’re feeling. I think the most common mistake of trying to remain friends with your ex is trying to become besties too soon.
“Give your ex time to grieve the breakup,” said Jennie Marie Battistin, MA, LMFT, when I showed you her question. “As a general rule for relationships that last about three years, a person may need about a month for every year you dated to heal from a break-up.” Honestly, I’d say three months is the minimum; that seems very soon to me. It has taken me between six months and a year before I could be real friends with my exes, and I wasn’t dating them for nearly as long.
If you reconnect too soon, one of two things could happen. First, “the dreamy thoughts of ‘what if’ can creep back into your mind,” Battistin says. You or your partner might become convinced you should get back together, overlooking the legitimate reasons why you ended things. It can be very uncomfortable if one partner starts having these feelings when the other partner does not—or worse, if you do get back together, only to remember why you broke up in the first place! Second, one or both partner(s) might still have feelings of resentment and anger that seep out, which isn’t good either.
So, I'd generally say take your time before asking to meet up for coffee. Of course, the issue here is that you've both been invited to a Friendsgiving well within the recommended "give each other space" time.
Luckily, you can still be in the same room together while also giving each other “space.” You two should indeed both go to the Friendsgiving, and I would give her a quick text to alert her you will be at the event, but you plan on giving them space. You could say something along the lines of, “Just want to give you a heads up, but I’ll also be at Friendsgiving. I know it’s going to be awkward, but I’ll make sure to give you space so you can enjoy yourself.”
Then, when you see her at the event, “be cordial and say a quick hello,” Battistin says. That’s it! Don't ignore her; that'll make it more awkward (and you'll come off as somewhat rude). But also don't try to catch up or reconnect. Just acknowledge her presence and be respectful.
Once you get through Friendsgiving, give the breakup a few months to settle in. Six months down the line, if you feel like you still want to see her, you can reach out and see if she's up for that coffee.