Friends without benefits: dealing with friendship post breakup

By Abby Student

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Dear Abby,

My boyfriend and I broke up over the summer and he is very interested in staying friends with me. I am all for being friendly acquaintances down the line, but I am not really over him yet and need more time before deciding if we can be friends. How do I keep some space between us without giving him the cold shoulder or making him think I hate him?


From End Zone to Friendzone

Dear From End Zone to Friendzone,

First off, you’re truly sweet for caring about his feelings at this point in time; you must be one mature woman. Also, I praise you for your realistic and healthy goal of becoming “friendly acquaintances.”

Friendships between two people that have dated are often difficult and frankly painful to watch. published an article on dating issues that recommends that people do not befriend their exes for the sole reason of “backsliding.”

The article defines backsliding as “the ever-present danger” of retorting back to your couple behaviors with “confusing and hurtful” repercussions.

As for the aforementioned issue of time, dating experts at eHarmony recommend at least a six-month “cooling off period.” This means six months of no communication whatsoever; after this you can begin laying the groundwork upon which you can build a friendship, provided that is something you want.

I would recommend that, prior to this communication hiatus, you make a plan and let him know how you’re going to handle the upcoming months.

Remember, communication is important in every one of life’s relationships, even the “fubar-ed” ones. Have the necessary, uncomfortable conversation and tell him you’re not ready.

This is the most direct way get your desired “space.” If he’s any man worth knowing, he understands that Rome wasn’t built in a day and your rebuilding process shouldn’t be much faster.

Dr. Barton Goldsmith, multi-award winning psychotherapist, columnist, and radio host, recommends a few things before having any difficult conversation.

In terms of your conversation, he says focus on three ideas: setting a time limit, creating a list of concerns and follow-up requests, and acknowledging your emotional role in this situation.

Setting a time limit anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour allows you time to discuss without “wearing each other out,” according to Goldsmith. This will also keep the conversation productive and help you to steer clear of negative communication.

Also, like any good WSU student, come prepared. Arrive with a list of questions and things you would like him to do following your meeting. This will encourage you to stay on topic. Having a written checklist will also ensure that you cover all of your bases and leave feeling resolved.

Finally, remember that you both are going to experience emotions during this time, but it’s important that you don’t let them control you. Goldsmith recommends “I” statements. They will help you both avoid feelings of guilt or anger.

I’m sure you know by now that this small world of ours will catch up to you; you’re likely to run into him around campus. Here are a couple quick tips for avoiding said run-ins: steer clear of his residence and places he frequents. You will find that out of sight means a lot more out of mind than the alternative.

Finally, assuming that you have mutual friends let them know about your decision, so you are not coincidentally thrown into uncomfortable situations. Friends tend to overestimate your sanity in times like these; at least, mine always did.

Best of luck,