So, it’s over. Your romance has run its course and it’s time to call it quits. Maybe you ended it, maybe they did, but whatever happened, it’s over. And something probably came up during the breakup speech that’s rattling around in your head now: “I hope we can stay friends.”
It’s a nice thing to say during a breakup, assuming the relationship isn’t ending on a particularly ugly note. It communicates warm wishes and a general feeling of fondness even if forever isn’t in the cards. But is it a good idea?
First of all, let’s make one thing clear: Of course it’s possible to “stay friends” in the sense that the other person means a lot to you and you wish them all the best. But that’s not really what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about an intentional friendship with regular, deliberate friend stuff. Hanging out. Catching up. That’s the sort of friendship that can be tricky after a breakup.
Let’s break it down. There are several factors to consider when thinking about post-breakup friendship:
Why Do You Want to Stay Friends?
One thing that should be obvious: this idea lands very differently for the person doing the breaking up and the person getting broken up with. The person doing the breaking up probably means well. They’ve already processed some of the breaking up and are ready to move on from romance, but genuinely hope to stay in touch in the future. They probably mean well.
It hits different for the person getting dumped, who may be reeling from new heartbreak and is desperate to hang onto any connection. If you’ve been there, you know how you start to concoct fanciful narratives of how staying friends can lead back to a happy romantic relationship. Friendship can become just an unfortunate means to an unlikely end — a way of holding onto something that’s already over, limping along with a shadow of the dating relationship you had instead of moving on to something healthier.
So that’s no good.
How Long Did You Date?
This is a pretty serious factor, because it determines how far you’ll need to backtrack to get to “just friends.” Did you just date for a few months and decide things were better off platonic? Going back to friendship might come a little easier.
Have you been dating for a year or more? That might be a little more complicated. You’ve built in relational rhythms that won’t go away just because you’ve had a “it’s over” conversation. There are deep bonds that have been forged that you’ll both probably find yourself reverting to over the course of your friendship. You’ve made memories that are a core part of your interactions.
None of these things necessarily mean the friendship will be bad. What it does mean is that you might find your friendship looking more or less the same it did as when you were dating. And that can make it pretty hard to settle into your new season of singleness and move on from your time together.
How Serious Was It?
This one is a little trickier to determine, since “seriousness” is often in the eye of the beholder and the evaluation of how serious things were may not be the same for all parties involved. But it’s probably the most crucial part of figuring out if you can stay friends or not.
There is no harm in saying that a relationship mattered so much that it might need to stay in the past. You’re not doing the other person a disservice by requesting real space to let the heartbreak heal. All that proves is that they’re important to you and the relationship really did matter. Sometimes, relationships can matter too much for you to stay friends after they’re over, and that’s OK.
How Do Your Friends Feel About It?
It’s easy to get so stuck in your own emotions that you’re not the best judge of the wisest action to take. When that happens, it’s time to phone a friend. Trusted friends can have much clearer insight into your emotional state than you do, but they may be nervous about being candid with you. Level with them. Tell them you value their opinion and you’re wondering about the best decisions to make during this fragile and volatile period in your life. Tell them you want them to be honest with you. And — most importantly — take their feedback seriously. It can be easy to dismiss truths we don’t want to hear, but wise advice is only worthwhile if you put it into practice. If a friend tells you that they think you need to move on, then set up some real boundaries to make sure that happens. And if you need help doing that, well, what are friends for?
Once you’ve weighed these factors, there are a few conclusions you might come to:
Yes, We Can Stay Friends
We’ll shoot you straight here: This one is rare. Some people can stay friends after a breakup. Some people can also speak 12 languages or swim the Panama Canal. Some people can do these things, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal or healthy for everyone to try. Be honest enough with yourself and considerate enough of the other person to make sure that “yes” is the right answer here before you try, and pay extra attention to any red flags.
No, We Shouldn’t Stay Friends
This can be tough, but it’s often the reality. In order to really move on and stay healthy, it can be best to agree to give each other space. It’s often the healthiest choice for all involved — not just because you need time to heal but you need time to grow too. It can be hard to make space for a new season (and maybe, eventually, a new romantic partner) if you’re still actively involved in the same relationship you just got out of. You can peacefully and lovingly agree to part ways without drama or disaster and begin the process of moving on.
We Shouldn’t Be Friends For Now
Life is long and people are complicated. Sometimes our lives aren’t so much linear as they are winding roads. Just because you’re saying “no” to a friendship for now doesn’t mean that someday, down the road, things might change. Give yourself time and space to heal and gain a better, healthier perspective on your wellbeing. Maybe the door will open up again for a healthy, meaningful friendship down the road.