By Mark Reed | @mark_reed88

In a phenomenon that seems to be particular to the gay community, a lot of guys end up with a friend or two who they used to go out with. Some still go on holiday together. But how close a friend can your ex really be?

It seems only natural that at some point after a break-up, you might want to form a friendship. If it was a good relationship then there was something that drew you both together. Even though it broke down, you still want to have that person in your life. It seems a shame to remove them completely. You woke up together. You had breakfast together. You walked in the park together. You laughed together. You made love together. Then all of a sudden, you turned the tap off. You saw this person all the time. And now you don’t see them at all.

It’s hard to renegotiate your relationship with an ex. Of course you might need to have that time apart before you can even contemplate a friendship. When you’re ready to get back in touch, these are some good things to consider.

Why do you want to be friends?

You want to be clear about why you want to be friends with your ex. Is it because you’re hoping that maybe you can get back together? That sounds like something we should already know, but sometimes we don’t want to delve too deep and admit to ourselves that we want that person back. If that’s the case, then establishing a friendship is not a good idea. You either tell them how you feel or give yourself time for those leftover feelings to subside. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you’re trying to act the friend, but wishing for something more. You’ll end up an emotional basket case, rocking from side to side while watching Bridget Jones’s Diary on repeat. That’s not a good look on anyone. So make sure you want to be friends because you genuinely want them to be a significant part of your life, and not because you’re still secretly in love with them.

Readjust your expectations

What are you expecting from your ex? They’re not going to talk to you every day, reassure you, support you and do all those things that a boyfriend does. Equally, you aren’t going to be obliged to provide those same things for your ex. So, it might take some time to renegotiate a friendship and not get stuck in your old ways. That can be hard, realising that you can’t treat them the way you used to.

Losing that physical ease with someone can be particularly difficult. You loved to hug him around the waist whilst he did the dishes because he couldn’t get away. You liked when he rested his hand on your lower back while you were watching TV together. You played with his beard and he’d get annoyed because it tickled. You miss all these things and you can’t do them any more, that feels strange.

You get used to it and over time, you establish a new dynamic. A new dynamic where you don’t do the shopping together, or ask each other how their day was all the time, or spoon on the sofa after a long day. It’s sad but of course it’s a necessary step.

Friends with benefits

It’s not unusual for you and your former beau, once you’ve established a friendship, to fall into old habits, mostly habits involving poking and holes. Of course, it’s an easy option. You know each other, how you both operate, your little do’s and dont’s, etc. And it’s not only easy, it can feel safe having sex with someone you used to be emotionally intimate with. For those reasons, it seems possible – even likely – that it will happen.

However, if you’re going to open that door, prepare yourself for what may be lurking there. You might see it as just some friendly fun, but what if it starts to reawaken your feelings for your ex, or vice versa? Then you’re back to square one, the place you’ve been trying to escape. If only things could be as straightforward as that movie with Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake, right? Maybe it wasn’t actually so straightforward. I don’t know, I never watched the movie, it looked terrible. 

Know when to abort

Some relationships just aren’t worth saving. They’re destructive, or they bring out the worst in you: your insecurities, your fears, and just about everything that you didn’t like about yourself. You think you need to hold on to this person, but in actual fact, you need to get far away from them. This isn’t Baywatch, and you’re not David Hasselhoff. You can’t save everyone.

They may be a great person, a person that you loved dearly but that doesn’t mean that together you make a great couple, let alone good friends. Some break-ups may not even be that dramatic, but they still hurt like hell. I would urge caution if you’re forming a new friendship whilst your old wounds are still healing.

Your ex’s new romance

So, your friendship is going swimmingly and you’re becoming the best of chums. But, your new bff/former ex drops the fact they’ve started seeing someone new. Now you have to decide just how you’re going to deal with that piece of information. If you’re lucky, you’ll be in a place where you can be happy for them and not feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach. If you’re not so lucky, it may feel like someone has ripped your stomach out and replaced it with a card that says ‘Haha! I told you this would happen’. You need to be very secure in yourself to be able to handle this well.

Even if you are happy, well adjusted, and have effectively ‘moved on’, you still might not want to hear about his new boyfriend. You don’t want to get back together, but it’s painful to imagine them with someone else. That’s OK. That’s who you are. You decide how deep this friendship can be. Will you be best buddies or Christmas card pals or something in between? Everyone’s different. Some people will be able to talk with their ex about new romances and have a great, honest and open friendship, whereas some people will have to have their ex at arm’s reach. You choose what’s right for you.

It’s not you, it’s me

It seems that everything I’ve said so far highlights the precautions to take when establishing a friendship with an ex rather than the positives. Personally, I feel that we shouldn’t automatically become friends with our exes, just because lots of other gay men do. Friendships can be fraught and complicated enough at times, even if you weren’t a couple. I want to be damn sure that this isn’t going to bite me in the ass when I realise that I can’t – or worse – don’t want to be friends with this person any more.

So, yes, I am cautious when it comes to making friends with an ex and so should everyone. That doesn’t mean you can’t. I count one or two exes as very good friends, I’m very happy they’re still in my life. I just made sure they were there for the right reasons, and not the messy, complicated ones that made us break up in the first place.