They say when one door closes, it should be kept closed. Does that mean exes and friendships are no-nos?
A Canadian-Portuguese poet once wistfully said: Flames to dust, lovers to friends, why do all good things come to an end? For the longest time, the end of a relationship meant “so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye”. But if love’s an open door, must it remain closed after the love has gone? I’d like to think that it’s possible to remain friends with your exes, though I’m probably in the minority…
The story of us
I might not be the best person to talk about this. See, I haven’t been in a lot of relationships. And even after breaking up, I’m still able to maintain good standing with my exes. So my answer would be in the affirmative. That’s until recently when my latest ex stopped responding to my texts. What sparked the change? Before this, we were friendly to each other. They’d send me funny videos and memes, and I’d drop a random text about celebrity goss or spilling some tea. I know we’re cool. Or so I thought. Now I’m standing alone in a crowded room and we’re not speaking…
To be fair, this isn’t the first time that’s happened. The other ex – the one before this – also ghosted me after being on talking terms for some time. I was confident it wasn’t me. But now, after a two for two? I’m having second thoughts. So, being the curious cat I am (meow), I decided to slink around and find out if it’s possible to remain friends with an ex. Perhaps whatever I’ve gathered might change my perspective too.
We are never ever ever getting back together
When I first pitched this article and the reason behind it, I got a couple of “oh nos” (empathically, not in a shady manner). “I think it’s hard to stay friends,” Ashe, my fellow writer, said. I’m unsure if I’m being optimistic or naive, but either way, I refused to believe – and accept – it. Such stubbornness!
My trip down the rabbit hole started with the easiest task: a quick search on Dr Google. The result spewed numerous articles, ranging from the how-tos and when to stay friends with your ex to the why. Some think pieces date all the way back to 2012! Clearly, this is a tale as old as time.
According to a Forbes article, a psychologist suggests asking yourself three things before choosing to remain friends with a former lover. Meanwhile, Vox lists a plan to prep you, in case you decide to continue being in your ex’s life (and vice versa). So far, everything looks promising. We’re off to a favourable start.
Next, I posed the question to people I know. Unsurprisingly, almost everyone responded no. According to my sister, it’s “not good for your mental, emotional, and physical health”. Financial health is not affected, apparently. Wise words, but I’m still not budging from my stance.
I decided to go bigger for the sake of this article. Go big or go home, right? So I put the question up on our Instagram stories and Telegram channel. The results were neck and neck. 42% on Instagram were split between no and maybe; over on Telegram, 41% of voters picked no, while 42% said maybe. While comforted by the ‘maybe’ votes, I found myself wavering a little bit. Is it me? Am I the drama, looking for unnecessary trouble in my love life?
Just another picture to burn
My quest for answers led me to Main Street Commissary, a quaint cafe and curatorial art space in Jalan Besar. It was running The Ex-hibition, in collaboration with Sincerely, Singles, showcasing themes of love, loss, and longing in its bittersweet nature.
The first installation that grabbed my attention was a computer setup. ‘Texts From Exes’ was a digital collection of past messages from exes that were submitted to the organisers. The messages varied, from ones that wished each other well to others that exposed the last fight some former couples were involved in.
The next display was called ‘Letters To My Ex’. Cafe-goers were invited to contribute by putting up their old letters or writing a message on the spot. The peg board overflowed with notes. One statement read: “Hope you light up someone’s life like the flames of hell.” Yikes.
At the cafe entrance, I saw two boxes where everyone could dump their mementoes and old memories. Interested parties could sift through and take home anything they fancied. “I wouldn’t take anything, man,” my friend claimed. “So much bad juju.”
The Ex-hibition left me amused, but also a little weirded out. It’s like a traffic accident – you’re told not to look, but you can’t stop yourself. It didn’t help that when I was there, a couple of people were intensely scrutinising everything. Every. Thing. “Oh, this was written so well!” “I’m going to steal this idea for myself.” I had to dip out of the place.
I decided to reach out to the cafe for their thoughts on this perennial issue. “I certainly think you can (remain friends), but whether you should is a whole other discussion,” said Daphne Ling, owner of Main Street Commissary. Well, that’s comforting to hear.
Are we out of the woods?
My romantic relationships have all ended peacefully. There’s no drama involved, apart from the flood of tears. And eventually, we’re able to meet again as friends. It works for me because we got to know each other platonically before becoming romantically involved. It wouldn’t have worked if we didn’t have friendship as our foundation.
I did consider hitting up my exes and asking them what happened to us, but I stopped myself. We’re not even together together anymore; we’re only friends! And if our friendship has run its course, that’s it. You can’t force someone to do something if they’re not up to it.
Have my thoughts changed? Not really – I still believe it’s possible to stay friends with your exes. This is the hill I’m willing to die on. But, as Daphne mentioned, whether you should is another thing altogether. If things ended on a sour note or red flags like abuse were part of the equation, remaining friends is out of the question.
At the end of the day, the decision lies with you. If you can make it work without catching feelings again, why not?