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How I stayed friends with my ex for over a decade

Is staying friends with an ex easy? Maybe not. Is it doable? Yes. Here's why it might work and how it might help

You don't want to move on because you've already set so much context.
You don't want to move on because you've already set so much context. (Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash)

*Posts insta story of lunch at my parents*

T: I want!

Me: You shouldn't have broken up with me then.

T: Yeah, after my friends saw the food you sent last night, they think the same."

I have done many foolish things in my life, but perhaps the most foolish of them all is that I have always tried to stay friends with my exes. Mostly, I have failed. This is the story of the one case in which I succeeded.

"It's not possible, and I don't want to do it ever. When I break up, I break up with that person, their friends, that world. I don't want to have anything to do with it," my friend S says, all the time. He'll bring it up when he's drunk or when I tell him that his ex-girlfriend liked my social media rant.

Most people agree with S, even if they're not as vehement about it, I suppose. Most of my ex-boyfriends definitely agree with S. They don't keep in touch. Honestly, I don't expect them to. I try for some time to send messages to check on them. Of course, the boy is dealing with the break-up worse than I am in my big head. In most cases, I am right.

It's all vastly different with T, of course. T and I dated in the summer of 2010. Or was it winter? I find I can't remember now. We were in high school. It was both of our first relationships, and we were shy and awkward. I don't remember much of the year-long relationship or even why we broke up, but I do remember it was thrilling in the way only firsts can be.

Also Read: How I found and lost a friend on a dating app

Maybe because we were 17 and didn't know better, we decided to hold each other to the "of course we'll still be friends" line traditionally said in break-up conversations. Sure, we took some time off to recover but soon, we were exchanging books and gossip. We were back to trying out each other's favourite restaurants, and when T moved to Mumbai two years after me, a good six years after our breakup, we explored Colaba and comedy shows together. We have attended each other's birthday parties, discussed movies and current relationships, sent food over when the other was sick or sad. And it's not been a one-off thing. Facebook reminds me we've been friends for over ten years.

This brings me to the all-important question: How have we managed to stay friends?

Time: Well, it has been ten years.

Space: I know this is overrated, and I'll always cringe if a TV show character says, "I need space." But I can't deny it helped. The first few months after the break-up, we didn't speak. We still don't hold each other to exacting standards. You want to disappear for six months? Sure. You want to cancel plans with me because you met someone on Tinder? Of course. It was easy not to treat each other as the number one priority. After all, we were doing the same even when we were dating.

Context: Old friends are like therapists. You don't want to move on because you've already set so much context. T and I know all about each other's school lives, our fights with our parents, and what we dreamt of in high school. I'm not repeating ten years' worth of context with someone else now.

Loneliness: It's easy to hold on to just about anyone when you're lonely.

Humour: We made so many bad jokes about our relationship and break-up that we stopped taking ourselves seriously years ago.

A bad memory: It's been a while, and with age, T and I seem to have forgotten the finer details of the relationship. That helps.

Inertia: I asked T while writing this article what he thinks. His answer was just one word: Inertia. We didn't have it in us to go out and make other friends.

A healthy love for restaurants: The truth is, I will be friends with anyone who accompanies me to Cafe Mondegar in Mumbai and Momo I Am in Kolkata.

The other thing about being friends with exes is that it’s always a problem when you start new relationships. Several of the men I dated after T couldn’t understand why I met him or spoke to him often. “But he’s my friend” is apparently not a good enough reason. It became a kind of litmus test. I knew a relationship wouldn’t end well as soon as the complaints about T started. To me, it showed a lack of trust. And it sparked a compulsive desire to rebel. “How dare anyone tell me who to meet and who not to?” was my immediate reaction. When I finally met R and we got together (and stayed together), it helped that he didn’t have an insecure bone in his body. He’s met T and of course, they’re not buddies, but it’s never an issue when we meet. It’s an acknowledgement that ‘sure, I know you used to date but are friends now and I respect that’. I’m not saying this is the reason the relationship worked but it definitely helped.

Also Read: It took a pandemic for my ex and I to start texting again

This is not to say that everyone should be friends with their exes. Definitely not. Especially if they are toxic or if you think it'll stop you from moving on. Don't text them drunk. Or even sober, for that matter.

When a relationship ends, one of the things I miss the most is the constant conversation. It's difficult to give up someone who knows you so well and begin with the small talk again. T and I kept our conversations, along with a healthy dose of respect for each other and our choices. We saw each other grow as people, not as partners. And we found we quite liked who we had become. It was surprisingly easy to stay friends.

Shreemayee Das writes on entertainment, education, and relationships. She is based in Mumbai, and posts as @weepli on Instagram and Twitter. 

Crushes and Exes is an occasional series that chronicles found, lost and elusive stories of love.

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