Turning 30: Relationships aren’t Pass/Fail

Every relationship fails until it doesn’t, right? Well kids — I’m here to tell you why I think that isn’t the case.

The idea of relationships being “successful” is kind of funny to me. It makes me think of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” when they are both screaming about how they can’t wait until the end of time because in order for their relationship to have value or merit, it has to end with one of their deaths.

And I think that IS what most people put up on a pedestal as the holy grail of a successful relationship. We all love seeing old people hold hands in the park. Or stories of old people where the wife dies and the man dies like a day later because he just can’t live without her.

As someone who really hasn’t been in a longterm relationship at all, people I go on dates with tend to give me quizzical looks. It has even come up in “break up” conversations that I just don’t know how to be in a relationship.

And maybe they’re right — maybe I don’t know how to be in a longterm romantic relationship, BUT I do have a great handle on how to nurture relationships that matter to me.

I’m also someone who tends to stay friends with my exes. I actually think it is incredibly healthy to maintain friendships with people I’ve been romantically involved with. In fact, I find it to be a pretty big red flag when someone I’m dating isn’t at least on friendly terms with their ex(es).

There are a lot of reasons to stay friend(s/ly) with an ex. Maybe you have to co-parent together. Maybe you work together or even LIVE together. Or maybe you just really fucking like that person and don’t want to lose them completely just because you don’t get to see them naked anymore.

Well folks, here is my tried and true guide to staying friends with an ex (you know, if you want to):

  1. End the relationship (at least the romantic part). You have to remove any ambiguity from the relationship. You will tear yourself apart living in what I like to call “the grey area.” How this part ends really dictates whether or not you will be able to be friends. Don’t be an asshole — be an adult and have a heartfelt, honest conversation.
  2. Don’t communicate for awhile. This is good advice whether or not you want to be friends. You need a break from this person and time to heal. This period is EXTREMELY important. Do NOT skip it! You can’t enter a new context of a relationship without having this time apart. It doesn’t have to be a long time — a week or two would suffice.
  3. Communicate again — but keep things surface level for a bit. Yes. We are friends now, but I REALLY don’t want to know that you’ve already moved on and you’re dating someone else. We might be able to be bros sometime down the line, but that time ISN’T now. But definitely send me funny memes that you think I’ll like. That’s cool.
  4. See each other in person. Grab a beer or hangout. But do it somewhere in public. Keep the time limited — you don’t need to hang for hours. It’s going to be kinda weird the first time you see each other after a breakup. But hopefully it’s not too weird!
  5. Keep the relationship going — but set (and keep) boundaries. You shouldn’t be seeing or talking to this person as much as you were when you were dating. This can be a really difficult part of the process. It’s hard to find someone you feel comfortable with, and you will yearn to keep that comfort. But boundaries matter. Maybe you don’t allow sleepovers or only see each other once a week. Whatever space you need, make sure you’re getting it.

And remember — the point of becoming friends again ISN’T to try to rekindle the romantic relationship. So if that’s what you want to do, then STOP. This means you are NOT ready to be friends. And while it’s great to remain friends, you also have to remember why it ended in the first place. You need to leave space in your heart (and your calendar) to move on.

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