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how to be friends with your ex

My ex and I were together three years and we broke up eighteen months go. While the strength of a relationship fades gradually (at least I don’t know anybody who was madly in love one day and not the next) long term or serious relationships end bluntly, “Now I’m here, now I ain’t” type thing. And for me, the swift transformation was all encompassing. It was like I’d had a fulltime job for three years and then suddenly found myself unemployed. After a while, a relationship can become an unconscious thing. So breaking up becomes like quitting smoking: you suddenly have all these spare moments you don’t know what to do with. What does one do waiting for the kettle to boil, if not text their boyfriend? My ex updated Facebook a lot. I smoked a lot.

We fucked up our breakup very badly. When I was happily in love and part of a functional relationship, I observed mistakes other couples made when breaking up. Then, when it was my time to shine, I made all the same mistakes and then some. We slept together and then yelled at each other and then slept together and then got back together and then broke up five minutes later and then slept together again and then screamed some more. Our conversations over the past eighteen months can be divided pretty equally into two categories: honest and cruel or civil and fake. The arguments were exhausting, but I found the falsities even more depressing.

Finally, we managed to have an honest and civil discussion and we turned over the leaf to becoming friends. Finally. I’m exhausted.

Of course every relationship struggles with its own unique minutiae; but disregarding all the specifics of our relationship, the one central determiner for my ex and I to become friends has been to care about each other less.

I have a lot of friends whom I love dearly, and they all annoy me a bit. Two of them get really loud and sarcastic when they meet new people; two of them escalate to yelling too readily, turning every conversation into a vicious debate; some of them are lovely sober and annoying drunk; some of them are too arrogant; some of them are too competitive. But these annoyances are irrelevant when compared to the joy of spending time with people who are otherwise intelligent, passionate, funny and inspiring. And the role of friends is just that: to enjoy each other’s company. Some friends – your besties – are closer and are people you go to for advice. But for the general population of party guests, it’s not always your place to tell someone you think they’re making a huge mistake quitting the band to study engineering.

The difference with the relationships I’ve been in is that you do acknowledge one another’s annoying minutiae. After many parties or family or work functions my boyfriend and I would have conversations that began something like: ‘’You know when you were discussing freegansim with Adam… well there was just something about the way you were arguing. Just the way you say things some times is annoying. Oh, and don’t study engineering.” In general, conversations like this with a friend come off as condescending and overly critical.

It’s hard to adjust to not making these observations about an ex because, at least for a while, you still know them more intimately than most people. Breaking up with someone doesn’t mean you know him or her any less, but it does revoke your right to exercise your learned observations. And it’s even more difficult that your ex is probably going to get on your nerves more than most people.

Of course I still care about my ex. But in the same way I care about all my friends: I care that he is healthy, happy and that his mum and dog are well. But he and I have both had to adjust to finding one another annoying in the same way we find everyone else annoying.

It’s a huge relief to finally arrive at being friends and I can definitely point to some whopper mistakes I made along the way. Unfortunately I have this sickening feeling I’m doomed to make the same mistakes again. I don’t think breakups are something you can ever do very well.

By Allee Richards

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