Let’s Stay Friends

Posted on January 31, 2011 by


[Guest blog from Wanderings of a Lapsed Luddite by Debi Menescus]

Let’s stay friends. That’s what we always say, right? Let’s stay friends. I don’t love you anymore, I can’t be with you, I want someone else…  but let’s stay friends. A noble sentiment, but I think it’s a cop-out. How do you stay friends with someone when you aren’t even friends to begin with? Most often the dynamic for a romantic sexual relationship is present from very soon after meeting someone, flavouring whatever friendship we are attempting to build in our endeavours to get into the other person’s pants and heart. There is no non-romantic friendship under it, on which to stand when trying to “stay friends” after breaking up. So why do we try? Is it just a placebo, a way of trying to avoid the pain of ending it completely? Or an emotionally masochistic desire to drag it out? How do we do it and what does it look like?

So often it seems the dynamics of the former relationship just flow over into the “friendship” yet we have to try to sort them out within a different context. How friendly is too friendly, can I kiss someone in front of this “friend”, what is and isn’t okay to talk about? We have no workshops or books or community supports for transitioning from lovers to friends. Yet there is an expectation that ex-lovers will stay friends, especially in smaller alternative communities. We are expected to somehow magically transcend all of the heart-break and anger and just “be friends” with each other. Or to engage in the alternative, which is to rally our friends around us and vilify the ex. I don’t see either option as acceptable. Yes, there are of course exceptions, some people do just transition very easily from lovers to friends, and some relationships are so toxic or abusive that rallying and ostracizing is necessary.

It’s not the exceptions that I am referring to, it’s the common scenario of Jane and Jill were madly in love and have now split up. There is of course anger and hurt, but in general both are great people and cared about within community. Of course nobody wants to have to choose between them. And of course nobody should have to. But does this really mean that they have to “stay friends”? It’s my opinion that space is needed after a break-up, space to heal, time to get over it, and to not have the person’s “moving on” or “not moving on yet but distracting themself” in your face. Sometimes time is needed to rant and rage about each other. That’s not wrong. Being angry is not equivalent to hating or wishing ill. Speaking rage and hurt is not casting an evil spell. And wanting to stay away from someone over whom a person is hurting does not have to be divisive to a community.

I don’t see how denying one’s self the time and space needed to heal is a better or more mature option. Actually I would argue that if it hurts too much to see the other person, or if there is still too much turmoil and confusion, then avoiding each other is the healthier option.

We don’t need to “stay friends” when we break up. We don’t need to “play nice” and get along with each other. We are allowed to rant and rage and trash talk…  just keep it in context, find folks who can take it for what it is and contain it rather than hold it as a judgment on either party. As community, we can support each other in taking the space we need. We can hold the hurt, let the rage and acting out happen, and keep loving each person. We can stand in compassion for each other.

‘Cause really, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who does and doesn’t break up, who we did and didn’t become romantically or sexually involved, or who we were and weren’t able to “stay friends” with after the fact. What matters is that we remember, regardless of what kind of stupid shit we’ve pulled on each other, that we’re still stuck with each other. Especially in smaller alternative communities. And while it might feel really great in the moment to hear from our friends that they’ve got our backs, we need to remember that our friends may have our exes’ backs too… and that’s okay. That’s how it needs to be. Like it or not, like each other or not, we are what we’ve got. We are our allies. And maybe that’s part of what we’re trying to say when we use the words “let’s stay friends”. Maybe what we mean is more like “I’ll still look out for you.” or “if some homophobe jumps you, or anyone tries to deliberately hurt you, I’ll stand up for you”. Maybe we don’t want to lose an ally. Maybe we don’t want to lose a member of our family. Maybe it’s time we learn to rework our use of language and say to each other “let’s stay allies”.

Love, laughter, and Blessings.


Posted in: QTC