Following the re-publishing of my article “Not Your Buddy,” one reader asked me to address the topic of buddies after a breakup. She writes:
The guy wants to continue having the benefits of the familiarity and the encouragement and cheerleading that the girl provided him with during the relationship, but also wants to ‘be free’ and ‘move on.’ Is he crazy?
When you have been in love with someone, I find it EXTREMELY hard to be ‘friends,’ even being cordial is hard at times. Especially when this guy has told you that you are the one and then flips it.
I don’t believe it’s appropriate for men and women to be buddies after breaking up. I have remained friends with men I’ve had relationships with, but the familiarity had to end.
This quote from J.R.R. Tolkien (provided by another Boundless reader) emphasizes the reason the broken up cannot be buddies:
How quickly an intelligent woman can be taught, grasp his ideas, see his point — and how (with rare exceptions) they can go no further, when they leave his hand, or when they cease to take a personal interest in him. But this is their natural avenue to love. Before the young woman knows where she is (and while the young man, when he exists, is still sighing) she may actually ‘fall in love’. Which for her, an unspoiled natural young woman, means that she wants to become the mother of the young man’s children, even if that desire is by no means clear to her or explicit. And then things are going to happen: and they may be very painful and harmful, if things go wrong. Particularly if the young man only wanted a temporary guiding star and divinity (until he hitches his wagon to a brighter one), and was merely enjoying the flattery of sympathy nicely seasoned with the titillation of sex — all quite innocent, of course, and worlds away from ‘seduction’.
….Don’t be misled by the fact [women] are more ‘sentimental’ in words — freer with ‘darling’, and all that. They don’t want a guiding star. They may idealize a plain young man into a hero; but they don’t really need any such glamour either to fall in love or to remain in it.
—From a letter to his son, Michael Tolkien 6-8 March 1941, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Clearly men and women view close companionship differently. In my experience, if — after a man has told me that he is not interested in pursuing me — he continues to seek out personal time with me, I assign his actions more weight than his words. This is the danger of remaining buddies with someone after an explicit verbal severing of the romantic relationship has taken place.
Speaking in the terms of Tolkien’s quote, I believe it is best for the woman to remove herself from the position of “guiding star” unless, or until, the man is prepared to make her the star in his life. Likewise, the man should resist the temptation to make a woman his “divinity” unless he’s prepared to pursue her with integrity.
This approach may seem foreign in a culture that uses “let’s stay friends,” as a salve for the pain of breaking up. Sometimes the friendship shouldn’t be salvaged. Sometimes a woman must say, “I’m worthy of being someone’s bright star,” and a man must say, “I’m going to resist the urge to hitch myself to a star that is not mine.”
Cordiality after a breakup is one thing; continued intimacy is another. The latter should not exist.