The “we can still be friends” concept is an old and tired discussion.
It’s been dissected in thinkpieces online, women’s–and some men’s–magazines, amongst my friends and I, and hotly debated between me and more than a few ex-boyfriends.
There’s all the usual conjecture about it. The typical arguments in defense of it revolve around the issue of maturity. As in “we can be mature enough to still be friends, even though we’re not getting naked with each other ANY MORE.” It’s always been the general consensus that the person who initiates the “I still want to be friends” sentiment is just trying to avoid being painted as the villain. Or both parties are attempting to provide a slight cushion to the terrible blow that is the breakup. I’m totally guilty of doing it. I admit it. But I’ve decided I’m not going to do it anymore. Not because I’m not mature enough to handle being friends with someone who used to lick chocolate syrup off my stomach. But because being able to be civil with someone whom I really loved is far different than calling them my friend. And meaning it.
Calling these people friends cheapens the word. Degrades it and all the real friendships that I do have with people who I can and will call at a moment’s notice for no other reason than to say hey and not worry that I’m overstepping some newly erected boundaries. Boundaries that are awkwardly in place because we don’t know how to navigate the space between past romantic intimacy and genuine friendship. Why do we even have to slap any kind of label on it? Do we just do it to try to reassure ourselves and everyone around us that we’re fine?
I just think it’s ok to forgive ourselves. It’s not a flaw or weakness in character to not want to be friends with someone whom we shared a much deeper connection that for whatever reason didn’t pan out for the long term.
I also believe that social media is one of the hindrances that makes us all feel that we should try to maintain a friendship. Deleting or blocking someone is deemed juvenile. Or weak. But as a good friend of mine likes to say, “I have the right to prevent myself from feeling like crap. It’s my choice and if I want to exercise that right I will.” If seeing an ex’s daily posts on Facebook or Instagram drives you mad with jealousy, rage or sadness then why not just delete them? Honestly who cares what they think about it? And it’s not like the days of my youth when you just asked a friend with an unrecognizable car to circle your ex-boyfriend’s block and do a little recon. Now we can be provided with specific hourly updates to stoke the flames of our pain. A digital drive-by in the form of a brazen, unfiltered newsfeed.
The biggest problem is confusing “friendly” with “friend.” I can’t speak for everyone but the dichotomy between these two things is what seems to have caused me trouble in my past relationships. I dated people who meant “let’s be friendly” but said “let’s be friends”. Because it’s not socially acceptable to blatantly say “hey if we ever bump into each other randomly we’ll be nice to each other, deal?” And I’m all for that. I’m happy to be nice to anyone when I run into them unless that person is unquestionably a jerk. The majority of my ex-boyfriends are not terrible people. I don’t have any voodoo dolls. But calling the new place we get to post-relationship a friendship is nothing more than false lip service. A variation on political correctness. Friends call each other–ok we at least text–we make plans to get together and we keep each other apprised of the big events in life. The good ones and the bad ones. After a break-up I’m doing my best to ignore the fact that person was my main go-to for all things large and small. Because within the romance there IS a friendship intertwined. A strong one. To go from a powerful one to an unmaintained mediocre one seems to be the weak response. And counterproductive personally for me.
Not wanting to be pretend to be friends is not about harboring ill will. And we don’t have to pretend that that’s there’s only two points after a relationship ends. Either a terrible acrimonious situation where two people despise each other or a calm mature friendship. Forget maturity. How about the incredible wide expanse in between of finding emotional well being and where nothing is black and white or set in stone. In reality, that’s where most of us exist.
And how about respecting our actual friends enough to not lump them in with someone who becomes the equivalent of an annual email or a casual smile and wave on the street.