Case of the Ex – can you be friends with the one that got away?

I have a broken heart. It feels as though a swarm of tiny hands are squeezing and banging it against my ribcage. My stomach joins in by not wanting to eat and my mind relives hundreds of memories, transforming my whole body into a chaotic state. Can you be friends with the person who caused this?

The boy I spent a year and a half with, turned to me and said that he didn’t want to be with me anymore. I looked back at him with my puppy dog eyes and laughed ‘good joke lol’ which was followed by a ‘no, seriously’ – ouch.

However during our break up, an offer of friendship was extended, and two months later, I found myself still struggling with the concept of being friends with my ex.

Initially I thought of course we couldn’t be. He hurt me and I wanted to hate him – but I couldn’t. So I decided to give the friendship a go. Having him as my best friend was better than having nothing at all, right?

So we became friends. We talked most days about how we were feeling. At this point, I thought ‘yeah we can be friends, I just need time to adjust to our new relationship.’

But with the help of social media, my opinion changed. Snapchats of him out with other girls, Facebook photos of him drinking, WhatsApp informing me that he had stayed out until 5am (with God knows who doing God knows what) drove me crazy. It only served to break my heart all over again and caused my anger to resurface.

In my view, being friends while still caring so immensely about an ex doesn’t work – unless you’re ok with dying inside every single time he appears on your news feed.

When you do talk to them of course they’re going to tell you that they’re doing fantastic, while you recall how you spend your nights sobbing into the teddy they got you for Valentine’s day, and drinking to excess in order to enjoy yourself.

Worst yet is when you meet up with them for the first time post break – up. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to see them if you’re still friends? Despite such innocent reasoning, your head tells you it’s a bad idea, but your heart? Well that’s another matter.

“Is that new?” he asks, pointing to the outfit I spent ages in Forever 21 searching for. “Nah, have it a while,” I shrug, even though I know he has made an effort too.

And there you are sitting on his bed, just like old times, but you’re friends. Yet all you can think of is that this is so unnatural, that you hate him, that you still love him, that those arms should be cuddling you and how you think he’d react if you tried to kiss him, or if he kissed you. Even after being apart for 6 weeks, I still felt like home when I was in his arms.

However, then came the bursts of hurt and rage we both felt when we confessed to each other that we had both been with other people. I’ll never forget how hurt I felt when I heard that he had been with other girls. Or the way he dropped his head into his knees in hurt and despair when he heard that I had seen other boys. That was the moment that I knew we couldn’t be friends.

I cried harder the day after that meeting than when we had initially broken up. After a day of misery, we contacted each other again and talked things through. We spoke about how hurt we both were and the topic of getting back together soon arose. But we both agreed that although we still cared for one other, perhaps too much, we just couldn’t make it work.

Most people will advise you to cut ties from an ex when your relationship ends. That whatever you had is over and you should move on or risk putting yourself in a position where you will be hurt on repeat.

I personally think the best thing to do after a break up is in fact to spend some time apart. Months apart. If your relationship is meant to be it will be, and if with time you’re okay with just being friends then so be it.

However I firmly believe that you can’t be friends with your ex initially. It hurts far too much. When both people accept that it’s over, and you can resist your urge to kiss, then maybe a friendship with your ex can work.

Catherine Devine

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