We can still be friends, but should we?

Sunday, February 14, 2021 - 12:30pm


Design by Jessica Chiu

On a warm August afternoon in the Law Quadrangle, my boyfriend and I finally had the dreaded talk about our exes. Beaming with pride, he revealed that he was still friends with many of his exes, with some of them comprising his group of best friends. I suppressed an eye roll as I told him that I wasn’t in contact with most of mine, with a few even being blocked on social media. Eyebrows raised, he looked at me with the all-too-familiar smirk of superiority that I’ve become accustomed to receiving from those who take pride in staying friends with their exes.

My lack of contact with my exes isn’t necessarily due to bad relationships, messy breakups or even miscommunication. I simply believe that the period after a relationship ends is prime time for personal growth and that afterward, you shouldn’t be around somebody who reminds you of a past version of yourself. 

In addition, I think that more often than not, the decision to stay friends with an ex is precipitated by a desire to hold on to a person who was once a big part of your life. This is a completely natural impulse, but resisting it allows you to become the person you really want to be without being imprisoned by the shackles of your past.

I won’t stand on a soapbox and preach at you, though. Last year, after breaking up with my long-term high school boyfriend, I immediately launched myself into a series of flings and hookups, quickly finding myself entrapped in strange love triangles and awkward run-ins. A few weeks of backsliding with my ex eventually gave way to another period of no-contact, during which he blocked me on social media. Months later, I asked if we could be friends, but once we began talking again, I quickly realized that friendship with him was unnecessary for both of us — nothing more than a remnant of the past few years that was determined to linger forever if we allowed it.

Friendships with exes can also easily become toxic, be it for yourself, a new relationship or even mutual friends. Research suggests that friendships between exes generally have more negative aspects than other cross-sex platonic friendships. Additionally, exes are often used as emotional substitutions for a new partner when that new relationship takes a turn for the worse. Exes can cause feelings of jealousy and territorialism in a new partner, creating unnecessary tension and chaos in the early stages of a relationship. 

This is not to say that it’s impossible or even useless to be friends with an ex. My boyfriend has a successful, healthy friendship with one of his exes, where they are both assets to each other’s lives. That said, most other ventures at friendships with ex-significant others do not go as swimmingly, which can serve as a detriment to personal growth. Friendship with an ex isn’t inherently a sign of maturity and often can belie an inability to think critically about the people who are allowed in your life.

There is power in being able to know when to close a chapter of your life and move on without attachments. Studies show that adolescents who are able to reevaluate their friendships had stronger exploration, and therefore firmer identities compared to peers who didn’t frequently engage in this reassessment. 

Knowing when to leave someone behind gives you the power to decide which parts of yourself to leave behind with them.

I think about my exes still. Sometimes, when I see a funny Snapchat memory with my ex from senior year of high school or walk past their apartment complex on my way to class, I have the urge to text them just to let them know I was thinking about them. 

My exes have become a part of me in some way or another and I am grateful for the experiences I’ve had because of them, but there’s a reason that they’re memories. I’ve learned a lot from them, which allows me to cuddle up on the couch with my boyfriend this Valentine’s Day, watch “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before 3” and revel in being in the present.

Mrinalini Iyer can be reached at iyermili@umich.edu.

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