- Are there situations where it’s okay to stay friends with your ex after you break up?
This is one of those contentious, complex questions sure to garner disapproval from one person or another regardless of how you answer. Thus, my overarching advice is this — only you know if you are in a position in which friendship with an ex-partner will be healthy, sustainable and fulfilling.
You may have heard the saying that two people who can be friends post-breakup are either still in love or never were, but I don’t think that’s entirely fair. For one, it ignores the fact that there are plenty of ways of experiencing love outside of the traditional romantic type. Especially if the partner in question was someone you were friends with first, you may still hold a platonic place in your heart for said person — and that’s okay! Just like your capacity to care for someone gradually builds as you get to know them, it similarly won’t disappear overnight.
Circumstances outside of your control may also play an important role — if you share friends or classes or extracurriculars, you may find yourself unable to escape the same social circles. Sometimes amicability, if not friendship, makes both of your experiences more enjoyable.
Of course, this advice assumes two things — that your feelings are no longer romantic, and your ex partner is on the same page. However, it’s okay if this is not the case. It’s important to remember that healing is not a linear process, and you should honor your feelings. If pursuing a friendship with an ex is too difficult for you, or if you need to take a step back from attempting to maintain a relationship, you should put your experiences first. Likewise, if your ex partner is not ready to consider friendship, this must also be understood.
Lastly, it is valid to consider how this may affect future relationships. You may be worried about how a new partner will perceive your friendship with an ex, and it is understandable to want to communicate your expectations and boundaries. However, it is important to remember that only you — and not a new significant other — truly decides what the best course of action is for you. You can take advice and honor the opinions of others in an effort to come to an acceptable conclusion for all involved parties, but the person who knows what will make you the happiest is you.
- How do I break up with someone that I know is really good for me but who I don't want to be with?
It’s hard to feel like you’re hurting someone’s feelings, especially when it’s someone you care about. I encourage you to reframe your thinking on the issue, though, and try to tackle the internal conflict you’re experiencing head-on as best you can.
As cliche as the “It’s not you, it’s me” line can be, there can be some truth to the phrase. Good people don’t always lead to good relationships — and that’s all right. Compatibility is about so much more than the people we are individually, and even the greatest of people might just not work together. It is clear you value this individual and want to spare causing them pain, but prolonging a relationship you are not happy in will only cause more suffering for both of you down the road.
I encourage you to sit your partner down and be as honest as you comfortably can. Express how much they mean to you, and how well they have treated you, but that you don’t feel right continuing the relationship. You both deserve happiness — and if that’s not with each other, the best thing you can do is give both of yourselves room to grow as individuals and as the future partners of others. You should not feel restricted by a relationship you are not enjoying, and they should not be held back by a relationship they don’t realize isn’t working.
To quote another overused but insightful opinion — if you love them, let them go. Prolonging a relationship that you do not see yourself wanting to continue will only lead to a more painful breakup down the line. Rather than allowing the potential for resentment to foster over a lack of communication, maybe having the hard conversations now will allow you to continue to be a part of each other’s lives in some other capacity. Perhaps this partner would be just as good for you as a friend, if that is a context more comfortable for you at this time.
My parting advice is this — be confident in the fact that though it might hurt, your decision to break up with your partner is for their benefit as much as yours.
Heart to Heart is a regular column written by Life columnists Katherine Schwartz and Jenna Onetto. To submit a question, fill out this form and our columnists will do their best to address it in an upcoming issue.