I call my friend Ashley the “Ex-Boyfriend Whisperer.” I call her this because no matter how bad any of her breakups have been, four months after the split, Ashley and her former beau have moved safely into the friend zone.
This hasn’t just happened once or twice. A few fluke friendships can happen to anyone. I recently asked Ashley how many serious (more than three months was the cut off) boyfriends she had, and how many of them she remained friends (in regular contact) with.
It took her a minute, a pad and a pen and access to Facebook before she responded, “Fifteen for fifteen.”
Then she proceeded to tell me she couldn’t hang out the following weekend because she had to go to a baptism for her college boyfriend’s baby. Seriously.
Ashley is rare, but she isn’t some kind of relationship unicorn. There are some men and women whose super powers include maintaining beyond-cordial associations with everyone they’ve ever seriously dated.
So what’s the secret?
I asked ten of these savants to share their Ten Commandments for Staying Friends With an Ex. Some of the rules are rational, but difficult for those of us who relish the irrational after a breakup. Others might seem outside the box, but I’ve been promised they get the job done.
1. Thou shalt give it time.
“Breakups happen for a reason. Let something be broke, allow it to heal, and then work on establishing a friendship,” explained Alex R., a 24 year old medical student in Philadelphia. How long to wait? A minimum of half the time you dated.
2. Thou shalt never be alone together.
“I know it sounds harsh and I guess you could break the rule after like a decade or so, but the key to staying platonic with my exes is limiting our hangouts to group activities,” said Adam M., a 33 year old lawyer in Chicago.
3. Though shalt befriend the new mate.
Four years after their breakup, Alana, 31, was a bridesmaid in her ex-boyfriend’s wedding. “I made sure to let his new girlfriend know that I wanted her in my life too, and our friendship grew from there,” she said. “Of course it helped that she didn’t suck.”
4. Thou shalt have a safe word?
“My ex and I decided one of us would officially call things if one of us ever started having feelings again,” said Mark, 27. “It’s been three years, and we have yet to say ‘Ross Perot.’ I think we both like knowing we have a way out.”
5. Thou shalt not reminisce.
“Live for the now man, the happy memories will make you miss what you had and the bad memories will just piss you off. Live for the now,” said Jack, 28.
6. Thou shalt not flirt.
“I am really good at just turning it off,” said Amanda, a 24 year old stockbroker from Brooklyn. “I become completely non-sexual with my exes. No touching, no cutesy emails. I am like a dude.”
7. Thou shalt avoid social media.
“I don’t unfriend my exes, but I keep them off my feed,” said Matt, 32, a lawyer in Washington D.C. “It creates just the right amount of distance and it gives you non-relationship things to talk about when you see each other, since you don’t see their every waking minute online.”
8. Thou shalt put in the effort.
It isn’t all about NOT doing things — maintaining a friendship with an ex is just like maintaining any other friendship. Ashley, the Ex-Boyfriend Whisperer, told me her secret is putting in the time. “I remember birthdays, I check in, I always ask about their parents. I chose to date these people because I really liked and cared about them. That didn’t change just because we stopped hooking up,” Ashley told me.
9. Thou shalt be picky.
Michael, 43 years old has a .275 batting average with exes, but the ones he stayed friends with, he talks to at least once a week. “I got rid of the people I just wouldn’t want to be friends with. If I fought with someone while we were dating, why would I want to be friends with them?” he said. “I never try too hard to make everything work out.”
10. Thou shalt not judge.
Keep your nose out of their new relationships. “Even when I can’t stand my exes’ new girlfriends, I shut my mouth. I talk to them about just about everything else except whether or not I like their new chicks,” said Nisha, a 33 year old executive from New Jersey.