When my college boyfriend and I broke up, I experienced for the first time the range of emotions that come with a broken heart. I was predominantly sad. But I also experienced other emotions: relief and bitterness. While I was sad our relationship didn’t work out, I felt relieved that I didn’t have to worry about making it work anymore. And while I had times when I was unable to remember any of his faults, I had times of bitterness when I was unable to think of anything but his faults.
Beneath all the moods swings and emotions, however, I found that I still truly cared about my ex-boyfriend — not in a romantic way but in a “Hey, we were friends before we started dating” kind of way. Turns out, he also felt the same way. So we started trying to be friends again. And we made a lot of mistakes. But God showed us grace despite our naïvety and allowed us to eventually rebuild our friendship.
Before I go on, I want to clarify a couple things: We were only dating for four months, and I realize that when more serious relationships end, it can be even more devastating for the people involved. I also realize that many breakups are messy and that some reasons for breaking up preclude being friends afterward. Our relationship ended mutually and because we both recognized that we just weren’t right for each other. Ending it in this way laid the foundation for us being able to be friends later. So, while I want to encourage people to think about how they might become friends with their ex, especially if he or she is a brother or sister in Christ, I recognize that this isn’t a possibility for everyone — and even if it is a possibility, then it may be a long way down the road.
Here’s some of the things I learned as I rebuilt a friendship with my ex.
First, I learned was that our friendship couldn’t go back to how it was before we started dating. We’d had a romantic relationship, and that relationship ended, so we had to build a new friendship that resembled our old one but wasn’t the same. We’d learned a lot about each other, which, strangely, meant that our friendship couldn’t be as close as it could’ve been if we hadn’t dated. However, that didn’t mean that we didn’t still care. For us, that meant that at graduation, we genuinely wanted to see the other person going down the path he/she wanted to go, even though we weren’t going together.
Second, to build our new friendship, we had to start talking again. But not right away. The week after we broke up, I received a text from my ex-boyfriend, wondering how I was doing. I had actually been dying to know how he was doing, and I was tired of hearing about it through other people. So we agreed to go for a walk to talk a little bit. By the end of the walk, we were talking about how much we just wanted to get back together even though we knew we couldn’t. That walk was a foolish move, but we did it again the next week. And we texted each other in between walks. Eventually, we figured out that we needed to just stop talking to each other for a while — in person and over text. We had to find emotional support in other places.
But after we’d given ourselves time to heal and to function apart from the other person, then we did need to start talking again to become friends. This may seem obvious, but the best time for me to start talking to my ex-boyfriend again was when it felt awkward to do so. And because it felt awful to feel so awkward talking to someone whom I used to be so close to, I often wanted to avoid him. But I found that just saying “hi” when we passed on the sidewalk or joining in the same conversations in group settings went a long way toward rebuilding our friendship.
The last thing I learned was that my other friends were a big part of my becoming friends with my ex-boyfriend again. If you’ve ever heard advice on how to get through a breakup, you’ve probably heard that you should never do it alone. That’s because your friends not only comfort you, but they also keep you from dwelling too much on your sadness. For me, my closest friends helped to fill the gaps that were left empty by my broken relationship. They also helped bridge the awkwardness between my ex and me for a time. So, how I talked to them about my ex made a difference in several ways.
I needed to not trash talk him. Besides being sinful, trashing talking does two things: It makes your heart even more bitter than it already is — out of the mouth, the heart speaks, yes?— and it sends the message to your friends that your ex is someone they shouldn’t bring up in conversation, that you are on two sides of a battle and they are going to have to choose a side. The latter result isn’t fair for your friends, and the first result isn’t going to help you heal in a healthy way. I had to learn to resist the urge to trash talk my ex. I needed to talk through what went wrong in my relationship with a close friend, but after that, there was no need to keep bringing up his faults.
I also had to let them know that I wanted to be friends with him again. I found out that almost two years after we’d broken up, one of my roommates still avoided mentioning his name in front of me. I had to clarify that his name wasn’t a taboo, and that I didn’t mind them inviting us to the same gatherings. I also had to make myself use his name occasionally, to let them know that I meant it. But allowing him to come up in conversation prepared me to hang out with him in social groups without it being awkward for us and everyone else.
Our new friendship isn’t nearly as close as it was before we started dating. Ultimately, though, we were able to become friends again because we recognized the value of the other person’s friendship even after finding out that we couldn’t be in a romantic relationship. So even though our friendship still has its awkward moments, it’s all the more valuable because we’ve had to learn to forgive each other and love each other in a whole new way.