Here’s why (and how) you should never be friends with your ex

I have never been friends with an ex, nor do I want to be. Every time I see my girlfriends casually texting with their exes or catching up with one over lunch, I can’t help but ask: do we really have to stay friends with everybody?

In fact, Fiona Apple devoted an entire song to the painful, manipulative, unnecessary business of being friends with exes. It is called “Shadowboxer” and I will be quoting it throughout this article as emotional evidence. You are welcome.

Once my lover
Now my friend
What a cruel thing to pretend
What a cunning way
To condescend…

Exes have seen you at your best. They have seen you at your worst. They’ve met your family. They have seen you cry. They know your favourite movie candy and have heard all about the girl who bullied you in fourth grade. They know what you look like when you come because they’ve made you time and time again. They know you fear abandonment and heights and that you worry you might never be successful. They know your bra size because of that one time they bought you lingerie on Valentines Day.

But poof! One day you break up. Now what? DON’T BE FRIENDS. This is why.

It is masochistic

So I’ll be sure to
Stay wary of you, love
To save the pain of
Once my flame and
Twice my burn

Being friends with an ex is essentially keeping your friends close but your exes closer. The process is painful! Give yourself space and time to heal. Friendship with an ex gives you first row seats to watch them move on, and let me tell you, that is my LEAST favourite spectator sport. You definitely do not need to help your ex figure out which filter to use on a picture of his new girlfriend. In fact, unfollow your ex on all forms of social media. You really (really) don’t need to see what he is up to.

You’re not moving on

If I let you
Get too close
You’ll set your
Spell on me

In a modern romantic culture where no one really dates in the first place, and breakups seem more like casual conversations that the closing of books, the allusion of “just friends” can be a risky business where it becomes impossible to move on from the people we once were seeing. How can you move on from something you never let go of? Are we just clinging to the ghosts of our relationships and disguising them as platonic instead? Ask yourself when befriending your ex—do you have an ulterior motive? If you think a friendship is the easiest way to get the scoop on your exes new love life, or if you’re looking to hook up, consider if it’s the healthiest option for you or them. You’re only prolonging your heartbreak.

You have seen one another naked and loved it

Oh, you creep up
Like the clouds
And you set my soul at ease
Then you let
Your love abound
And you bring me
To my knees

My friend and I decided to start having sex because what could go wrong when you make decisions out of loneliness? Well, it turns out if you are best friends and having sex all the time, it looks and feels a lot like dating. We’ve tried to stop hooking up, but it’s practically an unwritten rule that if you accidentally brush hands and then maintain eye contact for a few seconds too long with someone you’ve seen naked, you have to have sex with them.

Chemistry is very real, rare, and usually doesn’t go away. Why would you want to keep that kind of sexual tension around, if you claim to have no intentions of acting on it? Because you are lying to yourself! You want to act on it! Geeze.

It is unfair to your current or potential relationships

I’d be insane
To ever let that
Dirty game recapture me

Exes can make a great safety net. They know your favorite foods when you are sick and most likely know how to change light bulbs and put together Ikea furniture. But being dependent on your past makes it impossible to move forward. If you are still living with the ghost of your past, are you fully committing yourself to your present relationships? Most likely, you are comparing everyone new in your life to what you had with your old flame. Remember: it didn’t work out with them for a reason.

So I’ll be sure to
Stay wary of you, love
To save the pain of
Once my flame and
Twice my burn

So, like any normal person, I have my own survival method.

I pretend all of my exes are dead. They have joined the witness relocation program. They are lost at sea. They are stranded on a desert island without any cell phone service. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless they were never mine.

And yes (unpopular opinion ahead) I am pro-ghosting! No apologies. It’s protection. Some people are just un-breakup-with-able and refuse to leave your life. Sometimes the best and only way to quit things can be cold turkey. Have the breakup conversation sure, but long, dwindling endings that last for months afterward with intermittent check-ins and “how are you’s” and late night drunk texts and “I heard you were up to this” are so gratuitous. Cut them out then cut them off! *insert knife emoji here*

Do I date perfectly? Absolutely not. Do I break up perfectly? Even more absolutely not. I think it’s important to play polite with our past, but I don’t think we need to cozy up to it. There’s a fine line between being cordial with your ex and being codependent. If you’re going to be friends with an ex, clearly define the terms. Make sure you’ve both moved on, and leave your emotions and lust at the door. Because as Queen Fiona says, it can just be a cruel way to pretend.