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August 17, 2005



Where do you draw the line?

"Would I be doing this if there were no sexual attraction between us?" and "Would I do this if my spouse were in the room?" are good starters, I think.

Hugo, I don't agree that (for everyone, as a blanket rule) that friendships with exes dishonors your previous relationship. IMO it depends a great deal on what the relationship was like, and why you are exes.


I also agree with Mythago--my ex-boyfriend and I were best friends before we got romantically involved, and I don't want to lose his friendship. (Besides, we're currently 500 miles apart, so there's not as much physical temptation.)

Glen Brown

"I don't think it's a healthy idea to maintain close friendships with one's exes. Somehow, it actually seems to diminish what was shared. To transition from passion to non-sexual friendship seems to dishonor the intense relationship that did exist in the past."

I can only speak from my experience, but my best friend is also my ex - we were partners/lovers first then became best friends. When the sexual side of the relationship stop working (and yes, taht was painful), the connection, the commitment, the actual emotional content of our relationship became stronger and more sustaining. Lovers come and go, but great friends last are too valuable for that. Based on my experience, I'm not sure I agree with Hugo's conclusion. In a world that seems more transitory and mutable than secure, a strong friendship with an ex can be a comfortable, safe relationship in which one can honestly share one's pain, one's fears.

Maybe there's a caveat - if the end of sexual relationship was unsatisfactory or one sided, maybe it's harder to go on and build a friendship.


Well, as I said folks, that's how I lived for many years. And rest assured, I know what it is to give up a much-loved friend.

At the same time, what I thought were uncomplicated friendships all-too-often became complicated. If everyone's current partner is happy with the situation -- and more importantly, if your current partner can have a friendship with the ex too, without even a frisson of jealousy, then have it. But if my friendships cause anxiety for either my spouse or my ex's current partner, then I can't in good conscience say "that's their problem." It's mine.

We make a huge mistake when we think that jealousy is "immature".

I still have fond and warm feelings for several of my exes. Though it's trite to say, I really do wish them well! But they belong to my past, not my present or my future. As I said in my post, this boundary is mine -- not one that I see as best for everyone.

The Biscuit Queen

What an excellent thread. I have had quite some expirience with this. I was a childcare provider for years, and one of my families had a dad who worked odd hours, and we because very close friends. On my end it was completely appropriate, I enjoyed his kids, his company, and we had a lot in common. But his marriage was not so good, and he started crossing lines. It was a very tough thing to end the friendship and the job, but that is what I had to do. My marriage came first.

I agree with Hugo that having fantasy relationships with other people is a huge red flag. I have learned that there is really no line. If you are entertaining thoughts of cheating, and continue to do so while being around the person, you might as well be cheating. You should look within and figure out why you are doing so, and try to change things. My husband and I both just stay away from people we feel strongly attracted to. It is easier to avoid than to stop.

For a while in the beginning of our marriage I had the fantasy problem. I sort of did the same thing Hugo did, I started to think would I like this if my husband were doing this? It usually put a damper on the sexual feeling by making me feel like crap, and made me more empathetic. It ultimately helped us work through our issues and we now have a strong marriage.

In answer to the article, if I had met my husband when I was married to someone else nothing would have happened. Once I married, I said those vows before God, there was nothing that was going to make me break them. As much as I would have liked my husband, he would have been a friend and nothing more.


I think the "omniscient partner" technique is a good one. But like most of the people in this thread, I'd like to put in a vote for the possibility of healthy friendships with your exes (I'm 2 for 2 right now). I was friends with them before and during our romantic involvement, so why sacrifice that just because the romantic part didn't work out? (Obviously things would be different if the relationship ended over some sort of deeper betrayal, rather than just a fading of the spark.) From my perspective, losing touch with them would dishonor our relationship and constitute a repudiation of a phase of my life that -- despite its unhappy ending -- I would do again if I had the chance.

I'm an advocate of having a shared group of close friends. Things became very difficult when one of the couples in our group broke up and couldn't remain friends. So I was very glad that my ex and I could remain friends and continue to hang out with the group (as well as going on "double dates" with our new partners).


Eh, like others here I think you're generalizing a bit too broadly from the specifics of your own experience (something you seem to acknowledge at some points in your post, but not others). I've seen (and had) a relationship trajectory that, while not exactly common, isn't uncommon either. It begins with a mutually noticed deep connection, which then becomes a sexual/romantic relationship. After a time, this relationship becomes awkward, and ceases to feel right. As that phase of the relationship ends, the joy of the original connection of platonic friendship returns, and the relationship finds its appropriate, comfortable, and correct place.

In these cases, of course, there is no fantasy relationship involved; if that's what's going on, then I think Hugo is basically correct.

And jealously is indeed a normal and at times perfectly healthy part of being human, but inappropriate jealousy (both in object and/or intensity) is indeed immature. This would, to my mind, includes jealousy of close friends of the opposite sex. This absurd form of jealousy pretty much ruined my first attempt at a relationship (on both sides) but thankfully I grew out of it and past it rather quickly after that.

Glen Brown

As I reread Hugo's original comment, I find myself focusing more on the issue of boundaries - which boundaries must we absolutely enforce, which are more negotiable. Hugo identified past relationships and present relationship as being relationships in which certain boundaries must be respected, enforced, even rigidly enforced. Hugo also identified another set of boundaries - those between professor or youth worker and student or youth member. Those are boundaries which MUST be enforced and carefully maintained - the possibility of abuse is too great.

Largely, as I have pondered, what I am hearing is a call for finding and establishing healthy boundaries to create healthy relationships. Even in intimate relationships there are boundaries - persons are entitled to have privacy - to not share every thought, every experience - with their partner and yet, even that, can be troublesome.

In relating to exes, there is an element of emotional maturity in being able to relate civilly to one's former lovers/spouses/partners, in being able to be happy for them when they are happy and being able to celebrate a success with them. But, a clear and bright boundary between the current and former relationships seems necessary for good health.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this exactly - I guess toward the notion that healthy boundaries, and a respect for appropriate boundaries, can support healthy relationships. That doesn't mean the same thing for every person or every relationship.


Unless there are children involved, I don't think it's a healthy idea to maintain close friendships with one's exes. Somehow, it actually seems to diminish what was shared. To transition from passion to non-sexual friendship seems to dishonor the intense relationship that did exist in the past.

The thing is, this "transition from passion to non-sexual friendship," for me, often occurs *during* the relationship--several of my relationships have ended because although the "passion" had gone, our genuinely friendly feelings toward each other had not. I do agree, though, that trying to *force* this transition often leads to some pretty awful things, some of which can hurt the people you later get involved with. My feeling isn't so much that trying to be friends with an ex is a sign of immaturity as that *not* trying to be friends with an ex *isn't* necessarily a sign of immaturity. I do see a lot of people trying really hard to be friends with exes they really shouldn't, simply because they believe that if they can't be friendly, then there's something seriously wrong with them.


I do see a lot of people trying really hard to be friends with exes they really shouldn't, simply because they believe that if they can't be friendly, then there's something seriously wrong with them.

I was on the receiving end, as it were, of this approach. A serious relationship ended quite badly. From my point of view the nastiness of the breakup was largely attributable to my ex's passive-aggressiveness -- not that I was faultless by any means, but I do think much of the lingering bad feelings around the breakup had everything to do with her reluctance to discuss our problems directly. I tried to do so, repeatedly, only to be met with assurances that everything was fine -- right up until it wasn't fine at all. After we split, for various reasons, we continued to be thrown into one another's company quite often. Not only was she determined that we should be friends; she simply decided that we were friends. At this point we had really exhausted the limits of our emotional connection, but I was young and clueless and felt somehow obligated to try to live up to her expectations of a continuing friendship for the longest time. It took a lot of effort for me to recognize that we had both fallen into the trap Kathleen refers to: not allowing ourselves to recognize that being friends (or not) with your ex is not a measure of how mature or evolved you are.

On the other hand, my next girlfriend became, after our breakup, my closest friend in the world. She's part of my chosen family and my life would be much the poorer without her in it.


I believe that each relationship has to be dealt with on its own merits. I'm suspicious of rules like "Never be friends with an ex --it's disrespectful to your old relationship" or "Never be friends with an ex -- it's disrespectful of your current relationship" or even "Always be friends with your exes, to prove how 'evolved' you are". One size does not fit all.

If I can't judge each relationship for what it is, has been, and might become, then I will feel trapped. My personal boundaries are about what works, for me, for my exes, for our new partners. I have more than one ex where we did the work (and it was work, believe me) to end and close our romantic partnerships and gave ourselves space to see what happened next. In one case, nothing. She's in the past. In another case, a deep and abiding friendship emerged. In both cases, closure of one phase and giving ourselves time were both necessary to find out what would happen next.

As I think about the party you described, Hugo, with all the exes present, for me the red flag would be if I got a thrill from that fact. That frisson would tell me something was off (for me!) in how I was viewing the whole thing, and might get me to examine more closely what was really going on in those relationships, and in my current partnership. If someone has moved from "lover" to "dear friend", then I would not expect to have a tiny thrill from the fact that she's an ex. And if I found that I was having such a reaction, yeh, I'd worry about it. In the absence of such "off kilter" responses, though, I am unwilling to deny myself the possibilities of friendship, wherever I might find it.

For me, the past is not the past: the past is the source of everything in the present, and honoring it may well include cherishing the things that grew out of it into my present.

The Biscuit Queen

I used to be friends with several ex's, we moved away and lost touch. My husband is still in contact with his ex-wife, she writes a few times a year to keep in touch, and he writes back. I see nothing wrong with it. I think that if your marriage is strong, and you both have good personal boundaries, there is no threat. If the ex or spouse insists on excluding the current spouse, then there would be a problem, if the ex gets more time than the spouse that would be a problem, and if the ex is hearing all of the spouses dirty laundry, that too is a problem. These are all blurring personal boundaries, and seem inappropriate.

But again, it is all up to the individual. I know many people who find my H's ex writing at all to be inappropriate. I know couples who are divorced and spend every weekend with eachother and their new spouses.

The Countess

Hugo: "Unless there are children involved, I don't think it's a healthy idea to maintain close friendships with one's exes."

That might work for some people, but not all. I personally broke ties with all my ex's, except for my ex-husband, obviously, because we have a son together. While I don't think I could pull off remaining friends with my ex's, I know that there are plenty of people who can pull it off. I respect that.

The Countess

I like that "omniscient partner" idea. It's interesting. I bet it would work well for a lot of people. It sounds like it would keep you grounded and rational.


I was friends with them before and during our romantic involvement, so why sacrifice that just because the romantic part didn't work out?

Well, you know the Harvey Fierstein joke about how if God meant us to be friends with our exes, he wouldn't have made them such shits in the first place. ;)

Sometimes a romantic relationship changes the friendship permanently. Sometimes you were friends before because of a romantic attraction. And sometimes being in a relationship shows you a side of a person that isn't very nice, and you wouldn't have seen if you'd remained friends.


I think it all depends in the security of the one your with. Part of honoring you loved one includes not puting their trust to the test simply because you want to put a friends relationship before a lovers. We all have priorities and we all make exceptions to them but a relationship commitment, on a sexual basis and a marriage basis, needs to be put on the top of the list, and that is why it is so important to talk to your loved one about you exes and your friendship to them. I am in a relationship where my loved one goes out to dinner, hangs out with here exes in public, and the rumors and gossip gets old. I am secure with the fact that she has exes who are friends, I know for a fact some of them want to be more. My trust has a breaking point where its not be betrayed that will make me walk away, but that I have to put up with the constant gossip, and sitting at home convicing myself that she would never go too far. Trust is more than just a word.. many times it is displayed by ones actions. I know my lover would never go to far in a perfect world, but its not a perfect world and people make huge mistakes, so our relationship will be just fine as long as I can keep trusting her, but I would rather my trust not be put to the test.

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