Reader Says: Ack! Ex Wants To Be Friends! What Now?

I had a letter from a reader a bit ago and I’ve neglected to respond to her until now (my apologies) thanks to the whirlwind of acclimatizing to my new job.

She said:

I have a question. My boyfriend of [several] months just broke up with me [recently] because he said he need time and to be by himself. However he still wants to be friends. I asked him to clarify friends and he actually means friends, no sex. So [a few days later] he has texted me repeatedly, already trying to be my friend. I am angry at him right now because we had a good relationship and I can honestly say I had no idea it was coming, but that being said I think he’s a great person and would like for him to stay in my life. Still reeling from the breakup and a little confused, what’s your take on the situation?

As is always the case, specifics have been changed so the reader doesn’t find her ass in a sling when someone she knows reads it.

Now, to the question. Friends are great, but being friends with ex-lovers is a hard thing to pull off. The transition is a real doozey emotionally and logistically.

There’s the old ‘60s song “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” in which it goes “You say although we broke up, you still just wanna be friends, but how can we still be friends when seeing you only breaks my heart again?”

These songs play so much, so often, so repeatedly that the lyrics just seem trite and overdone as time passes, but it’s cliché because it’s so damned true.

We want to think breakups are easy and life goes on, but the reality is that “Broken Heart Syndrome” is a bona fide medical term. It comes from sudden loss or trauma – be it the death of a loved one, the loss of a valued job, or a breakup, or more. These things have one hell of a cardiac impact, and to belittle how hard it is to transition is just ridiculous. It’s proof positive that our emotions can, and do, impact our physical well-being to the point that death is conceivable.

(Those suffering BHS can actually die of what is essentially a heart attack brought on by emotional trauma. Those suffering the “heart attacks” get admitted and treated as any cardiac attack victim would be, then are released 24 hours later or longer, often in fine shape.)

If you can’t handle being friends, you need to say so. If being friends down the line is something you want but the present isn’t working for you, then you need to say so.

He’s the one that ended the relationship, so you have nothing to feel guilty about. He’s getting what he asked for in the first place. You can’t ask for time and space, then negate that by drawing the person closer after the pieces fall, y’know?

Maybe it’s just because I’m a chick, but I find that guys doing the dumping always want to be friends because it takes the edge off their guilt or something. Sure, I’m a great friend to have and a good person to know, but the cynic in me makes me wonder if it’s just so they can sleep a little better at night under the impression that they didn’t hurt me and they didn’t blow a good thing. And while I’m sure that’s sometimes the case, I know it’s not always.

In the end, your life is all about you. Yes, other people make it richer, but sometimes they make it harder. You never saw this coming and he gave you no inkling that it was looming, and that sucks. Maybe it’s a phase. Maybe he really does need time and space, but if that’s the case, make him take it. You wanted space, bub? You got it. Issue an emotional restraining order and protect yourself.

I’ve made the mistake of going “on a break” and trying to keep things open with a lover. I’ve also made the mistake of thinking friendship was a switch that could be flicked on without a second thought. I was wrong on both counts. It’s hard. It takes work. It takes being ready to let go of what was and accepting instead what is.

When your lover wants “space” and “time”, then make them take it. They can never long for what’s sitting right beside them, y’know? I think the whole “I need space” thing followed by “be my friend now” tends to come from a place of fear that maybe, just maybe, they’ve made a colossal mistake. Unfortunately, by enabling that need to have you around just in case it was all a mistake, you’re helping them to settle for the new lesser you.

And who knows, maybe friendship’s what you’ve really been destined for all along. Maybe it’s worth all the confusion and recalibrating of your heart to have that friendship. Only you will ever know. I don’t think being friends with exes is a bad thing, not in the least. You just gotta be ready for it, and you, honey, ain’t.

All I know is, the next time a man of mine wants space, he’s getting it. I’ll walk away until I’m called for, and then I’ll take my sweet-ass time returning, but I’m not going to sit around and pretend everything’s just fine. The last time I did, all the hurts I suffered were my own. I blame myself because I knew I should’ve been stronger and just walked away and let it all just be, and I didn’t, and the price I paid was high.

Don’t underestimate the pain of a breakup, and don’t let anyone tell you to get over it. Your heart will know when it’s time to walk on, and them joes on the street just don’t know jack, hon. Good luck with that, and I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you needed it. I was busy being there for myself, instead. Perhaps that’s a behaviour model for you to learn from.

But what say you,
my fine folk?
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