Can exes be friends?


Senior fashion merchandising major Shannon Kelley in her home in Kent on Wednesday, September 11, 2019.

Andriana Ruscitto

Greta Schuster, a junior education major, and her ex-boyfriend met through a mutual friend during their freshman year of high school. They were best friends for two years, but when they became more serious, their relationship turned toxic.

“We would always have a great time together as friends,” Schuster said. “But dating him was toxic. He took up a lot of my time and caused a lot of stress. Once we started dating, he would get into a lot of trouble, and I always felt like I had to babysit him.”

Four months into the relationship, Schuster knew she didn’t want to be with him anymore. She broke it off, but she feared losing him not only as a boyfriend, but also a friend.

A month after the breakup, Schuster reached out to him in hopes of rekindling their friendship. From there, the two started to occasionally text and hang out, but Schuster thinks this held her back from enjoying new relationships. 

“When I started dating other people, I kept it a secret from him,” Schuster said. “I knew he still had feelings for me, and I didn’t want to mislead him. Worrying about his feelings prevented me from opening up to other people.” 

Schuster said she wishes she gave her ex more time to heal before reaching out to become friends again, but overall, becoming friends with her ex was a good experience.

“He moved away about a year ago,” Schuster said. “Even though we are both in new relationships, whenever he comes home, we make it a point to see each other.”

Although Schuster and her ex were able to become friends again, not all friendships between ex-romantic partners work out.

One 2000 study, for example, found that friendships with ex-romantic partners can be characterized as low-quality relationships with many negative attributes, compared with platonic cross-sex friendships, for which the quality of friendship was rated significantly higher. 

This finding was true for a senior fashion merchandising major, Shannon Kelley, who did not build a friendship with her ex before dating.

“We only knew each other for a month before we became boyfriend and girlfriend,” Kelley said. “I think this caused our relationship to frequently be on and off again.”

Over the course of a year, Kelley and her ex broke up and got back together four times. She said that they didn’t have a lot in common and would constantly fight about little things, such as making plans. 

“Our relationship was very one sided,” Kelley said. “For example, if I wanted to go out to dinner, we could never just go to dinner, unless it was easy for him.”

Kelley overlooked their arguments because she wanted to make their relationship work, but she was pushed to her limit the fifth time they broke up.

“I found out he cheated on me,” Kelley said. “Him cheating was the perfect excuse for me to be done with him for good.”

They broke up before summer ended, but when they came back to school, her ex reached out in hopes of becoming friends.

“He would reach out to me, and I would respond to keep the peace,” Kelley said. “Our conversations were never awkward, but they felt very forced. Almost as if I was picking points on a bulleted list of what you say to your ex.”

Trying to be friends with her ex messed with her emotions and prevented her from moving on with her life. 

“I was trying to be friends with him to please him,” Kelley said. “But in reality, it gave him hope and took time out of me. It was a relief when I broke up with him, and that’s how I knew it was the end of the chapter.”

They both went their separate ways and are no longer friends. Kelley stopped trying to salvage the relationship because she couldn’t look past the issues they had and didn’t see a point in rewiring their friendship.

In an article from Psychology Today, Tanya Fruehauf, a sex therapist, supports Kelley’s decision.

Breakups happen for a good reason and trying to rekindle a friendship with your ex could be emotionally dangerous, especially if the relationship dealt with trust issues, Fruehauf said. But if you want to remain friends with your ex, it is possible.

In the article, Christine Selby, a psychology professor at Husson University, said if you want to maintain a relationship post-breakup, both parties must be willing to admit that they didn’t work out as a couple, and recognize what did and didn’t work in the relationship.

This route was taken by Schuster when working towards becoming friends with her ex again.

“We both accepted that we work better as friends,” Schuster said. “It was like ripping a bandaid off at first, but now every time I see him, it always ends up being a great time.”

Andriana Ruscitto covers relationships. Contact her at [email protected].