How to be friends with your exes – for lesbians

How to be friends with your exes – for lesbians

Lesbian culture is built on family – the families formed by women, their exes and their ex’s exes.

Herstorically, this has been because most women were estranged from homophobic families and other supports and needed one another to survive. We connected in close communities that had to get a long and support one another, and you were going to run into your ex girlfriend for the rest of your life at parties and events.

As well, often your partners were selected from your friendship group, which was likely to stay mutual when you broke up.

As lesbians have gotten more and more civil rights, these types of ties aren’t as life-critical, but often are still present. So how do you make friends with your ex partners?

Decide if she’s worth staying friends with

Has your ex been generally a decent person to you? Do you like her? Putting aside whatever relationship resentments you might have, does she have the potential to be a good friend? or at least a pleasant aquaintance?

Note, if she’s done something horrible, like cheating on you, deceiving you in some significant way, hitting you, abusing you or stealing from you, then go ahead and make a clean break and stay apart. See below for advice on how to handle running into exes you aren’t able to be friends with.

Do it clean

When breaking up, it will save you a lot of trouble later on if you can do it as cleanly as possible. Most people aren’t bad people. Often you break up just because you are a bad fit in one or more areas. Seeing it this way and choosing not to blame can be worth it, even when you really want to say things you’ll likely regret. Choosing to be the big person is super helpful and leaves you with less to clean up. Go ahead and complain about her to your besties for the first few months, write her nasty letters you don’t send, but in person, you won’t regret it if you just keep it to things that don’t blame. These could be reasons that are true but non-blaming like: “this is not working for me”, “I don’t want to be together anymore”, “I don’t like that you want to break up but I can accept it” “we want different things, and that’s okay” or”nobody is a bad person here, we are just not a fit” .

Take a break

Are you hoping to get back together? Do you really want her to explain why you broke up? Are you likely to say embarassing or unkind things right now, or other things you’re going to regret later? Then take a good solid no-contact break.

Let her know you need at least 6 months of time on your own before being in touch. Unfollow her on social media, and unfriend or block her there, divert any incoming emails from her to a folder you don’t have to see, or have them forward automatically and then delete to a friend who can scan them for anything you need to know. Block her on your phone if you are particularly tempted, or are having trouble staying broken up.

Be clear

Get back in contact once your apart time is up, and you know you can trust yourself to take the high road. Once you are back in contact, be very clear with yourself. Don’t make romantic gestures, or give her lingering looks or touch her in ways you wouldn’t touch other kinds of friends. Be circumspect.

Be family

My philosophy is that exes are family – they can be as close as sisters, or be more like a second cousin once removed that you are friendly with at reunions. But unless they’ve done something worthy of removing that status, they are family. I do not trash-talk them except for that window of venting after the breakup when venting is necessary, or to one’s besties as required… I do my best not to re-activate old arguments from the relationship – because it’s just not relevant any longer. I help them when I can, encourage and be that friend who knows what they are really like and loves them anyhow. I ask them for help when needed.

It is so great to have someone who knows you well and who has seen you at your best and worst in your life. I am so grateful for all my exes.

But what if I can’t or shouldn’t be friends with my ex?

Here are some strategies to cope with being in community with an ex you don’t want to be friends with. These kind of exes might be those with whom you have a push pull or narcissistic dynamic that feels addictive to you, who you are having trouble getting over, who have stalked you, or who have done something that disqualifies them from friendship, like cheating, stealing or being abusive.

Unless your ex is a big closet case or moves away, you are likely to run into her socially. During the first 6 months to a year after the breakup, if you need to not be in a room with her, you can likely enlist your friends to warn you if she is going to be somewhere, or to come with you and agree to leave with you if she is there. Trying to get your friends not to invite her to things – unless there is abuse involved – is likely not going to work well, but getting friends to text you and warn you is usually doable.

If you find yourself at an event with any of these kinds of ex, and can’t or don’t want to leave, a good strategy, if you can is to do the ‘drive by’ – walk by, say a neutral toned “hi” but keep moving. Then position yourself somewhere where she is out of your direct line of sight (and you hers) and try to forget she’s there. Ignore her as unobtrusively as you can. With the one or two exes I need to do this with, I eventually don’t even have to think of ignoring her, it just happens automatically. The ‘drive by’ technique means you won’t be wondering if you are going to run into her and what you will say, it’s already out of the way. Bring a friend with you if you need to. If you can’t deal with the drive by part, just go directly to the power ignoring. Low key ignoring is always a good approach – it keeps your interaction like teflon – easy to slide off so you can enjoy going on with your life.

It’s worth it

Lesbian relationships are worth the work to preserve as friendships – the networks of women we cultivate in our lifetime who have known us intimately (both emotionally and physically) are valuable and form the core of lesbian culture. We have a lot to be proud of, including our culture of staying connected and loyal to those we love. Here’s to besty exes!

Photo by Katie Treadway on Unsplash



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