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Can You Be Friends With Your Ex?


Once you’ve been intimate with someone, can you ever go back to being just friends?

By Christopher DeLorenzo

ast year, after having lived in Germany for three years, my ex-boyfriend Ricky visited me. I was excited to see him and glad that he contacted me, but I’ll also admit I was hoping we might get reacquainted, so to speak.

At that time, I was dating infrequently, and I was lonely for that kind of affection. But I had to remind myself that the main reason I loved Ricky is not because we had great sex but because I always had fun with him. Ricky engages me intellectually and really hears me; he also makes me laugh.

As we sat in my apartment, listening to music and catching up, I caught a few glimpses of his flat, smooth stomach (he was wearing a tight, untucked shirt), and although I found that slightly erotic, something in me shifted that night: I discovered that I would always find Ricky attractive but that I didn’t want to love him that way anymore.

We had made a conscious decision to be friends, and I didn’t want anything to jeopardize that.

Can you ever truly be friends with an ex?
That’s what my friend Suzanne has asked me several times. And she doesn’t mean in the superficial way either; she’s talking about deep, caring friendships. And I think you can. It depends, of course, on how deeply you were involved and also on the circumstances surrounding the breakup.

I will never be able to be friends with some of my exes (you know who you are) because the elements that are necessary for a friendship never existed in our intimate relationship. Those elements are trust, compassion and mutual respect. Without them, you have a connection based on lust, superficiality or dependence, and that is not the recipe for a healthy relationship — and certainly not one for a friendship.
If we had truly been friends first, we might still be friends today.


Crossing the line
Now my friend Jerry has quite a few friends with whom he has stepped “over the line.” I’ve met these men, and many are still his acquaintances. Some have become his close friends.

“It just didn’t work out that way for us,” Jerry likes to say, and for him, that’s the whole story. He was able to say “let’s be friends” before anything got out of hand. I admire him for it. Honesty was the foundation for the relationships, and they started off on the right foot. (It doesn’t explain why so many of his friends are so attractive, but that’s another story.)

For me, Jerry’s experience proves that you can cross back over the line of intimacy and return to friendship if you have established a friendship in the first place. Some of my most intense intimate relationships should have been friendships only, and had we truly been friends first, we might still be friends today. Jerry reminds me that it’s a conscious effort; Ricky reminds me that it’s possible. It would be nice if it just weren't so hard sometimes.


Christopher DeLorenzo is a freelance writer based in San Francisco.


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