ASK ARIA: My ex and I broke up after four years. Can we still be friends?

Category: Advice

Author: Aria Vega

Dear Aria,

I’m a lesbian in my 30s and I just broke up with the woman I wanted to marry. We met through mutual friends and had a solid platonic friendship of our own for the first year after meeting. Soon deeper feelings grew and we entered into a monogamous romantic relationship for four years. That is, until about two months ago. We split once the monogamous part stopped working for her.

Aria, I’m still so crushed. This person has been in my life for half a decade, and I still haven’t fully accepted her absence. It turns out I may not have to, because she tells me she wants to go back to being platonic friends. We’ve been in pretty close contact via phone calls and FaceTime since the breakup, and though I definitely have my reservations, I really do miss her. Should I really be considering this or am I just setting myself up for a second heartbreak?

Sincerely,

Stuck on Her

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Dear Stuck,

Breakups can make you feel like you’re losing your past, present, and future all at once, and it’s even more disorienting with so many ambiguous emotions at play, as you know all too well. I’m so sorry you’re going through this, and that it feels so big and messy and painful right now. But for what it’s worth, I think you’re asking the right questions.

First, I wish I better understood what you meant by saying monogamy "stopped working" for your ex. It’s not totally clear whether she simply wanted to be polyamorous when you didn’t, or if maybe her version of monogamy had a hidden asterisk you weren’t meant to discover. Whether or not there was deception and dishonesty on her part would definitely factor into my read on this.

I want to give your ex the benefit of the doubt but it still concerns me that she seems to be calling all the shots. You don’t say if the breakup had a sole initiator or if it was mutually agreed upon after the monogamy revelation, but it sounds like her actions and/or emotions are what upended the relationship, yet she’s the one trying to define its new terms. That doesn’t seem quite fair to you.

I want you to take back some of your power here, starting by setting boundaries around the level of contact you have. I know two months feels like forever since the breakup but I worry the near-constant communication might be clouding your judgment. Would it be possible to switch your primary contact mode to texting or an otherwise out-of-sync method that helps you give each other more space?

Also, apologies for asking the obvious, but is this what you want? You describe the shock of her absence and, of course, you’re anxious to move past that. Just be sure to consider whether you’re doing so on your terms, or hers. If it’s the latter, you could just be prolonging the inevitable pain of detaching from her in a more permanent way, which I would hate to see happen.

However, it’s entirely possible to revert from a romantic relationship to a platonic one, especially when that dynamic was present before. You just can’t forget that you’re different people to who you were that time around. You may find yourselves trying to relive that past, for example, causing you to regress emotionally. If platonic friendship is the route you take, don’t just count on familiarity to carry you through what would still be a complex transition.

“If platonic friendship is the route you take, don’t just count on familiarity to carry you through what would still be a complex transition.”

The best thing you can do for yourselves right now is continue processing your relationship in its entirety, before you begin considering what it could look like to reconfigure it. If you think you can stand it, consider taking a short time-out from talking at all, just to let your systems totally reset. Though you may find yourself desperate for a distraction, please resist the temptation to go out and grab a rebound! It could easily cause confusion and inflame an already sensitive situation.

However you go about it, try to make plenty of space for unpredictable emotions without taking them out on each other. Keep seeking out trusted opinions (I’m so flattered mine was one of them!), especially from people who know you both in person. We’re often too close to our own relationships to see certain things clearly, and those outside perspectives can be an absolute goldmine of insight.

I’m afraid I can’t confirm that you’re not setting yourself up for a second heartbreak but there’s always that potential with new lovers and friends too. Would it help to expand your notion of the kinds of relationship possible with this person? For instance, platonic soulmates and romantic friendships are absolutely a thing, and the ways that we build these unique relationships are as varied and complex as we are.

I believe there’s a timeline in which you and your ex find the genre of intimate partnership that agrees with you both, and I sincerely hope it’s this one.

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Aria

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