GUEST POST: Is it okay to maintain a friendship with your ex while in a new relationship?

By Ebere Mercy

There are exes but there’s always THE EX.

P.S. This might be my longest post so far. I’m not sure I want to divide it into parts, but at the same time, I really do not want to bore you. It’s quite a tough decision to make, and I’m not sure what I want to do or how to go about it.

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I was in an event somewhere in Lagos last two weeks, and not so coincidentally met up with a childhood friend. You know, it was exciting meeting my friend offline after many years between our growing up so we decided to talk over lunch. This was where she opened up about the large leather gloves under her eyes. Yea, you guessed right; it was an issue between herself, her boyfriend (who might be an ex soon) and an old love (Her first love like she put it). I answered her the best I could while asking if I could use her story for this post, seeing that I have been meaning to write about this awhile now but just haven’t been able to get a more relatable case. This would have come last week but I got hooked with something that was beyond my control, and I’m really sorry about that.

I know you want to hear the story, but then I’ll only be summarizing it. There’s really no need telling you about our dancing shaku shaku in public and embarrassing our generations to come.

Here we go: She was in an intense relationship with her old love for many years (I grew up seeing them date before her family moved). It was more of a “break-up-get-back-together” kind of relationship filled with some elements of toxicity. When they break up, or to put it more aptly, when he breaks up with her, they both get into new relationships which never lasts and true to the cycle, they find their ways back to each other, every time. She has four exes excluding this old love, and she’s friends with two including this old love. One consistent thing about their relationship is that they always remain friends after every breakup, maybe from getting so used to having one another in each other’s lives or nothing.

Early 2017, she started seeing someone new after another breakup with said ex. According to her, this one is everything the “toxic” relationship with her ex never offered her. She and her new boo lived together in new boo’s apartment while working at different organizations in the city until recently. Well, their relationship had been threatened because of the friendship she keeps with the ex even when all she does is assure him that she loves him alone and is only friends with her ex because he makes a better friend than lover.

Her current man doesn’t get it because he too has his own exes and even one he was pretty intense with, but does not indulge any. Well, well, here’s the stinger: Her boyfriend moved out of his apartment to a hotel two weeks ago after this old love facetimed her around 2am until the crack of dawn to discuss what friends discuss- work, family, old times, troubles and his birthday. New man packed his things and told her to take her time until she could move back to her apartment while telling her that he didn’t understand why she still indulges and idolizes someone like that if he (new boyfriend) isn’t just one of her many rebounds to finding her way back to him (ex). Now she misses him and wants ‘her baby’ back even though she’s still on speaking terms with the ex who she says isn’t filling that void for her anymore

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She doesn’t understand why he’s finding it so difficult to understand that she loves him so much and will never go back to the old guy, and that all they’ll ever have is just a friendship. According to her in not so exact words “Ebere, I think this is the first time I’m actually loving somebody and receiving the kind of love I have always deserved. I used to love xxxx purely but honestly I do not anymore. I am feeling a void like never before that even xxxx cannot fill anymore. Why is my boyfriend so insecure like this? I can’t just stop being friends with my ex like that, it isn’t that easy, and I want my boyfriend to come home or at least take his calls.”

Wheeew, that wasn’t a summary right? Did you just say yes? Wow, but that was really a summary. When you are able to summarize a two-hour plus conversation into few lines, we’ll talk again. For now, please give me the credit I deserve, aye.

Do you want to know my take on this whole being friends with an ex thing while in a new serious relationship? You know already you want me to, so just pay attention.

Being friends with your ex is a situation that does have its merit which is freaking awesome by itself. Being close friends with an ex is in fact fantastic. This is someone who knows you well, and with whom you’ve had the opportunity to establish a deep connection, mutual respect, healthy communication, and understanding. Those are indeed fantastic qualities in a friend. In fact, it is hard to imagine better qualifications for friendship. It is awesome knowing that there is someone out there who knows you well, who has your back and who you’d go to the ends of the world for. It shows emotional maturity being friends with them especially when you are in a new relationship.

Maintaining a friendship with a former lover demonstrates that you can still remember the things that attracted you to that person even while acknowledging you’re no longer together. What’s unhealthy is being partnered with a pathologically new significant other who is insecure, who thinks giving you ultimatums and controlling the friendship you have with your exes is okay.

After all, just because romance with them didn’t work out doesn’t mean they are a bad person entirely. Me for one is generally not interested in picking up past relationships again, not even for a quick sexual interlude, but my love for the person will always remain, and I will always care about them. There is nothing disrespectful about such a friendship, quite the opposite. It is a healthy thing to do because these people have known you very closely at some point of your lives and can help you with kind advice on your bad days. They are just like old friends, only that you remember a lot of their details. I also always want to have their backs whenever they are stranded on any day.

Personally, I will never be willing to date someone who isn’t okay with me being friends with exes. I like being friends with them, and I’ve always found mistrust and strong insecurity unattractive. A little bit of insecurity is natural, but if it’s strong enough that I need to rearrange my life to accommodate it…well, that isn’t going to happen. So yes, in my book, it’s okay to be friends with your ex, spend time with them – whether it is in a group, or alone. My new partner just has to understand that they were once a huge piece of my life, and will always remain that.

-Ebere Mercy (2080). Already in heaven or never existed. Heaven: Narrowroadorneverexisted publishers.  

Here is what the Ebere in 2018 knows and thinks:

. No.

I see people claiming they are besties with their exes who they’ve been in intense relationships with and how precious they are to them and how they can work out as friends and how their bond is out of this world and how they will never find anyone like them again… NEWSFLASH, it’s called lingering feelings and the fact that you can’t bond with anyone else the same and are convinced nobody would ever know you like they do (even your potential partner) says a lot. There’s a certain level of intimacy you’ll reach with someone (not necessarily or exclusively physical) where it becomes hard to turn back and unsee and unfeel things because you’ve been together in ways beyond friends, and these memories may just be hard to let go. If you really loved your ex and shared special moments together and went through together, then it’s not simple to just go from that to a friendship.

Keeping each other as friends can leave a door open for possible unresolved feelings that may stay like that for years and years and years and can hold you back. How can you just be friends with someone you had intense physical and emotional relations with and not view them in a loving way? It could hurt you, or them, or even your current partner because it could turn into an issue where your significant other asks you to stop contacting them and it’s fair of them to ask that of you. I mean, it’s unnerving to have some ex-person around who knows all the intimate details of your significant other and still wants to partake in your love story.

On a different mood, why won’t people leave their exes alone? No, seriously, why not leave them alone? Can you imagine if all of your exes were facetiming you to talk about their troubles and birthdays by 2 am? Wouldn’t that be creepy?

Before we move forward, let me ask you this first: WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO STAY CONNECTED TO THEM? What do you expect to gain? And here is even a better one – Why namely this particular ex and not some other ex? Can you answer these questions honestly to yourself? If you do, then you will know what stands behind the desire to have them in your life and whether you should do it or not because when I think of friendship, I think of picking up the phone, calling someone out of the blue and talking for an hour about whatever is on my mind, and laughing about silly stuff; videocalling them just to see their faces and tease them; wishing them good on their special days and buying them things. I love to hangout with my friends whenever I feel social, so a friend for me is someone I can call to come have fun with me while trying to remain in touch either physically or by electronic means. When you say you are just friends with your ex-lover, is this what you mean?

Once again, why do you want to remain connected, especially now as “just friends”? Because deep down, you still love them? Because you made memories with them and you don’t want to feel like the time you spent together was wasted? Because the relationship isn’t really over? Because you want another one of the many second chances that never worked out in the past someday when you’re free? (even when the actual problem is tackled, this rarely works out because it’s like buying shoes that are too small but keeping them anyway hoping they will fit someday). Because you have children together? Because you are business partners? Is your continued interaction not preventing one or both of you from dating other people and dating them well? You two do not have any more sexual tension between yourselves? Isn’t it emotionally draining? I mean, being just friends with someone who you planned the world with? What scares you about losing their friendship? When exactly do you learn to live without them in your lives? It’s a messed up situation and we all know it.  These things, while I’m sure there are exceptions, just never seem to turn out well – from sending innocent messages to innocent coffee hangouts to innocent meetings to not so innocent activities. Look at this way: Exactly where is that relationship going? What’s the end game? Just texting, hanging out and “being friends”?

A part of me thinks that people still want that connection with these exes because they have invested so much in that relationship it becomes really hard not to have these persons in their lives. They are afraid that if they pursue new people, lose them, or fail in their new relationships, they will end up in utter loss with no other option , and might not have the only person who knows them so much in their lives to fill up the void. Sad, but it translates to “We aren’t compatible relationship-wise but we will always need each other. If we don’t work out with other people, we can still give what we had another try every now and then until someone comes along again.”

See, there’s a reason he/she is your ex. You had this great connection with someone, and then you realized it wasn’t enough. Maybe they did something, maybe you did, or maybe you just realized you weren’t meant to be. It is possible to be friends but is it that simple like most people make it sound? No. Mixed feelings might come from both of you. You can both be friends if you never actually ever loved each other in the first place or you both are sure that you’ve moved on 200% to avoid the awkward situation of love budding again, and having to explain to your new love that you are going back home (old love) without making it sound like they are a rebound. How many people actually move on 200% or even 100%? How many can still talk the past together and not be honestly affected by those memories? How many please? Even if one partner has fully moved on and do not have those feelings anymore, has the other one done same? You know I’m not talking about flings, yea? It is actually really easy to transition into a really good friendship when you two just never clicked emotionally, you know yea?

One thing people in relationships have to understand is that once you decide to commit to someone, then you have to do that or stay single and make yourself available for whenever you can get back with your ex. Put yourself in your current partner’s shoes and think about how you would feel if you found out that they maintain the kind of friendship you maintain with your ex with theirs. Imagine they come home late one night especially if they were unreachable the most part, and when you ask them where they were, and they say “oh, I was hanging out with xxxx, my ex.” How would you feel and react, especially if you have been a bit uncomfortable with that person?

Let’s get this straight please:  In a relationship, both partners have to listen to each other. One of the side effects of a relationship is you can’t go around doing whatever you want because you are now a part of a couple, and as such, your partner’s opinion matters and counts. Now, it is your choice to keep any friend you want, HOWEVER, it is also your partner’s choice to dump you if you do things that makes them feel uncomfortable. If you are willing to run that risk, then keep being friends with your EX.  Alternatively, you could talk to your partner and find out why they hate it and perhaps you can work out a mutually satisfactory solution. If you can’t find one, then you are just going to be seeding distrust and unhappiness if you keep it up. At which point, you can either stop being friends with your ex, or find yourself a new partner that does not mind you being friends with exes.

This is one big issue in a lot of relationships, and to be very honest, you cannot be in a serious relationship with someone and still be frolicking with your ex. I mean, if you two were so cool and cozy that much, why did you break up? You all really need to stop subjecting your partners to emotional torture that comes with the insecurity that will arise from your actions, no matter how innocent you think they are. No one is saying become an enemy with your ex, but you have to now have boundaries that they have to understand. Tell them that you’re in a relationship, you’ve moved on and they need to give you space to focus on the new relationship. Don’t put someone’s child through emotional torment or drag them into something completely preventable because it isn’t about you two or what you had together anymore, it’s now about the persons who have decided to commit to you, at least now.

If you find yourself at the receiving end of this triangle even after communicating your hurt, WALK AWAY please. Trust me; being insecure in a relationship is not a nice feeling especially when your partner knows exactly how you feel about the situation. Allow them go and be with the ex they can’t let go off. You too deserve the kind of peace of mind they gets from still frolicking with their exes. There are actually so many boys and girls who are great friends because they couldn’t be compatible while dating, but I don’t think any of that had intense feels, so when you don’t feel comfy with how things are and you decide to take it all in, you’ll never be happy in that relationship (quote me anywhere). Don’t even give them the option of choosing; just walk away because if it ever got to the point where they had to pick between you two, it means that you’ve always been an option all along. After badly cooked beans, there is no pain like being the middleperson between two people who are still in love but cannot seem to work through their issues. It’s excruciating. Read my handwriting: You don’t deserve that. You deserve someone who loves you with every part of their heart; one who doesn’t have special places reserved in their hearts for exes. It’s possible. Walk away to allow them rekindle their relationship and please, it’s not your business to pray for them to work this time, that’s their cross. Don’t be that person who stalks any of them – whatever they decide to do with themselves isn’t your business anymore. If you are invited to their wedding, I pray you have grown so much that you laugh at how dramatic you were in the past and slay your outfit if you remember to attend because you are way beyond that shenanigan and you are so busy bettering your own life.  Haha, I’m just too extra please.

Even if s/he comes back after being silly, I pray you are strong enough not to allow that cycle start with you. Your time is too precious now. Don’t ever make it easy for anyone to disrespect you.

If you aren’t sensitive to the kind of relationship your partner and their ex have, then this isn’t for you.  While I am sure that there are people who can’t relate to any of this, there are many who will find this so so relatable

On a lighter note, it is possible to be great friends with an ex, but to be truly friends with someone you’ve shared more than just a friendship with, both of you need to be mature enough to understand and accept the situation. What’s in the past is in the past. And whatever memories were created by the two of you, they’re memories too. Nothing of those remains in the present, and so, it’s important to understand that nothing of that sort would come out of a friendship, if you or the other person is secretly hoping to get together. Once a relationship dies, it loses its essence. The trust, the understanding, the affection, all of it breaks apart, even if it isn’t mutual. To be able to maintain a normal friendship post that, and to have the same thought process from both sides, is extremely tough. Not impossible though. It just requires emotional maturity.

I know all of these.  All I am saying is that it becomes all too messy when one of you starts dating seriously, and to be true to yourself, even you reading this who’s shaking your head at the type of insecurities one person could possess because of a “harmless” ex will never be comfortable if you were on the other side of the table.

Hey guys, that brings me to the end of this post! Sheesh, it is still a long read, please forgive me.  How’s your Friday this week? How are you?

P.S. I won’t be here for quiet a while.  I got occupied with something that keeps me away from here no matter how hard I try, and trust I don’t want to be dishing out half-baked posts to you beautiful souls.  When I’m back again, we’ll talk about everything.  Stay safe my darlings. And don’t forget to miss me.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was first published on Ebere Mercy Blog,  on March 9, 2018. CRISNG got the permission to re-post it.

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