Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“How Long Do You Have to Wait to Be Friends with an Ex?”

Last week my boyfriend of almost 17 months and I broke up. It was very much a mutual break up in that I brought up the discussion and he followed through that it was time to stop seeing each other. We broke up mostly because neither of us saw a future together and because we are just too different — we are both very passionate people but our passions have very little overlap and sometimes it just felt that we had so little in common. What kept us together for so long was our amazing friendship. Our relationship was quite smooth and healthy; we could have had better communication on some occasions, but we were always very good to each other and trusting of one another.

“Alex” was my first real boyfriend, the first guy I ever slept with, and he means the world to me. We were both very emotional when we decided to end things because we were such a huge part of each other’s life and we were sorry to say goodbye. He emphasized that he would like to be friends in the future, and I certainly would like that as well. While I know it was right for us to break up and I don’t intend on getting back together, I miss him so much and feel so tempted to call him just to hear his voice and catch up. While it has been just over a week since the break up, this is the longest I’ve gone without speaking with him since we first met, and I feel such a void without him in my life.

My question to you is when do you think it would be appropriate to reach out to him? — Newly Single

In general, the best time to reach out to an ex to start fostering a post-relationship friendship is when you don’t feel tempted to call him just to hear his voice. Instead of letting temptation and raw emotion drive your behavior, wait until rational thought and balanced emotion frames the picture of you and your ex. Of course, how long that will take differs for every couple and depends on lots of factors. Maybe for you it will be a few weeks. Maybe it will take a few months. The best way to know that you’re ready for a friendship is when the thought of talking to him gives you a generally warm feeling rather than a lump in your throat or butterflies in your stomach or a small ache in your heart. When you begin thinking of him like any other close friend or person you’re fond of instead of the person you were last in love with is when you’re emotionally ready to give him a call to hear his voice and catch up.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at [email protected] and be sure to follow me on Twitter and ‘like’ me on Facebook.

39 comments… add one
  • avatar

    ele4phant July 11, 2012, 1:21 pm

    How long does it take to be friends again?

    It all depends, on you, the difficulty of the breakup, and when you feel ready for it. In addition to WWS, I’d say a week likely isn’t sufficent no matter how amlicable the break-up.

    Even if it was a mutual decision that you’re both happy about, you’ve just spent a year and a half channeling energy and emotion into sustaining a certain type of relationship with this guy. Changing relationship type with no break or palate cleanser can make a nice clean breakup and make it messy. Break-ups are an ending, even in the best of circumstances, and you’re entitled to each having a little time to process this end and come to grips for what this means for you each individually. So wait a bit, and take your friendship slowly at first until you both are clear on where you stand. Treat it like a new beginning, because it is. This isn’t a change in your relationship, its an entirely NEW relationship.

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  • raptor

    gillociraptor July 11, 2012, 1:24 pm

    I agree with what Wendy wrote, but I also think that you need to be aware of the fact that whenever you get to a place where you think you can be friends with him, he may not feel the same. I was ready to be friends with my ex after a few weeks. It took him two years to be in a place where he could be friends with me and not think about rekindling our relationship. Everyone moves at a different pace. Sometimes, it’s easy to go back to being friends; sometimes, it’s impossible. Sometimes, it requires a lot of work and a lot of back and forth.

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    • Shell

      Shell July 11, 2012, 2:10 pm

      I absolutely agree with this piece of advice. I ended a relationship 6 months ago (however it was somewhat of a mutual ending in that he agreed that we weren’t happy together). Then came a great deal of “I miss you” texts and emails, not letting me go, but not making an effort to get me back. I wanted to establish some sort of a friendship because I believe we were meant to be in each other’s lives in some form. He at first told me no and then two months later, said that he wanted the same. We hung out once, and then I received emails on a weekly basis asking for weekend plans (something he didn’t even request when we were together). I declined most of these plans, due to other commitments or just knowing that plans with myself were the better choice than hanging out with an ex on a Friday night. He had been getting evaluated for back surgery recently so I shot him an email to see how he was doing and weeks have gone by with no response. So moral of the story, friendship with an ex can be difficult, complicated and sometimes not possible, at least in my experience.

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  • avatar

    MsMisery July 11, 2012, 1:27 pm

    You technically don’t EVER have to be friends with an ex. But let me preface this with saying I am in the camp that cannot be friends with Those People. Too much hurt and history and baggage. There’s only one ex I am friends with and I use the word “ex” loosely b/c we were friends first, date for barely a month and then were like “mmm, not working” and went back to friends. It was pretty seamless. I’m even good friends with his new wife. All my other exes need to blink out of existence. If you find that you can’t be around him or think of him without having Feelings (jealousy, anger, sadness, depression, etc) or you feel the need to compulsively Facebook stalk him, his family, friends, or new love interests, then you aren’t ready to be his friend and maybe never will be. If it is going to happen, it will happen pretty naturally. Just like any relationship, when you have to *make* it work, it isn’t really working.

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  • avatar

    cporoski July 11, 2012, 1:27 pm

    My opinion is that you can’t be friends until both of you have had one successful relationship since the breakup. If you were just hook ups, the time can be much faster. But after a long relationship, you need to have been with someone else or at least alot of dates. The joke is that after you are in that successful relationship, you won’t want to be friends anymore.

    If you call him now, you will backslide. no doubt about it.

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest July 11, 2012, 1:44 pm

      You know, I agree. My closest friend is an ex, my first everything. While we had a successful friendship pretty soon after the breakup, I think you remind me of an interesting thing-that we were WAY better friends (behaving as friends) after we both entered new relationships. I’d never really thought about that before.

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    • avatar

      McLovin July 11, 2012, 3:48 pm

      I absolutely agree with this logic. Plus, by following this theory you have eliminated the original question of *how long do I wait to be friends with an ex?*

      The decision of how soon, or when, doesn’t need to be defined by a period of time. Complete emotional separation from that person needs to happen first in order to avoid the dreaded backslide.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark July 11, 2012, 1:28 pm

    It truly depends on the break up. I’ve had VERY mutual splits where we were “instant” friends the very next week and going to lunch already — but I imagine that was a pretty rare thing to pull off so successfully… The best and only thing to do is talk to him about this — have a real conversation about this so you are on the very same page. You don’t want either of you to become a crutch that holds back the other.

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    • avatar

      Taylor July 11, 2012, 1:30 pm

      WBGMS!

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  • avatar

    kerrycontrary July 11, 2012, 1:34 pm

    I totally agree with Wendy’s advice, but I’ve found that I’m the kind of person who can’t be friends with an ex after we break up. I mean even though I had great friendships with those men, what is the point? I will always feel awkward around their new girlfriends and I wouldn’t bring them around new boyfriends. It’s just less messy to never look back.

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    • avatar

      Desiree July 11, 2012, 2:06 pm

      I’m the same way. My fiance, however, is definitely in the “stay friends with exes” camp, so that has been an adjustment for me. But, on the other hand, almost all my exes were 1 year+ relationships, whereas most of his exes were 3 month or shorter relationships.

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      • avatar

        kerrycontrary July 11, 2012, 2:14 pm

        I can stay friends with someone I casually dated, but then I’ve had a lot of experiences where they still had feelings for me and they get all pissed when I have a boyfriend. I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost 3 years now so all of our exes have just faded into the distance as they do.

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    • avatar

      cporoski July 11, 2012, 3:38 pm

      That is the whole thing I don’t get. I mean, very rarely do people break up because the sex was awful. You weren’t compatable so why would you take the relationship and leave the physical behind?

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  • avatar

    Addie Pray July 11, 2012, 1:40 pm

    Don’t listen to these dummies. The answer is 5 months and 2 days.

    (I dunno.)

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph July 11, 2012, 2:12 pm

      Actually my first instinct was that the answer is 100 years. If I live to be 123, I might give my ex a call. Eh, probably not.

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      • avatar

        MsMisery July 11, 2012, 3:18 pm

        Well, women live longer (on average) so if you DO live to be 123, you might need a ouija board.

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest July 11, 2012, 3:20 pm

        Be honest, did you know how to spell ouija or did you look it up before posting?

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      • avatar

        MsMisery July 12, 2012, 1:04 pm

        I knew. Even though my mother would never buy me one, she did buy me tarot cards and books on astrology as a kid, so I’ve been into creepy things since forever.

        Just remember Oui + Ja. Yes in French + Yes in German (even though we mispronounce the last half).

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph July 12, 2012, 10:42 am

        He’d only by 120. Does that help? 😉

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  • Budj

    Budj July 11, 2012, 2:00 pm

    (2x + 5)/ # of exes = D

    x = how many times you have had sex and the resulting number (D) from that formula is how many days you have to wait.

    JK.

    When you are over him romantically…and only then.

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  • katie

    katie July 11, 2012, 2:00 pm

    well, the romantic relationship is over. you need to take whatever time to process, grieve, be angry, be sad, whatever you need to be to get over it. then you need to take the time that is needed to get to the point where, as wendy said, the thought of him doesnt send you into some kind of junior high school girl crush mode. and then, you need to formula a completely new friendship with him. you need to do different things together, you need to talk about different things, ect, to establish in your mind that this is DIFFERENT. it is not a continuation of your past relationship, it is not taking one part away from the romantic relationship, it is completely seperate.

    and also, you then have to cut off any contact if you start developing feelings again, and you have to start the whole process over.

    i know in my past there is one serious boyfriend that i am pretty confident that i could be friends with and be fine, and there is one who i dont think i will ever be able to be friends with… so i think it depends on a lot of things that happen in the relationship as well as the steps you take after the fact to get over it.

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  • Fabelle

    Fabelle July 11, 2012, 2:30 pm

    WWS. There’s no magical length of time you should wait, but “just over a week” is definitely not long enough.

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  • avatar

    Guy Friday July 11, 2012, 2:40 pm

    LW, it is always APPROPRIATE to reach out to your ex. You could do it right now if you wanted to. It’s never inappropriate to want to be friends with your ex. But as people have alluded to, I think the question you might want to ask is more “When is it emotionally safe to reach out to my ex?”, and while our answers are all going to be over the map, I think the general gist is what Wendy mentioned: that it’s probably healthier emotionally for yourself to wait until you want to talk to him rather than need to talk to him.

    Here’s my theory, for what it’s worth: relationships — good or bad ones — are like addictions. Just like quitting an addiction, the cravings don’t go away right when you decide to quit, and unfortunately most relationship endings don’t allow you to wean yourself off of things gradually; it’s a “quitting cold turkey” situation. And just like addictions, in most cases the longer you’re addicted the harder it is to quit. So treat this like a recovering addict would. At the onset, you need to avoid all situations and environments where you might be tempted. Get a “sponsor”, even if it’s as simple as having a friend you can call if you feel tempted. Develop a mantra that reminds you of the reasons you are quitting your addiction. And, after some time passes, maybe you allow yourself to be back in the environment where your addiction exists with a “sponsor” or someone by your side to make sure you don’t fall back into your old habits. And maybe after a bit longer past that you’re strong enough to handle it on your own. Or maybe you’re never that strong, and it’s just something you have to cut out of your life completely. The timeline for that is entirely based on your recovery, and only you can answer it, but you’ll know when you’re ready if you trust your gut.

    (Seriously, I don’t know if the addiction analogy makes sense to anyone else or if it makes me sound like a pompous ass. I really don’t mean to sound like the latter!)

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    • Lili

      Lili July 11, 2012, 2:45 pm

      Dr. Helen Fischer supports your love makes your brain think its is an addiction theory. She’s actually even come out to say that in general the average time it takes to truly ‘beat the addiction’ to another person is 3 years. This applies mostly to romantic relationships, but I can also see it happening for close friendships as well.

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest July 11, 2012, 3:23 pm

        The fact that she put a number on it makes me think she’s not as bright as she thinks she is, however, I think many people could agree with the idea generally.

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    • Kristina

      Kristina July 11, 2012, 2:58 pm

      I definitely agree with this, but love is more like a psychological addiction, whereas drugs are both psychological and physical addictions, so I think it’s a bit of a stretch to compare them too closely.

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      • Lili

        Lili July 11, 2012, 3:06 pm

        Well, I think they’re both related to the pain/pleasure receptors in the brain.

        ‘Brain regions known as the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal/prefrontal cortex were also activated. These regions are known to be associated with intense cocaine addiction and cigarette addiction.’

        From this study:http://www.livescience.com/6695-romantic-love-addiction-researchers.html

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  • Kristina

    Kristina July 11, 2012, 2:42 pm

    Whatever you do, take time and don’t fake your feelings. If you’re not ready to be friends in a few months or a year even, don’t force it just because you want him in your life in some way. Both of you need to get to the point of solely wanting friendship (IF both of you end up coming to that agreement, which may very well not happen that both of you will want it). One of you may move on quicker than the other. But really, don’t pretend that you’re alright with being friends, because even if it was a relatively mutual break-up, it’s still painful for both parties, and being friends too soon can get extremely messy and cause eve more hurt feelings when you’re not clearly communicating what you actually want out of the friendship.

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph July 11, 2012, 2:15 pm

    “In general, the best time to reach out to an ex to start fostering a post-relationship friendship is when you don’t feel tempted to call him just to hear his voice.”

    I think this is exactly the right answer. When you go days without thinking of him. When you do things without wondering “What would X say about this?” When you see a movie and don’t wish you could ask him about that part. When you put on clothes in the morning without thinking about the last time he took them off, or what he would think of the outfit, or if it’s good enough in case you run into him.
    In short, when you realize you can live your life 100% without the other person, that’s when it’s ok to let them back in. If you even want to. Maybe when you get to that point, you realize you don’t need them in your life. Or maybe you turn out to make the best of friends.

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    • Lili

      Lili July 11, 2012, 2:39 pm

      ” If you even want to. Maybe when you get to that point, you realize you don’t need them in your life.”

      This x1000!

      I used to miss my ex a million times a day right after it happened. I wanted to call him up (er actually text or email) SO MUCH to tell him xyz had occurred and I just HAD to have him know about it. And then I realized that I have awesome kick ass friends. Friends who want to hear all about xyz, and are WAY more positive, receptive and generous in their emotional support whether xyz was a good thing or bad. I mean these ladies always leave me feeling better having shared, This was not always the case with him. Sure he made some things better, but he also made some things worse. So I guess, LW my advice is to maybe cultivate your other friendships right now. Instead of calling him, call them up. Bond over the trivial, and in no time the urge to call him’ll lessen.

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph July 11, 2012, 2:47 pm

        Gosh when I was dating my ex (long distance) I spent a lot of time on the phone with him. When we broke up I started calling other people… my mom, my friends back home (I moved away after college), my sister, my new local friends. The truth is that I had made room for him in my life and when he was gone, the hole he left was easier than I thought to fill back up with the people who used to fill it before I met him!

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  • avatar

    bethany July 11, 2012, 3:17 pm

    I’m friends with a lot of my x’s- Or at least FB friends, and friendly whenever I see them… With some of them I got to that point quickly, others it took years.

    Give yourself at least a month of not talking to him, and see how you feel then. If you can think of him the same way you think of your other friends, then call him. But it sounds to me like it’s going to take you a bit longer than that, since he was your first real love. It might not even be possible to ever just be friends with him.

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    • Leroy

      Leroy July 11, 2012, 7:02 pm

      That brings up the question – what do you mean by ‘friends’?

      By FB standards, I’m friends with most of my ex’s, in that we barely talk but are occasionally updated on each others lives by way of mutual friends who inadvertently reveal things that we’d prefer not to know. But if you mean friends, as in maintain an actual friendship – No.

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  • QaraKoz

    Qara Koz July 11, 2012, 5:03 pm

    Just as you have to negotiate your relationship with someone I think it’s also up to the both of you when you feel ready to break up with someone.

    Around this time last year was when I broke up with an old boyfriend and I remember calling him 2 days later just to make sure he was okay. After which I didn’t talk to him for another month and had to ease back into being friends. (Chatted online a month later, actually saw him 3 months later, etc).

    I did two things to help with the break-up:
    1. After watching an episode of ‘How I met Your Mother’ Ted gives the advice to write a letter reminding yourself all the reasons you broke up in case you are tempted to want to get back together. I think it’s a good way to remind yourself what you’re feeling right now in case you do feel tempted later.
    2. I played a level of angry birds every time I picked up the phone to talk to him. I got really good at angry birds. I missed that feeling of having someone to talk to more than I actually missed him. So find something new to do to distract yourself when you feel that void in your life.

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  • rilooyah

    rilooyah July 11, 2012, 6:51 pm

    I agree that it really is different for everyone. I know Im in the camp of “Uh, no” to being friends with long term exes. And it took me a few relationships when I was younger to figure that out. I remember feeling the same way- that you had such a great friendship in addition to the sexytimes, so that MUST still exist…But no, not for me.

    Also, I think Ive said it here before, that your first REAL heart-breaking breakup hurts the worst of them all. Probably because it IS your first, and you dont know how to really process it or move forward. Breaking up, like pretty much everything, is a learning curve. As in, once you have been able to dig yourself out at least once, then when it next happens, you know you survived once, so there must be a light at the end of the tunnel.

    Also, Wendy really hit the nail on the head re: if you’re yearning to hear his voice, you are NOT in a healthy place to try and foster a friendship with an ex.

    Good luck and internets hugs to you.

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  • MackenzieLee

    ColorsOfTheWind July 11, 2012, 7:13 pm

    As someone who has recently hooked up with an ex (from a mutual breakup) who I thought I was completely over I’ve moved into the viewpoint that being friends with exes isn’t a great idea. If you were not friends with him before dating there is almost no reason to stay friends. I think it is just too much temptation. My guess is that you have plenty of friends in your life already. The risk associated with being friends with an ex is probably not worth the friendship given how many awesome people there are out there to be friends with. This risk is increased because he was your first boyfriend and your first time. I’m not sure that is something you will ever get over

    If you’re dead set on being friends make sure you have a significant period of no contact to move on. It is almost impossible to shift seamlessly immediately from a relationship to friends…..especially with your first relationship.

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  • avatar

    Leah July 12, 2012, 9:16 am

    I think Wendy’s advice is awesome! There are going to be as many rules of thumb as there are people on how to know if you’re “ready” to be friends.

    I say that it’s when you would be genuinely happy for your ex if they started dating someone else. Sure, you may be a bit jealous, too, but if the happiness and excitement for him wins out then you know that you’re more friends than romantic partners at that point.

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  • avatar

    tbrucemom July 12, 2012, 10:23 am

    I think it depends on the seriousness/length of the relationship. In the case of the LW, I would think it will take a while and it may never happen. However, I have to throw this out there. It’s only been a week and she’s missing him so much. Could it be that maybe they needed a little time to figure out how much they mean to each other? Of course, we dont’ know what he’s feeling and maybe it’s just the romantic in me, but maybe it’s worth trying to figure out. I wish I knew their ages. I’m guessing they’re pretty young if he was her first. That could also influence my comment.

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  • avatar

    Bossy Italian Wife July 12, 2012, 3:07 pm

    The only way I have been able to be friends with any of my exes:

    a) when there is no sexual attraction left

    b) when I am not pissed off at them

    If you fit into that category, then go for it.

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