Have you ever stayed friends with an ex? Is it a good idea? Chances are, if you’ve experienced break-ups, it’s a topic that’s come up at some point.
Singers Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes are giving it a go. The pair, who became an item in 2019, have announced on Instagram that they’ve split – but still love each other as friends.
Cabello, 24, and Mendes, 23, said in their statement: “Hey guys, we’ve decided to end our romantic relationship but our love for one another as humans is stronger than ever. We started our relationship as best friends and will continue to be best friends.”
So, can you be friends with an ex? Relationships are not one-size-fits-all and what works for one may not work for another.
It’s important to think about what feels good and healthy for you – after all, living by other people’s opinions is not usually a route to happiness.
But if you are pondering whether it’s a good idea to be friends with an ex, there might be a few things you want to ask yourself.
Why do you want to stay friends?
“I would say initially, it’s all about why you want to be friends with your ex,” says Tina Wilson, relationship expert and founder of Wingman.
“If you were friends before and it developed into a relationship, then potentially yes, if you communicate and you’re both in it for the right reasons, because you want to save a friendship.”
Some break-ups happen amicably as a mutual decision – and you realise, really, you’ve been more like friends for a while.
That might make transitioning to ‘just friends’ much easier. But generally speaking, Wilson thinks it’s a good idea to have a bit of a ‘cooling off’ period, to give both of you a chance to process the breakup and figure out how you really feel.
“When people first split, a lot of emotions are high. You might feel desperately sad, or almost relieved.
Give yourself at least a good couple of months to cool off, and then [see if] you still feel like ‘I miss that person as a friend’ and it’s not, ‘I’m a bit lonely here and I’ve got that connection with that person’ – because that’s a selfish reason to do it,” Wilson explains.
“Be really mindful of their feelings, too. Be honest, give them a call and say, ‘Look, we were together for this amount of time, I miss you as a friend, do you think we could go forward as friends?’
And if they say, ‘No, my feelings are a bit mixed up still about the relationship’, then you have to respect that and move on.”
Feelings can change
How we feel in the aftermath of a break-up might look very different a few months down the line.
There’s a lot to process – and that can be very up and down and confusing.
People process at different rates too, so be prepared to be kind and patient with yourself and each other, before making any firm decisions on what a friendship might look like.
And remember, it’s natural to seek comfort when we’re in the midst of a break-up.
The idea of letting go completely overnight can be really hard – but is staying friends what you’ll want in the future? Does one of you, deep down, hope for a reconciliation?
Do you think offering to stay friends somehow protects you and them from being hurt?
If you’re the one initiating the break-up, be mindful of wanting to be kind by softening the blow with friendship.
This might seem like a ‘nicer’ way of doing it, but could it actually be quite selfish?
“In that moment, you do feel like you don’t want to be the bad person, so you’re like, ‘Let’s stay friends, let’s go for coffee’.
But sometimes, you do have to rip the band-aid off, otherwise, you’re just prolonging someone’s pain, especially if it wasn’t an amicable split.
So, have a good hard chat with yourself – and think is this really because I want to stay friends with this person? Or am I just being nice, or do I still have feelings for them? Then, it’s never a good idea,” says Wilson.
Will new partners shift things up?
This is not to say people can’t ever be friends with exes – there are many people who have stayed friends, whether for a period or long-term.
Being able to communicate honestly and set boundaries will likely be important though, as well as being mature enough to accept that things may change when other new partners come into the frame.
“If you look at scenarios where other potential partners come into the picture, would they be comfortable with it?
You may have to be very careful with other people’s feelings surrounding it,” says Turner.
“People might have a lot of history together and want to stay friends, but sometimes what we find, is when you get to your next relationship, potentially the new partner can become jealous of the memories and the closeness that the previous partner had.”
But Turner cautions against getting into a situation where someone is keeping you on a back-burner.
“Is it because they want to have that push-pull power over you, and always know where you are and always feel like they can have you back when they want to?
There could be a few red flags that might come up there for me. Sometimes it’s better to just walk away and start again.”
Or it might be that once you’re really loved up with someone else, your focus naturally drifts to your new partner and your need for that friendship changes.
Life and relationships can be ever-evolving things, and again, it’s not about hard-fast rights and wrongs.
Bottom line, it’s always a bit of a “case by case” issue, says Turner. Just give yourself some time and be honest.