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Here's the Thing: You Can't Stay Friends
A SWEET AND KIND FRIEND OF OURS:
My ex and I broke up a few months ago. It was me who did the breaking-up, and though I believe that it was the best decision for both of us, I still feel a great deal of guilt over hurting and disappointing a person I really love. Aside from one (somewhat nasty) fight, we separated amicably. She moved out of our apartment to New York and I’ve stayed here in LA. Since then I’ve tried to make a serious effort at keeping our friendship intact, and we still talk to each other regularly over the phone and via text.
But my fear is that this continued communication is making it harder for her to move on. She texts and calls me far more frequently than I do, and while we are both clear with one another that we are definitely broken up and seeing other people, she still regularly tells me that she misses me. And though I’m not reconsidering my position on our relationship, I have a hard time telling her I don’t miss her too.
What’s worse, old, bad patterns from our relationship keep resurfacing. She’ll see something I posted on social media and infer that I’m saying something negative about her or that I’m forming a relationship with someone else and get upset with me for not being communicative about it with her. Sometimes I’ll engage and we’ll fight about it, sometimes I just ignore it and wait for things to return to normal. But the fact that both the negative and positive dynamics of our relationship are clearly still partially intact, I feel very anxious that we haven’t fully broken up.
I thought my desire to remain friends was coming from a good place — I thought I was demonstrating to her that the breakup is not a rejection of her as a person or a friend, that it does not mean I don’t love her. But I’m writing you to ask if the best thing for her right now would be for me to stop talking to her. It was never my intention to string her along, and if that’s what all my actions amount to, I don’t want to keep doing it.
Ok this photo will make sense later. Actually even after you read the bad metaphor in my advice below it will be weird. Just a relaxing image of a man playing with a nice dog.
BEEP BEEP! I’m going to do some shoutin’ (which you knew, otherwise you would not have written in, I verily believe).
I once read this great metaphor about staying friends with someone after a breakup and it has stuck with me for over eight years, so now I’m forcing you to hear it: Saying “we can stay friends” after a break up is like your mom saying, “the dog died, but we can keep him.” Hence the photo above, which now seems a touch tasteless. Sorry. I’m a fool and a clown, but at least I’m in good company right now because you are also being a fool and a clown, ALBEIT A LOVELY, SWEET, ANGEL CLOWN, WHOM WE LOVE.
You two are not broken up as it stands right now. You’re doing long distance with the agreement to text less. That’s… not a breakup. That’s a dang mess. Again, I think you came here to be gently shouted at, so that is what I’m about to do. STOP TALKING TO ONE ANOTHER FOR AT LEAST SEVEN MONTHS. Why seven months? No idea; it’s arbitrary. Maybe after seven months you’ll talk again, maybe you never will. Either is fine. It seems like someone needs to take control of this situation and since neither of you is will, I will. Stop. Talking. To. Her. Here is your permission to stop talking to her, from me, the Lady In Charge, since neither of y’all are handling yourselves right now.
YOU TWO ARE NOT FRIENDS. FRIENDS DO NOT REHASH THEIR ROMANTIC PATTERNS VIA TEXT TO THE DETRIMENT OF THEIR MENTAL HEALTH.
Friendship is lovely, magical, transcendent. Don’t you dare degrade love or friendship by offering up friendship with you as a consolation prize for not getting to date you. Don’t you dare. People who have seen your junk do not need to be your friend simply because they might be sad.
Do I believe some people are friends after they break up? Yeah, sure. But it’s usually in specific circumstances like “We don’t actually romantically love each other anymore and haven’t for years but we have a sweet son named Hank, so we agreed to be civil, which after 13 years turned into friendship.” YOU GUYS DO NOT HAVE THAT. YOU DON’T EVEN LIVE IN THE SAME CITY. What do you need a friend in New York for? In case you need to stay in the city at some point because hotels are too expensive? What is she going to do from afar that is a friendship??? I know that long distance friendship is real but COME ON, this is just you two rehashing shit. This is literally like all the work of a relationship (fighting, jealousy, hurt) and none of the fun (oral sex).
You say that she’s probably being strung along? Well guess what? So are you!!!!!! You’ve strung yourself along in order to atone for no longer wanting to date her. You are not cruel for not wanting to date someone. That is not a desire that deserves punishment. Please let go of the idea that ending a relationship is a genre of cruelty.
You have some of your own work to do in getting over her, even if you’re more ok with the break up than she is. All you’re doing—by youR OWN ADMISSION (imagine me getting louder as I say that)—is repeating your dating dynamics long distance. How are you ever going to discover who you are without this person (the very reason for a breakup) while you’re playing reindeer games on your phone plan with this lovely woman. Give me a break! Hell, give yourself a break! Give her a break!
Text her something like this (or call her if you’re a real freak): “Naomi, I’ve thought about this a lot and while I don’t think there is a right answer or a way to make any of this ok, I need us to stop texting and calling, at least for now. It’s keeping me trapped in the patterns of our relationship and messing with my mind, and I can’t go through this anymore. I’m sure this feels unfair and shitty; I apologize. I’m sure I could have handled this better or differently, but right now I need us to change the boundary. I really do still wish you the best, and I hope this is better for both of us, if not immediately, eventually.”
(I don’t know if her name is Naomi, but that’s always what hot girls are named, and hot people ALWAYS try to stay friends with their exes, so I’m assuming).
After you send that scary, scary text you are going to feel like a steaming pile of SHIIIIIIT. You’re going to feel guilty and cruel and unkind. But you are none of those things. You are a sweet baby angel, whom we all love and trust to treat others with kindness. And clearly, you’re more-than-a-little concerned with Kindness—you tried to make a long distance friendship work with an ex out of the misguided idea that it was nice of you. We know you're a good person. Cutting off contact with an ex does not negate that. I won’t go so far as to suggest that it’s nicer to stop talking to her. Nothing about a breakup is nice or good or magnanimous. But it’s time. For both of you.
And now you can use all the time that you’ve been pouring into this para-relationship with her for something wonderful, like friendship with actual friends. Or reading a book. Or getting really into different artisanal sodas. I don’t care what you do, the beauty is that you get to do things by and for yourself. Give yourself that gift. Otherwise, I’ll come shout at you more.
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter, she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tries to write about Fleetwood Mac for GQ, avoids writing by tweeting at @1followernodad, works full-time as a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. She’s also working on a book and at least five TV pilots at any given moment. (But for real, there will be a book soon). You can reach her or yell at her at email@example.com.