It really IS possible to stay friends with your ex.
Ex-boyfriend shouldn't mean ex-friend.
My ex-boyfriend was a groomsman at my wedding. Not just any ex-boyfriend, either –– the last one before I met my husband-to-be. My last fling was in the audience, too, and I didn't start to cry until I walked down the aisle and saw the tears standing in his eyes. He's not a crier, either.
My husband was OK with all this. In fact, the fling is now his friend more than mine, and my ex regularly stops by for dinner.
In fact, all my exes, with one exception, are friends of mine. The ones far away have Facebook-messaged me in the past year. Two are lost to the winds, but I'd love to see them, too.
People think this is all totally weird. One professor asked if I was OK working on a project with the fling; she feared my husband would get mad.
I told her the three of us had just gone on a hiking vacation together. She gave me a strange look and shrugged. Other people have expressed disbelief that I'm on speaking terms with people I decided not to pursue a relationship with.
I can't conceive of not being friends with my exes. And you can do the same thing. It's easy.
1. Don't date assholes.
No, seriously. Be selective and careful about who you let into your life (and bed). Make sure children and dogs like him. Watch how he treats service industry people: is he kind to waitresses? Does he tip well?
Meet his friends and make sure they're generally decent guys. He shouldn't lie to you, play games, or date someone else on the side. You're looking for someone who takes care of you when you're drunk, not takes advantage of you when you're drunk.
2. Make sure he's best friend material.
I can't imagine ditching my exes because they were, for a time, my best friend. Of course, no one can compete with your longtime BFF. But you should have a guy you can be yourself with: silly, serious, and everything in between.
Fart jokes are a good sign you're getting there. So is leaving the bathroom door open when he pees after sex. You should trust each other to drive one another's cars, admit to Scooby Dooobsessions, and maybe even wash his sheets for him. Because you're sick of sleeping on filth.
3. Don't cheat on him.
Yes, it's tempting. Yes, I've done it (hello, ex I don't really talk to — sorry about that). But your best chance of being friends later is being honest, and in a relationship, cheating is the ultimate form of lying.
So, hands off the British exchange student, girls. Go back and get some from your man.
4. Don't try an open relationship.
In practice, this rarely works out and generally looks like this: both of you cheating on each other while still having sex. You'll both end up jealous, though you swear you won't, and you'll fight about boundaries (no kissing, no sex). Finally, you'll break up over it, and probably bitterly.
5. End it fairly.
This is the hardest part. Breakups are always ugly. Someone always wants to blame someone else (especially if that someone cheated). But be graceful. Be fair about dividing mutual possessions.
And don't trash-talk him to your friends. If your friends want to know all the gory details, spill them to your BFF over ice cream and a Lifetime movie. Don't weep and tear your hair in public, or worse, make a public scene with him.
Avoid a public confrontation full of accusations, screaming, and cursing. Alcohol increases the likelihood this will happen, so try not to break up when you're drunk.
6. Give it a cool-off period.
Don't expect to be BFFs tomorrow. You probably won't want to be, anyway. It took me over a year to talk to my groomsman ex, and now he's one of my BFFs. Wait it out.
Don't trash him; don't postmortem your relationship to everyone. Instead, process it. Figure out why you broke up, and what that teaches you about yourself. I needed to date someone who would be less passive, for example. Figure out what it tells you about him.
7. Accept the faults that ended your relationship.
This goes for his faults and yours. Even in the best breakup, there's still some blame and anger. Examine that and own your part in it. Be ready, for example, to say you cheated, or you couldn't do the long-distance thing, or you didn't see your relationship going anywhere.
Accept your faults in the relationship. Accept his, too. And remember, knowing what those faults are is different than accepting them.
When you're both ready, meet up again. Once you can meet on good terms, you'll need to talk out your relationship. Think of it as a kind of exorcism. It'll be awkward; it'll be weird. But if you can get through it, you may have a friend for life.
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