Can Former Lovers Be Friends?

 By Nina Atwood

I’ve been asked this question countless times over the years: Can two people who were in love and break up then be friends? The answer is twofold: It depends, and maybe in time but usually not at first. To really get at this answer, we have to look at a definition of friendship.

There are many kinds of friends in life – some are situational, such as co-workers or school mates. When you change jobs or graduate, those friendships often don’t last. It’s not that you didn’t like each other; it’s that you didn’t have a bond deep enough to survive without daily reinforcement. There are also business colleague friendships – but those often include the wearing of a social “mask” – you want to look good so you don’t reveal much if anything about your flaws and failures.

One of the characteristics of a deeply bonded friendship is emotional safety – meaning that you have the freedom to completely be yourself and openly share about the deep down stuff of your life. With emotional safety, you can be real – no social mask required. This also means that you lack hidden agendas, and that’s where the problem comes in as former lovers attempt to be friends too soon.

The typical scenario is this: you dated, you fell in love, it went badly, and you broke up. (We’re not talking about the kind of dating relationships that never got that deep.) Now, the person who once loved and made love to you is dating someone new, maybe even sleeping with someone new. It is almost impossible to resist the temptation to compare yourself to the new person in your ex’s life. “Why not me?” you can’t help but wonder. You haven’t yet moved on to someone you’re crazy about, so you are still feeling raw and wounded.

Your ex-lover, now “friend,” shares about a new relationship and you find yourself “coaching” him/her against it. You find fault with the new person, fault with the way they connected, fault with just about everything. You have a hidden agenda whether you are aware of it or not: to keep your ex-lover single until you are happily in love with someone else or until he/she comes back to you. Exposing yourself to the reality that your lover has moved on is like pouring gasoline on a fire – it keeps you inflamed, prevents healing.

Here’s what works: Post break-up, don’t see one another and don’t talk on the phone until a significant time period has passed. Give yourself time to heal from the wounds, the loss, and the disappointment. Protect yourself from further injury by removing yourself from the knowledge of your ex’s love life. Agree that you will re-evaluate and check in with one another down the road. Six months, nine months, or a year later, take inventory. If you’re feeling truly comfortable – couldn’t care less if he/she is with someone new – then see if you still want a friendship with that person.

Most of the time, people discover that they don’t. Bottom line: it’s rare for ex-lovers to become good friends, and if they do, it is only after the passage of time and with a great deal of healing. Even if you do re-connect down the road as friends, it probably won’t last beyond your involvement with someone new who will not appreciate that connection. Most likely you should just move on.

What is your experience? Share it with us – take our survey today on lovers and friends. Click here to get started.

Entry Filed under: Advice for Men,Advice for Women,Breaking Up,Dating,Relationships


  • 1. kenny  |  July 2nd, 2008 at 7:34 am

    I dated a girl from the age of 14 to 21. We then parted completely ntil I heard that she was in major need of some help that my career skills would be able to fulfill rapidly. I emailed her and she was thrilled to hear from me. Since then, we have dinner every few months with the odd year of out-of-touch in between. Having known each other now for over 20 years, we share everything about our relationships, to family and health issues etc. We can openly discuss anything. However, she recently mentioned that I am exactly what she’s looking for…only if she knew what our physical chemistry would be like. Yet, we both realize that it wouldn’t work and would put what is now more of a family relationship in great jeopardy. It would be out of curiosity and nostalgia rather than love. We love each other as good friends. Anything more is known to be absent. So, I believe it is possible, but yes, much time had to pass and has to remain in between seeing each other in order to avoid a doomed-from-the-start union.

  • 2. Sheshe  |  October 20th, 2008 at 2:08 am

    I dated a man on and off for 3 yrs. He was married but separated most of the time we were together however we maintained contact while he was with his wife. He lead me to believe that there was a future for us and I fell in love with him. He ultimately got divorced and we continued to see each other. Recently however he told me that he did not feel anything romantic for me but stated that I was his best friend. I feel the same way about him being my best friend but everything in the above article is true. When he dates other women I am the first person he tells about them and I do find myself sabotaging the relationship and I constantly find myself wondering why not me?? I do believe that taking time away from him would be the right thiing to do but I cannot bring myself to take a step back. I find myself getting more and more resentful of him. Not sure what to do.


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