“Let’s be friends.”
It’s a breakup trope that is meant to lessen the impact of letting someone go, and more often than not it is casually tossed around. But what if you actually mean it? Well, it can happen—with quite a bit of work. One relationship may come to an end for any number of reasons, but that doesn’t mean a successful transition can’t be made towards a new one: a friendship between two people who have known each other intimately and want each other in their lives.
We’ve already learned how to go from friends to lovers, so here’s how it works the other way.
Understand the Big Picture
Not everyone belongs in a monogamous relationship together. Those that do don’t necessarily belong in a monogamous relationship together over a long period of time. Friendships can and often do last much longer, and they change as people do whereas in some relationship it may be hard to evolve. Both parties have to accept the end, and that takes time, but the future can still be bright.
If you want this person in your life, understand you will eventually see them with someone else, and you won’t be doing everything together you once did. You won’t be responsible to each other in the same way you once were. This isn’t someone you’re going to have a casual hookup with and drag around either. This is a friend. One of the many tricky things is you can’t really declare a friendship right from the breakup—it doesn’t happen overnight.
You can’t go from dating to be friends instantly, and you certainly can’t see each other right away. There needs to be a grace period, especially with so many emotions likely running wild, to give time for the past relationship to settle. It could be anywhere from three to six months, depending on the intensity of your time together.
You still need to stay in touch though, initially in the form of notes and messages on special occasions, like birthdays or holidays. And then you drop a figurative line at random with something simple yet genuine like, ‘I hope you’re doing well,’ or ‘I was thinking of you today;’ but do add some specificity, you’re not sending greeting cards.
But not dates. It is of the utmost importance that you don’t recreate your past. No beers right away, have coffee. Plan things during the day time, like lunch or a walk around the city while on a break from work. You’re definitely not calling late at night after a few drinks, and you’re smothering the person with messages so as to lead them on lest risk falling into murky territory and an endlessly confusing cycle. Avoid that which is comfortable and familiar; being friends anew means these old comforts no longer exist.
Accept the Past & Embrace the Weirdness
Things can be awkward during any kind of relationship, and this is no exception. I mean, you’ve seen each other naked. Don’t hide from other people that you two are friends, and be ready to deal with doubters or people who project their own past experiences.
You’re also going to have to be delicate when bringing up the past when you two are together, but you cannot ignore it. You have a history, and while it ended, it didn’t disappear.
Be Honest. And Ask Questions.
This is a given and it should come easier having been close to this person at some point, but understand that feelings will be fluctuating and there is nothing gained from hiding. Ask questions if you are unsure about the comfort levels of some discussion topics, like whether or not you’re dating someone new. You never lie, but again, accept that this is new territory for you both and work to figure it out together.
Eventually, ideally, you will come to a point where the two of you are good friends who have accepted the past and seek not to recreate or repeat it. You are people who genuinely care for one another and embrace that relationships take different shapes and evolve.
Why Do It?
Having someone who has been so close to you in the past as a friend is a rare and invaluable thing. It is also sort of assumed that because you were in a relationship together, there are things you liked about the person and there existed some sort of connection. Breakups don’t mean you’ve wasted time or energy, but it doesn’t mean that the two of you can’t exist together in some form. In my honest experience, past intimate relationships have evolved into varying friendships, from those who are casual acquaintances with whom I check in on, to another who’s transformed into my best friend.
To be able to look back at a relationship relatively fondly, to admit that it eventually didn’t work out, but to know there was a possible friendship is incredibly worthwhile. Plus, if you’re a decent enough guy and this all works out, it doesn’t hurt to have a female friend who can provide a good reference for you when you’re single and looking.
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. You can follow him on Twitter @MrAnthonyWrites
Photo courtesy of flickr.