Why Being 'Just Friends' With An Ex Is Impossible

There's far too much shared history.

Being friends with an ex, flirting Jacob Lund | Shutterstock

Once you have fallen in love with someone, there's a deep caring within you for that other person that will always exist, no matter how the relationship ends. Sometimes we may not want to admit it, but there will often remain a flicker of that love inside.

The phrase "just friends" implies you're able to be friendly with an ex without there being either attraction and desire or conflict and discomfort. But is this a realistic possibility? Can you truly be friends with someone you love?


Well, you're never going to be "just friends" with somebody you had a love relationship with, but you can have a new relationship without a need for it to conflict with you falling in love with someone else.

A lot depends on how a relationship ends. If a guy broke your heart and walked away from you, saying he never wanted to see you again, it's going to be hard to be any kind of friend with that person. In a relationship where trust has been broken, you may need to simply walk away and accept he'll never be a part of your life again — at all. Even if it means that the breakup aftermath will be difficult and painful.


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“This is why we call people exes, I guess — because the paths that cross in the middle end up separating at the end. It's too easy to see an X as a cross-out. It's not, because there's no way to cross out something like that. The X is a diagram of two paths.” ― John Green, Will Grayson, Will Grayson

It's important to give yourself time to grieve the relationship if you were in love. It would be best if you allowed time to examine and reflect on what was good in the relationship so you can move on and heal yourself from the negative aspects of it. Through that process, you can find health and wholeness for yourself, and forgiveness for him and any negativity in the relationship. It doesn't mean you welcome that person back into your life, but you can walk away — comfortable and whole.


What about a relationship that doesn't work out because there's something incompatible about your pairing long-term? Maybe there's too big of an age difference, or one of you wants to be married and the other doesn't. There are many reasons why a strong relationship can end in an overall positive way. There will probably be a period after a breakup where you need time and space away from each other, where you can't be friends at all. The draw of the love that still exists will hopefully draw you back together as special friends.

The danger in being drawn back together as just friends is that if the love remains very strong, you may want to ignore the bigger issues that you broke up over to just fall back into love again, which you remember so fondly. You'll never be able to be "just friends" because there will be too much history there. You must take a break and give your strong daily bond some time to weaken. Hopefully, once you begin seeing each other again in a different context, you can both explore a new, modified type of friendship where you can still enjoy time spent together.

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“Why are old lovers able to become friends? Two reasons. They never truly loved each other, or they love each other still.” ― Whitney Otto, How to Make an American Quilt


It will take a certain kind of new man in your life who will be able to accept you having an ex still in your life. For example, one of my husband's exes was at our wedding, but it took some work on my part to be OK with the idea. 

I remember the evening I accepted there was a special friendship between my husband and his ex. It was early on in our dating relationship; we were supposed to go out one night and my boyfriend asked if it was OK for him to cancel to go see his ex who needed help. I knew she still held space in his heart, but I also knew that he was in love with me now. To be honest, I said I did feel jealous, but I understood.

We had a deep trust established already. I knew this woman was special to him, that she was more than "just a friend," but I knew it didn't mean it was going to take anything away from our relationship. It never did, and my life was made better by having her in it.

A harder type of relationship to maintain after a breakup is one where you still have a strong attraction. If your situations permit it, and you both feel that it can work, you may be able to make a "friends with benefits" situation work. (It probably won't, though.) Many young people have gone through a phase in their lives where those kinds of relationships work. There's a bigger chance of being hurt or for either of you to find it hard to disconnect from the couple you used to be.


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When I think back on all my exes or all the men that I fell in love with — whether it was for a night, a month, or a year — I'm not "just friends" with any of them. Some I have no contact with and will probably never see or hear from ever again, and that's fine. Honestly, it's probably better that way. Some I have fleeting connections with, depending on our closeness and the level and length of the relationship. There are others whom, unfortunately, I will probably never speak to again and that makes me sad.

But I know if they were ever to come back into my life again, we would never be able to be "just friends." So, for exes asking themselves, “Can we just stay friends?” having a platonic relationship like this may be impossible. Why? Because there's too much history, too much sensitivity.

“Going back to your ex is like reading a book you have already read. The outcome will always be the same.” ― Matthew Donnell


I hold all my past relationships in a special place within my heart. I'm thankful for all the experiences and love that I had with them, and I'm grateful to have the ability to not regret any past loves. I don't have to deny to my husband that I loved other people before him and that there is some part of those ex-loves that lives on in me. After all, I wouldn't be the woman I am today without having gone through all the relationship experiences I've weathered throughout my years, and the same goes for my husband and his past loves.

Embrace the past and move into the future — together.

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Sheila Hageman is a writer who has appeared on The Today Show, ABC News, NBC News, and programs with Bill Cunningham and Anderson Cooper. Her writing has been featured in Salon, Mamalode, Mom Babble, and The Huffington Post.