“No we can’t be friends, cos I don’t think I could take seeing you and knowing where we’ve been; I hope you understand.” ~ Lady Antebellum, As You Turn Away

“I’m friends with all my exes.” It was impossible to miss the obvious pride with which the beautiful stranger said those words. Watching her though, I could detect something else, an air of superiority that suggested a deficiency in those who were unwilling or unable to remain friends with their exes. It got me wondering, after a break-up with someone you really care about, is it better to remain friends, or sever all ties?

While I agree it is admirable to break up with someone and still maintain a friendship with them, for a long time I was inclined to believe that this could not possibly be the ideal; at least not if the relationship was a “real” one. However over the years I have swung to the other extreme, believing that if in fact your relationship was real, then the friendship ought to endure afterwards, and nowadays, I find myself somewhere in the middle.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who went “awww” watching Bruce Willis support his ex-wife Demi Moore throughout her marriage to Ashton Kutcher, and hasten to her side to hold her up when the marriage finally collapsed. As cute as this is, the truth is that there are numerous factors that determine a couple’s ability to maintain a friendship after they break up.

1. People are different. We all know people who vow they can never date their friends. For them, a friend is a friend, and a lover is a lover. Therefore, one can never become the other. If you are a lover, then you were never a friend and can never morph into one. After the break-up, it’s hasta la vista baby. People also handle pain differently. For some, staying in touch and knowing how their loved one is faring is worth the discomfort of having to maintain a friendship. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would rather hurt remaining a part of an ex’s life than hurt wondering, “How is he doing? Did that project at work go well? How many puppies did Missy have?”

2. It takes two. Many times, one partner wants to remain friends and the other is unwilling or unable to. A friend of mine, upon requesting that her fiancé with whom she had recently broken up remain friends with her, was told, “That will mean seeing you in another man’s arms. I can’t deal with that.” While some partners may simply not feel up to the emotional strain of maintaining a friendship after a break up, others may be unwilling to live with watching someone with whom they shared so much behaving “nice and friendly” towards them. “Did what we had really mean so little to you?” and other such questions are likely to arise. It makes sense to avoid them.

3. It may take three. What is the guarantee that a new partner, who should be your focus in moving forward, would be comfortable with your ex as an active part of your life?

4. Much depends on who walked. Few break ups are mutual, and on the part of the one who is left behind, love may refuse, or take forever, to die. When such a pair tries to remain friends, usually the one who instigated the break up may not be able to shake off guilt feelings over the pain they caused. The one who was broken up with is also likely to try putting the relationship together back again, sometimes by begging. Considering that some people hate to be begged, and that this may start an “on again, off again” relationship trend, this is a recipe for disaster.

5. Allowing time to pass is absolutely necessary. Whether or not you’ll remain friends, the truth is the healing process calls for time. Time allows the emotions to cool and in many cases both parties gain perspective that help build a genuine friendship. Seeing things clearly and realising why it could never have worked helps someone to let go of fantasies and ideals. Time does change yesterday. If you’re not ready, don’t rush things or force a friendship just to prove a point.

6. Sometimes, time makes no difference. When at least one party is willing to quit a relationship, the healing process is sped up, and soon both may find themselves in a civil, if not warm relational situation again. Not so for the couple who is forced to separate. For lovers whose dreams of staying together forever are dashed by circumstances such as genotype incompatibility or parental consent issues, moving on can be extremely difficult. With the embers of love still burning bright, a clean break is the only way forward. Hanging around each other can not only cause pain, but also make new romantic relationships with others impossible to initiate and sustain. Life without each other is hard enough without having to be constantly reminded of what they had to give up.

Nevertheless, it is a wonderful thing when, with time’s passing, the initial pain fades and the uncomfortable feelings die; you are left with a loyal and true friend who knows and understands you, and whom you can trust.

I’d like to know what you think. Does remaining friends with someone prove that what you shared was genuine, or does it in fact confirm otherwise?