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-   -   How to be Friends with an Ex (http://www.polyamory.com/forum/showthread.php?t=7529)

ray 03-06-2011 06:18 PM

How to be Friends with an Ex
I did a thread search but didn't find much. So hopefully, I didn't miss some amazing thread with awesome advice.

Summary - O has decided to break up with me. I did not want the relationship to end and am feeling pretty depressed about the whole thing. Basically he doesn't feel like he can be enough time-wise and energy-wise. We have always been friends and we share a lot of the same friends. And I've never really had a break up before, O was my first love. I feel pretty lost.

The question, at large.

What experiences do you have with break-ups in general and particularly where you were good friends prior to dating and shared a social circle? How did you navigate transitioning back to being just friends, if you could? How were breakups when one person had a tough time accepting the end of things? Also, how do people deal with socializing with their former SO and their SO's SO? And any other information or anecdotes you may have on the subject of poly break-ups...

ImaginaryIllusion 03-06-2011 06:43 PM

Sorry to hear that Ray.

I'm not sure I can offer anything wrt the heartbreak. I don't recall ever doing much breaking up...I'm sure it'll happen eventually, but my not so extensive list of relationships either were either short & in high school, or they're still going.

If you're having a hard time accepting the end...then I would suggest taking some time to yourself, and away from O. Whenever I've seen people who try to go immediately from lovers to friends without any time to re-establish themselves as an individual, they never seem to break away from the couple mentality. Give you and him some space to mourn and rebuild.

As for friends...if you're breaking up on fairly amicable terms then it shouldn't be too hard to keep them around. Back home my social circle was fairly extensive and intertwined, with a few couples where both partners were closely tied to the group. When they broke up, it tended to cause a lot of strain all around if it wasn't peaceful, with lots of people taking sides, or getting torn between the two.
For the sake of your friendships, I'd suggest trying to make it easy for them to stay friends with both of you...however you can make that work. Hopefully O will do the same...it kinda sucks to be caught in the middle.

MindfulAgony 03-06-2011 07:00 PM

Hard, not impossible
The first challenge for you - since you were not the one who ended the relationship - is getting to a point of acceptance. Now, I don't mean understanding - which is intellectual. In my experience, until I've gotten to a place of real acceptance, I couldn't be friends. It was too painful. You know you haven't emotionally accepted the break-up if you're still asking "Why or why now?" and thinking about "it would have been great, if only..."

So, assuming you can garner some measure of acceptance, my view on staying friends has been very, very simple. I hold on to the simple idea that - "I loved this person before the breakup and breaking up doesn't change that one bit."

The hard part is allowing that love to transition from romantic to platonic in its expression. Every instance I can think of where I haven't been able to stay friends with a partner it was because one of us refused to let the expression of love to make that important transition.

A current partner of mine says this really well. She told me early on: "I make commitments to people, not relationships." I find that achingly beautiful. What she means by that is that she is committed to making those transitions you have to make when the relationship with someone else changes form (whether she desires the change or not).

I find that I have to heavily monitor my behavior in the early stages of a transition to make sure I'm not giving the impression that I'm trying to drag the relationship back to the way it was. You also have to find ways to not burden them with the guilt of your pain. Your pain is inevitable; it is real. But, if you want to remain close with them, then you have to find someone else to comfort you.

Lastly, don't be afraid to give it some time. You have to give each other enough space so that you can make a break, start a transition, and rebond... It helps when you have mutual interests that you can stay connected around. Much harder to rebond/re-connect without that base to go back to.

That's what I've distilled from my experience. Still friends with - most notably - my high school sweetheart, my college sweetheart (former fiance), and my "ex-wife" (still married but permanently separated).

Malach 03-06-2011 10:41 PM

It's tough.

The woman I had been dating broke things off after her live-in boyfriend became uncomfortable with her dating around. I had fallen for her pretty hard, but didn't want to strain her primary relationship, so I let it go. We've remained friends--good friends, even. I think I know her better now than I did when we were dating, and we still talk nearly every day. I wish things had turned out differently, and I'm sometimes sad that they didn't...but having her in my life as a friend is a lot better than nothing at all.

LovingRadiance 03-06-2011 11:09 PM

I've maintained a friendship with every ex I have but one. In that case, it's her choice.

My experience is that it's important to first find acceptance within yourself that loving someone does not mean that you are going to be more than friends-you can love someone and be "just friends" (to begin with or again).

The next thing is to take time to rebuild your life so that the time you normally spent together in a "couples" capacity is "rescheduled" into something else.

Then slowly re-incorporate them back into your life starting with reasonably large social settings first. Then working down to smaller social settings.


nycindie 03-06-2011 11:31 PM

Even though your heart has been dashed to bits, you can take comfort in knowing that it ended because he feels he couldn't give you what you needed. It would feel far worse if it was due to the relationship having disintegrated into something painful and antagonistic. So, at least there's that. And because of that, I would think dialogue and communication are still possible between you.

Now, about relating to all your mutual friends. I have been a part of several large circles of friends and acquaintances in the past. Both these groups saw lots of dating amongst each other going on. Yes, several times I had dated someone who had previously dated another woman I was friends with, and who subsequently dated another friend. Past loves would be invited to weddings and housewarmings, would fix each other up with new friends, and so on, and everyone knew we'd all just moved on. I've always been a proponent of recycling boyfriends, haha, anyway...

Now, granted we all were very outspoken and willing to look at the dynamics of relationships, friendships, and so on. These were both groups of people that embraced self-awareness, self-examination, and were kind of part of the human potential movement, so to speak, so it might be a bit different than your circle of friends. However...

Personally, I had a few relationships in these circles that ended and I saw that instinctively I wanted to isolate myself from the pack to deal with it. But not hiding out helped immensely!! I still showed up to social events and get-togethers -- why be the one who's curled in a corner crying? -- and I reminded myself that I had every right to be out and about with them as he did. I had friends I wanted to stay in touch with. It's so easy to think that a group will follow conventional stupidity and take sides when a couple in their midst breaks up, but you can make sure you don't present an attitude that would be ripe for that happening.

I just held my held high, whether I felt I did something wrong in the relationship to bring about its end or not, and I talked about it to the people with whom I felt safe, until it could be acknowledged more openly among everyone. I talked about my feelings, without wanting to turn anyone against my new ex, but just to be heard. If you're careful not to trash someone after they break up with you, all your friends will likely be able to be supportive of both of you. Give yourself enough private time to mourn the relationship, too, and it won't be as hard to face all your mutual friends out in the open.

But go out and socialize with everyone just for the sake of getting out and being in the company of people you like. You don't have to talk abut it if you don't feel like it, either, and you can say so if someone asks what happened and you're not ready to answer. Just take care of yourself, whether you're alone or in a crowd.

ray 03-08-2011 06:05 AM

Thanks guys. You've all said some really important things. Of course it's always the easier said than done routine. Pretty much every one I've talked to here or elsewhere has said that some space is really necessary. I feel so torn. We've been and will be getting some more space but I go back and forth between wanting to commit to care and work out a friendship to being like, fuck this, I gave you my heart and you didn't even seem to care. He barely seems to be affected by any of this. I feel like I'd fallen irrevocably in love with him and I don't know how to put it back in the bag. The acceptance bit, I'm working on that one but it is not easy.

Do you guys have any stories about your first loves and how it ended and what it felt like? I hear that the first is always really tough to get over.

LovingRadiance 03-08-2011 06:14 AM

My ex (the father of my first child) has been here all week. He lives on the other side of the continent with his wife. But, as our daughter had her first child a week ago, he's been up visiting.

Just today he said to me, "I don't think many people know exes like us". Meaning, that we harbor no ill will, and we get along.

It wasn't always that way. It took time to let the wounds heal, let the feelings mellow.

I still love him, I'm willing to say that I believe he still loves me as well. I know we certainly both hope the best for each other and try to be supportive of each other and our respective families whenever we can be. But, we took time without being "in touch" with one another to build our individual lives. That time was critical in being able to move on and be able to be the friendly, agreeable people we are with one another today.

He and his wife were on my couch playing with the new baby and hanging out with my 11 year old and 3 year old when I awoke this morning. Second time this week. Very comfortable and serene. But, 19 years ago, no way. My heart was broken and I didn't think it would ever mend. I was devastated by his cheating and the impending break up with a new baby... that was hell. The fact that I got an incurable STD in the process of his cheating, I was SURE that was never going to be forgivable...

It mostly takes time and a willingness to accept that whatever someone has done, that you find painful, it was the "best they could do" for who they are, where they are and what they know in their lives today. That may not be who they are, where they are or what they know tomorrow. ;)

Good luck!

ray 03-11-2011 04:44 AM

LR, that is pretty awesome. I really admire you two being able to make that happen.

I was listening to a polyweekly podcast and the question of how to deal with a metamour that's broken your heart but is still in your life came up. Like you don't really have the option of space to heal because that person is still dating your partner.

So does any one have any experience where they were unable to have space and had to see the person on a regular basis and interact closely?

The issue is that our lives became intertwined. We train at the same martial arts school, he absorbed me into his social life so most of the friends I socialized with outside of martial arts are his friends. We hung out almost every day of the week between training, time alone together, with the three of us and with his friends. Now that things are painful, I am shut out of most of my life. I can't train without him there. I can't socialize much with our mutual training friends without him. I can't go to knitting group without his wife being there. I can't go to any social events his friends have without them being there. I'm torn between a need for space and a desire to live life as I please. He's expressed no sympathy that this was my first relationship/first kiss/first sexual partner and the first time I fell in love. I don't want a medal but if we're ever going to be close friends, I feel like I need him to acknowledge how he pursued me so hard to start this relationship (and I was concerned about the future of our friendship if it didn't work out) how I was scared but he wanted me to trust him. How I was very vulnerable and he was my first lover. Is that reasonable? He seems thinks I'm crazy or melodramatic for being devastated. And this whole thing has slide off him like water on a duck. None of our friends knew that we were together because he wanted it to be a secret so they all just think I'm depressed for no good reason. When I tried to go to an event it was painful watching him be fine, laughing, joking while I could barely muster up a smile or a conversation.

TruckerPete 03-11-2011 05:10 PM


Originally Posted by ray (Post 70470)
None of our friends knew that we were together because he wanted it to be a secret so they all just think I'm depressed for no good reason. When I tried to go to an event it was painful watching him be fine, laughing, joking while I could barely muster up a smile or a conversation.

Ah, hun ... I'd wondered if they knew yet, or were still in the dark. I'm so sorry.

Are there any members of the group you're closer to? What I mean is, could you choose a few to hang out with while you heal, and skip some group events for the time being?

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