When I first wrote about things not to say when you are breaking up, the first thing I mentioned was don’t say you’ll be friends. 9.99999 times out of 10, the “let’s be friends” sentiment sounds nice but it isn’t true. So then why do we say, and why can’t we be friends?
Why We Say It
We say it because we think it will soften the blow of a break up. We say it because, in some way, we probably don’t want to quit that person cold turkey. When we are in a relationship we grow accustomed to seeing that person and sharing our lives with them. When we break up we are hesitant to lose that connection so we through out the life-raft of “let’s be friends” hoping to (1) soften the blow of the break up and (2) reach for some kind of lasting connection. We think that if we remain friends the pain of the break up, the agony of the end, will be lessened somehow. If we remain friends then we won’t have to fully mourn the death of the relationship and the death of the friendship. I’d like to believe that, at least on some level, people mean it when they say that they want to be friends. It doesn’t just sound nice, it is a comfort to think that this person who has been so present in our lives will stick around even though the relationship is changing.
Why Can’t We Be Friends?
The song sounds so nice, why can’t we be friends? It sounds so easy and simple. We’d like to believe that just because we aren’t dating we can simply be friends and move on with our lives. The reality is that break ups are almost never easy or simple.
9.9999 times out of 10, the couple doesn’t come to a completely mutual decision to end the relationship. When you are in a relationship there is a sense of trust between the two parties. You trust that they will honestly and genuinely care for you and about your heart. Perhaps breaking up is the loving and caring thing to do, but it will almost never feel like that. Breaking up often feels like a knife in your back, thus greatly hindering how much you trust the other person. If you don’t see the break up coming then your trust in the other person is broken for two reasons: (1) you weren’t able to read the other person and thus don’t trust your own judgment/evaluation of them and (2) you may feel lied to or betrayed. When your ability to trust the other person is hindered or shattered it has an enormous impact on your ability to trust them, even as a friend.
Feelings Don’t Just Disappear
If the break up isn’t mutual, chances are that there will still be feelings and attraction going on. Those feelings (especially if they have existed for a while, depending on the duration of the relationship) don’t just instantly die when one party says, “this is the end of our relationship.” It is also likely that the person who is doing the breaking up may have some residual feelings, call it “break up remorse”. Given that those feelings don’t just disappear it is very difficult to remain just friends without the danger of becoming friends with benefits, or confusing future relationships.
Being friends with people you’ve dated is also likely to have some potentially confusing and frustrating effects on your future relationships. I’m not a jealous person but I can see how it would be weird if someone I was dating is still BFFs with their ex-girlfriend. How would I know those feelings won’t pop up again for either party? Why hasn’t that guy moved on with his life, and is he still holding out hope for her?
Additionally, do I want to be friends with my ex and then listen to all of their stories about dates and other girls? Not really. Even if I have moved on, hearing them talk about their fabulous (or bad) dates is not likely to help me move on and guard my heart.
Perhaps I should clarify. I’m not suggesting that you say, “Basically I never want to see your face again” when breaking up. What I am saying is that you shouldn’t say “let’s be friends” as a crutch. If you mean it and are really willing to put in the effort and the break up isn’t all messy and dramatic, and both people agree, then go for it. Make rules, i.e. we won’t talk for two weeks to separate ourselves from the relationship and mourn the end of our relationship. Talk about what will and won’t be acceptable in your friendship in light of the fact that you’ve dated. Be careful with your hearts!