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Your Ex… Friend Or Foe?


Will staying pals with a former flame put the whammy on your new relationship? Find out here.

By Elsa K. Simcik

ou and your ex have decided to remain friends. Aw, how sweet. Well, the person you’re dating now doesn’t think so. What’s with the emails? The text messages? The birthday gifts?

Is it possible to stay friends with your ex and have a healthy
If you were more buddies than lovers to start with, a friendship can work out.
relationship with your current crush? Like most matters of the heart, it all depends. Let’s take a closer look.

When it’s OK to be friends with a former flame

If there wasn’t any betrayal or a huge falling out over who gets to keep the Saved by the Bell DVDs, you may want to try the friends route. Here are a few situations where this might actually work.

You dated in a different decade
If the person in your past is ancient history, then your new amour shouldn’t feel too threatened. Says Keli Cannon, 27, of Portland, OR, “I have been friends with my high-school boyfriend for 15 years. He was and always will be my best friend, and every boyfriend I've had since has had a hard time dealing with that.”

That’s why, says Dr. Jane Greer, a therapist in New York City and author of How Could You Do This To Me?, you need to take the initiative and explain the situation. “If you’re friendly with an ex, it’s inevitably going to make the new [partner] feel that you haven’t completely resolved the relationship.” She suggests spelling out for your current flame why you want to remain friends with your ex. Do whatever you can to make sure he or she doesn’t feel threatened.

You were buddies more than lovers
Dr. Greer says that if the relationship ended because you felt more like brother and sister than Angelina and Brad, you should be able to stay friends. Still, even if that relationship was totally devoid of chemistry, you’re going to have to make that really clear to your current love. Says Marcie, 33, of Scranton, PA: “I am still really good buddies with Paul, an ex of mine. I thought that telling a new guy I was seeing that Paul and I lacked real chemistry would calm things down, but there was always the suspicion that Paul and I were sneaking around. I had to really reassure my new guy that, um, things were bad in bed for me and Paul!”

You feel comfortable saying, “Table for three”
It may be very “Come and knock on our door,” but why not just hang out together now and then? That can demystify your relationship with your ex. In this situation, you should be extra attentive to your partner.
Are you staying friends with the ex because you still have feelings for him?
You’ll avoid any competitive feelings between the two of them and make it clear who is #1 in your life. Suzanne, 42, of Costa Mesa, CA, says that when she goes out with her ex Steven and a new beau, she’ll lay it on pretty thick: “I’ll say complimentary things to Steven about my date, right in front of my new guy… things like, ‘Didn’t I tell you he had a great sense of humor?’ Little ego-boosters like that go a long way.”

When you should X your ex

Obviously, it’s going to make things a lot simpler in your new relationship if you can surround yourself with friends you haven’t bedded. And in some cases like these, you really ought to say sayonara to your past love.

Your ex still has that lovin’ feelin’
“I always tried to stay friends with ex-boyfriends and it never worked out,” says Amy Reinarz, 28, of Austin. If there’s a speck of sexual tension left between the former lovers, forget about it. “Not only does the current boyfriend get jealous and suspicious about your true feelings, but it gives the ex hope that you two might still have a chance,” notes Reinarz.

You can’t picture your ex with another
Be honest: Are you staying friends with your ex because you still have some romantic feelings towards him… and want to keep tabs on him as you date around? Kristi Wyatt, 30, of Dallas, thought she’d try to stay friends with an ex. When she saw him making out with another girl, she reacted badly: “I freaked out! As much as I want happiness for him, I cannot handle seeing my ‘friend’ with another girl.” If you feel that way about your just-friends ex, ask yourself what’s really going on—and consider whether staying pals is a good idea.

Your ex was never really your friend
If your relationship was more about hooking up than hanging out, you may have never had that friendship vibe. So why do you continue to keep this person in your life? Is it really worth potentially ending your current relationship? “At first, I didn’t know why I liked to have my ex Tony hanging around,” admits Amy, 37, of Portland, OR. “We weren’t good pals, but he was a sexy guy. Eventually, I realized that having lots of men in my life made me feel desirable. Unfortunately, I lost a boyfriend or two that way—they didn’t like Tony on the scene. I learned my lesson the hard way.”

So why not learn a lesson the easy way and heed Amy’s advice? If the guy doesn’t have more to recommend him as a buddy than the fact that he’s a guy you used to go out with… it's time to say, “Next!” and mean it.


Elsa K. Simcik is a freelance writer in Atlanta. Her work has appeared in newspapers and magazines including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Dallas Morning News, Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine and CNN.com.
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