Ask Team Practical: Contacting The Ex


How do you set boundaries for exes?

by Liz Moorhead, Ask Team Practical

Ask Team Practical: Contacting The Ex | A Practical Wedding

Q: Even as I sit down to write this, I feel like the answer will be a resounding “No,” but I feel like I need a good dose of practical advice anyway!

I’m currently engaged to a wonderful, caring man who I’m totally in love with (lucky me!), who we’ll call Chris. Before Chris and I got together, I only had one other serious relationship—with a guy we’ll call Luke. It was a very on-again-off-again relationship, he sort of broke my heart but we stayed friends. He made a much better friend than he did boyfriend!
Anyway when I started going out with Chris, I was still in touch with, and friends with Luke, which wasn’t a problem until Luke started sending me weird texts whenever he got drunk, about how much he missed me, etc. Chris isn’t at all the jealous type but understandably felt uncomfortable with this, and said he would rather Luke and I weren’t in touch. Luke didn’t take this very well, accused Chris of being insecure, got very upset, and we haven’t spoken since. I felt really bad about it because we have known each other for a long time and it was quite a drastic cutoff.
So my question is should I try to reconnect with Luke, to regain that friendship? We live in different towns and will probably never see each other again, but I feel horrible that I cut it off so suddenly and I still feel quite guilty. Sometimes wish I knew what Luke was up to, or that we could at least be on friendly terms like we used to be.
I should just make it clear that there are absolutely no residual feelings for Luke here, I really do just want to patch up a bad situation and regain his friendship, at least so I know he isn’t out there somewhere hating me.
Hope you can help!

Anon

A: Dear Anon,

You know my answer is, “No.”

No, don’t contact him. Nope, no phone calls. Not even an email, miss, I mean it. You know this. But it sounds like your resolve needs bolstering, so let’s talk about WHY.

Luke is not respecting your relationship. Later on, I’m going to tell you about how you may need to establish boundaries with this guy, but you know what? “Don’t get drunk and text mushy stuff to me late at night” is a pretty basic unspoken boundary when you’re engaged. You know how you said Luke is a good friend, just not a good boyfriend? Texting you romantic crap when he’s drunk and you’re with someone (and then getting defensive and accusatory when he’s called out!) is the kind of stupid selfishness that makes for a bad boyfriend and a bad friend.

Being in a committed relationship means making your partner, his security, and his comfort a priority. Not priority above everything else in life, but most certainly priority above other (even former) love interests. If Chris is uncomfortable with whatever is happening between you and Luke, that’s your main concern. Heading into marriage, your goal is to build foundations and establish boundaries that make you both feel secure. Right now? It sounds like the boundary is “don’t talk to Luke.” But who knows! That could change. Maybe you and your partner will be able to set some boundaries that involve contact with your ex. Maybe you don’t spend time with him unless Chris is around, or you set parameters about what times of day it’s okay for him to text you (that late night nonsense is no good).

That terrible, awful feeling that you don’t know where Luke is or how he’s doing or if he hates you and wants you to die? Sucks, but is a part of life. Relationships—romantic or otherwiserarely end neatly and tied in a bow. There will be people out there that lose touch, that end things messily, that maybe even think terrible things about you. Closure (whatever that is), isn’t always possible. Neither is being nice and friendly to everyone. If someone is placing your relationship at risk, boom, out they go. That sinking feeling that you’re missing out on him is in exchange for knowing that you are protecting and solidifying your relationship. There will always be lingering questions about the road not taken, but this particular road that you did take involves placing your soon-to-be-marriage as priority.

Team practical, how do you set boundaries concerning exes and friends to protect your relationship?

Photo by Lisa Wiseman (APW Sponsor)

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her son.

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  • ashn

    Liz, you nailed it.

    • Moe

      …and she always does it so gracefully too.

      • Liz

        Shucks, too kind.

        • Anon

          Original letter-writer here, and I have to agree. I think because I’m a natural people-pleaser I find it hard when I know someone actively doesn’t like me, so it’s more about trying to resolve my feelings of guilt than owing Luke anything. It sounds so pathetically stupid, but my worst fear is that he’ll be making fun of our wedding photos on Facebook with his friends! (Which sort of shows you what kind of a guy he is, ie not at all worth my time). So thanks Liz for bolstering my resolve, it’s what I needed, and you’re absolutely right that Chris is my number one priority now. Letting go of what Luke thinks of me is all the closure I need, I think.

  • http://anniecardi.wordpress.com/ anniecm

    “Closure (whatever that is), isn’t always possible. Neither is being nice and friendly to everyone. If someone is placing your relationship at risk, boom, out they go.”

    Amen to that. That’s not to say you have to go egg someone’s house to send a message, but there’s nothing wrong with distancing yourself from people who are behaving inappropriately and actively trying to hurt you/the people you love.

  • scw

    yes yes yes. liz is right. I do believe that you can be friends with your ex when in a new relationship, but it takes an ex who respects you and your new partner. everyone handles change differently and I’m not saying luke is a bad person for his reaction/texts, but it sounds like he is a bad person for you and chris to have around you right now. maybe when you’re having those feelings of guilt you can try to divert that energy into doing something nice for chris (or a friend who does support your relationship). maybe it’s weird to advise a transference of energy like that, but improving good parts of my life has helped me get closure on some not-so-great chapters when closure wasn’t available otherwise. good luck!

    (kind of unrelated, but, this makes me want to write a post about the other end of the ex spectrum – having one in your wedding party!)

    • Julia27

      You should most definitely write that post!

    • Emily

      Please write that post! My ex is one of our ushers… It seems normal to me, as we are obviously still good friends, but hardly anyone else understands it.

      • C

        An ex of mine was my best man (I’m a bisexual female) and other friends with whom I’ve had romantic relationships were in the wedding party. It was definitely the right decision.

    • http://www.devabydefinition.com/ Deva C.

      Yes! Please write this post! We had an ex in our wedding party (which is odd to type – she is my friend!) and it was totally fine. We actually helped with and attended her wedding the year prior and are really good friends, but I still get funny looks when people find out.

  • One More Sara

    I’d agree with Liz in the you should (probably) not contact him. That said, if the guilt is really eating away at you (as guilt can do if left to fester), I would recommend talking to your fiance about it. Let him know what is bothering you and maybe just send Luke an email (that Chris can read through if he wants) explaining that you feel bad how you cut him out, but he was doing XYZ things that made you and Chris feel uncomfortable. If he is still interested in being your friend, he has to know that your relationship/marriage with Chris is absolutely top priority, and if Luke crosses the line again, you will not hesitate to cut him out once and for all. I think Luke’s reply will show you a lot about his character. He will either act like a jerk and then you don’t have to feel bad about cutting him out, or he’ll start acting like the good friend he once was. But WHATEVER YOU DO, do not contact Luke without telling Chris about it first.

    • Alyssa M

      OR he’ll act like the good friend for a while, and then slowly start undermining her relationship again, and possibly cause trust issues for Chris. It’s a dangerous path to take… what you described is actually exactly what happened about two years before a friend of mine got divorced. He asked to just be friends with his ex-wife and agreed that she could read EVERYTHING. But things slowly got out of control.

      • One More Sara

        IF this is a friendship worth salvaging (or at least worth the attempt), FIRM boundaries with Luke and honesty with her husband/fiance are going to be key. I think sometimes friendships with exes can work (my husband is still friends with his ex, and now almost 6 years into my relationship with him, I’m actually pretty good friends with her myself). What worked for us was him being totally honest with me about their relationship (which was pretty limited. They only saw each other at group functions and def did not text regularly). but I also always allowed her into our house (once a year, his birthday party). Seeing them being platonic together helped put my nerves at ease. BUT I also think that friends-with-exes RARELY work out, so OP has to figure that the odds are not in this friendship’s favor.

  • Josie

    This reminded me of a great section in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book ‘Committed’ (pg. 108 for those who have the book) where she says: ‘…every healthy marriage is composed of walls and windows. The windows are the aspects of your relationship that are open to the world—that is, the necessary gaps through which you interact with family and friends; the walls are the barriers of trust behind which you guard the most intimate secrets of your marriage.’

    When we maintain close relationships with friends of the opposite sex (especially friends who are ex-partners), we run the risk of sharing small intimacies that create windows where there should be walls – a shared commiseration here, a laugh at an old inside joke there – especially when these exclude our current partner or breed nostalgia about what once was. My husband and I have slowly come to agree that *all* our opposite sex friendships have had to change, even those that have previously been platonic. Not to say that we can’t hang out anymore, but we can’t really hang out 1:1, or ever share much detail if we’re having any kind of marital difficulty. These sorts of close intimate friendships are reserved for same-sex friends now (which means it’s especially important for my husband to have close male friendships). It’s just a lot safer for everyone that way, even if it’s been a somewhat sad transition at times. But worth it for the stable and secure marriage!

    • Kess

      I’m not sure I entirely agree with this – I mean for one thing, it’s a bit heteronormative. Does it mean that gay people can only have intimate friends of the opposite sex, or that bi people can’t have any at all? I do agree it is important to have some sort of protective walls for your relationship. I have to be careful not to overshare or undermine my relationship with all my friends. I just don’t think that it has to be related to gender!

      • KC

        I think it should substantively take into account who-you-might-be-attracted-to and (to a lesser degree) who-might-be-attracted-to-you. (it seems like being bi or uncertain would make this a lot more complicated!)

        But you can also “solve” this problem by designating no-talking-about-this zones (such as “spouse hears about exciting news before I tell anyone else, even if spouse won’t be accessible for another hour and I wanna tell someone NOOOOOW” and whatnot.) Necessary marital difficulty questions are usually best reserved for someone with the experience to give you good advice instead of just say the things that make you feel better about “your side” of the matter, anyway, and usually those people are older and in longer-term good relationships, which reduces the risk to some degree. Unnecessary marital difficulty questions are usually best left un-whinged about. (obviously, these are only rough rules of thumb, though)

        • Rachael

          Yes to this. I definitely find myself avoiding men I find physically attractive or who give me a sense that they are attracted to me. Either scenario makes me uncomfortable.

      • Alyssa M

        I think the best thing to acknowledge here is that this is what work’s for Josie’s marriage. She didn’t say it was the same for everyone.

      • Meg Keene

        I’m comfortable saying I flat out don’t agree with this. I think walling ourselves off from relationships with other people is not what marriages are for. They should push us to grow and trust and thrive.

        • Laura

          I’ve read Committed and Elizabeth Gilbert was not saying here that you can’t have platonic friendships with others, opposite sex or otherwise. What she did say was that if you do not create safe boundaries around your marriage, you can inadvertently start creating small, inappropriate intimacies with a person who should be “platonic,” and that it can quickly escalate into something that destroys that marriage entirely. So have all the platonic friends you wish to, but if they start undermining your marriage, it’s time to cut them off.

          At the same time, I agree with Meg that walling yourself off is not supposed to be the purpose either. I had a really good platonic male friend for many years and after I got married, HE was the one who has done the distancing. He’s very conservative and I suspect he thought it was inappropriate to be close friends with a married woman. I’ve been really sad about it.

          • mimB

            Can you expand on the “you can inadvertently start creating small, inappropriate intimacies with a person who should be “platonic,” and that it can quickly escalate into something that destroys that marriage entirely.”?

            I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know the context, but I think that very rare external forces can “destroy the marriage” – like, I’d imagine a death in the family, natural disasters, mental illness – something that forces the partners into a situation where their coping mechanisms differ greatly, or even damage the other’s chances of coping.
            But in everyday life, I feel like the people in the relationship control what happens to the relationship. A third person can’t destroy it without one or both of the people in the relationship letting them, so to speak.

          • Laura

            I don’t have the book with me and haven’t read it in a while, but it was sort of something like, say your spouse does something that gets on your nerves. Instead of saying to your spouse, “Hey, you got on my nerves,” instead you go and vent about them to your coworker. The coworker sympathizes with you. Then, you start going to them every time your spouse does something that irritates you. You start discussing things with your coworker that you should be discussing with your spouse. Your spouse tries to open discussion about your problems but you don’t want to talk to them. You start going out to lunch with your coworker, first once a week, and then every day. You start to find them more and more attractive. You don’t tell your spouse about this. Your boss sends you on a business trip alone with this coworker and even though you know it’s probably not a good idea you agree to go anyway. You end up sleeping together and it just snowballs from there.
            Okay, that’s sort of an extreme example, and maybe it wasn’t even the example Gilbert gives in her book (I can’t remember.) But I do remember her point, which was exactly as you said – that relationships won’t be destroyed unless the people involved allow them be. But that can often start with one tiny,seemingly harmless decision that escalates. Sure, we all need to vent sometimes, but shutting down communication with one’s spouse will not lead to resolution. And while I agree that you shouldn’t stop cultivating relationships with friends and family members after marriage, it’s not a good idea to invest so much in an outside relationship that has the potential to wound or destroy the one with your spouse/SO.

          • Liz

            Not having read Committed, I’d venture that I probably agree with both statements. No one swoops in and destroys a marriage from outside in, but I think the point is that sometimes you don’t realize that you’re letting them in.

            In my house we have a sort of Oh No No list of flags that mean a friendship is veering dangerous- or, creating intimacies that aren’t physical. She comes to you and only you every time she has a relationship issue? Oh No No. Etc. I don’t think there’s often a light switch, “Ya know, I think I’ll cheat on my spouse today….” moment, but there can be little slipping, sliding movements downhill if you haven’t established careful boundaries.

        • KC

          But having a baby family means that friend decisions go from “is this a good friendship/relationship for me” + “is this a good friendship/relationship for the friend” to also adding “is this a good friendship/relationship for our baby family”. So, there are still doors and windows and all that, just not windows *in the wrong places*; your relationship with your “family of origin” also shifts.

          (entertainingly, having male friends has been easier since getting married [okay, it was *easiest* before I became gradually... er... enlightened... to the fact that a significant portion of the specific males who "wanted to be friends with me" were actually just aiming to get in my pants. D'oh. But after that realization, relationships were easier after I got married]. But there are still things it’s not a good idea to do. Even when you have a “regular” friendship with person A, you can damage that friendship by things you do with friend B (sharing something that person A felt was a just-the-two-of-you tradition or secret or something that person A said that person A didn’t want you to repeat, etc.); with marriage, you’re adding in the possibility of romantic/sexual infidelity, which it’s good to actively avoid, I think, but which shouldn’t mean No Friendships Ever at all – just that what is acceptable will be different now that it’s affecting your baby family and not just you.)

      • Josie

        HAHA I had to laugh reading this comment, because being APW, even as I was typing the first comment I was thinking ‘people are going to call me out for being heteronormative, should I put a disclaimer? But the comment is so long already!’ :) Yes, of course it’s not intended to be literally determined by gender, but rather as KC says below, by who you might be attracted to, or who might be attracted to you. I just used the shorthand in my particular relationship, but it will differ for each couple.

    • rys

      This isn’t my experience and I can’t agree that opposite-gender relationships (for straight people) are unsafe. One of my best friends is a guy. We never dated, we’ve always been platonic friends, and he’s married (to a woman he met while we were roommates). We live several thousand miles apart but see one another a few times a year — I go there, he visits me, I went to his bachelor party (which also had other women at it), I had breakfast with him the morning of his wedding.

      Some people, including an ex of mine, found our relationship strange and confounding — indeed, it confounds contemporary stereotypes about mixed-gender friendships (my ex thought it was incredible and even unbelievable that we were such good friends but that we never slept together or had any romantic connection, but we didn’t and we don’t). But there’s nothing secretive about our relationship: we’re just as likely to hang out with his wife as we are to travel together (we did both in the past year). We respect boundaries and bounce ideas off one another; we confide in one another about life, its joys and its challenges, relationship successes and relationship duds; and we’re as close with one another as any same-sex friendship. There are many modes and models of friendship and, for me, “close intimate friendships” are definitely not reserved for same-sex friends; I would be profoundly uncomfortable if any future partner imposed this standard on me.

      • EF

        Exactly this. My closest friend is a guy, we met the first week of freshman year of university 8 years ago and have been inseparable ever since. He’s my man-of-honour, and he’s also ‘my person’ probably more than my fiance is. My fiance is cool with that, because he (like many people who know me and my BFF) look at us and go, ‘that’s not just a friendship, you two are basically twins.’
        so, sure, like sometimes being friends with the opposite sex (to be heteronormative here) can be problematic, but sometimes it’s also life. I’m always glad to see others who have besties who are guys!

      • KC

        I think there’s a significant potential risk involved, but “potential risk” is not “always doooomed and must always avoooooid!” (or we’d never drive or fly anywhere). I think it’s wise to mitigate the potential risk to the relationships we value most (by a variety of means, *including*, for instance, not letting our jobs crush our marriage or our new puppy oust the spouse or whatever), but what exactly that is going to look like for each person looks like is going to vary. It sounds like you’ve found a situation that is at least currently just peachy (I only add the “at least currently” since relationships of all kinds change over time, so there’s the possibility it could be not-peachy later, either because of something romantic-ish, or he could become a drug addict in a way that makes him no longer safe to be around in other ways, or whatever).

        Relationships-with-peers-who-you-could-be-attracted-to (or who-could-be-attracted-to-you) are definitely higher risk (and too high-risk for me to generally recommend them to people without that person *seriously* reviewing all aspects of the relationship and remaining generally alert), but legit success stories still exist!

        (exes who text you romantic stuff, though, especially when that makes your partner really uncomfortable: they gotta go.)

        • rys

          Sure, there’s risk involved with every part of life. But I don’t think a person’s gender makes a friendship a “significant potential risk” or “high risk,” and I would hate to go through life assuming every straight guy (and every lesbian woman) I meet is a risk to a relationship. Is it possible? Sure, but it’s also highly improbable. I’d much rather err on the side of awesome people are worth keeping in my orbit and developing friendships with than taking an overly cautious stance that prevents friendships from ever getting off the ground or stops friendships in their tracks just because they might, one day, maybe, possibly, sometime, present a challenge.

          • KC

            I’m mostly talking about emotionally-close friendships; it’s not an “every acquaintance is a risk!” thing, but if you’re spending a large amount of your time and emotional energy on one particular person-who-is-not-your-spouse (or thing-that-is-not-your-spouse), it’s worth checking on occasionally to make sure it’s not overstepping what’s okay.

            (like it’s a risk to get drunk at night with people you find attractive while on business trips; this doesn’t mean “no beer for you ever on business trips!”, just that it’s useful to have an awareness and put precautionary measures or mental tapes or planned boundaries [i.e. no visiting each others' room] in place ahead of time)

          • KC

            (I’d also note that what each person can do “safely” is different. I mean, we probably all had that friend who was crushing on someone new every week, but “this time, it’s true love for real”. People who have known problems with falling into problematic patterns: need extra extra caution. People who don’t know: should have some caution. People who have known patterns of successfully navigating this and no problems with keeping lines where they need to be: less caution needed? (although I’d still argue for some caution, and I’d also argue for getting friend/spouse assessment, since some people are super-good at lying to themselves)

            (ditto for the business trip thing. If someone has a very high sex drive and has a hard time keeping their hands off what’s not theirs, but they’re in a monogamous relationship, they most likely need to be much more careful in that sort of situation than someone who has an unusually low sex drive.)

          • Guest

            Yeah, it is SO different for everyone. I know for myself that I get crushes on people super easily if I feel like I can talk to them effortlessly and that they “get” me. If they’re handsome and charming on top of that, well then. Of course this doesn’t mean I’m going to jump in the sack with every or ANY guy I have a good conversation with, but I know my safety distance is pretty far. Is a fluttering feeling of attraction bad? Not in my opinion, but I wouldn’t pretend that pursuing a one-on-one friendship with that person is a good idea.

          • Josie

            That’s it, 100%. You don’t have to wall yourself off from friendships completely, only be alert to those subtle moments that might have been okay in the past before you were in a relationship, but aren’t ok now. So if my husband is having a great chat with one of his best girl friends, is that ok? Yes of course! If during that chat, she divulges that her sex life with her partner is problematic, is that ok? Hmmm, maybe. If he then commiserates by saying that his sex life is also in a bad patch, is that ok? No, it really isn’t! Suddenly in that moment he’s created an intimacy with her that undermines our relationship. So to avoid accidentally creating those ‘windows’ he now maintains more careful boundaries than he would have in the past. Usually this means we all hang out together, rather than tons of 1:1 time. It keeps the friendship strong but also reduces risk.

          • KEA1

            you just said *far* more eloquently than I did *exactly* how I feel! :)

          • Anne

            But to clarify…would you be okay with him discussing your sex life with a male friend? That seems to be what you implied when you talked about having only same-gender close friends. I would argue, at least for me, that the boundaries about what my husband and I share pertain to certain subjects (for example, an intimate discussion of our sex life), but not the gender of our friends. In other words, I’d be equally uncomfortable with my husband having that conversation with a male or female friend.

          • KC

            For me, 1. I’m fine with husband discussing sex life issues with a male friend who is in a solid relationship or single, and 2. I discuss general sexual issues with female friends, within some tight bounds and with very, very selected people (aging and sex drive; stress and sex drive; lubrication options; fear of losing attraction; contraception options and what side effects people have had; ideas for increasing sex drive and/or becoming okay with the other partner having a lower sex drive; basically, the APW open threads, but in person).

            But that’s in the context of “I’m having trouble with this; any ideas on how to solve it? are we alone in the universe? what should we be watching out for? is it time to call in a professional? how do you even do that?” [and in the context of complete confidentiality], not in the context of complaint-as-complaint-that-leaves-you-more-grumpy, and ESPECIALLY ENORMOUSLY NOT in a context of “I’m so sexually unsatisfied and really horny right now because my partner, who is the same gender as you, is not having sex with me enough” “Me, too. I wish things were different.”, where each might find each other attractive and might come away from the conversation with the implication that the would all be solved if they were married to each other (or at least just having sex with each other occasionally), instead of being stuck with these obnoxious low-sex-drive-right-now people they’re married to instead.

            So, context + know your people + each person might have different boundaries. But there’s a huge difference between conversations that are aiming towards solutions that will help the relationship vs. conversations that are looking for excuses to behave badly.

          • rys

            Right. I’m not willing to assume an emotionally-close friendship with a guy is high risk. End of story. The boundaries I have for relationship/sex conversations with (close) friends don’t change with the friend’s gender — I’m bouncing my thoughts off of them, thoughts I would (and do) express to a small group of select, close friends. I find that hearing a male perspective can be really enlightening just as hearing a married perspective, another single lady perspective, an older person perspective, a more extroverted perspective (to name a few of my friend types) can be helpful.

            Perhaps if I had more experiences with male friends wanting to get close to sleep with me, it would be different, but as someone who has never had a plethora of men falling at my feet, it’s not a frame I find useful.

          • Liz

            I’d encourage anyone who puts impenetrable walls around sex-life-talks to perhaps reconsider. Sure, I’m not going to like DISH about what my husband and I do in the bedroom… but if there’s an intimacy issue, an issue with sexual communication, one-sided dissatisfaction, whatever, it’s really important to have (if only one or two) respected and valued friends to listen.

          • KC

            Possibly due to my cultural group, I’m a big fan of keeping the air awkwardly clear about sex with female friends, because shame and not being able to open up about problems and hence not being able to fix them is just ridiculous. I mean, if a community is pro-having-sex-within-marriage and discourages broad sexual experimentation outside of marriage, then that community oughta be at least working to equip married people to have really, really good sex once they are married and helping troubleshoot and whatnot, right?

            But honestly, the APW open threads on sex/contraception/etc. have almost “replaced” some of those talks in my life for my personal questions. It’s anonymous, plus you get a group of people who you sort of collectively trust (so you get a selection of experiences, not just one blogger/advice-columnist/salesperson-for-a-product).

            However, in-person friends are going to be able to get a far, far better read on whether in the broader relationship you’re expecting too much or too little, are pushing for something too hard, if one of you is going through temporary stress due to grief or something, that sort of thing, and will have a much larger percentage of the whole context to be able to give targeted advice. But in terms of “okay, so… coconut oil for lubrication, does it stain the sheets?” and that sort of thing, you get a string of honest answers and also alternate suggestions – APW threads are awesome.

          • Anne

            It’s not that I meant that you shouldn’t discuss sex with friends, but more that boundaries about what’s okay to discuss pertain to certain specific topics. For example, I don’t think it’s okay for a spouse to complain about his/her sex life, but certainly, bringing up problems or asking questions is definitely okay.

    • Meg Keene

      But what if our FRIENDS are gay? And… they are. I have gay girlfriends, David has always had really close gay guy friends. I mean, in theory, they like to sleep with people of our gender, but we’d be AWFULLY self flattering if we convinced ourselves they wanted to sleep with us.

      It’s a sad transition because it’s sad. Cutting yourself off from real friendship from half the world is straight up tragic. I can manage not to sleep with lots of people, and so can my partner.

      • SarahG

        Agreed — I’m bi, so I would basically be left with no friends, which would make me sad (and also would make me a terrible partner). Most of the people I’ve had relationships/flirtations/sex with are still in my life, and the same goes for my (male) partner. They are all people who respect our relationship, are excited for us, and are really supportive. I guess we are really lucky that way (I do think a cooling-off period once you have stopped dating/having sex/whatevs is really helpful for setting up a true friendship). I honestly love having people in my life who have dated me. They can tell me when I’m being a bit nuts with my partner, because they have a unique perspective on what it’s like to date me (or him, if they are his ex). Not only have those friendships been awesome on their own terms, they have straight up saved our relationship a couple of times. But different strokes for different folks, of course! And if someone’s being a crappy friend, like the guy mentioned above — yeah, cut him loose.

        • Meg Keene

          Liz has made this argument many many times on APW, and I agree. It’s not safe to wall off our relationships. You need to have someone to go to when things get rough. You need to have someone who’s going to step up and say, “This thing that’s happening, it makes me worried for you.” Walled off relationships don’t promote fidelity, but they do make you far more at risk for unhealthy relationship patterns or abuse, with no one to turn to, and no one who feels comfortable speaking up.

          We’re built to live in community. Not just a community of two.

      • rys

        Exactly. I want to be friends with good people. Period. Are they good people? Are they good friends? This is what matters, not their their gender or their sexuality.

      • Jess

        “I can manage not to sleep with lots of people, and so can my partner.” YUP.

        I had to laugh at this – hetero woman here. I’d say 50% of my friends are straight guys, 20% are gay women, and 30% are straight women.

        I’m not really in contact with any exes for my own sanity (I like to what-if, and this is easy to accomplish because none of them are close geographically to me), but both my partner and I are comfortable with each others ability to not sleep with our friends.

      • mimB

        I’d like to present a slightly different situation, also for the argument of NOT walling off relationships.
        At this point I identify as straight, but generally experience no sexual attraction to strangers. But when I do find people attractive, those people are ALWAYS my friends. In fact, the more I like someone platonically, regardless of gender, the more attractive I find them physically.
        So should I stop all my friendships from developing at some point just because there’s increased risk of intimacy? I surely hope not.

        Furthermore, there are no universally established boundaries that magically get created when you pair off/become committed/get hitched. They always depend on what you and your partner feels comfortable with. I’ve met people who enjoyed seeing each other flirt with others; one dude was ok with his girl attending a week long hiking trip with a bunch of dudes, where they basically all slept on top of each other in a tiny tent.
        Those people aren’t doing anything wrong – just working with a wider comfort zone.

        • Laura

          For me, I think it’s more like, “Is this making me uncomfortable?” For example, as I already mentioned above, the married friend who was sending me weird e-mails after I got engaged. I was VERY reluctant to be in any sort of contact with him. I mourned the loss of that friendship but every time I was communicating with this guy I felt like I was channeling energy towards him that should have been going to my husband. And it’s not like my husband was angry or jealous about it or anything, and he has no issues with me having friends outside the marriage. But in this case, I just felt that this old friendship had the potential to hurt my marriage, so even though I was grieving a bit to give it up my marriage is ultimately more important.

          I agree that it’s about comfort zone. I could totally see myself taking a hiking trip with a bunch of guys and sharing a tent with them. That’s no issue, and my husband wouldn’t have an issue with it either. But if I started to find myself attracted to one of those guys, I would take steps to distance myself from him or direct the friendship in such a way that things stayed platonic. If the guy started to make any sort of overture I would shut that down quick.

    • KEA1

      One thing about windows: they may allow the outside to “see in” without allowing full access, so to speak. What stands out to me is definitions in terms of “excluding our current partner” etc–to me, the dividing line is in that vein much more than “would this person want to sleep with someone of my gender?” It’s more, “am I sharing with this person things that I wouldn’t want my partner to know/wouldn’t want my partner to find out I was sharing?” Sexual relations aside, there’s a level of intimacy that I think should be reserved for one’s partner, and if an outside person is encroaching on that intimacy, that’s a red flag.

  • Claire

    Right on, Liz! I think it absolutely is possible for people to maintain platonic friendships, even with former lovers, but only if all parties are on the same page with respecting the primary romantic relationship and maintaining appropriate boundaries. Those boundaries may be different for different people or even different relationships, but whatever they are, it is not okay to cross them, not even a little, not even only when drunk.

    And there’s a clear difference from having a partner who is insecure and controlling and never wants you to talk to another guy or tries to isolate you versus someone who is uncomfortable with a former lover making lame attempts at wooing you back and disrespecting your relationship. Sometimes I can decipher what’s reasonable by just asking myself, “Would I be totally cool with what’s going on here, if the positions were reversed?”

    I struggled with this when I was dating my husband and my best (male) friend acted cold and kinda rude to him. After finally confronting the friend about it, he admitted that he had been working up the nerve to ask me out and wished that we were a couple instead. I made it clear I was happy and committed to a future with my boyfriend. When he kept acting like a jealous ex and disrespecting my boyfriend, I cut him off. It was tough! My friend had really been there for me through a bad breakup, we were super close and had seen each other almost every day for years. We had history. He was a fantastic person in almost every way. But at the same time he was no longer healthy for what I wanted in my life at the time. Both can be true at the same time. I had to admit that we already were no longer friends, because he didn’t want to be my friend anymore. He now wanted to be my boyfriend and was actively undermining my relationship. Nope, not okay.

    • KC

      YES! For friendships to really work, both parties have to be friends. You can’t have one be a friend and one attempting a romantic relationship and not a friendship (even if they only “act on it” some of the time and *look* like a really supportive friend the rest of the time).

      (I got… a lot… of these in college. They just need to go away, basically.)

  • Rachael

    I don’t know, I think I’m a little callous about this topic. I used to really want to remain friends with exes, but then weird stuff would be said or happen, things like what you described with Luke, and it would affect our friends or the relationship I was in at the time. Eventually I sort of adopted this moments in time attitude about relationships and let them go when the romantic aspect was over. Yes, it was good while it lasted, yes the person meant a lot to me, yes I still care about them in a way and hope they are doing well, but our moment in time is over. Closure isn’t necessarily something that comes between two people, and often it doesn’t; you have to find it within yourself.

    I’m not saying people can’t maintain a platonic relationship with exes, some people seem to do it quite successfully. I personally have found time and time again that things get weird eventually, even years later. I think people want to remain friends after a relationship because they care so much for the other person, but it can be really really difficult to parse out friendship feelings from romantic feelings when they had always been intertwined. While you may feel like this is a completely platonic friendship on your end, you never know if the other person still harbors feelings for you, or if romantic feelings will be rekindled out of jealousy, loneliness, etc.

    • M.

      I’ve also always been hard-line no more contact with romantic exes, often for my own coping process. But this: “It can be really really difficult to parse out friendship feelings from romantic feelings when they had always been intertwined.” YES. I had a particular “friend+” after college that I had to cut out because of this — it was a sort of desperate “You’re my best friend I need you no one else understands us” and sometimes straying into more than that, and it was overwhelming and a lot of energy to invest for very little return. I think we just didn’t know where else to go. Once I felt I needed a little distance and reduced my contact with him, it fell away very quickly and really cleared things up in my head and heart, both for my other friendships and then for other romantic relationships. I don’t miss him at all, and even now feel relief that it’s not something I’m always wondering about.

      • Liz

        “No one understands” immediately sets of too-close-for-comfort red flares for me.

        • M.

          Oh yeah, it wasn’t good. Neither of us we in great places in our lives, him especially, and it felt like – there’s this one person that “gets” me, hold on to it. But really it was born of insecurity and fear, and a lot of woe-is-me navel gazing, that began as friendship and love. Eventually I wanted to grow, progress, try things in my life, and the “friendship” truly brought me nothing, which eventually didn’t jive with “best friend/necessity”. It was purely instinctual and grasping. It wasn’t that long ago, but it seems so distant and like a different me. I’ve cut off several men, but that one feels like a real victory. Once I did it, it was like a brand new day.

          • Class of 1980

            Exactly, M, exactly. The ex that wants to come back is usually just striking out with new partners, so you look like an oasis in comparison. They don’t want to let go because “something” feels better than “nothing” to them.

            But they are exes for a reason and it’s best to remember the reason.

            Last year, two psychics in a row told me that an ex-boyfriend of mine would try to come back this year. They said he thought of me as “the one who got away”. Don’t know if it will happen, but I know exactly who it is. We were in “crazy love” – the kind of love and passion that drives you stark raving mad. I cut off ties a long time ago to regain what little sanity I had left. I already know that I will block any attempt of him trying to return because I don’t do “crazy” anymore..

            That said, I definitely think you can be friends with an ex IF the reason you broke up is because you both recognized you were friends and not lovers. There is no danger there.

            I am still friends with my ex-husband and my last boyfriend – in fact, I am in business with my last boyfriend. The latter only lasted a year because we realized we were really only friends. There is zero danger because we failed at romance so spectacularly. We are basically Will and Grace. ;)

    • laddibugg

      I think you can be friends if you mutually just know you weren’t good for each other–but usually (for me) this only happens in shorter relationships (>1 year). If one person is the heart-beaker, that isn’t likely to happen.

      • Jess

        Totally agree – I’ve definitely maintained friendships with people I went out with a few times and we just didn’t work well. We aren’t super close, but we chat whenever we are in the same group.

        But the two exes I dated very seriously? Zero intentional contact after ending things. I’m just not the kind of person who can let history go that easily. It’s always a bit of what-if, and we’ve grown, and I am still attracted to them.

    • Fiona

      Liz, you did a fantastic job of explaining WHY it’s not a good idea. I’m impressed because I would have been at a loss for words…

      At any rate, it resonates with me that you have to prioritize your partner’s feelings. If talking to an ex makes your partner feel insecure and stopping that conversation would end the insecurity, it’s a no-brainer to sever ties!

      “Being in a committed relationship means making your partner, his security, and his comfort a priority. Not priority above everything else in life, but most certainly priority above other (even former) love interests.” Bingo!

    • Moe

      “I think people want to remain friends after a relationship because they care so much for the other person, but it can be really really difficult to parse out friendship feelings from romantic feelings when they had always been intertwined.” This.
      I managed to turn a boyfriend into a really close friend for years and thought it was the coolest thing ever. We supported each other through some significant life events and made great memories. Then I began to notice that whenever there was someone I was dating there Was Always Something Wrong with the guy in my friend’s opinion. I thought he was just being insightful or caring. In reality he was preventing me from ever moving on and a girlfriend pointed out that I wasn’t getting approached by men when we were all out because people often thought we were married. Eventually there was a big blow-out that ended things. It was messy and really painful. What Liz said was on point, relations don’t always end in a neat tidy bow. Closure isn’t always possible or even necessary. You just have to move on and stop rehashing the past.

  • emilyg25

    “Sometimes wish I knew what Luke was up to, or that we could at least be on friendly terms like we used to be.”

    I really understand this. I was friends with a man for many years, and we dated and lived together for several of those years. We remained friends, but after I started dating my now husband, we drifted apart. He stopped returning my calls. It has been awful to lose that friendship, but like Liz said, relationships rarely end tied with little bows. I know now that he was an important part of my life, but he will never be part of it again. Sometimes, relationships just change. And I know that we are different people now and friendship just wouldn’t work. That’s okay. Even if it does suck.

  • http://rationalcreature.com/ Amy

    As someone who hates cutting people off… Liz is totally right.

    Maybe you and Luke can be friends after some sort of Cooling Off period — not necessarily the kind you might think of, though. I’ve re-established friendships with exes once we were two or three relationships removed from each other, once we’ve both dated at least one other person and the memories weren’t so… fresh. Heck, I’m even inviting one ex and his partner to my wedding in October.

    It’s not a strategy that always works, though; sometimes you reconnect and realize there was definitely a reason you cut them off in the first place. One friend and I no longer speak after he started sending me inappropriate texts while we were BOTH engaged. We have mutual friends now, and that’s it — I deeply regret that we can’t joke and laugh and geek out about mutual interests anymore, but getting rid of the aggravation of unsolicited mushy texts and the constant worry that he would misconstrue something I’d say… totally worth it.

    Shutting doors is hard, but sometimes it’s the only thing to do for the sake of your baby family.

  • themoderngal

    Disrespecting your wishes, as Liz said, is not the sign of a good friend. “Sometimes wish I knew what Luke was up to, or that we could at least be on friendly terms like we used to be” … I’ve been there several times, and the healthiest thing you can do for yourself and your soon-to-be marriage is to cut off communication. Distance will help your heart to heal from that broken relationship, and the desire to know what he’s up to and to be on more friendly terms will wane over time once you’ve had appropriate distance from him.

    • LM

      Agreed — it’s amazing how persistent the desire to be on more friendly terms and know what exes are up to can be. I also find that those feelings sometimes increase when there is something I’m feeling unsure about in my current relationship. I try and take it as a sign to look into what is going on and then the desire to be in touch often subsides.

      • M.

        “…when there is something I’m feeling unsure about in my current relationship.” Or life, job, etc. That was the key for me in a similar situation. Grasping for security.

        • Jess

          Wow. That put together a couple of thoughts I’ve been having lately as R and I have talks about living together, of The Future. It’s scary and it’s change.

          A ton of retrospection has been coming up and thinking about people I’d had strong connections to in the past. Where they are now, if things had been different then where would we be now, could something still be…? And I think I’ve gotten to the point of No. Things are good for them now, probably. Hopefully. I don’t need to be a part of that, and they certainly don’t need me to be a part of that.

          Thanks for that insight into myself and why I’m thinking so much about these past people.

  • mimB

    Yeah, the grieving process for any relationship sucks – and in my experience feels similar regardless of the gender of the friend.

    My ex-boyfriend from high-school is a fantastic person. We were incredibly close for the one and a half years that we dated, and then for a semester in senior year when he got sick and I visited him at the hospital and at home on bed rest. When he got better, I think both of us were relieved that we could grow past each other and move on. And yet… We went to the same university and saw each other on the streets. After some years of school and work, we’re not only living again in the same town, but we go to the same climbing gym – and catch glimpses of each other almost weekly.
    But aside from an initial hello of running across each other after years of no contact, we barely say hi now.
    And I want to. Every time I see him, it feels like such a loss of potential friendship – here is a person I know is great, is worth the effort of befriending – but I can see he doesn’t want a relationship between us, and restrain myself from reaching out. I remind myself that my urge is my own, and I should not impose it.

    My personal solution for dealing with the grieving period (other that time and other relationships) is facebook! When I’m feeling particularly sad, I dig out his latest photo albums, see with bittersweet resignation that he is smiling and leading an active life, and remind myself that dwelling is unhealthy :)

    • Jess

      Man, looking at facebook is something I just can’t do. I have to unfriend anybody immediately and just allow myself to move on completely. Hats off to you for being able to do that without imposing on him.

      It’s easier for me to say, “I hope things are good. I hope he is happy.” than to look up what he is up to and wonder how I could have fit in if things had gone differently.

  • Alyssa M

    I love the emphasis on “Being in a committed relationship means making your partner, his security, and his comfort a priority.” It is SO true. Reaching out to Luke after Chris has explicitly asked you not to is bound to bring up trust issues.

  • KM

    BOOM. Liz nailed it exactly. My wife and I have both had situations like this (on either side) and it is so critical that the relationship/marriage and your partner take priority over feeling bad about hurting a third party. You have to be Number One Priority for each other. It can suck and all, but you know what sucks more? Hurting your partner or damaging your marriage.

  • Gina

    “Closure (whatever that is) isn’t always possible.”

    Yes yes yes. And it’s completely normal to be curious what he’s up to, and feel bad about the way you left things, and even feel that tugging in your gut whenever you see pictures of the two of you. But part of being an adult is realizing that some people come into your life for just a season.

    For me personally, I’ve realized I can’t be friends with exes that I had substantive, I-love-you relationships with. One, it’s not fair to my husband. Even though he’s the least jealous person ever, I still want to respect our relationship. Two, it’s never as clean and cut-and-dried as you hope it will be. And three (obviously) is that there are millions of people on the face of this earth, most of whom I haven’t dated, who will make fantastic friends.

    It sounds like reaching out to your ex will only result in more confusion for him, if not for you. That’s not fair to him either. Forgive yourself (and him) for the messy ending, and look forward!

    • vegankitchendiaries

      So, so agree. I made so many bad, half-cut phone calls at midnight to exes in the name of “closure”.

      The follies of youth, eh?

  • Kat Robertson

    This was something I needed to read today. I think any big life event, like a wedding, makes you think of the people and relationships you’ve lost. It’s especially hard when you lost a relationship without closure, or when the parting of the ways wasn’t mutual or natural. I have my person like this, and as much as I wish I could remake that connection the way I think it could have been if things had been better, I know I can’t. If a relationship is unhealthy, it’s unhealthy for both people, and shutting it down is the kindest thing you can do. Still… I relate to the guilt. Even though I know cutting my person off was the best thing for both of us and that the guilt I feel isn’t fair to myself, it is hard to do that with no hope of closure or resolution. I try to tell myself that the regrets I have now are much smaller than they would be if I messed up my wonderful, healthy relationship trying to get back something that I could not find a way to salvage even then.

    • Emmers

      Yes! I also needed to read this, and this comment is also so true and so affirming and helpful:

      “I try to tell myself that the regrets I have now are much smaller than
      they would be if I messed up my wonderful, healthy relationship trying
      to get back something that I could not find a way to salvage even then.”

  • Honey Come Home

    It seems like maybe you’re feeling guilty or uncomfortable with the silence between you and Luke because you don’t like hurt feelings. After all, it was Chris who was uncomfortable with the late night texts. And Luke was angry not at you, but Chris, when you cut him off.

    But you want to reach out to Luke to make sure he’s not out there hating you (do you care if he still hates Chris?). Why? Does it matter if he hates you? I kind of think this is coming from that place of deeply ingrained people-pleasing that is so often drilled into women.

    Maybe you want to know it’ll be ok if the only ex you have in the world hates you?

    IT’S TOTALLY OK, I PROMISE YOU IT DOESN’T MATTER.

    If you had written to say that you missed Luke’s friendship, that he was the person who really understood X about you or that Chris misunderstood your friendship with Luke, then I’d say you’re a grown up and you get to make your own decisions on who is or isn’t in your life. But you didn’t write that. You wrote that you feel bad about Luke may or may not be feeling or thinking in regards to you.

    I disagree a little with Liz, here: If someone is placing your relationship at risk, boom, out they go. I don’t think Luke has to go because he’s a threat to your relationship. (I don’t think others are really threats, we just use them as excuses.) I think he has to go because he’s not bringing anything to your life beyond stress and guilt.

    And because now is a perfect time to learn that someone out there hating you, even someone who once loved you, will not lessen your life or value one little bit.

    • Cleo

      Yes. Absolutely. “I kind of think this is coming from that place of deeply ingrained people-pleasing that is so often drilled into women.”

      I went into therapy after breaking up with my first long-time boyfriend — we were together 6 years — because I felt guilty for leaving him even though I knew the relationship wasn’t right for me anymore (i.e. whenever I thought about us getting married, my first thought was “We could always get divorced.”).

      I sometimes want to contact him still, now 5 years after the relationship ended and I’m in a long term relationship with an amazing guy. The reason I want to is because we parted on bad terms (he wasn’t ready to end the relationship and last thing he told me before we cut off communication was “have a nice life” after he tried to convince me to un-break up with him 7 times) and I want to let him know I wish him well and hope he’s happy.

      But that would not only break the bonds of trust between myself and my current guy (we have a deal that we won’t have contact with significant exes), but would only serve to lessen my guilt when, in fact, I have nothing to feel guilty for.

    • Alison O

      The guilt thing stood out to me, too. I actually think this is really common in relationship endings among both men and women, but I can see how it might be particularly hard for women with the socialization you talked about.

      The thing about guilt is, it feels like you need to make amends with the person because you hurt them, and thus it’s about helping them, but really the guilt is about you. You feel uncomfortable with it, so you want to resolve it. I think it’s kinder to let someone you’ve hurt go fully, and be upfront about it right from the get-go. An analogous problematic situation is when someone wants to break up with someone, but they feel bad and so they suggest going on a ‘break’ first. It sustains hope in the other person, which seems to be sort of nice in a way, like you’re letting them down gradually, but it is really just self-serving and makes things harder for the other person (and probably you, too) in the long run.

      Rip off the band-aid. Be genuine and apologetic and compassionate in doing it, but don’t be wishy washy and don’t protect their feelings for the sake of yours. It’s on them to get over and forgive you down the road, and it’s on you to forgive yourself for any mistakes you think you’ve made.

      • Jess

        “I actually think this is really common in relationship endings among both men and women…”

        Oh man, that reminds me of an ex. We ended things – He had been pulling away, I was in a rough place emotionally and not getting the support I needed, he was in a rough place academically and I couldn’t give him the time and space he needed. A few weeks later he sent me an e-mail asking how I was. A few months later he did the same. I wasn’t ready to be in contact with him at all – I missed him, dammit, but I needed to move on. I burned the bridge there, asking him not to contact me.

        I think he felt a lot of guilt about the way things ended, but contacting me like that meant I couldn’t let him go.

  • Sarah E

    Liz is totally right. I’ve never had a relationship that I needed to cut off, but I have been cut off after the friend-who-wanted-more decided he really couldn’t just be friends with me anymore. It sucks, but if that’s what he needs, then okay.

    My best advice is to bring yourself peace over the issue by just sending good vibes his way. It’s fine to still want the best for Luke. You’re a good person, and he meant a lot to you! But instead of literally emailing/facebooking/calling, when you think of him, just send an intention into the universe “I hope he’s doing well and having a good day.” That’s really all you can do for him at the moment, and that’s enough. Personally, I think sending those good thoughts out make a big difference.

    There’s no way I can contact my old friend anymore, it would be very intrusive and assumptive of me (he gets to determine what his needs are and if he can be in touch, not me), but I can always send good vibes into the universe and wish him all the best, however that looks for him.

    • http://readingandthensome.blogspot.com/ Martha Smith

      I agree. I think, with all friendships that end, just because it’s over doesn’t mean you need to hate on them. One of my dearest friends from high school and myself are not that close anymore. We don’t talk often and we aren’t active parts of one-anothers’ lives. But I still love and care about her and her overall happiness. She was a huge part of my life and I will always want to best for her and always be happy and thrilled to see her. Granted, this is based on us both mutually feeling the same way. Whereas this Luke character doesn’t seem to accept this set up.

    • Erin E

      This is a lovely thought – it really is. In situations like these we often want what we just can’t have (“I want us to be friends without weirdness, I want him to get past his issues, I want closure.”). It’s sad and frustrating that the situation can’t get to the place you want it to get to – but sometimes it just can’t. Period. Sending good thoughts out to the world is a nice way to keep your love and good wishes for that person in your heart, even when remaining friends with them isn’t an option.

  • Jessica

    I actually completely understand where you’re coming from because I’ve been in a similar situation. I dated a guy on and off for eight years, but that shit was TOXIC (for both of us!), so I finally told him it was clear we weren’t right for each other and we no longer needed to speak. It was incredibly tough, but it had to be done because it was the only way we could move on. Well, soon after shutting that guy out of my life, I met my husband. And although I was insanely happy, I started to feel guilty — how could I just stop speaking to someone who meant so much to me? Is it wrong I was able to move on (and he wasn’t)? However, I now realize there is absolutely no point in having any relationship with my ex, even though he’s made it clear he wants one. We were toxic then, and we’d be toxic now as friends. Also — my husband is completely against it, and his feelings matter 100x more than my ex’s. I know it’s cliche, but sometimes you really have to let the past be just that. So, Anon, I think Liz is right.

  • Meg

    Yep I agree! I’m not inviting any of my exes because the friendships were not kept up after the relationships ended. We’ve all been cordial, and there isn’t any bad blood but when you’re getting married isn’t the time to strike up those friendships. Otherwise it just looks like you’re trying to rub it in their face or something? This isn’t to say you couldn’t strike up a friendship with an ex later, but if it’s someone who doesn’t understand boundaries and sends you inappropriate texts they are not a good friend!!

  • Anon

    I’m not in exactly the same situation here, but my first love broke up with me quite unexpectedly in college with very little closure. We basically stopped being in contact at that time, except for a bit of polite conversation and one time we met up when he was on a grad school visit at my school. Sometimes I think about wanting to be friends or be in contact or try to get some closure or what have you, but I know that’s a path that will end badly, so here’s what I did instead: I allowed myself one evening to celebrate that relationship. I thought about all the great times, about how much I cared, and how much I learned. Then I said, Enough and packed it away. I decided to give myself the closure I wanted and it was really helpful for me. You may be able get some closure for the previous relationship without involving the other person (and respecting your current partner’s wishes).

  • Laura

    I understand where you’re coming from, OP, because I’m the kind of person who likes to think that if I am friends with someone once, then we’ll be friends forever. But I’ve learned very painfully that there are times when this just isn’t possible. To me this sounds like one of those times. Luke’s behaviour sounds as though it was calculated to undermine your relationship. In my experience, drunken texts or confessions are usually indications of things that people feel deep down but aren’t willing to face in the cold light of day. Given how he reacted when you called him out on it, this seems even more true. That means that even if you were able to patch things up, he’d start doing it again. In my view, a solid marriage with a loving man is far more valuable than a tenuous friendship with someone who is out to sabotage you.

    The other thing is, and I don’t mean to say this as harshly as it will sound when I type it here: even if he is “out there hating you somewhere,” as you said, there is no reason why his hatred has to be YOUR problem. He made bad decisions, you drew boundaries, and so if he couldn’t accept the consequences, you are in NO way responsible. I know that can be difficult to think of because you were friends and you did share good times. But sometimes friends are only meant to play a role in one part of our lives, and trying to force things to endure past that end point only results in more pain.

    I had a male friend that I asked out in university, but he turned me down. We stayed friends for a long time even though it was really painful for me. He eventually married someone else and even though I know he loved his wife their marriage has been really troubled. When I got engaged he was all of a sudden sending me these weird e-mails telling me what a beautiful and talented woman I am. Nothing major, but they made me uncomfortable. A few months later he cut me off out of nowhere, deleted me from Facebook, everything. At first I was really hurt and surprised because it wasn’t like we’d fought or anything. Then I realized that he probably did it in an effort to protect his marriage. I was a little sad at first, but I knew our friendship had run its course. I wish him well, but I just let it go.

    • Anon

      Original letter writer here, and thank you so much for this! Especially this: “a solid marriage with a loving man is far more valuable than a tenuous friendship with someone who is out to sabotage you”. So true.
      I think letting go of what Luke thinks of me is the best thing I can do now. The fact that my friends have told me to steer well clear is also red light enough! The more I think about it and read the comments in this thread, the more I realize that Luke was totally unfair in his behavior and it’s not really my fault that there were consequences to that. So, thanks, I feel much more confident in my choices now!

      • Kaveets

        Thank you for sharing! And I’m glad you’re feeling more confident in your decision. From your little nucleus, your happiness matters most, and a friend should support decisions in line with that!

  • Guest

    My ex-turned-good friend emailed me after I got engaged that as sad it was when I stopped calling as often and coming to him in hard times, he was happy because he knew it meant that I had a new person in my life that I trusted most and felt safe with. I teared up when I read that because I knew then that he was truly a good friend, even though these shifting boundaries would mean we could never be as close again.

    All this is to say, a real friend cares about your primary relationships, and respects the limits when they are set.

  • Stella

    “If someone is placing your relationship at risk, boom, out they go.” Word. Of course if it gets to the point that a couple felt like everyone outside the relationship was putting their relationship risk, then it’s time to start asking some questions…

  • B

    So I don’t necessarily disagree with Liz, I think this is all really good advice, but I do find it difficult to be so black and white on the subject. I have only really had 4 serious relationships, including my husband, and I am still friends with my 3 exes. One of them came to our wedding, and that relationship was the shortest, but most emotionally…complicated of them all.

    I do agree that having a break with no contact has always been a necessity for me in order to stay friends with my exes – you really need to get a handle on living your lives apart from each other before you can find a new way to be part of each others lives again (if you do still want to be part of each others lives at that point). But I don’t think this means you can’t or shouldn’t get back in touch. I feel like in a situation like this, the OP could benefit from perhaps talking to her fiance about the situation? It’s valid to think about past relationships and wonder how people are doing, so I think it’s valid to bring that up with him and ask if he would still feel uncomfortable with her checking in with her ex.

    She doesn’t say how much time has passed since she cut off contact, but it sounds like it has been a while. While it was inappropriate of him to send late-night texts, I don’t think it’s fair to say that he would continue to do so now or that he couldn’t handle just being friends. Maybe he can, maybe he can’t, we have no way of knowing, but if she really wants to find out how he’s doing and her fiance is okay with it, I don’t see why she shouldn’t reach out. The worst that happens is that she finds out that he still can’t move past their relationship and she cuts off contact again. I think the key is just that her fiance is comfortable with whatever the decision is.

    Even though it hasn’t always been easy, I am very thankful to still have my exes in my life. We never ended on bad terms and we do still care about each other. With enough time, we have all moved on to other relationships and are able to be happy for the other person’s happiness.

  • Em

    How about this? I experienced a nearly identical situation to Anon, however, I DO still have residual feelings left for my “Luke,” ANNNND I’m *MARRIED*! I think about the ex a lot and don’t know how to make it stop. Probably it’s some level of guilt because I know I was “the one” for him (he hadn’t dated successfully before me, (obviously) and he hasn’t since), but we didn’t end up working out because of differences in our spiritual backgrounds. We remained friends after we broke up for about a year, until he found out I was dating my now husband. Then we cut it off and I hadn’t heard from him for about two years until he emailed me the week before my wedding (apologizing for doing so and saying it was shitty of him to do, but that he just had to reach out and find out whether I was just settling with my now husband (I was not) and to tell me he would always love me. I. Feel. HORRIBLE. And there are still feelings for him. I just *miss* him, even after a few years. My husband does not know about our email conversation, discussion of my ex never comes up between us, and it never takes away from our marriage, but the thoughts are still in my head….probably to remain there forever, driving me at least a little batty. :-/

    • Anon

      I’m right there with you. I still think of my ex as “the love of my life.” Breaking up with him is both the biggest regret of my life and the choice I had to make. We attended each other’s weddings but stopped talking after that.

      I don’t keep in touch with him because it’s too tempting. I imagine a special bond between us that supersedes our current relationships, and I know that’s dangerous. I think about him almost daily but acknowledge that’s part of life and the path I’ve chosen. Maybe some day I’ll truly move on, but the”what if” is very strong.

      • Em

        Thanks for reaching out with your comment! Helpful to read I’m not the only one thinking about someone daily. The temptation is strong for me too, along with there being a different bond between us than what I share with my husband. So much guilt, though, and generally yucky feelings everywhere. :(

  • http://www.newlywedsonabudget.com/ Erika Newlyweds

    I’ve never understood the need to remain friends with exes, even though I understand it’s the very “in” thing to do nowadays. I don’t know a single person in my parents’ generation or my in-laws generation that has stayed friends with exes. I think it’s because we have so much opportunity for fast communication these days (email, social media, texting) but I just always see it as a respect thing. But perhaps my hesitancy is because I’ve always been the one to break boys’ hearts, and I find them really annoying after I break up with them…I mean, I broke up with you for a REASON.

    • Audrey

      While it was years and years before we really could be friends again, I’m happy I’m still in contact with my high-school/college boyfriend. There’s a lot of shared history and we have each other’s backs in a certain way even if the relationship itself didn’t work out. However, neither of them EVER hit on me in any way while I was in a relationship, put down a current boyfriend, etcetera. That would have changed things so much.